Posted on March 11th, 2018

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

Buddhism has been and continues to be, the basis or foundation of Sri Lanka’s culture for over 2300 years. The Sinhala people have been practicing Buddhism continuously, far longer than anyone else in the world. Ours is the oldest Buddhist country in the world with Buddhism arriving in the island and establishing itself far and wide since 237 BCE. Buddhists across the world respect Sri Lanka as the country where pure Buddhism or Buddhist teachings in its original form prevails. Notably, it is the traditional Buddhist flag of Sri Lanka which is regarded as the Buddhist flag of all Buddhists across the world.

The Sinhala Buddhist culture is the national culture of Sri Lanka. It is one of the World’s oldest, continuous, unchanged cultures in existence and a culture that is unique to Sri Lanka. The island’s Buddhist culture has achieved an individuality and identity that distinguishes it from its neighbors. It is important to note that whatever cultural traits brought from India have undergone significant changes and independent growth, largely influenced by Buddhism which was formally introduced to the country in the 3rd century BCE. Then and now, what our motherland clearly projects are its Sinhala Buddhist imprint.

All deeper aspects of Sri Lanka’s culture are reflective of Buddhist ideology, principles, ethics, virtues, values, morality, traditions, customs, thoughts, temperament, attitudes, and way of life. Whatever new elements that have been absorbed into the culture at different times, were subject to appropriate modifications, adjustments, and adaptations to make them compatible with Buddhist principles and values. Buddhist principles were intertwined in these new additions although there may be exceptions which often are those elements which are in the process of being adapted to fit into the cultural norms of-the-country.

All salient aspects of our national culture – tangible and intangible, either grew or evolved within the borders of our country. Sinhala language and literature originated in Sri Lanka. Sinhala language in fact, is the most important defining element of our nation’s culture and heritage, from historic times. The Sinhala language exists only in Sri Lanka and has its own distinguished literary tradition. Sinhala is one of the world’s oldest living languages. All other languages used in Sri Lanka originated in other countries. Sinhala is the only legitimate national language of Sri Lanka, which from ancient times had a strong unifying effect in our motherland helping to reinforce the solidarity of our people as a unique cultural entity in the world. Sovereign national rights of Sri Lanka rests with the Sinhala people who are indigenous to this country, forming its dominant majority community for over 2500 years. Sri Lanka is the only national sovereign motherland of the Sinhala people. Their culture, way of life and their Sinhala language originated and developed-in-Sri-Lanka.
The strength of this cultural foundation was tested several times in the past, during periods of foreign invasion, devastation, and exploitation. But the nation stayed intact, withstanding threats, perils, and calamities, largely owing to the power and potency of its Sinhala Buddhist cultural foundation. It is the inspiration of this strong Buddhist foundation that is reflected in the lives of the people. Despite invasions, threats, challenges, Buddhist culture did not disappear from our island, unlike in the case with several other countries. Today, over 70% of the total population of Sri Lanka is Buddhists. The simple and uncomplicated lifestyle promoted by our culture, is based on the five precepts of Buddhism. Their mind-set, temperament and attitude towards life are clearly reflective of Buddhist norms and values such as compassion, non-violence, tolerance, morality, and peaceful coexistence with other living beings and with nature.

Buddhism is not a religion with a dogmatic canon. Buddhism functions not through crusades, but through tolerance, openness, and the persuasive power of its philosophical foundation. Tolerance and the enormous adaptability of Buddhism are qualities that have remained unchanged throughout its remarkable history.  Buddhism upholds everything worthy and meaningful. It promotes peace, peaceful coexistence, and democratic principles in governance. It promotes human rights, development of individual and community virtues and discipline in accordance with the “pancha seela”. Non-violence and compassion towards all living beings has been the cornerstone of the
national culture of Sri Lanka from early times. Peaceful cohabitation was promoted by Sinhala Buddhist kings from early times. Respect for the natural environment and sustainable and participatory development of resources and upheld in Buddhism. In addition, Buddhism strongly promotes tolerance of other faiths, religious and social harmony, and-cordial-relations-with-other-nations.

Tamils, Muslims, and Malays are non-indigenous minority communities of Sri Lanka, with their own cultures and religions, who settled in the island at different times in the past, coming from their own motherlands. All non-indigenous minority communities of whatever label, are duty-bound to become a part of the Sinhala Buddhist Nation, just the way minority communities are expected to do in other countries of the world, especially Canada, Australia, USA, UK, Norway. Those settling down or have already settled down in host countries have a bounden duty to merge with the host nation into a single coherent nation of members. Any initiative by anyone, that would dilute or threaten the national sovereignty of the Sinhala people is not only unjust but also illegal and will not be acceptable to the Sinhala community. All minority communities of Sri Lanka are expected to strengthen the Sinhala Buddhist nation founded on the noble principles of non-violence, tolerance, compassion, and where peaceful co-habitation has been the cornerstone from historic times. “Forgiving and forgetting” has been the attitude of the Sinhala people from historic times, even towards those who have harmed them repeatedly in the past, because our people know that eventually justice and truth will-prevail.

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

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