YAHAPALANA VERSUS MAHA SANGHA Part 2
Posted on November 10th, 2018

KAMALIKA  PIERIS

The sangha had strong comments to make about the Yahapalana government in general and its attitude to Buddhism in particular. The Mahanayakes of all three nikayas went on television jointly, to say that the Buddhist population was facing problems and it was necessary to find solutions for these. (Derana news 4.11.17)

Ven. Elle Gunawansa said before television cameras, ‘ After 1948, there had never been a period when the sangha were attacked like now, when the Buddhists were insulted and ridiculed like now, when the Sinhalese were attacked like now. This is a conspiracy.’ He then added, ‘We know all about honda bauddhayo .We know where they come from.’  (Derana news 11.3.2018)

In the same interview, Ven. Gunawansa said he had told the President to tell his ministers to keep quiet. One lot are criticizing the sangha, another lot are criticizing Buddhists. They say that Buddhists should apologize to the Muslims, why should they? The Muslims were fooled by the politicians not us. Ven Gunawansa also advised the army not to interfere with Buddhist matters.  (Derana news 11.3.2018)

The sangha were contemptuous of the President too. At a function of the Amarapura nikaya, Ven Assaji, head of the Amarapura nikaya stated that President has said that this is a Buddhist country. Kiyavunada, kee vadda danne ne” he commented. ‘Some do not like to hear this.’ If we do not come forward to protect Buddhism and Buddhists, then who will, Ven Assaji asked. (Derana news 27.3.18 6.55 news)

The calculated animosity towards Buddhism was silently illustrated when television cameras featured the pindapatha conducted by the sangha in Kelaniya to provide money for the ‘sil redi’ case. The television camera showed a cripple and a little child dropping the coins in to the begging bowl.  Then they showed ‘hot dogs’ containing sausages entering the bowl. (Derana news 19.9.17)

Venerable Anamaduwe Dhammadassi Anunayake Thera of Asgiriya Chapter said that the Buddhist religious and archaeological projects in the North and East had run into resistance.  Problems had arisen in respect of the conservation of ancient and historic places of worship and putting up monasteries for the Sangha in the North and the East. His temple had received complaints from the people in those provinces.

The Inter-University Bhikkhu Federation held a demonstration saying that the regulations for Buddhist education were being revised. The Maha sangha led by Walawahengunawewe Dammaratana chief incumbent of Mihintale  Raja Maha Vihara, protested at government tax of Rs 3.2 million on Buddha statues brought by a Chinese delegation at his request to be distributed among poor  temples in the remote areas.

The Maha sangha were appalled to find that there was a movement to mislead Buddhists by distorting Buddhism. This  was connected to Yahapalana rule. There is a planned movement to mislead Buddhists by distorting Buddhism, said the Maha Sangha. Certain Buddhist monks and laymen were distorting Buddha’s teachings when preaching.  They were distorting the Dhamma very subtly by giving various interpretations.  They were propagating distorted versions of the ‘Tripitaka’ and the Dhamma. They said Gautama Buddha was born in Sri Lanka. They were using certain viharas for the campaign.

The monks engaged in this activity were known by name. Four monks who were acting against the Dhamma and Vinaya by distorting Buddhist teachings were summoned to the Malwatte Maha Vihara. Karaka Sangha Sabha of both Chapters warned them not to indulge in such activities in the future. If they continued, they would be expelled from the Sasana.  They were also asked to remove their sermons posted on social media, forthwith

The Karaka Maha Sangha Sabha of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters met to formulate a plan of action to prevent   bhikkhus from distorting Buddha’s teachings and behaving in a manner detrimental to Buddhism. . Among the participants at the meeting were Venerable Medagama Dhammananda  (Secretary General Asgiriya Chapter), Chancellor Kelaniya University Dr. Welamitiyawe Kusala Dhamma, Ven. Dr. Godagama Mangala , Ven. Urulewatte Dhammarakkitha Nayaka Thera and Ven. Anamaduwe Sri Dhammadassi .

After a lengthy discussion , and with the consent of the Pirivenadhpathis of the Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya Pirivenas, the Mahanayakes of Malvatu and Asgiriya   addressed a joint memorandum to the President of Sri Lanka, urging him to take stern action against the laymen and bhikkhus who were trying to bring the Buddha Sasana into disrepute. Various forces are in operation in the country to create division within the Buddhist community with an ulterior motive of destabilizing the nation, they said.

The Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters called for government intervention to defeat the nefarious forces trying to destabilize the country by creating disputes among the Buddhist community reported Daily News.  The Mahanayakes also said that the government should declare the Buddha Jayanthi Thripitaka Granthaya prepared by the Tripitaka Grantha Sampadaka Mandalaya as Sacred State property and legal provision should be brought to protect them.

