The Development Path of Sri Lanka Needs to be Built from its Grassroots, Based on its Buddhist Cultural Foundation
Posted on January 7th, 2020

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane

Wholesome Buddhist norms and values form the basis of Sri Lanka’s uniquely indigenous Sinhala Buddhist culture. They were reinforced during a historic period that exceeds 2200 years, from the 3rd century BCE. The strength of this cultural foundation was tested several times in the past, especially during periods of South Indian invasions and associated devastation and exploitation. There were 17 ruthless South-Indian Dravidian invasions in the past. European colonial powers used violent means to subjugate and exploit Sri Lanka during the 16th to mid-20th century period. In more recent years, Tamil terrorism resulted in widespread devastation and misery in the country for about three decades. These periods of conflict and turmoil, caused untold misery to Sri Lankans, especially to her mainstream Sinhala community who account for 75% of the total population of the island. In spite these violent confrontations, the nation stayed intact, withstanding threats, perils and calamities, largely owing to the power and potency of the nation’s Buddhist cultural foundation. 

In the past, the nature of development of the country’s natural, human and cultural resources is reflective of long-held traditional Buddhist principles of peaceful coexistence. It is reflective of the integrity on the part of those who assumed leadership roles in the country. Promotion of virtuous and spiritual lifestyles among people has been a fundamental goal of the nation. Buddhist leaders of the past, both lay and ordained, were in the forefront in furthering this goal. The nation’s irrigation system developed in the past, with its extensive network of reservoirs and canals are considered, in modern times, as marvels in irrigation technology. In addition, the nation’s astonishing ancient architecture, sculpture, art, literature and other forms of visual culture including the Sinhala language and literature are living evidence of this nation’s exceptional cultural heritage. They are reflective of the outstanding imaginative and creative powers of the people including their talents, skills, and foresight. The world recognition of the greatness of this unique Buddhist culture is reflected by the UNESCO designating our ancient royal sites as World Heritage Sites – Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Mahanuwara (Kandy), Sigiriya and Dambulla, all built upon and strongly reflecting inspiration drawn from Buddhism.

Buddhism upholds everything worthy and meaningful. It promotes peace, peaceful coexistence, and democratic principles in governance. It promotes human rights, development of individual and community virtues and discipline in accordance with the pancha seela”. Respect for the natural environment and sustainable and participatory development of resources and upheld in Buddhism. In addition, Buddhism strongly promotes tolerance of other faiths, religious and social harmony, and cordial relations with other nations. Buddhist culture led to the evolution of a peaceful community structure. This provided order and stability to the respective communities in the country. Lifestyle of people in a Buddhist society has been simple and uncomplicated.  It was a quality of life that moved at a gentle pace where people enjoyed a high degree of leisure and freedom. As part of a close-knit community, people felt secure enough to be themselves. In this sense, they enjoyed a remarkably high quality of life.

Tolerance and the enormous adaptability in Buddhism are qualities that have remained unchanged throughout Sri Lanka’s remarkable history. With a down-to-earth philosophy of man in harmonious and cordial relationship to man, at a very visible and conceivable level, Buddhists have never stood up against any single man or groups of men in the name of Buddhism, either to defend or propagate the religion. That is quite a record for a faith with a history of more than two and a half millennia. That was very much before the time of the appearance of most of today’s great world religions.

Minority Settler Communities

Prior to the arrival of European colonialists, the Sinhala Buddhist majority and the minority settler communities – Tamils and Muslims in particular, who made the country their home, lived together for centuries without conflict. The divide and rule policy of the British with preferential treatment accorded to the minority Tamil community and Christians, led to divisive feelings and polarization of the Sinhala-Tamil and the Buddhist-Christian peoples. With independence, the well-established, Western educated and economically well-off Tamil and Christian elite began to feel the erosion of their power, influence and identity. They felt threatened in the absence of the preferential treatment that they enjoyed under the British. This was the beginning of ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka.

It is a fact that, since the country gaining political independence in 1948, for 72 years, ethnicity, separatism and divisiveness have dominated the thoughts of leaders of the Tamil community. This attitude not only hampers the cultivation of cordial relationship with the mainstream Sinhala community, but also inhibits the development of a sense of belonging to the nation. Such a parochial attitude prevents the Tamils from assimilating   with the mainstream Sinhala community and becoming an integral part of the Sinhala Buddhist nation.

The Real Problems of the Tamil Community

Tamils of Sri Lanka form a highly divided community. Assimilation is highly lacking within this small ethnic community. Although forming a mere 15% of the total population of Sri Lanka, Tamils are a highly fragmented community. Historically they are divided on the basis of caste. They are divided regionally, as Jaffna Tamils, Estate Tamils and Tamils of the East and Jaffna Tamils considering themselves as superior to the others. Although during times of elections, it is common practice for Tamils to form an exclusively Tamil ethnic voting block, making unjustified demands and always  professing separatism, they are divided politically into several political parties – Tamil National Alliance (TNA), People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Eelam’s People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Tamil Makkal Kootani (TMK) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO). These parties are founded on ethnic lines and consist exclusively of Tamils. Tamils therefore do not form an assimilated community in Sri Lanka and are not conversant with the benefits of assimilation. Assimilation with the Sri Lankan nation is the only lasting solution to the Tamil problem, but that is difficult for Tamils who are not conversant with the benefits of assimilation because they themselves are not assimilated as community. It is difficult to expect Tamils to assimilate with others, when they find it difficult to assimilate among themselves. 

