Mobs, Monks and the Problems of Political-Buddhism


Original photograph REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

It is always a curious and odd little matter, to witness how even Buddhists become so obsessively attached to ‘sacred’ lands and in protecting them, commit acts seemingly prompted by hatred, delusion and ill-will.

Ideally, lands should not become ‘sacred’ for simple reasons. The Buddha, in attacking the rigid and unethical caste-system during his time, placed great stress on the importance of deeds or action. That was why it was said (in the Vasala sutta) that one did not become a Brahman (or an outcast) by birth, but by deed. That wonderful message ought to have taught us a very valuable lesson, which, to rephrase the Buddha, could be stated as follows: that a land becomes a ‘sacred’ (or Buddhist) land not by anything else but only by the words and deeds of those inhabiting that land. Even a place of religious worship would lose its sacredness if, in the guise of religion, all manner of nefarious activities are carried out therein. In such cases, your virtuous neighbour’s backyard becomes more sacred than the ‘sacred’ land or place of worship.

However, these are not ideal times and ideal societies. Laws and regulations can be enacted empowering ministers and other officials to declare a particular territorial area a sacred land. And of course, this is not a practice limited to Buddhists alone. But when mob violence is seen to be propagated, as was done in Dambulla on the 20th of April – when a number of Buddhist monks and laymen stormed a mosque in Dambulla and demanded the dismantling of that mosque – we know, very well, that something is not quite right; not only in the ‘sacred’ land of Dambulla, but also in this supposedly Buddhist-country.

Dambulla mob attack: some concerns

The immediate concerns arising from the unfortunate vulgarity exhibited by some Buddhist monks and their lay followers have been already highlighted. In what was said by some of the protesting monks, there are the obvious traces of violence, racism, religious extremism and that burning desire, if necessary, to cleanse the territory concerned of the ‘other’ (the ‘other’, in this case, being the follower of the Islamic religion). How this plays out politically – domestically and internationally, both against the country and against Buddhism – is easy to understand.

But there are other concerns too.

Firstly, the demeanour of such monks – who seem to be going against some of the fundamental precepts of the Dhamma, one being indriya samvara sila (morality concerning sense-restraint), which is one form of sila or morality a monk (a bhikkhu) is expected to follow – contributes greatly to the doubt and skepticism that is generated in the minds of the lay Buddhist follower today. The sangha community (or the community of Buddhist monks) has been traditionally, and principally, looked upon as a community which guides the layman in the path of the Dhamma and morality.

And given that it is the members of this community who ultimately preach and propagate the Dhamma and since they play the principal role of the ‘guardian’ of the Dhamma in the eyes of the ordinary layman (even though the politician is seen to be playing this role too), acts as were witnessed in Dambulla can have the obvious and natural effect of generating a great sense of doubt (vicikiccha) about, and ill-will (vyapada) towards all aspects concerning Buddhism, its fundamental teachings, the community of monks, etc. Doubt and ill-will are factors hindering the path to emancipation. Doubt, of course, can be eradicated through, for example, the knowledge of the Dhamma, confidence, discussion and questioning. But the question is: can a community of monks (of the Dambulla-type) be of any assistance to the layman in this regard when what one witnesses is a community of monks engaged even in, inter alia, ‘animism’? (as Dr. Laksiri Fernando put it, in ‘The government must apologize to the Muslim community’, The Island, 30 April 2012).

Secondly, viewed from a critical legal perspective, the Dambulla incident throws up significant questions about the turn to law, by which I mean a turn towards the laws contained in statutes, ordinances and the like to resolve the Dambulla-incident. Now, resolving a dispute through the law is acceptable and if all parties agree to respect the verdict, the legal-approach naturally turns into a useful mode of dispute resolution. It will soften tensions, calm your nerves.

But this legal-turn has its weaknesses too. By reducing this entire problem to a simple legal dispute, which the law books and laws will now resolve and one which then will be left in the hands of lawyers and judges, the legal profession can also act as a smokescreen which hides or shoves under the carpet some of the underlying moral and ethical concerns relating to the Dambulla-incident. The legal profession, under these circumstances, becomes a profession of irresponsibility, if some provision or the other decides the fate of the entire controversy. Laws, law books and judgments are (as we know) towards which fingers are pointed as a convenient excuse to evade moral responsibility for one’s words and actions: ‘Look, it is not my fault; it is that law, that judgment, which says so.’ Such legal formalism hinders political discussion and the resolution of political or other social problems and controversies through greater public participation and debate. The root causes go unaddressed, and they erupt in numerous other forms and manifestations elsewhere, some other day. And one such problem that law courts don’t discuss is one which is fundamental to the recent controversy: ‘political-Buddhism’.

Buddha and the fundamental problem of ‘political-Buddhism’

The Buddha, undoubtedly, is the most influential and admirable philosophical teacher I have come across.

And, I do not view the Buddha very simply as one who had nice things to say about non-violence, peace and harmony, or as an extraordinary person who, from birth to death, carried out fantastic and unbelievable acts.

But also, thanks to the excellent work of numerous Buddhist scholars (ranging from the likes of Ven. Walpola Rahula to Prof KN Jayatillaka, but more importantly, scholars such as Prof. David J. Kalupahana, et al.) I read the Buddha more as: a philosopher who, unlike any other, stressed the importance of understanding the concept of radical impermanence which runs through all our activities and lives (a concept which is far more complex than what is narrowly and inaccurately defined as one which means that ‘all things that are born end in death’); a critic who went against the traditions of his time and valued critical reflection and inquiry at all possible times (e.g. the Kalama sutta; also note the advice given to millionaire Upali when the latter expressed willingness to follow the Buddha: ‘Of a truth, Upali, make a thorough investigation’); a brilliant social reformer who made timely use of ideas and concepts that ordinary men and women believed in, to introduce the notion of morality as a counter response to the dangerous nihilism promoted during that time by the likes of Ajita Kesakambali (e.g. the Buddha’s deft use of the concept of ‘god’ to narrate the different destinies confronting human beings, stressed in a way that makes ordinary people believe in that concept and thereby are inevitably influenced to do good to reach the world of gods, devaloka); a master linguist who developed words to bring out the nuances of meaning which were not captured in the language during his time and which still baffle the traditional Eastern and Western mind (e.g. the coining of the term paccuppanna meaning ‘arisen with a background’, which expresses the meaning that the present is conditioned by the immediate past; which was in contrast to the strict manner in which ‘time’ was categorized during the Buddha’s day as belonging to the past, present and future, a categorization which did not make allowance for the complex and nuanced connection of the past and present, for instance); and a teacher who employed similes which had an extremely sarcastic bite, to drive home a point which could be somewhat discomforting to a traditional, conservative, mind (e.g. in explaining the futility of praying for salvation and the end of suffering, the Buddha tells Vasettha that such praying is similar in effect to a man who, having approached the river desiring to get to the other bank, calls out: ‘Come here, other bank, come here!’).

But how, one may wonder, could this noble message of a profound philosophical teacher go so wrong in the hands of those preaching that teaching? The seeds lie in the very notion that the Buddha had advised his followers to be extremely mindful of: excessive attachment. From that springs all problems, and when that clashes with other ulterior objectives and motives of various groups (reasons pertaining to history, tradition, race, ethnicity, nationhood, politics, culture, ideology, etc.), Buddhism ends up being another tool in the hands of the politically-motivated. Promoting Buddhism becomes political, and in the process, Buddhism ends up being another political language.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong in the practice of preserving and promoting Buddhism. In fact, Buddhism should definitely be protected and promoted. What is problematic here, however, is the way in which it has been promoted and is sought to be promoted and preserved. The noble teaching of the Buddha becomes a problematic form of political-Buddhism when under the guise of promoting the teaching, various other ethnic, political and similar agendas begin to be nurtured and promoted to the detriment of those believing and following different other teachings or religions [This is perhaps the significant problem shared by those following Christianity and Islam, in particular. While all these teachings and religions are a great source of inspiration to the individual, they become extremely problematic when brought into the public realm of politics and governance where people respond differently to different teachings and faiths].

