Legislating against clergymen entering Parliament
Posted on July 5th, 2012

Sugath Samarasinghe

I take this opportunity to express my opinion on the matter of a Private Member’s motion moved in Parliament to amend the constitution prevent clergymen from entering Parliament. At the present moment no other clergymen of any other religion than Buddhist monks are in Parliament. Therefore it appears to be mainly aimed at removing and preventing Buddhist monks from entering Parliament. Reading through some of the material written and argued in favour of this move and the reasoning given there in, it is intriguing to note the keenness of non-Buddhists to ensure that the tenets of Buddhist teaching be strictly observed by the Buddhists!

As far as I could recall, the main purpose of sending Buddhist monks to Parliament was because the Buddhists felt that their presence in in the Legislature will help safeguarding the interests of the Buddhists. Those who voted them to Parliament did so because they thought that it was safer to rely on this matter on the Buddhist Monks than on the ordinary Members of Parliament who could not represent only the interests of Buddhists, being elected from a secular electorate. This notion was is further strengthened by  the fact that quite a large no. of MPs who were believed to be Buddhists, did not declare that they were, in their profiles entered in the Parliament Website. In this environment it was also felt that the Buddhists monks as “Mura Devetavo”s (guardian gods) of Buddhism in this country and as a special interest group, would raise the voice of the Buddhists if any legislation inimical to Buddhist interests would be moved in parliament. This assumption too was justifiable because it was the Buddhist Monks who safely brought down Buddhism in this country through nearly 2300 years under very trying circumstances in history. For instance, every time the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, the possession of which was held as right to kingship, was thought to be in danger of falling into the hands of enemies, whenever the country’s sovereignty was in danger, it was the Buddhists monks who took the Sacred Relic safety.

Originally, the monks as a group sought to enter Parliament, in response to a strong feeling among many Buddhists that they should come forward to safeguard the interests of Buddhists at a time during Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunge’s time when it was felt that Buddhist interests    were in danger and particularly after the death of Bhikkhu Soma who died under suspicious circumstances. He was at that time a lone voice for the Buddhist cause. The situation was so bleak that even the report of the Presidential Commission appointed to look into the circumstances of his demise, was not released by the Kumaratunga government but there was no pressure from within her party or from the opposition, to release the same. Again, the same government appointed a Buddhist Commission. Though it released their report, government did nothing to implement any of its recommendations. Some of the problems that we encounter today in the form of “ƒ”¹…”inter-religious strife’ are due to the non-implementation of these recommendations.

In reviewing their performance in Parliament one has to immediately recognize the important role they played towards the passing of the strong bill on tobacco and alcohol, under stiff resistance from interested parties. As the government showed no interest in bringing the law on unethical conversions, the Buddhist monks moved it as a private member’s motion. This motion was successfully sabotaged by all secular political parties by adopting delaying tactics until it lapsed and was dropped from the Order Paper. This would really not underline a failure of the Monks in Parliament but the adverse circumstances that Buddhists are facing in the present political environment despite the safeguard under article 9 of the constitution. Instead of re-introduction of this Bill, it is ironical that we are now confronted with a Bill to prevent Buddhist monks from entering parliament!

Some people argue that, had the Buddha been living he would never have approved his disciples entering the legislature. Apart from the fact that there was no concept of Parliament then, this remains speculative; there is also evidence towards the opposite too. For instance, when Devedattta Thera approached Buddha requesting him to rule that his disciples should necessarily adopt extreme vrttas or practices, Buddha, true to his Majjhima Patipada Middle Path), refused to enjoin such rules for the monks saying that he had no objection if any one adopted such vrttas but refused to make them compulsory. There are also instances where Buddha intervened in political disputes such as that between the Koliyas and the Sakyas when they were about to enter a clash over enjoying the waters of Rohini river. In another instance he cautioned the Prince of Vidudhabha not to wage war. Vidudhabha cared less and paid the price for it. Buddha further commented when he heard that Ajathasattru intended to launch into war with the Licchavis, he would not succeed as long as the Licchavi princes practiced the Saptha Aparahaneeya Dhammas. Ajathasatru relented. He also spelt out Dasaraja Dhamma, the principles of good governance. Thus it could not be correct to say that Buddha was totally disinterested of the politics of his time. 

