By Lakmal Harischandra –
Ampitiye Sumana, the well- known saffron clad thug from the East – rhymes aptly with Aggona Chandare and rightly so, in terms of their behavioural strength – rowdism and thuggery. These days, he is on the social media for having behaved like a street thug chasing out like a ruffian, a Christian pastor and his evangelical group, in scant regard to the rule of law. He was seen to slap another Christian preacher asking an innocent question from him while the law enforcement are looking helpless. Still, he is a cinema hero among many among his like-minded followers who will whistle at his antics, and compliment him for his rude and violent vitriolic behaviour towards other communities including spitting out raw filth, contrary to the dignity of his robe. The Police personnel are just spectators to his vile and criminal behaviour. Who has given him the authority to take the law into his hands and pass judgement? Where are the Mayanayakes of the Main Chapters speaking out against this unruly behaviour on the part of this Saffron thug, unbecoming of a Buddhist clergy, in contravention of the Vinaya Pitaka? When will the Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka take the likes of most respected Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero and Ven Galkande Dhammananda Thero as their role models of Buddhist way of living? Aboo-dhassa Kaaley- as it is said in Sinhala of these changing times to the worst!
Watch the video below:
If the pastor or any other person is commits a socially unacceptable act or even a crime, it should be left to the law enforcement and the arm of law to inquire into and act on the case. This trend of un-official policing by this rogue monk, is nothing new as there are many videos in the social media where he abuses Tamil speaking government officers and even Police in raw filth, in the presence of even ladies. This type of same behaviour happened some time ago in Trincomalee as well, when another monk abused a Tamil lady too and the Police did not take any action. As a community, it is incumbent upon all of us as Sinhala Buddhists to put a stop to this type of rogue monk behaviour as it undermines our faith and culture which reigned supreme for over 2500 years. Rather than basking on past glory, it is important that Sinhala Buddhists make the peaceful message of Buddhism relevant to the current times
These types of rogue sangha heroes have come out in numbers, after Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) swept to power in December, riding on the explosively emotive racist campaign, based on Sinhala Buddhist supremacism. This fever wasn’t new as it initially took wings during the tenure of office of his brother Mahinda with many hate groups cashing on the triumphalism after the end of the war against the Tigers of the North. At that time, temples decorated their walls with pictures of the Rajapaksa brothers. Money flowed for radical Buddhist groups. BBS and its sister groups started off a well-orchestrated hate campaign against the Muslims who were living in harmony for over 1000 years with the Sinhalese. It subsided during the initial period of Yahapalana rule, only to rise from the phoenix to drive fear once again into the hearts of the Muslims during that period too. The tempo of anti-Muslim hate increased exponentially after the disastrous Easter Sunday. This hate wave of course worked to the advantage of GR and Pohottuwa, as the Saffron Brigade exploited it to stir a Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian consciousness among the Sinhala peasants to bring a ‘Sinhala Buddhist king’ to power, towards establishing a Sinhala Buddhist State, along the same lines Modi chose to create a Hindutva India.
Today, with (almost) a fully Sinhalized cabinet and a civil administration team, the whole State machinery is much active in this direction. Moves are afoot that National Anthem will only be sung in Sinhala. If true, this is a sad development as it will once again further polarize the nation. As Colvin R De Silva said : one language- two nations and two languages- one nation. For some unknown reason , perhaps strategically until the Parliamentary elections, there is a lull in all Muslim hate activities and program of action such as canards about sterilization through Wanda Pethi, brassieres, underwear and stories ‘Shafi’ tactics with regard to making Sinhala Pregnant women infertile, have all been put on hold. Even Tamil extremist activities in the North such as commemoration of death of Tiger cadres and desecration of statues of Sinhala kings and Queens are not been given publicity. Hiru and Adha Derana are very selective of the news they carry! Any possible Sinhala Buddhist politician deemed as a threat to GR’s political destiny is being mercilessly subdued even leading to intra-conflicts within the Sangha community; Patali was one such victim.
Other saffron clad experts and thugs have also once again hit the streets of Sri Lanka. Ven Medatissa for example held a press conference recently about a booklet about sex education written by subject experts, alongside a monk who had charges of child abuse involving a samanera. These monks did not object to degeneration of morals by the TV stations through telecasting semi nude clad women dancing and Indian Teledramas. Saffron thugs like (Ven) Gnanasaras, Ittekandes and Dayaratnes, Ampitiye Sumanas and the likes (calling them as Venerable is an insult to Buddhism) are in an upbeat mood, assuming their past un-official policing roles, and in their own ways undertaking raids and pointing fingers. Some are announcing the dismantling their hate outfits, in the light of the accomplishment of their mission of forming a ‘Sinhala State’. These Devadhaththas are insulting and destroying the essence of the peaceful message of the Gauthama Buddha, which we hold in highest regard.
In Sri Lanka, it is shame that Sinhala people, who are the inheritors of the values of Theravada Buddhism, incited by some rogue radical monks, have entered an era of militant tribalism. Thereby they, and particularly their leaders, are betraying the Buddhist value of non-violence, let alone kindness and compassion. Many analysts cite changing socio-political trends for the radicalization of the Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka. While many monks uphold values of inclusivism, peace and non-violence, more radical groups became increasingly influential with the electoral victory of a Sinhala nationalist government in the 1950s. It attained a new high during Rajapaksa’s regime in Post-war Sri Lanka and ecstatic peak after the victory of GR. To find the underlying causes of this violence, one need only look at the changing position of the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lankan society. Over the last several decades, Sri Lanka’s traditional Buddhist leadership, composed of nearly 30,000 monks has become more fractured and more political. The dismantling of the Buddhist hierarchy coupled with a shortage of material resources encouraged many monks to embrace radicalism. There is no control of the young monks too by those in authority. Vinaya Pitaka is a non-starter. Monks tend to embrace a more radical message. The effect of this has been a general increase in both the radicalism and political activism advocated by monks. Controversies over the role of Buddhist monks in society have circled around their involvement in political parties.
