Bikkhu Vinaya; who should decide?
Posted on January 14th, 2016

Malinda Seneviratne Courtesy The Daily Mirror

There are moves to bring in new laws to define what is kepa (permissible) and what is akepa (prohibited) for the Buddhist clergy, i.e. the Bikkhus.  Whether or not this has been prompted by requests from the Buddhist Order as represented by the Maha Nayaka Theras of the three Nikayas, we do not know.  In any event it is an initiative that resurrects the old discussion about the relationship between State and religion, whether the relevant institutions should operate independent of one another or, if not, what the rules of engagement should be. There are some primary objections and these should be dealt with first. 

Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri has made a relevant observation drawn from the notion of citizenship rights and the principle of equality (in a social media post): All those who value religious freedom should unconditionally oppose the proposed laws related to the conduct of Bhikkus.  It is the particular religious community that should decide on the affairs of that particular religious community, subject to the laws of the country.  For example, it is not the state but the Buddhist Order that should decide whether or not a Bikkhu can apply for a driving licence. If the state rejects the application for a driving licence submitted by a Bikkhu it is simultaneously a violation of that Bikkhu’s rights as well as the Bikkhu’s rights as a citizen.

What is important here is his citizenship and not his status as a member of the clergy.”

In other words, the State cannot set the rules and regulations of any organization, be it religious or otherwise, and can intervene only if these are out of order in terms of the overall legal framework of the country.  The state would not and cannot move to amend the rules and regulations, the articles of faith if you will, the articles of association etc., of scout troupes, welfare societies, trade unions, blue chip companies or the roadside boutiques tucked into an alleyway off a busy street.  The State would not and could not dictate to the Chairperson or CEO of a company what the dress code ought to be.  As such this move is an infringement of and an affront to the basic principles of freedom enshrined in the Constitution, for example, Article 10 of Chapter III, ‘Freedom of thought, conscience and religion’.   The State can and does set general rules for various sectors, for example companies (and within them sub-sectoral institutions such as banks and insurance entities for example) and cooperatives, but does not and cannot interfere with the details of the particular organizations with respect to behaviour.  It cannot specify the menu for lunch, whether women can or cannot drive, or determine that only men can hold positions in the top management.  That’s silly, unethical and violates fundamental rights.

Perhaps a counter-example and the objections it could prompt might help.  Suppose an Act is presented to Parliament to say that the Catholic Church or any other church of a Christian denomination cannot own or run a school? Suppose there is an Act proposed to bar clergymen of such institutions from applying for a driving licence? Suppose there is an Act to open the Catholic priesthood to women?  What would we have?  First there would be howls of protest from the Religious Freedom NGO brigade and its academic and other adjuncts.  The US Embassy would express grave concern. The Asian Human Rights Commission would issue a statement as would Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  The Permanent Representative of the country’s mission in Geneva would be summoned by the head of UNHRC and perhaps even Ban Ki-moon.  That they are pretty much silent on this occasion tells of their selectivity and their mostly unspoken but clearly evident anti-Buddhist sentiments.  Nirmal, in a phone conversation, brought up the valid issue of the insertion of ‘Buddhism’ into the Constitution, i.e. Chapter II (Article 9), regarding the foremost place given to Buddhism and the ‘duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana’.  Nirmal argues that this is an invitation for interference of the kind that he objects to.  Well, firstly, it is one thing to ‘protect and foster’ and quite another to play class monitor, head mistress, ombudsman and the Vinayarakshaka  Sabha.  Also, just as there are constitutions and laws, there are also things like culture, history and heritage which inform their making.  Secular” is not god-given, after all and neither is it culture nor religion free in word or application.

Anyway, since the issue is discipline and applies only (therefore selectively and illegally) to the clergy of a single religion, Buddhism, there are legal as well as political and doctrinal objections.  The movers of this Act are assuming to have knowledge superior to the Buddha on matters pertaining to Bikkhu Vinaya or discipline. Whether or not the Buddhist Order and its membership in word and deed subscribe to the relevant tenets is of course something that the Buddhist Order should discuss, but it’s all there in the Vinaya Pitaka.The basic rules of conduct for bikkhus and bikkhunis (Patimokkha) are set out in the Suttavibhange and these are complemented in the Mahavagga and the Cullavagga with relevant elaboration for instructional purposes in the Parivara.  Whether or not the clergy abides by these or violates beyond the point of what is accepted as permissible in today’s context either through ‘error’ of omission or commission, is a matter for the Maha Sangha to deliberate and act upon.  It is NOT the business of the state, NOR the business of legislators.

