By Sharmini Serasinghe –
‘Buddhist Sri Lanka’ perceived as the ‘sole protector’ of the Dhamma is where all beings irrespective of caste, creed, religion or race are supposed to live in peace, compassion and harmony. Then why is this tiny tear-drop shaped nation in the vast Indian Ocean destined forever to be in tears? Where did Buddhism go wrong for Lanka? Or should it be where was Buddhism made to go wrong for Lanka?
Never before in recent history has the populace of this comparatively ‘small’ country – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim – been as ‘largely’ polarized as we see now. Physically we are so very near to one another but yet so far apart. For today we are a nation where not only are the Sinhalese and Tamils surveying each other with fear and suspicion, but the Sinhalese and Muslims as well. Whodunit!
With the embers of an ugly and unfortunate civil war still glowing, we are now beginning to feel the ominous signs of yet another episode of racial intolerance emerging, this time with the Buddhist flag being brandished against the ‘other’. Clearly there is another blood-bath on the horizon for Lanka.
In the absence of a strong political will to nip this malady in the bud, the ‘Guardians’ of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the Mahasangha, too, have taken to maintaining a stoic silence. It was only very recently and coincidentally in perfect timing with the Geneva debacle, that one of these ‘Guardians’ of Buddhism appeared to have been jolted into action and thus issued a nonsensical and incongruous statement reported in the Sunday Leader of 10th March 2013 under the caption “Asgiriya Chapter puts BBS on notice”.
This lame statement claims that they of the Asgiriya Chapter do not accept ‘some’ of the actions of the Bodu Bala Sena. The stress on the pronoun ‘some’ sticks out as a sore thumb. This could only imply that the extremist BBS Saffron Brigade not only enjoys the tacit approval and blessings of the reigning political leaders but the ‘Guardians’ of Buddhism in Lanka the Mahasangha as well, of all what the BBS stands for except ‘some’. This ‘some’ could mean anything or nothing.
If this is the interpretation of the Buddhist philosophy, practiced by the Mahasangha, then this ‘Buddhist’ country is better off without such hypocrites.
For they are then nothing but ‘Buddhist ornaments’; therefore a lame excuse for Buddhists let alone wear the mantle of the Mahasangha.
In this context all what our elected leaders including this ‘Mahasangha’ seem to be able to do is only pay mere lip-service to this ruckus. By this they seem to be implying to the Saffron Brigade “Do as you do, and don’t mind what I say”.
There are those blinded by misguided loyalty who take umbrage at the very suggestion that our ‘faultless’ elected political leaders and the oh-so-holy Mahasangha can never say or do wrong. In the minds of some of these individuals, those who accuse their holier-than-though leaders of fanning the flames of religious extremism must be either NGOs or paid by NGOs to sling mud. The truth always hurts, sometimes a lot!
They would have to be either extremely naive or endowed with limited gray-matter to believe that our political leaders in governance, ably supported by the ‘mute’ Mahasangha have ‘nothing to do’ with the gloom that is unfolding before our very eyes. After all what do they, the ruling politicians, care what becomes of the Muslims, as they don’t get their vote anyway!
What appears stark as daylight is that as long as they at the political top, including their pampered and willingly manipulated Mahasangha, are afforded the privilege of basking in the glory of self aggrandizement and all that entails the ‘good life’, that’s all they care about.
They don’t essentially give a damn or a hoot that Lanka may be entering the throes of yet another smouldering blood-bath that would ultimately leave our country in a pile of ash and rubble. After all what do they care, it’s only the common man out there who will suffer and get killed, not them. Déjà vu!
What they our elected political leaders appear to be saying but not saying is never mind the Muslims, they are getting too big for their boots anyway. So let them be rattled a bit and put in their place as long as we don’t appear to be doing it. Hence the Saffron Brigade marches forward to attend to the needful.
Then there are those languishing in ‘Camps for the Homeless’ in the North and East, torn apart from their families and places they once called home, taken over and occupied by the Army. What our elected political leaders seem to be implying to them through their sheer lack of will to resolve their issues is – never mind they voted for the Swan anyway, so let them suffer it out as those who vote for ‘others’ will be shown no mercy.
And as for the Sinhalese what our elected political leaders appear to be implying by denying them the democratic right to plan their families to suit their purse is, let them produce more, more and more so we will have more, more and more Sinhalabuddhist votes. Never mind if they are malnourished and uneducated they can still vote.
Let our elected political leaders and others not be bothered by such above-mentioned trivialities. For very soon there is an event of far greater importance that must be celebrated come hell or high water, the great ‘Victory Day’ in the month of May.
Never mind that thousands of the innocent perished and became refugees in the name of this ‘Victory Day’. They were after all a mere insignificant collateral cost because “We Won the War”. That appears to be what our elected political leaders are saying but not saying.
At a saner level might we ask does this ‘Victory Day’ need to be celebrated with such vulgar pomp and pageantry? Can it not be a day of reflection on all that ails the political system of Lanka? Do we need an annual reminder in such a crass and tasteless way of the mistakes of our own political forefathers? Should this not be rightfully a day of moaning instead of one to be celebrated? Do we have to make it so obvious to the world that we are today a nation marching backwards?
As a Buddhist might I ask our ruling political leaders: cannot, at least for one day on this day, some compassion and sensitivity be shown towards all those who gave life and limb to make this day possible? Didn’t we kill off our own and not an unwelcome foreign invader?
“Oh no!” I hear that ominous voice of our elected political leaders.
Yes they don’t see it that way and to hell with those who don’t see things their way. For this is an all important day that must be celebrated loudly and most visibly as possible and at any cost. For this is the day when The Emperor dons his ‘Victory Day’ cloak to cover his otherwise nakedness and impress the masses that there is no other such as he!
The vote to remain forever in power wins at the end of the day!
*Sharmini Serasinghe was Director Communications of the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) under Secretary Generals Jayantha Dhanapala and Dr. John Gooneratne. She counts over thirty years in journalism in both the print and electronic media.