Ven. Bowatte Indraratana Thero – A Farewell Tribute
Posted on June 8th, 2013

by Senaka Weeraratna

No greater crime in the history of humankind can match the unrelenting and unceasing war that members of the human species are waging almost every moment of the day against members of other species for their flesh and bones. This is the biggest war of human kind being waged from time immemorial i.e. snuffing out the life of other species in an almost one “”…”sided contest without pity without remorse. Kill and eat as a practice has become so ingrained in human society that deprivation of the valuable life of another living being “”…” a life that is so dear to it as much as it is to us humans, is no longer seen as a moral or ethical issue. In closing our eyes to the suffering and death of animals at our hands, and disregarding their cries for help, we suppress some of the most noble impulses that a human being is capable of  generating – that of sympathy and pity towards other living creatures””‚and by mutilating our own feelings in such fashion we unwittingly become cruel.  

Ven. Bowatte Indraratana Thero was very much an exception to this class of people. He stood out. He led a principled life of self “”…” abnegationwithout equivocation. He gave up his life with a salutary noble thought motivated by compassion i.e. to save the lives of other sentient beings including cattle from death and destruction.  Saving the lives of others is as high a noble endeavour as one could ever conceive under Buddhist beliefs and ethics.  

An outstanding feature of Buddhism, is that Buddhist ethics are concerned with the behaviour of humans to all living beings and not merely with their attitude to their fellow-humans and to human society. This is a significant difference between Buddhism and Abrahamic religions.

One of the greatest events in the spiritual history of human kind is the laying down of the injunction found in both Buddhism and Jainism – not to kill and not to harm other living beings [Ahimsa]. Jainism requires that the monk should suppress all emotions of hatred and revenge, the Buddha proceeded further calling on mankind to meet all living beings in the whole Universe radiating loving “”…” kindness (Metta).  This is love without clinging (upƒÆ’-¾dƒÆ’-¾na).

Albert Schweitzer, the world renowned philosopher and physician, says  “The Buddha is the first to express the fundamental law that ethical spirit quite simply in itself means energy which brings about what is ethical in the world”  (“ƒ”¹…”Indian Thought and its Development’ by Albert Schweitzer, 1935). True ethics invariably require compassion for all living creatures.

A thirteenth century Persian poet, Sa’di summarized the idea of “reverence for life” as follows:

Do not harm that ant that carries a little grain;
It has life and life is sweet.

The idea of consideration for the lives of other living beings is more profound and deep than the idea of humanism, because the former includes all living beings.  Then my neighbor becomes not only a human being but any creature like myself, cat, dog and even a fly subject to similar joys, and similar fears. The world view changes towards an all “”…” embracing view with dramatic changes in life style and attitude. It brings us closer to all living beings.


Further, according to Buddhist teachings when a human being dies the nature of the succeeding life-continuum is determined by the morally wholesome or unwholesome mental impulse that arises in his last conscious moment, that which follows it being his Patisandhi-vinnana, or rebirth-linking consciousness.

Even when his precious life was rapidly ebbing away Ven. Indraratana pleaded the cause of cattle unequivocally and called for the ban on slaughter of cattle.  By any definition these are morally wholesome thoughts and the fact that these noble sentiments occupied the last re-birth linking conscious moments (Patisandhi “”…” vinnana) of the late monk would ensure his stream of consciousness a good re- birth in the realm of Samsara.

Unlike some who have taken a negative view of Ven. Indraratana’s conduct and viewed the early termination of his life as unacceptable, the Buddhist approach to this issue is somewhat different. Buddhism tends to view life against the background of infinity. Samsara is without beginning, and neither is there an end, and there has never been a time according to Buddhism when the round of rebirths did not exist. Consequently, the Karmic history of every living being extends into the infinite past, and each has an unexpected potential of Kamma, good and bad.

