12 August, 2022


Religion Is For The People; People Are Not For The Religion

By Harsha Gunasena

Harsha Gunasena

Over the years of human history, religion was used as a political tool to suppress the masses. Religions were responsible for number of deadly wars during the mediaeval times and to date. Generally, it is expected that religion should be a solution to a problem. Ironically in Sri Lanka religion is the problem. Therefore, what would be the solution? When religion becomes a problem of a country, responsible citizens of that country, including the religious leaders, should seriously find a solution for that. 

Sri Lanka today is divided in the lines of religion and ethnicity. The members of the respective religions with deep introspection should contemplate how religion is used in the society by the followers in order to have an inter religious reconciliation. Sometimes the social backgrounds of the founders of the respective religions at the time they preached may not be in line with the present-day context. For example, Buddha prior to his death in Maha Parinibbana Sutta said “After I am gone, the sangha — if it wants — may abolish the lesser & minor training rules.” Chullavagga, a Vinaya Pitaka book reported that in the First Council Ven Ananda said that he neglected to ask a clarification from Buddha what these lesser and minor rules were. Hence at the First Council and at the Sixth Council held In Rangoon At the Buddha Jayanthi Vinaya Pitaka was not amended. It is an issue of Bhikkus. If it affects the general public in relation to any religion, people should have the right to pressure for a change since the religions are for the people and not the other way around. Buddha suggested his disciples to work for the welfare and happiness of the masses. This dictum is in Rigveda as well. 

This essay is written in Sri Lankan context analyzing the present state of Buddhism and Islam in Sri Lanka. It looks at the issues from the viewpoint of the general public and not from the viewpoint of the religious authorities. 


In ancient Sri Lanka Bhikkus who practiced Buddhism were divided to two sectors, scholarly Bhikkus and practicing Bhikkus- grantha dhura and vipassana dhura. Those days Buddhist texts were memorized, and it was passed from teacher to the pupil. Scholarship serves  better than practice in preservation of the text but the Buddha emphasized on practice. Buddhist texts were taken into paper in the first century BC. At present these texts can be found on the internet. 

This scholarship of the Buddhist texts was later expanded to scholarship of other subjects as well such as literature and history since during the last two and half millennia prior to the arrival of Christian missionary education, Sri Lankan education was centered in the temples at Pirivenas. In 15th century scholarly Bhikkus like Totagamuwe Sri Rahula was engaged in highly reputed Sinhala literary work which was not recommended by the Buddha.

In the British period with the arrival of Christian missionaries education started moving from Buddhist Pirivens to Christian missionary schools. As a result, Buddhist children were compelled to get modern education under Christian atmosphere which created a pressure to change their religion. After the Panadura debate in 1873 between the Christians and Buddhists and when the contents of it reached Henry Steel Olcott in USA he came to Sri Lanka to support Buddhists in 1880. Olcott started Buddhist schools throughout the island. Anagarika Dharmapala continued the work of Olcott. These were the milestones of the Buddhist revival in the 19th century. As a result, Buddhist monks who were suppressed by the British rulers came forward against the suppression. This politicization of the Bhikku order was continued and established with the Vidyalankara declaration on 13th February 1946, which justified social and political work of the Bhikkus for the benefit of their dayakas. This continued after the independence. When the British left the country, animosity was directed at Tamils. As a result, the country was not able to have a political solution for the ethnic problem even after a war of 30 years. Now this animosity is directed at the Muslim community.

In 1956 the world celebrated completion of  2500 years after passing away of the Buddha. With this there was a Buddhist revival worldwide on the spiritual side. Vipassana meditation techniques which were passed on from teacher to pupil by the Thai and Burmese Bhikkus were passed on to the lay persons by way of 10-day meditation retreats. This was spread to the West as well and in 1970s western physicians started prescribing mindfulness meditation as a therapy for mental stress. Later a series of studies were conducted by the western researchers with the support of Dalai Lama using serious vipassana meditators and they found that mindfulness meditation reduces mental stress and it leads to calmness of the mind. These results were below the religious expectations of Buddhists by engaging in meditation, but those results were measurable. Today mindfulness meditation has spread wildly in the West, and it is taught in the schools as well.

These two revival processes of Buddhism are in operation in the contemporary Sri Lankan society. First revival is directed towards Social and Political progress of the Buddhists and the second revival is directed at the spiritual progress of the Buddhists. 

