20 October, 2017

Sri Lanka: The Unbreakable Bond

By T. Thurai

T. Thurai

T. Thurai

When I wrote my novel The Devil Dancers, I could not have predicted that the cycle of events in 1950s Ceylon which provided the historical background for my book would re-surface in contemporary Sri Lanka.

An important influence on Sri Lankan politics since Independence – which has neither been fully appreciated nor understood by the West – is that of the Buddhist clergy or sangha. This is partly due to Western misconceptions regarding Buddhism.

Shaped by notions of Zen Buddhism, a liberal dose of romantic Orientalism and the traditional separation of power between Church and State, the European perception of Buddhism is that of a purely spiritual practice, completely disengaged from the interests of the temporal world.

We are therefore surprised when confronted by the blend of political activism and nationalism which can occur within the Theravada branch of Buddhism common to both Sri Lanka and Burma.

From the western perspective, Buddhism is viewed as a uniformly pacifist, politically neutral faith. It comes as a surprise, therefore, to learn that in some parts of the world – namely Sri Lanka and Burma – there is a particular brand of Buddhism in which monks are not only politically active but have also become embroiled in activities that are aggressive, violent and sometimes criminal.

Recent TV news items from both countries have shown Buddhist monks taking an active part in attacks against minority religious groups. While Moslems have been the main target, they have not been the only one. Attacks on Christians have also been reported in Sri Lanka.

What is the reason for this? Perhaps history can help to explain.

Theravada Buddhism – the branch practised in both of these countries – has been linked either with the movement for Independence from the British (Burma) or with the post-colonial establishment of power by the majority ethnic group (Sri Lanka).

More recently, a number of extremist Buddhist groups have appeared in both countries: the 969 movement in Burma and the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balaya and Sinhala Ravaya groups in Sri Lanka.

With the summit of the Commonwealth Heads of Government being hosted by Sri Lanka, attention is focusing once more on the disturbing reports of exactly what happened in the closing stages of the civil war in 2009. A year ago, the United Nations’ Panel of Experts stated that “[a] number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths”.

However, attempts to secure an international investigation into these events have so far failed. In August, Buddhist monks besieged the UN building in Colombo to protest against the UN’s proposed investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government. Renewed calls for transparency from foreign powers could well result in further demonstrations.

While it may surprise outsiders, the politicisation of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist monks has been taking place – and gathering pace – for over a century. The first seeds were sown when, at the end of the 19th century, Buddhist monks successfully engaged in public debate with western missionaries.

Successive colonial governments had supported Christian missionaries of varying denominations to the detriment of Buddhist religious life. Government funding was provided to Christian schools, but not to Buddhist establishments. Even celebrated religious institutions, such as Kelaniya with its ties to Sinhalese royalty, were allowed to fall into abeyance.

However, the trend for re-assertion of Buddhist rights and ideals rapidly gathered momentum, particularly following Independence from the British in 1948. A high-water mark was achieved in the mid-‘50s when the country’s Buddhist establishment produced a report entitled The Betrayal of Buddhism, an assessment of how the island’s majority religion had suffered at the hands of foreign influence.

It was at this time, if not before, that Buddhism – traditionally the religion of the Sinhalese majority – became inextricably linked with Sinhalese nationalism.

To be continued..

In Part 2:  The story of a shocking political assassination and the monk who not only masterminded a Prime Minister’s election but also his murder. Dating back to the mid-1950s, it is a scandal that history has overlooked. Yet it provides a fascinating insight into the interdependence of religion and politics in modern Sri Lanka and shows what can happen when that relationship turns sour.

*T. Thurai has an MA in Medieval History from London University. She worked for ten years as a journalist before qualifying as a lawyer. Her first novel The Devil Dancers is set in 1950s Ceylon and has received some excellent reviews across the Commonwealth, Russia and the USA. Extracts from the most recent review by Professor Walter Perera of Perideniya University can be found on the book’s website at: www.thedevildancers.com.

