The same old heart-rending cry, but with bright, hope-giving alternatives


Maithripala Sirisena

We have been told by no less an authority than the Prime Minister that almost all the radicalized Muslim terrorists and those trained by the National Thowheed Jamaat leaders have been apprehended. But many voices quietly cry out that this Muslim terrorism has not been wiped off the sunny face of Mother Lanka, that darkened with shed blood and tears on 4/21 and thereafter. This we can believe, and be cognizant of, since ISIS is not eliminated. It or adherents are scattered around the globe and thus greater the danger to us.

On the reverse side of the coin is the continuance of militant Sinhala Buddhists calling for boycotting Muslim businesses and much more. I heard with utter dread of a meeting held by Bodu Bala Sena Secretary in Kandy, which was well attended. The warning that Buddhism is being destroyed is ever heard and dreaded more when monks declare it. Cass has said this before and says it again, loud and clear, that if the religion is being destroyed, it is by some Buddhist monks themselves. The Buddha said his Dhamma will eventually die out and then after a period of ‘darkness’ a new Buddha will come to being, teaching the same doctrine and being of India of the Varanasi region. Apart from the hellish economic disaster caused by the Muslims, and then the Sinhalese nationalists who were prevented from going berserk with peace among races being shattered, is the bad name we have earned internationally. We are bracketed with the Burmese massacre of the Rohingya, who like our Muslims attacked first.

Hannah Beech, writing to the New York Times from Gintota on July 8, 2019, titled her article thus: Buddhists Go to Battle: When Nationalism Overrides Pacifism: A call to arms for Sri Lankan monks. Ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Cass selectively quotes her because she gives expression in fine style to what Cass has in mind. She writes thus:

"A Buddhist faith known for pacifism is taking its place in a new age of nationalism ….

Ven Ambalangoda Sumedhananda Thero in Gintota had vituperated against the Muslims living in Sri Lanka: ‘The aim of Muslims is to take over all our land and everything we value,’ he said. ‘Think of what used to be Buddhist lands: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Indonesia. They have all been destroyed by Islam.’ Minutes later, a monastic aide rushed in and confirmed that someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at a nearby mosque. The abbot flicked his fingers in the air and shrugged. His responsibility was to his flock, the Buddhist majority of Sri Lanka. Muslims, who make up less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, were not his concern. (Cass adds here that this was the exception. There were so many monks who came forward to restore peace and amity and prevented Sinhalese backlashes on the Muslims).

"Incited by a politically powerful network of charismatic monks like Sumedhananda Thero, Buddhists have entered the era of militant tribalism, casting themselves as spiritual warriors who must defend their faith against an outside force….Buddhists constitute overwhelming majorities of the population. Yet some Buddhists, especially those who subscribe to the purist Theravada strain of the faith, are increasingly convinced that they are under existential threat, particularly from an Islam struggling with its own violent fringe.

"As the tectonic plates of Buddhism and Islam collide, a portion of Buddhists are abandoning the peaceful tenets of their religion. Buddhist nationalist ideologues are using the spiritual authority of extremist monks to bolster their support.

"And the other side of the picture: ‘The Buddhists never used to hate us so much,’ said Mohammed Naseer, the imam of the Hillur Mosque in Gintota, Sri Lanka, which was attacked by Buddhist mobs in 2017. ‘Now their monks spread a message that we don’t belong in this country and should leave. But where will we go? This is our home.’"

You reader will say this is old hat; we know it all. But it is salutary to keep reminding ourselves about the dangers we face now, from religious militants from both sides.

The good outweigh the bad

We cannot deny that there are undesirables dressed in the saffron robe; the robe that should be treated with utter respect as it is sacrosanct coming from the Buddha, and should also gain respect. Now in street protests and meetings and even on TV once in a while, the robe is misused and abused by wearers. Cass won’t labour the point, shocked as she is that the Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter himself makes blatant, one-sided political announcements.

Now here’s the hope imparting facet to the issue: the excellent monks we have in Sri Lanka, many recognized overseas for their sila, their erudition, and their ability to impart the Buddha Dhamma. Yesterday Cass listened enthralled to excellent bana preachings by dedicated, learned monks. She mentions two: one just returned from visiting ten European countries on dhammaduta work and the other from Britain. Why not name them: - Ven Talalle Chandakitti Thera and Ven Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera. Another most outstanding monk is Ven Uda Eriyagama Dhamajeeva Thera from Nisarana Wanaya Forest Hermitage, also known as Mitirigala.

It is apt to speak of them soon after Esala Poya, which commemorates the preaching of the first sermon by the Buddha after two months of attaining enlightenment, to the five ascetics he had trained with, in the deer park at Isipathanarama, now Sarnath. Ven Uduwe Dhammaloka narrated how he wished to use the space he had in his aranya garden to give a home to an elephant since the Pinnawela Orphanage announced it was overcrowded. He selected a young elephant named Sama which surprised and censored the keepers. "He is the most obstreperous and unreliable elephant among all." But the monk persisted and through his metta and genuine concern won over the pachyderm who was taking food from the monk’s hands within three months.

Ven Dhammajeeva while being a strict observer of vinaya rules and living a life of asceticism, goes overseas to conduct meditation courses. One such is in collaboration with Bhikkhu Bodhi in New Jersey. A very perceptive and thus criticizing man over there is full of praise for Ven Dhammajeeva and has meditated under him; so also his son. The reputation of this monk is a pride to Sri Lanka.

So all Buddhists in this country and by extension all Sri Lankans should praise monks such as these and very many others. There is hope for the country and Buddhism, which in reality is flourishing now as a way of life, and religion sans rigid strictures and blind beliefs.

A day of mourning

Cass thought mourning was consequent to a death; an expression of sorrow after someone has left this life. Now we, the citizens of Free Sri Lanka, are asked to mourn the escape from death; a continuation of life. By whom? The highest in the land. Yes, you know the President threatened to declare a day of mourning if Parliament debated the death penalty and abolished it or decreed it should continue to be in abeyance. Thus HE the President proclaims we should mourn this fact; this saving of accused from being hanged. Funny topsy-turvy logic and directions! But who’s to question why? We follow like sheep. So Cass has got out a potato sack, empty of course, dusted it out and sprinkled it with ash and is ready to sink into it, wallow in it, even do sack races while mourning the non-hanging of four named by the Prez. He really gets some ideas! His own or pumped into him by inadvisable advisors? There lies the question! When is the day of sack cloth and ashes, frugality in consumption of food and drink with liquor bars closed and dreary funeral music all day long on radio and TV? But here’s a but: It may be that a simple sensible thought may arise in the presidential head. More ways, less violent and with virtues, are at hand to save the youth of the country HE is so keen to save from drugs. Stop the flow of narcotics; get religious leaders and teachers to mercifully draw those in their care from being ensnared; spend lots on awareness programmes; catch and punish politicians who encourage, shield and benefit or are benefitted from drug lords. That’s the way to go, not toting the hangman’s dread rope.

See you in, or out, of mourning!

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