And more seriously, it is very easy and convenient for bigoted and narrow-minded followers with ulterior political motives to intentionally misinterpret and misunderstand the teachings if necessary. To take one example: in the case of Buddhism, it was once the late Ven. Soma Thero (a priest I admired, but critically) who pointed out that getting hold of the wrong end of the Dhamma could cause unimaginable disaster. For instance, wrongly interpreting the meaning of impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and no-self (anatma) could end up in promoting violence and terrorism – because if everything is impermanent, suffering and without a ‘self’, then causing harm to anyone doesn’t mean much! So, one can imagine how dangerous even these fundamental notions of Buddhism can become in the hands of those who are more interested in politicizing Buddhism.

Responding to Dambulla’s ugly political-Buddhism

It is another version of this kind of political-Buddhism that we witnessed in Dambulla, in the face of which the question arises over and over again: how should one respond to such acts and events? Three broad responses have come to be suggested during recent times. One, the need for a government-apology; two, secularism; three, citizen-initiatives condemning the acts as being not committed in their name.

One: the suggestion has been made that the government needs to apologize for what happened (as usefully made by Dr. Laksiri Fernando, et al). This argument, in general terms, lays much of the blame squarely on the government for being responsible for creating the conditions for inter-religious disharmony. A different version of this ‘government-is-the-culprit’ form of argument has been also raised by those who would not agree with some of the views expressed by the above mentioned authors. So, for instance, even Janaka Perera usefully points out that the real culprits for the present crisis are successive governments and that in the present case, the “ball is now in the government’s court” (Janaka Perera, ‘Dambulla Crisis: Who are the Real Culprits’ in Sinhale Hot News, 3 May 2012).

The suggestion, in principle, is a very valuable one. As regards the Dambulla incident, certain reports suggest that a politician is behind the instigation of the mob-attack; and if so, the government definitely should apologize. But, over-stressing the need of this demand for an apology from the government has the (unintended, but at times even intended) consequence of shifting the blame away from others who ought to be held equally responsible. The government becomes the main culprit, sometimes the only culprit, whereas others go unchecked.

Two: the above form of critique of political-Buddhism and the politicization of any religion leads to the famous argument which demands for a secular state and secular constitution. It makes perfect logic to demand so, and in principle, is a demand that one who is seriously concerned about inter-religious harmony cannot easily dismiss. But one of the nagging problems concerning the demand for secularism (through legal and constitutional means in particular) is that it often has the effect of reducing a complex problem (concerning religion) to a matter that can be addressed through law. Principally, ‘secularism’, when viewed as a term representing a particular mindset, is an immensely difficult destination to reach.

Generally, it calls for: an entire rethinking of the place of religion in life and society, its role in the matter of politics and governance, to what extent religion should be a guide in such matters, and more fundamentally, about how education of religion should be conducted from school-level upwards, etc. In the case of Sri Lanka to argue, for example, that Article 9 of the Constitution is what leads to religious fundamentalism is based on the inaccurate assumption that taking away the provision leads to a better, harmonious and peaceful society. And for the secular argument to be accepted by a majority of the people, it cannot be seen to be made by those who are rabid opponents of Buddhism and Buddhists; which, in other words, calls for a politics of persuasion which has to be undertaken from within.

Three: one of the prominent initiatives undertaken by citizens nowadays, given the advancement of information technology, is the mode of online-petitions. A very useful and important recent initiative concerning the Dambulla mob attack was undertaken in the form of a petition titled ‘Not in our name’ (see It is yet another important way of expressing the thought that the kind of violence witnessed in Dambulla is not acceptable, is condemned, and is not undertaken in our name. This is, to reiterate, not only an immensely useful form of public protest but also one which has today gained much support. It has, most usefully, generated greater awareness of the incident.

However, what is hoped in the case of such forms of protest is that one is not deluded into imagining that this form of protest could be very effective at the end of the day. While supporting such initiatives, one still needs to be quite skeptical about them. Firstly, it just could be the case that it is precisely this form of protest (online-petitions, etc) that those who instigate and promote religious extremism are comfortable with. And in a sense, the very form of online-protest carries the image of our helplessness in the face of such violence and extremism. Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, the problem with the ‘not-in-our-name’ kind of language is this: contrary to our imagination, the kind of mob attacks seen in Dambulla could be acts which are not carried out in our name in the first place. They may be acts carried out in the name of those who are anyway having very rigid and fixed views about the place of religion in politics. And given the polarization that exists in contemporary society (NGO – anti-NGO, peace activists-war mongers, anti-Buddhist – Sinhala-Buddhist, etc), it is generally understood that those who resort to such violence/silently approve of such violence (group A) and those who say such violence is not in their name (group B) are anyway not on the same page ideologically and politically. Politically, then, group B’s resistance in the present case doesn’t shock group A into adopting a markedly different attitude. In other words: group A has to be critiqued, first and foremost, from within.

Common inadequacy: where are the monks?

This then brings us to the principal question: who constitutes this group within group A? I believe this is none other than the sangha community: the community of Buddhist monks. In all of the above responses, what is essentially missing is the role of the Buddhist monk.

At the end of the day, it needs to be reiterated – not once, twice but a hundred times if necessary – that it is the community of Buddhist monks which can most effectively and significantly end this madness that is being carried out by some in the name of Buddhism. When Buddhist monks are seen to be acting in the way they did, no amount of criticism can prove effective unless those from within that community itself come forward and respond adequately. And it is this glaring absence of a critical response from the community of Buddhist monks which has been the most unfortunate absence in the overall responses that followed. It is this that all of us (especially those who are admirers of the Buddhist philosophy) must perhaps resolve to remind the monks, lay followers, and ourselves, whenever possible.

However, while not abandoning the forms of protest and critique so far adopted, it is also necessary to call for a further nuanced critique and also the adoption of a skeptical (not dismissive) approach to certain comforting arguments which are made concerning the matter of religious harmony in Sri Lanka. The two are inter-connected.

Firstly, the kind of critique necessary is not that which pins the blame entirely on a single monk: in this case, Ven Inamaluwe Sumangala. Rather, it has to be pointed out that this is a problem not limited to the attitude of Ven. Sumangala alone but could be shared by many others in the sangha community who not only directly support him but also do so indirectly, by maintaining a studied silence (and that too, in the name of ‘tolerance’!). Secondly, one needs to be somewhat more skeptical (but not dismissive) of the ‘reservoir of goodwill’ argument that we often raise (see Javed Yusuf, ‘Dambulla: A challenge for all communities’, The Sunday Times, 29 April, 2012). While one can broadly agree with the sentiment expressed, our continued reference to this sentiment could even have the indirect effect of making us utterly complacent and even irresponsible. A probing examination should remind us that while Dambulla-type incidents are somewhat rare, the Dambulla-type mindset may be a more prevalent and rooted one, given the silence of many in the ‘Buddhist-camp’.

In short, the critical intervention of monks in particular is quintessential if they are serious about protecting and preserving Buddhism (and not the grotesque and dangerous aspects of political Buddhism). This is their duty, their responsibility. And this critical intervention, to be sure, is not one which calls for the spewing of hatred and malice directed at monks by monks. Certainly not. As the monks would well know, one can condemn certain practices and policies without hatred or ill-will (ujjhana).

