“The SANGHA AND SINHALA BUDDHIST HEGEMONY” A POINT OF VIEW
Posted on June 2nd, 2013

UPALI COORAY

The criticism leveled at Sangha, in recent times by those who consider them a stumbling block to national reconciliation is that the Sangha have been instrumental over the years in creating a Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic identity in Sri Lanka over the other minority communities. It is claimed that separatism, hitherto the gravest challenge to Sri Lanka, was caused by this Sinhala Buddhist nationalist identity.  It is also alleged that the Sangha never looked at Buddhism in its proper perspective where no person is born a vassal or a Brahmin but one becomes either of the two by his deeds (na jatta wasalo hothi, na jattaa hothi Brhmano, Kammana Vasalo hothi, Kammana hothi Brahmano) It is also claimed that Sangha never attempted to encompass the minorities in this country to their mission as “Buddha Puthras” preaching equanimity and, compassion to all human beings.  On the contrary it is alleged that they were instrumental in inculcating ethnic detestation stemming off from perceptional and mythical exclusivity of Sinhala Buddhist nation.

It is true the Sangha in Sri Lanka as a religious institution has never been devoid of its own segregations to different orthodoxies such as the Jetawana and Mahavihara espousing Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism in ancient times.  Nikayas or monastic sects are based on the caste system. Land Lordism among the Sangha which is practiced even today, was in existence from ancient times.  Actvities inappropriate, such as engaging in businesses, Luxurious living, and occult practices were done and are being done by a segment of the Sangha. However the positive influence the Sangha had in the Socio-political improvements and restoration far outweigh the negativity of one segment of the Buddhist clergy.

 A close look at the history of Sri Lanka will enlighten us that the Sangha irrespective of internal differentiations of its own has come to be identified with the Sinhala majority from the earliest times of our history. This identification is not a mechanical happening or a choice, but a historical compulsion making them to be identified so.

The local chronicles portray devastating invasions by south Indian marauders plundering Sri Lanka. The first such attack came from Sena and Guttika in 177BC. Then onwards, up to the 15 th century till the Europeans took over; the South Indian invasions occurred periodically out of which Kalinga Magha’s was the most devastating.  The reign of Magha (1215 -36) was so brutal, The Buddhist religion, its clergy, image houses and chetiyas were completely decimated, many books were torn and burnt. The majestic chetiyas such as Ruwanweli were destroyed and the relics which were the very souls of Buddhist of Sri Lanka were made to disappear. In short the culture of the Sinhalese was trampled and crushed from which it could never recover. The chroniclers of these events were mostly Bikkhus and the notion that they overrated the events will not always hold water because there are archeological corroborations for most of the events.  The crux of the chronicles such as “Mahavamsa” and “Chula Wansa” cannot be jettisoned as expected by some who call for national reconciliation and harmony among communities in this country. The mindset of successive generations of the Sangha evolved around these traumatic events. Buddhism is a religion that did not advocate conquests as a means of spreading the Dhamma. Even king Dharmasoka converted himself to Buddhism subsequent only to his enthroning as the emperor of India and sent his son Arahath Mahinda to Sri Lanka carrying the message of the enlightened one. King Asoka was known as Chandasoka(Asoka the vile) prior to his conversion to Buddhism. On the contrary Hindu rulers who conquered Sri Lanka were bent on decimating Buddhism and subjugating its laity and clergy.  The ruins that exist to date at Polonnaruwa are a manifestation of forced Hindu culture on Sri Lanka. On the contrary there were no Islamic invasions similar to in India that took place in Sri Lanka. The followers of Islam came here mainly for trading purposes.  Their invasions of the Indian subcontinent did not have a big impact on Sri Lanka compared to Hindu invasions.  Therefore we do not see any conflicts between the Sinhalese and the Muslim communities till recent times. Muslims were a part of Sri Lankan society not in conflict with the majority Buddhists.

