By Jagath Asoka –
I am not writing this article out of malice; if you were to read this article, you would probably understand what I am talking about, and you would laugh with me, not at any particular person; you would see my sense of humor, without hating a particular thing or person. But for some reason, if you do not have my sense of humor, it is fine with me. Only a sage would feign stupidity to give the hoi polloi a chance to have fun by ridiculing him. I think the Buddha had a deep sense of humor when he said that even though all life is sorrowful, we must affirm it and say yes to life even when we are in excruciating pain, even when we are suffering, and even when we are experiencing privation and humiliation. So, it is your prerogative to get angry and act like a monkey or laugh like an enlightened human being. I will let you find out for yourself, so keep reading.
When I express my opinions on Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka and here in the USA by Sri Lankans, I am not criticizing Buddhism at all: I am just laughing at the stupidity of the misguided hoi polloi, I am mocking the educated yet gullible followers, and I am ridiculing the myopic and unctuous monks who have sullied Buddhism. I know that some of you would feel intense hatred towards me and criticize me as if I were Devadatta or Judas, but that is fine with me, too. I would laugh at your comments, not at you.
If I were to express my opinion using abstract ideas and examples, it would be utterly boring, and would take fun out of your life; I abhor abstract thinking, including abstract paintings. So, I am going to use an example: a well know Buddhist monk. Since he is a Buddhist monk, he is used to this kind of mockery, satire, and caricature; I sincerely believe that he would read this article with disinterest and insouciance, not with anger and malice. If he is not used to mockery, satire, and caricature, I am certain that he would get used to it after reading this article.
I am going to use Venerable Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero as an example to tell my story: The purpose of this article is not to ridicule Gnanananda Thero and his followers, but to laugh at what he is doing as a Buddhist monk, to laugh at the status of Buddhism both in Sri Lanka and in North America, and to laugh at those who say “Sadhu, Sadhu,” to his rants. Gnanananda Thero have turned brothers into Cains and Abels; friends into archenemies, and Buddhists into barbaric heathens. He could not have done these things single handedly; his myopic, asinine followers are the actors, actresses, participants, and hapless victims of this drama called “Pure Buddhism, unsullied Buddhism, Buddhism without mundane rituals, and Buddhism based only on the Sutras, meditation, and chanting of Buddhist hymns.” I am not talking about Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther; I am talking about Theravada Buddhism marketed by Gnanananda Thero: Either he is the Clown or the Sage of the Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism.
I assume that most Sri Lankans would know about Gnanananda Thero because he is the founder of Mahamevnawa monastery, which is currently spreading like mushrooms under his guidance and has around 40 branches throughout Sri Lanka, Canada, USA, Australia, UK, and Germany. I have visited Mahamevnawa’s NJ branch a few times, over the last three years, because some of my friends and colleagues are zealous and ardent followers of Gnanananda Thero.
I do not want to beat around the bush: I find this entire saga utterly facetious. Pretending to be an almost enlightened being, Gnanananda Thero spread hatred, lies, malice, and misconceptions under the guise of Buddhism; his gullible followers unwittingly throw kerosene to this fire of hatred, lies, malice, and misconceptions when they say “Sadhu, Sadhu,” during his rants. As far as zealous and ardent followers are concerned, I have not yet met a single follower who is living his or her life, experiencing the Supreme Bliss that Gnanananda Thero is trying to market. I personally think that Gnanananda Thero thinks that he is the latest incarnation of the Buddha himself, because if you were to listen to his disciples, you would think that he is the Buddha: when they describe Gnanananda Thero, they always use the same words, accolades, titles, and descriptions that are ascribed to the Buddha. On the one hand, Gnanananda Thero is worthy of praise—not veneration—because he has done a yeomen’s task in spreading Buddhism; he has written a plethora of books in simple terms to explain Buddhist Sutras in Sinhalese; so without any doubt his blind followers venerate him; but it is an un-Buddhist thing to use his popularity to spread ignorance, malice, hatred, lies, about other religions, including Mahayana Buddhism; through his uneducated hoi polloi and educated yet blind and stupid followers, he is spreading not Buddhism that I deeply revere but ignorance, malice, and hatred that I reject wholeheartedly with gusto.
