By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Do not use the (Buddhist) robes to talk about the problems of Muslim people…. This Monk-hood cannot be given to Muslims….” – Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero (Disrupting a press conference by Buddhist monks and Muslim cleric s- Nippon Hotel, Colombo – 9.4.2014)[i]
Ven. Ranthiligama Ratnajothi Thero passed away last month.
When he died, the government did not declare national mourning and the nation did not wallow in an orgy of grief. There was no media frenzy or a public competition to claim his legacy. Such veneration is reserved for the likes of Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero who preached his own anti-dhamma of bigotry and venom.
Ven. Ratnajothi Thero took the antithetical path. He did not make a name and a living out of inciting fare and hate. Instead he spent his energies on creating an oasis of harmonious coexistence in an increasingly turbulent sea of ethno-religious fanaticism. Like his Master, he seemed to have preached non-violence and loving-kindness towards all.
According to an obituary by Dr. Rifai, “He has been an architect of Muslim and Singhalese friendship association in Hemmathagama. He has been working hard to bridge the gaps between Muslims and Singhalese people….always calling people to live in peace and communal harmony. It has been his dream to build up a strong communal and social relationship between Muslim and Singhalese communities in the area. He loved to see people living in peace and harmony…. Since unfortunate incident in Mawanella in 2001 he has been working hard among Buddhist people of the area to build communal harmony among Muslims and Sinhalese.”[ii]
Ven. Ratnajothi Thero’s funeral reflected his life. Muslims joined Buddhists in mourning his death. Muslims carried his coffin to the cremation place. Hemmanthegama Mosque Federation provided lunch to the mourners.
“Hemmathagama people have lost one of noble and venerable monks and a friend of Muslim people in our area,”[iii] lamented Mr Azhar, principal of Kotegoda School and member of Buddhist-Muslim association in Hemmathagama.
When Gangodawila Soma Thero fell victim to the Russian Winter and the manic fringe screamed murder (by conspiratorial-Christians, the main enemy of that time), the political mainstream opted for opportunistic silence. When the JHU raised its ugly head, the mainstream parties, instead of taking a principled stand against its toxic-politics, sought to benefit from it.
Lankan political establishment never stood foursquare against the scourge of Sinhala-Buddhist fanaticism.
The Rajapaksas are not making tactical use of Sinhala-Buddhist fanaticism as all Lankan parties (from right to left) did. They are creating an axiomatic and structural nexus between their dynastic project and the most extremist and virulent strain of Sinhala-Buddhism. Not only have they appropriated Sinhala-Buddhism for their exclusive use; they are also giving a distinct Rajapaksa flavour to it.
A suitable analogy is the mutually sustaining relationship between the Al-Sauds and arguably the most fanatical and primitive Islamic sub-sect – Wahabism.
The Al-Sauds of Sri Lanka
Buddhism is not a ‘religion of the book’. Sinhala-Buddhism is. Its ‘holy book’ is the Mahawamsa. The Mahawamsa misshaped the teachings of the Buddha into a martial faith – a potent governance-tool for Lanka’s kings. Anagarika Dharmapala transformed Mahawamsa-Buddhism into modern Sinhala-Buddhism, a politically and socially retrogressive creed which equates anti-imperialism and patriotism with abiding hatred of minorities and the rejection of Enlightenment values.
Rajapaksa-Buddhism marks a new low-point, in this abysmal trajectory. It seeks to create a new conflation, connecting the Buddha, Buddhism, Sinhalese and the Rajapaksas. The first exposition of this fusion-creed was made at a reality-show for the military, ‘Ranaviru Real Star’. At the tightly choreographed gala, and in the presence of the President and other Rajapaksas, Jackson Anthony, actor turned Rajapaksa-ideologue, created a new genealogy for the Ruling Family. According to this marvellously creative genealogical table, the Rajapaksas are direct descendents of Dutugemunu – the Hero-king of Sinhala-Buddhism – and the Family of King Suddhodana, the Buddha’s father.
