Whither Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Posted on June 27th, 2018

Janaka Perera

Today, Buddhism in Sri Lanka faces its biggest challenge since independence. The reasons are complex.  Over the past two decades many Sinhala Buddhists both among the laity and the clergy have been losing their bearings making them vulnerable to dubious internal and external forces.

They are the two fronts on which concerned Buddhists have to fight.

One group demonizes Buddhists and their leaders covertly and covertly mainly through the media (the most recent example is the Daily Mirror article denigrating the Anagarika Dharmapala, calling him a racist and trouble-maker).

The other group distorts the Dhamma and misleads Buddhists for the purpose destroying the Sasana from within. The first comprises mainly non-Buddhists while the second includes persons (both bhikkus and lay persons) pretending to be Buddhists.

The first group includes foreign-funded Christian evangelists who take full advantage of the abject poverty among some rural Buddhists (and for that matter poor Hindus too) to convert them from their ancestral religion. This aggressive proselytizing and ‘harvesting souls’ have been largely ignored by successive governments, despite promises to promote and safeguard Buddhism.

On occasion this has eventually led to violence for which Buddhists are blamed in the end but the root causes are never probed.

Although schisms in the Buddha Sanasana have been occurring since the time of Sri Lanka’s ancient kings leading to differences among the Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana schools none of them – as far as it is known – rejected the Tripitaka and the core Buddhist teachings or the fact that Buddhism originated in the Indian subcontinent.

Our focus here is on recently-emerged groups which have been attempting to almost totally distort the Dhamma and its history.  These distortions from within have misled many Buddhists, including supposedly educated people. These misinterpretations have become a bigger threat to the survival of the teaching than Christian evangelism and other outside forces which many Buddhists are worried about.

Indirectly related to this is the role a section of the Sangha played after 1948. The party system the British introduced divided both the Buddhist laity and clergy though all of them were supposed to be followers of the same Buddhist teaching.

Party loyalties and ideologies appeared to become more important than the Buddha’s guide to good governance and the need to properly address pressing national issues.  These failures led to both positive and negative outcomes as we have seen since 1956.

Bhikkus were addressing political meetings from UNP, SLFP, LSSP, CP, MEP and JVP election platforms and finally a section of them formed their own party the JHU – whereas in pre-colonial times the Sangha served only as advisers to kings but did not directly involve themselves in politics.

In the post-independence years some of the non-Buddhist clergy too served political agendas often to undermine Buddhism but their roles were not that visible since hardly any of them addressed political meetings and openly participated in election campaigns. However Buddhist revivalists like L.H. Mettananda exposed them.

Not surprisingly this situation led to Sinhala Buddhists, especially the laity to grope in the dark despite some erudite monks like the Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha trying their best to open the eyes of the Buddhists.

Some of us might remember that in the 1950s there was a group called Thapasa Nikaya the members of which pretended to be very pious monks but this ‘sect’ vanished when they were exposed as rogues in robes.

These unwelcome developments gradually opened the way for dubious characters to misinterpret the Buddhist teaching and its history.  Among them are self-proclaimed Buddhas and Arahats but leading luxurious lives. Others are issuing ‘sovan’ and ‘sakrudagami’ certificates to the gullible who attend their ‘meditation’ classes.

Another group is preaching that the Tripitaka is a later addition to the Buddha Dhamma and therefore not necessary to understand the dhamma.

The biggest fantasy has been the story that the Buddha (or Prince Siddhartha) was born in Sri Lanka. This lie is being spread over the past 10 years and even books have been written to propagate this blatant falsehood. Among those who first exposed this were the eminent psychiatrist and Buddhist activist the late Dr. D.V.J. Harischandra and the Venerable Bandarawela Amithananda.

So far no one in Sri Lanka except the deluded followers of those who are promoting this fantasy believe it (and may be a few SL-born ‘Buddhists’ domiciled abroad).  Fortunately none of the television channels in SL have given publicity to this as far as I am aware.