          Leaving aside the merits and demerits of clergymen and more particularly Buddhist monks entering Parliament, I wish to express some views on the very attempt to legislate on this matter. As far as Buddhists are concerned we see this as an attempt deprive a basic civic right of a group of individuals without their committing any violation of the constitution. The Buddhist monks enter order of Maha Sangha, an independent body, on their own volition and they are free to leave any time they wish. The government has no control over them. Instead, they have their own code of discipline to abide by. Thus, in our view, the question whether the Monks should or should not enter Parliament is a matter that has to be decided by the Buddhists and the Sangha. In fact some monks have left the Parliament on their own volition. It is not a matter for single individual in Parliament or some two hundred odd members in Parliament. The only matter, if at all, that these individuals in Parliament may be compelled to decide is whether the presence and the actions of Buddhist monks or any other religious persons there, have brought about any harm or have behaved in any manner prejudicial to the smooth functioning of that organization.

As a matter of fact, why is this Bill being ushered now at this moment? Is this the priority legislation required in this country which is plagued by corruption, political violence, bad governance, underworld and drug menace etc. etc. What social or political good that is exactly is being sought to achieve here? 

On the other hand, from Buddhists point of view, what are of priority are the introduction of the Unethical Conversions Bill in Parliament and the implementation of the recommendations of the last Report of the Buddhist Commission appointed by the last government. These two measures will help elimination of potential inter-religious clashes in this country. A further most important legislation is an amendment to the Bribery and Corruption law to enable this Commission to initiate investigation on information gathered, instead of awaiting a specific complaint. Also urgent is the need to strengthen this law to look into assets of politicians. I would request Mr.Wijedasa Rajapaksha to take up these matters if he is truly interested in contributing toward the enhancement of a more just & peaceful society in this country.

18 Responses to “Legislating against clergymen entering Parliament”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    It is a violation of a fundamental right.

    Just because a person is a clergy he should not be restricted from doing ANYTHING.

  2. AnuD Says:

    I am pretty sure Wijedasa Rajapakse has got some good money from some interested parties. He quit SLFP during the war at exactly the right time and Now this.

    Sri Lanka does not do any thing organized.

    IF buddhists also organized within Sri Lanka, because politicians will not do as they are all for personal gains and no one exposes the other as all are same, these things can be found out by checking his bank accounts.

    Now, in this Census, Buddhists have gone down to 61% and in the next census it is estimated to be around 51%. Even if Monks don’t talk for Buddhism, politicians will never talk.

  3. Ratanapala Says:

    It is time to see the unseen hand that is guiding these polemics in the country’s parliament. The country’s only viable opposition is in the hands of the Christians. The governing party only seems to paying lip service to Buddhism, Buddhists and the Sinhala Buddhist Establishment. It is the Sinhala Buddhist Establishment sensitized by Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka Thero and there after by Soma Hamuduruwo that was instrumental in turning the tide against Christian Tamil Tiger Terrorism in Sri Lanka.

    The President is openly paying obeisance to the Catholic Church and the Alibaba who lives among stolen wealth and protecting pedophiles in the Vatican. He has already visited this unholy place with his Catholic wife thrice after being elected President. On his last visit the Pope has advised the President to obtain the services of Carritas for improving education in Sri Lanka.

    Rosy Senanayake is openly asking for the destruction of the Buddhist Establishment in Sri Lanka. In any other country but Sri Lanka she would have been openly lynched by now.

    Under the relentless onslaught by the non Buddhists the Buddhist population in Sri Lanka is on the decline. The latest census and the fact that majority of the legislators openly denying their religion is not a good sign for the future of Sri Lanka.

    There should not be any impediment to the presence of Buddhist Priests in the parliament. They are our only voice in the Parliament!

  4. Lorenzo Says:

    AnuD,

    My contact at the department told me it is 62% not 61%. Anyway there is a drop. But these are PROVISIONAL and UNOFFICIAL numbers.

    We have to ban polygammy (one man marrying many women). Otherwise Islamic population growth will be 4 times more than others.

    If it goes like this Buddhists and then Sinhalese will be a minority. Don’t expect Tamils and Muslims to treat a Sinhala minority like how Sihalese treat the Tamil and Muslim minority.

