20 July, 2017

Buddhism & Good Governance: The Case For A Sangha Rebellion

By H.L. Seneviratne

Prof. H.L. Seneviratne

Buddha’s disciples were never a horde of uncivilized beggars“~ Max Weber, The Religion of India

Starting with independence from British rule in 1948, mal governance in Sri Lanka has been steadily on the increase and practised by both major parties that came to power alternatively. Over time it has become pervasive and systemic, and has now infected the society’s underlying value system, bringing the society to the brink of disintegration known as “anomie” in the literature of sociology. This paper is an account of that dangerous decline and a call to the more progressive and ethically sensitive sections of the saṅgha of Sri Lanka to help the society regain its health by renouncing the Sinhala Buddhist worldview that is at the root of the problem, and living up to the noble teachings of their founder.

To begin with, we must recognize the distinction between Buddhism as a set of philosophical and ethical ideas, and Buddhism as it is popularly understood and practised by its adherents. We can call the first “Philosophical Buddhism” and the second “Cultural Buddhism”. Different Buddhist societies have different Cultural Buddhisms such as Sinhala Buddhism, Burmese Buddhism and Thai Buddhism. Philosophical Buddhism’s universalist ethical system makes it a potentially powerful influence in facilitating good governance and the rule of law. As reflected in the earliest Buddhist literature and the principles of governance allegedly followed by the paradigmatic Buddhist emperor Asoka, Philosophical Buddhism also includes a general outlook of urbanity, civility and modernity. Philosophical Buddhism thus defined is all good, but in contrast, Cultural Buddhism is a mixed bag of good and bad. The bad, if it gains the upper hand in any given society, can be detrimental to its happiness, prosperity and well being. In Sri Lanka, it is unfortunately the worldview of Sinhala Cultural Buddhism that has overwhelmingly taken hold over the society, to the near exclusion of Philosophical Buddhism. Our challenge therefore is to try and imbue the society with the universalist ethicality of Philosophical Buddhism, and its ethos of urbanity, civility and modernity; and, I am calling upon the more educated and dynamic sections of the saṅgha to accept that challenge, and give leadership to a social movement for meeting it.

In what follows, I try to show how Sinhala Cultural Buddhism’s worldview has functioned to the detriment of the society of Sri Lanka when the founding myth of its majority ethnic community was mistaken to be history, and its relation with the political exceeded the boundary of acceptability. This development, that we might call “politicization”, consisting at the broadest level the exploitation of sentiments of religion and ethnicity for political gain, gradually invaded the society as a whole, its myriad mutations infecting the value system on which the society’s health was anchored. The landmark event in which Sinhala Cultural Buddhism’s worldview effectively intervened in politics in a manner deleterious to the health of the society was the general election of 1956 when the then ruling United National Party (UNP), a party of western-acculturated upper class urban politicians was ousted by a party led by a more “nationalist” bloc of the same urban class, but widely supported by a rural middle class of the indigenous literati consisting of Buddhist monks, vernacular teachers and indigenous physicians. Since then it has been downhill for Sri Lanka as far as good governance, the rule of law, and general civility are concerned. The increasing hegemony of Sinhala Cultural Buddhism’s worldview over the society is the most damaging development of its mixed bag of good and bad, giving the bad a decisive upper hand.

Values and the Social Order

In their attempt to theorize orderly society, early modern social theorists like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, posited a primaeval society where no laws existed, and life was a “warre of every man against every man”. While this was fictional, these theorists were revealing a universal truth in what they next imagined  — the intolerability of a lawless society and the resulting decision of the people to abide by a set of rules to be implemented by a ruler to whom they voluntarily gave obedience. This chain of events allegorically states the political fact that all societies, if they were to survive amidst the constant threat of a war of each against all, would need as their anchor a set of objectively existing rules, written or remembered. Such objective rules that bring order and predictability to day-to-day behaviour are based on an underlying broader a set of values that we might call their “spirit”. While in general these rules and their underlying values are specific to given societies, many are universal, like the injunction against taking of life, stealing and lying. Some of these values, like non-discrimination, equality and the rule of law, have been incorporated into modern international charters, and have become universal criteria of good governance.