The best way to challenge these humbugs is to demand that they provide (1) clear archaeological evidence supported by carbon testing and other scientific methods to prove that the Buddha lived in Sri Lanka and (2) irrefutable historical proof – acceptable to all reputed researchers – that the historical places and personalities associated with him are actually not in India but in Sri Lanka.

It is very doubtful they will accept this challenge but the gullible would continue to believe them.

Since these distortions and misinterpretations are so numerous the following link will some throw some light on it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgt2fhbCFWk

It is now high time for a another Sangha Council (Sangayana) to weed out undesirable elements within the Sasana.

Also there are moves to dilute our Sinhala-Buddhist national identity in the name of multiculturalism.  So called liberals, secularists and some Marxists are involved in this. There are no 100 percent multicultural countries anywhere in the world.  Whether a country is officially secular or not, she has a predominant culture, no matter whether it has been influenced by other traditions and beliefs.

India is constitutionally secular and is home to many religions but it is Hindu traditions/culture that is predominant there.  The same applies to the USA which has the words ‘In God We Trust” on the dollar note in accordance with its Protestant Christian Culture (that white settlers USA, Canada and Australia suppressed the rights of indigenous people and committed atrocities on them is a different issue)

Malaysia is officially a Muslim country where Islamic culture is predominant but is tolerant of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity.

Most important is to realize that a predominant culture and national identity are based on centuries-old the beliefs and traditions of the majority community of a country.  Therefore it is absurd for a Johnny- come-late community (as some Islamic immigrants in the West) to demand for their beliefs a status equal to that of the predominant culture of that country.

We often read and hear the term ‘Sri Lankan Buddhist’ but in fact it is virtual misnomer.  It gives an outsider the impression that Buddhists in SL include Tamils, Burghers, Malays etc. whereas in reality 99 percent of the Buddhists here are Sinhala.

Even Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has today recognized that Buddhism should enjoy the pride of place in Sri Lanka.

During most periods of Sri Lanka’s recorded pre-colonial history (including the Kandyan era) this country was known as ‘Sinhale’, which meant not a particular race but all the people who lived in the ‘Land of the Lions’ as the Chinese traveler-monk, Fa-hsien noted in his Record of the Buddhist Countries.  It was only during British colonial period and afterwards that the term ‘Sinhale’ was denigrated and given racial connotations, both by anti-Sinhala elements and those misled by them.

Over 50 years ago when the kind of multiculturalism some dubious groups are promoting today was unheard of, well-known Sinhala satirical writer, the late T.G.W. de Silva wrote a short story about a Parliamentary debate on which days should be declared public holidays in a way not to displease any of the minority religious and ethnic communities. Eventually Parliament decides that all 365 days of the year should be declared public holidays!

13 Responses to “Whither Buddhism in Sri Lanka”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    As things are now and how they will be in the future, it is better to have at least part of the island as a Sinhala Buddhist nation than lose it all. Having the entire island as one unit that truly gives the foremost place to Buddhism is the ideal. But if that ideal cannot be achieved, we must preserve the Sinhala Buddhist identity in at least the good part of the island. Living in the ideal in a fairytale but letting the current erosion of the Sinhala Buddhist identity is most foolish. The revival we hope for will never come.

    If British India remained undivided, Hindu percentage would be below 64% instead of 80% of India as now. Given the inevitable division of the majority, the effective power of a pro-Hindu political group would be less than 26% today in British India, unable to assert influence.

    Sacrificing Sinhala and Buddhist interests just to keep the island nation in one piece is absurd because this island nation has already become anti-Sinhala and anti-Buddhist and the erosion continues.

    Hope readers are sufficiently capable to calmly understand these harsh realities we don’t like to admit and discuss. Otherwise we will be blaming each other while losing it all – the entire island. With that Sinhala values, language, culture and true Buddhism will be wiped out from the entire earth. This pressure is also felt in the economic front as well by Sinhalese.

  2. Christie Says:

    I see Hinduthwa the biggest threat to Buddhism in our country.

    Buddhism is about understanding and not about believing.