    Look at Jaffna and Trincomalee how Tamils and Muslims chase away the Sinhala minority.

    Peaceful means alone won’t work. There should be another major plan to KEEP SL Sinhala majority.

    Another BIG war is better for the Sinhalese than become a minority AT THE MERCY OF TNA AND SLMC bloody racists.

    TNA bombed the Tooth Temple, SLMC bombed Dighawapi ancient Buddhist temple.

    And they now try to chase away monks from parliament! Why do we tolerate these people? Compassion? Another Nalanda in SL?

  5. Lorenzo Says:

    Where is Kithsiri?

  6. Vijendra Says:

    The Vinaya laid down by Lord Buddha, has many practical rules which define the status of a monk as being that of a person living on charity. Being dependent on the lay people with no personal means of support is a very practical means of understanding the instinct to seek security and alms which gives a monk a source of contemplation on things that are the essentials for living such as food, clothing, shelter and medicines. This is what the lay people could offer as a way of expressing their generosity and appreciation of the teaching and guidance they receive from the monks on the Buddhist way of life. Buddhists also practice giving requisites to the Sangha and respect the Sangha as a whole, rather than giving them to a particular monk whom one likes or knows. Monks are expected to respond by sharing merit, spreading good will and the teachings of the Buddha to enable the lay people to lead a good and useful life free from bad deeds. We still have a few monks who seem to follow these teachings and do a great service to the Buddhist community, though they seem to be fast declining and dissapearing.

    Politicians are a completely different breed and the fundamental quality of a politician is to gain power for control over others, and at least in principle, to rule and achieve the goals and objectives desired by the individual or the political party. This is in direct contrast to being a person living on charity. As we all know, over the years, some of our monks have become so greedy and so selective that they refuse to accept an invitation for a “dane” or “pirith” from a poor person. They live a life more comfortable than most lay people with all the comforts of luxury living, transport and other worldly pleasures. Chanting pirith, accepting and attending an alms giving or preaching “bana” has become just a big business to some of these monks who, according to the Vinaya, should actually lead their life on charity. Some of our laymen, particularly the politicians have “bought” some of these monks making some of these monks big ‘mudalalis’ with lot of power of access to, and influence from, the “all powerful” politicians. I guess, with the monks themselves entering the parliament, they no longer need to be just the supporters of these politicians, but they could be the politicians themselves. Is this what the Buddhists want from their monks? I don’t think so.

    I agree that there are all sorts of ouvert and couvert forces to destroy Buddhism in Sri Lanka. We should certainly be aware of these forces and counter them in suitable ways. As Buddhists, it’s our role and responsibility to ensure that the monks get to the roots of Buddhism and lead an exemplary life not only to guide the Buddhists, but also to attract the non-Buddhists as well to the teachings of the Lord Buddha. Buddhism, very much unlike other religions, is not for believers, but for those who care to analyse and understand the truth.

    We do not want our monks to be corrupt. As power corrupts, monks should leave politics alone. As the Sangha, they should dedicate themselves to Buddhist teachings and guide the lay people to understand the true value of being a Buddhist and how they could contribute to build a just and “Buddhist” society. They should teach the Dhamma such as the four noble truths and guide them to live a life according to the “Arya astangika maargaya” and other great Buddhist teachings so that they could end the suffering and shorten the cycle of birth and death or “sansara” and attain the ultimate bliss of “nirvana”.

  7. Lorenzo Says:

    Vijendra,

    That is a personal choice of each monk. It cannot be forced by law, police or fatwa. There cannot be perfect monks. They should balance their worldly efforts with teachings.

    There is a big difference between monks becoming businessmen, corrupt politicians and simply fighting for the rights of the people neglected by politicians. It is not just the two extreams.

    It is unfortunate monks have to come forward to defend the people. But that seems the only way left.

    If the Buddhists are terrorised, chased away, robbed, poverty striken and discriminated badly, following the teachings is the last thing in their mind. They will be more interested in surviving each day.

    Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thera, etc. are considered national heroes because they engaged in the struggle for freedom which is essentially political work! That is ALSO the right thing to do given the circumstances.