 

 

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  • 0
    0

    As a Sri Lankan who live in this country I have totally different thought.

    Many Sinhalese Buddhists want to live in peace. But they fight with minorities because of fear of having harmful life to them from those minorities.

    Most of the invaders to this country are Non Buddhists. So Sinhalese Buddhists fight for a life while keeping Buddhism at first place.

    Tamils – Sinhalese problem is also like Rohingya – Rakhine as Rohingya support British Most of the Tamils support British during colonial days.

    Before that innocent Sinhalese Buddhists were killed and Buddhists temples were destroyed by Hindu Tamils like Chola empire as history say. Then Portuguese and other colonials. These incident tied Buddhism to Sinhala.

    Problem with Muslim is same problem which is in every country. That’s why English Defense League is in Britain and Europe has European Defense league.

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      IOSalli

      Forgot You too were invaders.

      Hinduism was there before Buddhism. Devanampiyatheesan was a Tamil Hindu. He was converted to buddhism by Imvador Mahinda 1. As the Story Goes.

      A person who want to live in peace can’t Fight. The rest can do the fighting.

      Written Sinhala Can go back to the 11th Century.

      You just seem to forget that there were Tamil Buddhists in Southern India and Sri Lanka. The Switched Back to Hinduism due to the Theravada Practiced here.

      Is it Tamil Sinhala Problem or Sinhala Buddhism Vs Minorities where Tamils form a part.

      levi

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        you are liar since you practice false religion which teach to lie Before Buddhism it was not only Hinduism. it’s Jainism, Buddhism , Worshiping trees and stones and some Hindu gods in Sri Lanka before Buddhism. But those things are Still practiced by Sinhalese Buddhists because Buddhism was assimilated not tried to dominate like other religions. Mahinda 1 was a Sri Lankan king who was born after long time back Devanampiyatissa.
        Hindus destroy Buddhists constructions in Sri Lanka since most Tamils worship God Shiva who is the god of destroyer. And Sinhalese worship god Vishnu.

        Sinhalese are not invaders.
        http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2003/03/30/fea08.html

        “You just seem to forget that there were Tamil Buddhists in Southern India and Sri Lanka. The Switched Back to Hinduism due to the Theravada Practiced here.”

        Hinduism was also in Sri Lankan southern part until the time of Portuguese. read about Tenavaram temple.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenavaram_temple#Destruction

        people of Southern India and Sri Lanka are followers of Shaivism due to Chola & Pandyan influence.

        There is no single religion called Hinduism some are Shiva worshipers others are Vishnu while others are Brahma. Vishnu and Shiva have fought if there are same side no reason to fight. And Hinduism also have a concept of one god which is more related to god Brahma.

        It’s so disgusting to read comments of you. What is your religion which teach you to tell lies ?.

  • 0
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    The problem in SL is TAMILS.

    65,000,000 Tamils live in Tamil Nadu. Only 3,000,000 Tamils in SL.

    If the 3 million Tamils in SL GOES BACK to Tamil Nadu where they came from, everyone will be happy.

    That is the solution.

    Buddhists and Muslims were in living in peace in SL for thousands of years. It is the Tamils who are the problem.

    Did any Arab invade SL like that kallathoniya Ellalan invaded? No.

    • 0
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      There are millions of Sinhalese in hell. Why cant you send them there. There they follow the same culture and they speak the same language – Lies. Even there are white vans.

    • 0
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      Another attempt to pretend like a Muslim to attack Tamils..

    • 0
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      Fat “Mama” Fuk U Shima

      According to the 2001 census, there are currently 7.95 million Buddhists in India i.e.0.76 % of total population of India. This makes Buddhism the fifth-largest religion in India.

      Go back to India and join your brethren there and pray at Maha Bodhi

  • 0
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    Put your comments from your brains (if you have any) and not from your read end.

    • 0
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      Every body uses what the have.

    • 0
      0

      Was this comment made from your read end ?

  • 0
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    Fathima

    Put your diapers onn before your pants as you are oosing too much shit.

