By Sharmini Serasinghe –
Caution- The following is more suitable for the broad-minded and the wise. Others are kindly advised to pass!
Wonder if ours might have been a wiser, and a more ‘humane’ society, had our ‘ancient’ history, been based on Aesop’s Fables, instead of the Mahavamsa. For if not for the Mahavamsa, the Sinhalese may not have been endowed, with the reputation, of “Sinhalaya Modaya (The Sinhalese are Fools)”!
In this “wonderland” called Sri Lanka, and in this day and age, one still comes across ‘academically’ educated, and supposedly intelligent ‘Buddhists’, but sadly lacking in wisdom, who reverently believe, that the Buddha walked out of his mother’s womb, and walked seven steps, while lotuses blossomed, under his feet!
These very same supposedly educated, and intelligent ‘Buddhists’ also believe, that the enormous indentation, resembling a footprint on a boulder, at Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada to ‘Buddhists’), to be that of the Buddha. This would be in keeping with the conviction that the Buddha, was as tall, or perhaps even taller, than the Avukana Buddha statue, which stands above 40 feet (12 meters) in height!
Then, there is the ‘Dalada Maligawe’ in Kandy; most Buddhists believe, the tooth relic housed within, belonged to the Buddha. Some adorn the ‘tooth casket’ with mounds of gold jewelry, fervently believing, that they would earn merit, to the value of the gold they offer. The thought of donating the value of this gold, to feed and help, the poor, sick and the needy, that would be far more meritorious, never cross their minds!
There hangs a controversial question, over the authenticity of this ‘sacred tooth’. But then again, to those ‘educated and intelligent Buddhists’, devoid of wisdom, if the Buddha, was taller than the Avukana statue, and had a giant footprint, as on Adam’s Peak, then this ‘huge tooth’ could be his!
However it does not matter, if the tooth is over-sized, belonged to the Buddha or not, because he the ‘wise one’ asserted, that his followers must not revere, nor worship, any part of his physical self, nor idolize him. Had the Buddha wanted otherwise, he would have left not just a tooth, but his entire skeleton, for his followers to worship.
The annual Esala Perahera, in Kandy, is yet another case in point. This colourful and spectacular ‘parade’ of the ‘tooth relic’, atop a magnificent elephant, is nothing but an ego-boosting exercise, of small minded men of yore, and now, a tradition of small minded men of the present. The ‘Esala Perahera’ therefore, is no relation of Buddhism!
Then there are also those ‘Buddhists’, who on Full Moon (Poya) days, make a bee-line draped in white, to the temple, to ‘pray’ to ‘God Buddha’. They piously recite the ‘Five Precepts’ and other Buddhist verses, as in ‘praying’, facing a perceived image, of the miracle performing ‘God Buddha’. The Five Precepts- the basic code of ethics that the Buddhist laity, is required to abide by, cease to hold any value, beyond the temple gates!
They offer flowers, to clay and stone images of the Buddha, and light oil lamps, as it is an idée recue; believing by doing so, one earns enormous merit. Little do they understand the significance, of such customs; they fail to connect the similarity of flowers and the oil lamp, with their impermanent life – ‘anicca’.
Then they also go on to bathe the ‘Bo tree’ (Bodhi Puja), with pots of water, thereby encouraging tree-rot, expecting the ‘holy’ tree’ under which ‘God Buddha’ attained enlightenment, to bestow merit upon them to. During trying times, unable to accept their ‘karma’, they once again flood the ‘Bo tree’, expecting deliverance from their misery.
When this unique ‘brand’ of Sinhala/Mahavamsa-Buddhism fails to deliver, they next make a bee-line, to a Hindu kovil, break coconuts, praying for miracles, as well as cursing and damning to hell, fellow human beings. Then off they go, to a Christian church and light candles and then, to Sai Baba or even a Mosque (I have no idea what they do there). At all these places, promises (vows) are made, to various Gods, on a quid pro quo basis. Some, even resort to animal sacrifice!
Then, there are also those who believe, that the Mahawamsa was authored, by the Buddha himself!
All that the Buddha asked, of his followers, was to lead a life according to his noble teachings. But this, most find so hard to do, especially the ‘simple’ minded, Mahavamsa-Buddhist!