Malwatte and Asgiriya Maha Nayakes also planned to organize a campaign to counter this attempt to mislead the Buddhists. A final document in this regard will be prepared and following approval by the Mahanayake Theras of both chapters, it will be presented to the Buddhasasna Ministry to implement it.

The sangha was strongly opposed to   Constitution reform.  Ven. Medagoda Abhayatissa said that not only the campaign against Buddhism but also the proposed 20th Amendment should be defeated. The 20th Amendment was a grave danger to the country, he said. Ven. Dhammadassi said that the JVP had presented the 20th Amendment with an ulterior motive.

Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana, addressing a press conference, in October 2017, said the Maha Sangha was firmly of the view that ‘the need of the hour’ was not a new constitution. The planned new Constitution would not only jeopardize peaceful co-existence of the citizens of Sri Lanka but also help promote separatism. The term federal was not used directly, but it had been subtly introduced by use of words that had different meanings in the different languages. In Sinhala version the word “Ekiya” (unitary) is used but the English version had the term, ‘United’.

Similarly, the special  position accorded to Buddhism had been diluted by the introduction of alternative amendments to Article 9 of the Constitution. “We stress that  amendments to the constitution at this point should be restricted to the electoral system,” Ven. Wimalaratana said.

The sangha noted that  this  so called Constitution reform was directed at diluting the powers of Parliament, taking away the powers vested in the President to monitor the Provincial Councils through the Governors appointed him, establishing a Constitutional Court that will usurp the existing powers of the Supreme Court to make rulings on constitutionality of legislation pertaining to key areas such as land matters, recognizing the Northern and Eastern Provinces, abolishing the Concurrent List in the 13th Amendment so as to eliminate the powers of government to intervene in any provincial issues with national implications and doing away with the prevailing provisions for the Government or the parliament to formulate national policies in any subject area.

“We do not think the government will be able to get a two-thirds majority in Parliament to bring in a new constitution or to amend the existing one. Even if it is passed by Parliament it will have to be placed before people at a referendum. Then we will bring out all members of Maha Sangha to the streets to defeat it, the sangha said.

Ven. Bellanwila Dhammaratana, Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka and Ven. Hemaloka representing ‘Mawbima surakeema Jathika Vyaparaya’, spoke to the media In December 2017.  They said Sri Lanka was pandering to foreign forces and foreign countries. Yahapalana had made promises to these before the elections, to bring in a new constitution and put into it what the foreign countries wanted. Delimitation for elections was also done to suit the separatists. Faizer Mustapha went to Paris and met the LTTE leader Balachandran Nagalingam there .We have the photos, these bhikkus said.

Jathika Niyojitha Maha Sangha Samuluva  had a televised media conference in May 2018.They spoke out against 20th amendment, saying that it was a device to create a federal state. ‘It is to remove the few obstacles in the 13th amendment.’ It is the Maha sangha who had protected the country till now, they added.  Ven Medagoda Abhayatissa heavily criticized the JVP who had brought in the amendment. The JVP’s real position had now emerged. Ven Medagama Dhammananda also criticized the JVP.  Ven, Bellanwila Dharmaratana openly attacked Ranil Wickremasinghe by name, saying he had promised ten things to the TNA.

Ven. Vendaruwe Upali said it is India, America, UNHRC and the NGOs that are influencing Sri Lanka today. This is a very ‘avadanam’ time. Ven Induragare Dhammaratana said the National Freedom Front had distributed 10,000 pamphlets to the public at Fort railway station. Tri nikaya Maha Sangaratana has issued a 16 point statement against the amendments as well. Ven Medagoda Abhayatissa said at an Eliya media conference that they would not allow the government to proceed with the TNA ten point proposal. ‘If Ranil tries this we will stop him.’

The Mahanayakes of US, Singapore, Australia and India addressed a press conference at Abhayarama vihara in Narahenpita in August 2018.  Mahanayake of UK  Walpola Piyananda,  said the Buddhists abroad are worried.  There are many NGOs working overtime to destabilize the country.  This unfortunate situation would not have risen   had there been a stronger President and stronger government in power. Why were some of the UNP candidates using a poster with an Eelam map,   Vijayakala Maheswaran and other UNP candidates were using the UNP elephant. the UNP must reveal its stand.

Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka, speaking on  behalf of  the Federation of National Organizations (FNO),  faulted former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the current turmoil in the country. Elements waiting for an opportunity to cause mayhem exploited President Rajapaksa’s unwise decision to call presidential polls two years ahead of schedule. The change of government in January 2015 paved the way for anti-national elements to ruin the country. President Rajapaksa’s decision had caused irreparable damage.

