[Editors note: Sanjay Senanayake in a comment below raises a number of concerns regarding inflammatory statements made by Rev. Dambara Amila Thero in the past, which invariably inform the appreciation of the interview below. Sanjay also alleges that the thero had in the past assaulted journalists from Young Asia Television, which produced this video. We have asked them for a response.]

When first put online by Young Asia Television after it was broadcast on Sri Lankan TV, Groundviews requested the producers to sub-title this video in English to make more widely accessible what Rev. Dambara Amila Thero has to say about the practice of the Dhamma in Sri Lanka today, his views on political Buddhism and religious co-existence in Sri Lanka.

What he says is particularly important and resonant in light of the outrageous violence spearheaded by the Chief Prelate of the Dambulla temple a few weeks ago.

This interview is essential viewing for those who expressed their condemnation over the violence in Dambulla, and refreshing take on the Dhamma over what is today the popular fashion of publicly worshipping the Buddha to bestow blessings on even the most heinous of deeds and men. At around 18 minutes into the interview, Rev. Dambara Amila Thero also supports religious co-existence and comes out strongly against religious extremism – noting that anyone who is such, is not really a Buddhist.

  • S.D.MUNI

    Pl. make sure that President and the people around him get to see this interview.From the understanding and acceptance of religious and ethnic coexistence will flow the rationale of equality and genuine power sharing.

  • Neville Perera

    Groundviews
    Thank you for all your efforts to bring justice and peace in Sri Lanka.

    ”This interview is essential viewing for those who expressed their condemnation over the violence in Dambulla” ?? or for those who didn’t express their condemnation ????

  • Bongsy

    Thanks for posting this.

    I wish we as a people gave more prominence and attention to these kinds of people and ideals and less attention to acts and ideals that this talk presents as wrong.

    I understand that this should come from the very top, and enforced everywhere.

    I am all for assimilation and I think a good step in that direction is removing race/religion based parties, schools and cities and promoting the ridicule of those who strive on division.

    The only way to spread these ideals is for those who believe in them to preach them to those who might not.

  • Kamanee Hapugalle

    Please post this edited version instead of the previous – Thanks.

    A brilliant analysis of Buddhism by the Thero and excellent moderation and summary given by Narada. Very well done! But my fears have been confirmed. We are living in a country that is Buddhist by name and not by practice. The basics are lost in interpretations and rationale for individual gain. As a fundamental I think there is a desperate need to permit and encourage Buddhism in languages that people can best understand and appreciate – starting from the schools. Many dont understand or mean what is merely uttered in Pali. So how is it possible to live the philosophy?

    Thank you to Groundviews and YA – Tv for sharing. Time for some new thinking and real change.

  • Thass

    It is encouraging that the Ven Thera has clarified the true position of Buddhism on the Dambulla incident. Religon is not something that can be learnt from books alone, but by sacrifice and practice over long years as evinced from the life of the great teachers Lord Buddha, Prophet Muhammed etc. The development and purification of the inner self can only be achieved through the sacrifice of wordly desires and craving. The control of the ego is central to achieving religous advancement. I pray that this country be united and progress for the benefit of all its citizens.

  • anbu

    Thanks very much. much appreciated

  • A brilliant concise analysis of what Buddhism really is. One wonders what the Sangha stands for and why they have not taken appropriate action to clean up what is detrimental to the proper understanding of the philosophy. With priests of the calibre of Rev. Dambara Amila Thero, there is still some hope.

  • Sanjayan

    brlliant!

  • Fr. Lasantha De Abrew

    Ven.Dambara Amila
    Thank you so much for your open views on Buddhism. I really appreciate and admire your courageous vision to build Sri Lankan consciousness. Your views on Buddhism especially “search for truth” and development of mind towards realities of life are very challenging to all other religious traditions. Hope your insights and experiences in academic life will surely contribute for an integrated National Consciousness where all of us may live as human persons as Sri Lankans
    Thanks

  • alex f

    Very refreshing. A sign that moderates exist in Sri Lanka. Now we just need the lunatics who are running the asylum to listen. What on earth will make them take notices of the moderate case, instead of pandering to the mobs of Dambulla. We then need the courts to learn the same lessons and deliver justice, instead of pandering to the mobs of Dambulla. And finally we need the police on the ground who watched the mobs attacked the mosque to enforce such justice. It is a long road indeed, but this interview is a step in the right direction.

  • Groundviews has done a valuable service to the country by publishing this valuable interview with Rev. Dambara Amila Thero.

    The contents of this interview needs to be given the widest possible publicity. Since he is a learned Reverend who is a Senior Lecturer at a University, his discourse on the noble precepts of Lord Buddha and his statement of facts cannot be easily disputed by any. It will also help to wipe out the shame some misguided monks have brought on the Buddhists of this country by their recent behaviour in Dambulla.

    The Rev, Thero has rightly pointed out that Buddhism is a religion that can unite the people of Sri Lanka as it is like a large tree under which many other religions could subsist comfortably. He has rightly said that there is no place for religious extremism in Buddhism. He has taken a swipe against the proliferation of Buddhist statutes all over the place by saying that statues cannot be just to offer alms and seek favours. He says that they do not emanate sanctity by themselves and that sanctity exudes only from those who practice the Dhamma faithfully.

    He reminds us that Lord Buddha had welcomed conflict of ideas and not conflicts among peoples as ordinary people are innocent and always wish to live in harmony with persons from other communities.

    Rev. Dambara has boldly stated that it is wrong for the Constitution to say that the State shall be the protector of Buddhism. That is a matter that should be left to its followers, he said. He has even gone to the extent of naming many Hindu monks of the past who had given explanations on the teachings of the Buddha and that King Elara was one of the just kings who had ever ruled from Anuradhapura.

