Disgraceful behaviour of Buddhist Monks in Universities, and the role of the Maha Nayaka Theros. (Updated)
Posted on October 29th, 2010

by Charles.S.Perera

Sri Lanka  being a Buddhist country of  the Theravada tradition allowing the Buddhist Monks into Universities after removal of the Pirivena system of Buddhist education  ,was the greatest wrong done to Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. We are reaping the “sins” of that act to-day  with  the Buddhist Monks in the role  of  “hooligans” and “street rioters”.

 What are our Asgiriya and  Malwatta Mahanayaka Theros going to about this disastrous situation ? 

 The Mahanayaka theors are quick to step in to make statements when it concerns politicians, such as their demand  for the release of Sarath Fonseka from the prison,  but when the Buddha Sasana is in peril, with the young monks in universities who are looked up to by the Buddhists as the protectors of Buddha Sasana are behaving disgracefully without any respect to the yellow robe they wear.

 The Mahanayaka Theros have not made any statements  so far or made a request to the miscreants to behave according to the calling of their vocation. The Mahanayake Theros are absent in an hour of need when the Buddha Sasana is in danger.

 On the other hand the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is becoming more authoritative and begins to speak loud on matters that do not even concern them, with a Cardinal named by the Pope to give them more  weight in their  effort to dictate terms to the government and Westernise  the poor Tamils in the North and East. Christianising is westernising, because Christianity is not  indigenous   to our country,  other than it being a remnant of the Colonialism.

 In that situation it is sad to see that the Buddhist Order of the Sangha in Sri Lanka  seem to drift without a proper leadership. The  most offensive behaviour  of the young  Buddhist Monks is the failure of the Mahanayaka Theros to organise the Order of the Sangha, by  calling the three Nikayas to Unite to  find  ways to put an end  to the indiscipline of the Student Monks in Universities who left to themselves will  destroy the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka.

 If the Buddhist monks had been properly educated at the feet of a preceptor as it had been done before, even a Monk entering a Universities will behave as expected of him keeping the patimokkha-the vinaya rules.  The monks in the universities should be the  buffer against unruly indisciplined lay students,  keeping them in check advising them to respect their elders, the professors and the Vice Chancellor, and maintain decorum .

 But what is happening is quite the opposite. The Buddhist priests according to the teachings  should be worthy of the offerings of the laity, their devotion  and  respects. The lay Buddhists prostrate at their feet as the disciples of the Buddha. But these monks  in the universities do not behave as the disciples of the  Buddha.

  The Buddha expected from his disciples a very high standard tolerance. In one of his discourses he says:

 “Even, o monks should robbers and murders saw through your limbs and joints, whoever should give way to anger thereat would not be following my advice. For thus ought you to train yourselves: ‘Undisturbed shall our mind remain, with heart full of love, and free from hidden malice; and that person shall we penetrate with loving-thoughts, wide, deep, boundless, freed from anger and hatred” (Majjhima Nikaya 21).

  How can this great lesson of patience be related to these most ignoble  trouble making university students in yellow robes ?

 The aggressive University monks, are far from what we expect of  them as “Buddhist monks”. They are different in  their physical appearance with  unshaven  heads, improperly clad  in robes of varied colours. The Buddhist monks in the Sri Lanka Universities do not even look  like  the Hindu Sadus at the Ganges river. 

 Among these ignoble yellow robed men in universities, there may be a handful of good student monks  brought in  through force or fear to the rank of the unruly.   Are these  unruly university monks the disciples of the Buddha or  those of Devadatta ?

 The JVP is responsible for making this  sad situation where the monks in the universities have become un-Buddhist, not  fit to receive the devotion and the respect of the lay Buddhists. In a village in Kandy a  politically active person was  believed to had been shot dead  by a  young Buddhist monk who was a member of the JVP.

 The Nayaka Priests of the Temples from which these  student monks  come are partly if not wholely responsible for the scandalous behaviour of the student monks in the Univercities. 

 The Venerable  Maduluwawe Sobitha thero  the monk who wanted to go to prison with five hundred other monks in place of Sarath Fonseka, does not seem to be troubled by the misbehaviour of the monks in the Universities.  Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhita thero’s duty is to the Buddha Sasana and the Order of the Sangha,  and not to meddle in matters best left to the lay people.

 A Buddhist monk is a lay person who has given up his household comforts  to follow the path of a Buddhist Monk  detached from the burdens of a layman and devote his life to learn the scriptures and to meditate.  But unfortunately today a large number  of these  Buddhist  monks have come from discomfort of their homes to seek comfort, to enter universities not to learn the Buddhist scriptures, but  study more lucrative  worldly subjects , economics, law  etc., and get employed, and while in Universities join the trouble makers to imitate them, making manifestations and beat the Vice Chancellors, the Lecturers and the University employees.

 What an example for  a Buddhist Country known to be the treasure house of the true teachings of  the Buddha ?

 If this trend is allowed to continue we will soon have no real Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka,  and  the Sri Lankans  may have to go abroad to learn Theravada Buddhism from Western monks more devoted and following more assiduously the vinaya rules, robed  and move like  Buddhist Monks during  the golden age of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

 As a young man interested in Buddhism I once asked  a Village Monk to explain to me  the practice of Buddhist meditation .  But he was very frank and told me that he cannot help me as he had not meditated and referred me to another.  But for that matter that priest was not  less Buddhist, because he was pious  very helpful to the villagers who treated him with great  respect. He was always well shaven correctly robed.  When the Priest of the temple went out they went one following the other according to their seniority.  It was a very pleasant sight that inspired respect and devotion. Those sights are perhaps rare now  in our Buddhist Sri Lanka.