Do not think that I am trying to say that other Buddhists monks are saints; not at all; we all know that the majority of Buddhist monks live like laity: They drink alcohol, have sex whenever they get a chance, use profanity like fishmongers, and their hearts are filled with malice, jealousy, ignorance, stupidity, and hatred. Finding a genuine Buddhist monk would be like finding mustard seeds from a family who has not lost someone.
I am laughing at him and his followers because he is adamant on the need to practice Theravada Buddhism in its pristine form as it is described in the Sutras; his vituperative, denigrating, and dictatorial proclamations and admonitions are un-Buddhist and unwholesome. If you listen to Gnanananda Thero, you would think that he had been alive when the Buddha preached these Sutras, and he had memorized these words of the Buddha; and then after 2500 years later, he was born as a Christian in Sri Lanka, but became a Buddhist monk to spread the words of the Buddha in its pristine, unsullied, and unadulterated form. I am laughing at him and at his followers, not at the Buddhist temples, because these temples will last much longer than their myopic, belligerent, and asinine monks. I wholeheartedly support the temples, not the messages of the so-called founders. There is only one founder: the Buddha; other monks are just impersonators, like the impersonators of Elvis. If a Buddhist is avoiding a particular Buddhist temple because of the deportment of its resident monks, there is only one thing that I have to say: Do not cut your jugular vein because you are angry at your big, crooked, and ugly nose. I do not go to a Buddhist temple because of its resident monks; I usually avoid them like the plague because most of them are unworthy of my time and attention. Even the worthy ones, I ignore them, because they have better things do to with their precious time rather than talking to someone like myself who venerates all human beings equally, without any preferential treatment.
My first encounter with Gnanananda Thero reminded me of the saying in Sinhalese: If the bugs have eaten the cast iron, just throw your rice without inspection. One day, probably three years ago, I watched a video clip that was posted on Facebook. Gnanananda Thero gave a verbose, empty, vituperative, asinine, and somewhat facetious talk for nearly an hour. I was eagerly waiting to hear an erudite, life-vivifying explanation of the Buddha Dharma; there was no Buddhism in his rant; instead, he shamelessly displayed his sycophancy by saying that he was the first to predict that one day Mahinda Rajapaksa would be Sri Lanka’s President. What is the relevance of his prophecy to the Buddha Dharma? The rest of the rant, for nearly 45 minutes, he criticized and ridiculed Mahayana Buddhism; he sounded more like a fishmonger, not a Buddhist monk. In summary, he talked about four things: malice, ignorance, pride, and hatred. Where was compassion? I know that some people highly praised him for delivering such a vituperative talk; they too are full of malice, ignorance, and hatred; a good example of birds of a feather flocking together.
I usually give every person a second chance, because everybody deserves a second chance. Recently, I listened to what Gnanananda Thero had to say about Kalakarama Sutra. Again, I was eagerly waiting for an erudite exposition, using similes, metaphors, allegories, and analogies, both canonical and modern, to illustrate the facts and reveal the essence of Kalakaram Sutra; I thought he would discuss about the illusory nature of consciousness, the contexts of the doctrinal categories such as aggregates, spheres, elements, and Dependent Arising. I was eagerly waiting for him to describe the Buddhist logic of “four alternatives”—affirmative, negative, both affirmative and negative, neither affirmative nor negative; I thought he would use an example from Christianity since he was a Christian to demonstrate how to apply the Buddhist logic of “four alternatives” to the question, “What is the nature of Jesus the Son of God and God the Father; are they of similar substance or the same substance? I thought he would use the Christian Homoousian and Homoiousian concepts to compare the Buddhist logic of “four alternatives”; instead, he just regurgitated what he has read. After using so many synonyms, he finally used the word “omniscient,” to describe the Buddha. If I were to listen to another talk delivered by this monk, I am pretty sure that he would say: The Buddha is omnipotent. So, if the Buddha is omnipotent and omniscient, then the Buddha is the same God, worshiped by the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Well, who cares about creation? Creation is just the icing on the cake. If you do not believe me, find the two video clips that I watched and then decide for yourself.