  8. Hasthi Says:

    Yes, we may need brave national heroes in the calibre of Ven Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thera, but do we have any? All we have is either ‘yes’ men to one party or another. People do not have much respect for the clergy now a days. They only bow down because of the robe. So what we have is only honourable cloths, not honourable religious leaders by and large. There may be a few good clergymen (and women), but they keep to themselves because we, the public our selves are not deserve any better than what our politicalns – both in the government and the opposition – dish out to us pulling the wool over our eyes all the time. Because our people are politically so polarised, they will not listen to saner counsel

    I think clergy of any should not involve in any form of unreligious activity while in robe on one hand, and they should uphold their independence from all politicains (including the president) and ensure the politicans do not misuse the religions for their own gain, on the other.

  9. Dham Says:

    Lorenzo,
    Buddhist monks supposed to be living on food given by lay people. They cannot cook food. They cannot cut grass. they cannot kill animals(for eg. fishing) and eat. All these are “fundamental rights”.

    But they can earn money, cook, eat from returants, go fishing do anythign as any other men if they are not “monks” , that is do not wear the robe.
    Nowadays this new breed of Buddhist “priest” ( not monks) have appeared. They have wives, families , they do business, politics – yet they eat dana given by lay folks. Looks like now they are doing a service to people by accepting dana.

  10. Leela Says:

    Dham,
    If all Buddhist monks had been following the pattern you have idealized there would be no monks in any of our temples by now. Temples would have been filled with ‘ganinnansela’ instead. Needless to say, as Christian evangelists had been expecting, both monks and Buddhism would have been obliterated from this land a long long time ago.

    I don’t intend to write a Dhamma sermon on ‘Vinaya Pitaka’ here but suffix to say that Dhamma is not a Godly code and Buddha never made it anywhere near that.

    In today’s context, I like to pose two simple questions for readers to ponder; 1) Whether the parliamentarian monks helped the government to defeat LTTE? 2) Whether the MP, Wijedasa hindered the government effort to defeat LTTE? If answers are ‘yes’ to both questions, patriots must consider keeping at least few monks in parliament and Wijedasas out of it to face protagonists of Eelam of the future.
    Leela

  11. Lorenzo Says:

    “1) Whether the parliamentarian monks helped the government to defeat LTTE?”

    YES!!

    If not for them, SLFP-JVP would have continued the BS they did from 2004-2005. During this time govt ceasefire violations were LOWER than during UNP time!!

    “2) Whether the MP, Wijedasa hindered the government effort to defeat LTTE?”

    Bloody YES!!

    He crossed over and started acting stupid when his miserable presence was ESSENTIAL for the parliamentary majority.

    So we have to keep Buddhist monks who are MORE SANER, intelligent, less corrupt and MORE PATRIOTIC than the bloody idiots in parliament.

    Wijedasa is Bandit Queen’s man.

  12. Lorenzo Says:

    Dham,

    Those are NOT fundamental rights. The right to engage in politics is a fundamental right of ALL SL human beings.

    I agree there are that type of people. Catholic priests are WORSE! Catholic friends tell me their priests would tell very small kids to take lollies from the priest’s trouser pockets. When they put their hands they realise the pockets have holes!! The rest is up to imagination!! These criminals should be CASTRATED.

    But NONE of the Buddhist monk MPs TODAY are into such acts.

    The ONLY one in 2005 with a shady character went with RUN-NIL for personal reasons. The love triangle was complete when Mangala joined the two.

  13. Lorenzo Says:

    Iran Wickramatunga MP and Rosy Senanayaka are Evangelical monks. But Evangelical monks are like any other. They can do ANY job and wear whatever they want. See how cunning these criminals are.

    If Wijedasa succeeds, Iran and Rosy will go as bankers and businesswomen while continuing their monk work whereas OBVIOUS Buddhist monks will be kicked out.

    Does anyone think this Wijedasa joker is doing this out of concern for Buddhism? What nonsense!

    As I said before Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thera, etc. are considered national heroes because they engaged in the struggle for freedom which is essentially political work! He tore down the bloody hunion jack, pressed it from his feet and raised the lion flag. This is the type of LEADERS we need when laymen start BS-ing.

  14. Dham Says:

    Doing politics is everyone’s fundamental right – Agreed.

    But wearing any dress also a fundamental right. Therefore these priests are enjoying both rights at the cost of Buddhism. These pries can never be real monks. They do not understand Buddhism, yet they make use of the privilages of the robe.