Ven Nalaka dismissed President Sirisena’s often repeated claim that he saved the country from international intervention.  If the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo was allowed to remain in power for the remaining two years, the country would be ruined. He referred to the rapidly deteriorating situation and the failure on the part of the government to address grievances of the public. Ven. Nalaka alleged that the US was brazenly manipulating the incumbent government and exploring ways and means to use the country as a base against China.

At another media conference, Ven. Medagama Dhammananda     said they had no faith in those appointed to the Committee on Disappeared either. The government should take measures and implement projects to develop the country but that should not be done by selling the national assets to the foreigners, Chairman of the Trincomalee Sashanarakshaka Bala Mandala, Ven Nugegoda Chandrajothi Thera said.

Malvatu and Asgiriya viharas had a very  special delegation  visiting it in March   2018. The European Ambassador, Swiss Ambassador and  Romanian Ambassador visited Asgiriya and Malwatte  to learn the stance  of the Mahanayakes on the Muslim riots  in Kandy. Usually when visitors come to see the Mahanayake, he meets them alone,  looking utterly bored sometimes. This time it was different. The ambassadors faced a team of   bhikkus,  ready and waiting. The bhikkus had much to say to the Ambassadors.

The Mahanayakes said that the Digana event was a political one, not an ethnic one. It was not correct to highlight the recent unrest at several places in Kandy as racial conflicts since the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka have always lived in harmony.  There are a minimal number of extremists in any religion in any country, the ambassadors were told. Sri Lanka is no exception. The Buddhist monks had given protection to the Muslims in temples.  This would not have happened had it been a religion based conflict.

The bhikkus  rejected the allegation by these European Union representatives that the Sinhalese Buddhists had assaulted Muslims. The Bikkhus emphatically stated that it was not right to highlight a single incident as  an attack by the Sinhalese on the Muslims. There is a small group within the Muslim community that  is attempting to build up a separate identity and they make various  offensive statements about the Buddha and the Buddhist monks. The Bhikkus also pointed out that most of the mosques and the business areas have been constructed in the lands of the Asgiriya and Malwatu temples.

Yahapalana had planned to bring in a Sanghadhikarana bill to control the sangha. In August 2018, Ven. Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa, Principal of Pepiliyana Sunethradevi Maha Pirivena, met the Mahanayakes of Malwatte and Asgiriya and leading members of the Karaka Maha Sangha Sabhas, to alert them to the dangers of the proposed Sanghadhikarana Bill the government was  ‘planning to rush through Parliament’. The Bill was intended to control the activities of the Sangha and bring the sangha  under laymen. The proposed bill would also create a division among the Maha Sangha as well. He urged Maha Sangha to oppose the proposed legislation.

Several members of the Karaka Sangha Sabha of Asgiriya including Ven. Dr. Godagama Mangala  and Secretary General of Asgiriya Venerable Dr. Madagama Dhammananda  also expressed their views. They pointed out that in the decades since Independence, the differences between the various Nikayas had progressively diminished to the point where to outsiders such differences would almost be imperceptible.

While the Siam Nikaya was engaged in  discussion, the Rammana nikaya walked in procession to President to ask that they be given  legal powers to maintain standards in the sangha. They must have statutory powers  for the decisions they take. ‘Our matters must be decided by us ‘ they said. ‘

The media seem to have seen this Bill and liked some of it. Chandraprema observed in June 2018,  that one version of a proposed amendment to the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance had a Section numbered as 43(4)(a) which specified that if a person whose name has been struck off the register of bhikkus, continues to be in robes, the Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs can bring it to the notice of the Magistrate’s court of the area and after due inquiries, the Magistrate has the power to order that individual to appear before him in the clothes of a layman. Such a system of giving practical effect to the disrobing of an expelled monk would have solved a major problem faced by the Buddhist dispensation in this country.

Senior monks have told   Chandraprema that there are several instances where monks who had been expelled by their Nikayas and whose names have been struck off the register of bhikkus,  have continued to wear robes. There is no  legal mechanism to expel and disrobe monks who behave in a manner unbecoming of a monk. Even if a bhikkhu had been expelled by his Nikaya and his name struck off the register of bhikkus maintained by the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs, there was still no legal mechanism by which he could be disrobed, they said.

Bhikkus continued to be arrested as Yahapalana government went merrily on. Colombo Fort Magistrate issued an order in September 2018 for the arrest of Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka, Ven. Magalkande Sudatta, Ven. Madille Pannaloka  and  Ven. Ittakande Saddhatissa  for unlawful assembly and  allegedly causing damage to police vehicles during a protest organized by the Disabled Soldiers Association on November 7, 2016. They were released on Rs.150, 000 surety bail each. The Fort Magistrate also ordered that the warrant issued on Ven. Athulugalle Siri Jinananda be reissued. He had failed to appear in court. Ven. Jinananda thereafter appeared before court.

