Anti-Buddhist propaganda with an academic veneer – III
Posted on June 11th, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

An intellectual hatred is the worst,

So let her think opinions are accursed. –B. Yeats/ ‘A Prayer for My Daughter’

In this concluding section of my article, I am making an attempt to suggest how anti-Buddhist propaganda has polluted even the academia, and how, as a potent factor, such misinformation has contributed to our country’s present predicament.

Johanson writes:

The Buddhist Protestantism of the 19th century, the monks who invoked Buddhist texts to justify the Sri Lankan civil war, and the extremist movements surging today all have one thing in common: a belief that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist nation that must be protected from foreign elements, violently if necessary. The Sri Lankan case shows that nationalism and extremism can be filtered through anything”.

This is complete nonsense. There are no ‘extremist movements surging today’ among the Sinhalese as Johansson alleges. The various nonviolent nationalist Buddhist movements led by some young lay Buddhists and Buddhist monks have come into being mainly because successive governments have failed to fulfill their constitutional obligation of protecting Buddhism. Their protests are partly against entrenched governmental inaction that is due to the misapplication of political correctness in the presence of valid complaints about the threatened state of the Buddhist cultural heritage of the country caused by tangible evidence of increasing non-Buddhist religious fundamentalist activism, destruction of archaeological sites and racist Tamil politicians advocating ethnic cleansing targeting the Sinhalese of the North.  Any government can put things right  provided they are determined to do so. They can do it with the willing participation of the leaders of Hindu, Christian and Muslim religions. The misinformation that is so liberally dished out by half baked ‘academics’ of Andreas Johansson’s type makes this task very difficult, because it undermines the already existing peace and harmony among the communities.

Johansson uses the term ‘nationalism’ in a pejorative sense and equates it with extremism. Critics of his kind condemn today’s powerful nationalist stream of politics in Sri Lanka as the direct malignant result of the national awakening movement and Buddhist renaissance (Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in short) that Dharmapala pioneered in the late 19th century. Dharmapala was a ‘Sinhala zealot’ and a ‘Buddhist bigot’ to the Western biased local anthropologists and sociologists who had apparently no natural empathy with their own people. They were a culturally deracinated lot, although they might deny that fact. However, it is doubtful whether even the proponents of the theory of Buddhist Protestantism any longer believe in it.

What actually is Protestant Buddhism that Gananath Obeysekere et al propounded in the latter 1970s and 1980s? There is a succinct account of Protestant Buddhism and what they described as ‘Buddhist modernism’ in the Wikipedia, which I chose to quote here in full. I retrieved the following from the Wikipedia (June 7, 2018) for the purpose of this article as it gives the notion in a nutshell; it seems to have been inserted by a voluntary editor who is sympathetic to the scholars that Johansson relies on.

The term ‘Protestant Buddhism,’ coined by scholar Gananath Obeyesekere, is often applied to Dharmapala’s form of Buddhism. It is Protestant in two ways. First, it is influenced by Protestant ideals such as freedom from religious institutions, freedom of conscience, and focus on individual interior experience. Second, it is in itself a protest against claims of Christian superiority, colonialism, and Christian missionary work aimed at weakening Buddhism. “Its salient characteristic is the importance it assigns to the laity.” It arose among the new, literate, middle class centered in Colombo.

The term ‘Buddhist modernism’ is used to describe forms of Buddhism that suited the modern world, usually influenced by European enlightenment thinking, and often adapted by Asian Buddhists as a counter to claims of European or Christian superiority. Buddhist modernists emphasize certain aspects of traditional Buddhism, while de-emphasizing others. Some of the characteristics of Buddhist modernism are: importance of the laity as against the sangha; rationality and de-emphasis of supernatural and mythological aspects; consistency with (and anticipation of) modern science; emphasis on spontaneity, creativity, and intuition; democratic, anti-institutional character; emphasis on meditation over devotional and ceremonial actions.

