BAILA EPA, Cassandra!
Posted on June 11th, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala Courtesy The Island

Cassandra ends her piece ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ (The Island/June 7, 2019) with an ominous note contained in these words, where she refers to herself in the third person, as she usually does in her weekly column to give her writing a dramatic touch:

Honestly Cassandra has lost hope in the government after seeing good in it for so very long. She is tired. Hence she jotted down her weekly ramblings, some with worth, early in the week, to take a rest. Much more will happen until Friday comes along. Take care of yourself!”

She foresees trouble which, she seems to hope, will provide her a convenient  excuse to continue with her ramblings. ‘Ramblings’ can be rendered as ‘baila’ in Sinhalese colloquial parlance. That is what Ven. Galaboda-aththe Gnanasara Thera, the controversial monk who  heads the Bodu Bala Sena organization, in his first meeting with the media after his release from prison, demanded those in authority to stop, concerning growing Islamic extremism in Sri Lanka including Wahhabist terrorism. It is primarily his concerted activism targeting Islamic extremism beginning with his agitation against halal certification in 2013  that earned him the undeserved notoriety that dogs him constantly wherever he is or goes, or whatever he does or says in spite of the absolute righteousness of his cause. Cassandra’s apprehensions may have at least partly resulted from her unquestioning acceptance of the bad reputation that detractors uncritically associate with him.

At his first media briefing as a free person again, he said bluntly, Baila epa! Talk no more rambling nonsense!” He spoke words to the effect Let’s get down to brass tacks. Politicians of the government and the opposition cannot, or have no actual commitment to, address this issue with earnestness and without hypocrisy. Let us, the clergy of the nation belonging to all faiths, the Buddhist monks being the majority among them, handle the problem in a nonpolitical nonviolent way through our spiritual leadership and through dialogue”. The problem that the monk is talking about is the same Islamist extremism that the late Alawi Moulana, a veteran trade union leader and SLFP stalwart, and a past governor of the western province, warned Sri Lankans against, as early as 2007, as making inroads into the diverse but peaceful religious fabric of the country with the help of Saudi money. It is the Sri Lankan face of the global Islamic extremism that is threatening the whole secular democratic world.

Incidentally, the awkward Shakespeare adaptation in the subtitle (‘let slipped are the Dogs of Hate’)  is entirely inappropriate in this context because Ven. Gnanasara’s coming out of jail is not at all likely to lead to communal hate inspired Sinhala Muslim clashes that are eagerly wished for by those who want to fish in troubled waters (I am sure Cassandra is informed enough to understand who I mean). Mark Antony the Roman general, after the assassination of his friend Julius Caesar, in the Shakespeare play that bears the latter’s name, contemplates avenging the murder by fomenting violent civil strife, confusion, mischief and chaos in Rome; he even invokes Caesar’s spirit, that, he imagines

Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice

Cry Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,”…….

……………………    .

Ven. Gnanasara never raised his voice for such a wicked purpose, as a riotous rabble rouser would have done. He did so only to awaken the political authorities and the Ven. Mahanayake Theras who were indifferent to his early warnings  and pleas about the worsening danger of religious extremism for their own selfish reasons. It is only the satanic propaganda that turned him into a hate figure, particularly in the biased media eyes. It can be seriously suspected that money plays a central role in it. Otherwise, how could the true situation in this regard be misrepresented in the press in the distorted manner it usually is?

The fear that the release of Ven. Gnanasara Thera from prison would cause a conflagration of racial or religious conflict because of the alleged devilry on his part is entirely misplaced. His roughneck-like conduct when demonstrating his ‘righteous anger’ at the failure of politicians successively in power and the leading Buddhist clergy to address the chronic problem of Christian and Islamic fundamentalist religious invasion of SrI Lanka’s Buddhist cultural space must now be consigned to the past. (The idea of righteous anger is, however, alien to the Buddhist teaching). This cultural infringement (i.e., fundamentalist religious intrusion) is sometimes done by virulently aggressive methods (e.g., forced conversion of, particularly, helpless impoverished Buddhists and Hindus in remote rural areas through blandishments, or by causing ritual desecration of their religious symbols at their own hands, such as trampling on Buddha statuettes, something revealed in the public media during the pre-Yahapalana years, as I remember). Religious subversion is sometimes done in more sophisticated ways in urban areas, something difficult to criticize or condemn without arousing opposition both among the proselytizers and the potential proselytes. For example, there is the case of a Christian Father who preaches well on ethical matters that are superficially identical between Christianity and Buddhism. He, having mesmerized a mixed crowd by the manner of his preaching, suddenly exclaims ‘Jesus is the SupremeTruth’!

