24 September, 2020

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Which Buddhism Will The Government Support?

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The latest attack on a Muslim mosque in Colombo is a further sign that the Buddhist nationalist upsurge is continuing to grow and not diminish with the passing of time.  While the police belatedly acted to bring the situation under control, its lax approach to apprehending the aggressors indicates the continuation of an apparent government policy to treat them with deference.  The six Muslim ministers of the government have appealed to it to take effective action noting the “lukewarm and ineffective measures taken by the law enforcement agencies on previous occasions.” In the latest attack on a mosque in Grandpass, the attackers had gathered as a mob, thrown stones, shattered windows, and also attacked adjoining Muslim houses in the same way.  Although the attackers were clearly identifiable there are no reports of any deterrent action by the police in regard to apprehending the aggressors.  The pattern of incidents that have taken place in the recent past is an indication of the threat to pluralism, multi-culturalism and religious tolerance in the country.

The attitude on the part of those who are aggressors that they can disrupt the activities of others is a violation of the freedom of assembly and freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution.  The attitude of the law enforcement agencies to permit those who break the law and get away without legal sanction undermines the credibility of the government as a secular one.  This lack of commitment has led to the fomenting of religious and ethnic tensions in post-war Sri Lanka.    It is ironic that the Buddhist nationalists to whom the government is paying so much deference, perhaps on account of their claim that they are protecting Buddhism in the country, are engaging in behavior that is the antithesis of what is found in the ancient Buddhist texts of Sri Lanka during that period of time regarded as the golden period of Sri Lankan Buddhism.  Some gleanings of this are available in the Sanghasarana, which was part of the classical Sinhalese texts translations of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage.

The Sanghasarana, which is about the life of Buddhist monks of the Anuradhapura period in the first millennium gives very direct and simple stories to highlight the values that must guide those who seek to follow the Buddhist religion.  A consistent theme is that any action that harms another living being is unacceptable.  There is a particularly illustrative story of a monk who falls sick and requires a special remedy to regain his health.  A tree spirit who seeks to be helpful causes an innocent child to fall sick, and asks the parents to prepare the special medicinal preparation and give it to the monk if they are to cure their child.  However, the monk refuses the medicinal preparation when it is given to him.  “Having seen that the tree deity had caused it to be cooked by inflicting pain upon the son of that family, said, Friend, this food is not suitable for our consumption. Remove this.”  This is the strict teachings that the Sinhala Buddhist people were taught and have followed, in which means do not justify ends.  This is also unlike the violent Buddhist nationalism of today to which the government looks to be giving deference.

Contrasting Approach 

The government’s very cautious if not supportive approach in dealing with the harm to religious and ethnic coexistence by the nationalist Buddhist section of the polity is in sharp contrast with how the police dealt with the demonstration against a factory that was accused of polluting ground water in Weliweriya last week.  In that incident, the police apparently abdicated their responsibilities to the army which was swiftly brought in to bring a public protest to an end at the cost of the lives three persons and causing serious injuries to many others.  The protest was a community-level one only against the contamination of groundwater consumed by village people in the area by a factory.  It was hard to believe that four years after the end of the war, the same style, and militarized thinking that once dictated military operations in the north and east of the country, still continues to motivate some actions of the government.

However, the Weliweriya incident is not the first serious post-war incident involving the military and the civilian population.  There have been several similar incidents in different parts of the country in the intervening years.  These include the recent breaking up of civilian protests against the take-over of lands in Veligamam North in the Jaffna peninsula, the shooting death of one person in the break up of demonstration by fishermen in Chilaw over a fuel price hike, another shooting death of a worker in a trade union protests in Katunayake, the killing of over 40 prisoners in the Welikada jail riots, clashes with university students in Jaffna on the commemoration of the war dead, and with civilians in Nedunkerny over the “Grease devils” assailants.

During the years of the war there were sporadic and sometimes regular demonstrations held, for the most part, at the Fort Railway Station or at the traffic roundabout at Lipton’s Circus to protest against some terrible violation of human rights that came to attention time after time.  During a war, such incidents are to be expected even if not condoned.  But four years after the end of the war, it is disconcerting and most distressing to have such incidents take place again.  At the Fort Railway Station last week, it was like those bad old times.  Protest groups were out there in the afternoon sun along with their supporters.  They delivered the same message of government abuse of power, the need for democratic dialogue and called for respect of the country’s pluralism and democracy.  This time around, unlike in the past, those in the protest group included leaders of those who had become victims.

