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Moribund Buddhism in Sri Lanka attracts cultural predators

BY R.Chandrasoma

How a debasement of spirit and a lackadaisical approach to matters of public faith on the part of the Buddhists of Sri Lanka have made their ancient land a happy hunting ground for monotheistic predators and culture-exterminators of every description

Ecologists speak of a 'keystone species' in a living community or ecosystem. In instances where such a species exists, the survival of the community as a whole depends narrowly on the strength and success of this pivotal and crucially important kind of organism. Through its varied and complex links with the rest of the community, this key organism guarantees the perpetuation of the living system as a viable whole. There is a societal parallel. Long established human communities - like ecosystems - are intricately structured with a variety of sub-cultures that are dynamically interlinked. As with the biological model, it is often the case that there is a core-culture that is so richly linked to all aspects of the life of the community that its disappearance would be tantamount to an identity crisis - the end of a societal species previously recognized as distinctive. It is the culture that sustains the whole just as a keystone gives strength to the arch by its critical interlocking at the position of maximum stress.

Friends, all this may seem abstract. Let us talk of Sri Lanka. That over a period of twenty centuries and more, many and varied kinds lived in this fair abode of ours is uncontested. That these diverse kinds interacted fruitfully and in a sustainable way is the enduring lesson of our long and tortuous history - bringing glory to our Island Nation in times of good fortune and, at its worst hour, beating off the aggressor that unrelentingly tried to erase our identity. Throughout this eventful history was there not a dominant culture - a keystone, in the jargon we have just introduced? Did it not provide the strength, the pivotal buttress that made its pre-eminence and vitality the necessary condition for survival of our distinctive nation? Was it not this culture - that which the majority professed - that locked into place the lesser expressions of cultural distinctiveness and gave our land a wholeness that transcended its seeming variegation?

Must we name this cultural keystone? Is it not Sinhala-Buddhism? Are we not proud that in this continental outpost of Lanka, the Sinhala people have over the centuries beaten off the invader and the cultural exterminator to rightfully install and cherish a community of great distinctiveness that has the religion of The Buddha and the language of the Sinhala people as its enduring hallmarks?

Sadly, there are powerful forces at work in Sri Lanka today that seek to deny this pre-eminence, to foist on us a multiculturalism that that is premised on the belief that Sinhala-Buddhism is a mere player, a historic remnant at most, in an emerging new social order where other cultural forces must, necessarily, play the lead role. How did this come about - this blatant denial of history and the studied denigration of all that our people have held steadfastly sacred through long centuries of strife? Is it not the case that there is a tragic erosion of spirit, an unwillingness reassert that which is rightly ours? Does not defeatism spread like a malignant plague among the Sinhala-Buddhists of this age?

Fellow Sinhala-Buddhists, declamations and anguished rhetoric will get us nowhere. Let us see why we are in this parlous state - why cultural exterminators are having an easy time trashing and dismantling a cultural edifice proudly built and valiantly defended by our illustrious forebears. Against all odds they defended their cultural birthright and frustrated the best efforts of the alien conqueror to throw into vassalage a civilization and a way of life that was uniquely ours.

Friends, the issue of great moment, the abiding question is whether we can survive the latest onslaught - the onslaught of the combined forces of proselytizing Christianity, the squelching of cultures by a triumphant and rampaging West that goes under the name of 'globalization' and last - but not least - the horror and violence of Tamil Terrorism. Though seemingly disparate, this triune of destructive forces is interlinked and strategically and tactically convergent. What does this mean in practical terms? It means that for each, the dethronement - and eventual extinction - of Sinhala-Buddhism is the coveted goal. For each, Sinhala-Buddhism is the historic enemy. Why does our nation react with such monumental ineptitude and loss of courage when so direly threatened? Here are some answers.