  • 0
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    “Successive colonial governments had supported Christian missionaries of varying denominations to the detriment of Buddhist religious life. Government funding was provided to Christian schools, but not to Buddhist establishments.”

    Well said and over the years Buddhism and Buddhists in Sri Lanka were considered meek and passive. The Christian missionaries of the past and the present day dollar waving evangelists find the Buddhists of Sri Lanka easy prey.

    But this had to change and are changing fast. Who is better equipped than the Buddhist Clergy. Obviously the predominantly Christian West has a gripe and their local backers cry foul. Suppose Sri Lanka adopts the Saudi attitude where even a statue of Buddha if found when going through customs at Riyadh ends up in the trash bin and the passenger is fined or even deported. It is high time Sri Lanka follows the Moslems where slightest insult creates heavy backlash.

    JP / USA

  • 0
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    It is encouraging to see this article accurately quoting the report to the UN Secretary General – “the United Nations’ Panel of Experts stated that “[a] number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths”.”

    And that is all there is to justify the often quoted claim of 40,000 or more Tamil civilian deaths in the final stages of the war. A vague reference to anonymous “sources” that are allegedly credible. Nothing more, nothing less. Why the report’s authors could not tell the UN Secretary General who those “credible” sources were, we do not know. Perhaps it’s because the sources are not credible at all. No wonder the UN did not take the Darusman report seriously.

  • 0
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    Devil Dance in Sri Lanka…CHOGM 2013

  • 0
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    I think that your discourse (in part 1) is of necessity a distillation.

    Suffice to say that the inextricable link between the Sangha and Power goes back to the kings of this land at the time Buddhism was introduced to our island, when they promised to succour, shield and protect the priests who preached the Dhamma.

    What we are seeing today (and I will speak with regard to SL only) is the bastardisation of the Dhamma for particular political objectives. I expect you have listened to the speeches, as I have, by the leaders of the miscreant parties, delivered in the vernacular, by odious men masquerading in the traditional garb of Buddhist priests. The words, the nuances and the body language reek foul and offensive. Nothing has been spoken to date that has defended the noble ideas that were propounded by the Buddha. There is much to indicate that the BBS could be a prong in the fork of the current regime but there is no certainty that this dog will always dance to the tune of its present master. After all every one is fully aware that our electorate is nearly 73% Sinhala-Buddhist, so the prize is obvious.

    It must also be said that the present Maha Sangha have not been unequivocal in their condemnation of recent events. This is an important lapse that has not gone unnoticed by many.

    I agree Buddhism did suffer during early colonial times but I think you will find that much redress was made during the time of the British and there was indeed something of a renaissance at the turn of the twentieth century and afterwards. Do not forget that many of the influential Sinhala-Buddhist families did convert to Christianity in order to curry favour with the ruling masters. But, while the British took no lessons in running their empire, they did listen to the ‘native leaders’ who facilitated peace and order in the colony, and who relentlessly championed an obvious emotional cause close to heart of the majority.

    Even as I write, Prince Charles is heading to take up residence at ‘Tintagel’ the former residence of Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike. SWRD was born, into an eminent Sri Lankan Anglican family who prospered during the times of the last colonial ruler, at the time Sir Joseph West Ridgeway was Governor. Talk of flattery! It was on the veranda at ‘Tintagel’ that SWRD took the fatal bullets from the gun flourished by Somarama, dressed at as Buddhist monk. The spectre of that dastardly act still hangs about the garden and a long and winding trail leads to eerie ‘Adisham’ in the mountains where, in the murky mists the deed was hatched and where only the holy presence of Benedictine monks keep the pestilential ghosts cloistered and quiet.

    But this is to come in part 2, I suspect!

  • 0
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    @Fathima Fukushima
    Whatever the attempt you made to pretend like a Muslim to attack Tamils it failed. Again another attempt. May be you can use a Muslim like nickname but Why don’t you speak with your true background…

    • 0
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      This one is not alone and there is another Sinkalam uses Tamil names to hide. Shankar aka Sivathasan aka Kumar aka Bullshit and we knew he doesn’t have any Brain but now has confessed that he only has the Kidney left with a banana left for his last supper.