The first Buddhist revival was primarily against the colonial masters and secondarily against the other ethnic and religious groups. Hence it failed to mobilize all ethnic and religious groups in independent Sri Lanka   even though it served a timely purpose prior to the independence. Now we are an independent nation and need no hostilities towards fellow citizens and if so, it would be contrary to the development of the country. Majority Buddhists and Sinhalese are in control of the country unlike in the colonial era. 

The effects of the second Buddhist revival can be seen in the enthusiasm of vipassana meditation in the society. Practicing of vipassana meditation or loving kindness are secular practices which have no connection to religious rituals. Loving kindness-metta bhavana- can be practiced extending loving kindness to Sinhalese, to Tamils, to Muslims, to Christians to Hindus and to all. This would be the beginning of healing. this can be practiced by the members of all religions and all ethnicities. It would be a healing process as well as a process of self- realization, individually and collectively.

 Therefore, it is more logical if the Buddhist society and the Bhikku order in Sri Lanka can align to the second Buddhist revival process which spreads peace and understanding rather than to the first one which spreads hatred and doubt. 


There is an issue of  the dress code of Muslim women related to Islam. During the time when Islam was preached not only in Middle East but also in other parts of the world, women were not treated equally. Women got franchise to vote after men. Now the situation is different. Fifty years back the dress of the Sri Lankan Muslim women was the same which is worn by prominent Muslim ladies such as Jezima Ismail, Ferial Ashraff and Sheikh Hasina, Bangladeshi Prime Minister, today. However, no one have the right to force another group to change their dress. It is the right of that group or individuals to decide. 

A Muslim friend of mine told me that the change of the dress of Muslim women has taken place after Muslim female youth visited Middle East including Saudi Arabia for jobs after 1977. There is some truth to this. It is also true that spreading Wahhabism, which was originated in Saudi Arabia in 18th century,  in Sri Lanka has created an alienation of the Muslim culture prevailed in Sri Lanka for centuries, from the dominant Sri Lankan culture. 

Muhammad was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia which is the most prominent Muslim country in the world today. Therefore, it is pertinent to inquire the present status of Saudi Arabia in relation to religious domination.

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman alias MbS is taking forward the reforms initiated during the time of King Abdullah. In 2005 King Abdullah implemented a massive initiative to send Saudi students both male and female to study abroad. Even young people who did not pursue a degree abroad grew up with access to the Internet. Unlike China, Social Media is not banned or discouraged in Saudi Arabia. CNN which attacks, more rightfully of cause, MbS for killing of Jamal Khashoggi, can be viewed freely in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah took steps to issue national ID cards to women, allowed women to register in hotels, and to travel in the countries of Gulf Cooperation Council without their guardian’s permission. Moreover, he appointed women to the Shura (consultative) Council in 2013. MbS takes this reform process forward. Recently he gave permission to women to drive. Religious police, known as the mutawa or the hay’a, that once roamed the streets to enforce rules like gender segregation and women covering is absent now due to the directions of MbS. 

I suggest that the Muslims who followed Saudi Arabia should follow a reform process in Sri Lanka as well as  initiated in Saudi Arabia by King Abdullah and spearheaded by MbS and King Salman. 

At present in Sri Lanka amendments to the Marriage and Divorce (Muslim) Act of 1951 (MMDA) are discussed. Muslim women were agitating against the provisions of the Act for more than 30 years. Successive governments appointed different committees. Committee headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof was appointed in 2009 and the report was issued in July 2019. Although Muslim Parliamentarians agreed to 14 recommendations, it is reported that All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) was against these recommendations. ACJU President Rizwi Mufti reportedly said, “Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act is perfect in its present state.”.

In the Sri Lankan Act the minimum age for marriage for a Muslim girl is 12 years. In January 2019 it was reported that Saudi Arabia approved regulations which prohibit marriage for children under 15 years of age. The ban on child marriages came following a ruling by the kingdom’s Shura Council, which saw two thirds of the advisory body vote in favor, according to Arab News. However, teens under the age of 18 can marry if approval is granted by a specialized court. ACJU President should follow Saudi Arabia at least in this respect. 

