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Sri Lanka: Attempt to subjugate the Pillars of the Buddhist state?


 By Shenali Waduge

As Sri Lanka celebrates its 68th anniversary of independence on February 4th, it is a good time to reflect on whether there is an attempt to subjugate the two pillars of the Buddhist state and dilute the country’s unique identity.

The two forces that come forward to protect the nation not surprisingly originate from the Deep South and represent the rural masses. Majority of the Sangha (Buddhist monks) and the members of the armed forces are Sinhala literate, from poor homes and possess all the ingredients that the Colombo elite, who did not play any role in defending the nation, loathe.

Historically, it was the Sangha that advised the Kings and held respect amongst the people. When the existence of the Sri Lankan state with its Buddhist identity was seriously threatened at the dawn of the 21st century under the government of President ChandrikaKumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, who were on the verge of handing over a large portion of the country to be ruled by a ruthless terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the sangha came to the limelight, even forming a political party and contesting elections.

It was also the armed forces that sacrificed blood and many became handicapped for life in protecting the unitary state of Sri Lanka from a terrorist group and  delivered an elusive peace after 3 decades in 2009.

Tragically, those that played no role in ending the war and those who actually lived off the war, enjoying the dividends of peace are now holding reigns of power again, and trying to punish the real protectors of the nation.

People have forgotten their gratitude and are treating the forces that stood up against the enemies as the enemy, while the enemies are at the footsteps of Sri Lanka’s gates ready to devour the entire nation. As we celebrate 68 years of “independence” the nation is self-walking into destruction betraying the ranawirun (armed forces) and the Sangha that holds the ancient identity of Sri Lanka.

Nationalism, patriotism, the Sangha and the ranawiruwan have all been synonymous with the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and cannot be taken separately or should be separated. Now, an attempt is being made to lump all of them as “extremists” and a threat to “reconciliation” (whatever that means). This is being stage-managed by foreign forces that have been hostile to Sinhalese Buddhists who have been the barrier for their designs to make the strategic island in the Indian Ocean another Philippines.

It is the attempt to subjugate and destroy what connects the Buddhist ethos of Sri Lanka that is the hallmark of the struggle at hand today for Sinhalese Buddhists.

The role of the Sangha

Reknowened Buddhist intelelctuals of the past, both Ven. Walpola Rahula Thera and E.W. Adikaram held the view that Buddhism was known in the Sinhale nation far before the reign of King Dharmasoka and the arrival of Arhant Mahinda Thera in 3rd century BC. This notion is confirmed by archaeological findings too. 

However, it was only after the conversion of King Devanampiyatissa that Buddhism became the State religion in Sri Lanka, embracing Theravada Buddhism the direct doctrine of Buddha. The Magadhi language spoken by Arahat Mahinda and Sinhala were similar as inscriptions reveal.

The Sangha supported by the Kings of the Sinhale nation were committed to protecting Theravada Buddhism. The first-ever writing of a religious text, the  Pali Tripitaka was done at Aluvihare in Sri Lanka during the reign of Vattagamani (89-77 BC).

The contributions of the Sinhala monks are found in the Sinhala commentaries - Maha Attakatha, the Maha Paecari and the Kurundi. Sri Lanka possessed an unbroken lineage of ordination coming from the time of Arhat Mahinda. The Sinhala Monks helped to establish Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. The Sinhala monks have since ancient times been a trusted teacher, guide and friend to the people besides taking the mantle of leadership to protect the nation.

The persecution of Buddhism began with the arrival of the 3 colonial invaders – the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British - preaching peace but with gun in one hand and Bible in the other.

Buddhism further degenerated with the introduction of missionary schools though a revival came in the 1860s combined with nationalism.

Interestingly, it was an American, Col. Henry Steele Olcott, the president of the Theosophical Movement who took up the Buddhist campaign against British officials and British missionaries going on to help to establish Ananda College, Mahinda College and Dharmaraja College all of which are today facing the bogus ‘multicultural’ gavel. Olcott was instrumental in getting the British governor to declare Vesak a public holiday. Tragically, for the lack of pluck by our own we now need a similar Olcott to come forward.

It was the Sangha and the Sinhala Buddhists who came forward to fight against foreign domination though a handful of Sinhala Buddhists preferred to pay servitude to foreign masters for favors a mentality that prevails to this day among some. Personalities such as Migettuwatte Gunananda thero a fearless debator, orator, erudite scholar and writer led the movement for the revival of Buddhist education and national renaissance and challenged the Christian missionaries to public debates.

It is because the Sangha is part of the Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic identity that efforts are afoot to embarrass the sangha even coopting their own towards this goal.

From Indian invaders Sena & Guttika in 177BC to the colonial invaders, Buddhism, the Sangha, the chaityas, imagery were all targeted for annihilation. The foreign invaders aim was to strike at the heart of the civilization, thus break apart the culture of the Sinhalese and remove their affinity to Buddhism, an effort that continues still and gaining success with Sinhalese enticed to adopt bogus multicultural and multifaith ideals.

