26 June, 2019

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Male Fragility & The Sri Lankan Crisis: A Queer Feminist Reading – III

By Chamindra Weerawardhana –

Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana

As three weeks passed after the 2019 Easter Sunday massacre of innocent citizens and their children, the crisis took another turn, with violent mobs engaging in acts of arson and murder. To the tremendous fortune of the Sri Lankan people, the public outcry from all quarters against this kind of vandal violence was very high. The work of the armed forces in drawing the line on these riots must be commended. Certain reports have accused members of the armed forces of alleged collusion. An investigation is underway. However, this writer would categorically emphasise the fact that the armed forces have been exemplary in their efforts to contain the rising tensions. The courage, dedication, and devotion to public security of every single servicewoman and serviceman deserves unreserved and unconditional commendation. 

It needs to be mentioned, for the record, that the arson attacks and mob violence were similar to acts of violence in the early 1980s, wanted, conceived, and coordinated by men at the highest levels of government. The Wickremesinghe government desperately needs mayhem of this nature at the moment, so that it can engage in its agendas of postponing forthcoming elections and implementing the promises it has made to its benefactors in Washington DC. 

A major absence? 

Strong calls for calm and nonviolence came from religious leaders. Ministers of religion from all the main faith traditions in the country came together in making this request. Their role has been highly influential in calming the situation. If one takes a look at these calls for calm, interfaith dialogues, conversations on inter-religious coexistence and understanding, and calls for nonviolence, one can notice a conspicuous absence – that of women. 

In Sri Lankan public discourses on issues related to peace dividends, nonviolence and interfaith harmony, the role of female ministers of religion has been severely downgraded and subjected to erasure. The Catholic cardinal, a man known for his misogynist and homophobic views, emerged as the absolute hero in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks. This by no means is an effort to downgrade His Eminence’s very laudable appeal for communal harmony and nonviolence. His Eminence certainly deserves our respect and appreciation for the leadership he provided to the Catholic community in the face of such tragedy of unprecedented proportions. However, what we can also notice is that the tremendous work done by Catholic nuns, especially in working with the distressed families, orphaned children and inured people, has not received much deserved attention and appreciation. 

This writer, a Sinhala Buddhist, will focus below on the erasure of female members of the Buddhist clergy in the face of the current crisis. Commenting on this problem in other faiths is best left to followers of those faith traditions. 

A ‘second place’ for women? 

In the practices and codes of the Sri Lankan brand of Theravada Buddhism, the position given to women in the clergy leaves much to be desired. There is a great deal of resistance from male monks to any discussion on full equality and rights to their female counterparts. 

Buddhist clergywomen are categorically kept away from many sacred spaces. They are, for example, not allowed in the inner sanctum where the tooth relic is kept at the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The rituals of the inner sanctum are exclusively the domain of monks. This is all the more ludicrous given the fact that it was a woman, Princess Hemamala, who is said to have brought the Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka, hidden in her hair. 

The same goes for the uda maluwa of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Only monks and laymen are allowed up there. The rare exceptions would have perhaps been the Bandaranaike mother and daughter during their prime ministerial and presidential tenures, and….the Queen of England!. This is yet another stupid and shameless restriction, as it was a Bhikkuni, the Most Ven. Maha Sanghamitta, who is said to have brought the sapling of the Bodhi tree to Lanka. 

A reality of restrictions and exclusions? 

Highly patriarchal codes and practices continue to haunt and impede the progress of the Buddhist establishment in Sri Lanka. Despite the fact that Higher ordination has been restored in Sri Lanka, and although we do fare slightly better compared to other Theravada traditions such as the Thai Forest Tradition, Lankan Bhikkunis are subjected to categorical exclusion from the hierarchies in our Buddhist establishment. Bhikkunis do not occupy any decision-making positions or seats in the high-level committees of any of the major nikayas. The Mahabodhi Society has chief prelates in many countries around the world. All of them are men. All the Mahanayakes and Anunayakes are men. In terms of media exposure and political leverage, the only Buddhist ministers of religion who are given priority are men. 

Birds of a feather? 

The patriarchal practices of the Lankan Theravada Buddhist establishment are the root cause of the large majority of problems it faces today. When one compares some of their discourses with Islamic and Christian fundamentalisms, they are all near-identical. This is explained in the close ties between some Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalist men and Islamic/Catholic fundamentalist men. Bodu Bala Sena, for example, once visited the Catholic cardinal to express their appreciation of the Cardinal’s archaic views women’s rights to bodily autonomy. A group of Islamic clerics and laymen – whose sexist credentials require no reiteration – once visited the Ven. Galagoda-atté Gnanasara at the prison hospital. To date, not a single Buddhist clergy wo/man has questioned the misogyny of the Cardinal’s views on many issues that concern women and non-heteronormative people. 

