By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
Let me not mince words. Our Mahanayake Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, Ven Warakagoda Shri Gnanarathana, made a statement to the media which was a disgrace. I know, he does not like anyone disgracing monks or even calling them by their names. He said so in this very statement while objecting to our addressing Galagoda Atte Gnanasara simply as ‘Gnanasara.’ The Most Revd Mahanayake must realise one thing. The days of honouring anybody and everybody merely because they don a Sivura are fast dying. To deserve public respect one must earn it. Even the Buddha advised his followers only to respect Arya Sanga or monks on the Path. Gnanassara is far away from the path. He is in hell.
Besides, doesn’t the Mahanayake understand that the public behaviour of bad monks would harm our age-old Sasana and destroy its reputation? If the BBS monks have total disregard about their bringing disgrace to the Sanga why on earth should we genuflect before them and honour them? Honour them for disgracing Buddhism and the Sanga? This is not merely illogical; it is madness.
Didn’t Gnanasara have a history of alcoholism? Didn’t he, sometime ago, call the elderly monk, Ven Watareka Vijitha, a dog and a villain and address him as ‘yako.’? Our government has been too benign to this rascal in yellow robes. Too timid and too cowardly to act swiftly. Now, with the statement of the Mahanayake, I wonder if President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would be having loose motions when contemplating bringing Gnanasara to book. The Mahanayake made that statement giving his brains a holiday. He was trapped in a conspiracy to safeguard the dishonourable monk by lending his status to a status-zero man.
To give Mahinda Rajapaksa credit, I remember how the latter wouldn’t give a damn when even all Mahanayakes condemned the jailing of our Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka. That was an occasion when I respected these Mahanayakes. The Mahanayakes subsequently moved to form an all-sanga Council and issue a proclamation when they received threats. They folded up. The same Sanga has no fear or shame about defending Gnanasara. These are ironies of human behaviour.
The Court Charge
For one thing, with regard to the current action being taken the government has not done anything that a government shouldn’t be doing. Sri Lanka had only one person constitutionally recognised as above the rule of law and that was the President. After the 19th Amendment that is no more-mercifully. Similarly, the monk Gnanasara cannot be allowed to muck around and mug around as a law unto himself. He, like all other religious personnel of all faiths must face court if charged with legally offensive behaviour.
Gnanasara has one charge pending in court and that is serious. He went into hiding evading arrest, which is also both unethical and illegal. He was ordered to be arrested by the Magistrate of an independent judiciary; not by any politician in the government. He had entered a Magistrate’s Court and (reportedly) verbally abused and threatened a woman who had appeared to defend her lost husband over a Habeas Corpus application. The husband was famed missing person Prageeth Ekneligoda, who had gone missing like many other activists and journos under the regime of the Rajapaksa’s. It was all legitimate business and Gnanasara was allegedly acting in contempt of court. Nobody in a civilised and law abiding social order can be permitted to obstruct Court and threaten people.
What offends our ethical sense is that in this particular case, it was a woman grieving for her husband. Leave alone the law; where was the monk’s Metta, Karuna, Upeksha and Upadana? Aren’t these the four noble values or Brahma Viharas that the Buddha wanted his followers to practice? Didn’t Gnanasara realise he was trampling on a vulnerable and grieving woman?
Another question: What was Gnanasara’s business in invading the court on a matter like this? Was he acting as an agent of political forces responsible for the dastardly treatment of Ekneligoda? There was no Muslim involvement here at all. Then how come he went there?
A False Man in A False Robe
This incident demonstrated how Gnanasara had more than an anti-Muslim agenda in mind. He is in someone’s political camp. In fact, Gnanasara began his lawless career by attacking a Christian Church. He had switched over to the anti-Muslim slogan later. In this day and age of Islamic fundamentalism that was a more effective platform for a disruption campaign as it is likely to derive more public support. Gnanasara, to my mind, is a false man wearing a mask and in a robe that is false. A plain politicians’s agent provocateur.
How come, then, that our Venerable Mahanayake defends Gnanasara like the way he does? The Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters have historically been pushed by influential persons and forces to make outlandish statements for public consumption. I remember how during post-Independence General Elections our Mahanayakes had invoked the electorate to support particular parties. I thought the Chapters have been since reformed. Not after this latest outburst.
The Gnanasara Method
Gnanasara is heading to face another charge and this time President Sirisena wanted Police to arrest him and bring him to court. That was over allegations that he and his BBS outfit of goons had been going on a rampage burning Muslim mosques, Muslim shops and obstructing the police. The police that intervened to bring in order are said to have been abused in raw filth by the monk.
I don’t know why our Venerable Mahanayake did not find this alleged behaviour an extreme violation of the Vinaya Pitaka. Besides, it had been an open transgression of the need for basic civility that one should expect from any citizen-leave alone a member of the Sanga order. One doesn’t find Christian priests behaving like this.
True, the Mahanayake did state that they disagreed with the way Gnanasara got about his ‘mission.’ Should they have not said something more emphatic in the context, than this mild ‘disapproval’? I don’t know why the Mahanayake did not express disgust and contempt over acts of intimidating, uttering filth, making incendiary speeches, instigating goons to burn the property of others. There are videos available that went viral, which showed Gnanasara in action during his infamous Battle of Aluthgama. Surely, someone would have brought all this to the Venerable Mahanayake’s attention? Surely, the Venerable Mahanayake should have investigated all this before issuing a statement? I don’t know why he went soft.