Therefore, before people cry out that Buddhism is too serious a problem to be left in the hands of the contemporary Buddhist monks, or that Buddhism should be protected not from politicians but from Buddhist monks, it is necessary for the monks to come out more openly and critically in expressing their views about the incidents, attitudes, policies and practices that the Dambulla-incident represents. This is also a vital task that critical Buddhist scholars (far more than laymen and women like us) should be mindful about.


It is the Vesak season, and one often remembers that moment which has traditionally been considered the most poignant in the story of the Buddha; the moment the Buddha passed away, the moment of parinirvana. There is great silence that envelops the moment. The Buddha, who is now physically weak, addresses the monks surrounding him and inquires whether there is any doubt in their minds about any aspect of the Dhamma. Venerable Ananda, who is deeply attached to the Buddha, musters up all courage in the face of the great and noble light that now flickers before him, and informs that he has confidence that there is not one bhikkhu gathered there with any doubt or problem. And yet, the Buddha, the ever-mindful, declares: “All conditioned states are impermanent. Strive on with diligence.”

But when witnessing the manner in which the words and teachings of the Buddha have been misused, I, perhaps like many others, tend to consider a different moment to have been the most poignant and moving in the entire life-time of the Buddha. That moment comes soon after the Buddha gains enlightenment, and just before Brahma Sahampathi invites the Buddha to preach the Dhamma.

In this moment, the Buddha, with great compassion, wonders (quite unexpectedly, to our minds) as to whether he should or should not go out into the world and preach the Dhamma. It is this moment, this picture of the contemplating Buddha, which captures that poignancy. For, it is a moment when the Buddha, now surveying the world, realizes that the decision to go out and preach the Dhamma contains enormous risks and challenges, that there are many in the world who have a lot of dust in their eyes, that they are deluded by wrong concepts, ideas and beliefs.

In other words, that moment contains the very fundamentals of the philosophy the Buddha thereafter preached: that element of radical impermanence; that blend of the good and the bad; the happiness and sadness that enwraps a single moment and event; the great opportunity that was before the Buddha on the one hand and the tremendous risks that very opportunity carried with it on the other; the incomparable message of freedom that now had to be spread, and the glaring possibility of a restriction of the freedom of others that very message of freedom, if improperly and wrongly understood, could bring to others.

It was perhaps a moment in which the Buddha saw hundreds of men and women cross the metaphorical river with the aid of the raft named the Dhamma and put an end to their suffering, while a thousand others failed, and failed miserably, and in the process, did all manner of things to the raft, the river and all around them. To strive on with diligence is what is required. And those words contain a very valuable lesson to the socially-engaged monk, in particular, who is genuinely and sincerely interested in preserving and promoting the noble teachings of the Buddha.

  • Pandukabaya de Silva

    I am astounded at the sensitivity and clear-headed nature of this response. As a practicing Buddhist amazed at what is happening around him, i can only say that, as in the case of abuse of power by politicians, here too the majority of decent Buddhists remain silent!

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    Dear Kalana,

    Thanks very much for the article. This is one of the best articles written on this subject. I wish the Mahanayaka’s, influential buddhist intellectuals and Buddhist politicians, who has the power to do something had read this and understand.

    • Groundviews

      We agree, and have informed the author that the article will be translated into Sinhala and published on, our sister site, where it will hopefully be read by a wider group, and also republished.

    • PresiDunce Bean

      First the article has to be translated into English if it is to be understood by our monks. Very few of them can read and understand English.

      • PresiDunce Bean

        Sorry my mistake. translated into English should read as translated into *Sinhala.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    An essay of such excellence that it belongs with those of Regi Siriwardene, Charles Abeysekara and HL Seneviratne on the subject, but takes the inquiry further, informed by the intellectual ethos and epistemology of the Buddha. I urge that it be immediately submitted for publication in an English language mainstream newspaper and translated by the author into Sinhala for an even more mainstream reading public.

    Regi once raised the question in the pages of Mervyn’s Lanka Guardian (they were both raised as Sinhala Buddhists), ‘Where are the radical Buddhists?’

    Kalana seems to take a step further and ask ‘where are the liberal-pluralist Sinhala-Buddhists?’ or more basically ‘ Where are the authentically Buddhist, Sinhala-Buddhists?’ and pointedly ‘where are the Buddhists, among the Sinhala-Buddhist clergy?’

    I know they exist, because one such scholar monk, Ven Mandawala Pannawansa thero, preached an excellent dhamma sermon at our Embassy at the multireligious event on Feb 4th, when the religious fundamentalists had boycotted me and my Mission in Paris, preceding and accompanying it with a vicious propaganda campaign in their publications.

    Kalana also makes the salient point about the need for an internal critique; a point I have repeatedly made about nationalism/patriotism. The religious fundamentalists are NOT speaking in the name of Group B anyway, so a critique that is not in the name of Buddhism must perforce be more representative of Group A than Group B, or there is a lack of fit between claim and content. Group A would simply, scornfully, say ‘we weren’t speaking or acting in your name anyway…who told you we were? We are acting in OUR name’.

    Readers must also be reminded of the disruptive agitation conducted against President Premadasa and the Kandalama hotel project by Ven Inamaluwe Sumangala in 1992. The differences between then and now were (i) that President Premadasa did not blink and (ii) cosmopolitan civil society did not support the President or oppose the monk, for their respective stands…!

    Premadasa was a pluralist-reformist dissident within Group A (but not a funded or faddish defector from it seeking upward social mobility), with hugely significant support from that group, but none–or almost none– from Group B supported him (just as the Left did not step up to support SWRD during the B-C pact). Susil Siriwardhana, Neville Jayaweera, Chanaka Amaratunga and I were among the few from Group B, or outside of Group A, who supported him, and experienced the social consequences, the mildest form of which was the query “why is someone like YOU supporting him?”. Thus the contemporary conjuncture, with its discontents, may be understood better if one brings to bear the Buddhist methodology of ’cause and effect’; of the cumulative effect of earlier actions/inactions.

    Meanwhile, Kalana may wish to reflect speculatively, on the very long term consequences of the destruction of the Abhayagiri vihara and its texts, as well as the dynamics that led to such destruction.

    • Groundviews

      We have already informed the author it will be professionally translated into Sinhala, and republished on We will also explore possibilities of republication in Ravaya.

      • Padraig Colman

        Superb article. I have shared it on my networks also.

      • luxmy

        Thank you, Groundviews.
        How about encouraging school and university teachers to take this on further into their Associations/Buddhist associations/Education Associations? Peacebuilding Education material, etc….

      • Neville Perera

        Kalana, we cannot thank you enough.

        Good comments too.

        Thank you, Groundviews for your intentions.

        Cumulative effects of silence on so many political, economic, social, cultural and environmental attacks over decades have climaxed into this state of affairs.

        What is frightening is that that silence is still going on.

        Formation of a body supporting Groundviews wil enable Groundviews to fulfil its plans and to evolve new dimensions that are urgently needed.

  • Malinda Seneviratne

    Excellent. One of your best, and to my mind, the best on this subject so far. An excellent complement would be critiques of ‘Political Christianity’ and ‘Political Islamism’ from Christians or Muslims respectively.

    • Groundviews

      Malinda, worth republishing even in a serialised form in the Nation?