  • 0
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    every one is writing articles on SL, I too should write.My Tamil husband while on bed tell me a lot about buddhist monks in SL. I jotted down few things that would seem like making sense.

    All i had to do is combine words like buddhist monks, CHOGM, war, UN all in an article. And here it is…….:)

    Between I have to sell my book too.

  • 0
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    When Buddhists monks were leading the opposition to Burmese military rule for many years, no one in the West was worried about “political Buddhism”. No articles were written in western media demanding the monks give up political struggle. Similarly, is Dalai Lama suppose to give up all his utterances about Tibet and stick to meditation? Western media people gets upset when the Buddhist monks are agitating against causes that are dear to them. I am sure if and when in Sri Lanka the Buddhist clergy turns against the current government and agitate for a regime change, all these Western hand wrangling about political Buddhism will vanish in a trace. This is all, what is good for my agenda. That is all.

  • 0
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    I wonder whether the problem is with ‘Therawada’ Buddhism per-se or problem associated with recruiting young boys- Samanera’s (Novices)- into the priesthood, before they had grown, matured, experienced life and learned its lessons. The practice of sending boys who portend undesirable tendencies through horoscope readings, as Samenera’s to Buddhist temples, may be also contributing to the problem (Incidentally, I am a believer in astrology, but doubt the capabilities of many Astrologers). This practice is found in both Sri Lanka and Burma. I have not heard of small boys being enrolled as novices in Thailand, where Theravada Buddhism is also practiced. In Thailand many adult men spend a period of their lives as monks. Apparently virulent Buddhism is not a problem in Thailand.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0
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    Mrs.T,

    The enmity between the two different Ethnic Groups in Sri Lanka is nothing new and it goes back thousands of years.
    The British have a moral responsibility for the plight of the Tamils as they should have Guaranteed Tamil Rights under a Federal System when they gave Independence. It would have been easier at the Time as Britain was still a World Power which has diminished over the years.

    1) From the western perspective, Buddhism is viewed as a uniformly pacifist, politically neutral faith. It comes as a surprise, therefore, to learn that in some parts of the world – namely Sri Lanka and Burma – there is a particular brand of Buddhism in which monks are not only politically active but have also become embroiled in activities that are aggressive, violent and sometimes criminal.

    ***The above is a misconception as the Current Religious Intolerance is no doubt encouraged and influenced by the Patronage they receive from people like Gothabaya but also the result of inherent racist nature of the Sinhala Race as a whole. The Clergy no doubt articulate this stronger and better than an ordinary Sinhalese which makes it dangerous and difficult to counter because of their place in the Society.

    2) However, attempts to secure an international investigation into these events have so far failed. In August, Buddhist monks besieged the UN building in Colombo to protest against the UN’s proposed investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government. Renewed calls for transparency from foreign powers could well result in further demonstrations.

    ***As for the above the demonstrations by the Clergy against the call for an international investigation can be countered if the only Nation India that can dictate and enforce policies In Sri Lanka take the lead.

    We have to wait until next year when hopefully there will be change of Leadership with the Tamil Nadu CM wielding influence in foreign affairs.

  • 0
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    All you people are wasting your precious life been identified as sinhalese, tamil, buddhist hindus etc. contrary to real buddhism or christianity or hindunism or any other religion. Rajavassas are stealing destroying the island been idiot like most of the sri lankans living here in sri lanka. I geuss you need good karma intelligence to get to know the reality of life. All you people are killing harassing each other robbing left and right to gain more and more wealth. 90% of the sri lankans acquire illegimate wealth. How did sajiths premadas get reick? mervyns, wimals, rajavassas, you name it every one. also the people who led to find the above mentioned religions if they knew what was hapenning they would be luaghing at you all frogs in the wells who are greedy pigs.
    ThanksQ

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