“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.” ~ Khalil Gibran
Every major religion in the world is facing this threat; not from outside but from within. The original teachings of every religion preach love, kindness, compassion and tolerance. Yet, more blood has been shed in the name of religion than any other human cause. In pursuit of religious conversions, an untold number of millions of human lives have been sacrificed. Families torn apart, children dismembered, workplaces set ablaze, villages massacred, all for the sake of religion and faith. If there was one religion that did not depend on such morbid behaviour of humanity for its spread among non-believers, it was Buddhism. There is no evidence that Buddhism was spread at the point of a gun or dagger.
Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity have all fallen prey to this human folly. Yet it was never the intent of the founders of these religions that any member of the human community ought to be converted into a particular religion by way of coercion or force.
Jesus Christ preached from the mountain top about the sheer ecstasy of love and kindness. The famous quote ‘turn the other cheek’ taught us of infinite bliss of patience and tolerance. Even on his last grasp for breath, Christ forgave his tormentors and killers saying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. The eternal message of Christ in one way or another, got lost in the medieval times and Christianity was spread with the help of macabre crusades and military invasions. It is recorded in history that the so-called crusaders were knee-deep in blood when they attacked the Jewish Temples and other places of worship. It was not because Jesus preached that his message be spread across the land through the marauding armies of the faithful or the ruling Kings and Queens, but that those who stooped to conquer wielded the ‘Cross’ as a mere pretext to spread their power and influence on the target of conquest and repression.
The ‘organized church’ that followed the invaders and the conquering armies did the rest to a hapless and helpless vanquished people. Those who had the courage of conviction of their own faith stuck on to their respective religions while the meek and the week just caved in. So the spread of a religion took root in earnest. This was most evident in Ceylon when the Portuguese and the Dutch armies took control over the maritime zones of the country. In addition to the helpless and hapless commoners, the so-called elites too embraced these new religions into their bosoms merely to be on the good books of the conqueror. The Catholic Church is one of the most powerful forces in the world. Headed by the Vatican, established on rigid hierarchical order, the Catholic Church exerts enormous powers over the countless numbers of mortals. When that kind of power gets enmeshed with the real powers that ‘govern’ the land, such influence and authority are even more telling and all-suppressing, suppressing to such an extent that the line between the State and religion gets blurry and faint.
In such a foggy cocoon, entrapped in a mindless, un-inquiring setting, the human mind gives way to all half-truths and lies that are enunciated as miracles, visions and marvels of a man who lived more than two thousand years ago and preached one of the greatest teachings to mankind. The desecration has occurred at the ruling houses, it has happened at the street corners and ancient cafes and it has happened at the place at which it originated, the Temple. The organized church is more responsible for the devastation of the teachings than the real or perceived-enemies of the religion.
It is so with organized ‘Hinduism’. What the Vedas and the Upanishads taught and the eternal truths of which was so magnificently enunciated by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda have been totally corrupted by the succeeding Hindu priests who hail from the organized part of the religion, like in the Catholic and Christian churches. They too were dogged practitioners of their faith and pretended to be the true messengers of ‘God’. Superstitions, fallacies and myths have replaced the genuine teachings of the ancient sages who gifted mankind with one of the oldest and remarkable interpretations of man detailing his relationship to the universe and how to lead a just and full life.
The creation of a variety of ‘gods’ and symbols has overtaken intellectual inquiry and unquestioning obedience to a set of half-truths and lies has numbed the minds of millions of the faithful to such an extent, that to these ‘blind’ millions, the punishing of their Muslim brethren seems like an act of supreme faith and adherence. The very religion that teaches universal kindness and non-violence is being defiled by these followers and loyal servants of the faith with the express backing of pseudo-priests whose warped mind has no boundaries of civility and decency. What occasionally erupts in India as religious riots between the Hindus and Muslims is living testimony to these distorted versions of a great and sublime religion. And almost behind every Hindu-Muslim riot in India are the greedy and avaricious minds of the holders of power.
On the other side of the coin is the organized priesthood of Islam, once again, a religion based on generosity of the human mind and heart but the extreme elements of this faith are engaged in a perpetual war against the believers of the ‘other faith’. They call it ‘Jihad’. Their practice of the religion as per these extreme elements of Imams has amounted to their being branded as ‘terrorists’ in the vocabulary of religious teachings. When these distorted teachings of Prophet Mohamed are passed down with cruel misinterpretations and convenient slants, the uneducated or the semi-educated millions take what is taught to them at face value and instead of the holy book, Qu’ran, they arm themselves with AK 47s and Bazookas. The inevitable consequence of all these distortions, misinterpretations and fanciful lies is murder, torture and destruction.
Buddhism, however, occupies a unique place in the history of all religions in that, it stands alone as one religion that did not depend on coercions, conquests or violence for its own propagation and proliferation among the general masses, educated or otherwise. Yet, it has its own superstitions, its own myths, its own fantasies and misconceptions. Yet, it has survived more than two thousand five hundred years and over that period, some remarkable Monks who had the high capacity of mind and heart to understand and recognize the uniqueness of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, have preserved and kept the religion from corruption and desecration by the ‘organized’ sects of the clergy.
Yet, as in all other religious clergy groups, Buddhist Monks have fallen prey to the magic and magnetism of power and the might of rulers. When treated as the ‘guardians’ of the State, the Buddhist clergy elevates itself to dizzy heights from which they rarely descend. While the original teaching of the Buddha are kept in libraries gathering the dust of years of ‘neglect’, the half-educated members of the ‘Order’ resort to provocative and challenging pronouncements on behalf of the teachings and the ill-informed and ill-educated masses take it upon themselves as true believers and obedient servants of the Buddha and engage themselves in committing unspeakable crimes and violence. When one speaks against such morbid acts of desecration of the ‘teachings’, one is invariably branded as, an unbeliever and unpatriotic, and as a traitor and collaborator.
Potentially dangerous trends
When the so-called high priests are silent and mute on potentially dangerous trends in the development of a mindset that is increasingly receptive to extreme and narrow elucidations of the religion, where does the average Buddhist look to? ‘The land, the race and the faith’ have engulfed the nation’s mindset and appear to be dictating the socio-religious agenda of the land.
On the question of the ‘halal issue, not a single Buddhist Monk of any repute, be it the Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters, Venerable Sobhitha, Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana or any other Head of the other Nikayas have come out with any significant appeal or request, asking the people to keep calm and not get provoked. None of the Buddhist Monks who foolishly provoke the masses have been asked to exercise restraint and caution. Has our religion been taken over by the fringe elements, merchants of corruption, deceit and lies or has it become a victim to the time’s unrelenting call for false gods and pseudo-saviours?
As it appears today, Buddhism needs to be protected, not from the unbelievers or any ‘opposing’ religions; it needs to be protected from some of its own Order of the Clergy!