    • Sanjayan

      Malinda, a Sri Lankan Christian who has done this repeatedly is Vinoth Ramachandra. He wrote something on groundviews recently. See his blog post:

      “The early church, as an egalitarian, multinational, socially inclusive polity (ekklesia), in which the weakest members were to be the most honoured, stood as a radical antithesis to the politics of both empire and republic. But in the ensuing centuries it was quickly co-opted by empires and republics, and even took on the characteristics of empire in many of its manifestations. If Christians are to contribute to the quest for a more just and peaceable world, their proclamation of the Good News of the Reign of God has to accompanied by a decisive repudiation of all those forms of nationalism, chauvinism and ethnocentrism that still distort the face of Christ within the church. A national church that has been co-opted and domesticated by ethne or Caesar has ceased to be the church of Jesus Christ- the sign and foretaste of a new world order.”

  • http://nil Henry de mel

    Those who acted the way they did at Dambulla, acted not in our name nor in their own name but presumably in the name of Buddhism, Singhala Buddhism or just in the name of the Singhalese.If those persons acted in their own names, most of Sri Lankans would have protested and condemned it. But when they act in the name of Singhala Buddhism or the Singhala race (vis a vis minority religions, particularly one perceived to be assertive), Sri Lankans are reluctant to protest or condemn as the perpetrators presumably did not gain anything personally but benefited Singhala Buddhism or the Singhala race.

    This is just an example of the eternal problem of religion (or Dhamma) becoming institutionalised (and then politicised etc.) and losing its spirit.

  • Roshan

    Kalana Senaratna has written a beautiful piece.
    Should we as a country allow the political space to be infiltrated by the violent monks?

    In 1983, during the events of July 1983, monks led some of the marauding mobs in many parts of Colombo, and outside, armed with householder’s lists attacking the homes and shops of the minority community. The police preferred to play the role of bystanders.

    The curfew was on but it did not stop them from coming. DIG Gaffoor was on duty in Borella but his men refused to follow orders to disperse the mob going towards Kanatte. He protected many of the Tamils in the area by getting them carted away in vehicles. Gaffoor was attacked for doing his duty and pushed into one of the graves dug to bury the dead soldiers. The mob had a go at him. Instead of giving them a funeral in Jaffna or in their local villages, the government made it a point to bring the dead bodies en masse to Colombo for burial, stoking the fury of the gathering mob. The government knew the consequences that would follow. JR remained silent while all this was happening.

    While this was happening, a few of us called a meeting of the residents living in the suburban housing estate, many of them educated one a retired Colonel, and several of them engaged as professionals. The curfew was on but we did go to each house and invited them to a meeting to discuss how we can stop the mob coming to the area. Many did not bother to attend but those who did rubbished the suggestion that if the elders in our area confronted the mob and pleaded with them to go away, they might have listened. Their response was: “These are our boys ( meaning locals). They will not do anything to us”. That was how it ended. In the end the mob did come and burn a couple of the houses in the area. They even had the temerity to knock on doors asking for kerosene oil.

    Where rule of law once prevailed, the rule of the mob took over and since then we have seen the gradual erosion of law and order. Much of the responsibility has to be laid at the government’s door. The government has the duty to protect all communities and has to act in an even handed manner. Peaceful coexistence of all religions and communities is the only way forward if we are to succeed as a civilised nation.

  • http://---- M.C.M. Iqbal

    While concurring with and appreciating all that has been said about the content of this remarkable article by Kalana, I earnestly urge that steps be taken to translate this article into Tamil also. Both the Tamils and the Muslims, most of whom do not read English or Sinhala, should also know what the liberal minded Sinhala Buddhists think and have boldly written about the obnoxious incident in Dambulla and its repercussions.

    Let us hope that this incident would trigger the taking of meaningful steps to stem the tide of incidents such as this, that would tarnish the image of the country and the followers of the noble teachings of Lord Buddha.

    • Groundviews


  • Thakshan Fernando

    Thakshan Fernando:
    A fine article in these very challenging times.Our Tamil and Muslim brothers and sisters will take note and be encouraged that there are Buddhists to whom practising the Dhamma is more important than calling themselves Buddhists.Please offer the article to the Daily News and Silumina as well so that the Govt can also reply.

  • Groundviews

    “Similarly I believe that there is a Sinhala race without mixed blood. I do believe that I am such a person myself. So, if anyone says that there is no pure race, like you, if one speaks of reason, I think they are of mixed blood. I mean there must be some kind of mix. They must have a name like Thambi Mudiyanselage in their birth certificate.”

    Ven.Inamaluwe Sumangala Thero, from

  • yapa

    Climax of the series.


  • silva

    Kalana, thank you.
    Groundviews, thank you.

    In a system many aspects impact on each other in a complex way..

    A few months ago, here was an article on the huge gaps in the LLRC website. Filling up the gaps may be a starting point – sections of citizenry need to share information and knowledge to solve problems. Ignorance of each other’s information and knowledge itself causes problems.

  • theja

    Since the day I heard about the Dambulla attack I have been disturbed and saddened. Discussing this topic on FB has been going on from that day. While I condemned the attack unreservedly I was disturbed by so many reports I had read before of the Temple lands being encroached on in the east of Sri Lanka.
    Reading Kalanas outstanding piece on the Buddha’s words made me realize where I stand. Thank you Kalana. Your amazing understanding of the Dhamma was an eye-opener.

  • latheef farook

    We had just emerged after three decades of ethnic war. This is the time
    all communities should get together to build up this country. Of course the wounds are deep and the journey is long. However we need to take the first step with all sincerity.

    At a time when all are yearning for genuine peace and harmony I was deeply distressed at the vandalism in Dambulla. However people like Kalana Seneviratne, Dr Laksiri Fernando and others gave me hope for a better future.

    This country has suffered enough due to racist politics. It is time that the large majority of peace loving people from the majority community come forward, extend hands of friendship and make the minorities feel part of the country to save the country from handful of chauvinists who had done enough damage not only to the country but to the majority community too as a whole.

    In fact this is what Buddhism says and this is what all other three major religions-Islam, Christianity and Hinduism preach.

    Imagine, the country has spent more than 23 trillion rupees on the destructive ethnic war created by racist politics. Who benefitted? The very same politicians who caused this mayhem and their sidekicks .Had this colossal sum being used on improving the living standard of people and develop the country this island, we could have averted the unwanted sufferings that innocent ordinary people have been subjected to.

    We should not forget that Sri Lanka was the shining example in the entire commonwealth when we received independence in 1948. We had political stability, sizable foreign reserve, economic stability, a literate population, very high caliber politicians known for their honesty, integrity and dedication to serve the country. In fact they spent their personal wealth to remain in politics unlike now when politics has lucrative business while the people bleed.

    We produced giant of intellectuals. Their inspiring contributions still make us proud.
    More than anything else the country enjoyed peace and harmony and one could walk from one corner of the island to another without the fear of being waylaid. It was this envious overall situation which made Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to say that “I will make Singapore a Sri Lanka”.

    Where are we today? Who brought us to this pathetic situation? Who caused the sufferings to innocent people? Isn’t it the racist politics to remain or gain power? Isn’t it time that right thinking people from all communities get together and dispassionately discuss where we went wrong and how to avert yet another tragedy
    at least in the interest of the future generations.

    It is time the leadership and the initiative come from the majority community?

    There is no need for the people to suffer anymore. There are great potentials for the people of this country if all communities could get together and move ahead for the benefit of all. Investors are eagerly awaiting to come to the island whose diverse natural beauty and the friendly people attract them like magnet. All what is needed is right environment.

    Reading about the shocking daily crimes, corruption, eroding family values and the overall decline in moral values besides fierce onslaught of Western gangster culture it is time that religious leaders from all communities get together and save the societies and country as a whole. The need of the hour is not the sacredness of the sand but the sacredness of the society.

