By Karu Jayasuriya –
The recent escalation of religious tensions in the country has given rise to a deep sense of foreboding and a profound sadness for myself, and others in the United National Party. Our regret is shared by the vast majority of moderates who reside in our society, to whom the actions of a few misguided, malicious elements have been both distasteful and of very serious concern. The violence against places of religious worship, whether Islamic or Christian, must be condemned unequivocally, as it is deeply wounding to the sentiments of entire communities of people. Any Buddhist citizen of this country would empathise with this sadness and despair, having lived through the violent desecration of this country’s most sacred Buddhist shrine, the Dalada Maligawa by brutal terrorists in 1998. As fellow sufferers, can we not empathise now, with the pain of others, who are facing similar terror at the hands of violent radicals who have become a law unto themselves?
When 30 years of brutal conflict ended in this island four years ago, it was the fervent wish of most Sri Lankans that the new nation we would forge in the aftermath of that turmoil would be one in which ethnic, religious, gender and other differences were transcended. For too long, Sri Lanka had been a society divided and people from every community and walk of life, were crying out for healing and reconciliation. In the new Sri Lanka, after the end of the conflict, the only identity that should have mattered was the Sri Lankan one. I had hoped, like many of my fellow Sri Lankans, that we could evolve into a society that celebrates diversity, and rejoices in the multi-culturalism that defines us as a people, the next rainbow nation.
Yet four years later, Sri Lanka is staring once more down the abyss of communal and religious strife. Once more, our perceived differences are threatening to tear us apart. Where long ago it was ethnicity, today it is religion that threatens to become the great divide.
I am a Buddhist by birth and upbringing. Throughout my life, I have strived to live the teachings of the Great Master. I find great dissonance in the rhetoric of hate, intolerance and anger that is currently being perpetuated in the name of Buddhism. I cannot comprehend this sense of deep insecurity that causes elements of our society to act out this way, when it was the Buddha himself who taught that the Dhamma is best protected by practicing it. I cannot understand the denigration of others whose culture and ways may be different to our own, when the Buddha spent a lifetime teaching that it is not birth that defines a man, but his deeds as he sought to end the injustice of the Indian caste system. The Buddha never singled out a chosen people, or granted a particular ethnic group special preserve of the Dhamma. The Teaching is universal, transcending culture and ethnicity, concerned only with the purity of intent and character.
Today, true Buddhists are struggling to find meaning in the events unfolding around us. Followers of the Middle Path see the futility of this anger and bitterness, they know how it will prolong samsara. To all those who express such great concern about the destruction of the Buddhist way of life and the erosion of Buddhist values, I have but one simple, fervent plea. It is an appeal from the heart. Let us temper our emotions and moderate our words. Let us practice the Buddha’s teachings. There is no greater way to protect and preserve the Dhamma.
*Karu Jayasuriya – United National Party Member of Parliament