Q As a Buddhist monk, how do you look at the current political situation of the country?
It is apparent that there is confusion in the country due to contradictory views prevailing within the ranks of the government. The Prime Minister says one thing and the President another on the same matter. Alongside, others within the government express their own contrasting opinions. For example, those belonging to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) advocate only changes to the present Constitution but not a total replacement of it with a new one. The SLFP is for the executive presidency, yet while pruning some of its powers. Be that as it may, the United National Party (UNP) calls for the total abolition of it. Such contrasts have plunged the country into a state of confusion. If it is opted to abolish the executive president, it will have to be referred to approval of the people by referendum. At a referendum, it is complex to ascertain how people would behave. In the past there was a referendum to determine the term of the then Parliament to be extended or not. Only two questions were posed to people.
When seeking public approval for a constitution this time, it is a different situation. People may endorse some provisions of the new constitution and reject the others. It is difficult for people to answer in the affirmative or the negative as a result. This is a serious issue. I feel this process will be dragged on for a long time. The country is grappling with numerous other problems-economic issues in main. When the sole focus is on the constitution- making process, it is difficult to attend to other burning issues.
Another problem is lack of discipline in the country. Discipline is a pre-requisite for its development. The authorities concerned pay scant regard to this matter. The political influence on government officials in the discharge of their duties is there.
Q What is the role of Bhikkhus in this context?
I have long upheld the view that Bhikkhus should not become placard holding members of political parties. If a Bhikkhu is involved in the promotional activities of a political party, he will be identified with that party. A Bhikkhu is meant for all in this country. He has to be acceptable to all. He will lose that recognition when identified as a member of UNP, SLFP, JVP etc. We find members of all these parties among Dayakas. A Bhikkhu should work for all of them in attending to religious duties. When it comes to national issues, he should take a moderate, objective stand and advise either the government or the opposition accordingly. It is not for him to eulogize the rulers all the time. Whenever there are shortcomings, those have to be pointed out. All should be done without expecting any personal benefit in return.
Q What is the duty of a Bhikkhu in today’s situation in the country?
A Bhikkhu’s role has evolved over an historical process in which he took positions related to incidents that cropped up at times. In 1940s, for the first time, a debate occurred whether politics was appropriate for a Buddhist monk or not. Ven. Walpola Rahula Thera authored the book “Bhikkuwage Urumaya”. It became a controversial book. Initially, it was argued that party politics was inappropriate for Bhikkhus, but they could play a role in matters significant in the greater interest of the country. It evolved finally to the level of a Bhikkhu contesting parliamentary elections. I do not see it as a positive trend. I do not believe Parliament is the relevant forum for Bhukkhus to do their duties for the country with respect. Parliament is no longer the place represented by educated, well-mannered personnel. It is a place where obscenities are hurled against each other and disturbances prevail. I do not condone a Bhikkhu becoming a member or a follower of a political party.
Q There are talks about the attempts in the Constitution making process to deny the Bhikkhus of their historically bestowed duty upon duty?
It is difficult to do it through constitutional provisions. We have undertaken a move to adopt a Bhikkhu Kathikawak. It is important to have such a thing to ensure the decorum of the conduct of Bhikkhus. We have three Nikayas. This is a Kathikawak, meant to work out of a code of conduct for Bhikkhus and a mechanism for the administration and management of their Vihares according to present requirements. In Vinaya Pitaka, some matters, exclusive in today’s context, have not been outlined. Such Katikawaks among Bhikkhus have taken place from the time of the Polonnaruwa era. Society is complex today. So, we have to resolve a common set of norms for Bhikkhus in the complex social context. During the Polonnaruwa era, there were not motor vehicles. So, there were discussions to determine whether a Bhikkhu should be allowed to drive such a vehicle or not. A discourse is required for it. The government in power also faces problems when a monk applies for a driving licence. We have to resolve it. When we travel abroad for religious promotional work, it is difficult to hire a driver as it is too expensive. We have to build a tradition here whether it is applicable for a Bhikkhu to drive a vehicle or not. It can be done a through a Katikawak or discourse. Otherwise, the government in power cannot impose laws on Maha Sangha. It is inappropriate. The government is only needed to legislate on what we have agreed upon. Then, it will have a legal effect. This is not an attempt by the government to control Bhikkhus. There was a misconception spread in the country about it, I noted.
Ven. Bellanvila Wimalaratana Thera
Q How do you see the difference between the good governance concept espoused by the current rule and good governance taught in Buddhism?
