Colombo Telegraph

Educating Ms. Serasinghe On The Uniqueness Of Sinhala-Buddhism

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Without any reservations I must concede that the Buddhist clowns must be reined in, as stated by Ms. Sharmini Serasinghe. In this survey of her version of Buddhism, I wish to state that I am ready to join her campaign this minute if the reining in of Buddhist clowns begins with her. Of course, it is not going to be an easy task because reining in the clowns of her type will be as difficult as removing the layers of paint from her face. By the look of it, she might have to buy the facial cleaners of an entire cosmetic store to get the multi-layers of paint above her neck removed to reveal her thick skin, warts and all.

The plastic look on her face extends to her arguments too. She excoriates other Buddhists who do not follow the ascetic standards she prescribes for their daily conduct. But why hasn’t she applied the identical Buddhist standards to determine her own conduct? The severity of her judgmental standards set for other Buddhists calls for critical evaluation because the validity of her commitments to Buddhist principles can be judged only by her practices and not by her censorious preaching. In taking a cynical view of the Buddhists in general she places herself on the side of those holier-than-thou arahats who adheres strictly to the pristine values of Buddhism. She even boasted once that she quit Vishaka College because she found the Buddhism in it somewhat distasteful to her exalted standards. She claimed that she discovered her paradisical liberation only after she joined a non-Buddhist school.

She also appears from time to time in these columns posing as the sath bhasa parameswara, tripitaka wageeswara and vinaya-arakshaka Anunanayake, of course, loaded with tons of cosmetics plastered all over her face. And her primary mission seems to be to ride on her Buddhistic broomstick stuck between her legs, aiming to clean up the Buddhist world. Her titty-lating anti-Sinhala-Buddhist screams make it amply clear that she never fails to get a kick out of her missionary position. Applying un-Buddhistic cosmetics – tons of it — seems to be her way of getting rid of her Freudian frustrations.

Reading her sermons on Buddhism one would think that she is on the verge of attaining nirvana, leaving the yellow-robed and other lay “clowns” to spend the rest of their time in the depths of a burning and beastly narakadiya. She reminds me of JR Jayewardene who proclaimed that he plans to attain nirvana in this life, even though it was his practice to gulp down one or two shots of whiskey a day before dinner. She has raised a series of questions more to pour scorn on the Buddhists than to put them on the straight and the narrow. As a lapsed Buddhist who is not so pure as Ms. Serasinghe I too wish to ask her a few questions to understand what makes a punctilious Buddhist like her run from her mirror to body shops where she hopes to buy her cosmetic nirvana at a price.

My initial questions are based on basic Buddhist principles. Since she demands almost an ascetic code of conduct from other Buddhists who, according to her, should only meditate in the nearest jungle to find the ultimate liberation can she explain how her jewellery decking her “kunu kaya” (rotten body) would help her to attain nirvana? In posing as a Buddhist purist, condemning others as “clowns”, isn’t she ego-tripping to boost her self-esteem sagging in her ageing breast? Doesn’t she know the story of Buddha auctioning the corpse of the highest paid tart of his time with no one buying her dolled up “kunu kaya” even when the price came down to zero? As a Buddhist committed to its highest principles does she believe that painting her face is the shortest cut to nirvana? Since she believes that giving dana and helping the sangha are practices that will not help the Buddhists to find their way to nirvana does she believe, as a pure Buddhist, that getting dolled up and partifying at the first opportunity when an invite comes her way is the better way to nirvana? Will she agree with me that painting her face will certainly boost her ego but not improve her mind? What will all her prettyfying with expensive cosmetics do to improve her knowledge or practice of Buddhism? Shouldn’t she spend her time and money she wastes on prettyfying her Plain Jane looks to help the needy? Is she buying up all the latest make-up available because she is afraid to look at the mirror without her cosmetics? And when she goes to bed at night does she like Marilyn Munroe wear only Chanel 9 to make her kunu kaya smell good?

Make no mistake. I am not being personal in raising these seemingly personal questions. To the readers who are not familiar with the Theravada Buddhist philosophical tradition of Sri Lanka it may sound as if I am being personal. But Ms. Serasinghe will know that I am only applying the basic principles of Buddhism, which is derived from “sa-ra noo kunu kayak aragena kumata though sapa vindin-nay” and also “kumana natum keli kavata sinahada” etc. These lines are from the best exposition of existential Buddhism. My questions stem from the basic Buddhist doctrine. No hard feelings, please note. She can’t take it amiss because I am following her own footsteps in applying Buddhist principles to her as strictly as does to other Buddhists.