Dharmapala is an excellent example of an Asian Buddhist modernist, and perhaps the paradigmatic example of Protestant Buddhism. He was particularly concerned with presenting Buddhism as consistent with science, especially the theory of evolution”.

Dr Susantha Goonatilake devotes  Chapter Seven (p.131-168) of his book ‘Recolonisation – Foreign Funded NGOs in Sri Lanka’ (Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 2006) to a discussion of ‘Colonising Studies on Sri Lanka’ as its title indicates. He is, among other things, Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and president of Royal Asiatic Society Sri Lanka (2009 to date) and a prolific writer and speaker on sociology, information and knowledge systems, and science topics. In Chapter Seven Dr Goonatilake refers to an earlier work of his entitled ‘Anthropologizing Sri Lanka: a Civilizational Misadventure’ published in 2001, which examines how four most productive and often quoted anthropologists, namely, Gananath Obeysekere and (the late)S.J. Tambiah (both of Sri Lankan origin, but mostly worked in Europe and USA), and Richard Gombrich and Bruce Kapferer (both British, and worked in Britain and Australia)analyzed the recent (as viewed from 2006) changes that have taken place in the Sinhalese Buddhist society. The conclusion that Goonatilake arrives at in ‘Anthropologizing Sri Lanka’ is that the works of these anthropologists are seriously flawed in terms of not only the basic facts on the ground, but also in terms of the methodology they use and the conclusions they draw. More damagingly, their post-colonial anthropology seems worse than even the nineteenth- and early twentieth- century colonial anthropological writings on Sri Lanka  in terms of the negative attitude with which they view their subject, i.e., the Sinhalese Buddhists.” (p.132, Recolonization). The four confirmed each other’s  interpretation of the Sri Lankan reality, and ensured that their common view became the definitive version of that reality. The distortions in their writings were fed by a set of persons associated with foreign funded NGOs, which collectively provide a social framework that helps filter their own version of Sri Lankan reality to authors living outside the country. This set of institutions and individuals, working largely outside the university structure and public domain, acts as a social cognitive matrix that filters the local reality for visiting anthropologists. The re-emergence of a virulent colonial anthropology in Sri Lanka is due partly to their efforts.” (ibid)

The so-called Buddhist Protestantism is an eminently untenable academic thesis that is little known among the ordinary Sinhalese Buddhists (though it is their interests that are harmed by such threadbare theories). Protestant Buddhism is the first of the two transformations that, according to these Eurocentric anthropologists, took place in Sinhalese Buddhism (by which is meant, I assume, the brand of  Buddhism they supposed was being  practiced among the Sinhalese the late 19th and early 20th century) both in terms of its theory and practice. The second alleged transformation took place in the 1970s according to these theorists, who dubbed it ‘post-protestant Buddhism’.  But before giving a brief idea about this so-called ‘post-protestant Buddhism’ (as I understand it as a layman), let me say something about what the aforementioned anthropologists call ‘protestant Buddhism’ that Andreas Johansson invokes in his article.

The Sinhalese have an unbroken recorded history of two thousand five hundred years. Nearly all of it (for two thousand three hundred years according to the Mahavamsa/The Great Chronicle) is as a Buddhist civilization, which even today forms the unshakable cultural foundation of the multilingual, multi-religious, multiethnic Sri Lankan society. How many other nations in the world can boast of such a long history with a single religious tradition?  There is nothing wrong in identifying Sri Lanka as a Buddhist nation, given that 70% of its population comprises Buddhists, and that Buddhism is not confined to one race. The former prime minister of Britain David Cameron once proudly claimed in a Christmas message that the British were a Christian nation and explained what his government had done to help the church, while describing how the institution served the nation. But Britain also prides itself on its multiculturalism. Cameron implied in the same message that the accommodativeness of the British society flowed from its dominant Christian culture. Did sociologists of Johansson’s type level any criticism at his words? Lutheranism, professed by 71.5% of its population is the state religion of Norway and dominates its culture (whereas Sri Lanka does not claim Buddhism to be its state religion). America is a Christian nation. All these reputedly secular democracies have a shorter history than the Buddhist Sri Lanka. Besides, there is no other religion that is so compatible as Buddhism with the notions of secularism and multiculturalism that are basic to democracy. So, what is so objectionable about the ‘belief that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist nation that must be protected from foreign elements…’.  It is mainly due to the characteristic Buddhist tolerance that prevails in our culture that minority communities professing other faiths follow their religions in absolute freedom from interference and subversion.