It is not the case that every citizen obeys each of these rules all the time. Infringements are constantly committed, but their severity is variable. Some are less socially harmful than others, and bring about little or no punitive action, the more harmful bringing about appropriate punishment as prescribed by law. Each society has a process and an institutional framework by means of which infringements, light or serious, are adjudicated, punishment meted out, and conformity elicited. Such a process applies equally to all, and the whole apparatus is indeed a reflection and an assurance of good governance. In a healthy and well functioning social order, its value system is internalized in the routine process of socialization of the young, and the frequency of infractions is kept to a minimum or at least below a certain maximum. Given human fallibility such a minimum frequency would be considered unavoidable and normal for a given society. A healthy society has the capability to ensure for itself a state of social and moral equilibrium that maintains infractions at this “normal” level.

The Breakdown of Values and the Sinhala Buddhist Worldview

This healthy societal state is subject to change, which itself can be said to conform to a “normal” rate. That is, although a society may show, for example, a rise in the rate of theft or violent crime, that could be explicable in terms of some intervening variable like a shortage of essentials food items. Sometimes however, especially in times of rapid social change, a society might be confronted with a situation where infractions have not only risen above their normal rate, but assumed a life of their own, gradually spreading deep into every structure, institution and process of the social organism. This could lead to a vicious circle in which the violation of norms leads to a diminution of the value system, which in turn leads to further violation of norms. When a society reaches that state, a malaise has taken over the social body and restoring it to health would be a difficult task that would take time, and a great deal of effort, perseverance and commitment. Such restoration to normalcy would require holistic treatment of the illness, not ad hoc treatment of the symptoms.

A glance at any sphere of Sri Lankan society, the social, political, administrative, economic, religious, aesthetic or any other, makes it clear that Sri Lanka has descended to that unenviable state. This is a fact noticed and commented upon practically every day in the newspapers and other media. While there are varied proximate reasons for this anomic state, I contend that all such reasons have their origin in the worldview of Sinhala Cultural Buddhism. According to this worldview, classically expressed in the national chronicle Mahāvaṃsa, Sri Lanka belongs to its ethnic and religious majority, the Sinhala Buddhists. It has been foreseen by the Buddha that it is in Sri Lanka that his dharma would shine, making it the Dhammadipa, “the island of righteousness”.

It follows that good governance according this worldview has as its first responsibility the nourishment and protection of Buddhism. It is the particular destiny of the Sinhala ethnic group, symbolized by their Buddhist king, to carry out this responsibility.  This responsibility and the implied exclusive ownership of the island by the majority Sinhala ethnic group is expressed in a myth of non violent ethnic cleansing attributed to the Buddha in which he miraculously draws near the shores of Sri Lanka a far away landmass, frightens the aboriginal (i.e., the non Sinhala) inhabitants into fleeing to it, and returns it, along with its cargo of aborigines, to its original geographic location, leaving the Sinhala Buddhists as the exclusive residents and owners of Sri Lanka. The chronicle elevates to wars fought for the protection and glory of Buddhism, what in fact would have been routine warfare of a typically pre modern, non-centralized polity with systemic instability as its normal organizational feature. Corresponding to the responsibility of nourishing and protecting Buddhism is the assurance that everything else that is important, like health, happiness and prosperity, follows automatically when Buddhism’s well being and longevity are assured, which makes it imperative that Buddhism should be protected at all cost. These relations link Buddhism irrevocably with not only the Sinhala ethnicity, but with kingship, the explicit reason for the existence of which is proclaimed to be the preservation of Buddhism. This also means that the polity, united under the ideal Buddhist king, the Wheel Rolling Emperor (cakravarti), is one and indivisible.