In fact she confirms this when she contends that indestructible Buddhism is lodged fixedly in the mind of Buddhist devotees and the state need not step in, with constitutional and legal guarantees, to defend Buddhism. This implies that the other clowns who claims to be Buddhists must follow her example and reach her level of supreme serenity that lifts her mind to the highest state of Buddhist enlightenment without any external aid. If her argument is that Buddhism doesn’t need external aid why is she, as Buddhist, painting her face so much, knowing that it is a worthless exercise that does not help her to be a better Buddhist? In which sutra is it that stated that a pure usapaka ammandi like Ms. Serasinghe must doll herself to deliver her sermons on Buddhism? Her entire thesis is devoted to condemning the cosmetics of Buddhist practices followed by the bhikkus, dayakayas and lay community. Shouldn’t she, therefore, set the example by eschewing cosmetics and pursue Buddhism in the most simplistic mode. Instead she paints her face so much that she needs only a few more coloured strokes like a black moustache, blood red patches on her cheeks, some green spots here and there on her face and a dunce cap to transform her image into a circus clown.

The fact is that she has nothing original to say except to parrot the routine of what others have said many time before. She pontificates as if she is the last word on what has gone wrong with Buddhism without realising that she is merely repeating what the anti-Sri Lankan propagandists have been saying at all levels – i.e., from Buddhism Betrayed? S. J. Tambiah to his supplicants in NGOs like Radhika Coomaraswamy and Jehan Perera etc. Ms. Serasinghe, of course, would know that she was connected, once upon a time, to a descendant of the Anagarika Dharmapala family. It is possible that the divorce from that connection could have caused some antagonistic fixations in her mind against Buddhism. At least, it cannot cannot be overruled. But I must concede that this is mere speculation.

What is important is to evaluate her hysterical assertions about Buddhism and its relationship to the state. Is she finger-pointing for the good of Buddhism, or to use it as a political tool to denigrate and weaken Buddhism as a cultural force that shaped the nation down the ages? If she has nothing original and/or substantial to say to the Buddhists why doesn’t she do it in front of her mirror instead of braying in public? Why is she picking only on the Buddhists? What about the other religionists? How faithful are the other mainstream religionists to the founding principles of Christianity, Islam or Hinduism?

To her all those who defend Article 9 of the Constitution – a legal provision that has come down from the 1815 Convention – are clowns. She thinks she is not a clown because she is for the removal of Article 9 which states, inter alia, “…… shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana……” But if you read her article, particularly the questions she raise to condemn Buddhism as practised in Sri Lanka, she exposes herself as Devidatta’s weird offshoot living in cuckoo land.

Let me begin with one of her key questions though I am not quite sure whether the essence of my reply will sink through the impenetrable layers of paint in her thick head. Assuming the pompous pose of an Amazonian intellectual she asks: “Might I also ask, what in heaven’s name is so “supreme” about the Sinhalese people? What have we, the Sinhalese achieved, others have not, to entertain such “pride”? I challenge all those out there, who keep chanting, “I’m proud to call myself a Sinhala-Buddhist”, to give me a valid answer to my questions, as so far, I have not.”

If Ms. Serasinghe knew anything about the nation’s history she should know that of all the migrants who made Sri Lanka their home only the Sinhala-Buddhist turned out to be the supreme creative force that tamed the wilderness and transformed the land into a civilised and welcoming culture for other migrants to co-exist as equals with dignity and respect. This nation today consists of the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslim and Burgher migrants. But the ubiquitous foundation stones, the overarching ideology, the monumental art and architecture, the engineering feats of the hydraulic society, the sweat and the blood that built the life-giving tanks and the inspiring temples were contributed by the Sinhala-Buddhists.