Buddhist monks feel compelled to respond to what they perceive as aggressive acts by non-Buddhist religious extremists that adversely affect the rights of the exceptionally tolerant, accommodative Buddhists. Under normal circumstances they would gladly keep out of mundane affairs. But they have no other option when the Nayake monks and relevant government authorities fail to address these issues according to the existing laws. Despite this, Johansson tries to prove that Buddhist monks justify their alleged violence by invoking Buddhist texts. He quotes what are purported to be some examples from religious studies professor Tessa J. Bartholomeuz’s book ‘In the Defence of Dharma and Just War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka’. (It seems that Johansson hasn’t got even the name of the book right. It is ‘In Defense of Dharma”. (The book was published posthumously in 2002 by RoutledgeCurzon, London, for the author died in 2001.) One example is a verse from a song said to have been composed by a Buddhist monk. The verse is paraphrased in English translation thus:

Linked by the love of (Buddhist) religion and protected by the Motherland, brave soldiers you should go hand in hand.”

Given its nonsensical I doubt its authenticity. Soldiers are there to protect the Motherland, not the other way around! In what sense is this a Buddhist text? The other example given is also a verse where the metaphorical nuances of the original Sinhalese are totally lost sight of:

That Buddhism is a religion of ardent aspiration for the higher good of men is not surprising. It springs out of the mind of the Buddha, a man of martial spirit and high aims……Buddhism is made by a warrior spirit for warriors.

Use of military imagery is common in religious literature. So we have Soldiers of God in Christianity. Hindu gods are always armed. Comparing Buddha to a warrior does not mean that he was a war monger. He advocated a peaceful attitude, compassion and generosity towards all beings. Cultivation of inner virtue demands qualities such as courage, endurance, selflessness, and determination, qualities expected to be found in good soldiers at the mundane level. So, the second verse cannot be interpreted as a Buddhist religious text that could invoked to justify war against any community.

 

But then, Johansson could be alluding to the Mahavamsa tradition, frequently cited in support of the nationalist cause, that king Dutugemunu (who ruled from 161-137 BCE), as a strategy to create awareness about, and woo public support for, his campaign on the way,  had a group of monks in the vanguard of his army when marching against the Damila (Dravida) invader Elara (205-161 BCE) in Anuradhapura. It is a historical fact that  monks have always been in the forefront of national struggles to protect the country, the nation, and the Buddhist dispensation from internal and external enemies. But the important thing to remember is that the Mahavamsa (The Great Chronicle) is not Buddhist scripture, though some biased non-Buddhist fake scholars misrepresent it as such. The Mahavamsa is a poem of great sophistication composed in the Pali language while also being the history of  Sinhaladweepa (the Island of the Sinhalese) as a Buddhist kingdom. (However, latest research has revealed that the history of the Sinhalese on the island extends to the hoary past much before the advent of Buddhism.) The answer to Johansson on his point, then, is that just as there is nothing in Buddhism that advocates fighting to settle disputes (though the Buddha himself was born to the Kshatriya or Warrior caste in a Hindu society, and was formally trained as a warrior in his youth before he set off on his spiritual quest), so is there nothing in Buddhism that prevents its adherents from fighting lawless terrorists in self defence.