It is clear from the island’s socio-historical record that this is an overarching conception that in reality did not adversely effect the day today social relations between the ethnic and religious groups that jointly inhabited the island. Nor did it prevent the pragmatic acceptance of the constant flow of ethnic and religious outsiders, and their integration to the polity. Not that there was no conflict, but such conflicts were not ethnic or religious (even when so proclaimed) but arose from the systemically unstable nature of the pre-modern, non-centralized polity just mentioned. That did not mean the Sinhala Buddhist worldview withered away, but that within the reality of day-to-day social relations it had no relevance, and people of different ethnicities and religions interacted with each other freely, pragmatically and profitably.

The Sinhala Buddhist Worldview and the Modern State

This picture was to change with the arrival of the western colonial powers culminating with British rule lasting a century and a quarter. For the first time in its long history, Sri Lanka was effectively brought under one rule by the colonial government between 1796 and 1832, bringing about a modern state, defined in terms of a clear and effective boundary, centralization, and sovereignty (even though the sovereign was the colonial ruler). Starting in late 19th century, and paralleling the constitutionalist nationalist movement led by an urban, western educated and western acculturated elite, a nationalist movement of the urban Sinhala intelligentsia and middle classes led by the reformer Anagārika Dharmapāla (1864–1933) came into being that gave a new twist and a new life to the Sinhala Buddhist world view. The characteristics of the modern state, like bounded territory and sovereignty, especially when combined with representative government where majorities gain power, proved fertile ground for the myth bound Sinhala Buddhist world view to redefine itself as a guide for realistic political action in a manner it never did historically, contrary to the claims of its leaders and propagandists. What used to be an overarching myth came to be regarded as a historical fact. To state differently, instead of being an ornate piece of background décor, the Sinhala Buddhist worldview came out and situated itself at the centre of the political stage.

It took the Sinhala Buddhist worldview nearly a century to make that journey. The dominant indigenous political force throughout this period was the nationalist movement of the western acculturated urban elite whose major focus was the incremental acquisition of power in the form of representation in the legislative and executive bodies that evolved during the first decades of the 20th century. It was to this elite, the leadership of the United National Party (UNP), that power was transferred when independence arrived in 1948, as the culmination of the agitation for representation. As the new government set about governing the country, the elite that led it kept by and large intact the system of government they inherited from the British, and the values and institutions of political modernity and representative government like the rule of law, good governance, free speech, right of dissent, secularism and the separation of powers. This is not to say that this government was flawless. In an act of short term political gain, they passed into law a discriminatory piece of legislation that disenfranchised indentured Tamil labourers of Indian origin, the workforce that made possible the production of tea, the most valuable of the country’s economic assets at the time. Despite this and whatever else objectionable perpetrated by this government, it was qualitatively different from its successor governments. It kept intact the framework of modern democratic governance, in particular by ensuring secularism and the independence of the judiciary, the public service (including the police), the electoral process and freedom of the press. The story of Sri Lanka since the fall of this government in 1956 until now (2017) is a story of compromising that framework of modern democratic governance in turn by both major political parties. The most recent of these past governments, the Rājapakṣa regime ousted in 2015, was near mediaeval in its ethos, the ruler (the President) using the bureaucracy as if they were personal servants, and the country as if it were his fiefdom, as elaborated below. While a “good governance” government was elected in 2015, it has not been able so far to extricate itself from the national culture of mal governance, which tells us how deeply entrenched it is.

The Sinhala Buddhist Worldview: From 1956 to Rājapakṣa Era

The election in 1956 of the Mahajana Eksat Peramuṇa (United People’s Front, MEP) coalition replacing the United National Party (UNP) government was not just a political change. It was a shift in the value system that underlay political action. In contrast to the government just voted out of office, the newly elected coalition championed ethnicity, language, religion and “culture”, i.e., the ingredients of the Sinhala Buddhist worldview. The societal correlate of this worldview is hierarchy and ascriptive status. In contrast, that of Buddhism is equality: though not the same as our modern concept of equality, a family resemblance is clearly discernible in the openness of the ancient sangha to anyone willing to abide by its code of disciplinary rules (vinaya). To use the terms defined above, the government of the carriers of Sinhala Cultural Buddhism failed to imbibe Philosophical Buddhism’s modernity of values and outlook.