Ven. Indraratana devoted good part of his young life to care for the needs of others particularly other sentient beings who are unable to articulate their pain and suffering. He gave voice to their plea for an end to their suffering and an end to man’s inhumanity towards them.  He worked hard to put an end to unnecessary animal sacrifice and incarceration of animals in cages (euphemistically called Zoos).   These are all morally wholesome actions and inspiring to all who sincerely care for the protection and welfare of animals. 

The Buddha has clearly laid down that:

” A man is not noble (Arya) because he injures living creatures. He is called Arya (noble) because he does not injure living beings. (Dhammapada)

Ven. Indraratana has shown he was a dedicated follower of that Noble (Aryan) path.

Reverence for life of other living beings

All life forms possess “the will-to-live in the midst of will-to-live of others”. This we know from our own life as well as observing the lives of other living beings. In the world of living beings there is an intuitive “Will” to live. Through our own experience and realization the right ethical conduct therefore is to appreciate the rights of all life forms and the sacredness of life itself.  The Buddhist First Precept encapsulates this spirit. It is not only a call not to kill others but also to save others wherever possible because the moral basis of the First Precept is reverence for life.

Buddhism accepts kinship with the animal world, a more intimate feeling of community with all that lives. It is not a matter of sentiment but an essential element that is rooted in the total Buddhist concept of life. It is a necessary part of an all – embracing philosophy which does not reject any aspect of experience (The Place of Animals in Buddhism by Anagarika P. Sugatananda (Francis Story) 1964.

The concern for the welfare of animals permeates Buddhist teachings with several references to Jataka Tales and incidents drawn from the Buddha’s own personal life.

Jataka Tales

For example, the good qualities of animals is the subject of several Jataka stories and in the Jataka Tales, it is clearly shown that in the Sansara (unending cycle of death and re-birth) even the Tathagata has gone through a large number of births in the animal and human worlds.

            Bhuridatta J.- Cobra                           Lakkhana Miga J. “”…”Deer

            Nigrodha Miga J. -Deer                      Munika J.””…” Ox

Nandivisala J.””…” Ox                              Nachcha J.””…” Swan

            Kukkura J.””…” Dog                                 Kapota J.””…” Dove/  Pigeon

Wanarinda J.- ,Monkey                       Machcha J.””…” Fish

Seelawa Naga J.- Elephant

Ummagga J. (Panna Paramita) “”…”The Tathagata is referred to at the beginning  

             as  “ƒ”¹…”Sakya sinha’  or the Lion of Sakyans

Buddhist world-view

The purpose of these Jataka folk-tales of the Panchatantra type is to teach moral lessons by allegory, but they are also weighty as illustrating the position that animals occupy side by side with humans in the Buddhist world-view. It must be noted that the Jatakas do not exalt animals unduly, for every tale of animal gratitude or affection is balanced by another showing less worthy traits which animals and men have in common ((The Place of Animals in Buddhism by Anagarika P. Sugatananda (Francis Story) 1964.


Events from the life story of the Buddha “”…”

a)      The noble horse Kanthaka pined away and died when its master renounced the world to seek Buddhahood. That story has the ring of historical truth.

b)      Upon attaining Enlightenment during the period of Sath satiya, a Cobra- Muchalinda had kept  company near the Bodhi tree.

c)      The Buddha’s very first sermon the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta was preached at the Deer Park at Issipatana, Saranath. Deer is considered the messenger of Universal Love in Indian folk lore.   

d)     In a later episode an elephant, Parileyyaka and an intelligent monkey were the Enlightened One’s companions when He retired to the forest to engage in solitary meditation.  

e)      When King Udeni had sent his old female elephant which had worked for the king for a long period of time to the jungle, the Tathagata had advised the king to look after animals in their old age in gratitude for the services rendered when they were young and the King had then faithfully complied with that request.

Ban on cattle slaughter

Ven. Indraratana Thero was championing a ban on cattle slaughter for numerous years. He was championing a cause not of his own making but a cause that is held dear by most Buddhists who follow the fundamentals of the Buddha’s teachings that eschew violence on any sentient being.

