YAHAPALANA VERSUS MAHA SANGHA Part 4
Posted on December 16th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Maha Sangha   worked hard on behalf of Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential election of November 2019.  Ven. Elle Gunawansa said that the Sangha, 20,000 of them, went village by village to canvass for him”.

The Sangha were openly pleased when Gotabaya won. Elle Gunawansa said this is the first    election after 1948 where the voters were called on to think of the country.  ‘Rata gana, daruwo gana, Sambuddha Sasana gana hitana chande.

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha said that this was a victory for citizens who underwent untold hardships during the previous regime and for those who wish to bring back justice and democracy.

Ven. Devalegama Dammasena said the President’s political campaign would go down as one of the cleanest operations with no posters, banners and cutouts.  There was no character assassination or slinging of mud on his stage.

President Gotabaya did not forget   the Maha Sangha who had helped him win the election. He made it a point to visit  Buddhist temples after his victory.  These visits were televised. The chief priest of each temple was there to greet him, accompanied by a team of monks. Ven. Ittepane Dhammalankare met President Gotabaya accompanied by a team of bhikkhus,  Dodampaha Nandimithra,  Tirikunamale Ananda, Madampagama Assaji and Medawachchiye     Dammajothi. 

The  Sangha gave lengthy speeches rejoicing in Gotabaya ‘s victory ,  with copious advice on what to do next.  They spoke  readily into microphones, to address persons seated before them! The microphones were there because these speeches  were going to appear in the  next day’s television news. The  Sangha  knew beforehand  that they were   addressing an island wide audience. This was nothing new for them.  Bhikkhus regularly address lay audiences and advise them, during bana and pirit  ceremonies. But this time they were talking politics, not religion.

The Sangha  said they  have great hope in President Gotabaya. They expect much from him. Akmeemana Dayaratana  said we needed a leader with a vision . Elle Gunawansa said  Gotabaya  has vision, also he delivers any project he undertakes. Ven. Kotapitiye Rahula said that the Sangha were ready to work with Gotabaya.

Keppetiyagoda Siri Wimala of Getambe Rajopavanaramaya  said  ‘this time there is a good momentum. This momentum should be continued ’.  Convert ‘Gotabaya bheetiya into Gotabaya neethiya,’.Vendaruwe Upali of Malwatte composed a  short kavi  then and there, ,which ended Janapathi vasanava me rata hadena thuru  

Omalpe Sobitha , addressing a media conference at the Bodhiraja Viharaya,  Embilipitiya said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will usher in an era of prosperity and development in the country, for which he has already started work.

Devalegama Dammasena, Chief priest of the Tissamaharama Raja Maha Viharaya  addressing a press conference in Tissamaharama said President Gotabaya has a vision and it was evident from the work he did as the Defence Secretary.   ( I think he meant the urban development work).  Ven. Dammasena  said a period for the betterment of the country would dawn with the assumption of duties by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Keppetiyagoda Siri Wimala  voiced something that all Rajapaksa supporters were thinking. ’See to your security,” he said, It may now be under threat. Like what happened to SWRD. We will be destroyed if we lose you  both.

The Sangha  did not confine their utterances to temple and media. They appeared on other platforms too.  A line of  bhikkhus were  seated  in the front row at a Jana hamuwa for President Gotabaya  held at Dehiwela.

 The Sangha were  also  there, when the   intelligentsia held a  seminar on the MCC at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo in November 2019 .Several bhikkhus spoke, including   Vaturawila  Siri Sujata, Paraduwa Jinaratana   and  Murungagasyaye Gnathissara from France,  Malevana Dhammavijaya said we are not a nation that weeps, ‘andana jatiyak nevei’.

The Maha Sangha, it appears have no intention of abandoning politics. They intend to stay on and supervise the government . The Maha Sangha were  on television the day after the election, right after the results were announced.( see Derana news 2019.11. 08)

Elle  Gunawansa  addressed the media   soon after the Presidential election. He asked the media to  support the government at this point of time, instead of criticizing, because ‘if we fail this time, that will  be final’. There will be  weaknesses in this government. We must try to   correct them, he said.