Muslim women request that the minimum age of marriage for all Muslims must be 18 years without any exceptions; women should be eligible to be appointed as Quazis, as Members of the Board of Quazis, Marriage Registrars, and Assessors (jurors); the MMDA must apply uniformly to all Muslims without causing disadvantage to persons based on sect or madhab; signature or thumbprint of bride and groom is mandatory in all official marriage documentation to signify consent; registration should be required for legal validity of marriage; adult Muslim women are entitled to equal autonomy and need not require the ‘permission’ by law of any male relative or Quazi to enter into a marriage;  Talaaq (divorce) and Faskh (annulment) rights between women and men must be equal; Procedures for divorce initiated by men and women must be the same, including appeal process ; and to revise the Quazi court system to ensure a competent system with improved access to justice for women and men.

These requests are basic in present day context and I am at a loss that how this Act was approved in 1951. These are in line with the United nations Human Rights Convention. Therefore, I believe that ACJU should approve the recommendations.

Therefore, Islamic community in Sri Lanka, considering the reforms taking place in Saudi Arabia and in the context of contemporary human rights of the world, should think progressively about the social reforms.


Christian Church is gradually embracing the local Sri Lankan culture. It was a conscious decision taken by all the sectors of the Christian Church. Sadly, Sri Lankan Mosque try to move away from the local Sri Lankan culture. By this act Sri Lankan Mosque is trying to identify themselves with Islamic Civilization which is different to the religion of Islam and which would lead to a clash of civilizations as Samuel Huntington suggested. On the other hand, militant Buddhists aligned with the first Buddhist revival are hostile towards other believers and ethnicities. It should be noted that prior to the first Buddhist revival Muslims were settled within the interior areas of the country by the Sinhala Buddhists and by their kings in order to protect them from European Invaders. 

If the religions can move forward by paying lesser attention to the social and political issues and pay more attention to the spiritual aspect, which is the main reason of their existence, religions will be solutions to the problems of the people rather than becoming problems itself. Then only the religion will be for the people. 

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Latest comments

  • 12

    Religion is only for politicians to hoodwink the gullible masses. What is “Sinhala Buddhism”? A 100 % Sinhala political entity. If not for Sinhala buddhism concept there is no policy for Lanka. Besides this Sinhala Buddhism is also a 100% racist weapon to exploit the non Buddhist. When it comes to following Buddhism, there is no one here. So now they talk of protecting Theravada Buddhism. What for? Another guy who exploit the scenario is the Cardinal Malcom, a shrewd cunning man playing out both sides. Converting Buddhists while claiming Lanka a Sinhala Buddhist country. Oh Jesus, how we are being exploited.

    • 5

      Religion is a failure. It has only made people dumb instead of installing morales and ethics in individuals it has become an ugly destructive tool that the corrupt use to manipulate the masses.

      Every religious person thinks is belief/god is better than the other mans belief/god them they gang up into religious tribes and try and force their beliefs on others…

      BBS In Sri Lanka, Hindu radicals in India, Radical Muslims all want to force their rubbish religions on others.

      The world might be better if all religions are discarded.

      Buddhism should stay the hell away from the affairs of the nation state. Secular Sri Lanka it is.

      • 1

        Religion, education and culture is a gang-rape of minds from infancy. …….. Once they have done their work it’s well-nigh impossible for the minds to break free.

  • 3

    Is it necessary to practice religion by its name? People say that they are Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and some religions are further subdivided into Catholics, Protestants, etc, etc. Thereafter they say God is one. Which one? no one knows. The Atheist says there is none and agnostics say ‘We Know Not”
    If you believe in God, it is your baby. You don’t need a religion to support your view.
    My contention is religion is the cause of mass murders and mayhem even now. Religion is not necessary for man to exis but man is necessary for religion to exist.
    Hence all religions should be thankful to man for their existence and not vice-versa
    We are already divided by Race, Cast, Colour, Language, why add a religion for further divisions.
    Believers in God says he is almighty and is everywhere. Good. Then why imprison him in Temples, Churches, Mosques? Allow him to move about freely and see his ‘Children’ and give them what they need and not what they want. Instead of building houses for Gods, build houses for his children. He will be happy. Let not the politicians arrange to build 1000’s of viharas to get votes, instead, build homes and schools for his children. Incidentally, I have referred to God as ‘HE’, but there are ‘SHE’ gods as well, I understand. I mean no disrespect to’ Women’, especially to the Hindus.