    After reading Kalana Senevirate and Dr Laksiri Fernando, once again I can say that this blessed country has a future.
    Latheef Farook

  • yapa

    There is a phenomenon called “Liars Paradox” in Philosophy.

    If somebody says “I am a liar” there could come forth a huge recognition for him as an honest man. But is there any methodology to test his honesty (whether he is a liar or not)?

    A thing to ponder.

    Can anybody suggest how liars Paradox is applicable to the current situation?


    • PresiDunce Bean


      Sri Lanka is a low lying country, inhabited by a majority of low lying people who regularly vote for low lying politicians.

      Could this be an example of a liars paradox? 😉

  • R.M.B Senanayake

    I agree with Henry De Mel that religion when it gets institutionalized seeks power-power over laymen. The Buddhist monks have been in the forefront of the cry about safeguarding Buddhism from other religions. The long and short of it is that Buddhist monks do not like other religions. It is a characteristic of all institutionalized religions and the clergy of such religions who want a monopoly of power over their flock. The Catholic Church had similar attitudes although Jesus Christ said otherwise. It is only the State that can hold the fort but a State which is committed to the protection of a State religion cannot do so. When the State fails there will be civil strife as Hobbes pointed out- a war of one against all and all against all. Let us hope it will not come to that.

    • wijayapala

      The long and short of it is that Buddhist monks do not like other religions.

      You are correct but it was not always like that. Colonialism and Christian bigotry turned the monks into xenophobes.

      • Gamarala

        Yes of course Wijayapala. Sinhalese people, monks, Buddhists etc. have always been helpless victims, buffeted by the tides of invading Christians, British, Martians etc. They can never be held responsible, they only “react”. Buddhist monks are the same, helpless victims indeed.

      • Keynes!

        How then do we explain the proceedings in the Arya-Satyakaparivarta?

        It documents behaviour before the advent of colonialism and christian crusades.

  • cyril

    Buddhism was introduced to Lanka as part of Emperor Asoka’s politico-religious mission in Asia. It was the first state-religion in Lanka’s recorded history and has evolved as politico-religious ideology in the form of Sinhala Buddhism and its ideologues and propagandists are desperately clinging onto its archaic heritage for lack of enlightened thinking

  • Upul

    In my view, all religions, the organised way they’ve become, are of the fundamentalist nature. This doesn’t mean the founders were essentially such. But as the founders themselves are not alive today, we cannot know what exactly they would have originally expounded. The fact that all religions, that includes Buddhism as we know today, are presented as complete knowledge systems that have fundamental answers to all the questions relating to human existance and that these knowledge systems diverge substantially from one another is in fact the root cause of religion-based conflicts. It is simply a case of “my God is the only true God, so your God should be false” mentality being the underlying driver.

    Why don’t all of us simply apply the tool of critical thinking which has helped us enormousely to broaden our understanding of how the world, both animate and inanimate works, to these knowledge systems as well. We should encourage people from young age to break the fundamentalist bonds if any and examine every religion, idea or concept critically to see for themselves if it makes sense. That’s all.

    The Buddha apparently advised his followers to do the same according to the often quoted Kalama Sutta. Instead of paying lip service to this advice, all Buddhists including the “Buddists” of Dambulla type should put their fundamentalist baggage down and follow the Buddha’s simple instructions in the Kalama Sutta for a start. I wouldn’t pin much hope on that happeniing though.

    • yapa

      Dear Upul;

      “Why don’t all of us simply apply the tool of critical thinking which has helped us enormousely to broaden our understanding of how the world, both animate and inanimate works, to these knowledge systems as well. We should encourage people from young age to break the fundamentalist bonds if any and examine every religion, idea or concept critically to see for themselves if it makes sense. That’s all.”

      I also have been maintaining this idea, even in most of the discussions of this blog.

      Human’s have formulated/found some techniques to extract truth. Usually the thing that is going to be be verified is expressed as a “proposition” and its “truth value” is determined in terms of various methods. There are several methods that can be used in determination of truth.

      In western Epistemology, the main methods are Deductive reasoning and Inductive reasoning. The knowledge gained through the deductive reasoning is always true, hence it is a very good method of arriving at truth both in physical and Metaphysical planes. This method is a “priori” which means predictions can be done with certainty. Inductive reasoning is the principle used in the Scientific method. Though not accurate as the Inductive reasoning, the results, scientific knowledge is also considered as reliable for physical phenomena(only). This method is a “postriori”.

      These two are the most reliable methodologies for gaining knowledge found in the western Epistemology. Authority, hearsay, faith also considered as knowledge gaining methodologies, however, the credibility(truth) of knowledge so gained is low compared to the two methods mentioned earlier.

      Among all the truth finding algorithms, “faith” is the most unreliable one. That is why faith is never used as a knowledge searching methodology (algorithm)in a serious subject. However, it is an irony of fate of the 21st century, we use this most feeble and vulnerable tool as the prominent tool (algorithm)to assess some knowledge areas in the 21st century. We still assess/measure religions in terms of faith disregard of the availability of more precise and accurate tools devised for the purpose and accept those measurements as “truths”.

      It is like using the old two panned scale to measure weights, when electronic scales are available. We have developed modern scales/methodologies to assess truths but still we are sticking to an old method which was discarded as unreliable several thousand years ago. Even Veda has developed much subtle tools over 3000 years ago. Definitely we should be done way with “faith” as a formal tool of knowledge. Instead, we must shift to Deductive reasoning and Inductive reasoning to assess knowledge systems.

      Religions too should be revisited with these subtle modern tools of epistemology. Otherwise we would be accepting accept untruths as truths, based on that good for nothing tool, faith.

      An objective and comparative assessments of religions can be undertaken if these new methods are adapted. We can throw the “food unfit for human consumption” to the dustbins.


      • yapa


        “Though not accurate as the [Inductive reasoning], the results, scientific knowledge is also considered as reliable for………..”

        Should be

        Though not accurate as the [Deductive reasoning], the results, scientific knowledge is also considered as reliable for……..”


      • Upul

        Thanks Yapa for your nice comments.

        As you’ve pointed out, “faith” is not a reliable tool at all for acquiring knowledge about the world/universe that we happen to live in. I wouldn’t even consider it as a tool at all. Every religion offers a system of “knowledge” in which “faith” of some sort forms the cornerstone. This is true for Buddhism as well (I’m talking about Buddhism as we know today: As the Buddha himself is not alive today, we cannot ask him directly what he exactly taught!).

        If we leave out the morality components of religions (which are mostly beneficial but at the same time common sence in most cases), the remaining faith elements are simply make-believe hypotheses that attempt to give some mystical meaning to an apparently meaningless (depending on how you look at it) life on earth. Only the shape of the make-belief has varied from religion to religion probably depending on the social and cultural thinking prevailing at the time.

        If we ask the question from the followers of religions as to what truly attracts them to their religions, the honest answer has to be the respective make-believe promises of the respective religion. Unfortunately, all these faith systems offer us great “returns” on certain type of “investments” none of which can be verified by any means available to us.

        I cannot therefore see any reason why we should consider faith even as an unreliable tool for acquiring knowledge. I can only equate it with pure ignorance or delusion which are the exact qualities the Buddhism is supposed to dispel.

      • yapa

        Dear Upul;

        “Unfortunately, all these faith systems offer us great “returns” on certain type of “investments” none of which can be verified by any means available to us.”

        If what you mean here is so called inability of verification of “religious truths”, as mentioned by theologians, it is not true.