Ven. Indraratana Thero’s sacrifice conveys a deep message.  The fauna and flora is a natural gift. Peaceful co “”…”existence between man and animal, and man and natural environment is the correct ethical approach.

Role Model

In a manner similar to the martyrdom of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc whose self “”…” immolation in a spirit of self sacrifice on June 11, 1963 in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) turned the tide in favour of the Buddhists of South Vietnam, and became a global role model of peaceful protest as an ultimate gesture when all other forms of  non “”…” violent action had failed, the life sacrifice of Ven. Bowatte Indraratana Thero in a similar fashion on Vesak Day (May 24, 2013) in front of the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy, may become a point of reference to galvanise the public of Sri Lanka to move rapidly in the direction of ushering in a ban on cattle slaughter.

In a society where singers, actors, sportsmen and entertainers are increasingly becoming heroes among the young generation and even among some adults, the life story and self sacrifice of Ven. Bowatte Indraratana Thero may well ensure that the noble cause that he championed will not fade away from public memory.  He will become a role model of self “”…” sacrifice and his legacy will survive in history and will influence those who think and listen to their inner voices and are touched by the sufferings of cattle and all other living beings that are victims of Man’s inhumanity.

May He Attain Nibbana

Senaka Weeraratna

8 Responses to “Ven. Bowatte Indraratana Thero – A Farewell Tribute”

  1. Senevirath Says:

    some people as k
    why only cattle?-((–BEEF) why not chiCken fish and pork?



  2. herman Says:


    Its the Bodhisattva that had gone “ through a large number of births in the animal and human worlds “ plus in the worlds of Brahmas and Devas and NOT the TATHAGATA.

    BUDDHA DHAMMA is about personal cultivation so Its interesting to note that even at the time of the BUDDHA, the TATHAGATA seldom intervened and stopped the slaughter of animals. WHY ?

    Ven. Bowatte Indraratana Thero’s actions although Noble, unfortunately will soon be forgotten by the many sinhala Buddhist, i’m afraid !

  3. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    sw – a good right up except an error – parthisandhi vinyaaner is a consequence of not chuthi vinyaaner, but a consequence of kamma or action or deeds of a being. chuthi vinyaaner just ‘shows’ the next destination or bhava but has no connection to prathisandhi vinnyaaner. most buddhist monks even get this wrong.
    every thing ends here for both puthajjaner and arahant. since arahant has no accumulated kamma there is no consequence of a new birth. whereas a puthajjana due to his kamma which generates a karmic force which descends into the womb (or whatever birth) as a consciousness.
    there is no continuation there is no soul continuation there is no self. its always not a re-birth but a new birth. if there is a continuation then the concept of annatta falls into pieces, the basic, fundamental, core teaching of thathagata. so no one should distort Buddhism or mis-lead others. we must protect the dhamma.

  4. Christie Says:

    According to Buddhism; I have learned and understood, taking your own life is the worst action one can do. Assuming Ven Bowatte Thero set fire to himself, he committed the worst action.
    Buddhist principles go beyond the caring for fauna and extend to flora. We care for the Bo tree because it provided shade for Buddha and he paid gratitude. A Bo is a useless tree other than providing shade to other flora and fauna.
    This cattle business and other similar actions are the work of interested parties to divert the attention of Sinhalese, Moors, Burghers and Malays from more important issues like the division of the island to nine provinces. The country itself is smaller than any of the States of India except may be one. This division of 25,000 square miles to smaller parts will wipe out the Sinhalese, Moors, Burghers and Malays within two or three generations.