Traditional Buddhism 

On this occasion it was the words of the Ven. Therippahe Siridhamma who was one of the religious leaders with the people at Weliweriya that gave substance to the words of the veteran democracy activists. His speech at the demonstration in front of the Fort Railway Station would be a wake-up call to any unrighteous government.  Referring to the incident at Weliweriya, the monk said, “This was not why voted for the government.  We did not come to harm anyone. We did not expect this savagery.  Our future is uncertain.  I am not afraid to die. But if I am killed, my people will lose my leadership which they expect me to take up.”  It also shows the double-edged nature of mobilizing religious sentiment for political purposes especially in Sri Lanka, which has a historical tradition of Buddhist monks getting involved in matters of state to protect the religion.  They are also capable of mobilizing and being mobilized to protect the people’s interests.

The savagery that the monk spoke of having experienced was echoed by others who had been to Weliweriya to participate in the funeral or who came from its vicinity.  They had firsthand accounts of what had transpired.  How the media personnel on the scene were hounded and attacked.  How the people cried out that they had supported the soldiers during the war against the LTTE, even offering donating blood for the injured soldiers, and this was how they were being treated now.  One spoke of a Catholic nun who barred the gate to the convent where people had run into.  Even when a soldier had pointed his gun at her, she refused to move.  “We know what you are doing in Pakistan, India…we will take care of you,” he had said, revealing the effects of anti-minority propaganda that is been spread, even to the Sri Lankan military that needs to become a secular force, dedicated to the protection of all Sri Lankans.

On the other hand, the inaction of the police, and by implication the government, in the face of repeated acts of aggression by Buddhist nationalist groups against religious minorities conjures up parallels to Myanmar.  In that country, sections within the military government who see their power slipping away due to the popularity of the opposition led by Aung Sang Suu Kyii are believed to be sponsoring Buddhist nationalists who take aggressive action against the Muslim minority and cite reasons of national security and protection of Buddhism as their justification.  Even as the government seeks to impress the gathering of the Commonwealth of Nations as to Sri Lanka’s post-war progress, it is important that it should not permit this parallel or other negative parallels to be drawn, by emphasizing its adherence to the traditional Buddhist values as found in the Sanghasarana rather than in the modern version of Buddhist nationalism.

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Latest comments

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    The only way to deal with a situation like this is through the rule of law. The perpetrators should be prosecuted, it is that simple. No religion should be overly intertwined with the government. The government ideally should be enforcing the laws equally.

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      JP, Why did NOT your outfit take legal action against Balu Sena who disrupted you meeting in Ampara?
      Practice what you preach man! Do the right thing and go to courts since the perpetrators need to be punished to STOP THE SPREAD OF HATE ATTACKS against minorities..

      And which Buddhism will your friend, the clown who is Minister of National Languages and Social Integration Vasu the dead leftist who should have passed a Bill against Hate Speech and religious Hatred support?!
      You JP should look inward and do the right thing.

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        No where close to CPA in pursuing injustice. More afraid of
        White-van although preaching as a NGO for livelihood.

    • 0
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      Jehan Perera, you ask:

      “Which Buddhism Will The Government Support?”

      Does Sri Lanka have a government to start with? To me it ceased to exist when for the first time the police, the military and the leaders didn’t protect Tamils during anti-Tamil pogroms, but aided and abetted it. Nobody was charged or convicted of crimes. In 1983, JRJ the president said that they can’t think of Tamil’s lives or their opinions. Was he a president or some thug?

      More of the same thing has been going on for decades as far as Tamils are concerned, only things are getting worse.

      Can anybody claim that there is rule of law from 1958 riots?
      During London riots last year culprits were hounded out and punished, that’s good governance!

      In Sri Lanka Buddhism has become synonymous with oppression of non-Sinhala-Buddhists.

      Furthermore, why does Buddhism need any support? Can’t these Bhikkus and the extremists realize that Buddha’s teachings need no support from these ignorant idiots who don’t understand at all?

      To anybody claiming that there is any semblance of government or rule of law in Sri Lanka, I say you are a hypocrite.

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        But LTTE, TNA and former FP always joined UNP and support them. How?
        Killing Tamils is a political capital to the Tamil parties too?

