18 April, 2024


Banning Active Politics For Buddhist Monks

By Gamini Jayaweera

Gamini Jayaweera

Gamini Jayaweera

It was with real happiness and great relief that we read in the Sri Lankan newspapers some time ago that most Venerable Ahungalle Sri Vissuddhi Maha Thero had banned the Buddhist monks of Amarapura Sri Saddharma Vansika Nikaya from engaging in active politics such as contesting elections, speaking in political meetings, and participating in political demonstrations etc. Sadu! Sadu ! Sadu ! Buddhists in Sri Lanka were expecting other prominent Buddhist Monks in Sri Lanka would follow suit and make some public announcements to that effect. Though there was lukewarm response from the clergy and the general public to this very important issue, silent majority of the clergy and the general public desperately want some action to be taken by the responsible people to ban Buddhist monks’ engagement in active politics.

The announcement by the most Venerable Ahungalle Sri Vissudhi Maha Thero was the most significant and long overdue action which had been taken by a section of the Noble Sangha to ensure that Sri Lankan Buddhists will not become the laughing stock of the world due to the pathetic behaviour of some (minority) of the so called “Buddhist Monks”. The Time is right for all practising Buddhist Monks, Nuns, Upasakha, Upasikha, and the government of Sri Lanka to take a collective decision to support the Noble Bhikkus and Bhikkunis to implement this very important action to impose and maintain the long established Discipline (Vinaya) and to protect the pure Doctrine (Dhamma) from the so called “Sangha” minority who are behaving disgracefully, inappropriately and in an offensive manner.

Buddhism Vs Politics

Buddhism is well known all over the world as a “Way of Life”. The Bhikku Sangha was set up by Lord Buddha for Bhikkhus to become inspirational leaders by learning, practising, and developing certain perfections such as Generosity, Morality, Renunciation, Wisdom, Patience, Truthfulness, Determination, and Loving kindness to total completeness and teach the Doctrine (Dhamma) to all human beings, regardless of their status in society. These teachings will guide lay people to develop their mental qualities such as unbounded loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, mindfulness, virtue, and wisdom to follow the path in achieving the complete freedom of the mind. Buddhism defines the way to develop moral, spiritual and intellectual training that are required for a Buddhist Monk or a lay person to achieve his ultimate goal of Supreme Enlightenment (Nibbana).

MonkPolitics has been defined as the profession which devotes its energy and time for governing and dealing with political affairs. In Webster’s Dictionary politics has been divided into two areas, namely the science of government and the management of a political party. As Webster describes politics include inter-alia protection of the country’s existence against foreign interference, maintenance of security, safety, peace and harmony, preservation of democracy, development of economic prosperity, management of a political party, and acting deceptive ways as and when required to defend a favourable outcome of the party’s candidates.

It is evident from the above two definitions that there are fundamental problems of trying to carry out duties of a politician by being a Buddhist Monk. The two professions do not go together. The following stanza from Dhammapada clearly defines the Buddhist Monk’s position in relation to engaging in worldly events.

“One is the quest for worldly gain, and quite another is the path to Nibbana. Clearly understanding this, let not the monk, the disciple of the Buddha, be carried away by worldly acclaim, but develops detachment instead.”

It is sad to witness that some of our Srilankan Buddhist monks are engaged in the quest for worldly gains rather than propagating dhamma and developing detachment as preached by Lord Buddha. Some of these monks are running commercial businesses, some are engaged in full-time paid employment, some are involved in active politics, and some others are participating in political demonstrations and behaving like thugs & criminals in public. Some of our so called “politicians” are encouraging, and supporting these monks to gain political advantages to be in power at any cost. What has happened to our Dhammadeepa?

The principles of Buddhism do not direct the Noble Sangha to set up political parties, contest general elections, or carryout violent political demonstrations to solve worldly problems in society. Buddhism is not based on a Political Philosophy which encourages the desire for sense-gratification (kama-thanha), the desire for self-preservation (bhava-thanha) and the desire for destruction (vibhava-thanha). The ultimate goal of the Doctrine of Buddhism is to put an end to this craving (thanha) which prolongs the journey through “Sansara”.

