The Minster for `Parliamentary reforms and Mass Media’ is said to have proposed a bill to curb a number of human rights enjoyed by one section of the Sri Lankan public who are eligible to vote – namely, the Buddhist monks. For instance, they are to be denied the right to drive a motorized vehicle while other voters as well as ordained members of other religions are not subject to such a limitation. An even more bizarre piece of proposed legislation is to “prevent them from engaging in occult science”!
What are these “occult sciences”? Astrology? Palmistry? Casting out devils?, Blessing people? Invoking the power of the Gods, or of the triple gem (The Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha)?
Carrying out “Deva Pooja” or “Buddha Pooja”? Chanting words that are claimed to have special powers? Providing such chanted strings (“pirith nool”, bracelets), “Yantha” (amulets and Talismans) to politicians? Advising people regarding the occult question of what they should do to ensure a good life after birth? Does the minister consider “Ayurveda” also as an occult science?
Does it mean that priests of other religions can practice their versions of the occult sciences while the Buddhist monks cannot? It is well known that Pope Francis has recently called upon his priests to go back to the essentially medieval tradition of “casting out devils” and “evil spirits”. In June 2015, Pope Francis gave official recognition to the International Association of Exorcists (IAE), a group of priests with members in 30 countries, making it a pontifical entity. Evangelical Christians and other groups also have their IAEs, their specific traditions of blessing new homes and casting out “evil spirits”, speaking in tongues etc. The Holy mass is an occult practice where we are told that bread becomes flesh, and wine becomes blood. So, are they free to administer such services while the Buddhist monks are prevented from doing so by parliamentary fiat?
What about the Kururals, Swamijis and other Hindu Priests who carry out occult practices in Kovils? When the Poosari recites “sacred stanzas” and summons occult spirits using bells, mudras, mantras and hymns he is engaging in “occult science”. What about taking “prasad”, or engaging in bajams, frenzied dances, and in animal sacrifices to the Deity? Are all these occult practices allowed for all other faiths but not allowed for their manifestations in popular Buddhism? If someone feels that this is “not pure Buddhism”, that should be taken up with the learned monks, and not with a parliament whose majority is alleged to have not even reached the A-levels.
Then what about those rare Buddhist Monks or Priests of other faiths who may be dabbling in Quantum mechanics and Relativity, using the esoteric language of mathematics? That may seem an “occult science” to many people. Professor Polkinghorne, a theoretical Physicist that I knew slightly during my student days in Cambridge has today become an Anglican Minister and Theologian. He asserts that all knowledge is occult, and that its best presentation is found in the Anglican ministry!
If the minister wants to protect the public from frauds and quacks, the law has to be applied irrespective of a person’s religion or belief system. If a person practices “occult science” and does no harm to others, then it is not the concern of the minister. If it is a problem that affects the nature and style of monastic Buddhism, then surely it is up to the monks to deal with it, and the minister has no business there, any more than he should legislate what type of Physics or Metaphysics should be practiced by the likes of John Polkinghorne.
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