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          You Cross Breed by bringing the LTTE , The TNA FP , UNP into every piece of shit without any relevance or connection to the issue on hand you are simply making a fool of yourself.
          Then who can blame you as for you it is Kumballai Kovintha. Why don’t you start by saying Arohara and then take a Pal Kavadi followed Paneer Kavadi and finally Pushpa Kavadi.

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    The Govt has failed in its duty to protect the minorities. We cannot expect that the monks or people are arahats or bodhisatvas. Daily we hear of various crimes committed by so called monks under cover of the robe. So it would be better if the law of the land is given effect and the criminals and vandals are arrested and charged in the courts rather than making deals with the devil.

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    WE NEED WAR AGAIN NO PEACE TALK, THAT BULLSHIT.

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      Hi Sena,

      Rohan likes war, he made all his money from war on terror bull shit advice

  • 0
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    rohan,
    Are you unemployed? and looking for new field of work

  • 0
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    Jehan,
    Go, visit the temple, the mosque, the local people and the police to learn the truth behind the mosque drama before you write you one sided bull shit for few dollars.

    I for one have learned the truth and written the entire story as a comment under “Attacked Mosque Released The Original Letter Of Permission For Relocation” here. Lies and Punditry of yours and the likes makes me sick.

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      Yeah right, I read it. Your homework was one sided to begin with and you have not completed your research ..

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        I am not a journalist. True, I have written from my prospective and I am a Sinhala Buddhist. However, event that I wrote as had taken place are not one sided for it is nothing but the truth.

        Muslims have agreed to abandon the warehouse mosque. They have gone back to their old mosque for their prayers. No problem now.

        And the Buddhists for their part have agreed for the municipality to remove the ‘kaka’ Bo tree from the old mosque premises that no one has been venerating. Another problem solved.

        But I have noticed Al Jazeera is still broadcasting that a mosque had been vandalized by Sinhala Buddhists.

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          If muslims did not remove the most as they promised, there is a legal system in this country to deal with. Who is these people ? Ravana Balaya?

  • 0
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    Jehan Perera!

    Why don’t you write precisely as ‘Sinhala Theravada Buddhism’?

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    WE WANT TO SEE THE TERRORIST BODU BALA BALA AND SINGHALA BUDDHIST COWARDS..
    YOU BASTARD DISTROYED OUR COMMUNITY FROM THE NORTH, BLOODY REAL TERRORIST ARE YOU.
    NO MORE PEACE NEED IN THIS ISLAND.
    ONLY WE WANT TO SEE THE BLOOD OF HUMAN BEING AND PROTECT ANIMALS BLOOD THERE.
    HAVE A FRUITFUL FUTURE TO YOU BLOODY TERRORIST RAJAPAKSHA

    “WAALHA TAMIL OLIHA SINHALESE TERRORIST”

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      Don’t you ever give up, I enjoy reading the way you buggers bark.

  • 0
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    allowing 48 mosques in kattankudy doesnt show any signs that the govt has discriminated the minorities – instead it is the other way round

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    I agree that Buddhism is supposed to be peaceful but some people have different interpretations of Gauthama Buddha’s teachings which is used to defend Sinhala Buddhism. We should look at the problem from all angles. If President is quiet, then we must think because President will always do what is best for the country. Maybe he is interpreting Buddha’s teachings differently to defend people.

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      True Sinhala,

      If your president is quiet that means he had too much to drink the previous night or he is plotting his next evil act.
      I like the Word may be he is interpreting Buddha”s teachings differently.
      You are mad he doesn’t know what Buddha”s teachings are. Even I as a Hindu know what Lord Budha”s teachings are and we live by his teachings because we Hindus respect every religion under the sun.

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    There is going to be a massive demonstration by the UNP against the incidents in Weliweriya and Grandpass on Wednesday. Pass the word out on Facebook and Twitter. This can be a last chance to make the govt prevent future incidents.

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    Monks now enjoy impunity against unlawful acts they lead and encourage.

    The day buddhist monks are arrested and indicted for taking part in unlawful activities against minority groups,their places of worship and their livelihoods,will be the day of regaining Law and Order in sri lanka according to Buddhist Principles.
    Never mind the laymen, mostly thugs who assist them.

    Will this ever happen?

  • 0
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    As Nobel laureate and distinguish physicist,
    Steven Wineburger once aptly put; in normal
    moral universe good people would always do good they
    can and bad people would always do bad they can. But
    if you want good people to do wicked things, you
    need a “Religion”.