    Our temples are full of all sorts of gods and people go on smashing coconuts on concrete or stone floors.

    Understanding things allows you to discuss and where Buddha was born is part of that discussion and allows you to discuss the issue.

    Buddhist Dalits in India are being reconverted to Hinduism in India as I key my comment.

    Hinduthwa agenda for our country is to divide the country; one part to Hindus and other to Budhists.

    North, East, Hill Country and most of the coast will be Indian Colonial parasites and the rest the Sinhala area will be under Socialists.

  3. Hiranthe Says:

    @ Dilrook,

    Is it the reason you support 20A?

    If Buddhist values are deteriorating being in one piece of the whole Island, what is the guarantee that it will become strong only in South, after giving the “Ealam” as meant vaguely by you?

    There will be a Malayanadu demand; Solution – Separate them!

    There will be multi Islamic States demand; Solution – Separate them!

    Finally, the legitimate original owners of this Island, going back to a history of over 10,000 years will be living in separate pockets and finally end up in the Indian Ocean when those separated states have started expanding their areas.

    I don’t think it is a good idea. Then King Dutugamunu could have just kept to the South and enjoyed his life. If he did so, by this day, the whole Island would be the Ealam already.

  4. Dilrook Says:

    @Hiranthe

    20A has nothing to do with the nature of the nation. Removing EP gives more power to the majority as a leader can be elected without minority support.

    Tamil Eelam is not practical.

    A devolution mechanism that preserves a unit for Sinhala Buddhists (not divided 7 units) is more like it. There is no room for Malayanadu as it will be part of one large area (made up of 7 provinces and Trincomalee and Ampara districts). Call it “rata”.

  5. Randeniyage Says:

    Firstly, law and order need to be re-established and corruption should be eliminated. without this no point talking about a ‘Sinhala Buddhist Nation’ whole country will be destroyed, the way it is going and regardless of which individual is the new king.
    Secondly, we have to leave aside religion. Buddhism will look after itself. Only thing that can be done to Buddhism is to control the monks who spread various ‘new’ theories such as ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’, ‘Anatta is not Anathma’ , ‘I am arahat and your are sothapanna’ etc., etc.
    Once you do that, it is a matter of ‘one nation’ one language=Sinhala policy that has to be implemented.
    With time whole island will be Sinhala speaking and Buddhism will definitely become the main religion without the help of corrupt politicians, who are there only to destroy it.
    Examples are plenty.
    1. Mayasia – 99% citizens now speak Malay
    2. Indonesia – 3000 km long and thousands of islands and many languages but 99% speak Bahasa Indonesia
    3. UK – English
    4. USA – English
    5. Canada – English
    Our only and main problem is personal greed, followed by existence of Tamil language.
    We don’t need Hitlers, what we need are Dharmapalas.

  6. aloy Says:

    If we follow Dilrooks line of thinking there will be no SL (or Sinhale ) at the end. As Hiranthe said why did Dutugemunu fight?.
    Sinhala race is a mix of all sorts of people, but unites to fight for the country when the time comes under a correct leadership. Why cannot the other minorities also learn Sinhala and assimilate to the main community as before. It will not just happen. Someone will have take the leadership and responsibility. I believe that this is the reason people are calling for a benovalent dictator. Our ancient Sinhala rulers have done it very well. But the present ones are doing exactly the opposite by allowing segregation. They are making enclaves even in Colombo by opening schools for Tamils and Muslims at government expense. I have heard that upcountry tamils prefer to educate their children in Sinhala medium and so are the muslims. I believe the line followed by Mano Ganeshan is the same. Make Sinhalese the business language in Colombo. I have seen quite a number of Three wheeler drivers displaying Sinhala stickers and Buddhist pictures in their vehicles and they speak Sinhala fluently. I think unifying the whole of Sri lanka is possible, by not giving into racist elements in the North and East.

  7. aloy Says:

    oops. Please correct as “…. quite a number of Muslim three wheeler drivers in Colombo…”

  8. Dilrook Says:

    Unifying Sri Lanka must be done to preserve and promote Sinhala and Buddhist values. That is what our kings fought for. Not to allow South Indian cultures to spread throughout the island replacing what is native in the name of unity.

