Asgiriya Statement: Harbinger of a force for genuine reconciliation
Posted on July 5th, 2017

By Rohana R. Wasala

Sri Lankans call the coconut tree a kapruka (kalpavriksha)  – wish fulfilling divine tree- because every part of this tropical palm is so very useful to human life. The process of latent Maha Sangha unity becoming manifest can be likened to a coconut (seed-nut) germinating slowly as it normally does. The seedling, however, becomes a sapling in a short time. A coconut sapling needs to be protected from foraging animals. Some dishonest politicians in positions of power or influence, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, are already nosing around the steadily growing coconut sapling of Maha Sangha unity. They are posing the greatest threat to its survival and growth. If they had had the slightest concern for the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community (which implies equal concern for the minorities), they would have by now taken the monks’ grievances seriously enough to investigate them properly, and take appropriate  remedial steps  (if their complaints are true) as they are demanding. It is fervently hoped that the  Maha Sangha will remain independent of divisive party politics in the long run. However, they are left with no alternative but to extend their favour to the leaders who have already proven their loyalty to the country, and who alone can be relied upon to provide the necessary political leadership to the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community. But even these politicians must enter into a covenant (a solemn written agreement) with the Maha Sangha on behalf of all Sri Lankans that once they come to power they will immediately attend to the legitimate grievances of the monks that drove them to the streets in desperation. The few disgraceful NGO and other misguided monks who disagree with the stance taken by the Asgiriya prelates should be just ignored.

Great hope has been rekindled in the hearts of the overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans by the June 20th issue of a cogent statement by the Karaka Sangha Sabha of the Asgiriya Chapter. At a subsequent news conference, the Asgiriya monks revealed that they were in consultation with the important monks of the other nikayas during its preparation. Written and verbal statements issued by respected monks from various provinces endorsing the viewpoint of the Asgiriya Statement over the past few days point towards a timely awakening of the Maha Sangha, which is indeed a long felt national need. The Maha Sangha is sure to stay above partisan politics because the spiritual goal that they are voluntarily committed to as a religious vow always takes precedence over mundane affairs. But they will not deny the latter due attention as a responsible section of the society that provides moral and spiritual guidance for the lay Buddhists. Beginning with Ven. Mahinda Thera, the missionary monk who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka in 236 BCE, Buddhist monks have always advised the Lankan monarch, except during times of foreign occupation, but rarely have they dabbled in factional politics. Remaining above divisive politics Buddhist monks must reclaim their traditional role as the Guardians of the Nation. That is their hallowed right as well as their historic responsibility towards our motherland , Sri Lanka.

Encroachment, vandalizing, and destruction of ancient Buddhist archaeological sites in the north and east provinces (where the hydraulic civilization of the Sinhalese reached its zenith) are acts of sacrilege and aggression as naturally understood by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority . Though lying in ruins, these sites are still places of worship as well as centres of pilgrimage for Buddhists.  The Buddhist monks are reacting to these acts of aggression by non-Buddhists. Contrary to resentful  views prevailing against them among those who have no clear idea about what is actually happening, these monks are not making any extremist political or religious demands. The problems they are articulating and the solutions they are demanding for them are briefly mentioned in the Asgiriya Statement: the validity of Ven. Gnanasara Thera’s viewpoint despite his aggressive posturing and speech, the government’s apparent condoning of blatantly racist statements made by communalist politicians while at the same time trying to silence the bhikkhus and lay Buddhists who react to them, the inadvisability of proposed changes to existing  rules and regulations (which are adequate for the management of Buddhist temporalities), and silence in the face of unlawful alienation of state land (through the irregular clearing of jungle in the Wilpattu forest reserve) under the pretext of settling internally displaced persons (of the Muslim community), the autocratic behavior of the government  minister responsible for archaeological affairs, alleged attempts at the sterilization or extinction (wandakireema) of the Sinhalese race, statements made by certain individuals who call themselves Buddhists and persons of other religions that provoke the Buddhists. The eighth and final paragraph of the Asgiriya monks’ communiqué ends with a reminder to other religionists that they should not forget that Sinhalese Buddhists have always respected other faiths; at the same time, the monks condemn the activities of others that are in contempt of traditional Buddhist tolerance.

