What should be the Role of Maha Sangha at the next Election
Posted on July 26th, 2015

Dr Sudath Gunasekara President Senior Citizens Movement Mahanuwara

The subject of Buddhist Monks and politics has been a bone of contention in this country since independence. Many a critique, both for and against, have been published among which Walpola Rahula’s  Bhiksuwakage Urumaya  is generally regarded as the most authentic and objective analysis on this subject.  This subject has again gained prominence with another noisy and fussy election around the corner.

The subject under discussion is extremely controversial. But the fact remains that they do get involved, some directly and others rather indirectly.  One has to enter this discussion objectively to understand the role of the Buddhist monk in Sri Lankan society san preconceived ideas, personal prejudices and ideologies based on wrong assumptions. Arguments advanced against monks getting involved in matters of statecraft in Sri Lanka and Buddhism practiced in this country, by people like Thambyiya (Buddhism Betrayed), Keperer, Steven Kemper and even my good friend H.L.Seneviratna as un-Buddhistic, therefore are not tenable in our national context. Their arguments are unreal and far from the truth. Though the Church plays the same role in the west, it’s rather ironical that none of the men like above criticize such traditions as unethical or irreligious.

From the birth of the Sri Lankan nation the King had been one with the religion and people. So much so active and direct interference of the monk in the affairs of the state had been accepted as a rule rather than an exception. Historically their influence on the affairs of the state has been far reaching and critical ever since Buddhism was formally introduced to this country in 307 BC during the time of King Devanampiyatissa. The King made Buddhism the State religion and he patronized the propagation and protection of the religion as well as the sustenance of the Mahasangha. The Community of Sangha on the other hand while attending to the spiritual and ritualistic aspects of the people also advised the King on the righteous rule of his Kingdom in accordance with the Ten Kingly Virtues of Righteous rule ( Dasaraja Dharma). The Monk played a key role not only in the selection and dethroning of the King but also advised the King on good governance for the good and welfare of the many.  So much so as the Mahawansa puts it in Sri Laka the ‘King was one with the people and the Religion’.  It was this age old tradition and the active role played my them in protecting the country that made the people to call the Mahasangha Jatiye muradevatavo. Thus both by tradition and practice the role of the Monk in our society acquired a unique role and Buddhism as a religion also came to be called Sinhala Buddhagama. This is not to deny that there were no people belonging to other ethnic groups like Tamil practicing Buddhism. This was a country specific characteristic evolved within the Sri Lankan social fabric. Within this social system the monk became supreme. Throughout history of this Island it was the monks who protected the king and the Kingdom.

Thus Theraputtabhaya, Wariyapolasumangala, Kadahapola set the role model of a Buddhist Monk in Sri Lankan society when it comes to matters of national interest. Their intervention when the nation was at crossroads or under threat was hailed by the people as heroic and patriotic. Had they been confine to hermitages  meditating in search of emancipation from sansara, I do not think their names would have entered history at all.

But today it has become a tragedy to note that most Monks have deviated from this traditional role and they have opted to join the main political parties. Not only they openly canvass for their parties but they also get on to the stage and now even go to Parliament enjoying all privileges of a laymen. The way they behave, the paid jobs they do and their life style have reduced them  to the level of laymen donning robes. Thereby they have brought disrepute to the Sasana, disunity to the Order and disaster to the Sinhala Buddhist culture. This attitude of monks is to be seen from top to bottom therefore I think this nonsense has to stop immediately if we want to save Sri Lanka. Even if legislation is not made banning monks seeking election to Parliament the respective Nikayas must ban monks from seeking such election and going after politicians seeking various favours. They must get back to their traditional role and protect the dignity of the robe; they must stand above all others; they must unite and rise in unison to protect the Country, the Nation and the Sasana. I would like to quote here Buddha’s  admonition to the Brethren as to how they should behave. I was alarmed when I saw the news that 36 Buddhist monks are contesting election this time. This I see as the beginning of the end of the Sinhala Buddhist nation.

Yatha sankara danasmin –Ujjutasming mahapate

Paduman tatta jayeta- suchi gandan manoraman

Eva sankara bhutesu- andhabute putujjane

Atirochati pannaya-samma sambuddha savako

(Just as a lotus sprung from the dirt on the highway spreads the sweet smell even so the sambuddha savaka stands above the ordinary people)

So in this context first of all the monks must clearly understand their real role in our society. The Mahanayaka Theras of the tun nikayas should get together and prepare a joint Kathikavatha laying down a strict code of ethics for the Sangha and expel those who violate it to restore discipline within the Order. If no action is taken immediately to do so, the place and respect for Sangha in our society will vanish very soon and the foundation of our society will disappear leading to a complete collapse of the nation.