Dasa Raja Dharma

Lord Buddha would have never allowed his Dhamma to be exploited in this way for gaining political power by the Noble Sangha nor would have allowed Noble Sangha to influence the outcome of political power based on a political ideology. The Doctrine of Buddhism has specified the rules for governing a country in a proper and peaceful manner and these rules are known as “Dasa Raja Dharma”. Any political system, any political ideology, or any political party can apply these ten rules if they want to create a just society in the country. As Lord Buddha said in Anguttara Nikaya “When the ruler of a country is just and good, the ministers become just and good; when the ministers are just and good, the higher officials become just and good; when the higher officials are just and good, the rank and file become just and good; when the rank and file become just and good, the people become just and good”. This is natural law. No political system, political ideology, or political party can deliver the complete freedom of mind to their people. It can only be achieved by understanding and practising Dhamma given to all of us by the greatest and the noblest human being in the history of mankind, Lord Buddha, about 2600 years ago.

So, what are these so called patriotic “Buddhist Monks” trying to achieve by forming political parties, participating in political demonstrations, and contesting in Provisional Councils and General Elections? Have they forgotten the Buddhist Doctrine and the Discipline (Dhamma Vinaya) preached by Lord Buddha? Don’t they know that they have to carry out all of their activities in accordance with the rules of the Discipline (Vinaya) set out by Lord Buddha? Do they honestly believe that by running commercial businesses, engaging in full-time paid employment, forming political parties, participating in political demonstrations, contesting elections, and behaving like thugs & criminals in public that they could advise and guide people towards achieving complete freedom of mind?

An Appeal to the Noble Sangha

I am dismayed and saddened by the activities of some (minority) of our senior monks fully endorsing decisions taken by the contesting Buddhist Monks to safeguard Buddha Sasana by participating in the Provisional Councils and General elections. Please Ven. Sirs, as a Buddhist, I appeal to you not to make use of the good name of Lord Buddha to fulfil the aspirations of a handful of nationalists who try to destroy peace and freedom which are supreme goals of Buddhism. Ven. Sirs, don’t you agree that the Lord Buddha achieved the Supreme Enlightenment by going beyond all worldly concerns? Ven. Sirs, don’t you think that you are prolonging your journey through “Sansara” by participating in these political activities? I appeal Ven. Sirs, to work very closely with the Minister of Buddha Sasana to draft a legally binding disciplinary code for the implementation of banning the Bhikkhu Sangha from participating in active Politics.

Silent Majority of Noble Sangha

It must be said that majority of our Noble Sangha in Sri Lanka are preaching, practising, and teaching Buddhist principles to uplift the moral values of the lay people. These noble monks have not become “pawns” of the politicians to obtain honorary titles, well paid jobs, and other worldly gains. They are the silent majority of the noble Sanga who are carrying out a tremendous service to propagate Dhamma, and protect Buddha Sasana. But unfortunately they do not get any “headlines” or media attention to build a public opinion for banning the participation of Buddhist Monks from engaging in active politics.

Some of our learned Sangha and lay people may argue that the banning of such things is against the principle of Buddhism where individual freedom is paramount for the liberation of mind to achieve the lasting peace. Yes, I do agree with the argument but here we are concerned about the question of separating Noble Sangha from so called immoral sangha who are not living the holy life and the requirement to remove them from the sasana. This is not a new concept as Lord Buddha himself practised and implemented code of conduct to safeguard the sasana. In this regard I quote from Paharada Sutta in the Anguttara Nikaya where Lord Buddha took action to remove an immoral Monk from the congregation.

According to the Sutta, addressing the leader of the Titans, Buddha said “Pahārāda, the bhikkhus do take delight in this Dhamma-Vinaya. The bhikkhus see eight astounding and amazing qualities in this Dhamma and discipline because of which they take delight in it.” The third admirable and amazing quality was explained as follows:

“Pahārāda, just as the great ocean does not tolerate dead bodies, corpses, and if there is a dead body, it quickly throws it on shore. In the same manner the Community does not tolerate a person who is immoral, of bad character, of impure and suspicious conduct, secretive in his actions, not chaste but pretending chastity, lustful and of vile behaviour, not living the holy life, and rotten to the core. The Community does not live with such a person; they all get together quickly and expel such a person. Wherever he is seated with the Community, he is far away from them. The Community too is far removed from him. This is the third wonderful and surprising quality in this dispensation of the teaching, seeing which the bhikkus delight in it.”