  • 8

    Not a word here about the scheming thugs wearing yellow robes who have been at the forefront of ethno-religious hatred for many years. Some simple steps will take us forward:

    1 Take religion out of the constitution. God doesn’t need the protection of mere mortals.

    2 Religious teaching should not be carried out in schools. Home and place of worship will be the appropriate place.

    3 Ensure the proper rule of law – especially against clergy who should not be beyond the long arm of the law.

    4 There should be no compulsory seating in public transport reserved for clergy. Not necessary for the mostly able bodied priests, and public decency will ensure that the old and infirm will be taken care of.

    These will be a start toward a brave new world in Sri Lanka.

  • 0

    This is very good article for the UNP Rapporteur who is coming to present some information about the Religious freedom in Srilanka. You have included all the words he wants there. I say, Sri lanka should quit UNHCR which is a political organization which carries out USA agenda for the Pivot to ASIA program.
    Why do not you identify Religious intolerance in your article. Christian church will never give space to Islamic Mosque. Catholic church knows how they are being sidelined and are cornered by the Protestant church. Anglican church even wanted to arrest the POPE if he visited England. You show typical arrogance of the Abrahamic religions all of which say their Almighty is the only god and kill each other to gain that position.
    You have written about a very good subject, if CT allows discussion.How stupid to say the christian missionary school provided MODERN education and neglect their role in Ethnic disharmony, destroying cultures, religious interference and intolerance, killing animals and pyramid scheme of Almighty (Taken from Genesis, Hebrew bible) which says that fish, animals, tress and every thing is created for the man who is serving god. so, the world has become a mess.
    Sri lanka is destroyed because of post secondary education which began from the Catholic and Christian schools.
    Even the Hindus say. LIVE and LET LIVE.
    It is in the public domain that USA needed to eliminated Communist politics spreading. So, they began the Militant Buddhism – of Goebbles theory even before 1948. Now after the cold war, Wahhabi Islam has become part of that. In Asia, Theravada Buddhism has become an Anathema

  • 6

    religion is the opium of the masses
    it was and ever will be
    the cardinal should realise this and stop giving daily sermons like the prez

  • 4

    “Fifty years back the dress of the Sri Lankan Muslim women was the same which is worn by prominent Muslim ladies such as Jezima Ismail, Ferial Ashraff and Sheikh Hasina, Bangladeshi Prime Minister, today”

    Harsha Gunasena,

    I wonder, 50 years back, why you guys were not upset that Muslims were increasingly adopting to Indian culture?

    So if all Muslim women wear like Jezima Ismail or Ferial Ashraff, will the monks stop calling for boycotting Muslim businesses? Will setting fire to Muslim shops be stopped? Will the arrogant section of Sinhalese stop yelling, “Meka ape rata. Umbala palayalla”? Will the well-organized hate campaign on social media stop? Ready to change your prejudices?

    You are funny to come up with some BS without understanding the real issues behind whole thing.

    • 5


      The real issue behind the whole thing is that Para-Sinhala Para-“Buddhists” are brainwashed from a very young age at home, at school , at The Sunday Daham Pasala School (Buddhist Madrasas), that the land belongs to Para-Sinhala, and everybody else is a stranger, foreigner.

      Ask the Native Veddah Aethho. They will tell you truth. Modem mtDNA genetics also confirms that the Para-Sinhala are Paras.

    • 0

      There are two things, Religion of Islam and Islamic civilization. 50 years back Muslims of Sri Lanka as you said were closer to not only Indian but also to Sri Lankan culture. I, for that matter no one, can insist on the dress of someone else. That is his or her right. Also we should learn to live together in diversity. I said that Muslim community was moving away from our culture. If you take Buddhism there is no specific culture associated with Buddhism. According to Samuel Huntington Buddhism has taken the shape of the culture of the countries where it got established i.e China, Japan. There are certain aspects of the present Sri lankan culture that are not aligned with Buddhist culture. If the Muslim community move away like this there can be a possibility for a clash of civilizations. We should avoid that.
      I do not approve the ideologies of militant Sinhala Buddhists and every thing cannot be dealt in one article. If you have time please read the following.

      • 0

        Harsha Gunasena – I am a Muslim guy, and I tell you this: time to time, Muslims have to be kept in check or they will destroy Sri Lanka, and make another Bangladesh out of it with their limited education with high greed for money & jealousy among themselves. Even now, go to any Muslim areas and feel it already a Bangladesh. Go to Pettah and see how they float on lies, cheating and greed. 90% of time why a non-Muslim hates Islam is because of how these people behave & what their attitudes are. This hatred has pushed critiques to blame Islam itself.

