8 June, 2023


Killings At Mahara Prison – A Blatant Violation Of Buddhist Ethics

By R. De.S. Seneviratne

We, as a nation are fortunate that we have been gifted with the pristine doctrine of the greatest teacher of all times; the Gauthama Buddha. However in Sri Lanka a person automatically becomes a Buddhist because he is born to Buddhist parents. This differs from Buddhists in the west, who have embraced Buddhism due to conviction by listening to or reading the Dhamma. For the majority of Sri Lankans, being a Buddhist is identified by various rites and rituals and not by following the basic tenets extolled by the Buddha. Many believe that acts such as visiting the temple on Poya days, worshipping Buddhist monks by falling at their feet, placing a statue of the Buddha in their vehicles, broadcasting Pirith chanting by way of loudspeakers and tying yards and yards of string around their wrists, make them a Buddhist. Some have gone to the extent of having stickers in their cars proclaiming to the world that they are Buddhists and they are proud of it!

The foremost tenets of the Dhamma that a Buddhist lay person should adhere to are the five precepts, namely Refraining from killing, Refraining from stealing, Refraining from lying, refraining from sexual misconduct and refraining from imbibing intoxicants. Buddhists in  this country including our rulers faithfully recite the precepts daily but many of them do not maintain a conscious effort to adhere to them but  break them regularly. It is only a few who observe them during their daily lives. They little realize that adhering to the five precepts is the code of ethics[Sila] proclaimed by the Buddha for his lay followers, and that it is the basic foundation of the Dhamma. The Buddha, in his teachings has extolled at length the importance of Virtue[sila],  nonviolence[Ahimsa], and loving kindness[metta].

Sadly, our sanctimonious rulers and their cohorts blatantly violated the Dhamma which they solemnly vowed to protect by breaking the first precept, when prison officials opened fire and killed more than ten inmates and severely injured more than fifty of them. 

Killing a human being is a heinous act. It is an unwholesome deed condemned not only by the Buddha but by the founders of all religions. It is a crime against humanity and is shunned and abhorred by all right thinking people. All living beings, may they be humans or animals have a right to life. Practicing Buddhists take great pains to avoid killing even a small insect because of fear and shame [Hiri Ottappa] of breaking a precept. Furthermore, the killing of inmates in remand custody goes against the norms of a civilized society. They are individuals who are in state custody and the state is duty bound to protect them. 

The silence of the Maha Sangha in regards to this incident is deafening it is hard to fathom the mindset of a person who destroys the life of another human being. Don’t they contemplate on the dire consequences of such a dastardly act? In the Dhammapada the Buddha states:

‘All tremble at violence: all fear death Putting oneself in the place of another,one should not kill nor cause another to kill.’ ~ The Dhammapada; verse 129

It is obvious that our rulers don’t share these sentiments. The president took his oaths at the Ruvanveli Saya shrine by offering flowers to the Buddha, and offering Atapirikara to the monks. He solemnly pledged to give Buddhism the prime place in Sri Lanka and ushering in a just and disciplined rule The act of killing prisoners who are under the protection of the state, by prison officials is in complete contradiction to his promise to the 690 thousand people who voted him to power. Does he realize that this dastardly act will earn the censure and disgust of all civilized countries and all Sri Lankans will be labeled as outcasts by the rest of the world? 

Like in all unlawful episodes of the past, such as the previous shoot out at the Welikada Jail and the Rathupaswala fiasco a commission will be appointed to inquire into this incident. Sadly, like in all other commissions of yore it is extremely doubtful that the true the perpetrators will be identified and punished. The families and the loved ones of these unfortunate young men who were gunned down in their prime will never know the truth behind this horrific incident.

Due to the absolute power enjoyed by the government, it is very unlikely that the perpetrators of this heinous crime will be punished. At present two laws exist in this country: one for those in power and another for the common man. Still one must keep in mind that no one, be it the king, the president, the prime minister or their minions, can escape from the Law of Kamma. They may well remember that Death with its mighty horde can strike them at any time and that neither power nor position can prevent it. The consequences of their unwholesome actions will pursue them relentlessly like the cartwheel that follows the ox in their journey through Samsara.