Mahavamsa Lies and Deceit
Perhaps nowhere in the world, might one find, this strange practice of Buddhism, other than by most Sinhalese; for it is neither a religion nor a philosophy. It is a unique ‘culture’, passed off as Buddhism, in Sri Lanka!
Who and what distorted the Buddhist philosophy, in Sri Lanka? I say firmly, the blame must be laid fair and square, at the feet of Mahanama thera, and his ‘book of Buddhist tales’- the Mahavamsa. For, it deals mostly, with mythical and supernatural tales of so called, Buddhist history, with some borrowed from the ‘Mahabaratha’ and ‘Ramayana’.
Through his Mahavamsa, Mahanama portrayed Sri Lanka, as the ‘Dammadeepa’; the chosen land of the Buddha, to protect and propagate his Dhamma. He, Mahanama said, (NOT the Buddha), that Buddhism will prevail, for five-thousand years, and the Sinhalese alone, must “protect” it.
Perhaps at a time, when Buddhism began to lose its popularity in India, The monks of the Mahavihara, especially Mahanama, might have panicked, and therefore decided to make Sri Lanka a ‘Buddhist Country’, in order to ‘protect’ Buddhism.
Thus, he created the Sinhala race, by bringing together, those from various tribes and ethnic groups, to create this one ‘supreme’ race- Sinhala-Buddhist; Buddha’s chosen people, Mahanama said, to protect Buddhism, for five-thousand years!
The Buddhist scriptures, Tripitaka, (Viniya, Suttaand Abhidhamma), and the Mahavamsa, were both written in the Pali language. Therefore the average Buddhist laity, who was not au fait with this language, would not have understood the difference between the Tripitaka, and the Mahavamsa. Hence when Buddhist monks preached the Mahavamsa, the laity accepted all that the monks said, as the true words of the Buddha.
From that day forward, 2600 years ago, the Buddhist clergy of this country, transformed the Buddhist philosophy, into an ‘ethnic’ religion of the Sinhalese, and propagated it as such, as per the Mahavamsa. Thus, over the past 2600 years, Buddhists, in this country, have been misled, misguided, led astray and lied to, by our Buddhist clergy, and their ‘bible’- the Mahavamsa!.
By converting the philosophy into a religion, Buddhist monks, also converted the Buddha, into a ‘God’, and themselves, as his ‘Messengers’, who must be revered and worshiped; totally disregarding the Buddha’s words-
“Believe nothing, in the faith of traditions,
even though, they have been held in honor,
for many generations, and in diverse places.
Do not believe, a thing, because many people speak of it.
Do not believe, in the faith, of the sages of the past.
Do not believe, what you yourself have imagined,
persuading yourself, that a God inspires you.
Believe nothing, on the sole authority, of your masters and priests.
After examination, believe what you yourself, have tested
and found, to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.” The Buddha
A case in point, as it is recorded nowhere, of the Buddha having said, is that alms must be offered to monks, in one’s home or at a temple, seven-days, three-months and one-year after a death, in one’s family.
This practice perhaps, originated through a custom, followed by our ancestors, that has today become sine qua non, for Buddhists-
2600 years ago, a Buddhist temple was the only venue, of social gathering, activity and entertainment, in a village. Hence, when a ‘Rite of Passage’ i.e. death in a family occurred, it was only natural, for the entire village, including Buddhist monks, to visit the bereaved family, and offer words and deeds of comfort and consolation, to them .
Sinhalese hospitality being such, all gathered, would be offered a meal, by the bereaved family, and the monks too, would partake of that meal. This, over the years, became part and parcel, and a ‘religious ceremony’, of the Sinhala- Buddhist ‘religion’.
With time, the Buddhist clergy, introduced a sense of ‘guilt’, to the Buddhist laity, that if such ‘alms-giving ceremonies’, were not held, the departed will be reborn, in ‘hell’. So once again, ‘debunking’ the Buddha’s theory, of ‘karma’ (unavoidable results, of our intentional actions), the monks carved a path of convenience, and reverence, for themselves.