In 1977, former President the late J.R. Jayewardene also introduced a similar concept by talking about a ‘Just society’. He brought out this concept called ‘Darmista Rajya’ (Just society). It was a concept trotted out only as a vote catching slogan. During his rule, protesting workers were clubbed with bicycle chains. Bank employees who went on strike were sacked forthwith. It was a facade to talk about a ‘Just society’ then.
In the wake of certain wrongdoings by the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa rule, those governing today also promised good governance to the country. People were attracted to this concept. They believed that law and order would be observed well, criminals brought to book and the corrupt lot identified. Now, people ask where good governance they anticipated is. This is what people ask, not me. In the guise of taking action against the corrupt, there is a spectacle of arresting persons, taking them to court and prisons. People are not yet convinced that one is punished properly. The current rule promised to govern without frauds and corruption. Aren’t some of those in the government facing corruption allegations today?
As for the Central Bank Bond scam, they leave no stone unturned in attempting to cover it up. The latest is to implicate MR. That is an attempt to distract public attention from the main issue. People had voted him out because of their disliking towards him due to his past wrongdoing. It is up to the government to trace such wrongs. Otherwise, the government cannot palm off its crimes on him. In the Buddhist perspective, good governance or Yahapanaya mean ruling a country devoid of corruption and frauds, and with fairness and morality. It is expected from such governance to get economy on proper track without heaping tax burdens on people. People question whether this has been achieved under Yahapalanaya.
Besides, we have to recognize that something good happened under good governance. The President gave away some of his powers. The crime wave was contained. People have no fear that they would be abducted when travelling on roads. It has been able to keep external influences at bay by fostering ties with the countries concerned. We have to recognize all that is done. Also, civil society academics and journalists, who worked hard for good governance, say the government has fallen short of their expectations. Like the concept ‘Darmista Samajaya’, it is feared whether Yahapalanaya will be a mere marketing slogan for the government in achieving political ends.
The two main parties - the UNP and the SLFP- governed this country one after the another. In departure from this culture, there was the decision for both to govern together in the greater interest of the country. It could be construed positively. But, it is questionable whether such unity governance is practically possible under the political culture accustomed to this country. Though the two parties are parts of the same government, they toe their separate agendas. Therefore, people are confused whether this would snowball into a crisis of major proportion.
Q In your response to an earlier question, you said the crime wave had been contained. We see a rise in underworld killings in the recent past. What is the reason for that?
Underworld criminal gangs existed at that time too. They enjoyed the State-patronage during the previous rule on certain occasions. Now, there is greater freedom in the country. Today, medium freedom is there. Media can report as it pleases without any fear of being abducted. In this context, criminals exploit the situation and worsen their activities. It is the prime duty of the government to maintain order in the country. The government has not yet worked out the mechanism to contain criminal activities, corruption and frauds. The police also find it difficult to deal with the situation at times. As for the Kalutara incident, even jail guards were shot dead. It is vital to look at the whole picture that created this crime wave rather than responding to individual incidents only. We have to root out the causes that create criminals.
Q In the Constitution making process, there is fear that the unitary status of the country and the foremost status given to Buddhism would be compromised. What are your views?
I see it clearly the status bestowed upon Buddhism will never be lost. I do not think any party in power will touch upon this matter. If it does so, it will create an unnecessary problem. The country should remain as a unitary state. It should be mentioned in the Constitution. If that clause is done away with for a Federal solution, it will create problems. Federalism is not suited for a small country like Sri Lanka. We only need a system applicable to this country. That is to ensure the active participation of people at provincial level in running their affairs. There is a problem involving land and police powers. As for the security situation in the country, I do not think it is ideal to devolve such powers even now. We have to cast aside extremist views from both sides, and adopt provisions applicable to the country.
Q There is an argument that if a foremost status is accorded to Buddhism, it will undermine the rights of other communities. We would appreciate your comments on this...
It has never happened. This clause was included in the Constitution in 1972. It has not discriminated against any other religion. There are separate Ministries for other religions. All have to accept without any qualm that Buddhism, as a religion, has a history of more than 2500 years in this soil. It is the majority religion. The leaders of Christian, Hindu and Muslim religions also admit it. They are not averse to Buddhism enjoying such a position as the foremost religion. Even the Cardinal of the Catholic Church admitted it. Then, I do not know why some extremist groups are calling for a secular State.
- No stone left unturned in covering up bond scam
- Bhikkhus should not be aligned with political parties
- Govt did something good under good governance
- People fear whether Yahapalana is a marketing slogan for political ends