Sri Lanka’s Constitution and the Focal Advocacy Role of the Maha Sangha
Posted on August 4th, 2017

M.L.Wickramasinghe

(The writer is an ex-Journalist, communication researcher and a retired staff member of the International Civil Service of the United Nations system)

Recently, the Maha Sangha made a common statement on the proposed Constitution. It described the basic parameters of a Constitution that they believe would suit Sri Lanka, and presented the finding that it would not be wise to either draft a new Constitution, or to do away with the Executive Presidential system. They accepted the need to change the existing electoral system.

Since this event, a very small group (e.g. some NGOs, diaspora groups, writers, academics, political activists etc.) is attempting to create a public (mis-) perception to the effect that it is ‘un-desirable’ for the Maha Sangha to be involved in constitutional advocacy. For example there was a message spread that the Maha Sangha will select the Constitution. The current Sri Lankan Constitution does not give any group, either, the lay or clergy, special powers in identifying or selecting a Constitution. This assertion, therefore, is factually wrong, legally invalid, and is aimed at confusing the general population.

Another of their finding is that Maha Sangha’s suggestions are a result of the feudal nature of the institution of the Maha Sangha. Feudal governments and feudal societies have disappeared both from Sri Lanka and the world long time ago. If the community of Maha Sangha is considered to be feudal, then the constitutional monarchies in the world must also be feudal. But both are not. These are fallacious assumptions used to convey the idea that Maha Sangha should not dabble in Constitution making.

On the contrary, the Maha Sangha possesses excellent credentials for advocating their views on the Constitution. The Maha Sangha is one of the oldest and the most respected institutions in the country. It has changed with the passing of time as a living institution should, but had always been and is guided by the Dhamma-Vinaya established by the Buddha. As in any human institution there would be the odd members who would stray; but the absolute vast majority practices within the rules.

Buddhist monks were the advisers of the kings and the spiritual guides of the people since 3rd century BC. Over a period of 2,300 years, the Maha Sangha had provided ethical, intellectual and mobilizing strength to Kings and citizens to survive the many foreign incursions from South India and Europe as well as to overcome other various vicissitudes faced by the Country. Overall, the advocacy and advice of the Maha Sangha (of course along with other factors) has enabled Sri Lanka to continue to be a free, sovereign country with its  territorial integrity unaffected over the longer term.

This is why the people called them ‘Jathiye Muradevatavo’ ( Guardians of the Nation ) . The term was used with, pride, respect and reverence; and the absolute majority of our people still do.

The Sri Maha Bodhi was protected by generations of Buddhist monks of the Mahavihara from the 12th  to 16th  century despite  experiencing severe hardships, disease, semi-starvation, and death, when the capital was forced to be shifted to Polonnaruwa mainly due to South Indian invasions.

Even Kings such as Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa and Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy despite their south Indian origins had genuinely and sincerely – (the words ‘genuinely’  and ‘sincerely’ were really important) sought and received good advice from the Buddhist monks. After the overthrow of Portuguese by the Dutch in Sri Lanka, Roman Catholic priests were given refuge in the Kandyan kingdom due to harassments by the Dutch. The king would not have decided this alone; the Buddhist monks may have advocated for, or concurred with such a decision.

During the recent terrorist conflict, many Chief Incumbents and junior monks stayed put in their temples in the north and east, as they did not wish to abandon the lay followers and also for fear that vacated temples would be damaged or destroyed and occupied. In some localities the Tamil people gave alms and other kinds of assistance to the monks who stayed behind, and the monks too have rendered whatever assistance they could provide to these communities.

The present day Buddhist monks thus are following an age old tradition- that of offering advice and advocacy on key national issues – a practice that had gained validity for over two thousand years in Sri Lanka.

Lord Buddha Himself began this tradition during His life time. He had not shied away from offering advice to kings and ministers. The late venerable K. Sri Dhammanada Nayaka Thero in his publication titled, ‘What Buddhists Believe’, states that the Buddha had gone beyond all worldly affairs, but still gave advice on good government”. The kings, ministers and even Generals on many occasions had asked Lord Buddha many questions, including questions about State affairs. Lord Buddha answered these questions and had provided useful advice.

It is well known that Lord Buddha presented a code for Good Government, called ‘Dasa Raja Dhamma’ i.e. ten rules for kings. Lord Buddha understood the importance of the rule of the law and requested the Sangha to be guided by the Dhamma Vinaya after his passing away, impressing upon the importance of law and order for institutions and countries.

It is interesting to compare the views of an expert layman schooled in modern science, and that of the Maha Sangha on the Constitution. Mr. Neville Ladduwahetty had presented a view that is very similar (in fact the conclusions are identical) to that of the Maha Sangha. In an article titled ‘Constitution making and options’ which appeared on the Island of 18 July 017, Ladduwahetty presents the view that It is only a strong Centre headed by an executive president  elected by all the people that would have the potential to commit and glue the parts into a unitary whole in which all citizens could prosper.” Continuing on, he presents 3 options available to the constitution drafters in Sri Lanka and based on a thorough analysis, recommends option 3, i.e. ‘Retaining the Present Constitution’ as the prudent way forward for Sri Lanka at this time. This congruence tends to add value to each other’s findings.

Let us therefore be respectfully thankful to the Maha Sangha for performing their religious role as well as continuing with the tradition of being Advocates and Advisers to the country on national issues which in modern times also includes the Constitution.

(The writer is an ex-Journalist, communication researcher and a retired staff member of the International Civil Service of the United Nations system)

One Response to “Sri Lanka’s Constitution and the Focal Advocacy Role of the Maha Sangha”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    Bravo. You have spoken well.

    How can one compare the likes of Lal Wijenaike and his cohorts consisting of Anti Sinhala, Anti Buddhist, pseudo socialists to the Institution of Sangha with over 2300 years of unbroken tradition and vinaya discipline. These mongrels are trying to undo a whole value system as well as paving way to dismember and balkanize our Motherland. This crime is no small. It is upto the people of Sri Lanka to deal with them as they see fit!

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