        Most of the very popular and prominent “religious truths” can be perfectly verified/ascertained using subtle epistemological methodologies, especially using Deductive reasoning along with the inductive reasoning. “Non-verifiability concept” is only an escape goat created to safeguard their interests. They can be shown that they are nothing but escape goats/gods. You will have to go to the fundamentals rather than relying on man made secondary theories to analyses/assess those “investments” and “returns”. It is perfectly possible but it is not preferred by many because they will loose their investment and return as you rightly pointed out.

        It is a myth spread with fear, to protect their feeble doctrines from sound arguments.

        In a way the existence of opposing ideas on an entity can be attributed the most popular “algorithms of truth”, people use to ascertain truth though they do without knowing the concepts. Different opposing ideologies exist mainly because many rely on “Coherence theory” and “Pragmatic theory rather than “Coherence theory” to ascertain truths. As you have pointed out former two methods are advantageous to the users as an investment and as a return, and therefore many opts for those alternatives. But coherence theory is more objective but neutral in “returns” and therefore not preferred by “investors”.

        But I believe, truth can not be found though methods that give advantages to their users. I think they contain some element of “prejudice”.


      • yapa

        (please post here )


        “Different opposing ideologies exist mainly because many rely on “Coherence theory” and “Pragmatic theory rather than [“Coherence theory”] to ascertain truths.”

        Should be corrected as

        “Different opposing ideologies exist mainly because many rely on “Coherence theory” and “Pragmatic theory rather than [“Correspondence theory”] to ascertain truths.


      • yapa

        Ideological differences are the cause of conflicts I think. Even in individual level or social level they prevail due to the inability of people to arrive at consensuses. However, there are some deviations to this seemingly common occurrence of conflicts in some subject areas, where we witness no conflicts or there are a few.

        For example, no one has conflicts in mathematics, no one would disagree, in a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two other legs. No much different views found about the scientific knowledge.

        What made this difference in these two knowledge areas from others, such as religion, Political Science, Social Science…etc., which always are full of rival ideologies/theories?

        I think reason can be attributed to the lack of vision in those subject areas to choose the best criterion to to choose the ideologies/algorithms so that it would decide the most reliable facts to those subject areas.

        For example the broad algorithm in Mathematics is the Deductive Logic, and it (almost) never allow to come up incorrect facts or conclusions, hence ensures truthfulness of the result. Until the 16th century, (I think), the methodology of Science for finding “truth” was limited to Deductive Logic and whenever this method was correctly applied the results in Science was guaranteed true. With the introduction of Inductive Logic for “fast track development” of Science in Europe marked the end of “accuracy” of Science. There the accuracy was sacrificed for “human benefits” abandoning its broad scope and specific focus of finding truth. However, after the 20th century, it seems even Science has once again adapted or adapting to that precise methodology “Deductive Logic” to explore the truth in the (broad?)scope of Science. I think unlike Mathematics, though Science deviated from that precise methodology for some time, it has realized its folly for sacrificing accuracy for humanly benefits and slowly coming back to its initial stance to settle with logical (deductive)reasoning. I think if the objective is finding truth, there is no alternative to logical reasoning. It is true that logical reasoning (formal logic) has faced with some issues which could not solve with its original form, but some adjustment to it made it contains almost everything. Adopting to “Four Valued Logic” when necessary from “Two Valued Logic” made Modern Science contain within that methodology.

        It is true that Inductive Logic or Scientific Method was very useful in finding knowledge for the benefit of mankind. Technology, Medical knowledge etc., are the result of Inductive Logic. However, if the objective is finding truth, truth with accuracy and precision, the best methodology to rely on is “Deductive Reasoning, there is no similar alternative to it.

        I think, the main aim of religions is to find truth and to develop a moral system based on truth (not based on anything else). So in religion the first and foremost invariable objective is finding truth. So, I think no religion if dedicated to this noble goal can choose any other methodology than “Deductive reasoning as their tool/methodology in their endeavour for exploring truth. On the other hand it is the most reliable “yardstick” to ascertain the credibility of any knowledge system, especially for which are dedicated to finding truth. So, I think the most appropriate thing to do to resolve the different views found in religions on truth is to test them against the deductive reasoning. In this way I think we can resolve most of the ideological differences found in our societies and come to consensuses, avoiding most of the conflicts.

        I think what Upul indicated as saying “Why don’t all of us simply apply the tool of critical thinking which has helped us enormousely to broaden our understanding of how the world, both animate and inanimate works, to these knowledge systems as well. We should encourage people from young age to break the fundamentalist bonds if any and examine every religion, idea or concept critically to see for themselves if it makes sense. That’s all.” is a commendable and progressive initiative/strategy towards “Conflict Resolution” prevailing in our societies. I think it is a global vision.

        Why not we adapt the methodology for all religions?


  • Priyan

    Great Article.. BUT a few salient points…
    I think if you look at the reason that a person joins the sangha, in the real buddhist sense, it is for achieving nirvana. It is a personal goal.

    The above “expectation” of the sangha is the same put forward by most as a solution to the unethical conversions by christian fundamentalists. It is said that “if priests get out of their comfortable temples and spend time with the people then unethical conversions will not be possible”. But little do these people realize that a person joins the sangha to get away from such things in the first place. It is not for the priest to question other priests or pass judgement on another. A monks goal is to achive arahntship. Not put other monks in their place.
    I believe it is us lay persons who need to take action- albeit, peaceful.
    This also means that both sides need to leave the emotional religion fervor aside and along the lines of the existing law come to a settlement. Finally, which ever you look at it the root cause lies in avijja.

    • Priyan

      A Further point I might add… Should you get the sangha to “control” individual monks behavior it will surely lead to disunity among the Sangha and its eventual disintegration.

  • Dr Mahesh Nirmalan

    The political Budhism, Kalana, refers to is merely the expression of an over-arching philosophy advocated by people like Gunadasa Amarasekara and Nalin de Silva. This ideology – essentially stating that the identity of Srilanka is exclusively that of a Sinhala- Budhist identity……. and others may exist as “guests” at the discretion of the Sinhala Budhist race, was promoted very actively amongst the university students in the eighties. Some of the vociferous members of JHU are in fact products of this ideology. The recent attacks on mosques, churches and the incessant desire to establish a Budhist shrine under each and every “Bo” tree in the North-East are all manifestations of this ideology. The converts from the eighties arel now in positions of power…… the ideology is merely being enacted. So please do not focus on the symptoms alone as there is a deep-seated ideological problem that is bound to drag Srilanka down if left unchallenged.

    • yapa

      I think what one think that way should do is to debunk the ideas/arguments of Gunadasa Amarasekare and Nalin De Silva one by one with facts and reasoning. I can see many are criticizing their theories in their absence, but I have seen no one courageous enough to engage with them. Why is that? If they are wrong it cannot be that difficult to debunk their arguments and defeat them.

      Any (wrong) theory is there to be debunked by somebody, who thinks it is wrong. My idea is all wrong theories should be defeated.


      • sv kasynathan


        “The knowledge gained through the deductive reasoning is always true, hence it is a very good method of arriving at truth both in physical and Metaphysical planes.”

        Not quite. Deductive reasoning does not lead to truths unless you begin with premisses which are themselves true and these cannot be acquired by inductive reasoning alone.

        “Inductive reasoning is the principle used in the Scientific method.”

        Not quite sure what exactly you mean by this. If you mean, as it used to be repeated pretty long time ago, that hypothesis are arrived at by something called inductive method, it was dismissed as an incoherent idea, again, quite some time ago. If there is any “method” in scientific reasoning, that is deductive – and, again, not to discover truths but only to eliminate untruths.

        “Different opposing ideologies exist mainly because many rely on “Coherence theory” and “Pragmatic theory rather than [“Correspondence theory”] to ascertain truths.