      • 0

        Harsha Gunasena,

        “50 years back Muslims of Sri Lanka as you said were closer to not only Indian but also to Sri Lankan culture”.

        Yes, there is a hidden point in what you say; So it is not the dress code, the culprit here. Dress code is not everything about a culture. One can wear Abaya or Indian Saree and still be part of Sri Lankan culture. Like a tuxedo wearing groom in a Sinhala traditional wedding. So why behind a wrong tree?

        Probably we need to think why Muslims are trying to isolate themselves rather than going beind dress code.

  • 1

    Any religion is essentially a “Code of Behaviour” for its followers.
    There cannot be any religion without the “ritual” attached to it.
    The ritual may consist of ‘chanting’ various hymns/verses/songs etc.
    Such ‘chants’ may be used to even disrupt functions of a different religion.


    “Do Good and Be Good” sums up the essentials of all religions.

    • 1


      This is Para-Sinhala Para-“Buddhism “, that is an Insult to Buddhism and The Buddha. Para-Sinhala is not needed for Buddhism.

      Want to know more? Read Buddhism Betrayed by Dr. Thambiah, published about 25 years ago ,

  • 1

    God is for scientists and the educated to understand. Religion is for the foolish to discipline. It does not matter, the affinity is knowledge oriented.

  • 1

    You certainly have touched upon a an important subject that is abuzz almost globally at the moment. But, the question is whether religions can/should stay away from socio-political issues by focusing mostly on spiritual aspect alone. I think not b’cos one of the fundamental purpose of all religions has been to explain away the contemporary socio-political structure in order break them in a somewhat revolutionary manner as one of the (but not the only) mean to a have spiritual life. It is exactly for this reason the existing orthodoxies, which themselves were the revolutionaries at their own inception, came down very hard on new religions.

    Here, we should revisit one of the great debate known as German Ideology that began with Emmanuel Kant ran through Fichte and Hegel and ended with Ludwig Feuerbach (Karl Marx drew a great deal on religion from him) on how religion could be reintroduced as a useful spiritual subject into advancing science & politics. The simple reason of the debate was somewhat reminiscent to the need of today’s world: People have been turned to servants of religion & politics & not the other way around. Feuerback, after an exhaustive research wrote a book in 1841 titled “The Essence of Christianity” in which he proved that humans invented religions based on their own ideal moral expectations before they all became complex & dogmatic

    SL Buddhism has reached this episode of turning into dogmatization/politicization long time ago. Now, it is quite clear that we are asking the same question of German Ideology began to raise nearly three centuries ago: How can the religion be made to be useful to make socio political system a facilitator of life in this world that is increasingly dominated by logical thinking influenced by science education. Spiritual aspect is important but it must , nonetheless, reconcile with the need of practical life.

  • 1

    I think, the Sri lankan govt should have legislation to conversion by what ever the means. buddhism is not a religion that converts, If there is no religious freedom, How ,any mosques are vandalized per day in Great Britain which i anglican and Catholic. The same thing happens in the Europe. there the churches go bankrupt and people do not come to prey. Photos are shown that the church building is not sold and instead is demolished. That is the christian church and the christian Psyche.
    IT is Sri lanka which protected from catholics killing catholics and allowed to establish Catholic church, musllim Mosque. How did so many christian churches are established and 10% is christian if there is not religious freedom. Sri lankans are well known for it’s hospitality, now it is changing because of christian Thought and the accompanying Neo-liberal market which has established Liquor, Parties, Night life, opposite and sexual freedom.
    Why don’t the christians first solve their problems. Why christians and Muslims are fighting all over the world. IT is the west that secretly via Norway I suppose had brain washed Ven. Ghanasara. I am pretty sure that happened to Ven Virathu too. WEst Pivot TO Asia Program needs militant monks. They have learned western and christian thinking of ASSERTIVENESS. In that sense, they have come to Modern thinking which is Christian. Besies, We know LALA Jayawardana I suppose and thambiah have written books disparaging Buddhism and western buddhist have talked against those saying those two people were spreading lies. Now, the west wants to spread Evangelist buddhism and want to have their own buddhist institutes in Sri lanka. They want to break the backbone of the Therevada Buddhism.

  • 0

    We can do without religion that is being exploited by the crooks in our Parliament.

  • 0

    I guess Rapporteur will not use your article as a Reference as you point out how the christian church influenced other peoples cultures and education which is again superiority complex which says onlywhat we say is correct and your thought and actions are inferior.

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