At the core of the Sinhala Buddhist worldview as appropriated by the indigenous elites who wished to topple the government of the western-acculturated elite was the strategy of appealing to the primordial sentiments of the Sinhala Buddhist majority. For this purpose they designed a platform whose main ingredients were the replacement of English with the majority language Sinhala as the official language, and giving recognition and material support for religion and “culture”. The electoral appeal of this platform was so powerful that the relatively secular and cosmopolitan UNP gradually accepted it, making it virtually the non-negotiable clause in the platforms of both major national parties. Thus the majority language Sinhala was enacted the “one official language” soon after the new government was elected in 1956. This bill, known as the Sinhala Only Act, was the single most potent factor in the dissolution of the emerging cosmopolitan value system, and thereby the prevention of the rise of a common Sri Lankan identity. The Sinhala Only Act and the accompanying replacement of English as the medium of instruction in schools tore the ethnic communities apart when the need of the hour was their united effort to build a nation of equal citizens with a common Sri Lankan identity. The contrast with Singapore could not be clearer, where a visionary and statesman-like leader continued to retain English both as state language and the medium of instruction despite his own belongingness to the majority Chinese community, thereby (in addition to other means) laying the foundation for a nation of equal citizens, and overcoming parochial considerations of ethnicity, religion and language.

The trend set in 1956, of replacing the modern cosmopolitan value system and the socio-political system based on it derived from the west that made Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) a functioning modern democracy, could not be reversed. Instead it proceeded relentlessly, gradually infecting the entire social organism. As observed already, there is no institution or area of work from menial labour to professional activity that has not been affected by it. The form it takes has been the increasing spread of bribery, corruption, and nepotism; the politicization of all institutions; fraud, inefficiency and unaccountability in everything; breakdown of the judiciary, the police and the administrative service; indiscipline at work, leisure, and on the roads; and more. It is a picture not far too different from the war of each against all imagined in the treatises of the early modern political philosophers mentioned at the beginning of this paper.

We can refer in passing to landmark instances when one more step was takes to dismantle the system of values that existed during late colonial rule and until the first decade after independence. We have already mentioned the disastrous Sinhala Only Act of 1956. While the 1956 government gave some degree of patronage to Buddhism, the fact that that was under the ministerial rubric of “cultural affairs”, kept intact the secularism of the state. The new constitution of 1972 gave official recognition to Buddhism by according it a “special place”. In 1988 the then ruling government went further by establishing a Ministry of Buddhism. While the state still technically remained secular, Buddhism became the de facto state religion, which compromised the principle of secularism, the modernity of the state, and the values and spirit of Buddhism itself.

The 1972 constitution includes other changes that, when reflected upon rationally and pragmatically, are nothing but blunders. Among these is the severing of the last link between Britain and Ceylon, the declaration that it is a republic rather than a monarchy under the ritual sovereignty of the Queen of England. Considering Sri Lanka’s historic propensity for indigenizing foreign dynasties, and the deep-seated monarchist sentiment among the people, retaining the monarchical form may have been of considerable symbolic use in forging a nation out of ethnic and religious diversity.

Other blunders of the 1972 constitution include the abolition of the right of appeal to the Privy Council, and the abrogation of the defence treaties between the two countries. The severance of these “last vestiges of imperialism”, and the post 1956 abandonment of English, may have been good political rhetoric but in a sober consideration, it would have been very much in the national interest for Sri Lanka to retain these “vestiges”. Among numerous other benefits, these vestigial relations would have facilitated both secondary and tertiary educational privileges in the UK for Sri Lanka’s gifted students. The high quality of education the country had achieved until the abandonment of English, along with its widespread availability through a system of “central schools”, would have enabled Sri Lanka to send its citizens for foreign employment as professionals rather than as menial workers as it does today. The right of appeal to the Privy Council would have acted as a deterrent to the assaults on the independence of the judiciary that commenced with the 1977 government, reaching horrendous heights during the last phase of the Rājapakṣa regime. The 1972 constitution also committed the blunder of changing the name of the country from “Ceylon” to “Sri Lanka”, claiming the latter to be the island’s  “original” name. In fact the people never called their country “Sri Lanka” — they called it “Laṅkā” in Sinhala and “Ilangai” in Tamil. In pragmatic terms the change simply threw into the dustbin the island’s existing international name “Ceylon”, and with that, the high profile name recognition that had helped the island’s products overseas and its tourism.

