Constitutional Reforms and the Protection of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Posted on April 13th, 2015

Senaka Weeraratna

In the light of the proposed changes to the Constitution of Sri Lanka now under consideration and growing accusations of contrived attempts via the proposed new Article 33 to neutralise the applicability of Article 9 in the Constitution that imposes a mandatory duty on the State to give to Buddhism the foremost place and protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e), an important question has arisen What is the relationship that should exist in the present day between the State and Buddhism?

It is an incontrovertible fact that Buddhism, more than other ideology or religion, has played a singular role in creating an unique civilization and shaping the destinies of this country. Sri Lanka is the oldest Buddhist nation in the world. If not for the continuance of the Dhamma, through the study and practice of it in this country, it is unlikely that there would even be a semblance of pure Sasana in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, or Cambodia. It is in Sri Lanka that the Wheel of the Buddha’s law was truly set in motion with the arrival of Arahant Mahinda with the blessings of that great universal monarch, Emperor Asoka. If this event did not take place in Sri Lanka, the Pali Canon may not have got recorded and the noble doctrine of the Buddha, recited and accepted by the Arahats, at Rajagaha, Vesali and Pataliputta, i.e. three Great Councils of the Arya Sangha, would have vanished into thin air long ago.

Arahant Mahinda not only introduced the Dhamma but he also taught it in such a manner that it soon became the overriding element in all the activities of our people in the past, enthused them to develop an altogether new culture, which has become the basis of the social  outlook of the vast majority of our people even to this day. Such is the hold of the Dhamma so ingrained in almost every facet of this country that the Buddhist public very rightly feel that it is something they cannot do without as it is now representative of their life blood, more or less.  The day the Buddha Dhamma is abandoned or allowed to fade or wither away with the removal of patronage of our rulers and the protection afforded by the Constitution which was also explicitly set out in Article 5 of the Kandyan Convention of 1815,  that is the day this country would have truly lost its very soul.

In the pre-colonial period the Sinhalese Monarch protected the Buddha Sasana and maintained its purity as one of his primary duties. He exercised his power and authority over the religion to prevent schisms and heretical interpretations of the Dhamma.   He invoked the dasa raja dhamma” as a basis of governance. He developed an Animal Friendly Cultural Heritage which is unique to Sri Lanka. The tenet ‘compassion to all living beings’  based on the Buddha’s words in the Karaniya Metta Sutra was heavily influential in the choice of both vocation and diet.
When foreigners came to this country beginning in 1505 they found the Buddhists united and strong. To weaken this unity they adopted every means to divide them. The post – independent Sri Lanka has a fundamental obligation to strengthen the status of Buddhism.
It is our historical track record of service to the cause of Buddhism that has shaped our national identity and brought universal recognition to this country and still continues to do so.

It therefore falls on the current and future generations to ensure that Buddhism continues to flourish in Sri Lanka and that the State performs its historic public duty, as enshrined in the National Constitution, to extend patronage, protection and foster Buddhism both within and outside the country. Any attempt directly or indirectly through tampering with the Constitution to stalemate the applicability of Article 9 which gives foremost place to Buddhism is fraught with grave danger to peaceful co – existence among various communities in Sri Lanka.
(Senaka Weeraratna is an Attorney at Law. Holds a Bachelor of Laws degree (University of Sri Lanka), and Master of Laws (Monash University, Australia). Holds a Diploma (Buddhist Studies) and Master of Arts (Buddhist Studies) obtained from the Post – Graduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya.)

15 Responses to “Constitutional Reforms and the Protection of Buddhism in Sri Lanka”

  1. Dr.K Says:

    The Buddhism in Sri Lanka is iconic to Sri Lankan identity and is to be protected by the Constitution with no second opinion. It has happened from the time that the ‘Udarata Givisuma” was signed up but the Yahapalana leaders have forgotten it, shame for Rev Sobitha and Rev Rathana Theros.

    Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Lord Buddha himself while he was living. History says Lord Buddha had visited Sri Lanka three times I believe it was not for just sight seeing but to teach his philosophy to the people who lived at the time. Mahawansa Author has neglected this part of the Sri Lankan history.

    After Arahath Mahinda’s arived in Sri Lanka the Buddhism was boomed up with the support of State Heads and Sinhalese culture was also changed.

  2. Christie Says:

    Namaste: There should be protection of Buddhism from Hinduthwa first. It is the Indian colonial parasites who has done most of the damage to Buddhism. No one talks about the Kovils that have sprung up since the late 1790ties when Indian colonial parasites arrived in the Island under the British fire power. Jai Hind

  3. Vimutti Says:

    Buddhism must indeed be protected in Sri Lanka, and constitutional protection is the best protection possible. That said, there must be an understanding that there are other religions present in Sri Lanka, and the rights of these Sri Lankans to worship according to their conscience must be respected.

