Colombo Telegraph

Activities Of Monks In The Guise Of Protecting Buddhism

By Kapila Abhayawansa

Prof Kapila Abhayawansa

It is undisputed that the prime duty and responsibility of the Buddhist monk is to strive for the protection, promotion and enhancement of Buddhism or Buddhist dispensation (Buddha-Sasana). In this respect activism among Buddhist monks is inevitable for the reason that the Buddha established the Order of monks with the vision of the promoting Buddhism. Only if monks follow the code of conduct (Vinaya) and give instruction to the people with regard to the practice of the path leading to the cessation of suffering (the Dhamma) they would be implementing the mission of the Buddha for an ideal society.

The exemplary conduct of life by the Sanga is a must for the promotion of Buddhism.This is quite evident form the objectives of the Order which are, “for the confidence of those who do not have confidence (appasannānam pasādāya) and for the increase of the confidence of those who have already confidence (pasannānam vā bhiyyobhāvāya). Jotiya Dhirasekara observes: “… the Buddha was always concerned with the esteem in which the public held his monastic organization. Such a consideration was vital for its existence and prosperity. The first remarks which he made to his erring disciples as he criticized their conduct always pertain to this”. In such occasions the Buddha criticized one who is the miscreant by saying “Oh! Foolish man, this does not lead to the confidence of those who do not have confidence and to increase the confidence of those who have already confidence.”

I made this remark in order to examine whether the activities of the Buddhist organizations headed by monks, that are uprising suddenly today in Sri Lanka lead to the proper fostering and the promotion of Buddha-Sasana. It seems evident that organizations with different names such as Bala Sena, Balaya, Ravaya and so on which claim that they are dedicated to protect and promote Buddhism engage in strange activities which we have so far not experienced in the history of Buddhism. On the contrary, such behavior is severely detrimental to the peace and well -being of the people in the country. The members of such organizations openly exhibit in their bodily and verbal actions a behavior similar to that of illiterate drunken people. There is no doubt that these unruly undisciplined and disgraceful behaviors of monks not only damage the image of Buddhism in Sri Lanka but also compel the Buddhist followers to feel ashamed for being Buddhists. The most dangerous repercussion of such behaviors of the monks will be that the new comers to the Order may be compelled to think that this is the proper way of the protecting Buddhism; no longer will they follow their predecessors. Ultimately it leads to an undermining of confidence in Buddhism. There is nothing to talk about the confidence of those who do not have the confidence.

What is interesting to mention here is that they claim that they are taking action for the protection of Buddha-Sasana. It seems that there are some lay followers rallying around those organizations who are misled into thinking that they are supporting Buddhism. On the other hand, they are only accruing demerit by harming the image of Buddhism and Buddhist way of life. Therefore, it is worthwhile to disclose what is meant by Buddha Sasana and the exact way of prospering and protecting it.

Today, the term Buddha-Sasana appears to be used in wrong identification with the nation of Sinhala. This is a result of certain attempts made by the politicians driven by selfish motivation. Therefore, the term ‘Hela Urumaya’ (heritage of the Sinhalese) is taken to be ‘Bodu Urumaya’ (heritage of the Buddhist) and vice versa. Moreover, the activities which have the connection with the nation are misrepresented as that of what is connected to Buddhism. It is really a gross misunderstanding of the Buddha-Sasana that leads to dangerous harm to true Buddhism and Buddhists. It is true that Buddhism in ancient Sri Lanka had the great impact on the life of the people so as to people led the Buddhist way of life. But, when we think of what is really happening in the present, one has to cry over the fate of Buddhism today in Sri Lanka.

What is meant by the real Buddha-Sasana can be understood easily when we pay our attention to the Buddha’s own definition of Buddha-Sasana. It read as follows:

Sabbapāpassaakaranam – kusalassaupasampadā

Sacittapariyodapanam – etambuddhānasāsanam

(Not to do all the evils, to cultivate wholesome and to purify one’s own mind. This is the Sāsana of the Buddhā-s.).

Thus the exact meaning of the term ‘Sasana’ is ‘the message.’ When we summarize the teachings presented by the Buddha during forty five years of his mission we find nothing other than the above mentioned message of the Buddha. This message of the Buddha when it is elaborated is reflected in Noble Eight- fold Path; and also with the Brahmacariya. The Buddha has pointed out even the way how his Sasana can be established, flourished and prospered. According to Pāsādika and Parinibbāna suttas of Dighanikaya, establishment, the flourishing and prosperity of the Sasana depend on the achievements of the four assemblies of the Buddha eg. Bhikkhu, Bhikkhuni, Upāsaka and Upāsikā. If we respect the Buddha as our religious master it is our duty to protect his Sasana in the way that the Buddha has promulgated. Any activity going against the way pointed out by the Buddha, would only serve to damage the Sasana.

The nature of the monk who is bound primarily to protect and preserve the Sasana is also pointed out by the Buddha in the Dhammapada as follows:

Na hi pabbajitoparupaghatisamanohotiparamvihethayanto

(A monk does not hurt another and one who harasses another is not a monk.)

Another meaning attached to Sasana refers to the Order which consists of the members who lead the life in accordance with the message of the Buddha. That is why the term ‘Bhikkhu-Sāsana’ came into existence. Here the Order is identified with Sasana emphasizing only the causal relation. This type of usage is known as Abhedopacāra (the identity of the something is affirmed by ignoring the difference and emphasizing only the causal relation). However, even in this sense it can be a Bhikkhu Sasana so long as it represents the message of the Buddha (Buddha-sāsana); other vice, it cannot be a Bhikkhu-Sāsana.

