The clergy should get off the backs of Sri Lankans

Thursday, 23 May 2019 01:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • Case of Mangala vs. Cardinal and Mawaraliye Baddhiya


Why clergy is not suited to advice, anymore

Once again I observe the Sri Lankan clergy coming out to ‘advice’ Sri Lankans in this time of crisis. The sim-ple fact is that they are not competent any longer to occupy a privileged position in the advisory panel. In the ancient days of the kings, it would have, understandably, been a different situation when Buddhist clergy represented the educated class and pirivenas were the centres of learning. Since then, the narra-tive took a different turn. Now, the lay educated classes are way above the knowledge level of monks in general. 

Minister Mangala Samaraweera
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
Ven. Mawaraliye Baddhiya

As a matter of fact the monks should think twice before giving bana these days. I have hardly listened to a sound and insightful bana for ages. Banas have become ignorant yawns and the occasion is more for so-cialising.

How many of our monks have had a general education above A/Level – which is the basic minimum? Most of them spend their time in temples memorising Pali texts and studying languages. Even those with degrees are tightly framed within the ancient languages. They learn no economics, sociology, psychology, politics, anthropology, science, literature, etc. They are never in touch with global discourse over topics of contemporary relevance.

The Christian seminaries are a bit better curriculum-wise but, here too, at bottom those aspiring to be-come priests have barely A/Levels. They get bogged down to a life of mucking up the Bible and other sa-cred texts. This is theology, and theology does not impart knowledge of the empirical world. Theology cannot yield knowledge about existential life.


Clergy on the political stage

However ignorant, the Sangha has clout in our society because of the robe they put on. Hence, politicians love them. Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cohorts address them reverently as “Ape Hamuduruwane”! As a youth studying at Peradeniya long ago, I witnessed what most of today’s Sri Lankans did not. S.W.R.D. Bandranaike and his MEP brought the clergy onto the stage in 1956 and gave them a big place. The slogan then was, “Veda, Guru, Sangha, Govi, Kamkaru”! 

Banda won with a thumping majority. Within two years, two monks murdered him! They were Bud-dharakkhita and Somarama. I have vivid memories of visiting the chambers of Buddharakkhita at Kelaniya Rajamahavihara. As a youth in impressionable years it was a shock to see bottles of whisky, gin and wine! But every Buddhist had to worship the bloke. Had Buddharakkhita not assassinated a VIP he, perhaps, would never have seen a jail cell.

Post Buddharakkhita, ordinary people began chasing away political monks and for many decades we did not see these saffrons on stage. Particularly, with the coming of the ‘jaathyalaya’ regime of Mahinda Ra-japaksa, the political monks were back again in full fold. Some even had the audacity to enter Parliament.


Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith

People’s memories being short, we now see a resurgence of monks. The Catholic Cardinal Most Revd. Malcolm Ranjith has also joined the latter, making politically correct pronouncements all the time as crowd -pleasers.  Before Malcolm Ranjith, Catholic clergy kept a dignified distance from politicians. At local level some of these did engage in political canvassing but that had been discrete and not widespread.

We heard our Cardinal pontificate the other day that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country! Did he realise that he was compromising his own Catholic flock to a secondary position as citizens? Virtual guests? The latter must pick the crumbs left over by Sinhala Buddhists? No right to demand equality of treatment? Poor Malcolm Ranjith does not know the logical implications of his public utterances. 


“Hire a monk” has become a political strategy. The former President has a virtual headquarters in a tem-ple at Narahenpita. This sync is a living one and the trend is dangerous both to the Buddhist religion and to our politics


I have had occasion in the past to draw references to this Cardinal’s political flirtations during Mahinda’s regime. One of my readers, a PhD Catholic columnist for Colombo Telegraph, commented that this sacred gentleman had placated the former President for favours in the way of getting his relatives into the For-eign Service. If this were true there we go…

On another occasion, the Cardinal mentioned as a reason for the rise of the new terrorism the change that took place in government.

Undoubtedly, the Cardinal had to have a say when the slaughter of the ISIS took place in churches during mass. No grudge over that. But remember the Cardinal initially urged the destruction of the attackers but soon became more Christ-like by uttering Mother Teresa language. Over this simple one-act transfor-mation somebody thought the Cardinal was fit for the Nobel Prize for Peace. We are aware that the No-bel Prize is never awarded for singular acts of micro behaviour like this – except for American leaders like Obama who got it for uttering mere niceties and pleasantries. Unfortunately, our Cardinal is not of Obama standing.


