It is a clinging paradox that many vicious wars and other acts of cruelty have been perpetrated by religious bigots justified by claims of religious conviction. The Crusades and the current Islamic conflicts are based on ‘religious’ grounds. This is while all religions preach compassion and humanity.
While the goal is the same, the inspirations differ. For the theistic religions, it is a duty towards a Creator God. For Christians, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, preached a message of kindness and compassion towards fellow beings. Hindus saw it as an offering to an Athman, which was breathed into one’s Soul and expected back in an improved form. Islam enjoins its adherents to follow the message preached by the Prophet as the Messenger of Allah. Buddhists are to follow the Dhamma as a means to self-improvement.
"In our society, instead of appreciating this commonality, we seek to compartmentalize - a sure recipe for conflict"
Without exception, all of them call for the practice of kindness and compassion.
In our society, instead of appreciating this commonality, we seek to compartmentalize - a sure recipe for conflict. The path we have followed is an attempt to cater to individual groups in a richly diverse nation. The result has been failure. It has mainly resulted in a ridiculous creation of such aberrations as Ministries for Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim Affairs. Assuming that these are created with genuine motives and not designed to create rewards with sinecures and fat benefits, the result has been of nil benefit. For what are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim Affairs or interests that are diverse, distinct and different enough to surpass human interests?
Pain, sorrow, injustice and prejudice are as hurtful to all, irrespective of the label we happen to carry. Have we not just emerged from a terrible conflict portrayed however unjustly, by some prejudiced elements as a battle between a “Sinhala Buddhist Army” and a dispossessed “Hindu Minority”? Is it not bizarre, among other examples, that the wife of a “Minister for Christian Affairs” was convicted of the murder of her husband’s mistress?
Is this what a sublime faith deserves? Much fuss is made of the need or otherwise of a provision in the proposed Constitution to include provision for Buddhism to be accorded a special place. I believe this is unnecessary and a needless provocation of followers of minority religions. Despite its vociferous supporters, I believe it to be wrong.
If five hundred years of domination by foreign forces, evangelical and demonstrably hostile to the then established religions failed to inflict serious injury, what reason is there to fear our own people? Will someone please explain why in a professed Buddhist nation, we have not succeeded in stopping the cruel and coarse practice of slaughtering cattle by slitting their throats and bleeding them to death in the insensitive view of victims awaiting their turn? Have we attempted to explain that in modern times, the availability of rapid transport and the accessibility of refrigeration meet the need to ensure bleeding as a means of reducing spoilage? This could well have prompted the need for what today seems a supremely cruel practice.
What has the Ministry of Buddha Sasana or for that matter, those for Christian, Hindu and Muslim Affairs done to really justify their existence and national outlay? Merely cataloguing, listing and data-gathering and engagement with ritualistic formalities is just not significant. The Buddha preached, as also the leaders of other religions, that discrimination of any kind was unwholesome. Where then do the “Nikayas” stand?
Have the Venerable Mahanayaka’s views on this matter been sought? If not, of what use are the costly processions of sundry “worthies” bearing unnecessary fruit baskets and “Atapirikaras”? Whom are they bluffing? Of course some customs and rituals need to be preserved. But obsession with them distorts and devalues all that the great philosophies sought to teach.
"Looking around us towards nations that are secular and those that are driven by various faiths, the evidence is overwhelming that Sri Lanka is best served by being secular - not necessarily by inclusion in any document, but in practice"
To end on a personal note to clear the air, I was born to traditional Buddhist parents, educated in a Christian school and count among my friends devout Christian, Hindu and Moslem adherents. They, one and all, are decent, tolerant and fine persons. I endeavour to follow the Dhamma of the Buddha, endeavouring to observe the Five Precepts of abstaining from killing, stealing, adultery, lying and partaking of liquor to the extent of intoxication. All these, one may notice, have to do with disciplined conduct, avoiding harm or pain to others.
I venture to suggest that if all Buddhists would strive as a minimum, to observe the Five Noble Precepts, it may contribute much more than vociferous clamouring for Constitutional or other bureaucratic provisions, towards making Sri Lanka a better place for all of us.
Looking around us towards nations that are secular and those that are driven by various faiths, the evidence is overwhelming that Sri Lanka is best served by being secular - not necessarily by inclusion in any document, but in practice.