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The shame of Buddhists

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 29 September 2017 00:00

By T. Mallawatantri

The matter I wish to write about today is not one of the subjects usually featured in the prestigious Daily FT, namely business, finance and corporate news, but I feel it is appropriate to highlight it so that the attention of FT readers is drawn to an alarming development.

Five to six decades ago, we were proud to call ourselves Sinhala Buddhists because, we, the Sri Lankans   were considered a compassionate and tolerant nation. I recall a photograph of a Buddhist priest in Sri Lanka in the Time magazine in early seventies, walking with his head bowed, bare feet and a serene expression on his face. As a Buddhist, I felt proud about this picture. This image is completely changed now. What we see now in foreign and local TV news as well as in foreign press and magazines is of very belligerent and violent Buddhist monks with their robes raised in a manner slighting the dignity of the sacred yellow robe.

The so-called disciples of Buddha, the enlightened one who preached metta and karuna or compassion, have transformed themselves into savage individuals, at times acting like marauding beasts. They claim to protect Buddhism against threats from other faiths going to the extent of destroying places of worship of other religions and abusing even hapless women and children. 

A basic doctrine of Buddhism is impermanence, also called anicca or anitya, which asserts that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent or inconstant,” which applies even to the Buddha Sasana. So there is no need for anyone to protect Buddhism against so-called threats. 

In recent times, we have witnessed some of these marauding gangs led by saffron robed monks attacking and torching shops and houses belonging to Muslims in Aluthgama, torching one or two leading business establishments in Pepiliyana and other places, desecrating mosques and Christian churches, invading and holding hostage of officials at the Buddhist Affairs Ministry and abusing Sandya Eknaligoda in open court. All in the name of protecting and fighting on behalf of Sinhala Buddhists. It is a crying shame that the Buddhist leadership of the Sangha are maintaining a stoic silence when these incidents occur.

And now, they have invaded a safe house belonging to the office of the UN High Commissioner for refugees in Mount Lavinia where 31 Rohingya Muslims were held in protective custody pending processing of their relocation to another country. These refugees have fled from the violent attackers in Myanmar, more than a year ago and were trying to find a safer place leaving the shores of India and found adrift in the northern waters of Sri Lanka by the Navy in April this year. 

After they were produced in the Magistrate’s Court, they were sent to the Mirihana Illicit Immigrant Detention Centre and handed over to UNHCR authorities till their fate was determined. Meanwhile, the extremists and petty Sinhala politicians spread wild stories in social media and by word of mouth that these refugees were terrorists who attacked and killed Buddhist monks in Myanmar. 

The monks here acted in cohort with ultra nationalist and extremist Buddhist monks in Myanmar and invaded the safe house in Mount Lavinia, abusing and attacking the inmates including women and children. The Sri Lankan authorities in conjunction with the UNHCR moved them to the Boossa camp in Galle for their safety.

Interested parties and mischief makers spread stories that thousands of Rohingya Muslims have landed in Sri Lanka and the authorities here are accommodating them. 

It is an accepted principle in the teachings of Buddha that one should provide food and shelter within one’s capacity, to destitute persons. The marauding Buddhist monks with the help of their mobs are acting in contrast to this compassionate principle and putting all of us Buddhists to shame. 

I think it is time the professionals, business leaders, intelligentsia and the right-thinking people stand up firmly against this uncontrollable extremism and influence the peace loving people of Sri Lanka to abhor the petty-minded extremism and pseudo patriotism, fanned by certain politicians whose only aim is to grab power again to embezzle the wealth of this country.

Let us stand together against extremism and show compassion to all.

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