Tamil Buddhists and Sinhalese Hindus

| by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(November 29, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I write in response to the article ‘Tamil Buddhism in Ancient South India and Sri Lanka’ by J.L.Devananda, published in Sri Lanka Guardian.
It is interesting to note that there were Tamil Buddhists in the past. But what does that mean to our present? One wonders whether there has been some problem with the Buddhist leadership in Sri Lanka which blocked the path of natural sharing.
Today a member of the Tamil Diaspora wrote from the UK ‘A proposition is true if there is a correspondence between the belief expressed by it and the facts. Otherwise, it is false.
So, a proposition contained in the Vedas might be true, that is, if there is a correspondence between the belief expressed by it and the facts.
Hence I reject as invalid every argument of the form: “The proposition P is contained in the Vedas. Therefore, the proposition P is true”.’
Hindus as well as Buddhists tend to give ‘facts’ / history from the past to reinforce the strength of their presentation. Using the above stated connection between belief and fact for a proposition / legend to be valid, I conclude that the reliance on historical facts, whilst they may be helpful to give form to what happened in the distant past, are of little value to those who use feelings to guide them. In fact, to my mind, strong emphasis on what happened in the distant past confirms ‘attachment’ which blocks the path to discriminating on the basis of rights and wrongs as per current facts.
When I read / study about the past, I tend to consciously give no form as per my current environment. Then I tend to go into that past and have the ‘experience’ as if I was also active part of the past. Similarly, when I am listening to the experience of someone of a different culture – I need to have in my mind – no form of my own through my own culture. In other words, I need to be open minded. This to me is also the essence of Equal Opportunity values in Democracy. In our current political situation, the emotional parts of the LLRC report needs to be read by foreigners without a prior mind of their own. Their belief could come with them but not ‘facts’ from their own culture when it is vastly different to Sri Lankan culture. Similarly, when Sinhalese read the experience of Tamils and v.v.
The deeper the experience of the past / different culture – the closer we are to the solution. Truth has the opportunity for every problem. Hence, the deeper our experience – the closer we are to the opportunity to cure the problem.
When we listen to someone in deep pain – as if we are they – we have the experience as they had the experience. If we already have done the work to own the issue through our own path – then we would have the opportunity to every problem in that issue in that environment. Using myself as the example, I discovered the Truth about Racial Equality – the true level at which it exists in Australia – through my work related experience. I experienced deep pain in the process but I kept going until I felt certain that there was nothing more I could do – to derive the results that I believed would uphold Dharma/Righteousness. Now, when I share in the discrimination pain of Sri Lankans I do so armed with this strength of Truth. Hence once I recognize the problem, I recognize almost instantaneously, the opportunity to cure.
Hence in terms of past experiences of any religion, until we have the experience as if we were a part of the past – facts are mere statistics – like dead bodies. During funeral ceremonies, we remember and appreciate the goodness of those who have passed away. This as per my experience, strengthens our own goodness. At that goodness level – there is a natural merger. At facts level – we would need to convert – as we do with currencies of different countries.
Author J.L.Devananda says ‘Even though today there are no Tamil Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the majority of the early Tamils of Sri Lanka (before the 10th century Chola invasion) were Buddhists. The ancient Buddhist remains in the North and East of Sri Lanka are the remnants left by the Tamil Buddhists and not anybody else. They are part of the heritage of Sri Lankan Tamils. Only the Buddhist temples, statues and structures build in the recent past and present in the North and East can be considered as Sinhala-Buddhist.’
Majority Sri Lankans tend to not believe in their ancestors. If Buddhists did believe in Lord Buddha who renounced the throne to realize Nirvana – Sri Lanka would be governed by Hindus or Muslims whose religious leaders did not – as per my knowledge – renounce the throne. Hindu Leaders Rama & Krishna were Kings of their people. Hence all those who believe in Rama & Krishna and during our times Sai Baba, would conduct themselves as kings whilst living in samsara / social and family life. So long as the king maintains his wealthy status for the progress of his people – and not for selfish reasons – the king is in Heaven – the same Nirvana that Lord Buddha attained by renouncing.
Buddhists who embrace ruling positions are showing a path different to Lord Buddha. Hence, to my mind, priority status for Buddhism in the Constitution of Sri Lanka – confirms lack of belief in Lord Buddha. Likewise, all Buddhist monks in politics. This would continue to cause breakdown in law and order unless Judges and Decision-makers go deep into the problem through their religion, discover the Truth and then surface to give it form through laws that are largely Western. This is the dilemma faced by the Sri Lankan Government which took refuge in ‘Sovereignty’ and invoked the problem of losing status with the cultures that gave us the laws that make up a large part of our legal system – especially the English Law and the Roman Dutch Law and during and after the recent war – Thesawalamai and Mukuwa laws too when they are used by non-Tamils. Sovereign Rights help us go to the depth of the experience where we realize Truth – without being disturbed by outsiders. One who claims Sovereignty / Freedom, needs to also facilitate that for others – in this instance Tamils as a Community. This did not happen and hence to my mind, the actions under the claim of Sovereignty were not supported by Truth. Hence the problems faced by the Sri Lankan Government. If the current regime renounces all benefits from the war – it would start coming out of this mess and see the opportunities to develop Harmony.
Tamil Buddhists and Sinhalese Hindus confirm that when we go deep into our respective beliefs – we would find common grounds to live in harmony. During our current times, there are no known Tamil Buddhists nor Sinhalese Hindus. In Kathirgamam for example, Sinhalese priests perform the poojah for Lord Muruga – in a vastly different way to any Hindu practice known to me. As I have stated before, I felt deeply pained in 2005, to see a new Buddha statue in front of the Hindu shrine on top of the Kathirgamam Hill. Wonder what the current regime would do if we erected a Buddha temple and performed Tamil ceremonies which would look very Hindu?
Once, when I was waiting to be cleared by the armed forces at Ratmalana airport – to fly from Colombo to Jaffna – I was very tired standing and hence went over and sat on the wall around a Bo tree. An armed officer came over to me and said not to sit on that wall because the tree was sacred. I apologized and moved away – to sit on the ground – which was a bit muddy. I recalled however, that the armed forces had gone to our family temple in boots and demanded that the cupboards be opened for their inspection. At another of our temples they were reported to have gone in to the altar with their boots. Even now, I sometimes see new officers in our area entering and resting at our temples without removing their boots. They need to be trained in our culture first or they need to stay away from cultural areas unless they have evidence of wrong doing requiring their presence. Even then – except in a high risk situation – they need to remove their shoes before going into Hindu places of worship. Otherwise they risk earning the curse of local believers to whom that place is sacred.


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.