It need not be mentioned that the Europeans who conquered this country since the 15th century believed that they have a divine mandate to propagate their own religions in the lands they conquered and to bring the native “heathens” to subjugation. Therefore the role of the Sangha continued as protectors of Sinhala Buddhist identity from European Missionaries during these times. The brutal devastation of religious and cultural assets including mass annihilation of indigenous people was part of their rule. Speaking in modern parlance it’s a vast catalogue of human rights violations. The irony of this whole saga is that while Jews are being compensated for the “Holocaust “not a penny has been paid as compensation to massacres of masses of similar human beings in former colonies.

In the foregoing scenario, the Sangha in Sri Lanka had no other preference than identifying with the Sinhala race and to preserve the Dhamma at immense odds whereas in India, Buddhism gave into Hinduism and Islam after King Dharmasoka’s reign. Hypothetically, had Buddhism thrived in India continuously since Buddha; neither a specific Sinhala Buddhist identity nor conquests of Sri Lanka by Hindu rulers may have happened and a question of separatism also might not have arisen because Buddhism would have been one of the key religions of the Tamil peoples in India and Sri Lanka.

Our history shows that external threats have been part and parcel of the country’s existence. It is so even to date. the methodology adopted only is different from the ancient times. Devious conversions of Buddhist to other religions and spreading of such religions by covert methods in the name of freedom of religion and freedom of expression continues unhindered in spite of attempts by Sangha in thwarting them. Democracy and human rights are the other catch phrases used thereby devaluing the very meanings of the phrases. Destabilizing this country has always been a hidden agenda of powerful external forces and their internal partners which will be so in the future too. The Sri Lankan separatist lobby now domiciled in the west is the driving force of external pressure. The Sangha senses this more than the laity. No Tamil leadership has so far been able to give the confidence required by the Sangha to allay their suspicions and fears of separatism. Calling the Sangha fundamentalist or Chauvinists would only harden the stand taken by them. Some scholars have attempted to emphasize that the roots of Buddhist fundamentalism is the “Mytho History” in the chronicles. This distorted and erroneous view is suggesting that Buddhist fundamentalism is an illusory perception. While accepting that Chronicles are manifestly awash with myth, one has to realize that the myth is mixed with authenticity that does not fall into so called “Mytho history” The leadership of Sangha cannot be unaware of these facts and are not blind followers of historical myths of the chronicles as suggested by theses scholars.

While it is true that the Buddhist monk should have commitment to ascetic ideals, the monk cannot just overlook the compelling socio-political incursions that overrides his ascetic life. This does not mean that there are no ascetic monks among the Buddhist clergy but it applies to most monks who have committed themselves to respond to vital social and political needs. This trend was strengthened by Angarika Dharmapala who held a strong Sinhala Buddhist ideology. He expected Sangha to be the custodian and guardian of the flock and a social worker and had two objectives, the first being the  improvement of the quality of life of the people and the second being the revival of Sinhala Buddhist ideology and culture as in the ancient times.  It became necessary for Dharmapala to advocate social service by the Sangha in addition to ascetic life as he foresaw that sweeping social reformation was required for the Buddhist laity to be unshackled from long years of subjugation and associated economic and cultural enslavement to the foreign rulers whose only objective was to exploit the human and material resources of the colonies.  

In 1945, The Vidayalankara Pirivena (Monastary) which was one of the main two monasteries (Vidyodaya was the other) issued a publication titled “The Bikkhu and Politics “espousing that Sangha should take up politics with a view to reforming society and establishing its due place for Buddhism and the culture of the Sinhalese which has got battered through centuries of foreign domination. It should be noteworthy that while Sir Nicholas Attygala was strongly supportive of the initiative D.S Senanayake and J.R Jayawardene were vehemently opposing the move.   Ven.Kotahene Pagnakitti and Ven.Yakkaduwe pagnarama were two pioneering Bikkhus for the movement.  Subsequently, Ven Henpitagedara Gnanasiha and the Buddhist commission took the movement forward through Eksath Bikkhu Permuna(United front of Bhikkus)  Then U.N.P government headed by Prime Minister D.S Senanyake was reluctant to appoint a Buddhist Commission on the pretext of non conformity with the Soulbury constitution. However it was known that D.S was under pressure from other religious groups supportive of his government. Therefore the Buddhist Commission had to go it alone without state patronage and it did probe in to the system of education and other areas where Buddhists did not have their rightful place. While intellectuals such as Professor Gunapala Malalasekara, P de S Kularatne,L.H Mettananda Dr. Tennekone Wimalananda, D.C Wijewardane consisted of the lay members Ven Ambanwela Siddhartha, Haliela Sumanatissa, Balangoda Ananda Maithriya and Henpitagedara Gnanasiha were the members from the clergy.  

