It was the Venerable Sobitha Thera’s battle cry for real change; and the joint opposition candidate Sirisena’s spring board to power to gain the presidency and then turn it into a eunuch to serve the needs of a parliamentary harem.
But the fondest hope of the noble monk to see Sirisena birth a new constitution that will do away with the executive presidential system in the country and Sirisena’s promise in his manifesto which was released on December 19, 2014 at the Viharamahadevi Park “to introduce a constitutional structure with an Executive that is allied to Parliament through the cabinet” suddenly seem to be at risk of being jettisoned in mid flight by a most powerful sector in Lanka’s body politic: Namely, the Buddhist monks.
Sirisena had gone to extraordinary lengths to spell out the how and explain the why. Why the nation needed a new chic garment to swing with the fashions of the times and how he would see it tailored according to the public’s specifications and deliver it bespoke to the nation’s wardrobe; and how he would marshal his forces from all sides of the political divide to keep his promise to the nation.
He had placed his hands on his political testament, his election manifesto, and sworn to usher in a new constitution that would be more in keeping with the changing times. And he had promised to do so within hundred days of assuming office as President.
Two and a half years — nearly a thousand days — have now passed but the public cannot even sniff a whiff of smoke in the air wafting from the cabinet galley. Though the government says it is still being sautéed and the Prime Minster Ranil assures all it will soon be served on the table for public delectation, a section of the luncheon guests have, it seems, begun to wonder whether Lanka’s bacon will drop from the frying pan into the fire and whether the chefs will end up getting their fingers burnt.
This week a major obstacle arose to setback his hopes. In legal terms it could even be considered as a “Force Majeure”, an Act of God to frustrate Sirisena’s covenant with his people; for which act he cannot be held liable. Though this ‘ great force” did not come like a thunderbolt from the heavens but only rumbled from the hills, it still contained the potency to nullify his aims and reduce to naught all attempts to deliver a new constitution to a people who had long clamoured for one – perhaps in the mistaken belief that a new constitution, like a new broom, will serve to sweep the ground clean and rid the corners of the cobwebs and will be the panacea for the nation’s terminal illness, even though it may well turn out to be nothing more than a placebo.
It was the Asgiriya Chapter of the Siam Nikaya that first started the wheel rolling. Last Saturday, the Mahanayake of the Chapter Most Ven. Warakagoda Sri Gnanaratana rejected the proposed new constitution out of hand. He and other senior monks told Buddha Sasana Task Force representatives who had paid a visit to the Asgiriya temple that “one of the objectives of the proposed new constitution was to make way for separatism and remove the foremost place given to Buddhism in the existing Constitution”.
But what on earth gave them that idea? Did they have a sneak peak at the proposed constitution in its final draft form or did they base their decision to reject it in toto after imbibing the juice that liberally flows from the Joint Opposition grapevine?
Surprisingly on Tuesday the rest of the Nikayas’ accepted the Asgiriya Chapters alms poured into their bowls without question, and nodded their head in agreement without murmur. Unanimously they held there was no need to bring in a new Constitution or an Amendment to the Constitution.
Two questions arise here. What made these monks, acting in unison, condemn to the sunset the prospect of a new constitution for Sri Lanka rising from the horizon? Especially when they, along with the rest of the country, haven’t the foggiest as to what it may contain? Had they forgotten the Kalama Sutta where the Buddha exhorted:
• Do not accept anything on mere hearsay.
• Do not accept anything by mere tradition.
• Do not accept anything on account of rumours.
• Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures.
• Do not accept anything by suppositions.
• Do not accept anything by mere inference.
• Do not accept anything by merely considering the appearance.
• Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your preconceived notion. Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable.
• And later in the Jnanasara-samuccaya proceeded to say“As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it on a piece of touchstone, so are you to accept my words only after examining them and not out of regard for me”
After the Buddha had given both man and monk not only the liberty but also licence to question even what he expounded, nay, tasked them both with a duty to examine even his own Dhamma before accepting it, odd isn’t it that one should rush to reject a document one had not even set eyes on?
As cabinet spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne said on Wednesday, “6.2 million people had endorsed Maithripala Sirisena’s 2015 presidential election manifesto, which had clearly stated that a brand new Constitution would be introduced and another mandate had been given at the subsequent general election.”
Senaratne said it should not be forgotten that a large number of Buddhist monks had also voted for change on Jan. 8, 2015. “I cannot understand how those who protested on the streets demanding that the executive presidency be abolished can behave in this manner today. Their political agenda is very clear for everyone to see.”
Senaratne stressed that the people’s verdict could not be disregarded, that the proposed changes were aimed at uniting all communities and developing the country and not dividing.
He further said: “This is what has happened since 1958. When Sinhala was made the State language, Tamil extremists said the Tamil language will be finished. But from what can be seen it was not so. Whether we need a new Constitution or not will be decided by the 225 members in parliament and the people of this country. The final Constitutional draft is still to be finalised and the contents will be known only after that work was completed.”
And as Prime Minister Wickremesinghe later confirmed to the House on Thursday, he said he had inquired from the Steering Committee whether any draft had been put out and had been informed that “no draft has been prepared”.
The second question is what made them do a complete U turn and condemn off hand a constitution still in its unknown foetus stage and demand it be aborted? What made them make a complete turnabout, a volte-face, on the stance they firmly held not so long ago: that the present constitution was the bane of Lanka’s woes and should be shredded, burnt and its ashes scattered in the sea?
What indeed, is it, that makes them, now hail from the Sri Dalada Pattirippuva that the much decried 1978 Constitution of President J. R. Jayewardene has been, presently is and will for all time ever be the Mother of all Constitutions that exists in the world, so much so that even an amendment to it must not be effected, now and for all time, lest it outrages its pristine purity?
What makes them hold sacred and inviolate JR’s creation now when not so long ago they reviled it as Jayewardene’s monster?
What has seduced them to embrace it now with open arms and insist it must stay without a word altered?
Perhaps in their collective wisdom they have decided to pander to the known devil’s vices than give their blessings to the virtues of an unknown angel. Buddhism knows no Popes and neither is Kandy the Vatican. Nor are all the three Buddhist Nikayas, namely the Malwatte, Asgiriya forming the Siam Nikaya, Amarapura and Rammannya Nikayas, the Holy See.
Nevertheless the political power they wield to make or break governments in the name of safeguarding Buddhism and the Sinhala race which had played host to it, is undeniable and cannot be understated. They have within their ambit to throw the religious watapatha into the political works of a nation and create chaos in the land.