“Today we watched the Ten Great Warriors[iv] bringing a message from King Gemunu to the current President Mahinda Rajapaksa. I felt that this was very meaningful for two reasons…. If Prince Gemunu wants to send a letter to a modern head-of-state, the most suitable amongst our post-independence leaders is the current Commander-in-Chief. Secondly Prince Gemunu has a genealogical right to send a felicitation-message to a Rajapaksa… requesting him to protect this freedom for the future… Of the 219 rulers of this country only 6 waged war to create a unitary state….King Gemunu, King Walagamba, King Datusena, King Vijayaba the Great, King Parakramabahu VI. After King Prakramabahu the only hero who united the country was Right Honourable Mahinda Rajapaksa. (Mr. Anthony did not mention George III of Great Britain and Governor Brownrigg; naturally.) … Prince Gemunu argued with his uncle that the kingship of this country belonged to him because he was a descendent of the Suddodana family, the family of Lord Buddha’s father. King Suddodana’s brother was Amithodana; Amithodana’s child was Pandushakya; Pandushakya’s daughter was Badrakachchayana; she came to Lanka to marry King Panduwasdev. Her daughter Unmada Chitra’s son was Pandukabhaya; his son was Mutasiva; his son was Devanampiyatissa; his brother was Mahanaga; Mahanaga ran away to Ruhuna and built Magampattuwa; his brother was Yatalatissa; Yatalatissa’s brother was Gotabhaya… King Gotabhaya’s son was Kawantissa; his son was Gemunu. Gemunu takes this genealogical legacy to Giruwapattuwa…. Today a Rajapaksa of Giruwapattuwa received a message from his ancestor Prince Gemunu, through the Ten Great Warriors, asking him to protect the freedom of the unitary country for the future.” [v]
This made-to-order history can be crunched into an Aristotelian syllogism:
The descendents of the Suddhodana Family are the rightful rulers of Lanka.
The Rajapaksas descend from the Suddhodana Family.
The Rajapaksas are the rightful rulers of Lanka.
Reason and intelligence can sometimes be blind to the power of ignorance. Mr. Anothony’s history is errant nonsense; it even contradicts the Mahawamsa[vi]. But it should not be dismissed as drivel because this drivel is being sprouted by a leading ideologue of the Ruling Family.
The Mahawamsa’s three precepts are Consecrated Island, Chosen Race and Sinless War; the Rajapaksa ideologues are seeking to add a fourth precept – Rightful Dynasty. Until 1815, the two necessary preconditions for Lankan kingship were royalty and Buddhism. That was how Nissankamalla, a scion of India’s Kalinga Dynasty, reigned in Pollonnaruwa and Nayakkara kings ruled the Kandyan Kingdom from 1739 (including Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe who re-established Higher Ordination).
Historically a kinship with Family Suddodana was never a condition for Lankan kingship. The purpose of this Rajapaksa addition is to use the Buddha to legitimise Rajapaksa rule, for eternity.
The BBS et al are the Rajapaksas’ Mutaween, responsible for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a la Rajapaksa-Buddhism. As the Nippon incident demonstrates, they will attack not just minorities but also Buddhists who reject Rajapaksa-Buddhism. Minorities can only be condemned of treachery; Buddhists will be accused of treachery-cum-heresy.
This fractured and warring Rajapaksa-future is still not an inevitable fate. There is another Sri Lanka which is possible, as Ven. Ratnajothi Thero’s life and death demonstrate. It is a future worth struggling for – because the alternative is an abject and a torn country at the (non-existent) mercy of the likes of the BBS and its Christian, Muslim and Hindu counterparts.
[ii]http://mawanellanews.com/the-chief-monk-of-hemmathagama-ven-ranthiligma-ratnajothi-thero-passed-away/. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Rifai and Mr. Latheef Farook for making me aware of the life and death of this truly Buddhist priest, through their articles.
[iv] According to the Mahawamsa, King Dutugemunu’s army was led by the Dasa Maha Yodayas, meaning ten great warrior generals possessing superhuman strength and martial ability.
[vi] According to the Mahawamsa, Prince Gemunu fled to Malaya (the central hills), after he fell out with his father; the Chronicle makes no mention of Giruvapattuwa. And the Prince Gemunu of Mahawamsa does not claim that he is a descendent of King Suddodhana or that Lankan kingship belongs to the descendents of Family Suddhodana.