To be continued …

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    Rubbish article. Sinhala only act, 1972 constitution, establishing a Ministry of Buddhism, etc are few of best things happened to Sri Lanka. ———————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Only problem was and still is that Sri Lanka have got a proper system to deal with washed up Marxists, Hippies, Kalu Suddahs, and traitors effectively, these weak and opportunist people have ruined the great Sinhala-Buddhist nation. ———————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Luckily, patriotism is on the rise among Sinhala-Buddhists youth. There are no prospered country that washed up Marxists, Hippies, Kalu Suddahs, and traitors have build. REMEMBER, every well prospered country has been built on sheer patriotism. ———————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Those who have no respect and appreciation for your own mother country have no respect for your own m other.

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      John/Jimsofty
      I understand both of your difficulty in accepting the truth about Buddhism because for you all Buddhism and good governance are inpalatable and every one knows that Buddhism is only used to cheat ordinary sinhala massess and help the power hungry upper class western educated, western cultured group of inviduals & Families. If you look at all Sinhala political leadership you can see all of them gave up Buddhism and became Christians and even changed their name such as Solomon, Dias, Dudley, Percy, Richard , Percy etc. Do you think these individuals became Christians and changed their name in order to protect Buddhism? Yes, you are happy to kill thousands of innocent Sinhalese youth in the name of patriotism but none from the family of those who took the power. They were prepared loose the nationality to take nationality in western countries but they are not even prepared to loose their dual nationality status? Why?

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      Prof. H.L. Seneviratne, ——————————————————————————
      RE: Buddhism & Good Governance: The Case For A Sangha Rebellion ———————————————————————————————————————– “Thus the majority language Sinhala was enacted the “one official language” soon after the new government was elected in 1956. This bill, known as the Sinhala Only Act, was the single most potent factor in the dissolution of the emerging cosmopolitan value system, and thereby the prevention of the rise of a common Sri Lankan identity.-” ———–AND ——-“At the core of the Sinhala Buddhist worldview as appropriated by the indigenous elites who wished to topple the government of the western-acculturated elite was the strategy of appealing to the primordial sentiments of the Sinhala Buddhist majority.” —————————————————————————————————————————————-

      – Thanks for the write up. It is about the hegemony of the Monks, and the hegemony of the Sinhala”Buddhists”, at the expense of the non-Buddhists. During the colonial era , it was the hegemony of the Portuguese, Dutch and English and preferential treatment of Catholicism, The Dutch Church and the Anglican Church.

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      Prof. Seneviratne, Great article, but you have missed the fact that the corruption of Buddhism in land of Sinhala Modayas is directly caused by Greedy and Corrupt politicians, who use religion to fool the masses.
      In other words, there is too much Max Weber and not enough Karl Marx in your paper.
      The motto of political party leaders was and is: DIVIDE and DISTRACT with Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism, to LOOT and RULE the Sri Lankan masses.
      Sinhala Buddhism is the name of the game of corruption practiced in the Diyawenna Parliament of corrupt morons, the so called leaders of the SInhala Modayas ,that has trickled down to all corners of Lanka.

