Colombo Telegraph

Rein In The Clowns

By Sharmini Serasinghe

Sharmini Serasinghe

What exactly does “giving the foremost place to Buddhism in the constitution” mean?

This question is related to a huge fuss being made by the saffron robed, and others, about the inclusion of Article 9 of the current Constitution, in the new Constitution of Sri Lanka, without any amendments.

As a Buddhist I ask, why does Buddhism need to be mentioned in the Constitution at all? What benefits has Buddhism, its followers and Sri Lankans as a whole derived, from it being given the “foremost place” in the current Constitution? Has the Dhamma become better than what the Buddha preached, since its initial mention in our Constitution?

What is starkly obvious by this hoo-hah, but not being articulated aloud is that, Buddhism be given pride of place, while other religions and faiths are relegated to, underdog status. If not, what else does it mean?

Is this the way to reconciliation and peaceful coexistence in this country?

Next, I ask, as Article 9 of the current Constitution also includes, “…… shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana……” why, it must it be the duty of the State, to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana? Isn’t this the business of the Maha Sangha and its flock?

As all knowing Buddhists know, the Dhamma is indestructible and needs no protection from anything or anyone, least of all, a mere mention on paper; the Constitution, ensuring its supreme status. For, the Dhamma will always occupy the ‘foremost place’ in the minds of genuine Buddhists, irrespective of its mention in the Constitution or not.

However, despite Buddhism being accorded the “foremost place” in the current Constitution, its image in the eyes of the other stands greatly challenged today, as it has been sullied, not by others, but by those from within the Buddhist establishment; the likes of the abominable Gnanasara, his equally despicable Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), and all what they stand for.

Compounding this menace, we now have yet another saffron robed, Yakkalamulle Pawara and his Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa, claiming to “safeguard the identity of the Sinhala people, and to regenerate the supremacy and pride of the Sinhala people”.

Might I ask, safeguard our identity, from whom and what?

Might I also ask, what in heaven’s name is so “supreme” about the Sinhalese people? What have we, the Sinhalese achieved, others have not, to entertain such “pride”? I challenge all those out there, who keep chanting, “I’m proud to call myself a Sinhala-Buddhist”, to give me a valid answer to my questions, as so far, I have not.

Given the seeming inability on the part of the Maha Sangha, who remain as mere figureheads, to rein in these rampaging ‘monks’, whose only claim to monkhood, is the saffron robe they sport, it is incumbent upon the State to do so.

This ought to be, not only to safeguard the image of Buddhism, in this so called ‘cradle of Theravada Buddhism’, but more importantly, for the sake of reconciliation and peace in our land much ravaged, not by natural phenomena, but by the mentally challenged, amongst its human inhabitants.

The way in which this land is ‘marketed’ as a Buddhist country, first-time visitors may be pardoned, if they expect to see our Buddhist monks with halos above their heads. But instead of the men of peace, visibly refined, given to mindfulness and wisdom, which Buddhist monks are expected to be, we have the likes of Gnanasara, Yakkalamulle and their cohorts, hitting world headlines, for the humiliation and disgrace they have caused, and are still causing, to the image of Buddhism and Buddhists, of Lanka.

As mentioned before, the only claim these men (I refuse to call such, Buddhist monks) have to monkhood, is the saffron robe they wear. Once disrobed, they are nothing but rabble-rousing hooligans. Thus, they ought to be disrobed and punished, for desecrating the image of Buddhism in this country, and the saffron robe they wear.

It is incumbent upon the State, to repair the damage done to the image of Buddhism in this country, by none other than Buddhist monk themselves, by banning them across the board, from engaging in politics, and other business of the laity. If they must, then they ought to be ordered to disrobe. These charlatans, masquerading as Buddhist monks, have used and abused the sacred saffron robe associated with the Buddha and his disciples, for too long.

Politics is the business of the laity, and concerns only the laity, not Buddhist monks. Hence, they should also be instructed to keep their opinions relating to matters of the laity, to themselves, unless asked for.

The Buddhist laity of this country is, much to be blamed for the moral depths, Buddhist monks have stooped to, today. They have failed to respect the monastic conventions of a monk’s life, thus failing to support them to advance in their chosen path. For selfish gain, the laity has, over the years, tempted monks away from their path, and drawn them into their pathetically materialistic lay lives.

Tragically, Buddhist monks of today, in this so called ‘cradle of Theravada Buddhism’ have become symbols, of the good, the bad and the ugly; the latter being in the visible majority.

Most of those who join the Buddhist Order of monks today do so, not because of their understanding of the Dhamma, and commitment to propagating its message of peace, but to take advantage of the benefits accorded to monks, through our education system. There are also those ‘donated’ to temples by their parents for personal and foolish reasons, as well as freeloaders who enjoy the best of both worlds.

Except for the few and far between, they appear to have no idea of, or regard for what the Vinaya stands for. By the looks of it, those like Gnanasara, Yakkalamulle and their cohorts, don’t seem to have ever heard of it.

It’s not too late, for the sincere and good amongst the Buddhist clergy, to cleanse their order, by showing the door to the charlatans. The support of the laity is imperative in this regard, as a monk would find it impossible to live the life of a monk, without their cooperation; respect for monastic conventions. For this, the laity must be aware of what the Vinaya stands for, and establish a relationship with monks accordingly.

Hopefully, this would give rise to a renewed relationship of mutual respectability and sincerity, between the Buddhist clergy and the laity, and repair the damage done to the image of Buddhism, in this so called ‘Miracle of Asia’.

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