Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to insight into the true nature of reality. Buddhism does not include the idea of worshipping a creator god, nor it speaks of any godly power in terms of religion; therefore, Buddha has never been presented himself as a god. The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; change is possible. So Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of race, nationality, caste, sexuality, or gender. It teaches practical methods which enable people to realize and use its teachings to transform their experience, to be fully responsible for their lives.
However, does the same concept or the path of Buddhism exist in Sri Lanka? The answer is “No.” What exists in Sri Lanka is not the true formula of Buddhism but a misleading and misinterpretation of Buddhism. It has gone to the extent of dealing with dirty politics too. Many Buddhist monks mislead the whole nation in this country through these types of low-standard activities such as nationalism through the Sinhala-Buddhist majority, religious hate speech, the violent act imposed on minority communities, and so on. So, this misleading path is to be eliminated with the help of what Buddha preached and practiced. In this article, therefore, I aim to discuss and show the causes of the existing situation of the popular concept of Buddhism. Thus, I also aim to rediscover a paradigm shift to find a solution for this crisis called “misconception of Buddhism.”
A misleading popular concept in SL
One primary issue begins with popular religious concepts. This is the most misinterpreted area or rather concept as such. Buddhism is no more a religion though there appeared some religious characteristics. It is a philosophy or a way of life. Many Buddhists continue to worship, venerate, meditate, and do many other religious activities thinking that Buddhism is a religion. What Buddha discovered through his hard type of exercises was not a religion but a crystal-clear way of life.
Another problem in SL Buddhism begins with the limited knowledge of Buddhism and misinterpretation of Buddha’s life and teachings. Buddha’s central expression of siyalu sathvayo nidukvethva [may all beings be happy] has been misapprehended by many Buddhists in Sri Lanka. In these words, siyalu sathwayo, many Sri Lankan Buddhists have a narrow mentality of speaking only for Buddhists or only on behalf of Buddhists. This is the same mistake in Catholicism when it comes in terms of salvation. Buddha never had this narrow misconception, instead; he insisted and wished the goodness of all beings. That is very relevant when we understand self-forgetfulness [anatta] in the life of Buddha. In my understanding, it is the primary expression of kindness to all humanity. In a multi-religious context, this expression has a massive sense of solidarity too. Yet how far Buddhists have understood this path is a question. One important point must be pointed out at this junction. This is all about Buddha’s praxis, in which we experience Buddha’s holiness [sara dharma]. This concept is not properly operative among Buddhists, whereas they are superfluously busy with mere ritualism. Rituals are not what decides a religion. Rituals only play an extra role to have an understanding of the essence of a religion. So, if Buddhism is not a religion, then what is the use of a discussion on ritualism regarding Buddhism? Does it even make sense? In Sri Lanka, the Buddhists even have not grasped the basic spirituality of metta, karuna, mudita, and upekkha [loving, kindness, compassion, and gladness]; they are the main operative powers of Buddha’s praxis. Sadly, where can we find these gentle forces toward one’s well-being; instead, we daily come across violence and hate speech that is being conducted by Buddhist monks.
Another observation would still help to defend my argument. Many Buddhists continue to worship in temples using different items such as fruits, cloth materials, candles, lamps, oil, flowers, milk, and food items. People spend thousands of money on these kinds of stuff for their worship. However, their concept of worship is not connected with service to humanity. Any type of worship, which is not connected with service to humanity is not worshiping at all. Buddha never promoted such types of worship in his way of enlightenment; whereas popular Buddhism provides or rather has introduced many unnecessary ways and means of worship. For an instance, how much fruits and milk are offered for some offerings in the temples when thousands are suffering from hunger and thirst.
When I was in Myanmar for the visitation of Pope Francis in 2017, one morning I saw a group of Buddhist monks meditatively walked barefoot in the town. It was around 6 am. People slowly began to offer whatever they had. Then only I realized that it was their daily practice of begging their daily meals. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, I hardly see these types of gestures. Instead, monks send the menu for their meals.
Lesson from Buddhadāsa’s movement
As Thailand became a nation-state in the 19th century, primarily, there had been two political traditions: the strong-state and the well-being of people’s tradition. Eventually, Buddhism has become one of the most essential sources of political legitimation. Naturally, since it was a monarchical set up, the king’s duty was to protect and support the Sangha. And in return, the Sangha legitimated his rules. If the king is not supportive of Buddhism, it was considered a grave error. It so happened to king Narai [1656-88] as he ignored his duty as a defender of Buddhism and supported European Christians. This is the same structure that we find in Sri Lankan states too. Eventually, such a structure has gone into extreme forms and by today the Sangha exercise their supreme powers and authority in destroying the unity in the country. When religiosity is mixed with politics unnecessarily, this is what happens. Isn’t it clear as we study the fake democracy promoted through Christianity in many Euro-western countries?
