By Praveen Attanayake
The Bill to prevent Bhikkus from entering Parliament would have looked like just one of those heroic Bills by the opposition. Yet, the incidents that have come to light in the wake of the much anticipated debate go to show that the proposed provision is just the tip of the iceberg.
A few weeks ago, during a ceremony to open a newly-built temple complex of a prominent Buddhist monk and a preacher, the presence of a certain foreign envoy raised many an eyebrow. The temple complex itself drew a great deal of criticism for the extravagance it symbolized and many were of the view that it defies the principles of Theravada Buddhism that had become the way of life of the Sinhala Buddhists for many centuries.
The envoy’s questionable tenure in the country and role in the temple opening, hint of a highly-organized act of sabotage to mutilate pure Theravada Buddhism. However, the curtain has fallen now. Several Buddhist organizations are already tracing the foreign involvement behind these thwarting attempts.
The Bill, if passed, will be the work of those unknown forces, who up until now, have appeared in many faces outside Parliament. Hence, those who approve the Bill on its face value should be mindful of the fact that, this is just the beginning of an end.
Since time immemorial, the Maha Sangha had been playing a vital role in maintaining good governance. Even during the time of the Buddha, their advice was much sought after in matters of importance. They were mediators and peacekeepers. Buddhist literature bears evidence to the wars that were stopped thanks to the pragmatism and humanism of the Bhikkus. In the modern sense of democracy, the higher place they were given in governance lessened the chance of a ruler becoming a dictator. Times have changed. Kingdoms have become governments. Instead of going by the inheritance, rulers are selected by the people.
Yet, the roles of adviser and mediator played by the Maha Sangha remained unchanged. Thus, the now developing idea that, being part of the legislature does not become the role of a Bhikku, is contradicted by history. And those who raise cries for reasons that are best known to themselves are defeated by the evidence that has proved otherwise.
The Buddha preached his doctrine for the benefit of the people. The Dhamma was for the spiritual development of society. The disciples who took after him saw that the trend remained unbroken. The Maha Sangha who marched to Parliament did nothing but continue the tradition.
Besides, preventing a citizen from engaging in politics is a violation of fundamental rights. The Buddhist monks, or any clergy for that matter, cannot be considered as an exception.
The Buddha, if he had kept himself to the temple, would not have been able to show the path to the likes of Suneetha, Sopaka and Patachara. If the Buddhist monks played the role of statues when the country was oppressed by British rule, we would have still been a colony. The political culture implemented by the pioneer Buddhist monks, fulfilled a dire need felt by society. It was the call of the country. Hence, it is in their hands to decide whether to continue or to step back. Not anybody or any bill can set deadlines for the Bhikkus.