Of all the migrants it was only the Sinhala-Buddhists who gave the world a new language, new culture and a new civilisation. Other migrants invariably were stuck in the ideological baggage with which they landed and were quite content to live inside their narrow boxes. Arnold Toynbee, the great historian, in his magisterial study of human civilisations, mentions only the Sinhala-Buddhists as a pioneering community that responded successfully to the challenges faced by the early settlers. It is the supreme achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhists that makes them stand above the other migrants who were mere by-standers, lending an occasional hand to the mainstream culture that moulded the nation. When the great savant Ananda Coomaraswamy wrote on Sri Lanka he lauded the exquisite treasures of Medieval Sinhala Art and pleaded for its preservation. When the leading German Indologist researched the Eastern contributions to culture he focussed essentially on the Mahavamsa, the unbroken record of Sinhala-Buddhist history. When the founding members of the Royal Asiatic Society explored from the 18th century the past of Sri Lanka they concentrated on Sinhala-Buddhist history mainly because there was nothing else that was outstanding on the same scale. The list of historic achievements of the Sinhala-Buddhists is longer than any of Ms. Serasinghe’s beauticians can imagine to improve her Plain Jane looks.

Ms. Serasinghe challenged the Sinhalese to prove that they have something which others don’t have to be proud of. I have provided incontrovertible evidence to confirm the superior contributions made by the Sinhala people just not to the nation but to the global culture. In giving the world a unique language, culture and civilisation the Sinhalese have proved their creative power and their unique capacity to lift themselves up to great heights as a civilising force. It was a humane civilising culture which gave a protective hand for the other minorities to grow together without aggressive claims to a superiority which they do not possess.

The protective shade given to minorities by the Sinhala-Buddhists goes way back into historical times. Instead of wiping out minority cultures it accommodated and integrated other cultures into its mainstream unlike in some other cultures. In India, for instance, Buddhism was wiped out by the dominant culture of hostile Hindus. In Indonesia Buddhism was erased by the rising forces of Islam. So was it in the Maldives. On the contrary, the Buddhist kings of Sri Lanka gave protection to the Hindus, Christians and Muslims. It is these unique contributions that has placed the Sinhala seal of superiority over the rest. The minorities, on the other hand, turned round and bit the hand that fed them to thrive. As revealed by the historian Dr. G. C. Mendis the records of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British do not show communal conflicts with the Sinhalese until the 20 the century when the minorities reacted violently claiming power and privileges that disturbed peaceful co-existence in historic times. So taking into considerations the overall factors, which community does Ms. Serasinghe think should be rated as superior contributors to civilised co-existence in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society?

In the light of the answers given above it is Ms. Serasinghe’s turn to provide her evidence to prove that the Sinhalese are not superior to the others in making their lasting contributions to the glory of the nation. The minorities have thrived because the Sinhalese opened the doors for them to achieve their goals. It is the aggressive demands far exceeding their contributions to the preservation of peace and prosperity that has worsened the inter-ethnic relations of the nations. For instance, if the aggressive Tamils of the North did not go down the path of the violent Vadukoddai Resolution their history and that of the nation would have been different.

Now I await Ms. Serasinghe’s response so that the readers can judge the credibility of this Bunkum-wathie. If she can I will send her box of Elizbeth Arden’s or Max Factor’s cosmetics,whichever she likes, to make her look better.

Her inability to see clearly may be due to the cosmetics that cloud her vision. Perhaps, if she could bring down her arching eyebrows from outer space to their original location and if she can remove her artificial eye-lashes and look at the world more realistically through her natural attributes, she has a good chance of overcoming her chronic myopia. Perhaps, she will also agree with me that there is no place for cosmetics in Buddhism. They are used to distort reality. It gives a false self-image and make the users of cosmetic believe that they are greater than what they really are in life.

I know it is too late to teach new tricks to an old female canine but Ms. Serasinghe must realise that both foreign and local academics, with far superior knowledge than what is contained in her peanut brain, have tried to do what she has done – denigrate the Sinhala-Buddhists – on a more sophisticated level and failed. Misguided pundits like Kapferer, Gombrich, S. J. Tambiah, H. L. Seneviratne, etc., etc. who were engaged in this business of denigrating Sinhala-Buddhists have been ripped into shreds by Dr. Susantha Goonatilake in his brilliant survey. titled Anthropologizing Sri Lanka, An Eurocentric Misadvanture. (Indiana University Press). If she has nothing better to do than repeat what more knowledgeable pundits have failed to do shouldn’t she start a new hobby like putting the hair back into the places where she has removed them?

There are also other aspects of her anti-Sinhala-Buddhist article that needs further scrutiny. I shall deal with them after I read her reply proving that she is a Satya-wathie and not a Bunkum-wathie.

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