The Venerable Mahanayake Theras have declared their determination not to keep quiet any longer in the face of unprecedented challenges to the existence of Sinhalese Buddhists and their homeland. The Sinhalese respectively account for 75% and Buddhists for 70% of the Lankan population (2012 Census). The dominant Sinhalese Buddhist cultural identity of Sri Lanka is an undeniable fact, and it is not a bad thing.  Young Buddhist monks are at the forefront of movements that are reacting  to unlawful activities such as the encroachment and/or destruction of ancient archaeological sites  the north and east, and mass scale forest clearance under the pretext of making room for settling IDPs, but as strongly suspected, as a ploy to create an enclave of Islamic extremists.  The handful of communalist and fundamentalist elements that are behind these anti-national activities are raising a hue and cry against the Buddhist monks who are only reacting to them urging the authorities to investigate their charges and stop such depredations immediately.  The Asgiriya monks, on behalf of the Maha Sangha, remind members of the minority religious communities that they should not forget that Sri Lankan Buddhists have always respected other faiths. The monks unequivocally condemn  actions of other religionists who act in contempt of Buddhist tolerance. The fact that the bhikkhus are expressing willingness to reassert their historic role as the Guardians of the Nation naturally brings hope to a nation that has long been suffering under colonialism, neo-liberalism, and terrorism-related violence and persecution. Even if politicians will not listen to them, the majority of the right thinking multi-religious masses will. This is a sine qua non for recalling the reconciliation which was there for five years until the end of 2014, but which has been seriously disrupted since.

(A slightly amended version of an article under the same title published in The Island of July 4, 2017)

4 Responses to “Asgiriya Statement: Harbinger of a force for genuine reconciliation”

  1. SA Kumar Says:

    who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka in 236 BCE,- So what religion We had before ??? Saivam !!!!

    King Ravana is Saiva King not Bhuddist King !

  2. Vaisrawana Says:

    Even Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha, was born to Hindu parents, and was Hindu until he set out on his spiritual search. If Ravana or anyone else who was an early ancestor of the Sinhalese was a Saiva, that doesn’t mean anything. There must have been Hindus in Lanka at the time of the recorded OFFICIAL arrival of Buddhism in 236 BCE in addition to those who already professed Buddhism and forms of traditional religion. Emperor Asoka who sent the Buddhist missionaries to Lanka had himself been born and bred as a Hindu before he embraced the Buddha’s teachings.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    RECONCILIATION as the Sri Lanka’s enemies want to brainwash and impose on us, is a BUNCH OF HORSE SHIT!

    The MURDEROUS terrorists who slaughtered innocents by the thousand I Sri Lanka are now hailed as martyrs by wailing victims who supported them at every turn.

    UNDILUTED RACISM & GREED to dispossessed the Sinhala people of everything they have in our little island, drovery the Tamils of all stripes to support the EELAM PROJECT encouraged by the support of 60 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu and an India intent on enforcing it’s writ in the region.

    These FUNDAMENTALS that drove the Tamils to support EELAMIST TERROR have STILL NOT CHANGED, NOR WILL THEY in the FUTURE.

    Thetefore, it is INCUMBENT upon every Patriotic Sinhala Buddhist to UNDERSTAND this ENDURING REALITY and NEVER TO EMPOWER the Tamil Minority with power to REPEAT the behavior over the last 39 years.

    Treat the MINORITY COMMUNITIES FAIRLY, but NEVER ALLOW THEM to become KINGMAKERS or to ACQUIRE SEPARATIST POWER, or we will have to keep fighting 30-year wars.

    To that end, Sri Lanka must consider India as an ENEMY POWER and never let India acquire ANY significant socio-economic, diplomatic, or military presence in Sri Lanka, as it is now a tempting to now through the ETCA and other moves. Better China than India, because of India’s PROXIMITY and PERSISTENT PROPENSITY to ENCROACH upon and UNDERMINE Sri Lanka.

