13 June, 2024


Doctrinal Buddhism, The President & ‘Anthawādi’

By Mass L. Usuf

Mass 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.

Doctrinal Buddhism

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.

Reverend Monks

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).

‘Anthawadi’, Extremist

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. 

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Latest comments

  • 6

    I wish this writer will expand his writing to more mainstream issues and not just be a spokesperson for Muslims in Sri Lanka. He seems to have referenced Buddhist and Christian chronicles to extract relevant verses while his faith is probably Islam, which he believes in. He is stridently admonishing the monks for being critical of the people’s chief. I suspect his real motive lies in his resentment towards these unholy monks for their blatantly anti-Muslim stance. Ali Sabry became the infamous face of holding up a US passport with a stamp in red showing the word “CANCEL” and claimed it was his client’s passport (He was the Rajapakse family lawyer and has a deep conflict of interest in meting out “justice” for the people). Anyway, the writer’s photo against a public library book-shelf conveys nothing much about his knowledge or learning.

  • 3

    I feel pity for those law enforcement authorities who are now mercilessly accused left and right of failing to hunting down and arresting Zaharan.
    On what grounds?
    Sinhalese are unable to give interpretation to Islamic theological issues and categorise one group against the other as ‘extremist’.
    If anyone has got involved in ‘physical’ violence against another he can be dealt with of course.
    Zaharan and his followers called other Muslims as improper Muslims.
    How can an average police chap decide who is telling the truth?


    • 8

      How can an average police chap decide who is telling the truth?
      He will not find “TRUTH”. Sages past have tried and various interpretations to it have been. So pity the poor policeman, must be confused.
      It is a matter of view point. An Extremist to one will be a Saviour or a very moderate chap to another.
      I do not believe that reconciliation of the extreme views can be argued and settled from the current position. It needs a basic shift in thinking as a Sri Lankan first and then move on as Muslim Sinhalese & Tamil from thereon.

      • 0

        …….interpretations have been given.

  • 8

    “I write this column in utter shame reflecting to what LOW level our people especially, the monks have condescended themselves to.”
    Great effort to shift blame. So those who acted against the unity of Sri Lanka by indoctrination of many young minds, planted date palms, named streets in arabic (against Constitution which recognises only Sinhala Tamil and English) in the East, and later wreaked havoc by bombing churches and hotels, are of a HIGH level. So not the action but only the reaction is wrong.

    • 6

      Further, Thambiya, is not a derogatory word per se.
      Because tamil speaking muslim merchants who most probably were from tamilnadu and malabar, addressed sinhalese people as Thambi (younger brother in tamil) or Nana (elder brother in tamil muslim dilect ), both these words came into use.

  • 3

    SL also need to follow the example of France..we need tougher laws on same lines


    On Wednesday he gave the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) 15 days to work with the interior ministry.

    The CFCM has agreed to create a National Council of Imams, which will reportedly issue imams with official accreditation which could be withdrawn.

    “Two principles will be inscribed in black and white [in the charter]: the rejection of political Islam and any foreign interference,” one source told the Le Parisien newspaper after the meeting.

    It follows three suspected Islamist attacks in little more than a month.

    The charter will state that Islam is a religion and not a political movement, while also prohibiting “foreign interference” in Muslim groups.

    The measures include a wide-ranging bill that seeks to prevent radicalisation. It was unveiled on Wednesday, and includes measures such as:

    Restrictions on home-schooling and harsher punishments for those who intimidate public officials on religious grounds
    Giving children an identification number under the law that would be used to ensure they are attending school. Parents who break the law could face up to six months in jail as well as large fines

  • 2

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

    For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 2

    The first Sinhala Muslim riots took place at Gampola in 1915 because Muslims attacked a Buddhist ‘Perahera’. Muslims collaborated with British and created the problem which ended up by killing hundreds of Sinhalayo by British/Muslim/Tamil soldiers.
    In all the cases of recent conflicts between Sinhalayo and Muslims the first stone was thrown by Muslims. They create the problem and when Sinhalayo react very cleverly put the blame on Sinhala Buddhists to give the impression to the world that majority Sinhala Buddhists are violent and harassing minority Muslims.

    “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.”

  • 1

    These people who insult Sinhalayo and Buddhist monks should keep in mind that they can do this because Sinhala Buddhists saved their ancestors from persecution by Portuguese, allowed them to settle down amongst Sinhalayo, marry Sinhala women and convert them to Islam.

  • 6

    Mass Usuf:
    “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.”
    No problem with that. But in order for the citizens to respect him, he should maintain the dignity of his office. He should not be belittling his office by disrespecting law and order. He should not be undermining the courts and releasing convicted murderers and drug kingpins. He should not be appointing fake commissions to cover up his own misdeeds and to take revenge on those who tried to apply the law to him. And he should realize he can’t be the president of every citizen if he is genuflecting before the clergy of one particular religion in front of TV cameras day in day out.

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