Ven. Mawaraliye Baddhiya

The monk Ven. Mawaraliye Baddhiya is the new rising star among public advisors. He was brought in to speak before a big audience the other day at the BMICH. He looked around for Cardinal Ranjith who had been invited. Malcolm Ranjith, in an act of rare wisdom, had not attended. However, Speaker Karu Jaya-suriya was there and some others of the educated fraternity. His speech is viral over YouTube.  

Mawaraliye Baddhiya showed the demeanour of a true Rahathan wahanse – speaking as he did softly, to the point and in a careful and benevolent tone and manner. However, he mischievously tried to put the security lapse on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. 

He said: “Our Prime Minister did not attend Security Council meetings because he was not in good terms with President Sirisena.” This was a lie (musawaada) and herein the monk violated one of the precepts. The fact is that the PM was not officially a part of the Security Council and this had been a deliberate omission by the man of the Maitree Yugaya. The monk cast no blame on the Opposition’s role. 

Revd. Mawaraliye Baddhiya also used the occasion to flay Minister Mangala Samaraweera over the lat-ter’s statement that Sri Lanka did not belong to Sinhala Buddhists. As we shall see, Mangala had a valid point, which he thought he must express unafraid. On the other hand Revd. Mawaraliye set that aside.

The monk’s hidden agenda was disclosed. However, the gullible in the audience saw the monk as one about to shoot up to Rahath status. Hope he does not start walking on flowers and having lavish birthday parties like the one who has gone famous over claims of having reached Rahath!


Corruption has taken over the Sangha

There is no denying the obvious: Our Sangha has become largely politicised and corrupt. This is yet anoth-er reason why the Sangha can no longer be advisor. Corruption and politicisation go together. Our politi-cians are using members of the Sangha to push their own selfish agendas. Few among this august body have been able to withstand the pressures that material perks bring. 

“Hire a monk” has become a political strategy. Former President has a virtual headquarters in a temple at Narahenpita. This sync is a living one and the trend is dangerous both to the Buddhist religion and to our politics. One monk publicly advised Gota to become a Hitler.


Mangala Samaraweera’s sin

Against a background of political duplicity, political humbug, and political mendaciousness, Minister Man-gala Samaraweera impresses as a public figure who is unafraid to speak the truth. Mangala has been do-ing any job given to him very competently and today he stands as a very sound Minister of Finance. Un-like the UNP’s upper flank of Deputy Leaders, party organisers and so on, Mangala fights for his Leader and his Government.

Now, what is the sin that Revd. Mawaraliye talks of that Mangala had committed? The Minister said that Sri Lanka belongs to all Sri Lankans and that, therefore, it is erroneous to call the island a Sinhala Buddhist country. 

By itself the island known as Sri Lanka is a mere landmass. Along with demographic changes of popula-tions the composition of the population of all such countries changes. This is a natural process. What would happen in the future one never knows.  What if the Chinese take over? Right now, Sri Lanka has a big majority of Sinhala Buddhists. This does not give Sinhala Buddhists any birth right of national owner-ship. 


Minister’s logic

The Minister had a purpose in making this utterance. He wanted to set out the logic of the necessity of all inhabitants in the country living in harmony and cooperation. Any claims of superior position by one seg-ment of the demography necessarily has the potential for violence. Our recent history has proved this at great cost to the nation. Sinhala Buddhists must wipe this out of our minds if we are to keep peace. 

Directly or indirectly, consciously or subconsciously, most Sinhala Buddhists bear this notion of superiority. Most of our monks, too, share and pedal this dangerous ideology. Politicians revel in this idea and exploit that to the full.

Sri Lanka can never retain peace on this basis. Most persons – lay or clergy – are too focused on petty is-sues of inter-ethnic relative privilege. This makes us a population geared to bicker within ourselves. The overarching need to make correct economic policy that encourage prosperity recedes into the back-ground whereas that should be in the foreground. Crushing another ethnic or religious group becomes more important. The country is going down the drain.


Our national priority

Minister Mangala Samaraweera has solidly avoided this kind of parochialism. He shares the view of the Prime Minister as to what the country should head for if it is to lift itself from poverty and enter the realm of propserity; they have both identified the central dynamic required for that. The dynamic is to energise entrepreneurship.  The project captioned ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ is just that. This is the road to prosperity. 

Our monks and clergy in general have never been known to focus on the real thing. They must, surely, quit advising us. 

(The writer can be reached via

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