The Dangers of Multi –culturalising and downsizing Vesak – the pre-eminent Buddhist Festival in Sri Lanka
Posted on April 9th, 2017
Throughout Sri Lanka’s Buddhist History lasting for over 2300 years Vesak has been an exclusive Buddhist Festival with only Buddhist symbols and decorations been displayed to mark the most important occasion in the Buddhist calendar. Even at worst of times during colonial rule under three Christian powers, this festive day for Buddhists was never adulterated with symbols of other religions.
However this year ( 2017) this long established tradition of Vesak being an exclusive Buddhist festival appears to be under threat if we are to take cue from an Advertisement placed in the ‘Sunday Times’ newspaper which has been running for 4 weekends. The focus of the advertisement is on celebration of Vesak but the margin of the advertisement at both the top and bottom ends is lined with the symbols of four religions namely Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
The rationale for inserting non – Buddhist religious symbols in respect to celebration of Vesak, in a newspaper advertisement is inexplicable except in terms of Multi –culturalising and downsizing Vesak as an exclusive Buddhist Festival. It is not a secret that the space for Buddhists and Buddhism is getting diminished in a land that once took pride as the centre of Buddhism and was accordingly given that recognition throughout the world.
Buddhism and Buddhist values were the pride of the Sinhale nation for over two millennia. Nothing that this country stood for brought international attention both from near and far than the nation’s commitment to safeguard and foster Buddhism. Buddhist values were the term of reference in national policy making by Sinhalese Kings. Even the Nayakkar (Tamil) Kings of the Kandyan Kingdom respected Buddhist values and never diluted them with ideas alien to Buddhism. Now all what this ancient nation stood for is under grave threat from a Government that is bound by Article 9 of the Constitution to give foremost place to Buddhism and accordingly to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana.
We are indeed living in strange times. An advertisement placed in the national newspapers on February 4, 2017 called on people to engage in shared values between religions. This would appear to be nothing but a shameless exercise to bury Buddhist values within a seemingly innocent move to harmonise values that are in-congruent.
The First Precept is very clear on the ethical conduct required of Buddhists. The principle ‘ Kill and Eat’ which is at the core of Abrahamic religions is anathema to Buddhist followers, by and large.
Is the ‘ Shared Values’ policy meant to encourage Buddhists to ‘kill and eat’ and accordingly violate the First Precept?
The current advertisement in Today’s Sunday Times 2 (April 9, 2017) page 10, attempts to dissuade the Buddhist public from having Dansals to feed the poor, engaging in celebration of Vesak in a special fitting manner being a once a year occasion and projecting Sri Lanka as a pre- dominant Buddhist country.
While austerity is being advocated for Buddhists in celebration of Vesak, no such caution was sounded when Christmas was celebrated under Government patronage last December. An exorbitant amount was spent in decorating Colombo streets and public squares with fancy lighting and bulbs to show case Christianity including the erection of a fake Christmas Tree on Galle Face Green, despite protests from the vast majority of Lanka’s citizenry.
There must be a limit to appeasement. It should never be done at the expense of Buddhism or downsizing the celebration of Buddhist festivals. It would indeed be tragic if the forthcoming UN Day of Vesak 2017 Conference due to be held in Colombo (May 12 – 14, 2017) were to be used for promoting an inter – faith and multi-cultural agenda whose ultimate hidden goal is nothing but to drive out Buddhism from public life in the country.