On one occasion, Buddha was staying near Savatthi with his followers and Ananda thero asked the Buddha to recite and bless the Rules for leading a good and honest life which included loving kindness, compassion, generosity, honesty, tranquillity, and mindfulness. The Buddha refused to recite and bless the Rules and said, “I think there is someone here who in his heart is not keeping to the Rules, so I can’t do the blessing.” They found that there was in the room one of the monks who was not keeping to the Rules. He was asked to leave. And when he had been led out the Buddha recited and blessed the Rules. Lord Buddha had to impose these rules in compassion to ensure that the monks are more disciplined and amenable. As I have explained, in this period of moral and cultural decline of the Sasana there are immoral sangha who do not live the holy life according to the Vinaya. Explaining the Paharada Sutta, Bhikkhu Seelananda of Kandy has stated “The immoral sangha really are impediments to the Order. They commit even grave offences. But there is no immediate assemble of the community of monks and expulsion. Undoubtedly stern actions are to be taken by the Head of the monks and the regime in power in order to purify the Sasana.”

May the Noble Triple Gem bless our silent majority of Noble Sangha and the Minister of Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka to have Courage, Energy, Wisdom, and Long Life to act decisively and speedily to protect Buddha Sasana and propagate the true message of Buddha to the world. In conclusion, I emphasise again the stanza from Dhammapada to remind our misguided monks to choose the path that is suitable for a Bhikkhu to lead a religious life.

‘The path that leads to worldly gain is one, and the path that leads to Nibbana (by leading a religious life) is another”.

*The writer is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is a holder of Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College, Oxford 

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Latest comments

  • 13

    An excellent article that should have been written three years ago. Nevertheless, better now than never. Mr Jayaweera says loud and clear what a large number of thinking Buddhists have been anguishing over for sometime; the descent of a large and visible body of ‘monks’ into despicable and utterly abhorrent behaviour. The actions of these deviants have drawn Sri Lanka and Theravada Buddhism to the close attention of the rest of the world. The rest of the world has been confused and saddened by what it sees. It is not a minute too soon for Buddhist leaders to reclaim lost ground; to throw out imposters, and discipline those who have been led astray. Religion has been compromised, even tainted, by its association in political matters. Let religion take care of itself and manage its own house. Buddhism prospered before the advent of politicians, and will continue to do so with or without their involvement. Buddhism has nothing to fear but its own atrophy in putting its house in order.

    • 3

      “The actions of these deviants have drawn Sri Lanka and Theravada Buddhism to the close attention of the rest of the world.”

      It is indeed shocking that This is the View that the World has of Theravada Buddhism, in Burma. Sri Lanka and Thailand.

      Mahayana, Vajrayana and the other Sects do not participate in this Kind of Activity.

    • 2

      Actually, all clergy should be banned from active politics. Which then leads to the next logical step: all religious/ ethnic parties should be banned.

      Political parties should be confined to only economic, political, social policies.

  • 16

    One of the real issues is that the Maha Nayakes or chief priests have no control over their Nikayas or the sects. Hence the individual Buddhist priests do what ever they want to do.

    Buddhist priests are involved in many activities which they shouldn’t such as:

    1 becoming a MP
    2 becoming a provincial council member and members of local authorities
    3 being involved in trade unions like the nurses union
    4 becoming directors in listed companies such as in Lanka Hospitals PLC
    5 being involved with political parties
    6 owning and running commercial enterprises
    7 owning private buses with route permits
    Etc etc

    There are approx 30,000 temples in the country and only a handful of them have Buddhist priests who live the “way of life” preached by the Buddha.

    It is a gradual deterioration of values.

    • 7

      I would have thought your list would have been topped by Drinking Alcoholic Drinks and Womanising as allegedly practiced by Gandasara Thera.

    • 3

      Well said Jagath. As a non-Buddhist your knowledge of these problems is quite impressive.