At a Yuthukama gathering, Ella Gunawansa said  ‘Now pressurize the government to do what you want them to do. Do not sit back and wait.’ ‘Me para hondata balagena inna’ he instructed ,  ‘however much they may get annoyed we will continue to voice our views.’  Ven. Kotapitiye Rahula said that the Sangha were ready to work with Gotabaya. If  this government doesn’t perform well, we will get rid   of it  too, he  concluded.

The Sangha  pounced on  several current issues. They held a press conference on the Swiss embassy matter. This was a plot to discredit the government  and country, they said.  We, the Sangha wish to advise these embassies.  We may be a small country, but  we must be allowed to  run our country without interference and with  dignity. ( ‘abhimanavat’) . Switzerland should not meddle in  our affairs.  Bhikkhus also  went to the UN Human Rights  Organization and made a complaint against the Swiss embassy.

The Sangha spoke before  television cameras on the   fine given out to Brig.  Priyanka Perera in London. Bhikkhus including Kamburugamuwe  Vajira  spoke of Perera’s bravery in war and praised his patriotism. They spoke of supporting him and  having a collection to pay the fine.

Jamburewela Chandraratana   representing the People’s Responsibility Centre went to the Indian High Commission   and handed over a letter to  be given to the  Prime Minister Modi asking him to discuss  doing away of Provincial Councils  during President Rajapaksa’s official visit to India.

Jamburewela Chandraratana    thereafter spoke to the media, on the negative aspects of Provincial Councils. The Elections Commission stated that the cost of holding the last provincial council election was Rs. 874 million and the next election will cost Rs. 3, 180 million. Further,  the Provincial Councils have not been function for  months.

The North Central, Eastern and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils were inactive for two years and eight months. The Central, Northern and North Western Provincial Councils were inactive for one year and eight months, while the Western and Southern Provincial Councils were inactive for six months. But although the Provincial Councils were inactive, the country moved forward, he said..”

The Sangha commented on political issues, big and small, as they came up. Pahiyangala Ananda  criticized the decision to abolish the permits system in transporting sand, granite and soil.  Akmeemana Dayaratana spoke on the 13 points put forward by TNA. Kiri Ibbanare Vijitha  said  that all involved in the Bond Scam, including ministers must be arrested. Kotapola Amarakiththi  said that USA intended to get their MCC passed  after the Presidential elections.

Paraduwe Jinaratana  spoke of irregularities in the cultural ministry. Bhikkhus commented unfavorably on officials such as Shani Abeysekera.  Two bhikkhus were seen  at the new demand for an inquiry against Dr. Shafie. Liyanwela Sasanaratana spoke.    

Jumburewela Chandaratana  said that the head of the Pharmaceutical Corporation had purchased   a low grade cancer   drug. This  official and his Minister,  Rajitha Senaratne should be arrested. Ven. Chandraratana  also went to the Defence Ministry  to ask that this person be stopped from leaving the country. The official concerned  said that  he   was not going anywhere.

Ittakande Saddhatissa  said they have evidence of malpractice in Sathosa by Rishard Bathiudeen and he must be arrested. Angulugalle Sri Jinanada, Magalkande Sudatta,  Madille Pagnaloka  and Akmeemana Dayaratna    speaking  separately said that there was illegal settlement of Muslims in Puttalam  and  that Rishard Bathiudeen was responsible.

At Walapane, there were four deaths in one family due to  the collapse of a hill and the public were furious. They said this  was due to illegal quarrying. Mailagasthenne Dhammananda,  chief priest Galpotha temple, intervened and asked the family to please go ahead with the burial. They would agitate about the matter the next day.  This was shown on  television news.