1. The Sinhala-Buddhists do not have parliamentary representation.

Astonishing but true. Do we have not a hundred or more Sinhala-Buddhists in parliament? This is indeed the case, but has any one of them stoutly defended the rights of the imperiled Sinhala-Buddhists? Are they not a pack of duplicitous knaves ever ready to sacrifice the rights and privileges of the majority to obtain the critical support of the minorities in their shameful and unprincipled drive for power? They do practice a kind of 'public religion' with the ritual and trappings that belong to our faith - the Maha Sangha is consulted with TV Cameras rolling and Journalists jotting down in their notebooks the highlights of a pious interlocution. May we not humbly ask, who is fooling whom? When a Christian Member of Parliament declares in the House that he 'consults the Bishop' before casting a vote that could be decisive, we must take him at his word and grudgingly admire his fidelity to his religion and his deep respect for its hierarchical authority. Can we say the same of our Buddhist representatives in Parliament? Is not their publicly declared sanctity a fraud and an insult to the Buddhists? Did not two of their leading lights - among the very few who had the courage and the daring to raise the issue of the erosion of the rights and privileges of the Sinhala-Buddhists in Parliament - succumb to the lure of office and vote for the ratification of that accursed 'New Constitution' that would have destroyed Buddhism in this country?

2. Do the Buddhists have a public voice?

That the media - print and electronic - are powerful modulators of public opinion in Sri Lanka is fact acknowledged by all. Less evident is the recognition of another brute fact - that the forces behind the media find the presentation of a Buddhist point of view neither profitable nor useful. Let us take the issue of profitability first. Revenues are obtained by attracting advertisements that fuel the consumerist frenzy that goes with globalization and the opening up of trade. A Buddhist nation that spurns the lasciviousness and base materialism of this ersatz culture borrowed from the West will have no friends in the media - whose very survival depends on a covert repudiation of Buddhist values.

Let us take next the question of 'usefulness'. While the politicians have 'discovered' that it is 'useful' to be hypersensitive to minority interests and issues - all the while taking a stance of studied indifference to the concerns of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority - the Media Moguls have reached very similar conclusions based on such prosaic matters as business viability and a supportive environment for the expansion of their trade. Big Business is largely Western, Christian and Minority-Driven. Newspaper-owners must appease this monster if they are to remain solvent. Is it a great surprise that 90% of the key journalistic positions in the Sri Lanka Press are held by non-Buddhists? Is it surprising that we do not have a single Broadsheet Newspaper, FM-station or TV-channel that is unequivocally and unashamedly Buddhist - one that does not feel obliged to 'balance' anything Buddhist with a great splash on Christianity or Islam? A newspaper that repudiates the absurdity of equating the claims and concerns of the 70% Buddhist majority with the single-digit clout of a pampered minority? When will we ever have a newspaper or broadcasting station run by Buddhists for the greater glory of our ancient Buddhist nation? The rich and powerful among the Buddhists should hang their heads in shame.

3 The Two-Edged Sword - The Rich are seduced, the Poor are cheated

No one can deny that foreign money is being dispensed ad lib to prosecute a very special kind of war that is being waged in this poor and unfortunate country. It is not the Koti War that we have in mind - albeit that is, indeed, a great and intractable problem for us. It is the war to exterminate Buddhism in its historic setting of Lanka that causes us deep anguish and puts our nation to shame. Why are our Buddhist poor turning to a saviour-based cult-faith, turning their back on so rich a tradition and so magnificent a heritage of religious greatness? Why is the precious gem exchanged for a tawdry bauble? It is the spiritual debauchment of the last few decades that is largely to blame. Politics - including that perversity called Marxism -has turned our poor into robotic operators in a market, tossed around by forces that pay scant regard for history or culture. They demand 'returns' for allegiance. If their own religion does not 'pay' they are prepared to switch to another that offers a better deal. This is, of course a gross oversimplification - yet, who can deny that the success of this dastardly campaign of proselytism is entirely due to the outpouring of money from external agencies determined to see the end of our historic faith? Do we not have the backbone to challenge this money-backed religious saboteur that works insidiously to 'save us' through a total destruction of our previous greatness?