    • 9

      Why there are some ‘rogue’ monks who even drink liquor inside Temples, entertain women inside their private rooms, and some even keep and maintain private mistress to satisfy their carnal desires, and there are many who even have children, but pretend to be holy and give sermons to others. Do what I say and not what I do, seems to be their theme policy. Their lectures are for others to follow but does not apply to them to behave as an example. There are some who even who creep out of Temples impersonating as normal people to visit their ‘keeps’ at night wearing T-shirt and trousers as in normal clothes, and return to the Temple in the dawn of next day, and change back to saffron robes and pretend nothing ever took place. They go on frequent jaunts to Bangkok and Pataya Beach and Myanmar for a good massage, Rest and recouperation (R&R), sometimes even Norway Japan and USA to enjoy the fun on the sly, fun thAT is deprived to them by being a monk. All of them are only hoodwinking the masses, fooling themselves and think we are all fools to believe in them. Their desire to eat the best of food including all varieties of meats and eggs knows no bounds. They say gathas which are quite profound which they are bound to follow, but their actions and deeds are quite the opposite. Simple things like abstention from telling lies, talking bad about others and their religions, drinking liquor, killing another human being (7 people died in SL due to incitement and hate mongering carried out by blood thirsty Buddhist monks in Aluthgama/Beruwela riots, whilst in Myanmar thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been killed), which no one wishes to talk about, lest they get marked for a bullet. In London Vihare the chief priest got sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for molesting a young child, but if it was in SL it would have got dswept under the carpet. In fact in SL foul mouth bad monks are even getting away with murder, drunk driving, irrational hate speech and now even a chance at politics to get assigned with Security staff, luxury vehicle, perks and privileges to cause more havoc, mayhem and persecute the minority and destroy and take over whatever little cultural sites and values they hold as near and dear.

      • 3

        ‘Everything in moderation’.

        There are ‘Christian’ priests similarly involved, one even leading an LTTE proxy organization in the UK.

        • 3

          This is a bunch of bull that the priests supporting LTTE. The priests are supporting the people and that too without discriminating by race or religion.
          Priests supporting the people in time of need is not new in Sri Lanka or around the world. Priests helped Sinhalese: Catholics and Buddhists during the JVP uprising when parents dint have anyone to turn to. In the N/E priests have helped Tamils and Muslims, Catholics and Hindus because they see them as human beings not by race or religion. Govt labeled everyone that stood for justice as LTTE or LTTE supporter and idiots ran with it.

  • 8

    It is encouraging we have good and practising Buddhists amongst us
    ready to say what is necessary to save what the Writer calls as a Way of Life. If the finer features of Prince Gautham Siddarth is faithfully followed many of our social ills may gradually recede over a period of time. The movement also will draw many others from different faiths when the good that flows from the new dispensation manifests more broadly.

    We may have made what is generally considered a Buddhist country, with due regard and respect to the rights of other communities, but we are yet to make the ideal “Buddhists” in the country. Buddhist priests engaging into today’s politics is highly undesirable is something that very man and woman in this country accept – barring a few un-buddhistic priests bent on enjoying the depravations of material life. Today, Buddhism, which has been converted, by large, into a business and political vote bank in Sri Lanka very urgently needs to be saved from charlatans posing as pious Buddhist priests and leaders.

    The misfortune that was the country’s lot in 1956 (where religion was openly used as a political tool) continues and needs to be halted. More sincere Buddhists like Mr. Gamini Jayaweera should stand up in public and have their say. I am convinced the country is made of a very large number of good Buddhists – who need leadership and example.

    I hope the good and pioneering example called for by the Venerable Ahungalle Sri Vissuddhi Maha Thero of the Amarapura Sri Saddharma Vansika Nikaya will gain popular acceptance country-wide.


  • 4

    Thank gamini.

    Man in the yellow robe does not look like a monk. HE IS A THUG in yellow robe.

