LTTE thrived by sowing seeds of hatred, division and
– O’ Blake
US Ambassador Robert O’ Blake’s speech at the Sangha Sessions of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Nikaya on Friday (31).
I appreciate that you took the unusual initiative to invite a diplomat to this gathering. To you, the Mahaa Sangha, let me first convey my great respect for you and your crucial role.
I have been in Sri Lanka for nearly three years. Through you and your colleagues at temples across Sri Lanka, I have gained a further respect and a deeper knowledge of the teachings of Lord Buddha.
I’ve also learned the importance of Buddhist values and traditions in Sri Lanka’s history and in the fabric of Sri Lanka ’s social and political life.
In my own country, Buddhism is one of our fastest growing religions. Recent surveys suggest Buddhism has climbed to be the 3rd most practiced religion in America below Christianity and Judaism. The majority of Buddhists in America are between the ages of 30 – 49, and Buddhists are among the best educated of all Americans.
Earlier this week I was very honoured to represent President Barack Obama when the Gangarama and Sambodhi Vihara temples conducted services to give blessings to our new President.
The Mahaa Sangha led prayers for peace—-for President Obama to instill a world of dignity and mutual understanding.
One Sri Lankan friend who attended the ceremony commented that he was struck that Obama’s inaugural address carried the sprit of the Dhamma. That is that many of the principles that President Obama spoke about: peace, tolerance, respect and duty, reflected principles important to Buddhists.
In that inaugural address, President Obama said this about America : "For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness…We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."
Today my country is facing tremendous challenges: the U.S. is in a recession; we are fighting two wars; and climate change threatens to further disrupt our economy and environment.
As the President said, these challenges can only be met through unity and not division. Whether we are African Americans, Christian Americans, Muslim Americans or Buddhist Americans we will work together to overcome the challenges.
President Obama also spoke about renewed American leadership in the world—-a leadership based on principles and values. In remarks days after his inauguration, he said "we are not going to continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals. We think that it is precisely our ideals that give us the strength and the moral high ground to be able to effectively deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorist organizations around the world."
These core principles that Obama outlined: justice, unity, mutual respect, and tolerance are principles that won’t only help my country over our tremendous challenges.
They are also principles that can help other countries through difficult times, including Sri Lanka .
You live in a country united by tradition, united by a strong sense of values, harmony and a belief in a spiritual being and purpose. But you also live in a country that is divided.
The 25-year old war has ravaged your country, your people and your traditions. Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have had their lives disrupted because of the conflict.
Some Sri Lankans say that Sri Lanka ’s long tradition as a moderate, pluralist, multi-ethnic society may also be at risk. We all hope that will not be the case. But preserving Sri Lanka ’s long traditions will only succeed if the country’s political leaders, its civil society, and its religious leaders stand and reaffirm their commitment to a just, pluralist and multi-ethnic society built on the principles of tolerance, peace and mutual respect.
Even as the Government and countries like the U.S. work to assist the hundreds of thousands of your countrymen facing extraordinarily difficult challenges in the north, there is light that suggests new opportunities for hope in the future. The Government has seized control of nearly all territory held by the LTTE, a terrorist organization that has thrived by sowing the seeds of hatred, division and terror.
But a lasting peace in Sri Lanka will not occur when the last kilometer of territory is occupied in the north. A true peace—-a sustainable end to the bitter conflict—will only occur through a political solution. And by a political solution, I mean an agreement that respects, protects and promotes the rights of all Sri Lankans, whether they be Singhalese or Tamil; Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim.
Rebuilding a society based on peace, tolerance, and mutual respect is not just something that is the purview of politicians. As religious leaders, you play a tremendous role in working with people at the grassroots level to help them understand and support the principles of peace. You have a moral authority that no other leaders have. The Mahaa Sangha’s role is particularly important today since influential nationalist voices are voicing their opposition to a wide dialogue on ways that power can be shared.
You as religious leaders together with leaders from other religious communities can play a critical role in helping to define the path forward and shape the future of a united Sri Lanka .
One unique characteristic about Sri Lanka is your tradition for religious tolerance. For centuries Buddhists and Hindus have lived alongside Muslims and Christians.
When I first arrived, I was intrigued by the number of Hindu devala that are located within or near Buddhist temples. This is something I didn’t see while living in India , for example.
The mutual respect between religions in Sri Lanka has given rise to a number of important interfaith dialogues. I remember that in December 2007, the National Peace Council organized an interfaith dialogue in Jaffna for religious leaders from Sri Lanka and four other countries, including my own, the United States. Some of you probably attended.
I hope more such dialogues can be organized to help your country chart a way forward to peace and reconciliation. Such inter-faith dialogue is particularly important here in Sri Lanka where so often the political parties are polarized and unable to forge a common consensus.
I also learned just the other day that several of you have created an Interreligious Peace Foundation and are organizing activities to bring together leaders from Sri Lanka ’s religious groups to discuss issues of peace and understanding.
All of these are vital efforts. Religion is a powerful force because of the unique moral and spiritual respect you command. You are proving that it can unite a nation, rather than divide it.
To return to President Obama’s words—"we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself."
Tremendous opportunities are standing before us. We can not let the shadows of hatred and division hide those opportunities.
In the United States we have a new leader who emphasizes the justness of our cause and the force of our example.
In Sri Lanka, as the religious leaders of the country, you will help forge the path forward in helping the country and the people of Sri Lanka heal after decades of war by helping to create an environment that promotes and facilitates reconciliation.