Colombo Telegraph

Whither Sri Lanka? – A Post Script 

By Gamini Dullewe

Judging from criticism and queries on the article submitted, Whither Sri Lanka? I have been prompted to write this ‘post script’, to explain some of the issues raised and also suggest a way out of the impasse, the country face today, in the hands of a corrupt political system. There were some who raised the issue, why I had not delved to find the origins of the Sinhalese with the Sinhabahu Myth. My concern was only to show, the commonly believed myth, that the Sinhala race commenced with the landing of Vijaya and his retinue of seven hundred men is not the beginning of the Sinhalese race in this country. Vijaya was not a Sinhalese and he could not have fathered this Sinhalese nation. I believe if one is interested in the subject, to find the origins of the Sinhalese race, should refer to Prof. Raj Somadeva of the Post Graduate Institute of Archeology at Kelaniya, who is the ideal person to enlighten on the matter, as he has done some extensive field research. I hear, he believes that this story of the arrival of Prince Vijaya and the Kuweni story, as a mythical exercise to give credence to the fact that the Sinhala race commenced from then on. According to Prof. Raj Somadeva there had been Sinhala Buddhists in this country much before the advent of Vijaya, as Buddha is supposed to have visited during his time and served sermons. Then the myth that Mihindu Maha Rahathan thero brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka on a Poson Poya day too become fictitious as mentioned in Mahawansa by Priest Mahanama. Be that as it may, coming down further in the History of the country, there were many who tend to believe that the British did divide and rule before our Politicians, took it to the extremes and still continue doing so.  Had the British resorted to, I believe they would not have done so openly, as done by our own Politicians today for certain. 

As a prelude to find a way out of the present impasse to the conflict, I like to revisit History to the period of King Parakrama Bahu (1153 – 1186) to illustrate how the Buddhist priests of the Theravadha order occupying the Mahaviharaya had conflicts with the Mahayana Order residing at the Abhayagiri Viharaya  and how King Parakrama Bahu resolved matters then. The King had de- robed the priests in both Abhayaramaya and the Jethavanaramaya and a large number at the Mahaviharaya also. Thereafter the King had given the choice to the monks to either return to lay life permanently or to be re-ordained again as novice monks in the Mahaviharaya order. Therefore History is replete with precedence where unruly Buddhist priests have been dealt with and de-robed in the past, although recently when Gnanasara was running amok, some Buddhists in the country with a section of the Sangha took up cudgels, that once a person is ordained, no one, not even the State has the right to de-robe him. What a load of rubbish they spewed, as if an act of sacrilege had been committed when Gnanasara was put behind bars. Therefore the time is rife once again for the State to discipline the Buddhist Priesthood without allowing them to run riot by spewing hatred, killing people and burning property. The media, time and again had displayed, how Buddhist priests have been threatening Police Officers in uniform in the most disparaging manner and how our pious Buddhists and the Chief Prelates turn a blind eye. It is a clear case of the Priests taking advantage of the robe they wear, believing they are above the Law, expecting the Buddhist laity to save them. These are the Buddhists who are concerned about Buddhism and come forward to protect Buddhism in the country at the drop of a hat. At the same time we also have seen on media, how Buddhist priests being baton charged and seen running for dear life with their robes tucked. The behavior of these militant monks, seen by the world outside are the ones who bring disrepute to Buddhism and degenerate the faith of many who hold Buddhism in high veneration.  

I believe the time has come to summon the chiefs of all clergy, of all Religions and sound to them, that the State will no longer foster any Religion and will only provide the facility for them to continue their religious work without hindrance to other faiths and the society as a whole. This message should be made loud and clear that none are above the Law and the Laws of the land will equally apply to any who violate, irrespective of one’s standing whether clergy or laity. I know it is easily said than done but if we fail to, where our society will end, is not something difficult to fathom, as we all can foresee. There are Buddhist priests in other countries as well, but there are checks and balances for their behavior in public and not let lose as here, allowing them to go scot free. 

Religion is a personal issue and all should take note that, it should not be taken as a tool to reap benefits for one’s self or for the community he/she represents. Please look around and you will see that the whole country has contributed to this madness of hoisting Religion to reap benefits publicly, that has led the Clergy of all Religions to take the upper hand on all matters relating to social issues. This I believe has led to the present impasse where the Religious sects, finger all matters of state, where the State alone should take decisions, but are unable to as they have played politics with all the Religions. If one were to look around, all are guilty as everyone displays their faiths openly for others to identify them, in their person, in their vehicles or the houses they own. Therefore I humbly request to all, please keep Religion to yourself and do not make a mockery of it, by advertising publicly as you too have contributed to the turmoil the country faces today. Further please avoid in trying to drag others for what you believe in and allow each to decide their own destiny.    