        These theories are not ways of ascertaining truths – if by ascertain you mean verifying or finding out the correctness or otherwise of any proposions. Like other theories, they only seek to explain the nature of something or, as in this case, the criteria that are relevant to the application of a label.

        “I can see many are criticizing their theories in their absence, but I have seen no one courageous enough to engage with them. Why is that?”

        Courage and cowardice are not the only determinants of peoples’ behaviour in non primitive societies.
        While I agree, that not confronting error allows it to persist and to grow, what can we say of our times and our society where the expression of certain truths is becoming, more and more, also an exercise in courage?

        Forgive me if I appear to be nit-picking, but I Intervene only because you seem to be a staunch advocate of reason.

      • yapa

        Dear sv kasynathan;

        Thanks, for the response. I was thinking the world has lost its interest in philosophy. But you ignited the sacred lamp to believe me other wise. Thanks again.

        You said “Deductive reasoning does not lead to truths unless you begin with premisses which are themselves true and these cannot be acquired by inductive reasoning alone.”

        But I think it is the most common case tough its not the only case. It is very effective to use Deductive reasoning along with inductive reasoning (presumptions) as we see in Science, but it is not an essential condition. Presumption is an essential part of an argument (reasoning)and it is not necessarily be take from outside the deductive system or from the inductive system (through sensory perception). For example the deductive conclusion “Bachelor is not a married man” does not need any outside help or presumption borrowed from any other system to stand on its feet. Further, (Pure)Mathematics does not borrow any empirical presumptions at all to establish its knowledge system.

        You say:

        “”“Inductive reasoning is the principle used in the Scientific method.”

        Not quite sure what exactly you mean by this. If you mean, as it used to be repeated pretty long time ago, that hypothesis are arrived at by something called inductive method, it was dismissed as an incoherent idea, again, quite some time ago. If there is any “method” in scientific reasoning, that is deductive – and, again, not to discover truths but only to eliminate untruths.””

        I think you have made a confusion here. It is true that Science contain the knowledge gained through both Inductive logic and deductive logic.(here logic = reasoning). But you will have to understand the difference in subtle meanings between “Scientific Method” and “Science”. Scientific method(=inductive reasoning/empiricism) is not Science. Scientific method is the the methodology of obtaining “Scientific Knowledge” not “Science”. I think you have taken “science”, “scientific method” and “scientific knowledge” as one.

        My statement is perfectly right.

        You say:

        “”“Different opposing ideologies exist mainly because many rely on “Coherence theory” and “Pragmatic theory rather than [“Correspondence theory”] to ascertain truths.

        These theories are not ways of ascertaining truths – if by ascertain you mean verifying or finding out the correctness or otherwise of any proposions. Like other theories, they only seek to explain the nature of something or, as in this case, the criteria that are relevant to the application of a label.””

        Really they are the ways of ascertaining truths, conceptualized in western epistemology, but has been in use from known time both in east and west. Really as you said correctly they explain(?) the nature of something. They ascertain the truthfulness of “propositions” or a “statements” which are known as “truth bearers”. It may be true that a proposition does not bear the “truth in entirety” or the ultimate truth but it decides the truthfulness of a proposition an of any proposition.

        You say:

        ““I can see many are criticizing their theories in their absence, but I have seen no one courageous enough to engage with them. Why is that?”

        Courage and cowardice are not the only determinants of peoples’ behaviour in non primitive societies.
        While I agree, that not confronting error allows it to persist and to grow, what can we say of our times and our society where the expression of certain truths is becoming, more and more, also an exercise in courage?”

        There may be other reasons as well as you said. But reluctance to engage with them was my point, whatever the reason is. The need of confronting them and working towards it is not matching but the latter is rather lacking. However, the the criticism in their absence is in abundance. I think that is a point to ponder.

        You say:

        “Forgive me if I appear to be nit-picking, but I Intervene only because you seem to be a staunch advocate of reason.”

        It is perfectly all right for you to respond my arguments in a reasonable manner as you do. I appreciate it.


  • http://Groundview S.H.Moulana

    One of the excellent articles I have read so far,if not the best so far. I strongly feel that this should be translated into Sinhala and Tamil languages and published in all main stream newspapers in our country. I wish our other English media too will carry this prominently for everyone’s benefit.I congratulate the author for his excellent work. He deserves our own ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ !

  • Chandre Dharmawardana

    Organized religion is surely a form of outdated politics where individuals who have not been elected are vested with considerable power and following. And they push to acquire even more power. A wheel-dealer Monk, an ambitious Mullah or Kurural should be understood for what they are. When they manipulate mobs to help their earthly ambitions, the law should be allowed to play its force without obstruction , and that has nothing to do with religion. So the best thing is for politicians to maintain a deafening silence, and keep out of it. However, a very high ranking politico has said that “the mosque should be demolished”. The adversaries should go before the law, and only a judge can pronounce that the mosque should be demolished, or allowed to stay but with or without expansion, or what ever. When politicos make such rulings, they are usurping the power of the courts, and undermining law and order. Even “Civil society activists”, NGOs and advocacy groups who express their opinions in “righteous indignation” make the waters very muddy . That is why a sensitive matter which is in front of the courts is not open to public discussion. While this article tells us a lot of things about Buddhism that we all appreciate, it fails to stress sufficiently the most important problem facing post-LTTE Sri Lanka today after its 30-decade war- the need to depoliticize the process of enforcing law and order .

  • Piranha

    An excellent article. I congradulate the author for his genuinely forthright views on the unpleasant event that has caused immense damage to buddhism and Sri Lanka.

    What is so glaring in this evil act of the Badulla monk and his supporters is the complete lack of comment or action by the mahanayakas. Their silence is a clear sign that they condone it. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of the country, has also made no comment which again appears to show that he is also in support of the monk. When people with power and influence in the land are doing nothing to oppose the acts of one errant monk I don’t think a thousand similar articles by a thousand like minded Kalana Senaratnes’ is going to make an iota of difference in preventing similar acts by extremist monks and their supporters.However, I applaud the writer for his refusal to be a silent observer when injustice and wrongdoing take place.

    • anonymous

      The claim made here that the Mahanayakes, and senior politicians should pronounce on this matter is completely wrong. This matter should be BEFORE THE COURTS, and not treated as a public trial where various people make pronouncements and FURTHER POLITICIZE IT. I congratulate the Mahanayakes, and the President for not making public pronouncements. Perhaps they are acting behind the curtains. Even there, their actions should be to bring this before the courts.

      • Piranha

        Sorry I am unable to comprehend the logic in your argument that the mahanayakas and the president should not have condemned the Badulla monk’s actions. Their failure to condemn the monks’ actions in the Anuradhapura and the Trincomalee incidents probably encouraged the monk in Badulla to do what he did. As I have said when people in authority keep quiet when illegal and immoral acts take place what kind of message does that give to other potential mischief makers? Only in lawless societies these kinds of acts are condoned and without a doubt under the Rajapaksa rule the country is lawless and corrupt.

  • Ward

    There is an urgent need to investigate the following change in Ven Sumanagala’s behaviour in conjunction with the bizarre way so many other things have been going in the last 6/7 years in this country:

    ‘’In 1992 I accompanied its leader Dr A T Ariyaratne to Dambulla. This was to join in a peaceful meditation with the Ven. Inamaluwe Sumangala, the head priest of the Dambulla temple, to protest against the building of a luxury hotel on the banks of an ancient irrigation tank. Subsequently during the period of the ceasefire, in 2005, I went again to the Dambulla temple for a peace photography exhibition. This was an exhibition for which the Ven. Inamaluwe Sumangala gave his permission to hold in a large hall next to his temple. At that time he represented the liberal and universal values of Buddhism that sought peace through compassionate means and looked to the welfare of all. It would appear that the change that has taken place in more recent years represents the change in values that now dominate the country.