Media reported that a group of Buddhist monks and supporters of Duminda Silva are planning on appealing to the government to re-commence an investigation into the shooting incident between two groups of Duminda Silva and Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra several years ago. They claim that the CID had allegedly concealed certain information from courts regarding the shooting of Duminda Silva which was unfavourable to him and eventually led to him being sentenced to life imprisonment.

The group appealing on behalf of Duminda Silva claim that while the CID was entrusted with the inquiry in to this incident, they had allegedly concealed information regarding the fact that it was Bharatha Lakshman’s group who had initially opened fire and injured Duminda Silva, and only had pursued investigations regarding Duminda Silva’s group opening fire on Bharatha Lakshman. The petitioners claim that the CID had allegedly concealed certain information from courts. Therefore, they have urged the new government to conduct a fair investigation into this incident, while respecting the verdict of the courts, and ensure that justice is done to both parties without favouring either of them.

The Sangha showed that they were very alert politically. Ittepane Dhammalankare  among others, commented  very accurately on the political situation. Devalegama Dammasena alerted the people of impending dangers to the nation and its citizens. Bengamuwe Nalaka speaking at a Gotabaya  rally  ( before the election) referred disparagingly to the  ‘NGO karayo’ who were working against Gotabaya.  They  talked history too. There were several references to 1815 and to Dutugemunu.

Today’s Sangha are media savvy. Derana news 11.12.19  showed a bhikkhu  holding his smart phone to the  Derana microphone to convey  information. They are knowledgeable and well informed. They cited  relevant laws and acts.  They pointed out that in the Swiss Embassy issue, the employee was not entitled  to diplomatic immunity and that the whole incident was in violation of the Vienna convention. 

The Sangha took a strong anti –UNP stance. Not other political party has harmed this country more than the UNP, said  Elle Gunawansa. Earlier UNP  had good people in it, he added. Ranil Wickremesinghe must resign said Medagama Dhammananda of Asgiri.  If Ranil Wickremesinghe does not resign, then we will have to force him to resign, said Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara  and Ittakande Saddhatissa, speaking separately.

Jamburewela Chandraratana commented on Ranil Wickremesinghe’s    statement that  UNP must now woo back the Sinhala Buddhist  vote. Is this for  religion or to gain political power, he asked. Elle Gunawansa said that this shows that up to now they have used the Sinhala Buddhist  vote only to win elections.

It is well known that  while electioneering was going on,  and the Sangha were working for Gotabaya Rajapaksa , Mangala Samaraweera sent a Twitter message, where he omitted the Sangha and   spoke of the Blessings of  a Double Gem.  This was  an absurd, laughable  utterance, but the Sangha, naturally were furious. This was the last straw.

They came before the public, via television, and  specifically named Mangala Samaraweera, Rajita Senaratne, Patali Champika and Ranjan Ramanayake as persons who have criticized the  Sangha. They must be removed from politics. Their behavior was shameless, said  Alugalle Siri  Jinananda of Buddhist information Center . They must apologize to the Sangha, said Jamburewela Chandraratana ,otherwise the UNP will not get votes. Paraduwa Jinaratana. and     Vatinapana Somananda also  spoke.

The Sangha did not stop at that.   They went   to Sri Kotha when a   UNP was meeting was in progress. They  handed over a written request  that the UNP not give nominations to those who refused to accept that this was a Sinhala Buddhist country.  If not, the Sangha will work  against  UNP not only at the next election but will also engage in a campaign against UNP, said Kotahene Narada. Mangala, Ranjan and Rajitha were specifically named in the letter.

The Buddhist public including the Maha Sangha had lost confidence in the government  led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe which had belittled the country’s historical heritage saying that Sri Lanka is not a Buddhist nation. This distrust was amply demonstrated in the Presidential Election results, said Medagama Dhammananda of Asgiri. No ruler can govern Sri Lanka by disrespecting the Maha Sangha.