The U.N.P government of which then prime minister was Sir John Kotalawala was very casual on the report, The Mahajana Eksath Peramuna led by S.W.R.D Bandaranaike endorsed the recommendations and that led to a resounding victory for them in 1956; a defining moment of the country’s history. Bandaranaike who was a senior minister from 1947 to 1952 in the U.N.P government; which was more or less subservient to the colonial masters, was disgruntled for not being appointed as the prime minister after D.S Senanyake. The government of the time was indifferent to the calls by the Sinhala Buddhists of this country to restore their proper place in the country as the majority community. Badaranaika who was a smart strategist saw the opportunity in the Sinhala Buddhist reawakening program headed by the Sangha and rode the wave to become the Prime Minister of the M.E.P Mahajana Eksath Peramuna( Peoples’ United Front) Factually it was the Buddhist Commission report, the Sangha led by Henpitagedara Gnanasiha who were the architects of this victory. Bandaranaike was very comfortable with pro-colonial policies of the Senanyake government till he missed the opportunity to become the Prime Minister under that government. He was a weak and wavering leader and soon the country was in disarray. It has to be noted that scholars such as Mettananda, Malalasekara and Kularatna never espoused Sinhala only policy but were of the view that all three languages viz. Sinhala, English and Tamil should be taught in all schools.  It’s a tragedy that SWRD was the victim of a bullet fired by a member of the Sangha; one strong force who brought him to power and later revelations showed the Bikkhu who fired the shot was only a pawn of a group of people very close to Bandaranaike in which a leading monk of the time was also a member. The reason for the killing had nothing to do with Sinhala Buddhist inclination of the government but was solely a private business affair which is a reflection that some of the clergy were in proscribed pursuits.

The failed coup d’ƒÆ’†’©tat of 1962 against the government of Mrs. Sirimawo Bandaranaike illustrates that non Buddhist elements were at work to bring back the status quo of pro – colonial policy. Prior to 1956 the officer corps the army consisted of three fifths Christian, one fifth Tamil and one fifth Burger. Bandaranaike changed this balance by bringing in more Sinhala Buddhist officers. A non carrier Buddhist Inspector General of Police was appointed by SWRD over three more Christian officers. The British bases at Katunayka and Trincomalee were removed. The resentment among Christians were building who felt that they were systematically being eliminated. A coup by the military was thus planned by the military. 26 top brass who were prosecuted were Christians. P.de S Kularatna who was a member of the Buddhist Commission and a highly respected educationist; by then who was an MP, gave out the information to the government. He received this information from the then IGP Stanly Senanyake, his son “”…” in “”…”law.

  The defeat of Terrorism, sponsored fed and grown with the support of external forces for geo- political motives, would not   have been possible if not for the backing of the Sangha and the Sinhala Buddhist laity. Not only did they give moral support for the war effort, there were monks who canvassed for recruitment of youth for the forces. This is one of the main reasons for the single minded effort by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to succeed in eradication of terrorism from our soil.

What we are seeing today is history of our country repeating itself. To the Sangha, Well being of the nation state and the survival of Buddhism has taken priority over the inspirational teaching of Gautama the Buddha who was a pacifist. One cannot miss the similarities in Kalinga Magha and Prabhakaran. The threat from the Indian subcontinent towards the unitary state of Sri Lanka has reached to its highest level in the recent history a recurring historical fact. The motives of the present day rulers of southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are quite terrifying and cannot be shunned away as rhetoric. The Sangha in this scenario is playing its historical role and nothing else. Calling them fundamentalists or chauvanists is a misnomer to paint a picture similar to extremist religious movements such as Taleban or Lashker- e-Taiba that enforces inhuman draconian laws. Buddhist fundamentalism; if there is one, seems to be an internal difference of opinions on Buddhism and the mission of the Sangha. Other religions, mainly Christian and Muslim have no such restrictions. To these fundamentalist anyone who does not believe as they do is inferior and needs to be converted to their thinking, by force if necessary. The Christian fundamentalist proclaims that anyone of any religion that does not believe in their ways is condemned to hell. There is also a belief and an effort to turn the United States into a Christian theocracy. They believe that it is their Christian duty to impose their views on others. Radical Muslims in many countries try to force Sharia law on those that don’t believe as they do. It is this difference that the Sangha and the Sinhala Buddhists are wary of. The term fundamentalist if it applies to Buddhism cries out for far less radical terms.