 It is time that the government looks into reforms of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. The first step in this respect is  to re-establish the Pirivena system of education.  The Buddhist monks should not be mixed with the lay students. They should not be put together with women students.  One important training of a Buddhist priest is to live a life of chastity,  avoiding  sexual temptation. 

 It is possible to avoid  sensuous lust through meditation, and concentrated  Buddhist scriptural studies.  Shortly before the Buddha died, Venerable Ananda asked him a question concerning women: “How shall we relate to women, Master?” “”‚ “Do not look at them.” “”‚ “But if one sees one, Master?” “”‚ “Do not address her.” “”‚ “But if one talks to us?” “”‚ “Keep mindfulness and self-control.” (DN 16).  This is in the training of a Buddhist disciple.

 Meditation practice enables one to subdue and  keep away arising of  lust and sensual desire. 

 Therefore the  Prime Minister of Sri Lanka who is  also the Minister of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs, should   provide facilities  for every temple in Sri Lanka to create a monastic environment for the monks to make meditation  an essential part of their life, with individual kuties for the resident monks to meditate.

 The Government  is  preparing to introduce IT training  to Buddhist monks. It should not be made another means for them to seek employment out side the vocation for which they have don the priestly robes.. It may  distance the religion from the Monk, unless  the training and the experience  gained by such training  is  used in a completely Buddhist environment.

 The Buddhist discipline should be inculcated into a priest from the time he enters the order as a novice. If one takes a walk around the Asgiriya temple,  it is likely to see young priests smoking behind the temple and pass their time indulging in small talk and gossiping among themselves, both  of which come under prohibited way of passing time- idle chatter.

 Idle chatter has to be understood in the following sense :The fourth statement of the Buddha about Right Speech was to abstain from idle chatter. In other words, to avoid frivolous speech and pointless talk that has no depth. Instead, one should speak appropriately at the right moment in accordance with the facts, saying what is useful, speaking of subjects like the Dhamma and the discipline.

 One should abstain  from talking and listening to chatter which is shallow and only stirs up defilements and restless thoughts which can lead one astray. One should abstain from any sort of loose talk or valueless patter which leaves the mind vacant and sterile. This is especially true of frivolous entertainments which block development on a higher, spiritual, aesthetic, contemplative level.

 The opposite of idle chatter is to make every word have meaning, so that speech becomes like a treasure, uttered appropriately, at the right moment, accompanied by moderation, reason, and good sense, inspiring listeners in matters of good conduct and the pursuit of the path. Another thing to remember is that while speech has its place, meditation leaves the limits of speech behind. Calm is the opposite of restless chatter. Thus ends the discussion of Right Speech. “

 On the  full moon days and the new moon days the Buddhists monks meet to recite the Vinaya rules  . Those monks who have broken any rule  confess  it in open assembly of monks. This ritual should be strictly imposed  including monks in universities.  This may be an encouragement  to keep within the  strict Buddhist vinaya, and keep away from mixing with unruly lay elements in Universities. An essential quality of a monk is also to practice “aloneness” , not mixing freely with the others, thus avoiding involvement in un-priestly chatter or  activities.

 A Buddhist Monk is a symbol of our Buddhist culture, our civilisation, our relation with all Communities with whom we live. That important position a monk holds in our society should be instilled into the minds of the Buddhist Monks in the Universities. 

 If they do not respect this situation and continue in their rebellious attitude they should be disrobed. It is time that the Maha Sangha of the three Nikaya, take that responsibility in the name of Theravada Buddhism.

4 Responses to “Disgraceful behaviour of Buddhist Monks in Universities, and the role of the Maha Nayaka Theros. (Updated)”

  1. herman Says:

    I agree that the Maha Nayaka Theros in particular and the government in general must take immediate drastic measures to take action against these aggressive Universities “monks”. Failing which the public should “boycott” these “monks” and not respect and feed them just as the people did during the time of the Buddha.

    We cannot compare Buddhism to Christianity since we do not have a “Shepard” to lead the “sheeps”. The Maha Nayaka Theros can do very little given that each monk is answerable for his actions and is “free”. However, the way the Maha Nayaka Theros can help is to refrain from politics and instead concentrate in the propagation of the Buddha Dhamma so as to ensure that they train these young disciples under their care to be Good human beings to society and to uphold the Noble doctrine – Buddha Dhamma.

  2. Siri Says:

    I congratulate you on a very well written article. I can add nothing more than what you have said. However, being a Sinhalese baptised Catholic, I agree with you about the Clergy getting into the role of advisor to the Government. Especially a Cardinal should know that running of a country and questioning decisions of the high court is not his business. He should know that even Jesus Christ has said give unto Ceaser what is Ceaser’s and unto God what is his. I am a Sri lankan first and a Catholic next. Even after emigrating over thirty years ago I still remain loyal to my motherland Sri Lanka. This is something all Sri Lankan Catholics should keep in mind if they want to live peacefully, and not think that their allegiance lies with the Vatican which is a part of the Western Powers.

  3. Raj Says:

    Self appointed advisers to the politicians must disciline their own creed before telling the government what not to do.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    The Buddhist Elders in each Province should form Committees to decide on a course of action to clean up the Sasana. The Elders should work together with the Buddhist Temples in their Provinces, and together with the ACBC & other Buddhist groups, they should arrive at a island wide consensus on a course of action to strengthen the Sasana according to the Teachings of the Buddha. The Elders & the Buddhist Temples in each Province should be held answerable to the behavior of each Buddhist monk in that Province.

    Meantime, Meditation should be made mandatory for all Buddhist monks. With proper Meditation, Wisdom will arise in our Buddhist monks, and then they may be able to teach the lay people the art of Meditation.

    Please don’t forget the 500 yrs of Colonial Rule in Lanka, as opposed to only 52 yrs Independence, it is hard to erase foreign negative influences, whilst keeping in the positive ones.

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