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Buddhist Priests must be banned from politics to restore respect for the Sanga

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by Upali S. Jayasekera

Mr. Wijedasa Rajapakse, an eminent member of the legal profession and a politician of stature has suggested legislation against the Sangha from participating in politics. Mr. Rajapakse should be congratulated for deciding to propose such legislation. All Buddhists should support the move. I fully agree with him.

Why does a person enter the Sangha Order and continue to wear the Cheevaraya?

It is strictly for the purpose of leading a religious life and engage in religious services. A Bhikkhu has to be one who has broken the fetters that tie him to lay life. Otherwise there is no difference between the Sangha and the Buddhist laity.

Bhikkhus in politics and religion-based political parties trading on religion and political bhikkhus contend that it is a fundamental right of the bhikkhus to engage in politics.

Some argue that during the times of the monarchy the Sangha advised the kings. The Sangha did advise the kings and they listened to the Sangha. Offering advice is not engaging in politics. In fact no one will heed the advice of bhikkhus engaged in party political activities.

There can be no denial that there is no hundred percent honesty, sincerity and decency in politics. Hence bhikkhus who take to politics will be compelled to put up with and follow qualities inherent in politics, whatever the bhikkhus who have broken Vinaya in taking to party political activities may say in defence. They have proved that whilst being in politics.

The Sangha can be seen at political meetings with the laity, protest rallies of the unemployed, May Day demonstrations, leading work stoppages, shouting slogans. Bhikkhus are found at exhibitions, musical shows mingling with males and females. They are seen delivering speeches without the calm and serenity expected of the Sangha. Bhikkhus wanting to engage in polities could leave the robes and do so.

Public servants and the judiciary cannot dabble in politics. In the same manner Bhikkhus should not engage in political activities.

When I was a child, my grandmother seated in the verandah of our house would stand up seeing a bhikkhu going past our house on the road. We all did so. The Sangha do not receive such respect and veneration today. The Sangha that was a unifying force then is no more now. Of course there are those that are highly venerated.

Why the Sangha has lost the hold on the people is their gravitation to divisive party politics and giving up religious services in favour of materialistic gain. I recommend the implementation of the following proposals to bring discipline into the Sangha Order. Some of these are in force in Thailand where the Sangha is highly venerated:

– Set up universities exclusively for bhikkhus, as the one in Anuradhapura to enable them to study Buddhist Philosophy in depth and also study other subjects and religions that help Buddhist Missionary work.

– Prevent bhikkhus from studying subjects that lead to commercial activity and employment except teaching Buddhism.

– Higher Ordination should be limited to Bhikkhus with a Degree from a Buddhist University and with a clean record. The Sangha Sabha should authorize Higher Ordination which decision should be final.

– Debar those in the Bhikkhu Order from being engaged in business activity, as astrologers, kattadiyas, sooth sayers, physicians except in providing free services by holding religious classes and dispensing medicine, as in the past. Those found doing so should be brought before an Adhikarana Sangha Sabha and if found guilty they should be disrobed.

– Making it illegal for bhikkhus to join political parties, engage in political activities, participate in political campaigns, address political meetings or be present at such meetings, hold political office, be Members of Parliament and local bodies. Law should be that those wanting to take to politics should leave the robes and Buddhist places of worship.

– Make film halls, parks, playgrounds, musical shows and places of enjoyment where the laity gather, out of bounds for the Sangha.

– A member of the Sangha accused of any criminal act or dishonest dealing should be brought before an Adhikarana Sangha Sabha headed by an Adhikarana Sangha Nayake and if the Sangha Sabha is convinced that there is a prima facie case against him, he should be disrobed on the orders of the Sangha Sabha and handed over to the Police to deal with him according to the law of the land. The Police and legal body should assist the Sangha Sabha in the process.

– A bhikkhu in robes should not be made to appear in courts as an accused, placed in Police custody or be remanded. Such bhikkhu should be disrobed before that.

– A bhikkhu should not be made to give evidence even as a witness for the prosecution in open court.

– It is salutary that the Maha Sangha should speak in one voice on national issues. A decision making process should be established for the purpose comprising the Maha Sangha, and Bhuddist laity with a legal background.

A’Sangayanava’ should be convened to decide on rituals and practices not in keeping with Buddhism with a view to do away with such rituals and practices.

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