Many hate groups such as BBS, Sinhala ravaya, Ravana Balaya and even Pohottuwa-linked, Abharayarama temple-based rogue Sangha groups and even communal parties such as JHU and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya are internally divided and composed of monks seeking individual notoriety by appealing to the ethnic insecurities of their base. Their fodder today is anti-Muslim hate. These organizations are evidence of the extent to which the Buddhist religious economy has become a free market dominated by entrepreneurs whose fortunes are limited only by their radicalism and rhetorical skills. Faced with a resource deficit and the autonomy to preach as they please, Sri Lanka’s Buddhist clergy have both the means and the motive to promote radical anti-minority rhetoric. The island’s political environment will continue to reward such rhetoric as long as competition among Buddhist monks is encouraged by a “free market” approach to religious leadership. Alternatively, should political actors move to undo the fragmentation of the sangha, the competitive incentives so important for encouraging anti-minority violence could be curtailed.
Then, there is the case of raw impunity when Buddhist monks are involved in crimes or anti-social activities. There is widespread abuse of young saamaneras in temples by senior monks and when Ranjan Ramanayake revealed its depth, he was incarcerated by the Maha Sangha although it is a reality. Then we have the case of Ven. Gnanasara who was released after receiving Presidential pardon against all legal norms, after being in jail for contempt of court. The significance of Gnanasara’s recent exoneration is diminished only by the significance of his original arrest in June 2018, when, for a period of weeks, the island was fixated on the monk’s fate. From the capital city, Colombo, to the some of the island’s most remote towns, Buddhist monks and lay leaders held rallies and demonstrations, accusing the government of attacking Buddhism and trammelling on the sacred institution of the Buddhist monasticism. At one point, hundreds of saffron-robed monks turned one of Colombo’s busiest intersections into a traffic-stopping protest gathering. Support for Gnanasara merged with demands for law reform. Protestors also used the idea of a monk being forced to disrobe as evidence of a state-led legal campaign against monastic law, or Vinaya.
It is increasingly evident that it is this fallacious narrative of otherness that the BBS led Sinhalese Buddhist extremists seem to want to embed deeply within the majoritarian mentality. There is a dual impact that this seeks to achieve; a majoritarian mind-set of extremist Buddhists emboldens their rhetoric, which in turn seeks to weaken a community who would be beset by minoritarian (for want of a word) feelings of otherness. It is the failure of the governments to institutionalise law and order specially when the fences(Sangha) themselves are eating the crops, after the end of the war ,and is a damning indictment on the governments that the virulent rhetoric of the radical groups led by rogue monks have stooped to lowest levels, reflecting adversely on the peaceful religion of Buddhism. Coming to power of GR is now being taken by these divisive forces as an open licence to indulge in anti-minority activities as they deem fit and will. One of the worrying factors is that extremist organisations are seen to collaborate across borders. Myanmar’s face of Buddhist terror Wirathu and BBS connections are well known.
There is a danger that the exclusivist and extremist narratives used by powerful forces such as Sinhala Buddhist radical groups and forces seeking to divide rather than unite people, could have serious long term implications for peace and order in Sri Lanka. Given the history of ethnic and terrorist violence, it is imperative that the government and community and religious leaders devise policy measures for countering religious agitation and militancy. Sinhala Buddhist extremism and radicalism cannot be an antidote or a countering force against Wahhabi extremism and radicalism. Both are equally detestable and should be rooted out. A counter-narrative is needed to alleviate growing tensions between the Buddhists and other communities specially the Muslims in present times. The State should get the leading Buddhist monks who are seen as having the authority, along with other religious leaders to provide narratives and counter-narratives to eliminate hate and bigotry as well as intolerance and mutual mistrust. In this mission, Ven Galkande Dhammananda Thero and the likes should be made to give lead to heal the wounds of war and violence and build bridges. This reverend monk rightly says that the Bhikkhu Order is wounded and should be treated first before treating the ‘hate’ disease of the masses.
Further, there is a need to prepare the Buddhist monks to face the emerging challenges effectively to promote peaceful co-existence. The objective of religious education should be broadened from an effort to inculcate particular religious’ values, to include the understanding of other religions and the promotion of respect for other faiths. However, repeated efforts of the State to reform Pirivena education have failed, leaving the monks with limited resources to attempt to deal with a rapidly changing world. A reform of Pirivena education that would provide monks with a more relevant base of knowledge and enable them to consider ethnic, sectarian and cultural diversity as an important part of national heritage is the need of the hour. It could contribute to better relations among the different faith groups in Sri Lanka.
Over the centuries, there have been tremendous changes to Buddhism. Indeed, change is one of the foundational principles in Buddhism: all is impermanent. Some changes are in concert with modernity, others are in reaction. Today, monks in Myanmar and Sri Lanka continue to interpret their religion different to what Gauthama taught and even fight violently presumably to ‘defend’ their religion and call their followers too to action – a far cry from the message of Buddhism. It appears that the cycle of violence perhaps continues in this final stage of the cycle of time: the Kali Yuga, the Age of Destruction. The earlier we reverse this cycle, it is good for the image of the Sinhala people and the country at large.