Killing a mosquito with a cannon
Posted on June 28th, 2018

Sasanka Perera, a sociology professor at New Delhi’s South Asian University and its vice-president, uses a cannon to kill a mosquito (‘Pining for Hitler’/The Island/June 27, 2018). The funny thing is that there isn’t even a mosquito to kill in this case. He marshals his formidable knowledge of social anthropology to attack the Asgiriya Anunayake Thera’s alleged advocacy to Gotabaya of a Hitler-like dictatorial role, or a military takeover of the country to rescue it from the present crisis. Perera is only tilting at windmills! We, ordinary people, do not for a moment believe that the monk meant what he said literally. All that he said in his 30 minute long speech meant the opposite of what these two words stand for. The Anunayake Thera referred to the murders, robberies, and other crimes that daily occur in the country today, and he implied that the present yahapalana regime is unable to arrest this trend. His tone of consternation was unmistakable to the native Sinhala language speaker. Others probably missed it. When we speak a language, we use words in particular meaning giving contexts. The context in which the Anunayake Thera spoke left no room for any misunderstanding of his meaning. The narrowly restricted audience (consisting of the Rajapaksa family members and some close friends), on that private occasion, were not engaged in any conspiratorial political discussion. If a person, speaking in Sinhala, speaks words to the effect “I am so hungry that I can eat a devil!” he will not be taken to be a devil eater. The phrase “so hungry as to be able eat a devil” is a Sinhala idiomatic expression. Similarly, the monk’s words constituted a clear innocuous turn of phrase that was used to stress a point. (Please read my comment below on how the Rajapaksas took this as something risible, something provoking laughter.)

The most intellectual, patient answer to those who charge the monk of advocating Hitlerism or military rule was given by Gotabaya himself: “The reverend monk’s counsel was meant for me. I clearly understood what he meant.” Those who didn’t are making a lot of noise about it. What could he do about it? Sasanka Perera does not accept the monk’s subsequent clarification denying the charge. He translates the words of the monk in an incredibly subversive manner. He says that the monk declared: “as the clergy, we feel the country needs a religious leader … Some people have described you as a Hitler. Be a Hitler. Go with the military and take the leadership of this country.” The monk never said “Be a Hitler”; nor did he say “Go with the military and take the leadership of this country”. If the monk uttered such words, won’t it have amounted to a treasonous suggestion? The monk did no such thing. Hope he won’t sue Sasanka for libel. It is probable that Sasanka is not familiar enough with the Sinhala language to do justice to the monk’s speech. Can an academic of Professor Sasanka’s caliber ever resort to factual inaccuracies like this for promoting his own threadbare theories?

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Ven. Wendaruwe Upali

The quote with which he ends his piece is more applicable to himself than to the Anunayake Thera, mutatis mutandis (i.e., with the necessary changes made, but without altering the main point):

“It is not fit, foolish man, it is not becoming, it is not proper, it is unworthy of a recluse, it is not lawful, it ought not to be done. How could you, foolish man, having gone forth under this Dhamma and Discipline which are well-taught, [commit such and such offense]… It is not, foolish man, for the benefit of un-believers, nor for the increase in the number of believers, but, foolish man, it is to the detriment of both unbelievers and believers, and it causes wavering in some” (The Book of the Discipline, Part I, I.B. Horner; London: Pali Text Society, 1982, pp. 36-37).

