By Rehan Fernando –
Sri Lanka is known as a Buddhist country and its heritage speaks of so many Buddhist traditions as well. However, this article will be a critical evaluation to see through whether Sri Lanka as a country owns real philosophy of Buddhism or it just pretend to be Buddhism in outer appearance.
Buddhism is a way of life, a life that leads us toward satya (truth). Buddhism is never or cannot be considered as a religion, whereas it is a philosophy. Buddha never invented any religion as such during his lifetime, instead, he reflected about the primary realities of life and showed a path in which we could attain liberation. Unfortunately, Sri Lankan Buddhists are living in a wrong turn (a superstitious mythological life setting) that shows religious violence and religious superstitious. The article aims not to explain what Buddhism is, but to critically show how Sri Lankan has manipulated its Buddhism.
Buddha’s praxis is none other than detachment. The unnecessary attachments in our life, therefore, will not help us to experience true liberation. It is a bondage that we carry willingly. The depth-values of Buddhism’s holiness (sara dharma) will never teach us to lead a life of superfluous attachments. Understanding Buddha-Dhamma is very important in this context. In my opinion, all religions have failed, especially its rituals, rubrics, and regulations have nothing do with human desires. Hence, what matters is Dhamma in which we must make an option to live according to the teachings of the sacred texts.
Regrettably, the majority of Sri Lankan Buddhists never know what Buddha praxis is. They have not properly applied themselves and their lifestyle in the basic teachings of Buddha. They have become mere worshipers of buddha but not true followers. The primary misleading conception is that Sri Lanka is a mere worshiping-nation but not a thinking-nation. In such a situation, I do not think that people would make efforts of reflecting or understanding of true Buddhism and its rich philosophy. It must be well articulated and arranged in our primary education. Sri Lankans have destroyed Buddha praxis with their ignorance, religious fundamentalism, and nationalism. These are the major sicknesses of this nation and they have become a uncurable cancer today.
Buddha led a life of self-emptying. It was His praxis of liberation. He never built anything that is permanent. If such thing happens today, it is against the basic teaching of Buddhism. In Sri Lanka, we come across so many Buddhist temples that have become a type of supermarket. The property in which temples are built are full of mega buildings, colorful light systems, attractive Buddha statues, expensive materials, and so on. These items remind us of a supermarket but not a place for worship or a charm place to exercise Buddhism. Temple must be place of simplicity if we have grasped the true Buddhism as such. If a place of simplicity goes to the level of a palace, then there is something radically wrong. Most of the Buddhists monks live like supermarket owners but not as Buddha’s disciples. For an instance, they are supposed to beg for their daily meals, which is an ancient tradition of this way of life. Instead, today, Sri Lankan monks send the menu for their daily meals so that ordinary people would supply it. This type of life pattern shows how Siddhartha’s self-emptying praxis has been distorted by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks with permanent residential palaces.
Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka do not show metta, karuna, mudita, and upekkha (loving, kindness, compassion, and gladness). These are the major operative forces of Buddhism. They guide us for our well-being. The pansil (five precepts) further shows the essence of Buddhism to maintain a balanced and healthy spiritual life. Monks are supposed to give life examples through these primary teachings and conducts. Unfortunately, they are only concerned of their well-being. So, temples have become black-markets. Instead of a self-denial life, they lead a self-gaining life.
‘Bo’ tree as a sign of selflessness
Bo tree is so popular, and it can be seen every nook and corner in Sri Lanka. But the fact is that whether we have realized the message of this tree is a huge question. Buddha reflected a lot of realities of life under this Bo tree and attained Nirvana eventually. It is a sign of selflessness and emptiness.
However, what we see in this country especially in the temples is a tree that is being decorated and covered with even gold fences. On one way it looks very odd, on the other hand, this is not the spirituality that is to be promoted in seeing the Bo tree. This tree can also be a sign for us to reflect on sila, samadhi, and prajna (morality, contemplation, wisdom). It is the way of liberation of Buddha praxis.
But where can we find this basic spirituality in Sri Lanka? Bo tree has been a mere symbol to pretend peoples’ so called Buddhist religiosity, ritual fulfillment, worship, and pretended holiness. The real holiness comes from self-emptying life and selflessness.
Buddhism for religion or against religion
This is a very controversial topic. But it is anyway not complicated to understand. Buddhism does not deny any religion as such. Here, the point is Buddhism is a philosophy, a way of life, and a liberational praxis. It is Sri Lankans especially, uneducated Sri Lankans who have created a superfluous problem in applying Buddhism with religious atmosphere. They have presented a pretending spirituality for their own sake. That is not the liberative praxis of Buddhism. For instance, there are statues of Hindu gods and goddesses in Buddhist temples. Does it make sense with true Buddhism? Because it is a better commercial trend to earn money, Buddhist authorities support and promote such versions of Buddhism.
Buddhism + Religion= national sickness
Buddhism is being commonly used as a religion in this country. Buddhists want to show a pretended religiosity within the premises of Buddhism. The danger in this process is that nationalism has become an outcome politically and religiously. This is a sickness of Sri Lankans. Buddhism cannot be appearing as a religion according to the will of people. It is a mask created by many political and religious authorities in this country to promote nationalism, which has brought sad memories for the last four decades.
Buddhism must be a way of life where different communities are welcome, and diversity is respected. Its teachings can be exercised and shared with others in order to foster brotherhood and sisterhood. What prevails in Sri Lanka as a Buddhism is a national sickness. It has widespread among people just like a cancer. The only solution to get rid of such a crisis is to educate ordinary people beginning from primary education methods, which must be a village-level effort. And it is going to be a huge learning process rather than a teaching methodology.
If the above-mentioned elements are taken into serious considerations, it is obvious that Sri Lanka can never be a Buddhist country. There is no better qualitative gesture to prove real Buddhist practice in Sri Lanka. Buddhism is being sold out daily for mere political and religious agendas in promoting violence. In fact, I am quite tired of seeing Buddhists who act and pretend their business type of religious conduct through mere rituals (same with other religions too). The present version of Buddhism has even led us toward civil war fares and massacres in this so-called Buddhist-Sinhala country. If so, what is appeared to be good in the form of fake goodness must be immediately changed. Thus, people will have to decide how to do that, and when to do that.