The inability of post-independence governments to take the philosophy of Buddhism to the heart of the people via education has enabled foreign invaders to use modern media to make inroads to dilute the teachings of Buddhism and ridicule in shocking analogies incorporating Sinhala Buddhists themselves to do so.

Yet, it was the Sangha who came forward as protectors of the Sinhala Buddhist identity from European missionaries. Covert hidden agenda to destabalize Sri Lanka is nothing new. The sangha have been quick to pick up these foreign motives. It is for this reason that the Sangha is being referred to as racist, chauvinist, fundamentalist – any name that would via media block them from having the contents of their message be heard by the masses.

The present tragedy faced by the Sangha for lack of proper leadership cries for the likes of Anagarika Dharmapala who had a strong Sinhala Buddhist ideology, which no present day politician has. In Angarika Dharmapala’s eyes the Sangha were custodian and guardian of Buddhism. It was in 1945 that a publication titled ‘Bhikku and Politics’ was issued by the Vidayalankara Pirivena adopting the need for the Sangha to take up politics to fill a void and demand due place for Buddhism that the politicians were not doing.

This eventually inspired the Eksath Bhikku Peramuna (United Monks’ Front) that came out with the Buddhist Commission Report with inputs from heavy weight Buddhist scholars L H Mettananda, D C WIjewardana, Prof Malalasekara, P de S Kularatne, Dr. Tennekone Wimalananda, Ven. Ambanwela Siddhartha, Ven. Henpitagedara Gnanasiha  to name a few.  During the times of the Kings, the Sangha even came forward to fight.

Our Ranawiruwan

“The Military History of Sri Lanka” by Siri Munasinhe recalls the Great Chronicle, Mahavansa recording 1200 battles fought by our ancient kings ably assisted by the Sinhalese soldiers managed to keep Sri Lanka free from being taken over.   

Serving under over 180 kings, the soldiers have done a proud duty by their nation in acting as its defenders. The Sri Lanka army was first established as the Royal Ceylon Army in 1949, which became Sri Lanka Army in 1972. Battles have been won and lost but the steadfast goal of coming forward to defend the nation has been firmly entrenched among the Sinhala Buddhists who believe they are custodians/guardians of the civilization handed down to them.

There can be national flags, national songs, national anthems and people can fight for their rights but it is only those who come forward to defend the nation without asking or expecting who becomes the real patriot. Today, people are demanding right to sing the national anthem in their own language but even after that right has been secured how many of them actually sing the national anthem or display the national flag? Some don't even know the words of the national anthem while some are proud that they don't know the words.

When terrorists started bombing and destroying the nation who came forward and enlisted to join the army? It was none of those who demand quotas, ethnic ratios etc. It was the Sinhala Buddhists from the South together with other Sinhalese in other parts of the country and honourable mention must be made of the Malays and Tamils who came not because the minorities had to be represented but because they put country before their ethnicity or their religion.

The soldiers have done a remarkable role in protecting the nation. 30,000 have lost their lives while an equal number are today injured and maimed for life with bitter memories to last their life time. We have forgotten to daily thank them for giving us peace. Most of these men come from very poor homes but they came forward to save the nation from terror. 

Some 5000 remain still missing and unaccounted for and there are no UN or NGOs fighting for their rights. Their parents, wives and children have no one to seek help to find their husbands, fathers and sons. But if not for these rural men who came forward the nation would not have had people to defend the country.

The Colombo elites who are happily enjoying the dividends of peace without any empathy for those that sacrificed to give them their freedom have no word of gratitude to deliver except to say it is the job of the soldier to defend the nation. It is such heartless sentiments that have made a segment of society be responsible for inviting the enemy to our doors. Our enemy has always been attempting to create foreign heroes in our minds forgetting the local heroes and the manner our ranawiruwan are being treated is a great betrayal of our loyalties.

It is for lack of leadership that people cling to voices that echo the sentiments in the minds of people. Politicians have wronged the nation by looking only at their political future, their perks and how they can emerge to power or win the next elections. These damaging scenarios have led to extremist elements taking the mantle and vocalizing what the politicians are shy to say lest they should annoy a segment of people upon whom they propose to appeal for votes and favors. Such selfish motives have left the country in a lurch and also raised questions about whether democracy really gives the people – the grassroots people – a voice?

The manner that the foreign interests are using spineless politicians to bring in legislation to gag the twin-forces that protect the nation reveals the manner that the enemies have closed in on their ultimate objective. The re-structuring of the army by a former colony and the bill to control Buddhist monks showcases how within a year the enemy has made grounds in taking revenge on the two forces that protect and safeguard the nation.  

Without the Maha Sangha and the Armed Forces Sri Lanka would be a colony and it is for those reasons that efforts are afoot to subjugate the two entities that protect and defend the nation and its historical heritage and identity. It is for these reasons the nation must stand boldly behind them.


Setting up of this website was sponsored by SJ Mets Consultants PTY Ltd of Perth, Australia in memory of J.H.A. Gunadasa & S.T. Jayasinghe, beloved fathers of Sunil and Aruni.
May they attain Nibbana