26 June, 2022


Universalism Versus Tribalism

By Sarath de Alwis – 

Sarath de Alwis

The most venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana thero Mahanayake of the Asgiriya chapter has announced that his recent remarks, have been misconstrued and distorted.

The authenticity  of recorded information in cyber space is an inconvenient truth of the age we live in. For those curious the original ‘Anusasana’ and the subsequent clarification are both available  in the internet. 

We must take refuge in the Dhammapada. As rain makes its way in to a badly roofed house, so passion makes its way in to an unreflecting mind. As rain does not make its way in to a well roofed house, so passion does not make its way in to a reflecting mind. 

With a presidential election round the corner these are times for deep reflection.  

Bring to this country once again the blessed name

Which made the land of thy birth sacred to all distant lands! Let thy great awakening under the Bodhi-tree be fulfilled. Sweeping away the veil of unreason and let, at the end of an oblivious night,

Freshly blossom out in India thy remembrance!

All creatures are crying for a new birth of thine.

Oh, thou of boundless life,

save them, rouse thine eternal voice of hope.

Let love’s lotus with its inexhaustible treasure of honey

open its petals in thy light.

O Serene, O Free

in thine immeasurable mercy and goodness 

wipe away all dark stains from the heart of this earth.

In 1931, Rabindranath Tagore wrote these verses capturing the sublime quintessence of the great awakening of the Buddha to mark the consecration of the  new Mulagandha Kuti Viharaya at Saranath where the Buddha preached his first sermon. Tagore was not merely celebrating the message of the Buddha. He was also crying for a new birth of the Buddha as the eternal voice of hope.

We have again reached such a point when we desperately need the Buddha to guide us. 

Tagore’s poetry capturing the quintessence of the Buddha “O Serene, O Free, in thine immeasurable mercy and goodness, wipe away all dark stains from the heart of this earth” is an eloquent rebuke of the stain produced by the ecclesiastical exercise on the feasibility of stoning people.  

In 2014, Amartya Sen the Nobel Laureate in economics published an essay on the relevance of Buddhism in the 21st Century. He reminds us that Rabindranath Tagore once remarked that he was extremely sad that he was not alive when Gautama Buddha was still around. 

“Tagore very much wished he could have had conversations with Buddha. I share that sentiment, but, like Rabindranath, I am also immensely grateful that, even now, we can enjoy – and learn from – the ideas and arguments that Buddha gave us twenty-five hundred years ago. Our world may be very different from what Buddha faced in the sixth century BC, but we can still benefit greatly from the reasoned approach to ethics, politics, and social relations that Gautama Buddha brought to the world of human understanding.

I have cited Rabindranath Tagore and Professor Amartya Sen for a specific reason. Both offer living proof that the oriental mind is a fertile field for knowledge and reason. That it was so, long before what we now know as the European Reformation and Enlightenment. 

The point is significant. Individual human rights is not a western imperialist conspiracy but an implicit component of authentic Buddhist teaching. It is a point that should be driven home with great urgency . In  the context of Gotabaya Rajapaksa running for the presidency, it is an existential imperative for us who cherish freedom. That the Sinhala language has no precise equivalents for liberty and freedom is a sad commentary of our present dilemma. 

A Gotabaya Rajapaksa candidacy should be welcomed. His quest for a majority of the majority presents us with a clear choice: universalist humanism or insular tribalism. 

Even a passing reference to a  barbaric tribal practice should stir the conscience of anyone who claims an iota of familiarity with what the Buddha taught. 

Cocooned in privilege and power, the institutional Buddhist monastic orders are distanced from the objective of being beacons of humility, kindness and compassion. 

We are still riddled with the suffering of humanity. Its causes persist today just as they did in the time of the master.  

We have arrived at a fork. Where do we  go? Should we remain trapped in tribal prejudice or embrace universal knowledge? Tribalism is the comfortable cosy pattern that looks inward to ethnicity and religious conformity. The people who define themselves in such terms always perceive themselves in opposition to other groups. They are confined to  values, beliefs and orientations of their tradition. That was the essence of the controversy . 

