By Mahinda Rajapksa –
Most Venerable Mahanayaka Theras, Anunayaka Theras and members of the Maha Sangha, Hon. Ministers, Parliamentarians, Secretary to the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs, Dhamma School Teachers, and students of Dhamma Schools,
Students enrolled in the Dhamma Schools today will be the generation that carries forward the Sinhala Buddhist national identity. Over the past several years, we saw the destruction brought upon in this country as a result of a significant section of the Buddhist population being alienated from the Temple, from the Dhamma and the Maha Sangha. It became fashionable for Buddhists to denigrate Buddhism and the Sinhalese. Even politicians who were elected to power by Sinhala voters, openly insulted the Maha Sangha.
People belonging to other religions and ethnic groups in this country will never insult their own religion or ethnic group in that manner. Even though a significant proportion of students from Sinhala Buddhist families are enrolled in Dhamma Schools, the number actually attending, is far fewer than the number registered. The present Sunday Dhamma Schools system commenced in 1895. Even before these Sunday Dhamma schools were instituted, the Temple imparted education to the laity. In pre-colonial times, the Temple was the main centre of education.
A secular schools system came into existence during the Dutch and British colonial eras. The world also became a more complex place and an ever expanding formal education system came into being. Today, the secular education system and the Dhamma Schools exist side by side. Even though Buddhism is taught as a subject in the secular schools system, it is through the Dhamma Schools that the younger generation is brought close to the Buddhist philosophy, the Buddhist way of life, the Buddhist traditions and the Temple. It is through the Dhamma schools that Buddhist families are brought closer to the Temple. Sinhala Buddhist culture, and our national traditions are based on the relationship between the lay community and the Temple.
The Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayake Thera once said that the purpose of the Dhamma Schools was not to impart textual knowledge but to mould the character and way of thinking of the students. The purpose of Dhamma Schools is not to prepare students for examinations. Its purpose if to create an individual imbued with a Buddhist way of thinking. Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayake Thera identified five modes of conduct expected of a dhamma school student as follows:
Firstly, adhering to the Five Precepts and observing the Eight Precepts on Poya Days. Secondly, respecting the Maha Sangha, parents, teachers and elders. Thirdly, leading a simple life and maintaining a good relationship with one’s neighbours. Fourthly, developing restraint, good behaviour, and a sound knowledge of the Dhamma. Fifthly, devotion to the Buddha-Dhamma, and being motivated by national pride and indigenous traditions. These words are valid even today. We expect to improve the Dhamma Schools system and the programmes offered in them in order to enable those institutions to produce the Buddhist youth that the Ven Pannasiha referred to.
This is a time when we have to be very vigilant with regard to what is being put into the minds of school children. Foreign funded NGOs have influenced our education system in subtle ways. I heard some leading academic bhikkus explaining how school textbooks now have content that will have the effect of corrupting young minds. A lay organisation explained how some school text books have depicted the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka as one province. It was also said that the Sinhala New Year has been dropped from some school textbooks.
We should realise that there is a concerted and ongoing attempt to divide the country, to destroy the Sinhala Buddhists, to disrupt the family as an institution among the Sinhala, Tamil, Chritian and Hindu sections of the population and to create divisions between children and their parents, between students and their teachers, between children and religions. Programmes aimed at achieving these objectives begin at the level of primary schools. After a few years, the way of thinking of the Sinhala population would have changed without anyone even realising it. An expeditious investigation will be carried out into the ideas being put into the minds of school children through school text books.
We will put in place a programme to attract more children and youth to Dhamma Schools under the guidance of the Maha Sangha. What should happen is that children and youth should be motivated to go in search of the temple and our national heritage. I believe that in order to achieve that objective, our approach also has to change with the times. A programme should be put in place to show appreciation for the voluntary work done by Dhamma school teachers. The Dhamma schools depend on their dedication. A special programme will have to be put in place to maintain the Dhamma Schools located in remote areas.
We are gathered here today, for the awards ceremony of an all island competition among Dhamma School students. I wish to convey my best wishes to all Dhamma School students in the country, regardless of whether they participated in this competition or not.
May the blessings of the Triple Gem be upon you.
*Translation of the speech made by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapksa at the National Dhamma School Convention and Awards Ceremony held at Irattaperiyakulam in Vavuniya on 27 December 2019.