    Thanks to Native Vedda
    “Here is a Vesak day message from a Buddhist who is happened to be a Sinhalese or a Sinhalese chose to be a Buddhist and a follower of Buddha: From the series of Bahujana Hithaya(for the benefit of the majority) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOj0uvSUizI By Ven. Galkande Dhammananda Thero ( is the pupil of the late Ven. Prof. Walpola Sri Rahula Thero.) Lecturer, Department of History, University of Kelaniya”

  • 5

    Thre is no doubt that Buddism is the way of life giving peace, love, kindness. Unfortunately two buddist nations Burma (Myanmar)and Srilanka (Ceylon)Buddhism has become way of violence, hatred, and criminality.Recent days we have seen suffering of muslim brothers who ran away to escape from torture by Buddhist in a boat in the middle of sea without food and water. Similarly we have seen muslims were attacked and their mosques were destroyed by Buddhist Monks. The first assasination of a prime minister of motherland was done by a Buddhist monk. Even now former President is going around buddhist temples to preach lies about Tamils to Sinhala Buddhists to turn into violence. Former President JRJ went on a march to Kandy Dalladha maligawa to create violence against Tamils. Buddism is needed by our political leaders and they will not allow to ban Monks from politics. We are very far away from true Buddism.

  • 6

    Gamini’s request and wish is commendable. Small children are made monks due to reasons like parents can’t feed them, become orphans, or “Hatara Kendere Palui”. How these kids spend rest of their lives as celibacy, suppressing natural sexuality desires, because their parents wishes them to be.. How many more monstrous Gnanasara’s are there among Sinhalese Buddhist monks who are awaiting to unleash… This core issue has to be addressed too.

  • 2

    Our religions need to be depoliticised and our parliamentarians need to be politicised. Can anyone count the number of times in the last four months our Prime Minister has spoken about preaching Buddhism in the North and educating Hindu priests on Hinduism – all by bringing over master teachers from India: It should make us think that he is the Minister of Religious Affairs.
    Has the Prime Minister suggested in the last 4-5 months how ethnic conflict can be resolved?
    Bhikkus must have the freedom to enter politics. But we should not have any state religion, leaving the religions to flourish themselves.
    Of course many parliamentarians who are ignorant of current thinking in national and international politics need to be given facilities for Continuing Professional Development like any other institute..

  • 5

    In Thailand buddhist monks having bank account..having mistress….gambling are all common ..but Thai TV is very smart not like Modaya TV

    They give live telecast of the activities of these monks e.g.: sometimes back when a monk visited his mistress in ordinary cloths they TV crew followed him and gave audience a live shot….

    Many monks were not allow to wear saffron or involved in religious activities..

    In Myanmar this happens in other way when monks became uncontrollable …next day their body will be floating somewhere..

    Keep the limit ..otherwise these Buddhists Ayotullahs will burn entire country

  • 1

    Sylviya in womanizing you forgot to mention Sobitha who practise that for the last three decades from the time of H.E. Jayawardena ??

  • 3

    Hats off to you Gamini for your forth rightness. You have given hope to many younger Sri Lankan’s
    that Sri Lanka can go forward under Maithiri ‘s leadership.

    I used to admire the old guard of the LSSP ( rathu sahotharyo ) for their principled stand on the socio politi. But in 1972 I became more disillusioned.

    Please continue with your analysis on a regular basis that whole of Sri Lanka can go forward.

    Ven Monks in the interest of the country, you all must not allow Religion and politics to mix. It is dangerous.

  • 2

    Well said Sir!
    My sentiments exactly.
    Listen Venerable Sirs, you renounced worldly affairs and worldly matters, to ‘don’ the noble robes, and become a ‘servant of the Buddha’- an enviable honour that can never be surpassed!
    Now clear off and stay off, and let the rest of the world get on.
    “Sabba papassa akaranam,
    Kusalassa upasampada,
    saccitta pariyo dapanam,
    Etam Buddhanu sasanam”!

  • 0

    Look at the role played by Rev. Rauppu Joseph, Fr. Emmanuel, Bishop Chikera, Ayatollah Humeni, Bishop Makarios in Cyprus et., etc. Take the role played by the church in negating population planning, climate control, stem-cell research, and just look at the on-going referanda in Ireland. The evangelical preachers in the US play a large role in politics.