    If the island is unified as a mix of Tamil Nadu and Arabic cultures gradually dominating village by village and town by town, where will that lead the nation? Every culture and community needs space to prosper. Generally docile Sinhalese don’t demand these in fear of disturbing reconciliation (which is non-existent anyway).

    The worst that can happen is Sinhalese losing the entire island nation piecemeal. Every year a few villages lose their Sinhala majority, particularly in areas of higher economic activity. Village temples lose financial support as Buddhists dwindle and their economic resources are taken by others. While this happens in areas outside the north and east, the north and east remain essentially no-go zones for Sinhalese. All economic resources of the north are for Tamils only while all economic resources in other districts must be shared between all.

    Even politicians follow this. Tamils and Muslims have Tamil and Muslim political parties dedicated for their welfare. But we have no dedicated political parties to serve our interests. Where will this lead to?

    I was told by Sinhala youth recently that being Sinhala is a disadvantage to get private sector employment in Colombo in businesses owned by locals! This is outrageous but this is the reality.

  9. aloy Says:

    When the system is corrupt nothing can be done. These minorities get unfair advantage by bribing the politicos and the high officials and with that advantage they can easily compete with Sinhala businesses. And then they acquire properties and the expansion goes on. If not how can the wholesale business in Colombo ( Pettah) solely be in the hands of the so called parasites?. Few of these corrupt ones should be given capital punishment.

    Our Sinhalese are essentially law abiding and a civilized lot. The way the Buddhists flocked to places like Anuradhapura as described by the British then and how they do now peacefully is the same. The politicos are directing them on the wrong path by taking some of the clergy also along with them. The NYT expose is a pointer to that. People have realized it and they now want the parliament to sink in the Diyamanna along with the occupiers.

    To correct this situation a courageous leader has to come forward. The people should realized that it will not happen by brining in the former corrupt lot back to power. They will sell the remainder also to some powerful countries for bribes. The People have to put a full stop to it by not voting for any of these parties at the next election. Perhaps organization like OPA has an important role to play here.

  10. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Randeniyage says law and order need to be re-established and corruption should be eliminated. Being a JVP supporter Randeniyage should elaborate how it should be done. So far JVP, UNP, SLFP and SLPP are aiming at prosecution of people, mainly political enemies responsible for corruption. Generally speaking corruption is defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”.Forms of corruption vary, but include bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, graft, and embezzlement.

    Most of the accusations so far made in Sri Lanka has little legal ramification since the effects of the legal strengths on the incidence of corruption are insignificant under 150 year old Roman law which is the basis for Sri Lankan legal legislation.
    Corruption is pervasive and exists, with varying degrees, in every country in the world. In recent years, international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank have made corruption a significant focus of their agendas and have made significant attempts to curb corruption in the world but, corruption perhaps, like the poor, will always be with us.

    A number of scandals over corruption have shown that rich nations, supposedly free from corruption, are also suffering from its effects. In Norway and Sweden (regarded as the cleanest nations), for example, state owned companies have been shown to be involved in bribe taking. In Germany, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Christian Democratic party, the CDU, were found to be involved in malpractices and they were penalized for receiving illegal campaign funding. Recently, a number of corruption scandals have being reported in Italy: for example, “A report from the state auditor shows that cases of corruption in Italy have increased by more than 200% since 20082 .” Similarly, in France “Forty-nine businessmen and public housing officials have gone on trial, accused of taking bribes when President Jacques Chirac was mayor of Paris”.3 Recently, Austria’s former chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel, has ended his political career as a corruption scandal continues to unfold around him4 . In fact, recent emerging major corruption scandals have shaken a striking and variety of countries all over the world: the United States, Japan, Italy, France, Germany, South Korea, Mexico and the Kenya.