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      Patriotism means not to hate other communities living in our country. They are our brothers and sisters. This writer should understand Sri Lanka not only for Sinhalese Buddhists. This country belongs to the other communities also. There are Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and also these people have their own religions also. This country is for all of us and not only for Sinhala Buddhists. Before anything else this writer should study Buddhism

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    I don’t have to rea the whole article in order to understand the gibberish that the author has written here. It is very clear even the writer is a Peradeniya product post -indpendence education, it looks pretty much the christian/catholic thought which is alien to Sri lanka and to buddhism. the way, the buddhism have been defined is simply demeaning. It si the catholic/Christian mentality and the terminology that has been used to describe buddhism. Article would have been better written, if you read and understood the background of Sinhala culture and the civilization. Of course someone who read only the Bible, scrolls with its 40,000 denominations and the related european, Roman, Middle eastern literature would not know anything to write about Sinhala -buddhist culture or the Asian buddhism based culture. Anyway, post colonial Sri lanka is out of countrol. It identifies christian/catholic values and ethics and not the buddhist panchaseela and the buddhist value system. Long before, at least 583 years before Christian era, Europeans learned human rights and christian values, Buddhist – Sinhale had animal rights which said even the bird fly over the Sky had rights. Now, you come to advice buddhist monks how to lead the country along the right path. Instead, you can undersantd what kind of civilizations and cultures Asia had and how europeans and now the western human rights” crap is destroying and has destroyed asia. buddhist monks are trying but Evengelical christiand culture and Wahabi sunni muslims culture are very aggressive, arrogant, and confrontational want their way. Stupid politicians behave like headless chicken.

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    Thank you Prof. Seneviratne

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    Extremely thoughtful discussion in this essay evidences the virtual impossibility of reversing the trends that had been initiated through Mahavamsa Buddhism. A succession of Sinhala politicians have played on the theme to ensure that the Sinhalese are kept mired in ignorance of global progress and fed on the glories of Parakramabahu and his tanks as marvels of engineering. The Sinhala politician understood what was good for his children as they were educated in England while the poor Sinhala kid was educated at the Horse University (Ashwa Vidyalaya- the race course turned into university) in Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist Civilization making him a moron who would perpetuate the glories of the mythical Sinhala past. The wise among them rebelled through the JVP but were eliminated in the Sinhala Buddhist way as other dissidents-the Tamils were. We wait with bated breath to see what the panacea of the author is. Of course, going back to Philosophical Buddhism is the answer.

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    continued.
    A return to Philosophical Buddhism cannot happen. Sinhala Buddhism has become too ingrained in the Sinhala mind. The Sinhalaya has to live with it until an astute leader comes along and frees him from the bondage of the chauvinistic Sinhala politician. All of them have political heirs today. Almost all of them were educated in England. Ashwa Vidyalaya was not good enough for their progeny.

    Tamils must be indirectly thankful. Sinhala chauvinism and unBuddhist killings created a diaspora. Now its children go to the best universities around the world and study in numerous languages. They still have fidelity to their parental lands. This will once more create envy and enmity. The best solution is to let these lands have autonomy so that they at least could prosper and hopefully, lift the rest of the country from economic morass. We have to let the Sinhalaya stew in his own shit.

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      M.S., ” The best solution is to let these lands have autonomy so that they at least could prosper and hopefully,…..”. I am one Sinhalese who agrees for this solution. Let us have a referendum among Tamils (Tamil speaking people ) living outside North East whether they are preapred to move into the Tamil Homeland you are proposing.—–
      Soma

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        somass ji, ——————–“I am one Sinhalese who agrees for this solution” ————–You are not a Sinhalese but a Sinhala/Buddhist fascist.

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    Prof. Nalin has responded to this christian who is pretend to know about Buddhism and also his thesis about Buddhism come from his christian focus, typical hatchet man with a degree still batting for his masters.
    Quote from Prof. Nalin,
    “When Dr.Seneviratne visited me to research on the Jathika Chinthanaya, I found that he did not understand the concepts Paradigm or Episteme, let alone Chinthanaya. Yet, he has the audacity to comment on the Jathika Chinthanaya in his new book for his western masters and I will briefly respond to them later.”
    “Now before we get on to Anagarika Dharmapala and the Sinhala Bhikkus a la H.L. Seneviratne the western Judaic Christian sociologist, let us discuss whether the Talibans have betrayed Islam.”

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    The new constitution of 1972 gave official recognition to Buddhism by according it a “special place”. In 1988 the then ruling government went further by establishing a Ministry of Buddhism.