18 Responses to ““The SANGHA AND SINHALA BUDDHIST HEGEMONY” A POINT OF VIEW”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    The original article “The SANGHA AND SINHALA BUDDHIST HEGEMONY” was written by a Wahabi.

    It is more intresting for him to fix their own Shia-Sunni-Sufi-Wahabi-Kurdish violent divisions!!!!

    Compared to these blooody divisions in EVERYDAY world news, Buddhist divisions, etc. are civilised and nothing.

  2. Senevirath Says:

    I t is so sad that even our buddhists say that monks are fundamentalists. they have never acted like christians and muslims u.n.p leaders like D. S AND J.R were traitors who gave a bad example to the future leaders.. thanks to sangha we eradicated terrorism from the dutugemunu time

  3. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    those who love our heritage – do not miss the movie – siri parakum, a well balanced movie, unlike abbaa, which missed out the adulthood of abaya – our heritage was destroyed by dravidian hindu kings and people like maga who apparently was from kalinga, a hindu destroyed almost everything. the Europeans did the rest. our present day politicians – the vote mongers love to sweep this history under the carpet as it will hurt the present generation of dravidians, christians and catholics. more and more movies should be made to show how Buddhist monks were at the forefront when Buddhism was threatened. as happening today – wahaabis, catolics and Christians need to be checked. safeguarding our Buddhist Sinhala heritage is our prerogative just as much Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, india will protect their heritage. when we and monks engage in protecting the ‘culprits’ and foolish Buddhists so called western thinking ones, label us as ‘extremists’. funny thing is that it happens only here and not observed in other countries which have draconian laws. to all Wahhabis, catholics and chritians – if you do not accept our heritage leave heladeepa and head for saudi, italy or England – and see for yourself whether you will find equality.

  4. Ratanapala Says:

    A words of thanks to Upali Cooray for putting the record straight. Our Maha Sangha have always come to the rescue of the Sinhala Buddhist nation that is Sri Lanka from time immemorial. Although it is necessary to temper and articulate their actions their actions are overall not out of place. The need of the hour is for them to take it upon themselves the task of informing the populace on the same lines of Soma Hamuduruwo and now Bodu Bala Sena. There is much that can be done within the existing legal framework. There is no need to take the law into their hands while the hands of the law can be directed to proper use using legal means. The need of the hour is to have the ground swell and to direct it with proper leadership.

    Lord Buddha taught us the Dhamma. The Buddhists know the consequences of good actions as well as bad. Doing the needful with good intentions for the good of the many is what is required. The 13th Amendment must go regardless of what our distractors may say. The Buddhist nation must work towards that goal and help direct the GOSL in that direction.

    The Christian Colombians and their news media will always call us chauvinists, hard liner, extremists etc. Let the dogs bark but the Buddhist caravan must roll on with clear mind and a clear set of goals. Failure to do so will bring disaster not only to Sri Lanka but to the whole region as a whole. The step towards Eelam which is what 13th Amendment means will make Sri Lanka and eventually South Asia the next Middle East. Already the Christian West headed by US is laying the foundation as well as making inroads leading up to this outcome. The recent MOU with the Trinco Urban Council is one such attempt.

  5. herman Says:

    The MAHASANGHA is synonymous with the SINHALA BUDDHISTS and without the MAHASANGHA, Sri Lanka will still be a colony of either the westerners or the easterners (tamils / muslims).

    In the past the muslims tried to invade SL but like the tamils were never successful. SL’s MAHASANGHA is still relevant and is required now more than ever!