The sword of the enemy is two-edged. While the poor succumb to direct inducements and fairy-tales about a better life, there is a sophisticated segment - including no less than our top leadership - that takes pride in casting off like a worn and tiresome garment the great religion of their ancestors. How can account for this bizarre volte-face by men (and women) not without education and certainly rich and powerful enough to spurn offers that would tempt the poor? It is a spiritual malaise of our age - that our leaders secretly hold in contempt their own kind and hanker for that which the great world outside so temptingly offers them. Let Buddhists of Lanka beware. While Don Juan Dharmapala loudly proclaimed his loyalty to the foreign God and King, the latter-day 'Dharmapalas' dare not divulge their heretical departure from the norms and standards acceptable to the vast majority of the citizens of this country. They are the great masqueraders - the public face is Buddhist while they work tirelessly behind the scenes to advance an agenda that seeks to destroy this very faith. The proselytizers and that great anti-Buddhist army that toils away - largely unseen - in this country could not have succeeded except for the support and benevolence of these traitors.

4 Indiscipline and infighting among the Buddhist the bane of this country.

There is a paradox that must be resolved. The wronged is accused of wrong-doing. While Sinhala-Buddhism suffers fatal wounds, the cry is heard on all sides that the victim is the transgressor - that the minorities must be saved from the rapacity, the intolerance and the racial hauteur of the Sinhala people. Who says this? If the accusation comes from the ex-lapdogs of the Colonial Masters, from frustrated Marxists or from proselytizing predators speaking on behalf of Global Monotheism, there is hardly room for the charge of being bizarre or the illogical - the enmity is clearly declared and the hatred understandable. What is not understandable - indeed, 'passeth all understanding' is the tirade of leaders of the Sinhala-Buddhists themselves. The declaration from 'platform and pulpit' by Presidents, Prime Ministers, Leading Cabinet Ministers, Professors, Speakers of Parliament, Singers, Dancers - must we go on with this list ? - that the Sinhala people must redress the 'wrongs' done to the minorities, that they must atone, expiate and humble themselves before their 'victims' for unforgivable sins committed. It is not the factual or the prepositional that needs re-examining: it is the psychology of a people and a nation that can be so despicably divided at a time of crisis. A psychology which permits so-called leaders to blatantly declare sympathy with the enemy. We have lost a war because of this perfidy. We will lose more wars because of the incapacity of the leaders of any Sinhala-Buddhist movement to prevent destruction by what the Americans call 'friendly fire' - the fire directed inwards and not at the enemy. The pugnacity of individual Buddhist leaders is proverbial - and at bewildering odds with the metta and karuna that our great religion holds sacred. Our Sangha is nor exemplary in this regard. The enemy has found it laughably easy to recruit members of the Sangha to espouse their cause by the use of a 'peace-sophistry' that would not deceive even a child. We say this with great regret and are acutely conscious of the fact that our Sangha must be held, at all times, in regard and reverence.

5. The institutional poverty of Buddhist Sri Lanka.

The word 'poverty' will be given a special meaning in what follows. There are about 12 million Buddhists in this country and within this dominant demographic cohort some are, undoubtedly, very rich indeed. Yet, there is public poverty co-existing with this private affluence. Let us look at a contemporary event - at this very moment unfolding in ways that cannot be predicted, but certainly unfriendly to Sinhala-Buddhism. Millions are being spent on Newspaper and TV advertisements by business tycoons - the leader is reputedly a former Buddhist, now a rabidly evangelizing Christian - to promote 'peace, love and friendship'. What is actually being promoted is, firstly, a fatal demoralization of the Armed Services. Secondly, a weird kind of multiculturalism that involves the destruction of Buddhist identity and sense of history - an agenda that is marvelously attuned to the needs of the Christian proselytizer. There is no need to delve further into this and other instances where individuals and institutions are prepared to allocate resources on a grand scale to defeat their enemy -Sinhala-Buddhism.