    Malaysia is only 61% Muslim but has an OFFICIAL religion. Sri Lanka does NOT have an official religion. A Non-Christian will NEVER become President of USA though there is no constitutional bar to it. Maldives has an official religion in Islam

    The Maldivian president, who is required to be a Sunni Muslim, is the “supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam.” Government regulations are based on Islamic law. Non-Muslim foreigners are prohibited from worshiping publicly, or from encouraging local citizens to participate in any other religion

    We do not even have to go further than the world’s most populous Muslim nation Indonesia to see who in conservative areas as Bandar Acheh they impose Sharia laws.

    Sir, It was thug fake dharmista scoundrel JRJ (architect of black july)who made a Buddha Sasana Ministry. There were many provisions vis-a-vis tamils that were wrong in the 1972 constitution but it is absurd for damned Muslims in SL to demand totally different standards to the discrimination in Malaysia(bahasa malaysia rule for all Malaysians) etc. I do not care about ministries for religion. Blame the damned UNP That Vishwamithra keeps defending. But first place for Buddhism is not a big deal. It is the minority religions who want special power to use money to convert and buy people to become muslim that is a problem.

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      Pelpola ——“It is the minority religions who want special power to use money to convert and buy people to become muslim that is a problem.” —————-Religion and patriotism are two very good places for crooks, criminals, war criminals, drug smugglers, child molesters, rapists, murderers, racists, bigots, …… to hide. Why are you hiding behind 74% Buddhism? And could you show me a Buddhists. Please note I have familiar with Sinhala/Buddhists and yet to meet a Sinhalese or a Buddhists.

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    Please Ask Muslims not to preach what they do not practice. Hindus and Buddhists have NO quarrels about practice of faith in their own version. Buddhists go to Hindu temples all the time and Hindus have no problems going to Buddhist temples. IT IS THE MUSLIMS and Born Again Christians who have problems. They are a minority. In any nation where there are minorities there is a deferential treatment of the majority. In USA White Christians are majority. In Malaysia with only 61% Muslims, they have an official religion. Maldives which was almost 100% buddhist became almost 100% Muslim via conquest and massacres(historical facts)

    The Maldivian president, who is required to be a Sunni Muslim, is the “supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam.” Government regulations are based on Islamic law. Non-Muslim foreigners are prohibited from worshiping publicly, or from encouraging local citizens to participate in any other religion

    We do not even have to go further than the world’s most populous Muslim nation Indonesia to see who in conservative areas as Bandar Acheh they impose Sharia laws. Same now in once modern Malaysia.

    But first place for Buddhism is not a big deal. It is the minority religions who want special power to use money to convert and buy people to become muslim that is a problem. Muslims are intolerant as soon as they become the majority. Look at all nations that are in flames now and that disgusting Wahabi nation of KSA. Who has freedom? democracy? women have freedom? free press? freedom to drive for women? Backward Islamist Jihadis are the biggest danger

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    Prof HL Seneviratne does our society a favour by addressing a question that continues to weaken, divide and harm the country in many disciplines. Almost everybody seems to agree politicised Buddhism in the country is the main cause of much of our problems that has brought the country virtually to its knees – in terms of destroying religious-coexistence, diminishing culture and even economically. Prof. Seneviratne opens the opportunity for all of us to participate in this crucial debate. Buddhism, as a philosophy, has much good in it – which is why it has survived globally for over two millenia. It is unfortunate many scheming Buddhist priests mislead ignorant Sinhala Buddhists to the extent they claim Buddhism belongs to the Sinhalese. Many are even made to believe the Buddha was a Sinhalese. It is the questionable practise and the hijacking of it for personal gain that has lent itself to much criticism and mayhem in the country. Today, a charlatan in Buddhist robes who greedily sought material gain from Buddhism is in hiding from law enforcement agencies – although it is an open secret he is being illegally protected by the high and the mighty. We cannot forget the other rogue who traded in Buddhism decades ago and was jailed for political murder of a PM who came to power using Buddhism as a political instrument. It is time to review the local chapter of Buddhism.
    I expect a flow of useful thought from all quarters in this important debate.
    Pandaranayagam

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    What Prof HL Seniviratne points out is a local shortcoming. Use of religion to create vote banks has become part of democracy the world over. Across the Strait, Hindu bigots have started the erosion of secular India. In a surprisingly short time, secular Turkey has become fundamentalist. Most so-called secular states promote North/South divide to exploit natural resources. In Lanka the language/religion divide has stifled development. The “rebellion” will have to come from Lankans.

