By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
“…Another reason that the clergy must be put in place is that the latter have been known to be part and parcel of the wider game of competitive politics in democratic countries. They are indistinguishably political players with agendas driven by the main political actors in the field.”
A religion is a matter of private belief that one may have; it is also an option that one is free to have or not to have. As for the now growing millions in the world like me, religion does not provide a useful narrative at all to comprehend life. A philosophy like Buddhism does; but not a religion like Buddhism. They are all in the same boat as being socially dispensable. They are also in the same boat as containing within themselves all the potential for dangerous conflict among identities.
Minister Mangala Samaraweera has come out, again, fearlessly to assert that he is not a Buddhist but ‘someone who follows the Buddhist philosophy.’ The cleverly made distinction is very important. I like this Minister because not only is he candid; someone wanting to put sense to the heads of bigots and fanatics even at sacrifice to himself. Mangala has executed any portfolio given to him with great competence. He fights for his leader and for the party he stands for, while quite a few among the second rank of the UNP mind “their own business,” hoping that in time to come something will fall into their laps!
Thus the recent BMICH attack on Mangala by Revd Mawaraliya Bhaddiya is unjust. He referred to Mangala’s ‘broken mouth,’ and castigate the latter. This monk is the latest who tries to take over the nation’s conscience. We have numerous violent types of monks at large of a different ilk as the released jailbird, Galagoda Atte Gnanasara. The latter are ready to rush and attack, pillage and burn for the sake of the “Sinhala Buddhist nation.”
I beg pardon for having put Revd Mawaraliye Bhaddiya in this same paragraph with the raucous blokes in yellow robes. The latter monk speaks decently and isn’t rough at all. Yet, he appears now as a self-chosen clergy leader representing the national cause and I repudiate any person who uses his privileged religious cliche to tell us what to do.
Why Religions have the Potential for Social Danger
All religions are supremacist. Each religious believer thinks those of other religions are foolish or are idiots. Although, clearly, the Buddha was anti-supremacist, the Buddhist religion is supremacist.In this context, inter-faith endeavours are a joke.
A religious authority has a powerful influence on brain washing its members by putting one’s consciousness into a kind of closed box and persuading one to try and understand everything around according to that closed box. This process makes a powerful identity among followers of the same religion. It is an identity that divides; that sets one apart from others in the community.
The process of identification is accompanied by strong defensive and aggressive emotions.
I recorded this passage from somewhere, I cannot recall: “Religion’s ability to interlink thought and practice and identity is what makes it so powerful. This is because what you think is integrated with what you do and who you are and each of these things keep reinforcing and magnifying each other. Stating your beliefs becomes much more than an intellectual exercise, it becomes a gesture of solidarity with your group.”
Religious Buddhism in Sri Lanka Carries another Danger
In the case of Sri Lanka, religious Buddhism has been historically linked with the Sinhala people. This ideology is derived from a misreading of the Mahawamsa. The linkage extends the above described identity-making process to cover the majority of the Sinhala people. The identity extends to cover not only those following the Buddhist religion but the ethnic group of Sinhala people, who are Buddhists. Ethnicity and religion become one entity. The combination can be explosive.
This explosive chemistry has been exploited by hooligans who dress as monks and are ready to come to the fore on the slightest pretext.
By the same token, this same chemistry will constitute the seeds of destruction of the Sasana. Already it is reported that 239 temples have been closed down in Sri Lanka, mainly for want of Dayake support. One can read from this that there is growing disgust of the antics of many monks and fake monks among ordinary civilised people in the country.
Clergy have lost their Traditional Monopolistic Advisory Role
I have explained in a previous article why we must disregard the old notion that our clergy has an inherent right to advice the ruling elite. That idea ended with modernisation that signified the transfer of education from church/temples to the state and private sponsors. The laity, in general, these days stand as possessing more education and resources to advice than any monk or priest could ever be. The gap in education between clergy and laity is growing and growing. Doubtless the clergy has the same rights as any citizen to speak words of advice. The difference now is that they have lost the monopoly.
Another reason that the clergy must be put in place is that the latter have been known to be part and parcel of the wider game of competitive politics in democratic countries. They are indistinguishably political players with agendas driven by the main political actors in the field. I can cite many examples from Revd Mawaraliye’s own BMICH speech to demonstrate that he is tilted against the ruling government and toward the Opposition. Gnanasara’s own release from jail is a politically driven one; his political sponsors are well known. This isn’t the space for more of that.
Temple and State must be Separate
This is the accepted notion of governance in all modern societies. It is called secularisation of government policy. In the West, it began soon after the Renaissance – after a long period of clergy control of the state during the Middle Ages. Given that religion is a private concern, the state must eschew any religious responsibilities. If we are to cite a most successful state that was once behind Sri Lanka in economic development Singapore comes to mind immediately. For many reasons Sri Lanka is in the same situation that Singapore faced before it launched into a successful modern state. It is small in size like ours. It is an island. It has many religious and ethnic identities within its fold. Problems of security arising out of strategic location are similar.
In such circumstances, it is only a policy of secularisation that can bind the nation of Singaporeans being together. The same applies to Sri Lanka.
Singapore treats Religious Enthusiasm with Suspicion
I have given the comparison with Singapore. It is important to know that in Singapore secularisation is complete. Religion can be taught only in private institutions. The emphatic and deliberate strategy in Singapore is to build an identity of ‘Singaporeans.’ In Sri Lanka, we wholeheartedly identify ourselves as ‘Sri Lankans,’ only while playing and watching the cricket. In other realms of discourse, we are Sinhalese, Buddhists, Tamils, Burgher and so on.
Yesterday, I met a Christian preacher (lay person) who told me how he had to submit to the state authorities the script of what he was going to preach in Singapore. Now, this is revealing! It is also a lesson for our security policy makers when dealing with those who arrive from abroad as ‘religious preachers.’ Why not Sri Lanka follow Singapore?
We can take other measures to push religion into the backyard and leave hard working families alone. One example is to stop all broadcasting of religious prayers and chants. This includes the Muslim stuff that is foisted on citizens five times a week and also the Buddhist temple chants that come at far less frequency. Allah will bless all Muslims for not disturbing others. People have a right to a private space unpolluted by noise. These prayers and chants are not doing Sri Lankans well, anyway. A second proposal is for a strict control of the building of religious institutions. The approval of the neighbourhood must be one of many preconditions. We are glad that the naming of street boards have been confined to the three languages by a recent government decision. In the East many were coming up in Arabic. Why did we have to have a slaughter of innocent praying people to think of such changes?
Prime Minister’s Proposal
Sri Lanka prime minister stated over state media yesterday that within two years the government will set up separate state schools that are totally unrelated to language or religion as a base. At this stage we do not know the details of that arrangement. However, on principle this falls in line with the secularisation process that we argue for in this paper.
This is the time for making radical changes that cross sectional interests. In this sense, the tragic mass slaughter that we experienced would be having some beneficial impact. People of different religions and ethnic identities are willing to listening in the common interest-never as before.
Why not make more and more radical changes like these so that we can take Sri Lanka forward progressively than backward towards internecine warfare?