Thereafter Sangha should rise in hundreds and thousands of Theraputtabhayas, Wariyapola Sumangalas, Kadahapolas, Megettuwatte Gunanandas and Soma Theras in keeping with and adhering to the tradition without getting indulged in mundane and dirty politics, the way it is being done now.  But at the same time we pray and appeal to Mahasangha in every village and every temple to come forward and awaken the whole nation for the final battle to save our Country, save our Nation and save our Religion! as one united mighty force to rescue the country, nation and the Sasana from anti Sinhala and anti Buddhist forces both at home and abroad rallying together. 

If you fail to act now, times will never come again for you to do your noble conventional duty by your Rata, Deya and samaya, the most sacred and noblest mission every Sri Lankan on earth, where ever he lives, is obliged and committed to do. If you fail to do this sacred duty, I strongly warn you to remember, posterity, will never forgive you for your sins.

Kalo ayan te Bhante!  Arabhata, Nikkhamata! Yunjayata Buddha sasana, Rakkhatha matu Bhumi! This is the time for you Ven, Sirs to begin, go forth and engage in protecting the Sasana and the Motherland!

I would like to end this piece with the following vesr.

Attak eti setiyen kiva      yutte

Sivurai pana di rata reka  gatte

Sivurei Helaye anupana    ette

Adath nasinne me rata   matte   (Rve F Mesaline Jayakodi)

9 Responses to “What should be the Role of Maha Sangha at the next Election”

  1. Cerberus Says:

    Dr Gunasekera has written up an important article here.

    I would suggest that if any Buddhist priest has real talent for politics, then he should leave the robes and enter politics
    to perhaps even save the country.

    Another suggestion is for the creation of a new section of Buddhist priests who can wear the yellow robes and practice the way
    of a priest only for a year as done in Burma.

  2. Vijendra Says:

    Partaking in politics by the Buddhist monks is a very controversial subject.

    A “bhikkhu’s” (a monk’s) conduct is governed by a set of rules called the “pātimokkha”. Their lifestyle should support their spiritual practice: to live a simple and meditative life and attain nirvana.
    In theory, a “bhikkhu” is someone who acts wisely without rushing, trains incessantly to have a dignified and irreproachable conduct, to contain his desires and his emotions, and is patient in all circumstances. He is expected to acknowledge all his faults and accept admonishments dished out to him without excusing himself. He renounces the pleasures of the world and everything that is not beneficial to the “dhamma”.

    Again, in theory, a “bhikkhu” is expected to train himself assiduously to respect “vinaya”. It is the laity (dāyakayas) who take care of his needs, by offering him the objects of the basic requisites (nourishment, lodging, clothing and medicine). Thus, the bhikkhu is expected to live only of what is given to him and he depends on the laity for his life. In return, he gives laity good and appropriate advice to live a noble life and shorten the “samsara”.

    Thus, a “bhikkhu” has a role to guide the politicians who are an important part of the laity. As such, it is expected that they would guide the politicians to lead an honest, purposeful and exemplary life by example, and not contest for elections which is a role not in agreement with the “vinaya”.

    Buddhist monks are supposed to observe the “kotiyak sanwara seela”, Let’s be honest; in today’s context, many of our Buddhist priests do not practice what is expected of them. It is very sad that many bhikkus are more greedy (thanha) than the laity themselves. Some do not even practice the five basic precepts! They, like some of the politicians, live in luxury, lie and demand expensive material goods such as expensive cars and other luxury goods from the laity. It appears that they have forgotten the very purpose why they joined the “sasanaya”.

    Now, it appears that time has come for the Buddhist laity to protect Buddhism from this type of “dus-seela horas” some of whom have donned the yellow robe to rob the innocent, sin-fearing and un-suspecting ”upasaka- upasikas”. Keeping the “bhikkhu” where he belongs and urging him to concentrate on the job he is really supposed to do, in my humble opinion, is the best the Buddhist community could do to protect the “sasanaya” for our future generations.


    A better way to look at this issue is as follows: When the Buddhist monk enters the Parliament he MUST be mandated to remove the Yellow Robe and get in to the “ALAGOHNIYA” Also called the national dress” then he must not be allowed to eat any solid food or chew Bulath while inside the Parliament. He must not be allowed to be a Minister or a junior minister. Above all he must not be paid. Buddhist Monk must never be allowed to be board member of a registered company public or private company. At present there is a man, an ordained Buddhist monk is chairman of a large multinational BANK. When a board member asked him why is your secretary sitting on your lap and taking the minutes of the meeting? He replied by saying that Ben Franklin did the same why not me. Then he got the board member paid a big sum and removed from the Board. Later when the meeting is over he takes her into his private room (Expensive alcohol available) in the high rise building start a sex session.