Caste consciousness and ethnically founded separatist standpoint prevent Tamil extremists from assimilating with the mainstream of the Sri Lankan nation. These attitudes are clearly unacceptable and unfeasible in Sri Lanka. They are incompatible with the Buddhist norms and principles upon which the Sri Lankan Nation is founded. It is time that, extremist Tamils and other minority ethnic and religious settler communities of the island realize that Sri Lanka is the historic nation of the Sinhala people, and it is founded on Buddhist principles where non-violence and peaceful co-existence have been the hallmarks from ancient times. Rather than resorting to self-serving extremism and violence, the more realistic option for Tamils and other minority settler communities living in Sri Lanka, is to assimilate and unite as a single nation of peace-loving and dignified people.

Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of the Nation

Sinhala nationals will not and should not tolerate any individual or community who, whilst living in the Sinhala Nation and considering it their home, deliberately misusing such a privilege by scheming and adopting extreme means or contributing to such actions, in violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this only nation of the Sinhala community. This includes both direct and indirect efforts on the part of these extremist elements to carve out ethnic and religious enclaves within our country, merely because some of them had lived in specific places for extended periods of time. These extremist elements with self-serving attitudes and objectives should be considered as traitors or enemies of the nation and should be dealt with accordingly.

For the patriotic and caring nationals of this island, especially those of the Sinhala community, irrespective of their religious affiliations, there is one moral law that stands above everything else, and that is to do everything possible to strengthen their Sinhala Nation and to curb the efforts of anti-national elements both local and foreign, engaged in violating and undermining Sinhala Buddhist national interests. It was with such an attitude and approach that enabled the nation’s valiant Sinhala soldiers to wipe out anti-national, separatist Tamil terrorists who were hell-bent on destroying the integrity of this nation.  

Concerned Sinhala nationals will under no circumstances allow the sovereignty, the distinct territorial integrity and the all-pervasive Sinhala Buddhist cultural character of the island be subject to any form of disarray or disintegration. They will not permit any force, internal or external, ethnic, or religious, to subjugate or undermine the integrity of the Sinhala Buddhist culture of this island nation. The present generation of Sinhala nationals has a moral obligation to protect, preserve and promote the greatest of their inheritance, their unique nation, for the survival of their Buddhist cultural heritage and for the benefit of future generations.

Sinhala history is replete with valor and courage in battles against overly superior forces. The struggle against extremism and the looming division of this Sinhala island nation of ours demands our full national strength. Let all Sinhala nationalists rise to the occasion, forgetting for a moment their ‘other’ differences, and swear allegiance to the unity of this country by giving unswerving support to the popularly elected Sinhala Buddhist President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. His development initiatives since his ascendancy to power, and his policy statement recently highlighted in the parliament, have brought about a renewed sense of loyalty and patriotism among concerned Sri Lankan nationals, particularly among the contemporary youth. This is a most encouraging trend in the country.

A Nation that shuns Extremism and Terrorism

The average Sinhala person has nothing against anyone who wishes to shed extremist feelings and joining them to build a nation that is peaceful and prosperous, a nation which shuns extremism and terrorism. It is high time the Tamil politicians realize the futility of promoting the losing battle of separation on the basis of their ethnicity and other unfounded grounds. In all countries in the world, minority settler communities are expected to integrate and assimilate with the mainstream community. This is well evident in countries such as Canada, Australia, USA, UK where Tamil immigrants form an important component. Tamils should realize the benefits of shedding separatist and extremist views by being a part of the Sinhala Buddhist nation. Forgiving and forgetting” has been the attitude of its people, even to those who have harmed them repeatedly from historic times, because its people are aware of the fact that eventually justice and truth will prevail.   

Sinhala people want others who live among them and help build the country as one nation, a nation founded on noble principles of non-violence, tolerance,  compassion, where peaceful co-habitation has been the cornerstone from historic times. Recent events in Sri Lanka clearly reveal the fact that the nation’s patriotic people will never tolerate and will necessarily take legitimate action against those bent on undermining national interests, and the nation’s founding Buddhist principles. The Sinhala Buddhists have nothing against anyone willing to shed extremist and separatist feelings and joining them to build a strong, peaceful and prosperous nation which shuns extremism and terrorism. Today the nation is fortunate to have the opportunity to be led by a popularly elected, bold, patriotic and compassionate President, who will under no circumstances permit racism and terrorism to ever raise their heads again in this land.

Buddhist Culture:  Basis of the Nation’s Development Path  

The development path of our country needs to be built from the grassroots, based on its Buddhist cultural foundation. It should involve the development of strong local economies in which producer-consumer links are shortened and cultural values are respected and peaceful coexistence in harmony with the environment and all diverse people are assured. Moving in this direction appears to be the appropriate way to solve the whole range of serious social, economic and environmental problems faced by the country today. Ultimately, we are talking about a spiritual awakening that comes from making a connection to others and to nature. This requires us to see the world within us, to experience more consciously the great interdependent web of life, of which we ourselves are among the strands. In Sri Lanka, economic development must be placed against the wider background of the need to develop a well-rounded personality, and a happy human being. In the “Mangala Sutta” and the “Sigalovada Sutta”, the Buddha has said that the happiness of the average person depends on their economic security, the enjoyment of wealth, freedom from debt, and a blameless moral and spiritual life. In a number on contexts, the economic factor is linked to a wider relationship to the dhamma”.

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane


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