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    What Jehan says is true but he seems to have developed a sudden feeling of justice for Muslims. He never exhibited this side of him when LTTE was riding high. He and his like hardly spoke against the LTTE’s oppression and ethnic cleansing of Muslims. Now he is shedding crocodile tears. Perhaps it is the new issue, that might give him more dollars.

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    .THIS IS THE TARGET HAVE TO ACHIEVE BY BLOODY SUCKERS OF BUDDHIST

    **FIRST ——–>TAMILS ERADICATED FROM THE ISLAND

    **SECOND—–> MUSLIMS NOW ONGOING WAR UNDER THE SUPPORT OF DEFENSE SECRETARY

    **THIRD—–> MY DEAR CHRISTIAN BROTHERS YOU ARE THE NEXT TARGET FOR SURE

    NO MINORITIES IN SL AFTER THIS CLEANSING

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    Which Buddhism?

    1. Mara Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism.

    2. It Rhymes with Mahida a Rajapaksa.

    3.. It allows for the Monk-Ruler Hegemony to be maintained.

    4. Forget Buddha’s Teachings.

    There are other versions of Monk-Hegemony as well.

    Buddhism The Great — Parts 1 and 2

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNOfTGSADdY

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clcs2PSze0I

  • 0
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    Jehan PErera is remembering how the Vatican suppressed and banned Illuminati.

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    Jehan Perera who makes a living out of foreign donations talks as if buddhism and sri lankans are damn fools. What faction of Christianity did the British government support in Northern Ireland ? Religious conflicts are very difficult subjects for any government. The truth is lost because of emotion.In some business magazines Jehan Perera says he has a Phd ( Dr ) while in certain papers he is plain Jehan Perera. Maybe depending on the readership he uses his Phd. The readership of the Colombo Telegraph come from far and wide.But we can understand what is happening. Certain people dont see any good in the Rajapakse government at all.But if they go for an election they will win easiely. So who is right ? Dr Jehan Perera or the people ? In general I dont like people whose livlihood is provided by busybodies in foreign countries .

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    Let us stop pointing fingers at each other. What had to be done and has to be done is to implement rule of law properly. If the mosque was built on an illegal premises, it had to be removed by the necessary authorities at that point of time. In 1983 riots, law enforcement authorities did not carry out their duty and he had to suffer for decades for that omission. Should have been the same way in 1956. People, there are various arms of law for enforcement of that and various organizations should be prevented from taking laws unto their hands. What you have to understand is that there is a huge inaction in the part of the authorities due to variety of reasons and without trying to whitewash bad actions, accept bad as bad and good as good and, take proper action to implement law and order through proper channels.

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    To stop a problem we have to understand its underlying causes. But Sri Lanka hasn’t got enough intellectuals in the leadership level to think differently to understand underlying causes. Its is safer and easier for the leaders to use religion and race to manipulate people to get votes to keep their power, because that is what they have learned from their leaders. J R Jayewardene pushed the UNP to accommodate nationalism and endorse the Sinhala Only Act, which was bitterly opposed by the Tamils. JR saw how skilfully the SLFP had played the ethnic card, and felt the UNP should be willing to do the same, even if it meant losing the support of Tamils. JR was a deceitful man, he knew how to exploit racism to win the majority votes, he also converted from Christianity to Buddhism to take advantage of the religion. JR was responsible for the two brutal civil wars. The Rajapaksa brothers can’t handle what is about unfold in the near future. The government had enough ample time to recruit intellectual to strengthen its brain force to deal with many issues, but it didn’t. The LTTE and diaspora are few aspects of many other issues, but many other issues are unaddressed or handled very poorly.

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    Aljazeera is controlled by super power nation

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    White vans belong to the Ministry of Defence.

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      white

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    The question is whether the Sri Lankan government is secular, the society therein is secular like in India or whether the State is theocratic as per the Constitution. To unravel this especially in the Sri Lankan context could be quite confusing. Perhaps, Jehan would explain this in the future. Bensen

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    It seems Jehan’s concern for Muslims depends on who the party tormenting them. As far as I am aware, this NGO is supposed to be funded by Norway and Western nations, never condemned the LTTE for the systematic massacre of Muslims and Buddhists, when LTTE was considered invincible.
    Can Jehan explain why, if we are to take seriously his concerns hereafter.

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