Alleged ‘noise’ pollution from Buddhist temples
Posted on November 8th, 2017

By Rohana R. Wasala

The opinion piece under the title Temples and noise pollution” (The Island/November 6, 2017) by a virtually anonymous writer who signs ‘HMNW’ makes some censorious remarks about Buddhist temples conducting traditional religious observances like pirith chanting and bana preaching, using amplifiers. He or she charges that pirith chanting and (by implication) bana preaching at temples on Poya days cause ‘noise’ pollution, using public address systems. According to him or her, on Poya days all temples start this sound polluting activity as early as 4 o’clock in the morning, disturbing the sleep of people, young and old, living in houses in the neighbourhood. The writer laments that the same form of sound pollution occurs now even in Sunday daham paselas, which also use loudspeakers. A few temples broadcast seth pirith using the same method everyday. He or she suggests that if they want to use a public address system they could do so maintaining a lower sound level that is loud enough to be heard only by the devotees assembled in the temple premises; they could follow the practice of Christian churches, which also use public address systems at all services without disturbing those living around.

Though there could be an element of truth in HMNW’s critical remarks, it is neutralized by his or her evident bias against Buddhists. While claiming to be a Buddhist himself or herself, the writer seems to be devoid of the kindness, humility, and equanimity that is typical of the average educated Buddhist. The last bit of unsolicited advice betrays HMNW’s disrespectful attitude towards Buddhist monks who have unintentionally annoyed him or her.

A general criticism of easily avoidable sound pollution that is caused by amplified sounds of music, chanting of hymns, pirith, etc., reciting of prayers, and delivering of sermons, that emanate from places of worship at unwelcome times would have been accepted as reasonable by everyone irrespective of their religious backgrounds. But such a discussion would not isolate the practice of a particular religious establishment for special censure. What about the daily five times repeated call for prayer (azan/adhan) of Muslims, often blared out from the minarets of mosques, once early morning, once late evening and three times in between? That ritual is not confined to areas where exclusive Muslim neighbourhoods are found. What about sounds emanating from Christian churches and Hindu Kovils on their respective festival days. On all such occasions, the Buddhist commonalty do not complain against sound pollution from those places of worship; they won’t disparagingly call it ‘noise’. They are decent enough to recognize that devotional sounds from a particular place of worship are soothing to the ears of the faithful. It is not that the average Christians, Hindus, and Muslims behave differently from Buddhists either, in similar situations, except perhaps a handful of fanatics who see no further than the end of their nose. In fact, it is a matter of common decency and common sense to make no issue of such temporary inconveniences incidentally caused by people during religious observances. On the other hand, those causing inconvenience to others who have nothing to do with their devotions or observances, ought to minimize them as much as possible. My freedom ends where your freedom starts as Martin Luther King Jr said. In our proudly multi-religious society, we have to tolerate possible minor trespasses on our individual freedom in order to allow our neighbours of different religious persuasions to manifest their beliefs in the way they like.

About a year ago, in December 2016 to be more specific, well known preacher monk Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera of Alan Mathiniyaramaya, Polhengoda was charged in court by a group of six parties including Milinda Moragoda, a former government minister, and the Centre for Environmental Justice for allegedly inconveniencing his neighbours by using loudspeakers between 5 am and 6 am. It was no doubt a sensitive case. Later, the complainants offered to withdraw the case; they later arrived at a settlement with the monk out of court. People like HMNW who feel they are inconvenienced by noisy devotional activities in Buddhist temples in their neighbourhood, should approach the responsible monks in person and find a suitable settlement through friendly dialogue.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN (Illustrated edition, 2015) is about Freedom of Religion:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

If HMNW is sufficiently well informed about the attitude of different religions towards other religions and towards the followers of those other religions, he or she will appreciate the fact that no religion accommodates the right of persons of other religious persuasions to freedom of religion as defined here more readily than Buddhism.