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    Just beating about the bush when all that we need is a system where the real representatives of the people can represent them in Parliament instead of the bootlickers chosen by the respective party heads.

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    This article is written by some one who knew christiany models of giverning and thinking alone those lines. the writer did not know buddhist culture and how asian buddhist civilizations lived before the colonial invasions. There were just kings who were far far better than the modern so-called democracy. Modern system is a joke. but,there are people, I am talking academics and so-called intellectuals, do not think outside the box and see how people lived before the modern system. Europe is still stupid to how those grand civilizations lived and thrived. IF that system is this grand, one they are crumbling down after one generation or so. both India and Mahabaratha had grand cultures which are far better than the modern roman democracy. those asian cultures were based on buddhism.YOu may write serials to this. I am sure, all will be crap.

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    Mr Sarath de Alwis,

    Thank you for your comment. Sorry I do not have a straightforward answer to your question. My guess is that the Arahant Mahinda brought the original doctrines, along with some additions. (What the “original doctrines” are, is another question, which I am ignoring for the purposes of this discussion). The point I was trying to make is the distinction between ethics and ritual. Whatever ritual Asoka may have practised, it is clear from his edicts that ethics rather than ritual was the more important part of his religion, and that he advocated it as much for himself as for his subjects. As an illustration we can cite his famous statement that those who denigrate other people’s religion, denigrate their own. This in our terms is “tolerance of dissent”, and it expresses a civility and a modernity of mind. If indeed what the Arahant Mahinda brought was Asokan Cultural Buddhism, it was still a lot closer to “Philosophical Buddhism” than to the “Cultural Buddhisms” we see today in Sri Lanka, Myanmar,Thailand or elsewhere in the Buddhist world.

    It is quite correct that that the British monarchy was by and large accepted by the people. As late as the 1940s, I recall seeing on the walls of the rural gentry, framed pictures of king George V alongside Sri Vikrama, the print underneath using identical appellations. This was a pragmatic position to take. The thinking of the more reflective members of the society seems to have been that it is too bad that we had to go under colonialism, but that having taken place, the next best thing is to use it to the country’s best advantage. It is this pragmatism that’s lost on the ideologues of all extremes. The monks of the Vidyodaya Pirivena took that pragmatic position and used it to great effect in enlisting the support and patronage of the British colonial government for their Pirivena. The colonial Governor took pride in presiding over the ceremonial at the Vidyodaya Pirivena

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    What a one sided tendentious mumbo jumbo of mixing up of social and political phenomena!! Really!!!! This piece of writing by Mr. Seneviratne shows how mediocre people with absolutely no capability of even supporting their own arguments or completing a proper sentence have contributed to the present crisis in Sri Lankan society and politics. He is contradicting his own arguments, drawing parallels where no parallels exist, outright misleading and stating half-truths/lies and presenting ill thought-out solutions, which are part of the problem itself and committing the very same mistakes he is accusing the Sinhalese leaders, monks and politicians, and the Sinhalese people and society itself of. When an anthropologist steps out of his academic pursuit, to the degree Mr. Senaviratne does, then the person is corrupt and is abusing his titles to put weight to whatever agenda he is trying to push. Not at all different from corrupt monks who misuse religion to push their own fundamentalist political agendas.

    (By the way Mr. Senaviratne, it is not doctrines, but doctrine. Try to at least understand the difference between that, and whether Arahat Mahinda had brought doctrines instead of the doctrine when you have written so much about this matter. This is exactly the problem with medicre people like you, you cannot differentiate even such a thing, but diffuse and erase the differentiation, and then start writing some garbage about the same matter).

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