I have often wondered why so many young boys are ordained as Samaneras, with a lot of fanfare and publicity under Political watch, whether we are short of Buddhist priests in the country? I personally do not think so. Anyway that is not a matter that I would want to touch as long as there are the willing, let them become Buddhist Priests. As for myself, I certainly have had no particular interest or use of the Buddhist Priests, as I learned about Buddhism from my parents and at school and forced to sit for the GCE O/L as a subject to have obtained a credit pass. Thereafter I realized the futility of parrot repeating Pansil for every religious occasion and I refrained blindly following the rest. Instead I started to live by the five precepts, without flouting the precepts every now and then, as others do. As I grew up, I realized that the bulk of the Buddhist practices performed in the name of Buddhism, was made to cater to the Buddhist Priests, to sustain them. Their behavior in general was not compatible with the hallowed preaching’s of the Buddha carrying mobile phones, engaging in Politics and political demonstrations. I distanced myself from the Priests as much as possible and if I could have avoided, I did. I remember once visiting an alms giving of a very close relative, I was entrusted the task of dropping some Buddhist priests who had come for the alms giving. While driving them back to the temple which was a couple of miles away, I started the conversation inquiring from them, whether Buddha had performed Pansakula on the dead during his time? To wit there was no reply. I broke the silence and explained that this business of Pansakula has a history of around 500 years to the time the Portuguese arrived here and started to bury their dead using coffins and a funeral service of saying prayers. Before that, what was practiced here, how the dead were disposed was by wrapping the body in cloth and mat, tied to a bamboo and leave it in the woods for the elements to take care of, as part of nature. The jungle areas, where bodies were disposed such, was known as ‘Amusohonas’. This was how the dead vassals were disposed in the country.

The elite and the Buddhist Priests then had their own cemeteries where the bodies were not buried but placed on ground and monuments built over the body, towering over ground. Such tombs are still in existence at temple premises and elsewhere in the country. In addition some of the dead also had been cremated in pyres, as was commonly practiced then continuing to date. The practice of burying underground in a coffin with a religious ceremony, commenced with the advent of the Portuguese and continues to date.  It is only after the Portuguese commenced that the Buddhist Priests have adopted performing the Pansakula, as a Religious rite and now it has become custom of the Sinhala Buddhist’s, for priests to be in attendance to perform the final rites for the dead. So the Buddhist clergy has a good hold on all the Buddhists, for their services, irrespective of one’s standing in society. When I explained one of the priests listening to what I said, told me that there will not be any priest to perform Pansakula for me, the day I die.  I politely told him that I have left strict instructions with my children not to offer me Pansakula, as I do not believe nor need the blessings of some unknown priests, wishing me Nirvana.  I have further instructed my children not to offer alms in my name in seven days, three months and annually, as I strongly believe that merit cannot be transferred to the dead. If one argues that merit can be transferred to the dead, then similarly another can transfer demerit also to the dead in that case. The ‘Pin and Pou’ (merit and demerit) are two sides of the same coin I believe. The present practice of many who earn money by illegal means and leaving it behind for the family to offer massive tamashas of almsgivings to transfer merit to the dead, is only a ruse for the priests to prey on the gullible public.  

The plethora of problems the country face today are the very creation of  our own, due to our foolishness and continue to squabble with each other not allowing anyone to do well in life. Come pogroms, people kill each other, loot and burn property, the life time earnings of families. This has resulted, the society we live in, to simmer in hatred, jealousy, and anger and commit all the villainy, although everyone is highly religious as displayed to the outside world to identify their leanings. Therefore the myth that the Clergy and the Politicians try to infer that the villainy committed in society, is all due to the lack of religion and attempting to pour more religion, down the throats of the society should be stopped forthwith. Once again I repeat, please leave religion alone for the greater good of society to prosper. 

If and when we become successful to remove the thorn of religion from our midst, there will be better harmony among all, to reach a better standard of living for everyone in this society. Is this not what we yearn for, in our life time? Who cares for the manmade differences that the Clergy of all religions thrive to keep the masses suppressed for their own advantage?  This will also rid the corrupt from governance, that is prevalent today, as they will not be able to sell religion to the masses and scratch each other’s back, between politicians and the priests, riding the high horse. Truly the masses then of this country will be emancipated and liberated from the bondage and the shekels placed on society today in the name of Religion. Now the issue is who will bell the cat?  Obviously judging from the present lot who are in governance, I find it difficult to name any particular person who has the stature to do the job so I will leave it to the masses to decide.

After formulating rules and regulations for all in the country to be treated as equal citizens, Communal Politics should be dispensed with. No Political party being allowed to campaign on communal lines. The Tamils have to fall in line, giving up homeland theories and for all to consider the whole country to be everyone’s home. I like to conclude this article by citing, two true stories in real life of what happened to a Tamil and a Sinhalese family who were ardent chauvinists in their own way. There was this Tamil gentleman who was the fund raiser for the LTTE in NY during the height of LTTE waging war here. His only daughter subsequently married a Sinhalese living in NY. Then there was another rabid Sinhalese who was an absolute Sinhala chauvinist. His son later got married to a Tamil girl. Both parties are known to me personally.  Today the families are living happily, without prejudices that put them asunder in the past, when they fought each other before. I believe the solution lies to the ethnic problem in inter-marriage more than the reconciliation proposed by other parties.  It is better to enjoy the life you have now, with dignity rather than be divided to prepare for life after and make the world a living hell for all. 

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