    One of the realizations I have had growing up as a Catholic in a Christian country (USA) and then converting to Buddhism many years ago and moving to Sri Lanka is that when I was a Catholic growing up in America, no one talked about my religion, but when I converted to Buddhism, then ‘everyone’ wanted to talk about my religion. Even though there are pockets of Buddhism in America that are growing, one still feels alienated living there if you are not a Christian.

    Now the script has completely flipped when I moved to Sri Lanka. Although I view Sri Lanka as a “Buddhist paradise” that I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams, I know there are probably some Christian, Hindus, and Muslims in Sri Lanka that feel the same ‘alienation’ that I felt as a Buddhist living in America.

    How do we remove this alienation while still protecting Buddhism as the foremost religion in Sri Lanka?

    This is indeed the critical question, and I think it starts with the Dhamma itself. The Buddha often entertained visitors from various spiritual groups, especially Jains, as Mahavira viewed the Buddha as a ‘competitor’. There are many teachings in the Pali suttas where the Buddha is in dialogue with Jains, and it is clear that he spoke to them from a deep sense of compassion toward their suffering, not as someone who wished to oppress their religion. In the same vein, Buddhists in Sri Lanka should always engage with other religions with compassion, as this goes a long way in removing the alienation feeling. When Sri Lankans of these other faiths ask, “do Buddhist care about us?”, the answer should ALWAYS be, ‘yes’. And this caring must be felt on a human level, which requires engagement and integration, not separatism.

    I was once asked whether enshrining Buddhism in the Constitution as the foremost religion in Sri Lanka alienates other religions, and I said “it depends”. It depends on how we treat these other religions. If we treat them better than how they would be treated in Christian, Muslim, or Hindu countries, then no one is going to care much about Buddhism in Sri Lanka’s Constitution because they ‘feel’ the compassion that the Buddha taught first-hand.

  4. AnuD Says:

    Less than 16 million Sinhala-buddhist in the world.

    That is the most important.

    christians and muslims are close two billion each, Tamils are Hundred millions.

  5. Fran Diaz Says:

    Buddhism must be PROTECTED through the Constitution. Buddhism is the Heart of Lanka. This is the religion that gives the flavor of compassion to all the People via the State. Removal of PROTECTION of Buddhism through the Constitution will disintegrate and weaken Lanka further and will not strengthen the country.

    However, State and Religion must be kept apart too.

    How should the Constitution be renewed to protect the Country and the People ? Remove Tamil as a National/Official language as that is the item that keeps dividing the country with claims for Separatism. India is separated as states through different languages. The same must not happen in Lanka as Lanka is a small country. The whole of Lanka is smaller than most of the Indian states. Tamil is the language of Tamil Nadu. TN would not allow any other language to grow there.
    Also, illegal migrants come from Tamil Nadu to Lanka due to Tamil being a Official/National language in Lanka. Illegal migration must stop.

  6. Lorenzo Says:

    FULLY AGREE with Fran.

    Now some people will say GIVING CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTION ONLY TO BUDDISM is AGAINST Buddhist principles!!

    We have to be VERY CAREFUL of those people. They USE Buddhism to destroy it. VERY dangerous creatures.

  7. Independent Says:

    Buddhism does not need any protection from government. But government should give maximum punishment to those who try to twist words and attack the core of ANY religion. It should also STOP the conversions using organized movements, building religious buildings and schools out of promotion of the religious population and STOP KUDU which will stop financing Islamic extremists.

  8. Lorenzo Says:


    “Buddhism does not need any protection from government.”


    (Now some people will say GIVING CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTION ONLY TO BUDDISM is AGAINST Buddhist principles!!)


    Buddhism ALWAYS HAD state protection in SL. Even the 1815 British invasion RECOGNIZED protection to Buddhism!!

    So what are you talking about? Don’t be fooled by My3 campaign’s financiers. They want SL to be a secular country with NO STATE PROTECTION given to Buddhism. I KNOW because I was in the thick of the My3 campaign. (But My3 REJECTED their demand.)

    Please don’t teach kids these things when you teach Buddhism at the Dhamma school. Buddhism NEEDS STATE PROTECTION. Otherwise the religions spread by the GUN and MONEY will just BULLDOZE Buddhism.

    This proves my point Buddhism itself cannot protect Buddhism. We have to go AGAINST the concept of ANICHCHA as much as we can to protect Buddhism (which itself is ANICHCHA). We can’t say “Oh it is anichcha so why bother”. We should also have the GREED and CRAVING to see the continuation of Buddhism which was JEALOUSLY GUARDED by ancient SL kings. Guarded with war and violence too.

    “But government should give maximum punishment to those who try to twist words and attack the core of ANY religion.”


    Freedom of expression should be FREE.

    ALL religions and particularly philosophies MUST be subject to scrutiny and critique!!

