Treading on a Buddhist-Hindu Axis
Posted on August 8th, 2011

By Gomin Dayasri

 Buddhism and Hinduism live in harmony beside each other in most shrines in Sri Lanka: devotees of both religions worship in tandem at the same site. The cultural bondage arising from the Hindu-Buddhist traditions ingrained in our social system is a robust meeting place of a dual civilization.From astrology to auspicious times, from celebrating New Year to exorcising evil spirits the temple and kovil are on the same wavelength. True, it is live culture that ties the two strands rather than its religious dogma. Yet the driving force is the religious fervor.

 Christian and Catholics whether Sinhalese and Tamils pray together seated in same pew in church. Islam in Sri Lanka has lived in peace with all religions in a socially secular Sinhala/Tamil environment especially in the East or where ever is a Muslim pocket borough. The fundamentalist element has not surfaced and the Islam in Sri Lankaaccesses both communities cordially.

 In a different context they call themselves Sinhalese and Tamils; practice religions that had its origins in India with an ethos oriental in outlook, that have become dual faiths of an overwhelming majority of the populace in Sri Lanka. Sinhala Tamil cordiality never reached the healthy relations that their religious concord evoked. In language they differ, in worship they bond. Reach for the reconciler and ease on the dividerin search of appeasement.

 History attests to Buddhist-Hindu amity. Just rulers in history paid homage to both major religions and after the several wars, the twin religions remained intact with devotees showing no hostility to the others religion. They thought the other’s religion was theirs as much as their own. There was never a religious war between the adherents or the rulers though religions suffered in the hands of marauders. Yet, it brought no repercussions since the bondage was based on reciprocal respect and tolerance. It was and is the softest point of comfort between the Sinhalese and Tamils. It must be stretched to the maximum.

 Reinforcing the existing amity between these two religions should be the floating foundation of building bridges over troubled waters to the two communities. The groundwork is in place as the cultural affinity is brotherly. Neither stands accused of proselytizing the other. That need was never there as their faith was not weighted in numbers on multiplying the devotees and dollars flowed to neither.

 It’s the Buddhist as the majority that must take the lead. Requested to make a presentation as an invitee at a discussion of the Jathika Hela Uramaya, I was amazed at the enthusiasm shown by the monks especially the educated young on the process of genuine reconciliation in a show of virtual unanimity. The topic was controversial and taking a paththat was provocatively divisive the reception was awesomely supportive. There is an untapped reservoir of goodwill without a positive leadership to carry it to its logical end.It comes strongest through religion.

 It’s a short story with a happy ending. Amity in religion is in place and it needs to be built on to harmonize the North and South discourse, achievable with state patronage channeled through the clergy and private religious bodies. To make it synergetic requires a force that is catalytic. That would be readily forthcoming as the recipients’ zenith to 80%of the inhabitants. The responsible Christian and Catholic clergy have been in the forefront of the reconciliation process and in the name of God would give their blessings.It is only the few players engaged in the sport ofincreasing the flock in the name of religion that will aim a poisoned dart.

 This should make India happy if they are genuine. A trend that would cut across the political divide of Indian politics. Hindu India accepted Asokan   Buddhist Dharma Chakraya as itsnational emblem. Indian culture made its strongest impact in Sri Lanka through Buddhist civilization. It remains possibly as the highest common denominator on our social links with India as the home of Buddhism. The link to Hindus cults prevails in most Sinhala Buddhist homes with the desire to be a pilgrim to the land of Buddha’s birth where Hinduism flourishes is as strong as Muslims make to Mecca.

 The reconciliation process has failed to grasp religious links housed in triumvirate of the Temple Kovil and Church. If the Buddhist Hindu axis succeeds, Church would be compelled to follow suit being in a more fortunate position since the congregation carries a single faith amidst the ethnic divide.

 Sadly instead of giving leadership of weaning terrorists under their wing to democracy, some of the Christian Catholic clergy sowed seeds of hatred during the height of the troubled times. The role of mediation could have been achieved by the Church locally, instead of bringing the Norwegians, had they grasped the opportunity before it; as they had both communities in their reach, unlike the Buddhist and Hindu hierarchies. They threw to waste an opportunity of a lifetime instead of becoming the national healer. They did not receive any acclaimon the triumph over terrorism instead had to silently acknowledge it

  On hindsight, church would rue they shut a window that would have brought instant fame and glory if they disciplined their errant clergy and initiated a reconciliation process through the leadership of the church. They lost a historical moment to leave their imprint, while their lay acted with greater foresight. Indeed the Christian -Catholic lay took a stand in eliminating terrorism that saved the church from its dubious position due to its influences from the west, that Buddhism and Hinduism is not subjected. Fortunately sanity prevailed among those misled padres now vowed to silence though few like Emmanuel still puts dirt on the cassock while the Church is too feeble to even publicly disassociate with his sentiments. National imperatives require that Buddhists-Hindu cable to be activated whereas the suspicion generated by imprudent acts in the recent past, still hang over the church, though more accomplished for the assignment.

 Unless the government realizes the potential embedded in religion to accelerate the process of reconciliation and gives it the necessary blessings and support, the religious bodies cannot generate enthusiasm on its own. Are we forsaking another golden opportunity?Often the Government fails to grasp intellectually the trumps in its hand.

9 Responses to “Treading on a Buddhist-Hindu Axis”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    A good approach that worked in the past.

    Buddhists have already reached out to Hindus. Buddhists look after Hindu shrines with loving care. They worship at these places too. At some places of worship deidcated to Hindu shinres, Buddhists outnumber Hindus. In addition, most old Buddhist shrines have 4 temples dedicated to Hindu shrines within the premises!

    However, the opposite has not happened. This is what needs to be fixed. Hindus must be encouraged to participate at Buddhist shrines.

