Ven Samitha has been one politician who has voiced his concerns against attempts by foreign nations to interfere in the islands affairs
The crowning moment for Ven Samitha came in 2001 when he was elected to parliament after contesting the General Elections under the People’s Alliance ticket
Ven Samitha said that the facilities and allowances given to him would be utilised to help the poor
The monk then enrolled at Lancaster University and completed his degree; specialising in comparative religions and 3rd World development’
The passing away of Buddhist monk Baddegama Samitha Thera (1952-2021) would be felt more in the political scene than in the renounced world of saffron robed monks. This is largely because of his involvement in politics and also because of the fact that he became Sri Lanka’s first Buddhist monk to enter parliament.
When he passed away on May 30 he was still in active politics and a supporter of the government. But he was a firebrand monk and spoke against any attempt or activity that undermined the sovereignty and security of this country. We remember how he staged a protest against the American State Secretary’s visit to Sri Lanka. The monk maintained that Sri Lanka should not side with either the USA or China in the battle for global supremacy.
The late Baddegama Samitha Thera
The monk was also against the proposals to sign the MCC and SOFA agreements. Samitha Thera affirmed that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) could not afford to antagonize USA of China and also shouldn’t anger India. He underscored the need to stop borrowing money from other countries and wanted the country’s lawmakers to put Sri Lanka’s economy in order.
Unlike the majority of Sri Lankan lawmakers Samitha Thera had a sound education. He had a checkered life. His studentship was suspended at the Kelaniya University because he was accused of killing a person while being involved in a student clash. But the monk’s will to complete his education was too strong. He then enrolled at Lancaster University and completed his degree; specialising in comparative religions and 3rd World development’. On his return to Sri Lanka he joined the Ex-Committee of the NSSP. In 1991 he entered mainstream politics.
Despite officially being a member of the clergy Ven Samitha set his vision in worldly politics. He travelled extensively and gained much knowledge by attending seminars. His focus was on development and 3rd world countries.
In latter years he joined the LSSP. But that was after much success with the NSSP where he garnered 3000 preferential votes at the Local Government elections.
He was engaged in mainstream politics at a time when people were slowly accepting the entrance of saffron robed monks in active politics. Till then monks were playing an advisory role and throwing their weight behind governments and kings. His education proved to be an added qualification, but even then being educated didn’t give a Sri Lankan lawmaker extra attention or due recognition.
The crowning moment for him came in 2001 when he was elected to parliament after contesting the General Elections under the People’s Alliance ticket. He represented the Galle District.
But this being a Buddhist majority country Ven Samitha’s entry to parliament came under criticism of the chief incumbents of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters. But the Thera’s passage to parliament was well secured by then because a large section of the Buddhist clergy backed his political journey. The priest’s detractors brought up the point that in the event a monk is made subservient to parliamentary standing orders it would bring disrepute to the clergy (Sanga). The point raised was whether the monk present in parliament would have to rise from his seat when the Speaker entered the chamber? The monk was then advised to enter the Parliament chamber after the Speaker had taken his seat; to avoid the issue raised as the question. A newspaper headline that read ‘Honorable Venerable!’ underscored the fact that this monk with a vision was accepted in parliament even by the media.
The Thera viewed the achievement of entering parliament as a significant victory not only for him but for Buddhism as well. The priest was quoted in newspapers saying that his goal was to bring justice to the people. He added that his work was totally in line with the spirit of Buddha Dhamma. He also said that the facilities and allowances given to him would be utilised to help the poor. For the record he used his vehicle permit to buy an ambulance for the people. There are those who vouch for the fact that Ven Samitha had an outstanding commitment to improve the lives of the suffering masses.
He was in active politics at a time when the civil war was at a crucial stage apart from the country having just faced a tsunami. He was one of the monks who supported a move by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to have a Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure to supervise tsunami fund sharing. Even the LTTE was supportive of this move by the government. Ven Samitha was of the view that the Tamil leadership had supported an armed struggle because there was a breakdown in the democratic process.
The religion Ven Samitha practised talks about an end or a shelf life for even the best people and products that are termed invincible. The monk lost his parliamentary seat at the 2004 General elections. He was then relegated to serve the provincial council.
He continued to be in politics and for those who questioned him about ‘touching money’- a precept that’s strictly practised by monks-he shot back by saying “I don’t see anything wrong in getting money as long as I utilize it in the correct way”.
He surfaced again at the 2020 Parliamentary Elections representing the Podujana Peramuna, but failed to achieve any worthwhile success.
Buddhism’s law of impermanence is not only striking it puts people who walk the corridors of power in their place. Records about Ven Samitha don’t reveal anything to say that all the political power went to his head. He used the privileges of being in politics to better the lives of the less affluent and the less fortunate.
As for Ven Samitha’s spiritual journey it was put on hold during this life because his heart was too large to be a self-centred individual.