So, according to Sinhala/Mahavamsa-Buddhism, even a murderer, rapist, child molester, and others as such, could circumvent their bad ‘karma’ and be reborn in ‘heaven’, courtesy alms and gifts, offered to Buddhist monks.
Coming from a family regarded as ‘pillars’ of the Buddhist temple, I have observed and been made to participate, in this ridiculous practice, of alms-givings, since early childhood. My paternal grandmother, in Galle, held an annual alms-giving, at her home, for a hundred corps d’elite of Buddhist monks. She had the best of the most expensive crockery, brass ‘padikkamas’, (spitting pots)’ et al, set aside, for the exclusive use of each of these monks. My grandmother, in Kandy was no different.
Today, no event of significance, for a Sinhala-Buddhist is held, without the patronage and ‘blessings’ of the ‘Maha Sangha’ (Buddhist monks). And our foolish laity, continue to believe, that the more you feed and spoil these ‘people’, the more ‘merit’ they, and their dearly departed, would receive!
Who will convince them otherwise, certainly not the Buddhist clergy!
Mahavamsa- a Sinhala-Buddhist Political Guide
If one was to go by the Mahavamsa, the Sinhala race came about, through a mythical union between a lion and a human princess. Perhaps that explains why, Mahavamsa-Buddhists, are so lethargic and bloodthirsty!
But in reality, the Sinhalese race, was a creation of the Buddhist monks of the Mahavihara, who themselves originated from India (unless they were aboriginal Veddhas).
The Mahavihara monk, Mahanama, projected himself as the Messenger of the Buddha- a 1000 years after the passing away of the Buddha himself.
The Mahavamsa was written at a time, when all Sinhalese were Buddhists and all Tamils were Hindus, long before other religions, were introduced to our country.
So, author Mahanama, designed the Mahavamsa to be, instead of a historical record of the Sinhalese and Tamils of Lanka, as a Buddhist canonical text, for the descendants of a Lion!
He took ‘bits’ and ‘pieces’ from Hinduism viz the caste system, idol worshiping, astrology, superstition etc., and projected the Buddha as a superhuman, or a God. This made it more appealing, to the average human psyche; as a religion is far easier to deal with, than a complex philosophy like Buddhism.
So today, we have Sinhala-Buddhists running around in circles, when facing a crisis, between, temples, kovils, churches, mosques and ‘others’ such, as Sai Baba.
Though the author intended the Mahavamsa to be, for the “serene joy of the pious” it contradicts itself, by condoning and equating the killing of human “invaders”, with “sinners, and wild beasts”.
He, Mahanama, in his Mahavamsa justifies, and glorifies the murder by Dutugemunu, of thousands of Tamils he called “invaders”, by equating them with “sinners, and wild beasts”. So, where is Buddhism in that? Thus, how can one regard the Mahavamsa, as a Buddhist guide?
If the Maha Sangha had been sincere, and honest from the outset, they would have disassociated the Mahavamsa, from Buddhism. Had they done so, Buddhism in Sri Lanka today, might have been practiced as the Buddha meant it to be; as per the Dhamma.
Therefore it is the linking of Buddhism with the Sinhalese, this text stands for, that has over the years, formed the mentality of the Sinhala-Buddhist psyche. It became a cast or a mould, of the Sinhala-Buddhist racist; a psychological tool, and a political guide of the Sinhala-Buddhists.
The Curse of the Caste System
What made all those Sinhalese who were originally Buddhists, turn to other religions?
The caste system, denounced by the Buddha, has been fostered by none other, than the Buddhist clergy of the Mahavamsa, themselves. They divided themselves between Nikayas, based on caste, and banned those Buddhists, they called ‘low caste’, from entering the temples, they administered.
Therefore, is it any wonder, that those Sinhalese Buddhists, would turn to a more compassionate faith, where caste, creed or ethnicity, has no place? Perhaps those Mahavamsa/Sinhala-Buddhists, like the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), their sponsors and supporters, ought to reflect on what they say and do, and ask themselves, why these Sri Lankans, who were originally Sinhalese Buddhists, renounced Buddhism, and embrace other faiths?
Strangely, in India, it is the ‘low castes’; Harijans/Dalits, once called “untouchables” or “pariahs”, who are Buddhists, and not the Brahmins of India, despite the Buddha, being a Brahmin himself.
