By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
The jailing of the mugger-monk known as Galagoda Atte Gnanasara did not result in any stir among the public. The incident may be regarded as another instance of affirmation of the superiority of the law in this island.
It is hoped that President Sirisena will not succumb to the irrational elements in the polticial spectrum by giving the monk a pardon or even letting the latter remain in his cell wearing the robe. Gnanasara has happily got into jumpers just as well as the Army Commander Sarath Fonseka had willingly got into. It would be nothing short of hilarious to see one jailbird in a robe and other jailbirds worshipping him.
Pandering to monks, deemed as ‘influential,’ has been one of the unfortunate things our polticians keep doing. SWRD upheld the saffron symbol in his MEP campaign to wreak power off the ruling United National Party and win a landmark general election in 1956.
The new Prime Minister, before long, found himself in the evil clutches of the Chief Priest of Kelaniya Rajamaha Vihara-the infamous Buddharakkita thero. The latter tried to work out commission deals with the government over shipping transactions. SWRD rejected the moves and Buddharakkita (whom the then charismatic leader of the Left, Philip Gunawardena, referred to as “Buddy Racketeer”) conspired with his stooge Somarama Thero to have the Prime Minister assassinated. Somarama shot SWRD while the latter was bending in two in an act of deep respect for the robe.
That apalling incident received world-wide publicity and it denigrated the Buddha Sasana. For some years, monks were frowned at even in Sri Lanka and politicians avoided the practice of having them on stage.
Back in Action
However, the temptation to re-recruit monks for poltical support keeps coming up, and now we see them back in action. The restoration of our respect for the yellow robe irrespective of the behaviour of the user has resulted in a widespread practice of abuse by thugs, morons and controversial seedy characters wearing the robe to back politcal groups and join their stage gimmicks. There have been hoodlums in robes who are hired at call to protest. It is merciful that the GMOA thad refrained from recruiting monks in favour of the doctors’ habitual protest and strike action.
On the other hand, we found Mahinda Rajapaksa liberally using monks and referring to the latter reverentially while addressing gatherings. “Ehema neda Ape Hamuduruwane?” He is heard and seen often asking the rhetorical question turning to monks in his gatherings. His backing orators like Wimal Weerawanse also do that.
Robe and its Wearer
Nowhere do Buddhist texts enjoin faithfuls to respect the robe regardless of the wearer. In fact, the Buddha did warn his followers during his time that undesirable persons may wear robes and spoil the Sanga. The Buddha wanted his followers to identify and respect only the Arya Sanga (monks on the path).
Sinhalese Buddhism has turned that upside down and Buddhists simply collapse to worship anyone donned in the saffron robe.
The Christians don’t make that mistake in symbolism. They do not object to any priest been brought before court for alleged criminal offence. These days, we in Australia observe the former Archbishop and Vatican high-up being brought before court for alleged indirect involvement in serious child sexual abuse cases, while he was serving in his diocese. Nobody and no media has frowned at that development.
Law Above All
In modrnised countries like Australia, the law is above all individual citizens and anybody must account to court for any alleged criminal violations. The law and its administration belongs to a totally secular jurisdiction.That is how it should all be. Religious clergy cannot be an exception.
What is this ridiculous sacred cow turned out of a monk? Minister Champika Ranawaka was reported as urging the government to have a special court including Buddhist monks to try for alleged criminal violations by members of the Sanga. This proposal logically implies a separate legal system for a group regarded as privileged. The Champika Court will have to be guided by different laws since the monks in it wouldn’t be versed in the legitimate laws of the country; their judgments will be derived from a different perspective. If one follows this logical line of Champika reasoning one would have to accept Sharia law, too.
I thought Champika has reformed. But,it seems leopards don’t change their spots. Isn’t it false and fake on the part of this prominent Minister to make requests like that? Champika has had a chequered past. I remember how he came to Australia and made incendiary communal speeches to garner backing of blind extremists of the Diaspora. I remember also how Champika went to Paris and how when addressing the delusional jaathiwaadeen he uttered historical lies, for instance, that the Sinhala language is the most ancient language in human civilization. He knew he was conning and he conned. The foolish Paris audience cheered the ‘hero.’ Now, we have Champika again on a false path meant to deceive extremist-inclined segments of our population. Once again, he knows he is conning but he cons. I doubt the broad masses are behind him in these inane utterances made for political effect. We have had a surfeit of cheap politicians.
Asgiriya and Gotabaya
The latest incident of monk mockery is when Presidential aspirant Gotabaya Rajapaksa had his 69th birthday almsgiving. I doubt Gota ever sought monks for his past birthdays except for his early childhood days when his parents would have taken him to the local temple. But now he goes after monks along with the camera. Gota knows unless he gets 75 per cent of Sinhala votes he hasn’t a chance. Hence, his fake Buddhist sentiments.
As is now common evidence, Gota didn’t behave Buddhistically when he enjoyed his ten years of power along with his might brother, the King or Maharajaneni. We cannot comment on the cases now before court except to say that these are over serious criminal charges.
Asgiriya Monk’s Sampap Pralaapa
On this occasion of Gota’s birthday, Revd Vendruve Upali, of the Asgiriya Chapter, reportedly advised the Presidential aspirant “If they call you a Hitler,be a Hitler… get hold of the military and run the country..” urged Revd Upali.
I am absolutely sure that Revd Upali would not be anything but vague about the holocaust and the the savage mass execution of Jews carried out by the Fuhrer. He would have been deaf and blind both when hit squads ran about Colombo in white vans. The monk would never have heard of Lasantha Wickrematunge, of Ekneliyagoda, of Keith Noyair, of Thajudeen and of many other victims of state persecution.
In fact, the most formidable obstacle for Gota to confront during a Presidential election campaign is his reputation as a malevolent man who oversaw state terrorism.
In such a context, the inappropriate utterance or Sampap Pralaapa of the Sacred Cow at Asgiriya would have had the effect of damaging Gota’s image further.