Galagodaatte Gnanasara   has won the dubious distinction of being the only Buddhist monk to become a public figure entirely through thuggery, said Chandraprema. Gnanasara was the monk that the JHU deployed to break up meetings of the Norwegian funded Anti-War front during the early days of the last phase of the war against the LTTE. The Bodu Bala Sena CEO Dilantha Vithanage said very openly at a press conference that it was Champika Ranawaka who directed Gnanasara to violence (prachandathwayata yomu kale). Before he first appeared on the streets, he was completely unknown, said Chandraprema.

USA had granted Gnanasara thera a multiple reentry visa to the USA in 2011. This was canceled after the Sunday Island questioned the connection between this monk and the American embassy. Then came a trip to Norway In 2012, and a few months after that bhikku Gnanasara  emerged as a public figure by spearheading an anti-Muslim campaign, said Chandraprema.

Gnanasara  had  also helped to bring the Rajapaksa government down. This was once again an operation of the JHU as explained by a founding member of the JHU, Asoka Abeygoonesekera in his book ‘Yuga Peraliya’. The strategy was to use Gnansara to thrash the Muslims and Christians so that the Rajapaksa government becomes dependent only on the Sinhala-Buddhist vote and then at the last minute the JHU defected to the other side taking with them a crucial number of Sinhala votes so that the Rajapaksa government fell. This was a conspiracy more than two years in the making from 2012 onwards.

In July 2018 a Sinhala youth was killed In Kandy by four drunken Muslims. Gnanasara visited the area and a riot ensued. Now everyone is talking about the Sinhala -Muslim riot but nobody is taking about the Sinhala youth who was killed or whether action is being taken against the four Muslims who started the whole thing. The same thing can be said about Beruwela. It all started off with reports of a monk being assaulted by a group of Muslims. Gnansara went to Beruwela and a riot ensued and now nobody knows what happened to the monk who is supposed to have been assaulted or the Muslims who are supposed to have carried out the assault, continued Chandraprema.

All political leaders avoid Gnanasara like the plague. Nobody wants to be seen or photographed in his company. Nobody invites him for important functions. Some senior monks have lifted the phone only to find a familiar voice at the other end cursing and bellowing obscenities and unprintable adjectives in their ears. As the person at the other end is familiar with goings on within temples, these details are mentioned with many an imprecation laced with choice epithets concluded Chandraprema. Gnanasara was a hit man in robes, he said.

In July 2018, Gnanasara was sentenced to 6 months rigorous imprisonment by Homagama magistrate for intimidating Sandhya Ekneligoda in court. Gnanasara had never attended any of the court hearings when of members of the armed forces were charged, only the Ekneligoda hearing.    Gnanasara cannot be unaware that nobody can shout at witnesses inside a court house and expect to get away Scot free, observed Chandraprema. Gnanasara, protesting loudly, was led away by prison officials and put in Welikada prison.

The Maha Sangha reacted. They said they  had reservations about Gnanasara and they did not contest his remand. They were concerned only about two things. Firstly, about a bhikkhu having to disrobe in prison. This would be a violation of Vinaya rules. Secondly, that this may be a part of the current anti Buddhist agenda.  My view is that it is the second issue that  was important, not the first.

The sangha held demonstrations and protest marches across the country. There was a march from Galle to Colombo with daily media  reports of the progress of this march. The sangha also marched at Ampara, Badulla, Bandarawela, Dambulla Negombo., Moneragala, Pilimatalawa and  Suriyawewa.   The march at Pilimatalawa  showed a huge number of bhikkhu six or seven rows deep.

The main protest was held opposite the Fort Railway Station. It was attended by a large number of monks, who marched in rows ten deep, up to the Pettah Bo Tree and held an ‘adishtana pooja.’.Sangha Nayaka of Magampattuwa, Ven. Magama Mahanama said he was opposed to attempts to put Gnanasara Thera in prison uniform. But this was clearly   an anti Yahapalana protest.  We are not here to protest against the court verdict. We are here to draw public attention to the threats we face. There is an attempt to undermine Buddhism, the sangha said. It was organized by ‘Mathru bhumi surakhsa Sanvidhanaya’ and the posters said ‘jathiye satyagrahaya’ and ‘mathru bhumiya suraksha puja’.

When Gnanasara was released on bail, he was taken in perahera, walking on a pavada towards a puja. The media interviewed him. Gnanasara now became careful in his speech. He refused to say whether he had been stripped of his robes. Instead he said that during his stay in prison, he had observed the prison rules but without breaking Vinaya rules.   ( to be continued)

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