Justice for Animals and Nature pledges fullest support to the ban on Cattle slaughter in Sri Lanka
Posted on September 10th, 2020

Senaka Weeraratna Founder Member on behalf of Justice for Animals and Nature

We wholeheartedly welcome the Government’s decision to ban the slaughter of cattle.

We thank the President Hon. Gotabhaya Rajapakse and the Prime Minister Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse for taking this courageous step, and the Government Parliamentary Group for endorsing this move.

It is inspiring to note that the State is now becoming committed to not only the welfare of human beings but also to the preservation of the precious lives of animals. Such a policy enshrines the essence of Buddhism – to refrain from taking life.  It also exhibits the flowering of the most noble impulses that humans are capable of generating – that of sympathy and pity towards other living creatures.

We must remember that we in Sri Lanka are the heir to a rich and unique pre-colonial history in respect to Animal Welfare. Historical rock inscriptions and ancient chronicles e.g. Mahawamsa, reveal that extensive state protection was granted to animals and the slaughter of cows was strictly prohibited.

These historical sources further reveal that the ethic of Ahimsa (non-violence towards other sentient beings) a cardinal tenet in Buddhism and Hinduism, was a paradigm of public administration and justice in pre-colonial Sri Lanka.

Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta

The Buddha’s discourse in the Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutta (Digha Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka) spells out the duties of an ideal ruler as follows:

” The Cakkavatti King (Righteous King) will give protection, shelter and ward both to the different classes of human beings, and also to birds and beasts”

The social and legal history of Sri Lanka provides innumerable examples of the Buddhist attitude to animal life and the acceptance of State Responsibility for the well – being of animals.

State Responsibility for Animals

Our former Kings established some of the worlds’ first wild life sanctuaries. Five of the kings governed the country under the ‘Maghata’ rule, which banned the killing of any animal in the kingdom.

The five kings were 1) Amanda Gamini (79 – 80 AD), 2) Voharika Tissa (269 – 291 AD) 3) Silakala (524 – 537 AD) 4) Agga Bodhi IV (658 – 674 AD) 5) Kassapa III (717 – 724 AD).

(Vide ‘ History of Buddhism in Ceylon ‘by Walpola Rahula, First Edition, p.73)

King Silakala (524 – 537 AD) decreed the ‘preservation of life for all creatures’ throughout the Island. King Kassappa IV (898 -914 AD) granted safety to all creatures on land and water and in doing so observed in all respects the conduct of the ancient kings.

Several Kings established Animal Hospitals and one King i.e. Buddhadasa (341 AD) became a reputed medical and veterinary surgeon.

Animal Sacrifice banned in pre – colonial Sri Lanka

Ibn Batuta, the 14th Century Arab traveller refers to the sight of a co – religionist (a Muslim) in Kurunegala whose limbs had been amputated as punishment on the orders of the King.

On inquiry Batuta had been told that the King had spared the man’s life but nevertheless had his limbs amputated because he had unlawfully slaughtered a cow, for the purpose of animal sacrifice. This was a criminal offence punishable usually by death.

The above examples illustrate the extent to which the former rulers were prepared to act to protect and enforce the legal rights that animals, particularly the cow, enjoyed in the bygone era.

Ahimsa

The people, influenced by the principle of ‘Ahimsa’ generally kept away from occupations that required the killing of animals to earn a living e.g. hunting, fishing and the slaughter of animals for food. Those who resorted to these activities were usually relegated to the margins of the society. Cattle wealth was protected and not destroyed.

There was also taboo on consumption of meat. Robert Percival says, “They never eat meat, or anything that has had life” and Tennent says, “The mass of the population were nevertheless vegetarians and so little value did they place on animal food” (quoted in Amerasinghe “The Legal Heritage of Sri Lanka, p.132).

The neighbouring countries called our people the Aryavamsa (noble race) largely due to the strict adherence to abstain from causing harm to living beings.

Upon the entry of western influence to Sri Lanka commencing in the 16th Century, the high moral value extended to non – human sentient beings began to decline and the habit of flesh consumption gradually grew among the people.

Furthermore, occupations that were associated with the killing of animals, which fell outside the trades recommended as the means for a Right Livelihood by the Buddha in the Noble Eightfold Path, gained greater acceptance in society.

Anagarika Dharmapala

Despite these incursions, there were wake up calls by Buddhist leaders during the period of the Buddhist Revival.

Anagarika Dharmapala’s resounding call to stop eating beef with a view to preventing the slaughter of cattle had a great influence on our people. Anagarika Dharmapala was the embodiment of the campaign to stop the slaughter of cattle.

Ven. Bowatte Indraratana Thero sacrificed his precious life on Vesak Day (May 24, 2013) in front of the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy, to galvanize the public to move rapidly in the direction of ushering in a ban on cattle slaughter. His martyrdom and the blood shed on the precincts of the Dalada Maligawa was meant to be a rallying point against ‘Gava Gathana ‘and cruelty to animals.

Right Livelihood

Today, in Sri Lanka, the State gives wide encouragement to people in both urban and rural areas, mostly Buddhists, to indulge in inland fisheries and rear animals e.g. chicken, goats, pigs and cattle for slaughter.

This policy is far removed from the ennobling ideals that the Buddha proclaimed when he advised rulers that birds and beasts should be given “ward and protection”.

State policies which violate the principle of Right Livelihood in the Noble Eightfold Path too should be abandoned alongside the ban on cattle slaughter.

The world is paying a heavy price for abuse of animals. Isn’t the Coronavirus pandemic a form of Karmic Retribution for slaughter of animals?

It is time to draw the appropriate lessons from this tragic crisis and move forward on a footing of compassion and loving kindness to all living beings as the Buddha taught continuously during his lifetime.

Senaka Weeraratna
Founder Member on behalf of Justice for Animals and Nature

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