Let us ask the obvious question - have the Buddhists of this country countered this deadly threat by a similar investment in men and materials? Are there institutions dedicated to meet this threat in our own country? Have we paid professionals to carry on a propaganda war on a scale that even faintly matches the fire-power of the enemy? Do we have a book printed on glossy paper that glorifies our religion and history? Do we have a professionally-run newspaper that represents the view-point of the Buddhists of this country? It is time to give up that lame excuse that the State has a constitutional duty to 'protect the rights of the Buddhists'. Governments since 1977 have been protecting the 'rights of the minorities' at a great cost to Buddhism and the Buddhists. So long as this niggardliness, lack of enterprise and skill in infighting persists, there is little hope that we can thwart what our enemies are so desperately skilled in doing.

6. The fear of the foreigner has stultified all attempts to recoup some of our lost glory.

It is lamentable - nevertheless true - that our leaders look outwards rather than inwards. This is especially true of those who came after that great turning point in history - the elections of 1977. Let us look closely at the key words 'inwards' and 'outwards'. Those imbued with a sense of our own history, are inspired by its greatness, and regard the future as a re-affirmation and extension of this special heritage, can be said to be 'looking inwards' This must not be construed in a pejorative sense - that such people are prisoners of history and are not receptive to the 'winds of change' that blow in from the great world outside. We must, at all times as a nation, be adapted to the global environment in which we are constrained to live. However, this must be tempered by a sense of our own destiny as an Island Nation steeped in history and with a religion and a language that are an ineluctable part of our identity as a people. We cannot lose this identity as the price paid for modernization. This last premise is abjectly and cravenly rejected by the new generation of leaders who look 'outwards' and are infatuated by what they see as the 'new image of Sri Lanka' Due to lack of the necessary education, due to an early infection of the Anti-National Virus in their critically formative years or even plain stupidity, these men (and women) find the compulsions of history and the sense of Sinhala-Buddhist nationhood a drag and a privation that modern Sri Lanka could well do without. In this they echo the views of their foreign masters and tutors who, of course, regard the Sinhala-Buddhist past as only for the history books. The contempt for our history and culture is nowhere more evident than in the perorations of foreigners who constitute the Diplomatic Corps lodged in our country. These men (and women) are the New Brahmins who advise our rulers on the course to be pursued on matters ranging from Eelam for the Tamils to Bible-and-Bread for the children of Lanka. As long as these Buddhist-hating aliens have our Leaders as meek acolytes eager and ready to do their bidding, what chance have the indigenes to steer a course that favours a return to ancient greatness?

7. Cultural Closure for the Minorities - Cultural hara-kiri for the Sinhala-Buddhists.

The state-sponsored school system - the chief instrument of the social revolution that was initiated soon after the departure of the Colonialists - is being run down by a new leadership that has little sympathy for the aspirations of the Sinhala-Buddhists. Studied neglect is the name of the game - the fact that the administrative workload of education was distributed (in the new UNF government) among three ill-defined and nondescript ministries, initially none of cabinet rank, is wonderfully revelatory of the thinking of those at the apex of power. Let us ask, why is education treated with this degree of contempt? Certainly not because the leaders of our country regard the nurturing of their young as something secondary or trivial. The fact that their cosseted offspring are sent to the best English-Medium schools and have their further education abroad with no expense spared is the best indication of the value they attach to the training of their young. What is being run down - insidiously and with bureaucratic stealth - is the system that gives the ordinary Sinhala-Buddhists of Lanka the chance to compete with the best to secure key positions in the governance of this country. In brief, the great educational revolution - of which the father figure was CWWK - is being surreptitiously reversed to reacquire for the minorities and the Sankara or Thuppi classes the privileges and perks of high office that they fleetingly lost following the epochal events of the fifties.