To the Brahmins of India, one’s caste was a matter of vital importance, but one of utter indifference to the Buddha. He strongly condemned, the degradation, of the caste system. In his Order, Monks of all castes were united, as do the rivers in the sea. They lost their former names, castes, and clans, and came to be known, as members of One Community– the Sangha.
Once, the Buddha, while begging for alms, approached the house of the Brahmin, Aggikabharadvaja. The Brahmin, seeing the Buddha at a distance, shouted out: “Stay there, you shaveling, stay there you wretched monk, stay there you outcast.” The Buddha, gently asked the Brahmin: “Do you know, Brahmin, who an outcast is, and what are the conditions, that make one an outcast?”
To the dumbstruck Brahmin, the Buddha said, “”Birth makes not a man an outcast, Birth makes not a man a Brahmin; Actions make a man an outcast, Actions make a man a Brahmin.” (Sutta-nipâta, 142)
Thus, the Buddha admitted freely, into the Buddhist Order, all those he deemed fit, to lead the holy life, from all walks of life, castes and classes. Some went on to distinguish themselves, in the Buddhist Order. The Buddha was one, who united all those torn apart, by man-made differences, of caste, creed and class.
Today, save a few, where does one find these wise words, of the Buddha, practiced by our Sangha, of the Mahavamsa?
I recall my first, school Buddhist text book, as a six-year-old in Grade-One. The cover of the book was illustrated with a picture, of a fully clothed infant Buddha, walking on lotus blossoms. After querying its significance, I was informed by my ‘Buddhism’ teacher, that the Buddha walked, soon after he was born and informed all, that he would be the greatest. And because of this, lotuses blossomed, with each step he took.
For a child, who was constantly seeing her newborn cousins, not capable of such miracles, this seemed like magic to me. So I asked my teacher, if the Buddha was a magician. I was severely admonished, as a “pow kareya” (sinner), and punished for being irreverent.
From that day forward, I became extremely cautious, of whoever tried to talk Buddhism to me, until I became a lay disciple, from childhood to adulthood, of the late Rev. Piyadassi Maha Thera. My ‘guru’ taught me Buddhism, in its original form, as per the Dhamma, and not its corrupt, Mahavamsa version!
From an early age, the innocent and pure minds, of Sinhalese Buddhist children, are ‘brainwashed’, by foolish parents and teachers, with Sinhala-Buddhist racism; Mahavamsa Buddhism!
They are taught, to regard, the ‘other’, who is not a Sinhala-Buddhist, as “an invader”. They are taught, not to trust this ‘other’, who does not belong to Sri Lanka, and is only a ‘guest’, of the ‘benevolent’ Sinhala-Buddhists.
Thus, they are taught, at an early age, that all Tamils, Muslims, Hindus, Christians (Sinhala Christians included) and others, must be chased away, from Mahavamsa-Buddhist Sri Lanka, just as in ancient times, when King Dutugemunu, killed or chased away the “invaders”, to Tamil Nadu.
In Mahavamsa Buddhism, there is no place, for the Buddha’s Dhamma, of tolerance and compassion!
My ‘Accidents’ with Mahavamsa-Buddhism
My first school was a Convent, in Galle. Here, I was a very happy child, amidst a mélange of others, of various ethnic groups, and religions, including Buddhism.
With time, my Buddhist family thought it essential, for me to change to a Buddhist school. So there I ended up in an exclusive Sinhalese Buddhist private school for girls, in Colombo.
As an eleven-year-old, coming from a Convent, I was most unprepared for the ‘culture shocks’ that awaited me, at this private Buddhist school!
Coming from a family background, where displaying one’s wealth, was regarded as vulgar, as exposing one’s body, I was horrified, at the liberties afforded to the students, and teachers of this Buddhist school. Some tended to favour, students who displayed, their recently acquired family wealth; decked in gold, and dressed in ‘mini’ uniforms, and flashed money freely. They laughed and ridiculed those who appeared less privileged.
For instance, my father once dropped me in school, in his jeep, on his way to Galle. A teacher seeing this, (ironically it was my ‘Buddhism’ teacher), announced in class, that I had come to school that day, in a lorry. Of course as to be expected, I was ridiculed and made fun of, by most of my classmates. I wondered how they might have treated me, had I come to school, by bus!
