By Vishwamithra1984 –
“The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery – not over nature but of ourselves” ~Rachel Carson
Is the person who is identified as Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero another Buddharakkhitha in the making or is he just a pretender? But the circumstances and conditions seem to be much too close for comfort, although the mannerisms and public demeanor of the two seem to keep them wider apart than one would like to accept. At this juncture it might be useful to indulge ourselves in some post-independence history of Sri Lanka, especially regarding the Sir John Kotelawala era and the following ‘1956 Revolution’, one of the main architects of which was Ven. Mapitigama Buddharakkhitha Thero, the Head Priest of the historic Kelaniya Vihara. Buddharakkhitha’s very ascension to the exalted position of the Chief Incumbent of Kelaniya was not without any rumblings either. At the very tender age of the early twenties, to assume leadership among an exclusive clergy and for that matter, at Kelaniya of all places, is indeed a spectacle by itself. Yet Buddharakkhitha achieved it with overt support from one of the leading members of the Daayaka Sabha (Lay Committee) of the Temple.
The chief among those who supported Buddharakkhitha was D C Wijewardene whose young wife was Wimala who made no effort whatsoever to conceal her political ambitions. Her first attempt at the hustings failed when she contested the Kelaniya seat in the 1952 General Elections and lost to none other than J R Jayewardene; yet with money, power and the might of the Eksath Bikkhu Peramuna (EBP), fully behind her, Wimala defeated her opponent quite comfortably at the 1956 General Elections, this time in the Mirigama electorate. Her majority was over 25,000 votes, a prodigious majority in any era. Wimala Wijewardene was one of the beneficiaries of the ’56 Revolution, a child of the “new nation”.
What added spice to an already succulent political gossip was the illicit extra-marital affair that Wimala Wijewardene was alleged to have been having with the Head Monk of the Kelaniya Vihara. An extra-marital affair of a female Cabinet Minister in the mid-Fifties in a tradition-bound society as that which existed in the middle of the Twentieth Century in Sri Lanka was not another piece of Colombo-centered gossip; it was considered an unpardonable sin by a great majority of the voters who ploughed the “Common Man’s Era’ with S W R D Bandaranaike as the Chief Shepherd.
However, Buddharakkhitha’s constituency was not the exalted diplomatic corridors of Parliament or Temple Trees; his constituency was mainly the Pirivena centers and temples of worship where the ones attired in the saffron robes were held in awe and respect, in reverence and dignity and in blind obedience and devotion. And he, Buddharakkhitha exploited that unquestioning obedience by his devotees to the hilt so much so that he was known as the uncrowned king of the Bandaranaike-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party. The tragedy of Buddharakkhitha was the tragedy of the Bandaranaike policies and the latter’s rhetorical pursuits which did not match the needs of the average voter in the context of economic uplift. So diabolical was Buddharakkhitha in his venom and hatred of the ‘Master’ whom he was credited with placing on the ‘Throne’ that when it would have been much easier to secure the participation of a layman as the ‘executioner’, he deliberately employed another one in saffron robes to pull the trigger. The tragedy resides in that very fiendish manner- by employing the finger of another Buddhist monk at the trigger of a gun- in which the assassination of one of the greatest liberals Sri Lanka produced was carried out. This part of the Buddharakkhitha saga is most illustriously penned by Justice Alles in his famous booklet: “Assassination of S W R D Bandaranaike”
The present day Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara has not yet assumed such dizzy heights as did Buddharakkhitha in the Nineteen Fifties. But the fundamentals of the saga have not changed. Although Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara was nowhere in the scene at higher levels at the time of the Presidential Elections either in 2005 or 2010, his taking over of the very venomous environment that was created after the crushing of the terrorists of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam, has created a breeding ground for extremities in politics and racial and religious disharmony. As much as Bandaranaike could have been severely lacking in demanding accountability from his own Cabinet of Ministers- he never asked Wimala Wijewardene to resign from the Cabinet nor did he ask for any explanation- the present rulers too are not asking Gnanasara to shut up and just do his regular monk’s duties. After being convicted for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, Gnanasara is being portrayed as a ‘messiah’ of the Twenty First Century. And with a nudge from the powers that be, the newly- educated middle-class people whose family cum social roots cannot be traced beyond one generation and who seem to be always in a dire struggle to attach a more acceptable DNA to themselves, are funding and supporting the demonic undertaking of the Bodhu Bala Sena without having even an iota of understanding of the danger and socio-cultural disaster that it is leading the Sinhalese Buddhist population to.
That is the cruel and invisible layer of the Sinhalese-Buddhist frenzy that organizations such as BBS have generated in the susceptible minds of ordinary men, women and children. The real danger will not be seen now. It awaits a trigger point and that trigger point is not very far away. The moment the Muslims begin to retaliate, even by showing the slightest of anger and frustration, all hell would break loose. While we must all pray and hope that that day should never dawn, if meaningful action is not taken to bring both parties together not at a rudimentary level but at the highest possible level, involving the Maha Nayakes of the Four Chapters of the Maha Sangha along with the Imams of Islam in Sri Lanka, the inevitable would happen. Then the riots of 1983 and Black July would fade into insignificance in ferocity and viciousness.
In the midst of all this, Minister Rauff Hakeem, leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which is an integral partner of the governing coalition has warned that “his Government’s failure to restrain Buddhist monks accused of sparking religious hate attacks may foment Islamic extremism and threaten security”. Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem said he had been under intense pressure from supporters to quit President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s coalition after it failed to prevent last month’s deadly religious violence. Four people were killed in the worst religious riots to hit the island in recent decades. That is four too many.
What the democratic opposition in the country must be acutely aware of is that any racial or religious riots so embarked upon by either of the parties, Muslims or Sinhalese Buddhists, will result in the political advantage swinging immediately towards the incumbent. Then the game, set and match would be for the current rulers who would be mistakenly held up as the saviors of the nation.
Another deceitful and crafty act of Gnanasara is the way in which he addresses his clergy-superiors on platform. The very respectful and dignified manner in which he invokes the blessings of the Maha Sangha is all theatre and drama. In such a dishonest and fraudulent context, how could any layman or laywoman question the sincerity and honesty of purpose so portrayed by Gnanasara?
The prognosis does not look very promising; nobody is bothering to attack the fundamentals of the issue; no leading patriarch of either religion is daring enough to silence their younger warriors. The foreboding feeling one gets is immensely threatening. Buddharakkhitha came, he saw but he was defeated; so would Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara be at the end. But we must open our eyes and ears so that we can hear the approaching danger and see the coming disaster and do what needs to be done.