  4. Ratanapala Says:

    I am sure all Sinhala Buddhist accept Dr Gunasekera’s words and advice. However the ground situation is much worse. We cannot expect much to happen with the two UNP Kapuralas at Malwatte and Asgiriya Temples. These two are a disgrace to the Buddha Sasana for openly siding with unpatriotic United Christian Party aka UNP.

    The Asgiriya one who only got elected recently to the post of Mahanayake had the gall to ask the Nation’s revered war hero Gotabhaya to retire and live peacefully. If Dutu Gamunu Kumagaya too slept with folded arms and legs we all know what would have happened to the Sinhala nation. This over 90 year old who had accepted the post Mahanayake out of greed without handing over this important post to a younger, able and patriotic monk.


    Ratanapala, excellent observation Asgiriya katadiya, you say is 90 years old. How many hours a day can he work in his secretariat? What I heard from the kata katha is that he cannot do any thing but lie down in an air conditioned room and on a comfortable bed that RANI PUNK gave in February. Why can’t he give it to a younger person like what the pope did? It is because of the “THANNAWA”.

  6. Christie Says:

    Indian imperialists are good at divide and rule.

  7. hela puwath Says:

    by hela puwath

    Monks going to parliament will result in the decline and ruin of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. That appears to be the theme of Dr. Gunasekera and most of the commentators.

    Monks going to parliament is only the result and not the cause of Buddhism’s decline in Sri Lanka.

    Many appear to say the political monks are causing the disaster. They fail to see that the Sangha is rudderless – no leadership, no control. Most still think we Buddhists have a Pope-like figure who leads and overseas the activities of Buddhist clergy in this country, i.e., Mahanayakes of Malwatte and Asgiria. That is not the case here, though many will refuse accept this, there lies the cause.

    The Mahanayakes since the handover of Sinhele’ to the British have been a part of the political game in this country. The British took only 20 years before they abrogated the promise they gave to the Mhanayakes, to protect Buddhism and Buddhists. What did the Mahanakes do? Those who believe that clergy going to parliament will cause the end of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is simply pipe-dreaming. That is the theme propagated by non-Buddhists, the root cause lies elsewhere.

    Our high priests have played a role of political subservience to the colonials from 1815, and then to our own brand of colonials since 1948 – supporting the party-political system, giving and receiving political favor to “the most giving”!

    The high priests don’t appear to have any control over the clergy; but, instead they appear to have ‘absolute’ control over the vast wealth our ancient kings gifted to the temples solely for the protection and propagation of the Buddha Sasana. Where is the guidance to the rulers by this institutionalized Buddhist hierarchy? The monks (not the crooked ones) now have to sit with the king in order to protect Buddhism.

    (Correction – The birth of “the Sri Lankan nation” only goes back to the 1970’s, not to our ancient kings.)

  8. Ratanapala Says:

    Let alone giving guidance to the politicians the ordinary people are yet to hear even a simple Buddhist sermon at least once year. They are subservient to the United Christian Party aka UNP and UNP alone. To all others they speak with a tongue in the cheek fashion. They tie Pirith Nool to all and sundry. This is why I call them two Kapu Ralas of Malwatte and Asgiriya.

    I would like to read a list of accomplishments of these two worthies or from the office they hold over the last few decades to protect Buddhism and Buddhists. My conclusion after a lot of soul searching is – very little or none at all. Sinhala Buddhists have been duped by these Maha Nayakes over the years and continue to do so now.

    Simply the election of nonagenarian to the post of Maha Nayake of the Asgiriya chapter itself speaks volumes for the in-efficacy of these appointments or elections. Obviously the process of selection does not choose personalities that go with those of the office, but rather on their Kandyan pedigree.

    This too is the reason there never have been any Maha Nayake who could come even close to Most Rev. Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayake Thero or even Soma Hamuduruwo in terms of service to Buddhists and to the Sri Lankan Nation.

    These two UNP Kapuralas who serve the United Christian Party are a disgrace to the entire Buddhist Establishment.

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    I agree with Cerberus. Any Buddhist priest who has a strong calling toward politics can easily leave the robes and enter the political arena.
    That way no one gets hurt and the Sasana does not get a bad name. The problem can be solved easily.

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