Apart from its relevance to the writer, the quote can be used to illustrate the nature of his prejudice against the Buddhist monk. Sasanka seems to accept the Western Christian bias that I.B. Horner demonstrates in his translation of the alleged Vinaya text. The words appear to be quoted as ‘Buddha vacana’ (words of the Buddha). Belief is anathema to Buddhism; knowledge, realization, enlightenment is both the end and the means. So, there are no believers (hence nor un-believers) as far as Buddhism is concerned, only active seekers of enlightenment, which is not an outside heaven, but an inside state of calm and bliss. Sasanka shows the same Eurocentric bias as Horner when he translates the monk’s alleged words quoted above as: “…….. we feel the country needs a religious leader”. A ‘religious’ leader? I can hardly believe that this is not an intentional mistranslation. A religious leader is a Nayaka monk. Does Sasanka Perera want to sneakily suggest that the monks are proposing the establishment of a Buddhist theocratic state in Sri Lanka? What the monk said was a ‘daehaemi’ (righteous) ‘nayakeyek’ (leader), not a religious leader, which should be rendered into Sinhala as ‘aagamika nayakayek’. When a Buddhist monk uses the adjective ‘daehaemi’, they mean ‘righteous’, ‘fair and just’. Righteousness is not a monopoly of Buddhists. I know there are other local non-Buddhist writers who try to misinterpret daehaemi as ‘Buddhist’. But Buddhist believe that non-Buddhists can be ‘daehaemi’ too. By the way, Sasanka is so slipshod in his approach that he doesn’t get the monk’s name correct: He writes ‘Enderuwe’ for ‘Wendaruwe’.

The alms-giving was held at Gotabaya’s residence at Mirihana on June 20, 2018. Following is my response to a relevant news video clip uploaded on the lankacnews website on the following day (June 21). It showed two Nayake Theras speaking on the occasion. The video included only two short extracts from their sermons, one from each. It is useful to learn what both of them said, speaking on behalf of the Maha Sangha. The words that led to controversy were uttered by the monk (above named) who was the second to speak. The following is my verbatim translation of the words of the monk who spoke first, Ven. Kotugoda Dhammawasa Nayake Thera (I have inserted my explanations in parentheses for the benefit of the non-Sinhala speaker):

“Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa fulfilled a great responsibility. He saved the country. These people (the Rajapaksa siblings) who are here were behind him. There’s a feeling widely prevalent among the people of this country that if he does not come forward (i.e., if there is a legal impediment that prevents Mahinda from offering himself as a candidate for the presidency at the next election) you are the next person most suitable for a position (for such a position). We are very happy about that. The endorsement that the Pohottuwa (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) got around the country clearly shows what the attitude of the people is. It can be understood from this that the country (further) needs your services and your family’s. Mr. Basil (Rajapaksa) here, is experienced in serving (the country). We see various shortcomings in the current administration. (This is surely an understatement.) Therefore, the people are fed up (with the way things are going). We the Maha Sangha call upon you to commit yourself to a firm resolution to extend your fullest cooperation to the people for the purpose of safeguarding this (country and the Buddhasasana)”.

The second speaker, as recorded in the video, Ven. Wendaruwe Upali, the Asgiriya Anunayake Thera, addressing Gotabaya in his turn, reinforced, in his own way, what Ven. Dhammawasa said earlier:

“You have been called a Hitler. So, what we finally remind you is that you might even become a Hitler (which is unlikely, given your character) and rebuild the country. (Loud laughter was heard from the listeners at this point). What the Maha Sangha finally reiterates is that you rebuild this country even by resorting to a military administration (as a last resort, which is also unlikely in your case)”. (It was clear that he referred to these two options as unlikely necessities.)

Only a person with a good knowledge of spoken Sinhala and some empathy with the Sinhala Buddhist culture can do justice to the monks’ speeches here, that is, only such a person can understand what they really meant. The monk didn’t literally mean that Gotabaya become a veritable Hitler. He knows that he won’t. He only stressed what the previous monk said: As the Pohottuwa victory at the local government election demonstrated, the popular demand is for a Rajapaksa period again. But since Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot become president a third time (in terms of the 19A), the mantle falls on one of his brothers, probably on Gotabaya. The country is sliding down in the view of the monks. They are insisting that Gotabaya become the president according to the popular will (i.e., when he is elected to that post by the popular vote, of which the monks are confident); they are sure that the country will return to the desired political stability, communal harmony, and economic development in a peaceful Sri Lanka, whose territorial integrity and national security as a single sovereign nation are permanently guaranteed. That sort of country was fast emerging under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, particularly after the defeat of separatist terrorism in 2009 till the end of 2014.