    The experience of peace making is that inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations need to be deliberately harnessed and nurtured. The positive outcome of the Galle conference did not happen by itself. The participating religious clergy and laity from multi religious backgrounds had met each other on previous occasions, through district level workshops and exposure visits where they travelled from their own districts to other districts and interacted with the people there. Civic leadership that shows positive results at the micro level is an inspiration that the government can take on at the macro level by shedding narrow nationalism. It is also important that the Dambulla incident be seen in its larger context, and not simply as a Muslim issue. It has implications for all communities, for Sri Lanka’s international relations and reconciliation after war’’ – National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, 30 April 2012

  • Thilina Weerasekera

    This is a brilliantly written article. Well said….these are the thoughts that have been in my mind since i heard of the incident expressed very eloquently too!

  • sabbe laban


    Thank you for the excellent piece.

    Yet, when you say:

    “… introduce the notion of morality as a counter response to the dangerous nihilism promoted during that time by the likes of Ajita Kesakambali (e.g. the Buddha’s deft use of the concept of ‘god’ to narrate the different destinies confronting human beings, stressed in a way that makes ordinary people believe in that concept and thereby are inevitably influenced to do good to reach the world of gods, devaloka)..”

    It sounds to me as though Buddha ‘coaxed’ the ordinary people to believe in “gifts of doing good or evil” of Karma, just to bring about a sense of morality to the society.(Not that He really believed that IT was the TRUTH!)I too think in the same line that the truth could be more simplar and more obvious, yet it could bring about dire consequences if fallen into wrong hands; even Buddhism has fallen into wrong hands now!

    Further, I don’t think that Kesakambali was a nihilist;he was rather an etheist and an “annihihationist”. While his doctrine may be more appealing the logical mind, the impact of those truths on the society cannot be guarranteed! Listen to what he says:(is there anything untrue about his(Ajitha Kesakambali’s)brilliant philosophy?

    “There is no such thing as alms or sacrifice or offering. There is neither fruit nor result of good or evil deeds…A human being is built up of four elements. When he dies the earthly in him returns and relapses to the earth, the fluid to the water, the heat to the fire, the wind to the air, and his faculties pass into space. The four bearers, on the bier as a fifth, take his dead body away; till they reach the burning ground, men utter forth eulogies, but there his bones are bleached, and his offerings end in ashes. It is a doctrine of fools, this talk of gifts. It is an empty lie, mere idle talk, when men say there is profit herein. Fools and wise alike, on the dissolution of the body, are cut off, annihilated, and after death they are not.”

  • Tilak Samaranayaka

    The writer of this rticle is completely missguided by the events that followed the Dambulla incident and, as a result, he has presented an analysis of the situation totally irrelevant to the bigger picture. He is one track minded person to preach ‘bana’ without understanding the historical and cultural significance of Dambulla to Buddhists and the Sinhalese. Every problem has two sides, but this writer is totally ignornt about the implications of encroachmentof Muslims into areas that are of great significance to the Buddhist culture and heritage.

    Dambulla has been built around cave temples and they are the only such temples in the World. This was done by King Nissanka Malla (1187-1196) and he also built a large number of monastries for resident monks around Dambulla.

    Muslim inhabitation goes back to the 17th Century when they were permitted to establish settlements in the Eastern province by King Senarath as the Muslims, who lived in the coastal belt, were subject to prosecution by the Dutch. Today they are free to live any where in the country. In fact they dominate the coastal belt any many other areas in the country, including the Eastern province. They are now claiming the Eastern province to be declared as a Muslim province.

    If this writer was living during the period of King Dutugamunu and he wrote a similar article that would haave prevented the king not to pursue war against the Tamil invasion, this writer would not have been alive to write this article today because there would not have been a Sinhala race.

    The Dambulla incident has subject to a lot criticismas by a lot of people including Buddhists, but unfortunately their ariguments have no substance and they only demonstrate their ignorance.

    Many Sinhalaese have been converted in to Muslims especially in the Eastern province over the years. Unfortunately I cant’t find a single Muslim who is a Buddhist. When Taliban destroyed the Afgahn Budda statue not a single muslim nation condemned it.

    The two main political parties are under immense preasure from Muslims beacuse these parties depend on them to stay in power. The action by the Iranian Ambassodor to Sri Lanka also indicates the extent to which the Muslims are in a postion to exert pressure on domestic affairs of our country.

    It is important that we all live in harmony in this country. As a small country with a mixed population we must understand and respect other cultures. It is also important to understnd that religion is a beleif and that is why there are so many religions in the world. If we do not interfere with other religious beliefs we can live in harmony in this country.

  • firdhous

    Sri Lanka is a Buddhist Country and Buddism is the culture of Sri Lanka is the matter of serious question. Lord Buddha even appears now, never accept this notation. Every single true Buddhist in Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world respect Muslims and every true Muslims respect Buddhist is the undeniable fact.

    Buddhism; does it mean statue of Buddha and Stupas (Buddhist temples) or is it its doctrines. Anyone who lands in Bandaranaka Air port and travels from where to Ambantota/Katharagam (far south of the Island) never feel glimpse of Buddhism except the Monks with yellow rob, the Buddha statue and stupas. The entire Sri Lankan culture is full of paganism, rationalism, witchcraft, alcoholism, prostitution, Killing, slandering, steeling etc etc. None of these are neither recommended nor taught by Lord Buddha. Whoever knows Buddhism and read the books of Buddhism (Tipitaka) never accept that Sri Lanka has a Buddhist culture.

    What the monks do now is to worsen the situation that is to wipe out the Buddhism by showing to the world their fascism instead of spreading the Buddhist doctrines. Should this fascism continues, there is no doubt that Buddhism will be wiped out of the Sri Lankan Island very soon.

    Buddha never spread his philosophy by force and fascism but by teaching and patient that spread his philosophy all over the World. By logic the opposite will generate the opposite reaction.

    Should anyone come forward to make Sri Lanka with full of true doctrines preached by Siddhartha Gouthama Buddha, that is the need of time but not showing vulgarity and misguiding even causing damage to true Buddhist and monks.

  • Tissa Wije

    Thanks Kalana for the excellent thought provoking article. In my view the rot that attacks Buddhism is more from within not from thiestic sects outside ofBuddhism. For example the blind faith in all sorts of dubious practices, merely following what has been done before starting from the chanting of Pirith, worship of bones started by Drona the Brahmin, wide belief in astrology by Buddhists, lack of questioning tradition stated in the Kalama sutta being encouraged by the monks and Dhamma schools. I have heard thata major revival of Buddhism was brought about at the time of Welivita SriSaranankara THera – followed up again in the famous Panadura debates. Surely the mosque attacking idiotsare doing a total disservice to the great enlightenment that came about 2600 years ago..

  • Izeth

    It is not just Buddhist monks who use violence.

    This happened in Beruwala and is a million times worse. Just because they belonged to a slightly different sect. I wish there is someone in our community who can match Kalana’s writing of self assessment of where we are heading.

    I hope there is freedom of expression where such an important matter is discussed.

  • http://etofinda yapa

    Here is an article refereed in general to the Dambulla incident and specially to the Kalana Senarathna’s article.


  • sadun

    “Ignoring an international outcry, Afghanistan’s Taliban Islamic militia began demolishing statues across the country on Thursday, including two towering ancient stone Buddhas.”

    Who are them? Muslims?or Taliban beleive any other religion?

    • yapa

      You see Political-Buddhism because it is at nose’s length and don’t see anything else as they are a few inches away.