The horror of studying ‘Buddhism’, in a Buddhist school, is a story by itself!
What was ‘taught’ as Buddhism, and passed off as ‘teaching’ was in fact, a self-teaching exercise, where we the students, were ordered to memorize, Buddhist verses in Pali, with no meaning of the verses offered, while the teacher napped, at her table.
This is how they ‘taught’ Buddhism, in a Buddhist school, that charged exorbitant fees, from unsuspecting parents, who believed their offspring were receiving, a ‘sound Buddhist education’. All this happened, thirty-five years ago (late 70s), and I sincerely hope, this situation has changed, for the better now.
Severely traumatised, by my horrifying ‘Buddhist school’ experience, my parents moved me back, to a Convent. And once again, I happily found myself amidst, a mélange of girls, of various ethnic groups, and religions.
With Mahavamsa-Buddhism, I seem to be accident-prone!
As a young adult, I came across many, who regarded the iconic Sinhala-Buddhist-Anagarika Dharmapala, as the next best thing, to Lord Buddha. Their hypocritical practice, of Mahavamsa-Buddhism, left a bitter taste, in my mouth, I yet feel to date.
Yet another ‘unfortunate accident’ I met, with Mahavamsa Buddhism, was when I tried to have my young son of eight years, admitted to a ‘Buddhist Sunday School’, at a leading Buddhist temple, in Colombo. The person in charge, of new admittance, was a short-tempered ‘gentleman’ of the Buddhist laity.
This ‘gentleman’ informed me, in an angry and loud voice, that I had no business, as a woman, admitting my son, though I was his mother, to a Buddhist Sunday School. He demanded that my son, be accompanied, by his father, if I wished to have him admitted, to this Buddhist Sunday School!
I wondered how, widows managed to admit their sons, to this Buddhist Sunday School.
Teach Comparative Religion in Schools
As a lay-student, of the world renowned most Venerable Piyadassi Maha Thera, I consider myself privileged, to have had such an eminent Guru, of the Buddhist order. Rev. Piyadassi, as I referred to him, had been a close friend of my family for generations, with whom we, as a family, had frequent interaction.
Here was a highly educated, intellectual Buddhist prelate, who would insist that we sit with him at table, and have lunch along with him, while I, as a curious teenager, bombarded him with questions on Buddhism, which he answered patiently and clearly. This type of interaction, with such teachers, is what is required today.
With Rev. Piyadassi’s demise in 1998, in my eyes at the time, he left shoes too big to be filled. But now I know better. For there are many Buddhist prelates and monks of his caliber out there, who are worthy of being revered and worshipped, as the true messengers of Lord Buddha’s philosophy, and they are those, who can guide Sri Lanka’s future Buddhist generations, away from Mahavamsa indoctrination, and on to the correct path.
Alas, such genuine Buddhist prelates and monks, never make news, and are often found in jungles, in deep meditation.
If Sri Lanka’s incumbent President, sincerely wishes to safeguard and foster Buddhism, in its pristine form, then it is his bounden duty, to bring forth a system, whereby our impressionable younger and future generations, are taught the Dhamma, by intelligent and educated Buddhist prelates, as opposed to those stick-in the-mud, Mahavamsa-Buddhist monks, who by no stretch of one’s imagination, are pristine models of Buddhism, to do the job.
The incumbent President has assured more than once, of “religious freedom for all communities, by enhancing interreligious harmony and tolerance”. If he is sincere, then he ought to consider introducing the subject of ‘Comparative Religion’, to all schools, whereby all would understand, the religion of the other.
This would ensure, from an early age, a deeper understanding of the fundamental philosophy of different religions, practiced in Sri Lanka, and that no religion, is above the other.
A child, who has undertaken such a course of study, will undoubtedly have a much deeper understanding of human beliefs and practices, and therefore be more tolerant of each other; not feel threatened by the religion of the other.
This would ideally lead, to our ultimate dream, of a peaceful Sri Lanka, for one and all!
However, the question begs, are our politicians selfless and sincere enough, to take up such a challenge?