Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda
Discussions on a possible new Constitution seem to be dominated by two important issues. One is the organization of the country as “united or unitary”. The other is regarding the status of Buddhism. The leadership keeps assuring the populace that the current status of pre-eminence of Buddhism will not only be retained, but be enhanced.
In the circumstances, one is encouraged to consider the extent to which the supposed pre-eminence in the current Constitution has manifested itself. Besides the establishment of a Ministry of Buddhasasana, a Department and the attendant bureaucracy, the extent to which this action has benefited in improving Buddhism, promoting scholarship and disseminating the doctrine would bear elucidation. I must leave this to better informed authorities to do, but would like to draw attention to a few anachronistic features.
Much debate can surround consideration of the appropriateness of any kind of discrimination or privilege extended to one component of an acknowledged diverse community, with a professed desire to encourage participation, unity, respect and inclusivity in its diversity. To develop cohesion, even the slightest whiff of inequality may not have a place. If unity is desired, impartiality should be manifest.
I would like, in all modesty, to point to a few features of relevance. Buddhism is a religion which upholds the doctrine that one’s destiny is determined by oneself, without recourse to external forces. As a corollary, monkhood is entirely a voluntary decision, and therefore one is entitled to enter it or leave without hindrance. A certain degree of institutionalization is inevitable, but falls short of establishing a hierarchy. But Mahanayakas, Sanganayakas and concepts of seniority (Vas) are respected. Even in the Buddha’s time, a minimal hierarchy of two Agrasravakas is said to have existed. In our local context, our rulers are said to have sought and been guided by the Maha Sangha. But today we see the spectacle of sundry politicians, Departmental Heads and others granted an audience, often co-existent with homage to the Maligawa. Apart from the customary Atapirikara and fruit baskets, they are obliged to accept sundry offerings as Constitutional drafts and Party Manifestos. This in my view is an aberration, as the Venerable monks are ill- suited as founts of the relevant wisdom. They may wish to be a little discreet and selective in the granting of audience, as sanctimonious scoundrels may seek to thereby acquire an undue aura of respectability.
The other side of that coin is the phenomenon of a member of the Sangha being in the forefront of a move to ban Glyphosate weed killer, with horrendous harm to our agriculture. Meanwhile, the technical and reasoned judgment of many competent scientists, is cavalierly dismissed as biased by illicit rewards from Multinationals! Naturally, politicians then take upon themselves, to treat us to (well publicized) sermons – a classic example of role reversal!
The Ministry of Buddhasasana and the Mahanayakas appear to do little to curb the rowdy behavior of monks, and their leading street demonstrations on matters of no conceivable relevance to them. The attendant sight of robes scaling walls, smashing windows and vulgarly confronting the Police, is likely to soon sully the respect for the robe and provide the provocation that they patently seek. The recent incident involving the Rohingya refugees is only one instance of totally repugnant indiscipline.
Consequent to the entanglement of politics with religion, we saw the largest haul of some 290 kilograms of heroin, linking with the name of the then Minister of Buddhasasana and Prime Minister – no less! A Minister of Christian Affairs witnessed his wife being convicted and sentenced to life for the murder of his mistress! She was, I believe, prematurely released by Presidential pardon! One can only hope that such suspicions are unfounded.
Buddhism has an outright denial of such matters as ritualistic appeasement of sundry Devas, the reliance on Astrology and the occult. But our leaders frequently visit temples in India and elsewhere, dash coconuts to curse their opponents, prominently display heavily-ringed fingers, dangling talismans and constantly consult astrologers for alleviating personal misfortunes and (bizarrely) to determine auspicious dates and times for affairs of State. We clearly disdain the teachings of the Buddha and apparently believe that “Amisapooja” are more potent than “Prathipaththipooja”. Shame on us!
I have earlier commented on the divisive effects of having Ministries for Buddhist, Hindhu, Christian and Muslim Affairs. I firmly believe that Religion, Sports and Culture are entirely matters of personal choice and that Governments have no business to interfere.
It should be no surprise that I stand for a secular State as being the best for us. I am a very traditional (and proudly) Sinhala who attempts to follow the Buddha Dharma. I am not a Federalist, a stooge of Western Powers or an unpatriotic hypocrite.