The Message Of the Monk
What else does the statement from the Mahanayake pulpit say? It supports the ‘message,’ of Gnanasara although not the method. The ends and not the means. This is consequentialist ethics, someone would say. But, then, what really is the “end?” It isn’t clear at all. I can only think it as an attempt to restrain Muslim ‘expansion.’ I am not denying one bit that there is provocation from some Muslim quarters. Unfortunately, again, damage comes from leadership. The rank and file of Muslims in Sri Lankan villages live in close harmony among the Sinhalese. They speak and write fluently in Sinhala and they trade with the Sinhala adding their might to the GDP and helping to trigger economic activity. It is wrong to tar brush the entire Muslim community for isolated acts of a few bad ones inasmuch as it is wrong to tar brush Buddhists because of a miserable Gnanasara. The Muslim fundamentalism we see in Middle East countries is not observed in our island-merciful for that. Muslims do not go round trying to convert Sinhalese Buddhists and they do not throw stones at Buddhist temples. Therefore, it is hard to acknowledge the veracity of Gnanasara’s message. I don’t know why the Mahanayake gave a holy sanction for that.
Sri Lanka is currently going through a process of reconciliation, which is fundamental to the social order. Government is making every effort toward unifying the country so that it would never again revert to civil war. Government has inherited a lot of economic problems and it has to ensure that we stop the inherited process of going broke. We have the imperative and overriding task to restructure our economy from an import-consuming one to an export earning one. This is the only way we can bring surpluses and prosperity and thereby bring in good welfare programs for the people. In such a serious context is Gnanasara doing the right thing by virtually engineering social conflicts? Is this the ‘message’ of Gnanasara, which the Mahanayake extolls?
Ends and Means
The Buddha did emphasise the need for both ends and means to be wholesome. Ahimsa was his noble method. Ahimsa does not mean avoiding resistance to undesirable action of enemies. It was, as demonstrated by Gandhi, as a most effective strategy of positive resistance. Mahatma Gandhi drove the whole British Empire away from Indian soil by the method of Ahimsa. Basically it is resistance via civility and kindness. The Buddha wasn’t preaching in the air;he wasn’t being impractical. He explained how effective this method is. I don’t know why when a challenge is thrown we do not apply this Buddhist teaching of civil resistance? I don’t know why the Venerable Mahanayake did not take this path. Preaching must be tested in the face of practical challenge. If not, preaching is useless. In other words, the Mahanayake seems to suggest that the teaching must be abandoned when it comes to the need for application. I don’t know why. Of what value is a teaching if it cannot be applied?.
If Gnanasara and his BBS goons are treated mildly and even encouraged in this way by the highest prelates of the island, Sri Lanka is heading for serious self-destruction. We are going to be a Syria or an Iraq. Muslim militancy would be far worse and catastrophic than the Tamil militancy we have gone through for 26 years. Sri Lanka will be in flames and the life of ordinary people will be in ruin. I don’t know why the Venerable Mahanayake does not realise this practical fact.
Civility Solution and its Biological Roots
Most societies in the world are complex ones today. Relative homogeneity as we observe in countries like Japan,China and Korea is rare. Sri Lanka is a plural society with several ethnicities and religions holding sway. This is our lot and we have to face that reality-like it or not. In a situation like this periodic eruptions and conflicts are bound to arise among the diverse groups. We must be tuned to cope with such unfortunate breakdowns. Religious and ethnic leaders must take responsibility for this and our education system and media must be oriented to develop coping programs.
The only workable and pragmatic way to cope with diversities is to opt for what is known as the civility solution. This is just the opposite to what Gnanasara is doing. Religious and lay leaders must act responsibly to deal with transgressions in a civil manner. Civility does not mean mere politeness like saying, “excuse me, please.” It is mush more broader and deeper than that. Firstly it must derive from an understanding of the inevitability of conflict. This is ‘Pragna’ in Buddhism.Secondly, we must develop a compassionate approach based on the above understanding- an empathy. This is ‘Karuna,’ in Buddhism. Thirdly we must segregate the people from the event involved and treat this with neutrality. This is “Upekka,’ in Buddhism. Fourthly, enveloping all these, is that we must learn to be naturally friendly with others. This is ‘Metta,’ in Buddhism.
So, there you are Buddhism already has the civility solution. I don’t know why our Venerable Mahanayake could not see this and reach out to contending factions with the light of the lamp of Dhamma.
We must adopted the civility solution not merely because there isn’t available any other path if we are to keep our complex society together; nor because we are told to do so by the Dhamma or the Mahanayake (hopefully). There is an interesting biological reason why civility and kindness has a chance of success in negotiating ‘the other,’ of complex societies. Professor Pier M. Forni in his best selling book, “The Civility Solution: What do we do when people are rude. (Chris Hartlove),” makes the point clear: He explains how if you pet a dog, the dog’s neurons transmit a cascade of pleasing neurochemicals that help strengthen its immune system. But more remarkable, he pointed out, is that petting a dog elicits the same salubrious cascade in your brain. He cites studies showing that, more generally, volunteer work can induce a feeling some have termed the “helper’s high”—like the “runner’s high,” a period of elation followed by tranquility.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org