    NO ONE should just follow ANY of these (KALAMA SUTRA). BTW there is no restriction for an Anglican to use Kalama sutra. I want to introduce KALAMA SUTRA to the GOSPEL, the GEETA and the KORAN.

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    The Core Principles of all religions are similar. Using Life Supportive Principles from any quarter is a great thing to do, be it religion, philosophy, literature, medicine, etc.

    The problem we have in Lanka is really not with religions. It is the problem with human GREED FOR POWER, FEAR, FEELINGS OF SUPERIORITY/INFERIORITY, ENVY & JEALOUSY, HATRED, ANGER ETC. – and these are universal traits we all have to overcome using the tools provided by the religions, philosophy, literature, medicine, etc.

    But Buddhism must be protected through the State, as Buddhism is too precious to lose, and too passive to survive, if not protected. But, please keep the State and Religion (any religion) apart – an important lesson from European History.

  10. Lorenzo Says:


    Agree with your last para. That is the point.

    1. STATE MUST protect Buddhism. It is too precious to lose. INDIVIDUALS have huge benefits of it.

    2. But state should NOT be governed by Buddhism. LAW AND ORDER should take over.

    3. IF killing, lying, robbing, sexual misconduct and gambling, drugs, alcohol ADVANCE NATIONAL SECURITY when applied in a certain way subject to very strict conditions and within the LAW, by all means DO.

    e.g. some acts of so and so had to be tolerated during the war because he was saving national security.

  11. Independent Says:

    “Buddhism does not need any protection from government” I repeat and those who spread other religions using cunning methods taking advantage of freedom shall be given maximum punishment. What is wrong in that ? That is what has been passed as law during MR’s time but never implemented. That will provide protection to illegal conversion Buddhists from criminals like LTTErs and Jihadists.

    Yes. Kalama Sutta is applicable to Anglicans and Islamists equally. There is no difference in both these types, some use violence openly now and others used violence openly 50 years ago and use it secretly now.
    Those who shifted to in My3 camp from LTTE camp changed their standing. Now they have come back to the same standing to cheat people. I remain in the camp of Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lankan. Not LTTE Sri Lankan. I don’t care who is the president as long as he does the correct thing.

    Buddhism is Nibbaana ( Nibbaana is not a formation ) which is not subjected to Aniccha. All Buddhist know that. Those LTTErs who picked some Buddhsim here and there want to kill Nibbana which they cannot do because it is not subjected to any change – internal. All other 3 , CHitta, CHesatika, Rupa are subjected to Aniccha. Nibaana is unaffected.

    It is funny how an Anglican wants to teach the teachers of Buddhism how to teach it. Who is going to trust you ?

    If Buddhism, teaching to Nibbana needs protection your GOD also need protection. Which government providing protection to so called God ?
    Buddhism is not a philosophy – that again a spread of false look alike to cheat Buddhists.

  12. Fran Diaz Says:

    Nibbana is Permanent Union with God/Truth/Allah. There is a term called Thadanga Nibbana which is defined as Temporary Nibbana.

    Buddhism is NOT Nibbana. Buddhism strictly speaking is a Philosophy, a Teaching to reach Nibbana. Those who practice Buddhism are vulnerable to aggressive action by others – therefore the need for State Laws to protect Buddhism, leads to protection of Buddhists also.

  13. Lorenzo Says:


    We have to agree to DISAGREE.

    1. I VERY STRONGLY feel BOTH Singhala culture and Buddhism need STATE PROTECTION.

    2. But SL should NOT be governed by Buddhist principles because to SURVIVE in this DOG EAT DOG world we need to INTENTIONALLY do things AGAINST Buddhist principles as well. GREED and CRAVING are ESSENTIAL to survive in this HIGHLY COMPETITIVE world.

    3. SL should have the options OPEN to do ANYTHING legal or illegal, moral or immoral, good or bad to protect its NATIONAL SECURITY. This is what ALL other countries do.

    As for KALAMA SUTRA, my take is different to yours.

    You follow CIRCULAR LOGIC whereas I look critically. You use Buddhism itself to explain KS which is circular logic as in Islam.

    e.g. Why do you believe in Koran which has many violent verses? Because Allah said so. How do you know Allah said so? Because the Koran says so. Why do you believe in Koran? Because Allah said so. How do you know Allah said so? Because the Koran says so.

  14. Lorenzo Says:


    Agree in most part.

    Not just Buddhists, ALL others should use KALAMA SUTRA everyday to separate TRUTH from BS.

  15. Independent Says:


    1. I don’t trust your statement 1 , using Kalama Sutta.

    2. DOGs will fight with Dogs. Humans will control the DOG and use it to his benefit.

    3. I agree with you wholeheartedly for the third.

    As for the Kalama Sutta (not Sutra) keep reading it fully, not only one statement like a FOOL with critical thinking.
    Let us not talk about Islam or Christianity boith have no compassion to animals sharing this earth with us. ( Islaam at least ask people not to kill Pigs).

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