  5. Sasantha Says:

    The reality, of course, is that the Singhalese have been carnivorous since prehistoric times. As Kamalika Pieris wrote in The Island some years ago:

    “They were never vegetarian. Evidence shows that turtles were eaten around 800 to 250 BC. They also ate tortoises and wild boar during this period. In the ancient period, beef eating was forbidden, and considered abominable but there was no such stigma over fish. They ate plenty of fish and seafood in the ancient period. The classical texts refer to kudamassa, lula, shark as well as eel, prawns and shrimp. This carnivorous style continued into the medieval period. There are medieval references to pork, rabbit, venison, pigeon, snipe, fowl, river fish, peafowl, turtle eggs and fowl eggs. A 10th century inscription at Medirigiriya, indicates that goat and chicken meat was provided for the inmates of the hospital located there. Samanthapana (12 century) refers to food centres. That sold cooked meat. Saddharmaratnavaliya said that some people always had a meat dish or fish dish.”

    Interestingly, the consumption of beef was forbidden – but pretty much everything else was considered fair game, if you will excuse the pun. So let us not pretend ignorance in the face of much revisionist claptrap which would suggest that our ancestors never slaughtered animals. It is untrue. All manner of living beings have fed us for centuries past and will, I am sure, continue to nourish us for centuries ahead.

  6. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    even Buddha ate meat – when questioned he said he wasn’t eating a cow, killed for the purpose of dhana, but a piece of meat. but if he knew it was killed for the purpose of dhana he refused. yea we are all hypocrites. the existing chicken culture in sri lanka is baffling. almost everyone eats chicken. some like us are pescatareans. cows and bulls have a specila place in human society. they help us in many ways. so killing them is not fair. what we nee d is to get rid of wahaabis who are engaged in this slaughter saying allah, hulallaa, mahalla and having this stupid halal certificate issued to every product in sri lanka. so what do out vote mongers do? be silent or otherwise they will lose power. we desperately need an incorrupt leader.

  7. Christie Says:

    No inscrption says beef fobidden except modern day so called Buddhists but in reality Hindus descriptions.

    May Nen Bowatte attain Nibbana.

  8. Fran Diaz Says:

    Some facts to face :

    In the west, in the old times, it was almost always that only the King’s table that had meat and meat became a sign of wealth & power. I guess in the east, it was the same for the king and the wealthy people. The kings would go on horseback to hunt deer accompanied by his court. Since meat eating was associated with wealth and power, later with the advent of Democratic norms, meat eating became a ‘must’ for others too. But those meats were grown naturally in the forests and had some health giving properties. Since meat was not freely available, it was eaten sparingly, or sometimes in meat eating binges after a ‘kill’ which were few. So in imitation of the wealthy, meat was grown in large farms and made available to huge populations. Nowadays, huge battery farm grown meat is made available to the public. The cruel and insanitary conditions under which such animals live and the actual health benefit of eating such flesh must be questioned.

    Meat, fish, eggs and other animal products are/were eaten and animal body by-products such as milk, skins, bones, etc. used in almost every country, in the past and in the present.

    If we drink cow milk, eat curd/yoghurt, cheeses, hen eggs, etc., we think of these products more or less as ”vegetarian protein”. But are they really vegetarian ? These products come from animals. What do we do with these animals when they are aged ?

    When we eat animal products, we have to consider the health angle too. A mostly vegetarian diet is considered very healthy.

    I think it is up to the individual to chose his/her own diet. But, the media should give wide publicity to the pros & cons of animal based food. The least amount of animal products may be the answer.

    Also, many more tasty alternative vegetarian products should be made available. Developing the safe packaging side of delicious prepared food with long shelf life a must. The day may not be far off when we see a Soy based McBurgher up on the fast food menu !

    These are some ways to spare slaughter of many beasts for food.

    I cannot help but feel that the Ven. Bowatte Thero had a far wider and profound message for the country and the world, much wider than to stop slaughter of cattle. He may have been addressing the heedless, thoughtless direction mankind is headed through disharmony and war, greed and fear, ignorance & stupidity, and wanted to put to stop to all that. He may have wanted to shock us all into questioning his manner of death, why did what he did. Well, he is achieving his objective, isn’t he ?

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