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    Here is YET ANOTHER INSTANCE of India’s attempt to ENGULF Sri Lanka in its TENTACLES and YOKE Sri Lanka to India’s Regional Hegemony!

    India HAS BEEN and CONTINUES to be the #1 SECURITY & ECONOMIC THREAT to Sri Lanka!

    Dose TROJAN HORSES in through the GATES into Sri Lanka!

    India’s hard infrastructure and connectivity projects in Sri Lanka will bring huge investments – envoy
    Thu, Jul 6, 2017, 07:05 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    July 06, Colombo: Hard infrastructure and connectivity projects identified by India in Sri Lanka, including roads, railways, ports etc. for joint development will bring huge investments and foreign exchange to the island nation, India’s envoy in Sri Lanka High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu said.

    The High Commissioner however noted that certain sections, who may not be very well informed, unfortunately, have been trying to portray, that Sri Lankan interests would be harmed, when some of these projects, take off.

    Addressing the 9th Annual General Meeting of the Indo-Lanka Chamber of Commerce & Industry on Thursday in Colombo, the Indian envoy urged the chamber members to project the “right message” about the joint Indo-Lanka projects.

    “Nothing could be further, from truth. These are, JOINT projects. These projects bring huge investments, and valuable foreign exchange, for Sri Lanka. They create several thousands, of direct and indirect jobs. These projects, only bring benefits, to Sri Lanka. You are, practical and pragmatic. We would like you to project, the right message, in your interactions,” Sandhu said.

    The High Commissioner said India intends to make, substantial investments in Sri Lanka, in conventional, and non-conventional energy, in the days ahead.

    “Considering that LNG, is a cheaper and cleaner fuel, we are sharing our expertise, and skillset, with Sri Lanka, to facilitate the process of gasification, of the Sri Lankan economy. We also see, huge potential in Sri Lanka, for wind and solar energy, as well. India has made rapid advance in solar technology and we are ready to share it with Sri Lanka,” he said.

    He noted that Sri Lanka has also started its journey, with renewed vigor, in meeting the developmental aspirations, of its people.

    “We want to make this journey, faster and easier. In doing so, we want to ensure, that the journey is, as important, as destination itself,” he said.

    The high Commissioner noted that India’s development partnership with Sri Lanka, currently stands at, US$ 2.6 billion and said India is ready to strengthen, the development partnership further, based on Sri Lanka’s needs.

    Recalling that total bilateral trade has increased 8 times since India and Sri Lanka, entered into an FTA in 2000, High Commissioner Sandhu said while a majority of Sri Lanka’s exports to India are through FTA, a majority of India’s exports to Sri Lanka are outside the FTA.

    Share of FTA items in Sri Lanka’s exports to India increased from 16% in 2000 to more than 65% in recent years while hare of FTA items in India’s exports to Sri Lanka increased from 9% in 2000 to just 13% in recent years.

    He said that the two countries have been working, towards expanding the contours, of the FTA to cover, investments and services and the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) is in mutual interest. However, he reiterated that India is ready to move at a pace Sri Lanka is comfortable with.

    High Commissioner Sandhu highlighted that Sri Lankan Airlines, is currently the largest foreign carrier, to India and India also contributes, significantly towards Sri Lankan tourism, with an estimated 400,000 Indians visiting Sri Lanka annually. Sri Lanka has been providing MRO services, to Indian airline companies. Similarly, Colombo Dockyard have been supplying vessels to India, and have also been actively engaged, in ship repair business with India. More than 70% of Colombo Port transshipment, is India-related, an important lifeline for Colombo port.

    He urged the Chamber members to not only, promote connectivity between India and Sri Lanka, but also, to make use of it. Your participation in business, and investor-meets in India, would help to understand, the changed realities; it would also provide opportunities, to make new contacts,” he told the gathering.

    He said, as Chambers, they have a crucial role to play, in disseminating right information.

    “We at the High Commission, will do all, we can, to strengthen, the pillars of co-operation, between our two great nations. India is ready to partner Sri Lanka, in its important journey of development, and share experience, expertise and technology,” the envoy assured.

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