    In recent years the elimination of global corruption has become a key objective of international organizations such as the World Bank, IMF and UNDP. These organizations have advocated anti-corruption policies and transparent contracts for domestic government. In addition, governments are increasingly monitoring bureaucrats and devising appropriate punishments for corrupt bureaucrats. However, despite these initiatives, corruption has become a global challenge.

    The effects of the legal strengths on the incidence of corruption are significant if a set of legislation is in place to clearly define and identify cases corruption legally. Until then politicians will be using corruption as a political tool to suppress their opponents.

  11. Christie Says:

    Unfortunately my comments ticked before they appear.

    We blindly believe what ever appears in the media wherever it is in the world.

    Those who make illegal transactions, all parties should be punished.

  12. Randeniyage Says:

    Sorry, NeelaMahaYodaya I am not a JVP supporter and I am very much offended by that statement.
    I 100% agree with the rest, but you know very well what I meant by “elimination of corruption”, it is the re-establishment of law and order ( mainly with regard to corruption), you have explained it beautifully.
    A corrupt politician cannot be a patriot at the same time.

  13. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Biggest threat to Buddhism, Sinhalese race and Sri Lanka coming from Sri Lanka Multiplying Community aka mussies.
    The Fastest Breeding Religion followers mussies use its dirty, disgusting, sub human trick of multiply, multiply and
    outnumber using to steal the country and make it a mussie country. This is what the crafty, conniving mussies did in old
    Buddhist iran, afganisthan, pakesthan, bangladesh, maldives, malaysia and indonsia within a few hundred years of their
    arrivals with their baby machine wives. They multiplied and multiplied and outnumbered the natives and made them
    all mussie countries (hell holes). That’s what these crafty mussies doing in Sri Lanka. Mussies are the biggest Vote
    Producers (specially in other people’s countries) in the world. Please Google to see the old Buddhist heritage in those
    countries.

    The dirty, disgusting, subhuman trick worked in the olden days since people didn’t know them until they came to the
    neighbourhoods. Today in this ‘connected world’ with tv, phone, internet people going to know mussies fast multiplying
    and fight back to save their countries. This could end up in a long protracted blood bath. Do the ungrateful mussies care? Of course not. That’s why mussie deshapaluwan like xxxxhim, bada udin, a sad ali, kabir hashih etc. etc. keep
    promoting Vote Production.

    That’s what Myanmar did to save their country from the Fastest Breeding
    Religion. They had a patriotic leader and got rid of most mussies before it’s too late. Sri Lanka? We only have traitor
    deshapaluwans who can’t lick the backsides enough for mussie votes. So the mussie multiplication goes unabated in
    Sri Lanka. Town after town, ancient Buddhist temples, even wild life sanctuaries aren’t safe from making room for the
    new breeds by traitor mussie deshapaluwan like bada udin, a sad ali (not enough children to be sad?), kabir hashish
    etc. etc. Thanks to mass vote production, there are always mussies ministers (powerful of course) in every government.
    Sri Lanka, Sinhalese race and Buddhism are doomed thanks to traitor Sinhalese deshapaluwan who can’t open their
    mouths to defend them. They will always be bending backwards to please mussies for their votes. Knowing this
    Fastest Breeding Religion mussies keep increasing Vote Production!

    To save Sinhalese race, Sri Lanka and Buddhism we should get rid of
    traitor catholic-run UNPatriotic_rats who divides the Sinhalese and make minorities king makers
    Stop Free Education after 2 children
    Stop mussies only schools which they use to hide the real numbers and fill them up to the rafters. Sinhalese parents
    can’t find school places. Mussies just put up 5 storey buildings and fill them up in no time
    Stop Free hospitals after 2 children
    Or there is an instant fix: No votes after 2 children and mussie Baby Machine Wives straight away stop Vote Production.

    Fastest Breeding Religion propagates by fast multiplying since nobody in this scientific era believes these god business.
    Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution destroyed god concept for good. But still with fast multiplying and using money
    they survive. It is a shame, all these religions of conveniences followers are hell bent on destroying the only true religion,
    Buddhism, in the world.

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