By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha may be regarded as a role model of a politically concerned bhikku. Sri Lanka has had many bhikkus who got involved in the political game-play but all of them didn’t play that game rightly keeping the different roles of the bhikku and the politician distinct. There was no conflation of these two roles at any stage reflected in the public image of Revd Maduluwae Sobitha.
In the mid-fifties we had the disgraced Buddha Rakkita of the Kelaniya temple who along with his catspaw, Somarama, helped to bring down the image of the Sasana. When I was a kid my father once took me to the Kelaniya temple to see the monk. There he was like a grand prince. Bottles of whisky in display in his study. In my presence he received numerous calls from,maybe, Ministers that had approached him to act as go-between in political and financial deals. He himself had a deal with a shipping company. The deal did not materialise and Buddha Rakkita got the then Prime Minister assassinated. Before midday on that fatetful day SWRD was gone! Here was a monk who killed a Prime Minister!
Buddha Rakkitta, drunken with power, had even played lover to a woman Minister. Power is erotic, they say.
Numerous other lesser robed-beings came after Buddhi Rakkita but they did not go that far because the public outcry against the Sanga had been so great that for years none of the safrans came on political stage. With the formation of the JHU that negative trend disappeared. The JHU itself rode to recognition and political power on the dead body of the Australian-Sri Lankan monk, Revd Gangodawila Soma who for some mysterious reason became a very popular figure during a short stay in Sri Lanka.
Revd Soma was not widely popular in Australia. He did have a lot of enemies and some strong devotees but he virtually had no impact in the Sinhala community of Australia. He was a capable organiser and knew how to raise funds. Encouraged by his popularity in Sri Lanka Revd Soma declared his ambition to contest for President of the country. To gather more public respect he went on a deception trip to Russia along with a Catholic priest who had arranged to get Revd Soma a doctorate by showing a little booklet he had written many years before on stupas. Acute diabetic that he was, he suddenly died of a heart attack. This had been enough for the pseudo-patriots and extremist monks to go round the country and ask for an immediate investigation to what they were confident was a Christian conspiracy. These mischief makers succeeded in roping in gullible Sinhala Buddhists to back their campaign. It was their campaign that gave birth to the JHU. The new party promised during elections that they will launch an investigation and punish the conspirators. Elections were won but the resulting UPFA government of which the JHU were a part did pretty nothing. Revd Soma was forgotten for ever.
But the JHU enjoyed Parliamentary power and all the privileges that went with that- car permits, houses etc. Cushy had been the life of JHU monks!
With the rise of the JHU, we saw bhikkus directly involved in the political game -play. The party did nothing when Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Ministers played foul. Even over the jailing of war hero SF they did nothing. Here was an instance when monks became plain politicians. The Sanga and politics went together.
There were monk-appendages to these powerful Sanga players. They made deals with traders and businessmen. Some nasty ones kept on revving up religious strife. Muslims were attacked and their mosques destroyed. Trouble upon trouble in a country hardly short of troubles.
Sri Lanka was sinking morally and politically and the country became a Banana Republic. A dictator was in the throne and his family had been well set. The sons were powers to themselves. The Thajudeen murder has raised many serious issues.
In the meantime, the need for national reconciliation after the war was looming large. Rumours spread globally about the government’s alleged involvement in war crimes. The United Nations had a Damocles Sword over the island. If the sword were brought down the poor population would have had to bear the brunt of economic sanctions. The country was already heavily in debt to China.
Revd Maduluwawe Sobitha materialised in the political scenario at this critical juncture. Both Yahapalanaya and National reconciliation were urgently needed. No civil leader seemed to possess the charisma to lead the nation. A respected monk had a great role waiting for him. Revd Sobitha filled the vacuum with elegance and grace.
It is important to reflect how Revd Sobitha filled that vacuum. Although he had a political goal he skilfully kept away from direct involvement in the nitty gritty. He sponsored the new ideology and helped select the right political leaders to get the job done. He never had intentions of being the President although many beckoned him to come forward. Revd Sobitha was strictly concerned with getting the country to move in the right direction. He stood apart and saw it done. As far as individual leaders were concerned Revd Sobitha stood aloof.
With January 8th Revd Sobitha was smiling. His task completed. He had next only to see that what was promised is being delivered. Revd Sobitha never accumulated financial wealth. He was happy to remain in his Naga Vihara and tend to his flock. He had no luxury cars and no car permits. He could have got the world as a gift but he eschewed all world possessions. What he was left with was the unstinted respect of people of all walks of life and of all ethnic and religious groups.