Are the Sri Lankan Buddhists facing an existential threat ? by Dhanuka Dickwella

Religion is a  super sensitive topic. Although religions are born to promote peace, harmony , coexistence , love , empathy we have seen gruesome conflicts emerging globally in the name of religion. From ancient crusaders to Spanish conquistadors  to the rise & fall of ISIS there have been numerous battles time & time again for the very same reason – religion.

In a turbulent period as present times in Sri Lanka, it could very well  be controversial to open such a dialogue. My intention here is not to cause uneasiness amongst the readership. But to analyze the topic of Buddhism with a reference to the revolutionary protest movement in the country & to share the thoughts of like minded Buddhists.

With the emergence of the youth led revolution , there has been a constant , deliberate & targeted  anti Buddhist sentiment growing in the social media sphere. It wouldn’t be too much to say that hundreds of angry youth have openly insulted, run down , and criticized certain Buddhist monks. The language they have used to lambast these monks is foul by nature & certainly could  disturb anyone who has some respect for any religion for that matter. There have been many dialogues , chatters & discussions suggesting that the Buddhist temples should be subjected to financial audits starting from the Sacred Toothrelic temple which is the pinnacle of the Sri Lankan buddhists.

Looking at a religion from a prism of politics is not necessarily an evil thing or a bad thing to do. End of the day a developed , intellectual society should be able to conduct debates on any topic including Religion. It will only help in acquiring better knowledge & give space for creativity. We are living  in an age of digital information not in the medieval era.

However the Sri lankan context is different from such a healthy &  honest debate . While openly bad mouthing certain buddhist monks , the critics observe a total silence with the religious leadership of Catholicism , Hunduisman , Islam & the rest. I am not suggesting that there should be a tit for tat or every religious leader should be criticized. Yet one can not miss the obvious nature of targeting the Buddhist monks alone.

Although the critics go to town demanding an audit in to the sacred temple of Tooth Relic , there is no mentioning about Ragama Basilica church , the Dawatagaha muslim mosque or the Nallur Hindu temple. That is where the kind of cynicism, pretence, hypocrisy  could be observed. That is where one could feel like the social media movement &  certain leaders of the revolution are targeting only the Buddhists.

I am sure there is no mention by the Gauthama Buddha about the need for his disciples to engage in politics. I am sure Buddhist philosophy is about living a meaningful life with a goal to understand the ultimate truth of life. There is absolutely no need for the Buddhist monks to engage in party politics. Throughout history Buddhist monks have taken part in various social movements to fight off invaders from Kalinga Magha to the colonial powers.  Engaging in social justice, struggle for independence from the Brits  or even going to war against LTTE  by the Buddhist clergy have been recorded time & time again. But those were exceptions & they did it when they felt the very existence of the nation , state & Buddhism were facing an existential threat. We will have to agree that there is a vast difference between protecting the motherland & protecting a certain political party. Whether or not the Buddhist monks should take part in active politics is a discussion that the  Buddhist monastic order should have & decide. By now they would have understood the pros & cons of such engagements & how the civil society reacts.  Venerable Maha Sanghas are more than qualified to initiate such an internal discussion. Forcing them an ultimatum could easily backfire & could be counter productive. Could be misread by the Buddhist society as a strategy to harm their way of life.

About the audits of temples. Well my observation is quite very simple. From the Vatican to the Thewatta Basilica, from Mecca to Dawtagaha , from Bodhgaya to Tooth Relic temple , from Ayodhya to Nallur Temple , from Shikharji Temple to the Ahinsa Kendra the religious establishments in the world possess immense wealth. To a very large extent, this wealth is donated by their devotees willingly – not at gunpoint. Unless there is a universal debate on such a topic , unless every Sri lankan religious establishment is subjected to such a law, what is the nobleness behind pressing only the Buddhist establishments to go through an audit ?

When there is a gulf between ideas of certain groups , when those ideas lack a genuine tone , one could interpret them in various ways. Unless the intellects try to bridge this gap anyone with hidden agendas could stir such situations into disturbing trends. The  need of the hour is a genuine , healthy debate not a campaign with a veiled threat to name call the Buddhists. If that trend continues the need for a political change could very well be  overshadowed by the sentiments of the Buddhists who have started to feel marginalized. 

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