‘Neither in the sky nor in mid ocean nor by entering into a mountain cleft, nowhere in the world is there a place one may escape the results of their evil deeds.’ ~ The Dhammapada; verse 127

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 9

    “Killings At Mahara Prison – A Blatant Violation Of Buddhist Ethics”

    just the Killings At Mahara Prison ?

    The country is a testimony to “A Blatant Violation Of Buddhist Ethics”

    The country is a lesson for how not to be a Buddhist Country

    • 5

      Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country only in name.
      R. De.S. Seneviratne cannot wipe off this ignominy with even 10 articles.

      • 4

        Buddhist ethics is irrelevant to Sri Lanka. What we have is Sinhala Buddhist ethics. In this peculiar system, you cannot sell a dead chicken on a Poya day, but you can massacre humans . You can piously refuse to hang drug dealers, but you can shoot them without trial. This is a country where a Sinhala Buddhist monk can shoot a Prime Minister, but becomes an “Anglican” in popular history. In one word, HYPOCRISY on an industrial scale.

    • 2

      were there any kind of murders in prisons or anywhere heard in the country during the Good goverannce ? : No, because even if MODAYA sirisena was caught by Rajapakshes thugs, UNP governed the nation. Thanks to their civilized nature, people had no fears of such murders until that EASTER BOMB killed innocient people.
      Saharan s bomb should also connected with Rajaakshe killings. I have no doubt about that Rajaakshes are behind easter bomb killings.

  • 4

    This is not the first time those in custody have been killed by the Government. However, under Rajapakse Governments this has happened more than any other Govt. I was also shocked to see “Kudu Media” Hiru – Chamuditha and “Fake News Media” Derana -Chathura peddling the view that it was the prison doctor who started the riot by giving the prisoners tablets. Unfortunately no one has filed a case Hiru, Derana, Chamuditha and Chathura for spinning stories to divert what actually happened. Its time at least on a pro-bono basis some SL Lawyers file cases against these “news spinners-Rajapakse slaves”.

    Even the credibility of the Commission appointed by the Govt is questionable. The Commission is headed by a Senior Advisor to Minister of Justice and he comes out on various TV programs and stating reasons for what happened in the prison, even when the final report is not out. This Presidential Inquiry is just an

    • 4

      Contd… The Presidential Inquiry is just an eye wash as its the Govt inquiring its own action and its not an independent inquiry, which is the requirement of this hour. The interim report states that the weapons were removed from the prison to a safer location within the prison, if so who shot the prisoners, STF? Even last six months how many have been killed who were in remand custody, police stations as suspects and in prisons? Minister in-charge who visited the prison had the audacity to declare that no prisoner was shot even when no autopsy was conducted.

      In my opinion the Minister of Justice and Minister in-charge of Prison and the Chair of this Commission should resign immediately.

  • 5


    This is Buddhist society in action.

    If this was the first time, then what you say is true. This has happened so many times. In 1992 there was another mass killing of (Tamil) prisoners of the same Mahara prison. 1983 Welikada. 2000 Bindunuwewa. 2012 Welikada. This is Buddhism in action in SL, Burma, Cambodia, etc. Common denominator.

  • 5

    Dear Author,
    Yes. Becoming a Buddhist is by your own volition of taking Pansil, or saying to yourself the precepts as an undertaking. It is a personal thing. No need to say this in a Temple. It is your acknowledgement of acceptance of the Philosophy, basically a simple code of conduct for adherence daily. It is absurd to faithfully recite the precepts daily but many of them do not maintain a conscious effort to adhere to them but break them regularly. Everytime you break a precept you have not followed the Philosophy and cheated on yourself.
    So to call them Buddhists – the majority being precept breakers – is wrong. They are nominal Buddhists, purely because it either has some gain or just because of the accident of birth. It unfortunately maligns the true followers.

    • 3

      “the precepts as an undertaking” does not clash with any “religion” as it has only social obligations and connotations. It is of universal application for a righteous society in the day to day life and anyone is still free to practice one’s faith.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.