It is time to end the highly condescending and secondary treatment accorded to women in the Buddhist clergy. Time has come to shed the monopoly and supremacy of men, and to grant Bhikkunis all the privileges and possibilities reserved for Bhikkhus. Until considerable progress is made in this direction, Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism will be ill-equipped to face the challenges of the day. 

The biggest threat? 

Indeed, the biggest threat to the continuation of the Buddhist faith, traditions and culture in Sri Lanka is not some Wahhabi extremist idiocy or some obscure Christian fundamentalist inanity whose congregation can barely fill a tuk-tuk and is desperate to convert disempowered people. Instead, the biggest threat is the inability of a very large segment of the men who compose the Maha Sangha to look past their highly patriarchal, misogynist, heteronormative and ethno-centric understandings of: a) Buddhist teachings, and, b) their role as monks. 

Fixing our house is an essential priority if ‘Sinhala-Buddhism’ is to be protected and developed as an advanced spiritual discourse, and as an influential religious establishment that will keep violent extremist threats at bay. Today, it is a rather hilarious sight to see monks known for their misogynist, homophobic, male-centric and exclusivist views [and consequently of an ilk bordering on the ‘extremist’] calling upon Lankan Muslims to ditch Wahhabi/Salafi/Deobandi [WSD] extremisms! 

The likes of WSD extremisms are best addressed not by other extremisms, but by offering a modern, cosmopolitan and inclusive alternative. When Buddhist ministers of religion call for the repeal of the MMDA, for instance, such criticism can only be viable if it is preceded by a concerted effort ‘within’ the Buddhist establishment to challenge its own patriarchal excesses and advocate for stronger policies of gender equality, gender justice, empowerment, and parity. 

Only one way forward? 

There is only one way to go beyond  ‘pot calling the kettle black’ religious politics led by men of different faiths who, when it comes to their social conservatisms, are something more than birds of a proverbial feather;  the Sinhala-Buddhist establishment needs to take concerted steps to challenge and change its archaic, illogical, meaningless and self-destructive practices, customs, ideologies and politics of centring everything around male fragility.  

Overcoming these conservatisms, and providing clergywomen  with all the opportunities in the Buddhist establishment, and debunking the myth that they are accessories to, if not subordinate to male monks, are essential steps forward. Bhikkunis need to be provided with the tools and authority to play stronger lead roles in the training of future clergywo/men. A powerful and influential position for Bhikkunis in this sphere carries the potential of ensuring safer spaces for children and young adults growing up within the Buddhist establishment as Samaneris and Samaneras, and could in turn help them grow up to become balanced, open-minded, and healthy citizens. The current system of highly gender-segregated and conservatism-filled up-bringing is far from suitable to create the modern Buddhist clergy wo/man who can genuinely challenge the social conservatisms, extremisms, classism/s, casteism/s, sexism/s, ethno-centrism/s, and other woes in our multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Reforms of this nature are absolutely essential if the Buddhist clergy is to play a truly constructive role in disseminating the Dhamma outside our shores, and presenting our brand of Buddhism as a philosophy, a monastic practice as well as a way of life that appeals to people from any inherited religious background.

Related posts:

Male Fragility & The Sri Lankan Crisis: A Queer Feminist Reading

Male Fragility & The Sri Lankan Crisis: A Queer Feminist Reading – II

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Latest comments

  • 3
    4

    ‘The Wickremesinghe government desperately needs mayhem of this nature at the moment, so that it can engage in its agendas of postponing forthcoming elections and implementing the promises it has made to its benefactors in Washington DC’

    This is what many have suspected. After all why would the Rajapakses start riots in MR’s own Kurunegala electorate? Another website shows Sinhala shops and some taverns (obviously not Muslim owned) burnt by the mobs. Are these fake pictures?

    • 4
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      taraki

      “Another website shows Sinhala shops and some taverns (obviously not Muslim owned) burnt by the mobs. “

      Possible reasons:

      These are Muslims owned shops run by Sinhalese
      These are Tamil owned shops run by Sinhalese.
      Tamils set fire to their own shops hoping to collect a hefty compensation from Insurance firms.
      Muslims set fire to their own shops hoping to collect a hefty compensation from Insurance firms.
      Police set fire to the shops because the owners refused to increase regular kapang.
      Political rivals competing for the license.
      Direct action by the revived “Sura Virodhi Vyaparaya” against alcoholism.
      Perhaps Mahasangha is looking into alternative investment potentials.

