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On the trail of a fasting monk

5 June 2019 01:05 am - 3     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Ven.Rathana Thera communicates with Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith during the Fast

Ven.Rathana Thera became a rebel during a four-day fast where he shed his role as a survivor in politics. This priest, who has the habit of clinging on to individuals with power for his benefit, suddenly saw throngs of people supporting his cause. The prelate laydown in protest and staged a fast near the ‘Temple of the Tooth’ demanding the resignations of the Governors of Western and Eastern Province and that of minister Rishad Bathiudeen. All three have been labelled as extremists by hard-line Sinhala Buddhists. 

Rathana Thera’s undertaking reminds us of the fast on to death staged by the late LTTE cadre R.Parthipan who was operating under the the nom de guerre, A. Thileepan. Thileepan put down five conditions if he was to stop his fast because he was angered by the presence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the country. Thileepan died (The year was 1987) after 11 days of severe fasting and never realised his goals. But this Buddhist monk became an instant hero with the masses who have become both vociferous and boisterous while celebrating on the streets. 

Rathana Thera won; that’s what the masses think. But a close analysis of this whole episode would make a thinking man figure out that the priest put the Government on the back foot and breathed some oxygen into his political career; which was in limbo.  


  • This priest probably failed in his endeavours because he shunned taking the advice of experts
  • The Buddhist teachings specify that ‘having renounced everything worldly, the Bikku lives essentially in the present
  • At present we witness a trend where the clergy is coming to the fore during a time of crisis
  • The Government passively watched the proceedings when Ven Rathana Thera staged the protest

To be truthful Ven. Rathana Thera was almost bankrupt in politics. His campaigns like the battle against the use of drugs (intoxicants), the promotion of carbonic food, the battle against the use of Glyphosate in agriculture and helping people deal with the Chronic Kidney Disease fluttered like a bird beginning its flight, but flopped. He even functioned as one of the advisers to President Sirisena, but resigned from this post. This priest probably failed in his endeavours because he shunned taking the advice of experts. For the record those who were entrusted with duties in carrying out his programmes were his close associates and experts. That’s how this priest has carried out his activities in this ‘material’ world. 

Buddhist teachings

This is a time when the Sinhalese majority is looking for a leader who doesn’t sway and stands firm when taking decisions. That leadership hasn’t come from Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe who has formed the present Government. There was a public outcry after scores of swords and other material, which would be used in terrorist activities, were found in mosques. If the hard-line Sinhalese were struggling to get their voice heard, about the extremist groups and their activities, Ven.Gnanasara Thera gave them a shot in the arm. Still, despite bellowing at public gatherings, Gnanasara Thera couldn’t force these two Muslim Governors and Minister Bathiudeen to resign from their posts. 

That’s when Ven. Rathana entered the scene. Like a politicians would, he grabbed the opportunity that the situation presented. One can’t blame the prelate because he is at present a member of parliament; a position he can’t hold according to Buddhist teachings. The Buddhist teachings specify that ‘having renounced everything worldly, the Bikku claims no property, does not regret his past, does not worry about the future and lives essentially in the present; free from responsibilities and the trammels of the world’. 

But Sri Lanka’s past where she fought battles against the British, Dutch and the Portuguese only supports the cause of monks of the likes of Gnanasara and Rathana Thera. Behind every revolution or war there has been the backing or the full presence of monks; sometime these priests derobing to chip into the national cause. 

Ven. Rathana’s arrival at the scene where the fast later took place, the ending of the fast and the monk being taken to the hospital were accompanied by chants of blessings ‘sadu sadu’ by Buddhist devotees.  

To be truthful Ven. Rathana Thera was almost bankrupt in politics. His campaigns like the battle against the use of drugs (intoxicants), the promotion of carbonic food, the battle against the use of Glyphosate in agriculture and helping people deal with the Chronic Kidney Disease fluttered like a bird beginning its flight, but flopped

Rathana Thera showed in no uncertain terms the power behind a Buddhist institution and individuals clad in saffron robes. Very recently a Muslim woman from Kolangoda was arrested by the Hasalaka Police because she was clad in an attire which had a symbol which was similar to the Buddhist Dharmachakra. There is a speculation that there wasn’t any evidence to show that the woman had breached any law by misbehaving in this attire. It is reported that she ws arrested largely due to pressure exerted by the public in the area. 

At present we witness a trend where the clergy is coming to the fore during a time of crisis. At the Temple of the Tooth we did see Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith checking on Ven. Rathana’s condition. The former has come in for praise by even non-Christians for the role he played in calming down the Catholic community to avoid a backlash following the series of bomb blasts where three churches were targeted among other locations. Lawmakers are fast losing appeal in this country as a result. For the record politicians Duminda Dissanayake and Wasantha Senanayake were heckled at the ‘Temple of the Tooth’ when they tried to speak to the monk who was fasting. 

The Government did nothing to stop the series of bombs that were let off despite the prior warnings that were given. The Government passively watched the proceedings when Ven Rathana Thera staged the protest. What would have happened if the Muslim minister and the two Governors didn’t resign and the monk’s condition deteriorated? What if the worst happened to the monk akin to Thileepan?

When Thileepan died, LTTE supremo Prabakaran is said to have capitalised on this loss of life. Prabakaran had used the death to fuel tension among the Sinhalese and the Tamils. May be the Government would have gained politically if the monk’s health deteriorated and rang alarm bells; in terms of medical terms. If the fasting episode had affected the monk medically or in any other way there would have been unrest in the country; just what this regime needs to put off the presidential elections scheduled before the year ends.  

But Ven.Rathana has not only strengthened the resolve of monks, he has also lifted himself up from a politically useless position. He along with monks in the likes of Ven.Gnanasara have given hard line Sinhala Buddhists something to chew on in a country where politics has dished out a hope akin to stale bread.

  Comments - 3

  • Buruwa Thursday, 06 June 2019 06:29 AM

    Please let public know the reason of choosing Thileepan for fast un to death. he was suffering from cancer and had very few months to live. VP just gave away a life few months or weeks before Thileepan's final day.

    Ghouse Thursday, 06 June 2019 01:43 PM

    Helping politicians to achieve their hidden agenda by a respected religious figure is disgusting. What's he up to? Enter politics?

    Nalinda Jayasinghe Friday, 07 June 2019 03:07 PM

    Now Mahanayake theros issue a joint statement requesting all Muslim ministers to resume duties in same portfolios. Then why did they allow Rathana thero to do this fasting without objecting??


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