On a journey, but not to the temple

Election Diary

16 July 2020 12:28 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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We have heard enough negative stories about the Bodu Bala Sena (Pix Reuters)

 

People of this country are closely monitoring the priests who are contesting the upcoming Parliamentary Elections as much as the laymen who are making efforts to enter parliament. 


When a priest takes to politics the clergyman loses some of the clout he has in society. Priests who are election candidates are diluting some of their vows and noble thoughts when stepping into the material world. Politics is entangled in corruption and attracts enough distractions; all which can push a priest away from the noble goal of achieving enlightenment. 


But priests in the present era like Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera (Our Power of People’s Party) and Battaramulle Seelarathana Thera (Jana Setha Peramuna) believe that there is no future for the country if the Buddhist clergy takes a backseat in politics. 


Comments like ‘This is not a Buddhist country’ unsettled the Buddhist clergy in the country during Wickremesinghe’s Yahapalana regime. And one only has to turn the pages of time in the Sri Lankan history to realise how influential monks in saffron robes have been. Even if priests back then didn’t engage in direct politics they had a say in how a country should be ruled under any regime. 


Ananda Sagara Thera has said that the tribal mentality of people worries him. He dislikes saffron robed monks politically manipulating people. The priests in Sri Lanka don’t have to do that. They have the authority to tell the head of state if he or she moves away from both what is right and Gautama Buddha’s teachings. 


Battaramulla Seelarathana Thera is of the opinion that the Buddhist clergy has to protect the country. The priest, who is contesting from Gampaha, has stated that ‘without the Maha Sangha this country would have gone to the gutters’. 


Over the years, since the time of the kings and Tamil invaders, the Buddhist priests have played the role of watchdog. The monks in saffron robes had a close relationship with the palace, but they never compromised on the vows taken when entering the Buddhist order. The country’s law also applied to these monks. Indisciplined priests were disrobed and removed from the Buddhist order even back then. There were checks and balances within the Sangha order. History reveals that during the reign of Maha Parackramabahu (1153-1186) the great ruler saw the conducting of the 7th Dhamma Convention to secure Theravada Buddhism and instill discipline in the Sangha order. This was to check the decline in Buddhism at that time. 


Now the priests, first and foremost, see a decline in laymen in terms of how they govern themselves. Many have moved away from religion. People, the majority, are ceremonial Buddhists. This fact has been underscored by many chief priests during the past few years at public forums and television programmes. But what politically ambitious priests don’t understand is that they are now going to be the representatives of these irreligious people if they enter parliament. 

 


Priests and law of the country
History shows us how the Buddhist order checks a corrupt priests and vice versa. Many years ago Chulaththana, the second son of King Saddhatissa, was made king; bypassing the eldest son Laggatissa. Records reveal that even the priests gave the blessings to the second son in the royal order to sit on the throne. But the eldest son was made king after a few days and the mistake was rectified. Even the priests accepted the fact that they had blundered. Historians underscore this incident as a point where even the priests had to abide by the law of the country. 


The votes in the Gampaha district are so important at every election. Prasanna Ranatunga giving the Pohottuwa Party the edge at this election through all the hard work is besides the point. What’s more important is that the majority of voters in the Gampaha district are educated. The other factor that’s so vital is that there are 500,000 floating votes in the Gampaha district. Hence the election manifestos of the priests, who are contesting from Gampaha, have to pull at the heartstrings of the people. Thinking further on these lines Ven. Seelarathana’s promise to focus on ending the drug and alcohol menace in the country and stabilise the economy could be more appealing to the people than Ven. Sagara’s promise to focus on environmental issues. 


Entering parliament gives an individual power. But that political power could be easily subdued if the Maha Sangha wants a politician’s decision revised. We can remember how Ven. Rathana Thera staged a fast on to death in front of ‘Temple of the Tooth’ to remove appointed minister Rishad Bathiudeen and other Muslim Ministers. 


However what’s of concern is the type of monk who campaigns to enter parliament. The Buddhist order would never endorse a move taken by any political party or group to send a saffron robed monk to parliament. Ven. Sagara has told in a newspaper interview that he has declared his assets to the district elections secretariat. It’s interesting to know whether this priest declared anything more than the few saffron robes and a begging bowl; which are the only possessions that a pious monk should have. How can a priest be counted in a political playing field if he doesn’t have the means to spend something between 10-15 million for an election campaign ? 


The Buddhist priest will always campaign to bring a ruler who respects Buddhism and serves the Buddhist order. But there have been years in the rule of Buddhist Sri Lanka where the kings have overlooked their roles in putting the Sangha in order. During the time of Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe there was a decline in Buddhism. As a result Thailand’s King Boronkoti sent two monks, Upali and Ariyamuni, to Sri Lanka and established the ‘Shyamapalee Wamsa’; better known as Siam Nikaya. But that Thailand today is reeling under the weight of corrupt Buddhist monks who are enjoying close relationships with the country’s lawmakers. If Sri Lanka doesn’t put these corrupt saffron robed monks in order we might see the same decline in Buddhist Thailand setting foot here too. The best step to take in this regard is to stop voting for corrupt monks; if there are any in the present set-up, from entering parliament. 


We have heard enough negative stories about how the Bodu Bala Sena and similar organisations caused instability in the society. We have heard enough about the monks who enjoy the patronage of rich devotees and their claims of attaining enlightenment. It’s a shame that pious priests are silent in the face of the political wave that these power hungry priests have created. 

hen a priest like Ven. Seelarathana says in his election interviews that ‘While protecting the Dhamma we need to protect the country’ we voters must be on alert!


Back in the 1950s a group functioning under the name ‘Pancha Maha Balavegaya’ pushed SWRD Bandaranaike to the throne in order to protect the Sinhala-Buddhist culture. But the whole lot ganged up against SWRD when the premier didn’t support the interests of this so called Buddhist force. Eventually SWRD was assassinated by a monk named Somarama, who was also a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. 


It’s also a shame that the hierarchy starting with the president doesn’t come out and advise these monks to stay clear of politics and engage in spreading the Dhamma. For the record Ven. Somarama, who killed SWRD, despite being a qualified eye specialist, was blind to the truths in life. Most of these monks who are contesting the upcoming elections are also in the same boat!

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  • Connie Thursday, 16 July 2020 06:09 PM

    Aren't the sangha meant to withdraw from the world on their path to attaining Nirvana?


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