Let me paraphrase and quote some of hackneyed sayings of Gnanananda Thero: The Buddha has taught that birth as a human being is a very rare achievement. Fortunately, we have now obtained that rare achievement. Yet, we have to remember that man’s greatness does not lie in his nationality, caste, clan, or any such feature, but solely on his conduct. Man’s experience of happiness and suffering, too, is related to his three modes of action: mental, verbal, and physical. The Buddha devoted all his life to save man from suffering. We are followers of the Buddha, and our fervent hope is to see a world full of people who are freed from suffering.
Have you ever met a person who is freed from suffering? I have, but all of them were dead.
Now, compare and juxtapose what he preaches about the Buddha and what he says about Mahayana Buddhism and other religions. I can understand his asinine remarks about other religions, but why Mahayana Buddhism? Gnanananda Thero inadvertently promotes the concept of Bodhisattva even though he vehemently denigrates Mahayana Buddhism. Instead of freeing his followers from suffering, malice, ignorance, hatred, and jealousy, Gnanananda Thero is spreading all these negative aspects and qualities like a wild fire in California.
We are told that the Sakyamuni—the Sage of the Sakyas—was an itinerant preacher, lived a simple life, and won the hearts of many followers without denigrating other preachers. Have you ever visited Gnanananda Thero’s monasteries in Sri Lanka? If you have, what was your impression? Is he disenchanted with his life of luxury? Does he wallow in luxury and accolades? Is he spreading the teaching of the Buddha or marketing his own brand of Buddhism? I do not think that Gnanananda Thero, his disciples, and the followers are practicing austerities that would reduce them almost to skeletons in order to understand privation and suffering. Instead, he lives like a god of the six lower realms in continuous enjoyment of the senses, while pretending to be in an unbroken bliss of meditative experience and marketing the concept of “enlightened being.” The zealots, who follow him like the wheels of a cart that follow an ox, think and believe that Gnanananda Thero’s brand of Buddhism is authentic, pure, refreshing, and without mundane rituals; his ardent followers believe that Gnanananda Thero reveals the essence of Buddha’s precious discourses. For God’s sake, give me a break! Stop preaching hatred in the name of the Buddha; stop telling lies to the poor, uneducated, educated but gullible, anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, or anti-Hindu Sri Lankans. What you are doing is truly unwholesome and un-Buddhist.
The supreme purpose of Buddhism is to achieve liberation form the cycle of life—death and rebirth—by attaining enlightenment (Nirvana) and entering a timeless state, free of both craving and suffering. I have not seen a single person yet who can convince me that he or she has achieved this supreme purpose. So, what is the purpose of this drama and hatred? Perhaps, it is just money and fame. Do you think I am being sarcastic or facetious? I am not the kind of Buddhist who contemplates on my breath everyday to achieve Nirvana, and look down on others who do not concentrate on their breathing. My entire life is a meditation. I experience just a spark of this supreme bliss when I play tennis; it keeps me healthy and out of trouble; playing tennis is my Nirvana.
Ever since I can remember, I have been making a constant effort to live according to the wisdom that I have found in Dhammapada; of course, time and time again, I have failed miserably, but my struggle would not end as long as I am alive. Here are some of my favorite verses from Dhammapada: A man is wise if he is peaceful, loving, and fearless; if you find no one to support you on the spiritual path, walk alone; there is no companionship with the immature; life is as good and as bad as it seems; there is no need to add anything extra; many do not realize that we here must die. For those who realize this, quarrels end; the one who keeps company with fools will be sorry for a long time. It’s painful to live with fools, like being always with an enemy.”
Well, I think it is time to end this conversation. In a few days, we are going to celebrate the beginning of another big cycle, bigger than just a day. I cannot think of a better way of ending this conversation than using the words of Robert Burns: “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne? For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”
Venerable Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero – Kalakarama Sutta