There is no doubt that taking action for the protection and promotion of the Buddha-Sāsana is a duty of the monks. That is what the Buddha expected of his disciples. If the message of the Buddha is to follow the right disciplines of Sila, Samādhi and Paññā then the duty of the disciples in the protection and promotion of Sasana is nothing other than to establish oneself in the discipline and persuade others to be so. But when we look at the present activities of the monks in Sri Lanka undertaken in the guise of protecting the Buddha-Sāsana, it is quite evident that those activities are directed for the purposes other than the protection of Buddha-Sāsana. Today, in Sri Lanka almost all the immoral activities such as killing, stealing, robbing, cheating, abusing, violence, bribing,  and so on are developing in unprecedented speed than ever before in every stratum of the society. What is surprising in this regard is that the authorities either political or religious who are assigned to protest against and to impede those immoral activities are silent as if nothing happens. Leaders who called for a‘Dharma-Rājyaya’ seem to be quite content as if they have accomplished their mission. The peace and wellbeing of the people are the most necessary conditions for the development either of a society or a religion. If these conditions are neglected no development can be expected. Further, these conditions are mainly based on the moral purity of the members of the society. It is the primary duty of the rulers to take action against injustice. According to the Buddhist social philosophy, one of the foremost duties of the rulers is to take the measure to stop all the unlawful and criminal activities of the country. If the rulers do not pay the attention to prevent such injustices, it is the duty of the religious dignitaries to take action to draw their attention to keep up justice in the country. That is the lesson given in the Cakkavatti-Sihanāda-sutta. According to that discourse, the advice given to king by the royal advisor is: “Make sure that there is no any injustice in your kingdom (Mā ca te tāta vijite adhammakāro pavattittha).

When our monks who are assigned to protect the Buddha-Sasana behave in  an unruly and boisterous way without any objection from the authorities of the Sasana, then peace loving people of the country might face  a predicament expressed in the proverb: “welat niyarat goyam kānam kāta kiyamuda me amāruwa”.

It seems to be a regular occurrence that miscreants in different forms are emerging rapidly from the Bhikkhu-sāsana in present Sri Lanka seriously damaging both Buddha-Sāsana and the Bhikkhu-Sāsana. We get daily reports from the mass media about Buddhist monks getting involved in such activities like killing people, abusing children and women, robbing, digging ancient treasures (nidhāna) etc. While doing all these things they pretend that they are proper monks and participate in the formal activities of the monks (vinaya-kamma). According to vinaya, formal activities of the monks such as higher ordination with the participation of such miscreant monks become null and void. Monks who engaged in such formal activities become blamable. The adverse outcome of improperly conducted higher ordination ceremonies is that an undeserving monk enters the Order. Such a monk is merely a robber who has taken the symbol of a proper monk (lingatthenaka); one who is disguised as a monk (samana-patirupaka).

When these weird things happen in the Bhikkhu-sāsana, one can think that the organization of monks is so bankrupt without any power or capacity to correct itself. In reality such thinking is wrong, because the Buddha has established the monks Order investing it with full authority to maintain itself in the proper way so that it can prevail for a long time for the benefit of mankind. The Buddha not only promulgated disciplinary rules but also made provision for prosecution against the violation of the rules. Disciplinary action against the offenders has been primarily authorized through the Pātimokkha which was formulated to regulate the life of the monks.

In addition, the Buddha has recognized four different types of cases coming under four headings referred to as Adhikarana which necessitate the legal proceedings. They deal with the matters arising from the offences relating to the transgression of vinaya rules (āpattādhikarana), disputes among the members regarding Dhamma and vinaya (vivādādhikarana), accusations against the fellow members (anuvādādhikarana) and improper procedure in all formal acts (kiccādhikarana). In these cases legal proceeding can be undertaken by the authorized committee appointed by the community of monks. The methods which prescribe the way to solve  disciplinary issues that  arise are also given by the Buddha in the  Adhikarana-samtha.

Furthermore, we can find in the vinaya five types of disciplinary action with  the authority to impose punishments recommended for certain short coming and reprehensible features in the behavior of the members of the Order. According to the degree of severity of those shortcomings, the following actions can be taken against miscreant monks: act of Censure, act of Subordination, act of Banishment, act of Reconciliation and act of Suspension. Authority to deal with all these disciplinary actions has been given to the monks through Vinaya institution. Therefore, the Order of the monks has the power and authority to maintain it as a well established and well disciplined religious organization. What is unfortunate in this regard is the apathy of responsible monks in the present Bhikkhu order of Sri Lanka to regulate the activities of the members of their Order.

Here is no requirement for a congregation of all the monks to take disciplinary action. And there is no need to wait until the decision comes from the prelate of the relevant Nikaya. Monks are given permission by the vinaya constitution to hold the formal acts on the provincial basis.

Therefore, monks who earnestly feel the necessity for the purification of the Sasana would have to take the prescribed punitive steps under their specific jurisdictions without waiting unrealistically for an overall or macro purification of the Sasana that would be hard to come by.

*Professor Kapila Abhayawansa – Vice Rector, International Buddhist College, Thailand.

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