      ….

      ….

      • 2
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        What a a miserable and heartless human being you must be Vedda to mock the suffering of others.

        • 3
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          taraki

          When did you become a humanitarian practicing benevolent treatment of humans? What a hypocrite you are.

          Majority of your rebuttal typing contains venom, reminiscing war victory, gloating “we won the war”. What does it say about the innocent people who were killed through no fault of their own?

          You might have won the war the people have lost their moral high ground, justice and goodness.

          Go find a donor who could donate you a heart with humane sensibility.

          You are a typical racist, a bigot, …………… its so happened you seem to have been born in Sinhala speaking family. What an unfortunate incident that must have been.

      • 3
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        Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana,

        Where is the connection to “Male Fragility” in what you have written?

        I’m fragile alright! :)) ……… Aren’t we all humans?

        Except for Native Vedda and Old Codger ………… I’m yet to meet a male who is not fragile. Then again, I haven’t met Hercules, Tarzan or Superman ……… well, not yet.

        I’ve worked only very briefly in Lanka …….. came from outside and worked with some engineering profs from Peradeniya and Katubedda for some international organizations ………….. the local profs were making substantial money for their consultancy-work. Most of them were only concerned about the money they were making and the foreign trips ………. and one guy in particular – if I’m not mistaken he later became the vice chancellor of one of them – was only interested in sending rosy reports to all the international organisations to advance his own position and get more and more consultancy work. He had an old retired government servant as his secretary whose English writing skills were top-notch – on par with Old Codgers’. That’s all what he cared about; the reports.

        No offence, and forgive me if I’m wrong ……….. but the few articles you have published here recently about “Male Fragility” ………. I feel, the target readership is not us but someone else ………. perhaps some international organization you are getting funds from.

        • 2
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          Well, male fragility is self explanatory. It might mean a power-less or a short ‘antenna’ as you related to once, in relation to reception problems.
          \
          So Dr Chaminda doesn’t have to be too clinical about it. We get it!

          • 0
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            “short ‘antenna’”

            Ha ha ha ha ha ………………It looks like you know your problem very well.

            Poor guy, you have spent your entire life dwelling on it?

            Is there a real need for you to make a public spectacle of it? :)) Anyway it’s better than blowing yourself up!

            No need to take your frustration out here ……….. give it the Shaolin Temple treatment and hang a heavy stone.

            If the darn thang falls off you can always have a shoulder to cry on :)) ……. We are all considerate people here.

            btw …… whatever new handle you assume to come here, your problem is too transparent …. not easy to hide! :))))

          • 0
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            Reasonable,

            Now now be reasonable …………. come out come out from wherever you are hiding …….. don’t run away

            In your case you may have never noticed …….. an ‘antenna’ usually folds into itself ……. gotta pull it out!

            If your’s doesn’t work consult Dr Dayan and get a prescription for Viagra. :))

            Geeze man you guys make my day! :)))

        • 0
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          Nimal F,
          “secretary whose English writing skills were top-notch – on par with Old Codgers’. ” Is that a compliment? Our man in Moscow has even better skills, and his skin is about a foot thick………far from fragile.

          • 0
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            OC,

            Your English has an effortless natural flow ………. I don’t know how you got it …… most people in the past who were taught by the English had that.

            Some later Lankans ……… although they try to make their language complex, the effort/struggle is plainly visible.

            There is a distinct demarcation in the written English of people like you, Sarath, Shyamon ………. and Dayan, Milinda, Uditha, myself, Native (when his is not filled with verbal-violence :)) ) ……..

        • 1
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          nimal fernando

          I believe you also haven’t met iron man Tony Stark, iron man of Hindia Vallabhbhai Patel, Half Naked Fakir Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Thillaiyadi Valliammai (22 February 1898 – 22 February 1914), …….. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, my great grandmother, ………………..

          • 2
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            Native,

            Man, you fight the good fight for the disadvantage without borders/sides/race/religion ……… that’s remarkable for a Lankan ………. and I admire that.

            But you should learn to relax and not take things so seriously

            If not you would end up just road-kill on the human-highway …….. like all the other reformers …………

            • 1
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              nimal fernando

              Thanks for your moral support.
              Time is short.
              Let me do the heavy demolition job, bulldozing some sanity into the discussion with facts and figures.

              Hope you could start with blank canvass.

      • 2
        2

        Native ‘Stinky’ Kalaveddah, perhaps, Direct action by the new “Ugudu Virodhi Vyaparaya” against Uguduwas who have encroached in to the celings.