    A bridge is a two way thing.

    It is extremely difficult to get moderan day Hindus to patronise Buddhist places of worship. This is a big challenge. But if that happens, there is no need for any fancy reconciliation. This worked well in the past.

    I disagree the government has a bigger role to play than the people and people’s organisations directly participating.

    However, this does not mean Buddhism loses its supreme place guaranteed in the Constitution or sharing it with any other religion. There is no need to change the Constitution to build religious amity between Buddhists and Hindus because it is something that lives in people’s hearts not on paper.

  2. AnuD Says:

    I don’t expect any thing good from Christianity. One reason, Sri Lanka has lot of influence from missionaries from every country. Islam should have been good, may be 1950s. Now, they are competing with Christians to convert. That is why they have all those ISlam specific – behaviours and many things that go with their Islamiic law. They are also keen in converting key people inorder to have upper hand.

    Basically, all religions are for conversion. Buddhism is the only philosophy which is not focused on converting.

    How ever, at the Beginning Buddha had told monks to go in different directions for the good of the public. But, Sri Lankan Buddhism is not worried about that. They just follow the same routine that we are adopted to.

  3. thurai Says:

    Even History shows us realtioship of Budhism and Hindusim, political influence changed the charecter of followers.
    There are far differences between Buddhist monk and a Hindu priest. Budhist monks show the world
    simplicity of life which leads to peace. Hindu Priest aim to luxus life which lead to unrest in individuel mind
    and family. The recent finding of Gold in Inidan Temple shows what is going on for many hundred years.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Some people say that Buddhism is purified Hinduism. In India, at that time, the Buddha advocated against Caste related practices in Hinduism, particularly in relation to the treatment of Dalits (Untouchables). In more modern times, inspired by Buddhist Dalit Dr Ambedkar (affectionately known as Babasahib in India), many Dalits turned to Buddhism to escape Caste related problems. However, recently wealthy Indians too are turning to Buddhism. In the past, the core teachings of Hinduism was reserved for the Brahmins and others of high caste. Today, this need not be so, and is not so.
    In Sri Lanka, Buddhists have always shown a spirit of tolerance toward HInduism, possibly because Prince Siddhartha was born to a Hindu family and because of the proximity of India and resultant cultural connection. In fact, Hinduism has been embraced quite easily by almost all the Buddhist temples, and smaller shrines to Hindu gods are accepted without question.
    The problem here is that the core teachings of Hinduism is not taught i.e. the 4 Yogas, the ultimate Yoga being Raj Yoga or reaching the Godhead within through Meditation. Instead, HIndu Kovils enact all sorts of poojas and rituals to “get the gods to give favors” to the supplicant. The HIndu ‘Bhagavad Gita’ which is the book akin to the Bible for Christians, is an allegorical story where Arjuna the warrior Seeker is instructed through story form how to reach the Godhead within by Krishna, the charioteer Teacher.
    Perhaps it is time to teach the real Hinduism to Hindu people and interested others. Then there will be no barriers between Hinduism & Buddhism. However, rituals & chanting are far more easy to perform than Meditation and following the Dhamma.
    It would be a great challenge for both Buddhists & HIndus to go beyond the rituals & chanting, and get to the core teachings.
    In Buddhism, meditation is forever ingrained in Dana, Seela, Bhavana.

  5. Fran Diaz Says:

    P.S.: I tend to forget that some people are NOT looking for any Godhead – they just want lots of money and they think they must pray & chant for that.

  6. gdesilva Says:

    Just as a side issue, you may recall the failed strategy of the West when they repeatedly branded the Sri Lanka conflict as one between the Sinhalese Buddhist and Hindu Tamil people. They soon realised the mistake and started calling it a freedom fight.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    If labelled as “Freedom Fighters”, Tamil people are fighting for Freedom from what ?
    Most of them came to Sri Lanka in the first place to gain Freedom from Tamil Nadu Caste (mainly Dalit)/Poverty issues. They have gained what they came to Sri Lanka for – in addition, free education (including Univesity) and free health care.
    What more ?
    A separate State for Tamils ? A separate “state” should be created within Tamil Nadu itself for its Diaspora Tamils. After all,
    Mrs Hillary Clinton did advocate Tamil Nadu leaders to think with Innovation. The area around the Nilgiri Mountains may be ideal for that purpose.

  8. Nanda Says:

    Fran,
    They want freedom from Brahman.

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    Nanda, do you mean that they want freedom from high caste ‘Brahmins’ ? Or do you really mean ‘Brahman’ which means God ? The Laws of God are absolute and no one is exempt, there is no ‘freedom’ from that !

    As Mr Dayasiri says there is tremendous potential for religious amity between the HIndus & Buddhists.

    But, I have no idea just how strong the Caste Issues among Tamil people are AT PRESENT in Sri Lanka. Can someone enlighten us ? Caste seems to be the big bug in the social fabric of Tamil people. I think it is the original ‘Tamil pool of Anger’ on Caste Issues that has been turned against the Sinhala/Buddhist people in general, cranked up with various unreasonable & provocative demands by various Tamil leaders from Lanka governments over the years and resulting clashes before 1983, and the 1983 riots themselves. Unfortunately, the TNA still continues the similar negative politics ! So while there is space for religious amity, what about some political good sense from the TNA ? The TNA must bear in mind that Sri Lankans are recovering from 500 yrs of Colonial Rule, ignorance about various important issues, plus 30 yrs of ltte terrorism.
    I hope some good comes out of this debate. No intent here to cause any anguish to anyone, we are only looking for peace for all and a permanent solution for the larger problems that beset Sri Lankans. I might add that there may be forces not wanting a solution to the problems that beset Sri Lanka.
    Our thanks to Mr Dayasiri for bringing out the topic.

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