People who aspire towards a universal community regard themselves as part of a larger world that transcends the regional or tribal framework , they were born in to. 

While the universalists see themselves through a universal framework, they also retain their individuality. While subscribing to universal norms, they remain firmly grounded in their sense of individual identity . 

The stark contrast between the tribal and universal world view is demonstrated in their attitude towards authority. 

For the tribal group, authority is something that comes from the tribal chief. The authority is either attached to a lineage such as the family that won a humanitarian war or more abstractly, from the tradition or dogma of the tribal unit. 

For universalists such as this writer, authority is defined in terms of reality that needs to be shaped, altered or accepted. The universalists insist on their right to know and interpret reality individually, and not as received, collected wisdom offered by self-styled experts and professionals of the ‘Viyathmaga’ type. 

The internet and evolving  digital technology compels us to see ourselves as a part of the universe. Our monastic orders notwithstanding. Like it or not we are only a small part of the universal puzzle. The Buddha saw it first. 

The Mahanayake thero has not disclaimed his expressed opinion on who our next president should be. Come November, we will come face to face with liberty. Do we say Hello or Bye Bye to liberty ?  

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Latest comments

  • 5

    One thera wants to stone Muslims, another says there should be only two candidates in coming elections. Yet another went on fast to get rid of Muslim ministers and a another recently pardoned, has threatened with “fire works ” if demands are not met. In the mean time BR has proposed GR,who is at present facing murder charges domestic and in US, as our next presidential candidate. MR and his sons want a “strong ruthless arm twisting person who loves the country but not the people”. MS is competing daily with Trump in lying and deceiving. And people want the country to be known as “Buddhist country” like no other.

  • 4

    These universalists brought chaos and utter dispair to this land in 2015. The people still suffer from the liberty they brought. People have now got the liberty to get exploded into pieces. They have got liberty to apply for a security job if they are tall or could apply for a labourer job if they are short. they have got liberty to dream about global car makers setting up factories in their country, use airports to store the excessive paddy harvests they got. The country is filled with milk and honey. So to protect their liberty they are going to get world class security boots on their land courtesy of their beloved uncle Sam. So the universalists continue to preach us to meditate meththa….,karuna……..,muditha…….saadu…….saadu……..saadu……….

    • 3

      Sarath writes: “That the Sinhala language has no precise equivalents for liberty and freedom is a sad commentary “. Yes, “free education” is “nidahas adyapanaya” , which could mean “liberated education”. More alarming is that there is no exact word for intelligence. “Buddhi” is used for spy services and mental aptitude.
      Perhaps this explains the lack of intelligence in the Mahanayakas and their quaint notions of political freedom.
      I think the disease has now spread to the Cardinal.

      • 1

        Old codger, the old polluted Tamil. You are the person who said that the bond scam did not happen and the country did not lose money. Are you PAskralingam. Ranil i snot letting him go. HE is hanging some where in the system.

        • 1

          Jim the dim,
          If you think the bond scam happened, it is up to you to prove it. You can’t because you can’t count.

          • 1

            Jimmy works at TTC, (Toronto Toilets Corp). Counting skills are not needed there.

  • 0

    I do not think Mahanyake theros should involve in these. Because, I remember, the last time, Mahanayake theros claimed that they talked but Mahinda Rajapakse was not listening. Even his sons, I suppose, Ran Car races even around the Dalada Maaligaawa. It is Mahinda rajapakse who wanted to appoint Mahanayakes. It is MR’s vandibattayas who threatened bhikkus saying they would bomb the temples. That same Mahinda Rajapakse and Basil Rajapakse are in the game. Even this time, they struggled with Maithripala asking more leverage in the Political chairs. Mahinda Rajapakse has destroyed every thing he could destroy and his only objective is to become some one important again and His son Namal to be places some where reachable to the PReisdent’s chair. that is something like SLFP party leadership. SLFP si proven and SLPP is not proven. Basil Rajapakse’s only objective is to save his wealth he gained during the 2005-2014 times and to get more I suppose. He would not care to gang up with anyone if he can earn more.
    Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s problem is his two brothers and the american Senate which says they can prosecute dual citizens who involved in the war and more that kind STICKS and carrot GR has to find.
    Anyway, You changed your writing style. what to say. Once brothers are active in their games. Once american Officials start advising GOTA he won’t be able to do anything. So, h eneeds to think that carefully, even the parliament, finance ministry and some other govt institutions are under the patronage of the american Machinery.