  6. Dilrook Says:

    A small correction. Kalinga Magha was not a South Indian. He was from Kalinga (Orissa).

    Maha Sanga must play a political role (in addition to their other tasks) given the ineffectiveness of Constitutional provisions relating to Buddhism. If these were effective, there is no need for them to take up these matters generally handled by civilians.

    By disregarding Constitutional provisions, politicians have remained the darlings of extremist elements of the minorities. Response from Buddhist clergy has once again spared the politicians as minority extremists blame the clergy, not the politicians. This is betrayal of Buddhism on two counts by politicians.

  7. Amarasiri Says:

    Herman,

    “In the past the muslims tried to invade SL but like the tamils were never successful. SL’s MAHASANGHA is still relevant and is required now more than ever!”

    Correction: It was the Kalinga, Tamils, Portuguese, Dutch and English who tried to Invade Lanka.

    Then there were originally, Veddah, Naga and Yakka, with their pre-Buddhism beliefs like Janism and others.

    J R JAYAWARDENE, THE 1978 CURSE.

    LISTEN

    Here is support for this statement.

    Time to Change the Tube says Ven, Sobita Thero

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_H17MkdcBc

    Citizens! Not Subjects – Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbmqoaQ7okA

    Time to Change says Ven, Sobita Thero
    Says Dr. N. M. Perera warned…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgq1AsDw_LA

  8. Nanda Says:

    Dear Ratnapala,
    Thank you for silencing Ben Silva and his stupid Nirvana=Suicide theory.

  9. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    Thank you Upali Cooray for the well analysed article explaining the qualities of Sinhala Buddhists.
    It is the view of some that the Sinhala Buddhists are too tolerant, and this tolerance has been exploited by extremist elements within the beneficiary communities, and they then take matters in to their own hand to ask for more and more, which invariably could lead to conflict and separatism. Good examples are allowing the defeated Tamil invaders to settle down in Sri Lanka, settling Muslims in the East coast to escape the marauding Portuguese, protecting Catholics from the British Anglicans, conferring Sri Lankan citizenship to estate Indian Tamils imported and abandoned by the British and disowned by the Indians etc.
    If one were to walk the streets of Sri Lanka, India, Saud Arabia, India, England etc. to understand the ground reality, the Sri Lankan tolerance or more appropriately respect for other races and religions is very clearly seen, where one would see a Buddhist Temple, a Hindu Kovil, a Christian church or a Muslim Mosque, established down the same street and the people following different religions living harmoniously. On top of this all important religious days of all religions have been declared public holidays to celebrate them and the Tamil Language of a small minority of 10% to 15% is recognised as an official language. This you would rarely see or experience in other countries. So why all these accusations against Sri Lanka and where is the gratitude??

  10. NAK Says:

    In Sri Lanka only the Sinhalese take up the Buddhists monkhood,so naturally they are Sinhalese Buddhists and since they are the vast majority of this country,their voice and wishes carry more weight their needs has to priority. Anyone who does not like it simply has to learn to live with it.(or leave as no one is prevented from leaving)
    All those who accuse the sinhalese and Buddhists of fundmentalism knows very well that there is no such thing compered with their fundamentalism.
    They choose these derogatory terms to insult Buddhists because of their inability to challenge Buddhism theoriticaly.
    One big problem that has plagued Buddhists of this country is the disunity among the maha sangha and The politicians (who run to the mahanayak’s with false or half truths in order to get statements from mahanayake’s in favour of their political party) are the main cause of that plague.

  11. Christie Says:

    Indian funded Bandaranayakes and Socialist of 1951 fraud is the root cause of Sri Lanka (Ceylon means land of Sinhalese like India means land of Hindus, India is known to the world as India and local official name is Bharata). It was Thrid Eye the Indian intelligence service who got Bandaranayake.