Buddhadāsa’s movement is quite an impressive gesture to learn a lesson. He appears in reforming Buddhism, but his methodology is completely different. It is distinctively a radical movement; it challenged the doctrinal interpretation of the orthodoxy of Thai Buddhism. He was thoroughly critical of the hierarchical structure of the Sangha and its examination system. Unlike the traditional monastic life in Theravada Buddhism, he insisted on physical labor together with laypeople. It was a matter of learning Dhamma through very simple daily works and actions. Therefore, Buddhadāsa did not set any list of rules for monks. However, in Sri Lanka, we do not find such practical movements to reform the prevailing system. The current system in the temples is so corrupted that it has already introduced a misinterpretation of Buddhism with the methodologies of dirty politics.
Buddha is being killed every day
I do not accept the lifestyle of Buddhist monks and many Buddhists in this country since their behavior has damaged the essence of the unity that existed in history. Buddha’s praxis is being killed in every corner in this country though bana is preached without single practice. Prof M. A. Nahum puts his ideology with inspired words just after the Jaffna library was burned. I think this poem with its radical words provides how Buddha was killed in history. It is as follows:
Buddha was shot dead
by the police,
guardians of the law.
his body drenched in blood
on the steps
of the Jaffna library
under cover of darkness
came the ministers.
“his name not on our list,
why did you kill him?”
they asked angrily,
“no sirs, no,
there was no mistake.
it was impossible
to harm a fly-
therefore…,” they stammered.
hide the corpse.”
the ministers return.
the men in civvies
dragged the corpse
into the library.
they heaped the books
ninety thousand in all,
and lit the pyre
with the Cikalokavadda Sutta.
thus the remains
of the compassionate one
were burnt to ashes
along with the Dhammapada. 
This is what happens even after this sad memory; this is the Buddhism that exists in this country. So, metta, karuna, mudita, and upekkha are absent in the hearts and minds of this nation. If the majority of Sinhalese authorities could burn 97,000 books in the Jaffna library and justify it through the hands of nationalism, what sort of metta, karuna, mudita, and upekkha are we preaching through bana and listening to them? This is nothing, but clear hypocrisy.
Sri Lanka is one of the best examples of misleading religiosity. Buddha-dhamma is centered on selflessness but not selfishness. However, what happens in the temples and most of the institutions is nothing but the collection of money, properties, and exercise of power. The monks who are supposed to be simple in their daily moral conduct of life are leading a luxury life wearing pompous types of dress codes. The ordinary people lead a poor life by giving and offering all that they have to the temples. This is a misconduct and a clear practice of hypocrisy in Buddhism. How can the Sangha becomes the richest people while their people become poor? This is a contradiction. Unfortunately, ordinary people do not have enough education to understand this reality and take the due measures. Buddhist monks are exploiting and grabbing things from ordinary people in preaching dhamma of offering things to the temples. Are these real saradharma that we want to see in society?
Buddhism emphasizes a strong sense of liberation. It is the truth that makes someone free. So, selflessness is the best path to face this process of one’s own liberation. Within the premises of religiosity in Buddhism, especially in the popular act of Buddhism, this liberational aspect is not obvious. People are busy in temples with mere rituals and offerings of pujā. If Buddhism speaks of religiosity, Buddhist morality counts a lot in any society. Buddha did not teach or preach any abstract system of philosophy, rather he practiced with simple gestures so that people may follow the same and practice in all contexts. It does not mean any type of worship or fulfilling rituals in Buddhism rather it is the practice of Buddha-dhamma. In my opinion, all these types of unnecessary rituals lead people to darkness. So, the light that is expected through the practice of Buddha-dhamma is not in us or among us. If Buddhists want to deal with the concept of religiosity in Buddhism, lighting lamps and candles, and offering flowers are not the methods of creating such religiosities, but the exercising compassion toward all beings.
One can ask whether what exists in Sri Lanka in a form of Buddhism is true or not. There can be several ideas and answers. Whatever the opinion is, something however needs to be mentioned. We have been deviating from the real essence of Buddhism. There is no proper reformation taking place to recover this misleading path. Buddhism is not a way of life in Sri Lanka, instead; Buddhists have their interpretation for their gaining and living. Even if Buddha is born again here in this country, he will not be able to introduce any sufficient paradigm shift to get rid of this systematic error. Selfishness exists in Sri Lankan society to the extent of killing minorities, massacring innocents, governing through terrorism, collecting money and properties, and misinterpreting dhamma for personal agendas. How can the concept of liberation have space in a society of this nature? What happened to the public library in Jaffna in the 1980s happens every day without missing a letter of that incident.
 Michael Rodrigo, “The Hope of Liberation Lessens Man’s Inhumanity: A Contribution to Dialogue at Village Level,” in Asian Face of Jesus. edited by R S Sugirtharajah. (189-210). (New York: Orbis Books, 1993), 196.
 I have seen a groups of foreign monks who live in a forest in Sri Lanka, living and keeping Buddha’s praxis more contextually. That is one good example I have seen in my life.
 In-gun Khan, Buddhist-Christian Dialogue and Action in the Theravada Countries of Modern Asia, PhD thesis, Heythrop College, University of London, 2021.
 https://groundviews.org/2012/06/01/the-burning-of-the-jaffna-library-31-years-on/. Accessed on 13th July 2021