That the unfolding of current events in this field bodes ill for the hapless majority is blindingly evident. Indeed, it prepares the ground for further rounds of the kinds of strife that are so irremediably entrenched in our country. What is most dangerous is the 'cultural closure' that is being secretly put in place by the minorities - and by the English educated wastrels among the Sinhala people. Those Muslims who can afford it - the rapidly advancing class of businessmen and professionals - teach their children exclusively in English in an atmosphere that is rigorously Islamic. There is a total repudiation of the indigenous culture rooted in the history and language of Lanka. This deliberate 'distancing' from the Sinhala-Buddhist masses culturally and socially - while enjoying the full benefits of economic interrelations - will lead inexorably to the creation of an upper class of English-speaking professionals and entrepreneurs who will 'ride on the back' of the toiling mass of Sinhala poor. Like the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, there are three 'scourges' that will spell doom for the poor Sinhala-Buddhists of this country if allowed to rampage unhindered . There is, firstly, the rapid ascendancy of a class of 'Anglo-Sinhala' who feel desperately unhappy with the Sinhala-Buddhist past and share with the Muslims a deep fondness for the kind of acculturation that keeps them separate from the mass of the people. There is, next, the ever-present danger of a Bin Laden form of 'Fighting Islam' spreading into Sri Lanka and replicating the fissiparous horrors made famous by the tyrant Prabhakaran. Lastly, there is the Monster himself, who makes no bones about the fact that Sinhala-Buddhism is his enemy incarnate.

8. While the Minorities fight for their rights, a comparable activity on the part of the Sinhala-Buddhists is deemed to be a public menace that must be urgently extirpated.

Until recently, all non-whites living in European countries were labeled 'blacks'. In the rural parts of the USA, Asians are still called 'niggers'. Something comparable is happening in Sri Lanka - minorities, whether racial or religious, are lauded for any activity that is deemed to be an assertion of freedom and equality in a multiracial and multicultural society. They are 'white'. A Muslim has the right to belt out the evening call to prayer even if he is living in a predominantly Buddhist neighbourhood. He has the right to sacrificially cut the throat of an innocent animal even if this custom is abhorrent to the greater part of the people of this country. Likewise, a Christian group has the right to 'plant a Church' anywhere in Sri Lanka and to distribute gifts to seduce and convert poor Buddhists. No political leader, no political party - indeed, no privately-owned or State-controlled Newspaper - has ever questioned the propriety of such activities that are so palpably at variance with the norms acceptable to the most of the people of this country. May we prayerfully ask, is there any reciprocity? - will a Muslim country permit comparable activity by a Buddhist minority? Will a Christian country permit house-to-house campaigns by Buddhists to convert their poor children?

Consider next the claim of the Sinhala Buddhists that they have been discriminated against, victimized, lands unfairly seized, their historic faith subverted, their language treated with contempt, their people denied fair opportunity. Are not these claims deeper and more fundamental than wearing fez-caps or getting down missionaries from the Christianized Sub-Continent? Yet, these claims are ridiculed as the crazy imaginings of 'extremists'. All extremists are 'Black'. The Sinhala-Buddhists who make such claims are extremists. Therefore they are black. This 'syllogism' is the logical underpinning of the huge campaign under way to brand any and every manifestation of patriotism, of Buddhist Brotherhood, of fellowship with the mass of the indigenous people of this country, as the work of the devil. The Sinhala-Buddhist patriot is a 'nigger' in much the same way as the non-whites were called 'niggers' by racial bigots in the southern United States. What is extraordinary in this instance is that the nigger-calling is done by people who are themselves white-washed niggers. Let us say no more on this pathetic state of affairs in a country with over two thousand years of proud history.

9. While Sinhala-Buddhists are driven into enclaves, the minorities are doubly fortunate - they have their exclusive homelands and the unfettered right to settle and prosper in the fast-diminishing 'homelands' of the Sinhala-Buddhists.