Now, no two religions agree totally in terms of their metaphysics, nor in terms of their ethical principles. The differences between Theravada Buddhism preached/practiced in Sri Lanka and Catholicism professed by the majority of Sri Lanka’s Christians are unbridgeable, as the first is based on the idea of Causality, and the second on Creationism. To ignore these differences is hypocrisy. The audiences in these programs consist not only of Christians, but Buddhists, Hindus, and probably others as well. Even Buddhist monks are sometimes present on the stage with this Catholic Father. If the Buddhists in the audience and the monks on the stage have an iota of brains, they should realize that what the preacher is implying is that Buddhists and others who are not Christians are spiritually deluded, and that his intolerant, totalitarian assertion is not consonant with his purported desire to generate goodwill among diverse religious communities. No Buddhists will quarrel with Catholics or Muslims about their beliefs; nor will they oppose conversion through conviction. But, they will object to them trying to convert Buddhists by unethical means including force or deception. ( If a courageous monk or layperson, hearing the proselytizing Father’s assertion of his personal religious belief or conviction, had raised objections, they’d have been roundly condemned on all sides. Of course, what is ‘unethical’ in a multicultural context is problematic. So, it is best to avoid such situations in the interest of religious harmony among the people.)

Ven. Gnanasara Thera’s is an unimaginably worse predicament than that hypothetical monk’s or lay Buddhist’s. What he exposed and challenged were infinitely greater and much more public and even violent instances of fundamentalist aggression. He endeavoured to do this in the calm and composed way characteristic of a Buddhist monk, without expecting any reward (‘nissaranadyashayen’  as he puts it); he has no political or other materialistic ambitions. For many years he tried to alert the lay Buddhist leaders (politicians in power and those out of power) to the danger. They (those of both the present and previous governments) didn’t listen to him, while pretending to do so, because they thought that if they took any decisive action against the handful of powerful communalists among minority politicians responsible for questionable acts such as alleged anti-Buddhist subversion, illegal felling of trees in the state forest reserve in Wilpattuwa, settling foreign illicit immigrants  there, encroaching on and even vandalizing historic Buddhist places of worship in the North and East, and so on, they would lose the support of the mainstream Christian and Muslim communities, which being minorities, naturally tend to form themselves into ‘block vote’ bastions at the instance of opportunistic politicians.

The polity consisting of the majority community (Sinhalese) cannot behave like this. It is always divided into rival parties, and at parliamentary elections, under the existing electoral system, it is extremely rare that a major party is able  form a viable government without the assistance of one or more minority parties, a situation where the latter become kingmakers despite the insignificance of their numerical strength. The slightest movement towards redressing the balance in favour of the disadvantaged majority Sinhalese in any anomalous situation would invariably earn the label racist or extremist or chauvinist for the individual Sinhalese or the group behind that initiative. So, the Sinhalese (Buddhists, particularly) get criticised and condemned as racists, tribalists, etc., while in reality being victims of the racism, fanaticism, and extremism of others. This applies to Ven. Gnanasara as well in the performance of the duty that has historically devolved on him as a Buddhist monk.  

Ven. Gnanasara Thera approached the Ven. Mahanayakes in Kandy and pleaded with them beseechingly, not once, but several times, and explained to them this problem with video evidence of outrageous Buddhism-bashing speeches of Wahhabist fanatics, to no avail. Once the monk led a large procession of well behaved young activists (more than 2000 strong) from Getambe to the Sri Dalada Maligawa, and then they proceeded to the Malwatu Vihara, the monastery of the Ven. Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter. The Mahanayake, at first, very unfairly, refused him an audience. Later, having found that they were not ready to leave without seeing him, he allowed Ven. Gnanasara and a few of his companions to come before him. Nothing resulted from that meeting also.  

The BBS leader wants the Maha Sangha to assume their historic role as moral leaders without stooping to politics, and is determined to resolve the Islamic extremist problem through rational dialogue with the participation of the clergy of other religious groups (which is what he always wanted to do from 2013 onwards, because even groups of traditional Muslims, he claims, approached him and pleaded with him to rescue them from Wahhabist and Salabist extremism). Unlike him  the UNP national list MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera is engaged in a one man political show (an ostensible crusade against Islamist extremists, though it is) which, unless he is decent enough to call off in time, and join with the mainstream Sangha who are being galvanized into action cued by the activism of Ven. Gnanasara and help form a united Sanga community that speaks with one voice on matters that come within their purview, is bound to undermine emerging unity among the clergy of different religions in the face of ISIS terror.

The impression among political analysts  Ven. Ratana is a typical politician and a pragmatic political strategist (Pragmatism is amoral, or rather immoral). That he is clever at dissembling was evident to the less gullible onlookers during his fake ‘fast unto death’ before the Sri Dalada Maligawa. It is obvious that he was not alone in staging the show. The Ven. Mahanayake Theras severely criticised him after the event. He had approached them before and told them about his intention, but cunningly he did not reveal the venue to them. Had they been told beforehand that he was going to have his fast in the hallowed precincts of the Maligawa, they would not have permitted him to do so; that would have been a serious setback for him. But now he is being exposed in an even more damaging manner, as he should.

Because of Ven. Gnanasara’s exertions, unprecedented prospects of different religious communities standing up to the common enemy of murderous religious extremism are brightening. It is only now that we are witnessing the first stirrings of a spring in the Sangha Sasana, that is potentially freed from abominable Nikaya divisions, which are based on caste in stark contradiction of the compassionate Buddha’s teaching. Ven. Gnanasara has made the largest contribution to this most positive development.

One Response to “BAILA EPA, Cassandra!”

  1. Christie Says:

    Nanasara lives off India money pumped through Norway and Rathanaya also from local Indian Parasites.

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