The activities of firebrand monk Ven.Gnanasara Thera in society makes us take a closer look at the ‘role of the Buddhist monk’ in the politics of the country.
The thera has called for religious leaders to take the lead and backs his request by forming an opinion that politicians cannot be trusted. Gnanasara Thera’s wishes also include among other things the assembling of a massive Sangha Sabawa (Buddhist audience) on July 7. As it is this monk’s release from prison and the clout he has within Buddhist circles have the potential to make the Government authorities sit up and take note of his demands.
Ven.Gnanasara has always been at loggerheads with the Muslim community. However he now maintains that problems are caused only by some extremists and that the entire Muslim community is not at fault.
Before Ven. Gnanasara surfaced in the political scene there were other monks in the history of Sri Lanka who pressurised the regime to fall in line with the general thinking and wishes of the people.
From the time Anagarika Dharmapala strengthened the relationship between Buddhism and the society, we’ve seen many revolutions initiated by saffron robed monks. Sri Lanka’s history witnessed a high point in the politicizing of monks with the assassination of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaiake. The premier was gunned down by Ven.Thalduwe Somarama and the killing was masterminded by Ven. Buddharakhitha. Records reveal that Ven.Somarama was a politically victimised individual. Even if that assassination left a black mark, Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka strengthened their resolve over the years to make places where Buddhism was practices privileged institutes.
Over centuries Buddhist monks have maintained healthy relationships with the Sri Lankan kings or rulers and have played an advisory role. There is a reason for this, as the history of the country has been closely linked with Buddhism since the advent of Arahat Mahinda thera.
Even today the heart of Buddhism is in the central hills and the positions of Chief prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwathu Chapters have been held by those representing the cream of the society.
We also see politicians from all parties making regular visits to the temples of the Asigiriya and Malwathu chapters to keep the two Chief Prelates informed about the political happenings of the country. It goes without saying that though politicians frequent these temples, these Buddhist leaders do have their favourite political parties and lawmakers.
Critics who wish to see the monk’s role restricted to the precincts of the temple only have to turn the pages of time and observe that behind every revolution there had been the influence or the hands of monks. Sri Lanka’s history also highlights instances when monks disrobed to join the ‘army’ and strengthened the national cause during wars and rebellions.
Sri Lanka’s monk order may have its differences, but all spoke in one voice during the assembling of the Sangha Council in 2017 when a decision had to be taken whether the country needed a new Constitution or whether amendments needed to be made to this most valuable piece of legislation.
Despite the lofty status enjoyed by the Chief Prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwathu Chapters, Ven. Gnanasara, the present Gen. Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena, is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in terms Sinhala Buddhist ideology. Hard-line Sinhala Buddhist have backed Ven.Gnanasara and see him as a leader who can give back the clout that the majority race lost at the 2015 Presidential Elections. In this context the present government is looked upon as pro-Western and its policies have not gone well with the Buddhist order of the country. It is interesting to note Ven. Gnanasara stating recently that he wishes to see the chief prelates of these chapters putting a stop to the visits of politicians to these temples. Ven.Gnanasara’s wish is to see the chief prelates of temples summoning the leaders of political parties and instructing them about what needs to be done for the country.
Monks like Ven. Gnanasara want the clergy to play a bigger role in the administration of the country. Whether the majority see eye to eye with this monk or whether they wish to see a new brand of political leadership disciplining this nation is to be seen soon.