This is a situation without parallel in the great wide world. About one-third of our tight little Island is said to be 'Tamil Territory'. Is this the verdict of history? Is it based on the rationale of demography? Is it based on a profound and detached study of the history of Lanka? To all of these questions, the answer must be a resounding 'No'. How, then has this sorry state of affairs come to pass? Because we - the Sinhala_Buddhists - are piddling nonentities, a spent force in the opinion not only of forces and agencies that are openly hostile to us, but also of those who have put on the mantle of leadership and presume to guide us in matters of abiding importance. 'The country is already divided' is a popular refrain. "We can never win this War' is another expression of a widespread defeatism. Friends, there are other deadly 'slogans' that are not so clearly enunciated but which our leaders have taken to heart. 'Buddhism has no future' is one of these. 'The Sinhala Language must be replaced by English' is another. There are various ways in which a once-proud nation can die. Direct conquest is one. Overpopulation, resource depletion and physical enfeeblement is another. Clearly, these do not apply so far as we are concerned. - but there is a third way that is equally deadly. The corruption, loss of moral and the spiritual alienation of the leaders that spreads like a plague infecting the mass of the population. It is this last that sees to it that the Sinhala people are not only cornered, they are being challenged in the refuges into which they have cravenly withdrawn. While mosques, kovils and Christian Churches are springing up everywhere, Buddhist temples are being phased out in the North and East (except where our troops can provide protection) and the 'Land of Buddhism' is fast becoming the 'Land of Moribund Buddhism'. Agents of the 'God of the Monotheists' move freely in Buddhist areas, doing their dastardly work in ease and total contempt for the Buddhist Institutions of the area. Contrast this with the plight of a Sinhala-Buddhist in the North and East - he is an unwelcome alien in a part of Lanka that was once proudly his own. He has to dodge the bullet of the Terrorist before he can secure a precarious toehold. He is in another country.

10. A nation that has a constitution that gives a 'foremost place' to Buddhism gives a foremost place to Christianity and Islam.

There are good reasons why this topsy-turvy arrangement has come to pass. In the first place, certain features of the constitution were meant to be purely decorative - to give a comfortable feeling to those nationalists who might feel affronted if Buddhist Sri Lanka had no mention of Buddhism in what is supposed to be the Law of the Land. Since there were equally powerful provisions in the constitution affirming non-discrimination and the right of any religionist to enjoy privileges fully equal to those conferred on the Buddhists, the talk of a 'foremost place' is in the category of polite constitutional fiction. More important is the actual mechanism of governance: any attempt by Buddhists and nationalists to invoke the (supposed) constitutional provision to advance their cause was stymied by legal experts who pointed out that Sinhala-Buddhists had no claims rooted in the law that were over and above what was granted to others.

This may seem fair to some. Here is how things go horribly wrong. The Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka represent the local chapters of a vast, well-funded and militant organization straddling the globe. They have the money, the power, the influence and the personnel to run circles round the befuddled Buddhists and their weak organizations that have hardly a link with the outside world. In every encounter they have the upper hand and that fairy-tale constitutional provision regarding the protection of Buddhism is a huge joke. We have eminent lawyers who are reputedly Buddhist. Have they clamored for a significant change in the Law that will give poor Buddhists a chance to beat off evangelizing money-bags? Have they no thoughts about churches and mosques being 'planted' everywhere as 'business-houses' designed to attract customers? There is a larger issue involved here about the dumbness of our professionals - we are speaking of the Buddhists - who are enticed by 'rights issues' that the Western Overlord fancies while there is not a pipsqueak about the lost rights of the Buddhists.

Concluding note.

It is not the intention of the writer to be hortatory or judgmental on matters he has touched on in the preceding paragraphs. If he has written in a provocative style, it has been done to rouse our fellow-Buddhists from the apathy and helplessness that seems to be their lot in an age when the forces ranged against them seem overwhelming. Yet, much can be done - and a first and decisive step is to acknowledge and reflect. I hope that a reading of what has been presented above will help in the furtherance of this aim.

 


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