        • 1
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          edwin Necro rodrigo

          Please do not jump too high, you will hurt yourself severely while landing.

    • 3
      1

      Chamindra,
      Your article dwells too much on women’s problems in the Sangha. You ought to point out the injustice being done to Moslem women, who are not allowed to indulge in LGBT activities.
      To start with, Moslem women should be banned from the Bhikkuni Sangha.

    • 0
      2

      Excellent article Chamindra, many thanks! Keep up the good work
      The fact is that established religion – Buddhist-Islamic-Christian-Hindu are all patriachal projects of and for male domination.

      But there are also external parties involved in destroying the real message of peace contained in all these great world religious doctrines. The US which has a tradition of Weaponizing Religion to promote its agendas as it did with the Easter bombing. Please read the book by Yale University Historian “Cold War Monks: Buddhism and America’s Secret Strategy in South East Asia” to understand the role of external parties in spreading religious violence and firming up patriarchy.

  • 2
    3

    It appears the author is trying to suppress the Natandiya video. WE have all seen it madam. You have written utter garbage to earn your wages. Keep at it only in SL as your garbage will hit the bin before one blink his eyes in any other country.

  • 2
    1

    Thank you to CT and to writers like Dr. Weerawardhana for taking up issues that touch the very core of the human fabric.
    ” The Catholic cardinal, a man known for his misogynist and homophobic views, emerged as the absolute hero in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks.”
    And there is no concealing the fact that he basks in the publicity and laurels showered on him. His was only an appeal; the immense patience and heart rending agony and pain was borne by the people on the ground. The Cardinal should have had the Christlike humility and magnanimity and sensitivity of heart to highlight that in all of his public statements.

    But what transpired was that his interests and opinions carried the day. He basked in the glory of his verdicts and judgments.
    As the writer very rightly highlights- what about the dedication of the religious women consoling the relatives and loved ones left behind; the women giving security and warmth to young orphaned children. Did he use his platform to thank the people, the clergy and the religious women; salute them for their commitments to contain the faithful and calm them?

    Yes, the cardinal’s call to the Catholics to remain calm and not take the law into their hands is highly appreciated. Yet, if religious women were part of his ‘collegiate of advisers”, if he listens to any, the sting and shades of negativity that were embedded in his first statement and in others that followed, in the aftermath of the Easter event, might have been toned down.

    • 1
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      I lack the skills and the knowledge to respond to some of the comments appear here. I have also never met the cardinal. However, throughout this whole fiasco, the only one ho behaved and acted with class and dignity was the cardinal. The cardinal has some exceptionally brilliant ladies who advise the church on various matters. I respectfully beg to differ on the cardinal being a misogynist and homophobic.

  • 5
    0

    “In the practices and codes of the Sri Lankan brand of Theravada Buddhism, the position given to women in the clergy leaves much to be desired.”

    Yes Dharma may not always conform with accepted or expected social norms. When Buddha preched Dhamma he was NOT trying to transform social fabric. He simply preached “as things are” (yatha bhutha, a novel combination of words to both Vedic and heterodox philosophical starta at the time) for the people who are cable of understanding it. This is why “Samma Dhitti” later divided in to two parts. First part is inline with Buddhist philosophy and the second is for Buddhism (Direct philosophy yet took the form of religion; debatable)

    Many modern thinkers mistakennly think that Buddhism is about equality. No it’s not it’s about escaping Samsaric Dhukka. While there can be a case made for equality under the umbrella of suttas there are also some suttas these thinkers might take offense to. Equality of opertunity is there for every human being under buddhsim. Actually not only to humans but any being, But no there is no equality of “outcome”. I think the writer has mistaken these two as one or wants to give priority to equality of outcome. If so could he/she/ze/zer look in to the science of “Lobsters”

  • 3
    1

    Only one way forward?

    “… the Sinhala-Buddhist establishment needs to take concerted steps to challenge and change its archaic, illogical, meaningless and self-destructive practices, customs, ideologies and politics of centering everything around male fragility…”

    You ruined it again – madam!! – you let your male bashing mindset cloud your rationality – and basic logic.

    One way forward – let Sinhala-Buddhists among us – behave as Buddhists – just Buddhists- then this world would be a better place!

  • 3
    2

    I do not know if it’s true that the president has pardoned that moron in a robe, Gnanasara. If it is true it’s abominable conduct by the president.

    Politicians should be forced to get rid of the gangs of thugs that are under their command to riot when needed, intimidate people as needed. It does not matter which party/ethnicity/religion they are. All of our politicians have these thugs-for-hire on a “as needed” basis.

    BBS is a prime example.

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