Among religions, Buddhism is the least regimented. No sane Buddhist would ‘haunt temples day in and day out’ (as the writer says he or she doesn’t). Actually, mandatory temple attendance (pansal yaema) is unheard of. Buddhist precepts are not commandments, but rules of conduct that need to be followed voluntarily with wisdom, not with uncomprehending faith, and not out of fear of punishment or love of reward. Buddhists need not be invited to take part in religious activities at viharas, contrary to what the writer suggests. Buddhists do not invite, nor do they expect, professors of other religions to participate in Buddhist rituals. ‘Dane’ or alms giving is a voluntary activity. No Buddhist is compelled to give ‘dane’ to monks in the temples. The writer’s apparent ignorance of such basic things about Buddhism suggests that he or she is a non-Buddhist critic taking cover behind anonymity.

8 Responses to “Alleged ‘noise’ pollution from Buddhist temples”

  1. dhane Says:

    Whoever the anonymous writer who signs ‘HMNW’ made some censorious remarks about remarks about Buddhist temples ‘noise’ pollution. Muslims can make their prayers using amplifiers at any time of the day. Go to Pakistan & few other Muslim countries all over the country you can hear Muslim prayers using amplifiers. Let the anonymous writer ‘HMNW’ use ear plugs and sleep including his house hold or go to a country there is no noise pollution . Sri Lanka is a Buddhist County and continue to do the traditional practices.

  2. Nimal Says:

    There’s noise pollution in the town of Kandy and the main culprits are the temple up in Bihrawakanda and all the mosques.Recently the police had their anniversary and they had their music at full blast till 9.30PM.That was the time when the children were studying for the exam.Sri lanka has become a non caring country from the bottom to the top and we need the colonials back to put the country right and I doubt that they have the time to spend the time with deliberately failing countries like us. We are truly a Sakkili nation with a Sakkili culture.
    I am old enough to remember the orderly life and culture that existed during the colonials that have been eroded by our stupid and corrupt leaders.

  3. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Anti Sinhalese, anti Sri Lankan and anti Buddhist traitor catholic run UNPatriotic party is responsible for the country’s
    sorry state. The traitor lot and jaathidhrohee vermins’ party aka JVP divide the Sinhalese and make tamils and
    mussies king makers. As a result we didn’t have a strong leader until MR came. MR also had to compromise
    because of traitor tamil-made international pressure. Then a few mussie countries helped him at the cat’s paw
    UNHCR by supporting him. So his hands were tied. Nevertheless, he was even handed with all Sri Lankans only to
    back stabbed by the tamils for stopping their drealam and by mussies who is always on the winning side with
    policies like tambi’s thoppi which turn to any side to get the best for the multiplying community.

    Traitor alugosuwa (to Sinhalese only) thambi mudiyanselage jr@ put Sri Lanka on slippery slope by introducing
    pathalyin to silence opposition and it has been the M O for them ever since. Jr@ made it even worse by introducing 13, 13A and the put foundations to break up Sri Lanka. Today under these bunch of traitor UNPatriotic thieves
    Sri Lanka going downhill fast while puppet sorrysena watching helplessly. Sri Lanka today is run by the biggest
    traitor ever in the history of the country traitor chief die hard catholic token Buddhist mega Thief, Bay Gal Karaya,
    Mega Thakkadiya Batalande Wadakaya pol pot r@nil Wickrama Sinhalakiller. Traitor mussies and tamils know this
    is the best time to destroy Buddhism while the traitor low life wadakaya at the helm. So the destruction of the
    Sinhalese race, Sri Lanka and Buddhism go on unabated. That’s the reason to make fuss about the temples.