  12. Senevirath Says:

    sinhalese were foolish from the time king senarath. they wouldnt have helped muslim and settle them in the east…–“””AHAka yana nai””””””
    THESE ARE ABSURD
    MAKING TAMIL AN OFFICIAL LANGUGE TO SATIFY 10-15%
    70% MAJORITY NOT WORKING ON MINORITY RELIGIOUS FESTIVAL DAYS– AS IF THEY CELIBRATE—-
    THIS IS WASTING MONEY
    GIVE THE ONE THEY WILL ASK MORE . MORE AND MORE UNTIL THEY GET MORE THAN THE MAJORITY

    that is why i always say .. KONDA PANA ETHI NAYAKAYEK METHEK BIHIVI NEHE

    TIME TO DO OR DIE

    YUDDETA NETHI KADUWA KOS KOTANNADA— MAHANAKAMATH BANA DAHAMATH EYAY MATA

    KALO AYAMTHE—–ME OBATA KALAYAY— SIHALUNI AVADIVAV… SIVALUN PANNA DAMAVU

  13. Senevirath Says:

    CRRECTION
    GIVE THEM ONE………..
    ————————————————————————————–
    AANDUWA NOMAGA YAVANA SIYALU KAALAKANNINTA SAAPAVEVA

  14. Sasantha Says:

    I can understand the logic behind the argument – that historical and political necessity requires, indeed demands, the engagement of the Sangha in shaping and influencing decisions that affect society. The sadness is that the spiritual must take second place to the practical, and that the Sangha must attend to the survival of Buddhism over the spiritual teachings of Gautama the Buddha who was a pacifist. But no one must be permitted to question the honour and good intentions of the Sangha – we must defend them with clear thinking, good morals and, if it becomes necessary, force. It is our duty as a proud Buddhist people.

  15. Ben Silva Says:

    I think Sanga should have been far more active to protect the Sinhalese and Lanka. I agree with Lorenzo. Sanga should have mobilised the masses to remove 13th A. Unfortunately Sanga leaders want to have an easy life. We cannot survive by being inactive.

  16. Lorenzo Says:

    Amarasiri the Jihadist is NOT giving links to great BBS speeches.

    The WHOLE WORLD knows what is the enemy of mankind. And in MOST countries people are waking up to this reality.

  17. Fran Diaz Says:

    In the old days under a Monarchy, the Buddhist priests of Sri Lanka participated even as soldiers in the wars. Such was the dedication to safeguard the country. The ‘naaguna wela’ was set aside to protect life and country. In the present day, it is best that State & religion (whatever religion) are kept apart. Yet, when life itself is threatened, all powerful forces within the country must gather together to protect the country, and that includes the Sangha.

    Colonisation of some 500 yrs has brought about instability within the country. Indentured labor from Tamil Nadu brought in around some one and half Million low caste/Dalit originTamil people, thus unbalancing the existing ethnic balance. Conversions to other religions and further influx of foreigners (mostly Tamils) into the country have added to the unbalancing.

    Since Independence (1948), what Sri Lanka lacks are proper Laws to govern and safeguard the country. Being an island in the maritime trade routes, and a gateway to SE Asia, it is imperative that we have strong Laws to safeguard the coastlines and country. Also re the actual implementation of existing Laws to govern and safeguard the country – we see constant interference from within & outside in implementing the existing Laws to safeguard the country.

    To our horror, an existing Law, the 13-A, which is illegal as it was imposed by India under Duress during the times of the Cold War, and is the prime destabilizer of the country, is kept on yet after the end of the Cold War (1991), to please Separatists within the country, our giant neighbor, India, plus other foreign interests. Will a true Democracy (rule of country by the People, for the People) which is touted as a must by the powers that be, ever be allowed for Sri Lanka ?

    Did the readers see how quickly the British have formed Vigilante Committees all over Britain after the murder of an off duty serviceman by a misguided Muslim ? That is real Democracy at work.

    Why is Sri Lanka paying dearly for the Caste/poverty ‘sins’ of Tamil Nadu (India) ? TN is quite capable of solving her own problems.

    In the end, all others in Sri Lanka truly benefit from the so called ‘Sinhala Buddhist hegemony’ which is the best protective umbrella for all Sri Lankans. It is the People Mover for life supportive action.

  18. Leela Says:

    Lorenzo, Thank you for exposing Amarasiri. I fully agree with you that Amarasiri is a Jihadist, who is out to degrade Sinhala Buddhists covering himself in a western egalitarian cloth.
    Leela

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