 

Any Sinhalese Buddhist with an average knowledge of Buddhism would reject the idea of ‘Protestant Buddhism’ offhand without giving much thought to it. They would rely on their culturally determined understanding of the Buddhist teaching. However, the four scholars mentioned above in this article did not probably realize this. The mostly village dwelling Sinhalese Buddhists of that era (late 19th and early 20th century), though a very high percentage of them were illiterate and uneducated, knew enough of the essence of Buddhism to know that Buddhism was not a ‘religion’ unlike Christianity.  So, even in the mid-twentieth century, in the village areas, the term ‘agamkarayo’  or ‘agame minissu’ (lit. people pursuing religion or people of religion) was reserved for Christians; ‘eya agamata gihilla’ meant ‘he has embraced Christianity’. So, the unspoken assumption was that Buddhism was not a religion. Of course, this was implicit in their understanding of Buddhism and in their practice as taught by the monks; neither the monks nor the lay Buddhists would have gone so far as to explicitly say that Buddhism indeed was not a religion. Supplicating to Hindu gods for help in mundane affairs is something most Buddhists do, for which there are historical reasons. But they know that it is not a part of Buddhism.  (Here I am using the term ‘religion’ to refer to the concept of belief, without the support of empirical or experiential evidence, in and worship of a supreme being or an ultimate truth, for the purpose of escaping the unsatisfactoriness of human/worldly existence. Of course, most ordinary people who profess a religion, hardly ever worry about what exactly ‘religion’ means.) Even at that time, Buddhists ‘worshipped’ – Buddhists perform certain set devotional practices like offering flowers, incense,  and food and drinks, chanting verses in praise of the trinity of the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha (The Triple Gem. But their ‘worship’ does not involve any form of praying to a higher power.

The lines from W.B. Yeats’ ‘A Prayer for My Daughter’ (in the epigraph) apply very meaningfully to Johansson and the social anthropologists who proposed the theory of Buddhist  Protestantism that he embraces as gospel truth. May Johansson understand that a hate filled intellectual, when opinionated, is much more harmful to the society than an ordinary person (That’s what the poet Yeats tells his infant daughter to remember when she grows up). Look at the chaotic situation that the country has been plunged into mainly due to the West’s misconception that the majority (Sinhalese Buddhist) community want to lord it over the minorities by denying them equality out of their alleged ethno-religious chauvinism, fanaticism, xenophobia, and what have you. It is the Tamil separatist extremists and religious fundamentalists, themselves minorities within, respectively, the Tamil and Muslim minorities, who (i.e. those extremist elements) actually display these deplorable attributes that the Sinhalese Buddhists are wrongly accused of. Since internationally the Sinhalese are a small minority their protests are easily drowned in the deafening hue and cry raised by their false accusers that far outnumber them. The West’s anti-Sinhalese, anti-Buddhist misconceptions are reinforced by the sort of powerful misinformation fed to them in various forms including fake academic theories.

Let me conclude with an extract from Dr Sarath Amunugama’s book aforementioned ‘THE LION’S ROAR’:

…..the writings of these social scientists ……………….. contributed significantly to the work of propagandists portraying Sinhala Budddhists as an intolerant community which opposed the ‘legitimate rights’ of minorities, as they were captives of the Anagarika’s ideology. Some writers have referred to this alleged phenomenon as Dharmapalian nationalism”. Even the writings of many scholars examining Sinhalese folk religion, the credibility of Sinhalese and Pali narratives, particularly the Mahavamsa, and episodes in Sri Lankan history such as the career of King Dutugemunu were all neatly dovetailed into a propagandist attack on modern Sinhala Buddhism. As if to mirror this ideological approach of the social scientists, the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) targeted Buddhist places of worship and Buddhist monks in their military operations.”(p.534)

4 Responses to “Anti-Buddhist propaganda with an academic veneer – III”

  1. Christie Says:

    What ever is the religion the only way one can save oneself when attacked is by attacking the attacker.