    This is violation my rights as a proper Buddhist.

  15. Dham Says:

    Lorenzo,
    You said,”Just because a person is a clergy he should not be restricted from doing ANYTHING.”
    Don’t just argue for the sake of argument.
    What are you saying ?

    Just because a person is a Buddhist Priest he should not be restricted from MARRYING.
    Just because a person is a Buddhist Priest he should not be restricted from EATING AFTER 12.
    Just because a person is a Buddhist Priest he should not be restricted from TALKING TO WOMEN IN SOLITUDE.
    Just because a person is a Buddhist Priest he should not be restricted from DIRNKING ALCHOHOL.

    This list goes on. The governement will not do this restriction. It is the individual’s own choice. Once he selected monkhood he should uphold the honour. We call them “Shangha”. We have reserved seats for them in Busses. They have so many privilages.

    Now , Buddhism ofcource does not restrict any one from doing even murder. The governement ( or king) will look after that. As a person you are restricted by the law of the country.

    If we are to be a Sinhala-Buddhist country it is the government’s duty to protect that culture. While the individual’s rights cannot be restricted, those viotating “code of conduct of monks” should be expelled from the monkhood.
    Governement can help arresting and disrobing bogus monks. We need laws for this.

  16. Vijendra Says:

    Lorenzo, if I may point out, you should understand that you are not the custodian of Buddhism in SL! Even though I respect your point of view, your language and the way you express it in this forum, I am afraid I have observed, does not give the impression that you have any Buddhist behaviour in you! Hope I am wrong.

    As a Buddhist, I can not, and would not, speak about any other religion, but I am against any person representing a religious group being allowed to become a politician representing a constituency in Sri Lanka. Politics is always a divisive force and a religious representative would make it even worse, bringing discredit to the religion from their conditioned and acquired behaviour. Just a little while ago we saw how the monk in Dambulla behaved and brought discredit to all of us as Buddhists.

    Religion and politics should not be mixed. First of all Buddhist monks are the custodians of Buddhism and their conduct, behaviour and intentions should be noble and in line with the vinaya, the rules laid down for the sangha. Buddhist monks have lifetime commitment to the sasana to lead others along the “arya astangika margaya’, the right path to a Buddhist life. The discipline of a Buddhist monk is refined and is intended to be conducive to the arising of mindfulness and wisdom. If they can not live according to these vinaya rules, they should be doing the sasana a big service by leaving it and taking on and pursuing their personal ambitions without taking all the Buddhists too down the precipice. Engaging in politics is not a thing monks should get involved in while they are still wearing the robe or “the cheevaraya”.

    Leela, addressing Dham said that “If all Buddhist monks had been following the pattern you have idealized there would be no monks in any of our temples by now. Temples would have been filled with ‘ganinnansela’ instead.” Leela, where in the world are you living? Please open up your eyes and see what is happening today. Look at the so called “hard to get” and “politically influential” priests. Aren’t they exactly what you described? You can not “have the cake and eat it too.” If the so called “Buddhist” monks, who can not uphold the vinaya got out of the monkhood, that would certainly revive the “sananaya”. As Buddhists, we have been too lethargic, accepting anything and everything some of these ‘ganinnanselas’ with no real understanding of Buddhist way of life said and did. We should rise up and kick out these bad apples from the sasana without blindly respecting these hypocrites who do not deserve our respect.

  17. Dham Says:

    “Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thera, etc. are considered national heroes because they engaged in the struggle for freedom which is essentially political work!”

    We must look at the context. Is it the same situation now and then ?
    That time we did not have any leadership at all. Some of the monks had to come forward ot lead the nations.
    But I am sure those famous monks of the past never violated code of conduct.
    Even Buddha adviced the kings and the public. This is not politics. But Buddha does not need code of conduct. Even Arahants of the pass do not need. But they never used “Parusha vacha” like you and me. They are unable to use !

  18. Dham Says:

    I have no objection of a monk being “Katahnayaka”, as long as he still follows the monk’s code of counduct and all others treat him as Shnagha in the parliament.
    However a proper monk will never be interseted in such positions. They may advice the lay folk, but all advices will be according to Dhamma, metta , Karuna, Muditha , Upekkha.
    Can you fight LTTE with metta ? I don’t know.

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