  • 2

    “Individual human rights is not a western imperialist conspiracy but an implicit component of authentic Buddhist teaching”.
    No one says it is not part of Buddhist view. What the honest, civilised and knowledgeable world is objecting to is its capture by the evil neocolonial, neocolonial imperialist forces to further their geopolitical conspiracies by the selective application of a corrupt form of it.
    The writer need to follow a course in critical thinking.

  • 1

    There is no intelligence not only among the clergy but among all sri lankans. This so-called free education freely provided only provided some knowledge and skills to perform certain specific tasks and nothing else. Certainly no intelligence. Intelligence is not knowledge or education but developing the ability to think, question, verify, never draw conclusion and have the courage to question. Now who are these clergy? They have just memorised some Buddhist matters in Pali and misleading the innocent, gullible, vulnerable masses who themselves have no intelligence and never had the ability to think or question or search. If a leading Buddhist Monk could utter in public that Muslims are poisoning Sinhalas and doctors are sterilising sinhala women without any evidence at all except mere gossip and rumour then what more to talk. Is this Buddhsim. Does this clergy know anything what Buddha said. Does he know the meaning of Buddhi? Didnt Buddha ask these fools to think, question and verify before they open their foul and filthy mouth? What law of the land had done so far to deal with that rowdy, ignorant, racist monk? Then there is a Katholica opportunist Cardinal, a selfish political opportunist who is using Christianity for his self glory. When some idiots or some silly cheap newspaper write some rubbish there are these patriotic mobs on the streets armed with clubs and knifes and kerosine to kill and torch and that is all Buddhism has taught us. “Appetta hathanda baa, namuth kadanta puluwang”, is our national policy of an Only Sinhala Buddhist Country. Unless we control these rabid hayenas we have no hope at all. Every fellow is surviving using racism as the only weapon. Shall I remind here a balu sinhala dostharaya from A’pura giving TV interviews, media interviews to quench his rabid racism and blind patriotism by telling lies after lies to accuse Muslims and even tamils.

  • 0

    I am not a fan of ‘organised’ religion. Worse, when organised religion teams up with politicians to create mayhem and chaos. King maker Mahanayake’s, and Kudu-karaya’s both suck up to the same Head Honcho who wields the whip.

    Sri Lanka was our heaven till these devious rascals took control.

    We the People must come to our senses are take back control.

    • 2

      Spring Koha

      “Sri Lanka was our heaven till these devious rascals took control.”

      When exactly did it happen?

  • 0

    Have you noticed that nearly all the government bankers, lawyers and engineers are all racists? these are the people we have to deal with when we go into a bank to get some work done, meet a gov employee to get our pensions, to collect an important document , even to get our NIC.
    just imagine how minorities are treated when they need to bow beg and wallow to get theses staff to help them? many of the so called semi-government banks employees are part and parcel of the blog and social media rampart that is paid for buy these hoodwinks at the brother’s party! they are paid to write. check blogs and articles by Shenali waduge, anuradha gamarachchi and wijayakoon jayasundera. all three are employees paid to write racist comments, keeping low profile but sharing these tow the country people.

  • 0

    The monk was not serious about the stoning punishment. It was simply an analogy. The author is free to quote various religious texts out of context, but the point remains. As for Gothabaya, should he win the election, he will bring stability to the country. Stability is what voters want if they perceive ISIS is about to turn their country into a caliphate.

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