The country’s voters (most of whom are familiar with Sinhala and the Buddhist culture) have no problem understanding the real meaning of the Anunayake Thera’s admonition to Gotabaya, and the irrelevance of his innocuous reference to Hitler and military rule. Sri Lankan voters also understand that the Maha Sangha is an integral, organic part of the majority Sinhala Buddhist society. Their moral influence on the rulers is indispensable for the freedom and security of all communities to flourish. The opinions of certain anti-national media mercenaries, NGO peace-nicks, and other vested interests are irrelevant to Sri Lankans, if their franchise is not obstructed, and remains intact despite unpatriotic politicians’ current machinations against the country.

ROHANA R. WASALA

 

5 Responses to “Killing a mosquito with a cannon”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    The best approach to this is to let it pass. The more it is justified, toyed with and explained the more damage it does. Pro-Rajapaksa camp has no problem with it. The anti-Rajapaksa camp will not change their mind. Apolitical thinkers will find even the mentioning of Hitler unacceptable in a country with regular very large scale bloodshed, intolerance, killing journalists, corruption, nepotism, abuse of power, etc.

    Gotabaya should be a Sri Lankan leader, not a copy of a German or an American. It is hoped that he sheds his US citizenship immediately without waiting for elections. As long as he remains an American citizen, he is bound by the US law and bound to champion US interests. Needless to say these are contradictory to Lankan interests.

  2. Ratanapala Says:

    What Ven Wendaruwe Upali said is very simple for the average Sri Lankan. He said that the country and the nation is in such dire straits that even a Hitler is better than current jokers of the Jadapalanaya.

    It is another version of the saying – Mungta barinam yakek wunath kamak naha! This means that our Motherland is at rock bottom and nothing could be any worse! Anything including a mass murderer such as Hitler is a better alternative to the lot now in power.

  3. Randeniyage Says:

    I don’t agree with statement “anything including a mass murderer such as Hitler is a better alternative to the lot now in power”.
    Whatever the killings the “Current Lot” have done is absolutely minute compared to Hitler’s killings.
    However, Hitler did a great service to his country before turning into a mass murderer and “Current Lot” has done just the opposite.
    It is a stupid thing defend a statement which directly implies “never mind how many BAD human beings you kill but please save the country”. He should defend it by comparing Hitler the ‘politician’, not Hitler the ‘dictator’, the only way to justify that statement.

  4. Vaisrawana Says:

    @Randeniyage,

    As I understand it, Rathanapala is not suggesting that even a reincarnate Hitler would be better than the Yahapalana usurpers in any literal sense. Exaggeration is a figure of speech that we humans use in our everyday speech. The monk did just that. I think that Rathanapala’s take on the monk’s words is correct

    Rathanapala says that the monk’s Hitler remarks are “…..another version of the saying – Mungta barinam yakek wunath kamak naha! This means that our Motherland is at rock bottom and nothing could be any worse! Anything including a mass murderer such as Hitler is a better alternative to the lot now in power”. It is a desperate or extreme way of stating the truth. The truth in this situation is a composite of fact and feeling. Both must find expression in language. When you have hit rock bottom, when you can’t descend any more, any change of position would mean only an upward movement. But Rathanapala is not proposing that a real murderous dictator should replace the local (Yahapalana) impersonators of the historical Hitler.

  5. Ratanapala Says:

    Thank you Vaisrawana. It is sad when people resort to hair splitting arguments when the obvious is in front of their eyes. Hardly anybody expects the worse for our Motherland, not Ven Upali nor most of us and not definitely me.

    All what we have is bogus democracy and bogus human rights. Overly emphasised these virtues have not provided food, education, shelter and security to our peoples. It is far better have to democracy and human rights within limits that not so rich countries such as ours can easlily digest and afford.

    The over emphasis on democracy and human rights not practiced to its fullest anywhere in the world, is what is ailing our nation and in fact most third world countries. These are measures put forward by our detractors the Western Christian nations to keep us on a tight leash and punish us at every turn we make to better ourselves.

    It is time the nation take matters to hand and join up with other similarly affected nations and carry on with a National Agenda that suits our cultures, our enviromnet, our geography and our priorities.

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