  2. Nimal Says:

    All past religions have a distorted the messages of their founders, well manipulated, well misdirected to the advantage of the writers, to the advantage of the people who make a living, a business out of it. Cunning or stupid politicians manipulate it to hoodwink the equally stupid and gullible people.
    Present unrest and turmoil in nations, communities is because the conflicts that are created by religions.
    We must learn to absorb the basic essence of the teachers without getting pharaonic that leads to unpleasantness.
    Country that distance them selves from this that our secular are progressive and well developed, good enough for the very religious minded rascals to seek asylum and create hell in those secular countries.
    So we must not fight over every detail what was said by Buddaha,Christ or Mohamod.After all these texts are written by someone other than the prophets, so how accurate can it be?
    Can anyone write down one ate on the 24th of May 1998?So the answer is as accurate as the texts written about a religion
    So forget religion and history which has no relevance to day and we must move forward without looking too much back into religions and history. Learn from the developed world where their churches are near empty.

  3. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    The biggest threat to Buddhism and the Sinhalese race comes from the FASTEST BREEDING RELIGION mussies.
    Mussies multiply multiply and multiply with their baby machine wives and taking over town by town while Sinhalese
    deshapaluwan can’t lick the backsides of the mussies for their votes. Seeing this, mussies multiply at even faster rate.

    Mussies used this dirty, disgusting, sub human trick to turn old Buddhist iran, aganisthan, pakesthan, maldives,
    bangladesh, malaysia and indonesia to mussie countries within a few hundred years of their arrivals in those
    countries with the their baby machine wives after multiply multiply and outnumbering the natives. The dirty,
    disgusting, sub human trick worked in the olden days since the natives didn’t realise until the menace came to
    their doorstep. But today’s ‘connected world’ with internet, tv, mobile phone people realise the mussie onslaught
    and fight back to save their countries. One thing is certain, mussies will multiply and multiply and get rid of
    Buddhism and Sinhalese race after a mega blood bath. We have to blame the anti Sinhalese, anti Buddhist,
    anti Sri Lanka catholic run UNPatriotic_rats for dividing the Sinhalese and make them so vulnerable. Also mussies
    deshapaluwn like bada udin of old (who started mussies only schools to fill them up to rafters and hide the real
    numbers), ass rough, xxxxhim, bada udin new who destroyed our wild life sanctuaries and ancient Buddhist
    temples to settle down new mussie breeds, a sad ali (not enough children to be sad?), fi sar, kabir hashish, etc.
    etc. etc who have promoted mussie multiplication at every opportunity.

    Religion is a very very divisive thing we all accept. It is making things even worse with some of their teachings.
    For a start these religions of conveniences don’t regard killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, drug abuse etc.
    etc (Buddhism’s five precepts) as sins while all honest people including all the law courts in the world do. All the
    religions were founded pre-science. Today we all accept (honest people only) Charles Darwin’s Theory of
    Evolution showed how these two legged creatures, including all living species came to being. Simply put it’s
    no god’s work. Still these mythical god based religions propagate those in this day and age using money and
    power while Fastest Breeding Religion uses outputting more votes year in year out. Meanwhile, the only true
    religion in the world, Buddhism never forces it down non believers’ throats or don’t have any organisation to
    propagate/protect it. In a way it makes sense since people following these religions of conveniences which don’t
    regard sins as sins are only cheating themselves and suffer in their next lives.

    Please Google to see iran, afganisthan, pakesthan, maldives, bangladesh, malaysia and indonesia’s old Buddhist
    heritage. Mussies motto: NO LIMIT, CHILDREN! put an end to Buddhism and made almost all of them are hell
    holes. That’s what these mussies have in store for us. Syria, libya, yemen, somalia, afganisthan, pakesthan,
    iraq etc. etc. You are spoilt for choice Sinhala modayas!

  4. Randeniyage Says:

    Attack on Buddhism coming in various forms.
    Please listen to this.

    https://youtu.be/wfJLTgBCeBw

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