From the beginning Yahapalana government  had insulted the Maha Sangha and nurtured extremist minority groups said Ven Dhammananda. They wanted to  remove the monks and do what they want. Saying Sri Lanka is not a Buddhist country   showed that they were planning a ‘vena gamanak’. We must understand this . 

We have never been insulted like this before,  said Elle Gunawansa. ‘They thought we were a spineless nation, that the Sangha had no power. But the   Sangha are not the fools they thought we were,   he added . The Sangha became very determined. When Mahinda Rajapaksa  took office as Prime Minister ,  three long rows of bhikkhus chanted a lengthy pirit which sounded as though it would never end.

The   battle between the fading Yahapalana government and the Maha Sangha is still going on. The Sangha realize that the game is not yet over. The country is still in danger from  the west. The Sangha  is now looking  ahead to the General election and the Prime Minister stakes of 2020.

Kamaburugamuwe Vajira  advised ‘rata beraganna nayakayek thora ganna. ‘Think ahead, think of the future generations and vote. Elle  Gunawansa said, we need’ ratata jatiyata agamata garu karana  ayomya nayakayek. Me rate gaha kola valata adaraya karana, sivurata adaraya karana, kandula handunana nayakayake ona.

Kotapola Amarakiththi said I am not attached to any political  party. But having seen the fearful disaster we are       facing, I thought that I must address these few words to you.  Don’t think the way you thought  for the last  70 years(sic) . You must think about the next election in a  ‘kavadavat nohitu vidihata’ and  vote intelligently.

Not everyone is impressed with the role played by the Sangha. The columnist Nan” has spoken of a ‘Scary Saffron Surge”.  She said ‘ thoughts have been surging in my feared mind after seeing so many Buddhist monks in active politics and so much visiting of temples by those who won the recent election’. There was also a statement made by a monk loud and clear that the leaders who won the recent elections took their advice  and should continue doing so now they are in power.

‘Nan’ speaks of  the  ‘dread and menace’ in Buddhist monks entering active politics.  Monks increasing in numbers and stridency, monks who do not keep the Vinaya rules, monks who led assaults on minority groups

Political monks are definitely stepping out on the wrong path, said Nan” Their place is the temple and the monastery; their duty to interpret the Buddha Dhamma and lead the people they have influence over to better lives, striving to enter the Path shown by the Buddha as bringing deliverance, but before that enjoying the satisfaction in this life full of dukkha through meditation and improvement of their minds and sila. They get on the Path through renunciation and great effort and then they show us the Path and guide us.

We Buddhists are very fortunate to have had great good monks, continued Nan” and have such monks even now in considerable numbers, who [deliver] bana [having much] relevance to our lives. They lead their lives as prescribed by the Buddha.

‘Nan’ says that Ven. Dhammavihari has  said that monks have duties to perform for lay people, as the latter provide them with all necessities to sustain life.  Thus their readiness and willingness to advice lay people, visit homes for dana and pirit chanting, and offer solace when that is needed.

I must  say that very many monks are true Buddhist monks in this land of ours, following strictly the Vinaya rules set down by the Buddha and wearing the robe he prescribed with solemnity, serenity and dignity. We also have monks in the forest tradition who spend their time in meditation with not much contact with ordinary life and lay people. In some abodes, people do not even see the monks,.; dane is left for them and they appear only to gather their food and return to their kutis and seclusion, said Nan”.

These observations call for a reply. Bhikkhus are citizens of Sri Lanka and they are entitled to all rights of citizens, including the right to vote and participate in political activity. This is now accepted.   Island editorial of      7.12.19  said ‘Buddhist monks, no doubt, have political rights and, in fact, they have a history of playing a pivotal role in helping the country in times of crisis.’

Secondly, these ‘menacing, strident’ monks are often the chief priests of highly regarded temples. Finally,, if the monks had supported Sajith Premadasa, instead of Gotabaya Rajapaksa , would Nan” have spoken of a ‘wonderful saffron surge’  and not a ‘scary’ one. [Concluded]

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