By Mass L. Usuf –
Let me be clear at the outset. This column is not to shower tributes or accolades on His Excellency the President Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa or those witch-hunted with the cliché ‘Anthawadi’. Anyway, since the President has completed his first year in Office, Congratulations! All Sri Lankans are looking forward to live in a socially and economically secured environment.
It is no secret that the President in his election campaign made good use of the ethnic divide to ensure his access to the highest echelon of power. He right royally took advantage of the emotions and sentiments of the Buddhist monks and the Sinhala people. The downside of this strategy was that it inducted to the limelight many monks most of whom were not even known to the larger public. Today, every known and unknown monk is laying a claim on his Presidency saying that they were the reason for his victory. Some of them truly strived on his behalf while others were in the periphery to pick up the crumbs and yet others who were not in the scene at all.
It seems that the President’s honey moon with the monks has generated negative kamma. Now he is facing threats, insults and pressure by the very people whom he mollycoddled during the campaign. You reap what you sow is an old proverb with a theological reference.
“What comes to you of good is from Allah, but what comes to you of evil, [O man], is from yourself.” (Qur’an, 4:79)
Says the Bible, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)
As per the Buddhist doctrine of Dependent Origination,
“When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.” (Samyutta Nikaya 12.61)
Respect The President
The President of a country is the President of every citizen. To protect and safeguard his respect and dignity is the moral responsibility of every citizen. Irrespective of whether one may like him or not. Criticising the President for his official actions or inactions are a given in a democracy. Such critical reviews are important and necessary. This is what sustains good governance. Personal abuse and hate filled comments are absolutely unacceptable. When such abusive rhetoric is spewed by monks it reflects badly on many spheres – politics, morality, Dhamma and on the Sangha.
Two reasons may be attributed to this behaviour. Firstly, they were ‘auctioned’ and pampered by politicians and, secondly, because of the respect to Buddha, people pay obeisance to them. The people seem not to realise that to pay homage for the wrong cause is not part of the Dhamma. Only a few people dare challenge a monk if they act in violation of their vinaya (discipline). The freedom of speech for the monks are limitless. As rightly stated sometimes by some intellects, the masses are cocooned in a mental state of submission. This is both politically and religiously.
Personal abuse and insults directed at the President must stop. Irrespective of whether the abuser is a monk or a layman. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the President of this country and we have to accept that fact. As citizens we must respect the dignity of his Office. I write this column in utter shame reflecting to what low level our people especially, the monks have condescended themselves to.
What are generally seen as Buddhist practices, in many instances, are a deviation from doctrinal Buddhism. Dwelling on the basic four noble truths, with the dominant aphorism ‘attachment is the root of all suffering’ and, the remedial Eightfold path gives a rational insight into this. Seeking the wholesomeness of this idealistic non-attachment, a monk distances himself with anything that will defile his path to enlightenment. Some of these are ill-will, hatred, obduracy of mind, stubbornness, doubt and suspicion.
One is puzzled looking at the way some monks conduct themselves. A debate arises in the mind. Do the Monks consider themselves above the other humans or have the Sinhala masses exaggerated the great institution that buddha founded – the noble Sangha? Besides, there is a substantive erosion of the doctrinal norm of non-violence (ahimsa). History, past and recent, amply demonstrates that both monk and layman, would not hesitate to resort to violence. The anti-Muslim violence in Aluthgama in June 2014 which displaced around 10,000 people and killed four people is one instance of the several. The assassination of former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandranaike in 1959 by a robed monk Talduve Somarama, epitomizes this observation.
What about the monks who have entered into politics? Unabashedly, violating the important precepts of monastic discipline.
A sincere and inquiring Buddhist can observe a radicalized departure from the traditional, orthodox and sublime disposition of monkhood. There has been a serious erosion of the high values and ethics of monkhood to the extent that some monks behave much like a lay person and sometimes like rowdies. Outwardly, the difference between a monk and a lay person is only the saffron robe that the monk wears. They are engrossed in exactly what they are supposed to renounce namely, Tanha (desire) and they act contrary to what they are supposed to promote namely, Ahimsa (non-violence). The public has even witnessed violence between the monks themselves. Sadly, people continue to pay obeisance to such monks despite the Buddha saying that they do not deserve the robe.
“Whoever being depraved, devoid of self-control and truthfulness, should wear the monk’s yellow robe, he surely is not worthy of the robe.” (Dhammapada 9, Yamakavagga: Pairs).
We as a nation have not yet come of age to cope up with this era of globalization, international migration, scientific and technological advancements. Existing in modern environments demand understanding, tolerance and accommodation of the other. The costly lessons that the Tamil conflict had taught us have not yet been learnt by our people. To seek to dominate or impose on others in the name of protecting or preserving one’s particular religion, culture or race does not fit into this broad spectrum of modern day living.
Anything involving a Muslim culminates in calling the person or the organization or the politician ‘Anthawadi’. This has become a fashionable word in the mouths of the Sinhala people and monks. They take extreme liberty in insulting an entire community as extremists. Often uttering lies, exaggeration and unpleasant expressions. This radical change in the approach of the Sinhala people towards the Muslims began with the ending of the LTTE conflict.
James Stewart, an Australian academician and researcher claims that this is “an extension of pre-existing oppression patterns faced by other minorities residing on the island, particularly Tamils.” He refers to the monk Bowatte Indaratana Thera who committed suicide by self-immolation outside the Sri Dalada Maligava in Kandy on 24 May 2013. “Indaratana’s decision to commit suicide for the halal abolitionist cause illustrates the extreme character of these anti-Muslim groups.”
Ali Sabry An Extremist
Muslim Parliamentarians and politicians have been called extremists and bashed mercilessly, reviled in a frenzy and condemned to damnation. Let me be clear, I am not holding a brief to any one of them but merely stating the reality and drawing a comparison. When a Muslim cross over to the other side, it is cunning, ‘deal’, untrustworthy etc. But, not the same when a Sinhala or Tamil politician cross over. It seems that when others cross over, they are not cunning, no ‘deal’ and are trustworthy. This obnoxious latitude and hypocrisy simply stink.
During the ‘Yahapalanaya’, Ali Sabry was the darling of the Sinhala people and the monks. He was hyped as the embodiment of co-existence, a balanced Muslim, Sinhala friendly Muslim and all those praises. Irrespective of whether he truly reflected such commendations or not, the compelling cause was that the Rajapakshes were protected from the long arm of the law because of his legal skills.
Once the ‘heta nama lakshaya’ became victorious using racial politics, Ali Sabry became ‘karapincha’ (curry leaf) for most Sinhala people and the monks. This is the level of sincerity of their commendations. When the President appointed him as the Minister of Justice their rancour, hostility and jealousy knew no bounds. Simply because he is a ‘thambiya’, a derogatory term used against Muslims by the racists. To be fair and reasonable, the Justice Minister Mr. Ali Sabry is one of most capable among the Cabinet of Ministers. They fail to realise the advantage to the country by having him in the Cabinet. This is the level of narrowmindedness and deluded patriotism. Now Ali Sabry has also been given the label Muslim ‘Anthawadi’ and the President constantly threatened by the ‘heta nama lakshaya’.
Is it that if a good comes to a Muslim you bite your fingers and if a bad befalls on him you rejoice? One wonders so when trying to make sense of all these.