Colombo Telegraph

Banning Active Politics For Buddhist Monks

By 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).

Politics 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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