    If these foreigners don’t like pirith over the loudspeakers, they should pack their bags and go to their beloved tn and the mussies to saudi desert. Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution destroyed the creator god myth. If you still
    not sure go to any museum in the world and see how man evolved from chimp. No museum in the world shows
    god manufacturing man at his workshop. What’s more. None of them display the creator god. Why? Because it is all a man made
    myth. So these religions of conveniences which don’t regard lying, stealing, killing etc as sins take the followers on
    a wrong road. If those aren’t sins, why on earth courts the world over punish people for stealing, killing, lying etc.
    Then those are religions of conveniences or what? So these mythical god followers where are your brains? Still
    evolving? So what you hear from those loudspeakers is the only true religion in the world. Buddhism is the only
    religion which has no conflict with science. Follow these religions of conveniences and you accrue a lot of sins and
    as a result you won’t be two legged creatures in your next life!

    Word about so brilliant colonials. The dutch brought tamils to work in tobacco plantations. Then the parangies
    brought religion to divide the Sinhalese. The british brought tamils to work in tea plantations. All these foreigners
    used divide and rule and destroyed Sri Lanka, Buddhism and Sinhalese race for good. Today those tamils want
    separate state for themselves while living in all parts of the country. Dutch rascals enacted thesawalamai to stop
    Sinhalese buying land in the north and east which became a hath walamak to us. Now traitor tamils, mussies and catholics are after Sinhalese blood at
    every opportunity. Civil war alone cost 160,000+ thanks to dutch and british imports. Still you want colonial rule?
    Of course, if you aren’t Sinhalese!

  4. Vijendra Says:

    Sri Lanka (formerly “Sinhale” or Ceylon) has been a Buddhist country with a rich tradition of tolerance towards other religions. As such, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam etc. were permitted to practice their just religious practices for centuries without repercussion from the majority Buddhists.
    Buddhism, unlike any other religion encourages its followers to question and dispel doubt and never to accept anything from anyone without questioning and “seeing” for one’s own self (Kalama sutta). Like in most religions, forcing one to believe and accept a thing without understanding is more political than spiritual or intellectual. So, as Buddhists, we have to look at this noise pollution in an intellectual way.
    Life in Sri Lanka is in constant flux and the environment and social practices are no exception. In the olden days, we did not have loudspeakers and there was no broadcast of “Pirith”, “Buddhapuja” or “Bana” at the temple. Today, it is different. We are more environmentally conscious and as free citizens want to control what we want to hear. Anything one does not want to hear becomes noise and an irritant. Hence it is important that all religions respect this fundamental right of the citizens and conduct their religious practices in a way not to disturb anyone not willing to listen to such material. As such, whether it is “Pirith”, Islamic prayers, Christian prayers or Hindu pujas, they must conduct them in a way not to disturb the neighbours in the vicinity. On a Friday, for example, it is almost impossible to move past the Muslim mosque as most of the people attending the prayers block the roads creating a nuisance to all in the vicinity. Similarly the howling of the prayers from the mosque several times a day is like a cat call noise to the others to whom such calls have no relevance or meaning. The same thing applies to “Pirith” , although it is not generally chanted several times a day, if it is chanted too loud, and could be heard by the people in the vicinity, when it becomes a noise and a real nuisance. It also loses its spiritual value.
    The government has an obligation to provide an environment conducive to living without pollution, including noise pollution. The Central Environment Authority and the Ministry of the Environment should implement the noise pollution laws of the country to control excessive noise from mosques, temples, churches or kovils so that the citizens can live in peace and harmony.
    All religious leaders must be requested to carry out their religious practices in a respectful way and not to be a nuisance to the others not wanting to partake in such activities. Religious leaders should be taught that the rules and laws of the country are supreme and must be obeyed by all. No one should be above the law. Any violators should be taken to task, irrespective of the religion.

