Sri Lanka: Asgiriya Chapter — a Guardian of the Nation

Encroachment, vandalizing, and destruction of ancient Buddhist archaeological sites in the north and east provinces (where the hydraulic civilization of the Sinhalese reached its zenith) are acts of sacrilege and aggression as naturally understood by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority . Though lying in ruins, these sites are still places of worship as well as centres of pilgrimage for Buddhists.


by Rohana R. Wasala

( July 4, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lankans call the coconut tree a kapruka (kalpavriksha) – wish fulfilling divine tree- because every part of this tropical palm is so very useful to human life. The process (of latent Maha Sangha unity becoming manifest) can be likened to a coconut (seed-nut) germinating slowly as it normally does. The seedling, however, becomes a sapling in a short time. A coconut sapling needs to be protected from foraging animals. Some dishonest politicians in positions of power or influence, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, are already nosing around the steadily growing coconut sapling of Maha Sangha unity. They are posing the greatest threat to its survival and growth. If they had had the slightest concern for the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community (which implies equal concern for the minorities), they would have by now taken monks’ grievances seriously enough to investigate them properly, and take appropriate remedial steps (if their complaints are true) as they are demanding.

It is fervently hoped that the Maha Sangha will remain independent of divisive party politics in the long run. However, they are left with no alternative but to extend their favour to the leaders who have already proven their loyalty to the country, and who alone can be relied upon to provide the necessary political leadership to the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community. But even these politicians must enter into a covenant (a solemn written agreement) with the Maha Sangha on behalf of all Sri Lankans that once they come to power they will immediately attend to the legitimate grievances of the monks that drove them to the streets in desperation. The few disgraceful NGO and other misguided monks who disagree with the stance taken by the Asgiriya prelates should be safely ignored.

Great hope has been rekindled in the hearts of the overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans by the June 20th issue of a cogent statement by the Karaka Sangha Sabha of the Asgiriya Chapter. At a subsequent news conference, the Asgiriya monks revealed that they were in consultation with the important monks of the other nikayas during its preparation. Written and verbal statements issued by respected monks from various provinces endorsing the viewpoint of the Asgiriya Statement over the past few days point towards a timely awakening of the Maha Sangha, which is indeed a long felt national need. The Maha Sangha is sure to stay above partisan politics because the spiritual goal that they are voluntarily committed to as a religious vow always takes precedence over mundane affairs. But they will not deny the latter due attention as a responsible section of the society that provides moral and spiritual guidance for the lay Buddhists. Beginning with Ven. Mahinda Thera, the missionary monk who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka in 236 BCE, Buddhist monks have always advised the Lankan monarch, except during times of foreign occupation, but rarely have they dabbled in factional politics. Remaining above divisive politics Buddhist monks must reclaim their traditional role as the Guardians of the Nation. That is their hallowed right as well as their historic responsibility towards our motherland , Sri Lanka.

Encroachment, vandalizing, and destruction of ancient Buddhist archaeological sites in the north and east provinces (where the hydraulic civilization of the Sinhalese reached its zenith) are acts of sacrilege and aggression as naturally understood by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority . Though lying in ruins, these sites are still places of worship as well as centres of pilgrimage for Buddhists. The Buddhist monks are reacting to these acts of aggression by non-Buddhists. Contrary to resentful views prevailing against them among those who have no clear idea about what is actually happening, these monks are not making any extremist political or religious demands. The problems they are articulating and the solutions they are demanding for them are briefly mentioned in the Asgiriya Statement: the validity of Ven. Gnanasara Thera’s viewpoint despite his aggressive posture and speech, the government’s apparent condoning of blatantly racist statements made by communalist politicians while at the same time trying to silence the bhikkhus and lay Buddhists who react to them, the inadvisability of proposed changes to existing rules and regulations (which are adequate for the management of Buddhist temporalities), and silence in the face unlawful alienation of state land (through the irregular clearing of jungle in the Wilpattu forest reserve) under the pretext of settling internally displaced persons (of the Muslim community), the autocratic behavior of the government minister responsible for archaeological affairs, alleged attempts at the sterilization or extinction (wandakireema) of the Sinhalese race, statements made by certain individuals who call themselves Buddhists and persons of other religions that provoke the Buddhists. The eighth and final paragraph of the Asgiriya monks’ communiqué ends with a reminder to other religionists that they should not forget that Sinhalese Buddhists have always respected other faiths; at the same time, the monks condemn the activities of others that are in contempt of traditional Buddhist tolerance.

The Venerable Mahanayake Theras have declared their determination not to keep quiet any longer in the face of unprecedented challenges to the existence of Sinhalese Buddhists and their homeland. The Sinhalese respectively account for 75% and Buddhists for 70% of the Lankan population (2012 Census). The dominant Sinhalese Buddhist cultural identity of Sri Lanka is an undeniable fact, and it is not a bad thing. Young Buddhist monks are at the forefront of movements that are reacting to unlawful activities such as the encroachment and/or destruction of ancient archaeological sites the north and east, and mass scale forest clearance under the pretext of making room for settling IDPs, but as strongly suspected, as a ploy to create an enclave of Islamic extremists. The handful of communalist and fundamentalist elements that are behind these anti-national activities are raising a hue and cry against the Buddhist monks who are reacting to them urging the authorities to investigate their charges and stop such depredations immediately. The Asgiriya monks, on behalf of the Maha Sangha, remind members of the minority religious communities that they should not forget that Sri Lankan Buddhists have always respected other faiths. The monks unequivocally condemn actions of other religionists who act in contempt of Buddhist tolerance. The fact that the bhikkhus are expressing willingness to reassert their historic role as the Guardians of the Nation naturally brings hope to a nation that has long been suffering under colonialism, neo-liberalism, and terrorism-related violence and persecution. Even if politicians will not listen to them, the majority of the right thinking multi-religious masses will. This is a sine qua non for recalling the reconciliation which was there for five years until the end of 2014, but which has been seriously disrupted since.


( The writer is a columnist for The Island, a Colombo based daily, where this piece first appeared)

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

Sri Lanka Guardian has been providing breaking news & views for the progressive community since 2007. We are independent and non-profit.

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