    Luther and Calvin were primarily politicians. The Vietnam war was between the Catholic Vietnamese who were controlled by the Catholic church and supported by the Capitalist war-mongering West, while the North was Nationalist, Buddhist and socialist. The Buddhist monks played a vital role in throwing out the invaders and the invading religion that had become a parasitic force and not the religion of peace that Jesus taught.

    Today we have Catholic action, World Vision and other cunningly proselytizing organizations and NGOs. These NGOs only employ people of their religion even though the country is made up of a majority of NONChristians.
    The Western religions use more sophisticated, more -cunning methods than the Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims. That is all.

    Is unethical conversion not a form of political action? I must say that the Saudi funded Muslims are a very active, dangerous political actionism and they have planted violance, the hijab, the Niquab, the Burqua and other items of feminine oppression not found in Islam as I know it. Shouldn’t the majority of the people, led by the Buddhists, protest against it? We moderates should support those Buddhists.

    The present writer is unwittingly conspiring to shut down a good social force, i.e., Buddhist political activity that can do good if that activity can be properly channelled.

    Judaisam and Christianity give a large and important political role to its prelates. IN Sri lanka, every time prior to an election, church-going flocks are told how they should cast their vote.

    In my religion we do not distinguish between religion and secular activity as there should be a harmony between them guided by the moral teachings. The Agha Kahn is the head of my church and in effect, of the Islamiya state.

    It is the execution of the different matters that are in the hands of either Caesar (Mammon) or the Pope (God).
    The Buddhist Monks too have a right to participate in politics if the Catholic church and evangelists can engage in politics.

    • 0

      You are a typical ‘placard’ holding Buddhist.. We used to hear our Buddhism teacher calling such folks as you ‘card board bauddaya’; meaning people who are hypocrites, people such as yourself, who care more for what the buddhist monks require than the doctrine of Lord Buddha himself.. Buddhist monks are religious leaders, they have not attained nirvana or even found ‘enlightenment’ themselves, therefore they have a herculean task before them, to not only strive for nirvana themselves but to lead the lay people towards it too.. It is a sad day in Sri Lanka when their Buddhist religious leader abandon their sacred duties to take on duties which will only come in-between their quest for enlightenment.. For heavens sake man, don’t you even know the story of Gauthama Budda? How he was born a crown prince in India, and he left not only his crown, luxurious life, beautiful princess wife and newly born son; in order to achieve nirvana and show the common man the path to enlightenment.. The Buddhist monks who wish to go into politics are power hungry and no one ever came out in politics without getting their ‘hands dirty’.. That’s the occupational hazard and the nature of the ‘political game’.. Monks have rejected the life of the lay people, then should they choose the vocation of a lay person? Too many cooks will spoil the soup, so the saying goes, politics isn’t a battle field the religious leaders should be on, and if they think they should be on ‘that’ battle field, maybe its high time they leave the ‘shasanaya’ altogether!!

  • 0

    [Edited out] Joseph is very active in violent politics, there was a Brigade of suicide jacket transporting catholic priests in Jaffna. These people never talked about those priests.

    Even Some catholic priests were banging wives of their devotees when the husbands visited overseas. those were never prosecuted or discussed at least.

  • 0

    All monks are rogues. Life is easy when one does not need to work for sustenance. Mesmerising the gullible is so easy with words and seeping them in traditions. The age old adage then takes over, ‘an idle mind is the devils workshop’. When I talk of monks I am not referring to the Buddhist monks alone. Same-same with every other religion, the curse of humans. Not content with free board and lodging they want more – and politics is the next step up the ladder for freeloading and practicing fraud.

  • 0

    How about the child molestation by catholic priests that has been going on for decades if not centuries? The former Pope refused even to apologise. Some of the recent ones that came to light were jailed but not all. Religions are essentially creations of men used by opportunists to control and subjugate the weak and in the process abuse them knowing they can hide behind their religious garb.
    Those who swallow religious dictates beware. Using common sense and cultivating good practices will be far better than be religious bigots.

  • 0

    Hang Gnanasara. That will prove Buddhists take their responsibilities seriously, as they should.

    The guy is so offensive and destructive. Brings shame on everything and every one connected with genuine Buddhism.

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