Law makers, whether Buddhist or otherwise, in addition to recognizing the fundamental error of this move in terms of articles enshrined in the Constitution, would do well to reflect on the arrogance of assuming equality or even superiority to the intellect of Siddhartha Gauthama, especially on matters of the
Order he founded.

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7 Responses to “Bikkhu Vinaya; who should decide?”

  1. AnuD Says:

    Civilian law enforcement should be able to handle only after the monk is derobed by Sangadhikarana.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Agree with AnuD.

    The Vinaya This absurd conflict in Sri Lanka has taken its toll mainly from the Sinhala/Buddhist community. are sufficient for the Buddhist clergy. It would be wonderful if only those with true calling enter the Sansana.

    I am for separation of State and Religion.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Corrected entry :

    Agree with AnuD.

    This absurd conflict in Sri Lanka has taken its toll mainly from the Sinhala/Buddhist community. The conflict itself is not of Lanka’s making. It is a basically a Tamil Nadu Separatism from India & Caste problem with their 15 Million Tamil Dalits and has been transferred to Lanka to form a separate state for Tamils. There is an overlay of vested interests. The Tamil Nadu/Cold War problems have been foisted on Lanka. Let us handle this with wisdom.

    The Vinaya is sufficient for the Buddhist clergy. It would be wonderful if only those with the true calling enter the Sansana.

    I am for separation of State and Religion.

  4. Cerberus Says:

    All this is nonsense by the Yahapalanaya govt to keep the people guessing. This is all distraction from the real issues like the bra issue earlier. The people are so busy paying attention to all these that they are fooled. The real trick is going to be to distract the people are pass the Federal state to the Tamils. That is why Swire is here from U.K. He is here to supervise all goes well according to the plan they gave their boy RW.

  5. NAK Says:

    Exactly Cereberus,This is firstly a distraction from the main issue ie.the new constitution with out the the word ‘new’ and secondly to rope in the Buddhist monks who will be in the forefront in protest to the so called ‘new’ constitution.
    Sambanthan bends in two when he appeals for the support of MR with out which he knows their planned ‘new constitution will be a still born.
    Gandhi grandson on the other hand threatens MR that he is not off the hook yet and if interferes in this process he will face the consequences.
    They seem determined to have the Eelam by hook or crook.

  6. NAK Says:

    There have been unruly monks even during lord Buddha’s time. We have not heard any government or king interfering and lord Buddha never went to enforce any laws but tried to advice them or let them them face the consequences.

  7. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Catholic traitor chief pol pot decides everything in Sri Lanka now. He is running the show.
    Maru sira got no saying. His main worry is, he is going to
    wear sarong or trouser in his next foreign trip.

    Catholic-run UNPelievably UNPatriotic party wants to destroy Buddhism from Sri Lanka. To spearhead this, they have the
    best man in catholic pol pot ponil in charge for the first time. So they have to get the job done quickly and they are going full steam ahead. Pol pot ponil has all the brutal qualities needed for the job. He is ruthless; he is murderous; he is determined.

    Buddhist monks are the only ones who comes forward to defend what is left of Sri Lanka, Buddhism and the Sinhalese.
    While Sri Lanka, Sinhalese race and Buddhsim being destroyed at will by the 3 enemies (tamils, mussies and catholics) all the toothless, spineless Sinhalese politicians keep quiet for the fear of losing their support. So while they don’t give a damn, the Bikkus always come forward and protect. That is how pathetic the situation of the Sinhalese. Now there is a guy who has no saying in the country’s affairs as the president and the murderous pol pot ponil is running the show. He set the tiger boys free to start their separatist agenda and sent the soldiers who put their lives on the line to prison. He is aided by a lot of Buddhist haters like, bandit queen, john mara, asgiriye kapuwa thibbotu-brained sumangala, etc. etc.

    Buddhim gone from the school curriculum. Now Buddhist monks are being reined in while catholic, hindu and mussie priests can do or say whatever they like. This is what some Sinhalese voted for and still canvassing for. Those traitors are a curse to Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese race and Buddhism. Catholic-run UNPatriotic party has been slowly and systematically
    destroying Buddhism from Sri Lanka. This is what the catholic west needed. Sinhalese Buddhists are attacked by three fronts; tamils and mussies and catholics. Still some stupid Sinhalese don’t understand this simple truth. When you have enemies within their job is much much easier. Sinhalese race and Buddhism are doomed thanks to those traitors. Future generations going to curse you traitor lot!

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