“I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
The intentions, methodologies and strategies of the Bodhu Bala Sena (Army of Buddhist Power) have so far been most unBuddhistic and bordering on the pagan and archaic. Their obvious intolerance and the crudest way they show it on village squares and town-halls, trashing other religions and their faithful devotees sometimes spill over the banks of decency and civility, a verbal diarrhea discharged at the whims and fancies of Buddhist fundamentalists preaching a new kind of ‘oriental jihad’, as some pundit said.
If they ever have any care for the people whom they claim to represent, they must change course and they must do it now. When Karl Marx proclaimed that religion is the opium of man, he basically referred to the eighteenth century Europe dominated by Christianity, certainly not to Buddhism which was always known to be a religion based more on free-thinking and realistic evaluation of things mundane and material. In fact, some of the modern Buddhist academics still contend that Siddhartha Gautama was the first materialist in history, equating Buddhism to materialism in every which way they could.
The dogged thinking and rigid regimentation that is preached in almost all other faiths, the stubborn infallibility that is taught by them and the lack of tolerance shown towards other religions- they are all negated and rejected by the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha. The very denial of a ‘soul’ (Anaathma) stood out as a very modern concept in the days the Buddha practiced and taught more than two millennia ago. The disarming directness of the Buddhist way of life opened many eyes of that world and it is still continuing to do so to the astonishment of many diehard faithfuls of other religions.
When other religious leaders, both contemporary of the Buddha and those who came afterwards preached inflexible devotion and unquestioning obedience, Buddha offered open-mindedness and free thought; he asked the man and woman of the ancient world to inquire and probe, question and doubt; instead of self-mortification and materialistic indulgence, the Buddha taught us to tread a middle-path. When India of the ancient world was so bogged down in a self-destroying caste-system, he opened the doors of his way to the untouchables and other outcastes. Never did Buddhism of the ancient world depend for its propagation and spread, on violence and cruel conversions. Treatment of women as co-equals of men changed society’s outlook towards women thereby adding a totally original dimension to the dynamic of ancient society that treated man as the all-powerful, omnipotent being in society.
The patience and tolerance based on complete and unqualified universal love and kindness took root in each and every mind and heart of those who chose to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, the fundamental way of life prescribed for all mundane human beings on earth. As opposed to other religions, Buddhism did not try to go where no man had gone before: Buddha refused to give an explanation as to how the Universe originated, he did not accept a concept of an omnipotent God. His concern was the now and present. To that end he asked his followers to practice what he preached amongst them which were love and kindness and great indifference (Upekkha). The bogus armies of the Bodhu Bala Sena organization and other Balakayas are preaching and practicing exactly the opposite.
In such contradictory circumstances, the average devotee is left with the easy way out. Savagery of mind and venomous intentions when garbed in ‘patriotism’ become very easily saleable in the marketplace of religions and faith. When such evil concepts are getting ‘royal’ patronage, the sale becomes even easier and quicker. That is what exactly is happening with the Bodhu Bala Sena’s demonic demonstrations and its rapid rise in public acceptance.
The middle-class Sinhalese Buddhists are the harbingers of this evil gospel. When a Buddhist Monk gets on stage and pontificates about the evils of Islam, evil Muslim intentions of attempting to curb the increase of Sinhala population by introducing sweets and lozenges with anti-birth drugs and when these same monks preach that when Muslims make Biriyani, they spit thrice before they serve it to a Sinhalese Buddhist, what is evil per se are not the words that are uttered; what is really evil and distressing is that there is no living Sinhalese Buddhist who would question and probe those evil statements. The followers are dispelling outright the very thing that the Buddha asked them to do in order to attain ‘Nirvana’.
The Sinhalese Buddhists have stopped thinking; they have stopped probing and investigating and exploring. Their open minds have closed to fresh winds and soothing breeze. A mindset has taken root and its stocks are gradually but surely spreading, causing cracks and fissures all over the soil on which the seeds of thinking are planted. One only reaps what one sows: Venomous fruits and buds of bad odor.
Any probable attacks on Muslim-owned business houses might spread to the villages. They might spread all over the country until it reaches the serene beaches of the Eastern Province or the shanties of Colombo Central. While we must hope and pray that it should not ever happen, the speed with which such episodes, one after another, unfold before our very own eyes, the probability of such a violent crescendo is not all that remote.
The real tragedy lies, once again as in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), in the innocent lives and homes that these violent eruptions would eventually harm and dissipate. In a likely riot between the Muslims and Sinhalese, the blood that will be spilled by our people would be hardly distinguishable from the blood that flowed along the mighty rivers of the dry zone during the LTTE war when our own brethren in the Army and in the Northern territories fought to the bitter end.
When provoked, it’s very easy to stay provoked and reciprocate in kind; some would reciprocate on the wrong notion that it is not fitting to be not manly enough to reciprocate. When the fundamentals of Buddhism are being vandalized and debased by the neo-Buddhist Fundamentalists, when the preachers are preaching venom and revenge instead of tolerance and patience, when devotees are overwhelmed by the cruel and pungent rhetoric of bigoted Monks, sane minds must prevail, if such minds still do exist.
The call of the day is to that sanity; to that serene thought and to that courageous heart, for that kind of grace under pressure only would dwell in such a pristine mind and heart. BBS must unclothe itself and if they don’t, someone else would but the cost of that de-clothing might prove exorbitantly expensive, in terms of blood, sweat and tears.