  5. samurai Says:

    In Sri Lanka, the Supreme Court has issued an Interim Order relating to fundamental rights and noise pollution.
    In Singapore, Australia, Japan and several other countries the use of loudspeakers in the public arena, particularly in places of worship, is strictly banned.
    We live in increasingly congested areas and until noise pollution is addressed along the lines recommended by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka the quality of life of those unfortunately living close to places of worship where loudspeakers are being constantly used however short the call to prayer or public announcement, becomes diminished.
    The Delhi High Court has issued notice to the Union of India on a public interest litigation for removal of loudspeakers from all religious structures on the ground that their use is an encroachment on a person’s “right to be left alone and spatial control” and thus violates the newly recognised fundamental right to privacy.
    Man’s house is his castle, loudspeakers breach the right to be left alone. Loudspeakers are not intrinsic to any religion…
    “No religion ever says to force the unwilling to listen to expressions of religious beliefs.”…
    This is exactly what loudspeakers do even in front of the Maha Bodhi Temple at Buddha Gaya, where Buddhist pilgrims are forced to listen to the sounds of Azan emanating from a newly built Mosque only 60 meters away from the Maha Bodhi Temple – the citadel of Buddhism where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
    India’s failure to protect Buddhism and the fundamental rights of Buddhists to worship without being disturbed by the sounds of another religion at the epicentre of Buddhism diminishes India’s claim to protect Buddhism. China will never allow Buddhists to be humiliated in such manner at citadels of Buddhism.
    Sri Lanka’s Courts must take the cue from the line of thinking of the Delhi High Court on curbing noise pollution generated from loudspeakers at places of worship.
    Read more at:
    Read the Petition Here…
    Read more at:
    The Interim Order of Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court relating to fundamental rights and noise pollution, issued in 2007.

  6. rohanana Says:

    Rohana, It is us Sinhalese majority are more affected by the Mosque’s screaming and we are the one who should protest. The worse is 0430 in the morning everyday disturbing the sick, elderly, babies, children, school kids, mothers who work hard and needing a proper rest and sleep, fathers who work hard and needing a proper sleep to get ready to go to work following day.
    In Gampola there are 3 mosques screams one after the other, and in June I reported this to the Police and under the Sri Lanka law not even Police can use Loudspeakers for any reason between 10pm and 6am. There are 2 Supreme Court decisions given against Mosques to stop or to remove them. Gampola after showing the law of the country summoned all 3 mosques heads explained to them and stated that I am prepared to take them to courts. Since them they have stopped the loudspeakers at 0430am, so I request all Sri Lankans to follow this.
    Sleeping at night peacefully is one of the basic human rights of the world and no one can break that.
    Let us stand up for the right of all our countrymen and women irrespective of their race or religion. Many Muslims I know in Sri Lanka hate this screaming.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    Noise Levels from any source ought to be kept to a certain tolerable level by LAW, whatever the source it comes from.

  8. Vaisrawana Says:

    If you cared to read Rohana Wasala’s article carefully at least once, you’d find that he neither blames nor praises any religion or religious culture; nor does he speak in support of the excessive sound levels that sometimes rise from places of worship. In one of his articles, a couple of years ago, Rohana Wasala referred to the attrocious sound pollution that yearly occurs in Kandy during the Perahera season as a problem that the Mahanayake Theras must put an end to, though probably there has been no response. What Rohana Wasala says in this article is that both the noise makers and the victims of noise pollution must respect the rules of common sense and common decency. Worshippers must be decent enough, and aware enough of civic responsibilities, not to cause any inconvenience to people outside the places of worship by making unacceptably loud noises. When they don’t succeed in that, the neighbours must approach the people responsible for causing the inconvenience. When this also fails, they have the option to seek legal redress. It is true that, true to their culture, the Sinhalese Buddhists are usually tolerant towards other religions. Tamil Hindus are the same. The average Christians and Muslims are the same, except a few fanatics among them.
    Nimal must be a very old non-Buddhist Tamil. (He could be a Hindu, or more probably a Christian convert.) He remembers the pre-independence halcyon days of colonial parasites, when they were privileged over the sons of the soil, the Sinhalese. He wants the abominable colonials back. It is simply outrageous that a person of Nimal’s education and culture should exclaim: “We are truly a Sakkili nation with a Sakkili culture”, thereby condemning himself.

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