    Such statements coming from an eminent Buddhist monk fulfils a need of the hour. They augur well to erase a slur that has been cast recently on the Buddhist clergy in the country. Surely there must be many others of this reverand’s calibre who should come forward and speak out like this to dispel the hatred that some politicians have injected into the minds of the people both in the North and the South. Such a step by them would give the much needed impetus for the divided people of this country to get together and live as equal citizens of Mother Lanka.

    • Dear Mr. Iqbal, to be clear, the interview was produced by Young Asia Television and broadcast on TV. We merely requested them to subtitle it into English, which they kindly agreed to.

  • I am sorry I had missed that point. Anyway you did a great service in including this interview in groundviews.

    • Thank you, and we of course rely on our readers to also spread the word of content here.

      Best regards,

      GV Eds.

  • Sanjaya Senanayake

    This is bloody nonsense.

    I hope people remember all the times he gleefully engaged beating up journalists (including those from YATV) and others at NBF demonstrations, all the speeches he made as the President of the NBF campaigning for Mahinda and for war in the initial campaign, all the speeches he made on JVP stages screaming for the president not to bow down to international pressure to end hostilities and all the speeches he made on Fonseka stages trying to convince people that Fonseka was the real architect of the war.

    Dambara Amila is no more a monk than Inamaluwe Sumangala. He is no less a racist bigot than Inamaluwe Sumangala. In fact Sumangala never openly spoke out in support of the war. Sumangala’s racism is recent and superficial, embraced to serve his business needs. Amila has been an all out Tamil-hating warmonger from the time he was a novice monk.

    This is a blackhole calling a kettle black. Shame to see YATV falling for this.

    • Sanjaya,

      We were also emailed about this. Hadn’t heard about the attacks against YATV journalists themselves, but links to his anti-Tamil, warmongering statements and violence appreciated, if on the web.

      • Sanjaya Senanayake

        Google ‘Dambara Amila Patriotic National Movement’ and look from stuff on or before 2009.

        But here are a few classic quotes:

        “President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge is the number one enemy of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Ms Kumaratunga did not keep her pledge and went against the Buddhist hierarchy of the country”
        (This was after he did a fast-unto-death Wimal-ishtyle in front of the Fort Station against the joint mechanism)
        TELO (http://www.telo.org/june2005.htm)

        “called upon the bhikkus to come to the forefront following the great tradition set by Ven. Wariyapola Sri Sumangala Thero who brought the Union Jack down in defiance of the British invasion in defence of the country’s sovereignty”
        The Sunday Leader (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/archive/20040229/issues-1.htm)

        “Japanese peace envoy, Yasushi Akashi, has limited knowledge of the history of Sri Lanka and that is why he says Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers cannot defeat the Tigers. Interference of international community prevented as from prosecuting a full intensity war against the Tigers in the past. We should not betray our country for the sake of foreign aid,”
        (http://vavuniya.org/index.php?catid=2

        “…the Presidential Secretariat sent to Jaffna an MMM (PNM) team including JVP’s Weerawanse, PNM Chairman and Jathika Chinthanaya’s Gunadasa Amarasekera, PNM president Ven. Dr. Dambara Amila Thero and Bengamuve Nalaka Thero. The team gave the Army a morale boosting suggestion that the problem could be solved in 24 hours by bombing the place – ‘they are only Demalu’. After this was reported in the Press, such displays were curbed or at least not reported. But the PNM had already built a base within the Navy which was strengthened by the launching of the MMM. It is not hard to understand why violations by the Navy against Tamil civilians during the current round of war reached unprecedented heights.”
        UTHRJ (http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/spreport29.htm)

        “All parties advocating a Joint Mechanism with Tamil Tigers should be held responsible for the assassination of Army’s Intelligence Corps Commanding Officer Major Tuan Nizam Muthliff”
        The Island (http://www.island.lk/2005/06/02/news25.html)

        “PNM ex co member Ven. Dambara Amila Thera said history appeared to be repeating itself as what took place in 2001 was happening once again. The monk stressed the need for crushing the LTTE without thinking of the consequences. “One cannot think of negative and positive aspects of war at this crucial moment,” he said.”
        (http://www.telo.org/March2007.html)

        “We should attack before the LTTE launches an air strike on Temple Trees residence in Colombo. No country has condemned the air strike by LTTE on country’s main military air base in Katunayake,” said NPM leader Venerable Dambara Amila Thera”

        It’s really worrying how fast people can forget these things. Just because this man said most of these things in a time before everyone was uploading everything to the internet it’s like he never did or said any of this. Our amnesia seems to be augmented by google.

      • Bongsy

        Interesting what Sanjay says… although all the evidence he has linked to says that this monk was against the LTTE and was an active voice in politics (although most of us have not heard of him).

        But none of the points raised by Sanjay says that this monk is what he called a “racist”. All this monk did was voice his opinion against the LTTE, not Tamil people, unless of course Sanjay believes that LTTE = Tamils.

    • We’ve also emailed YATV regarding the points in your comment – thanks for publicly stating them. We trust YATV responds.

      • Janus

        Not only his past racist views (also hidden in the present — Coyote in a sheepskin)is nonsense, but anyone who knows Buddhism 101 also knows his interpretation of Buddhism is just a hill of beans. What happened to the public intellectuals in Sri Lanka? Guess: they all became brown noses!

      • Gamarala

        Janus,

        “anyone who knows Buddhism 101 also knows his interpretation of Buddhism is just a hill of beans”

        Can you clarify how the monk’s stated views are not in-line with certain popular interpretations of Buddhism?

      • Hilmy Ahamed

        A lot has been discussed about our interview, and Sanjaya is probably right about Rev. Dambara’s stand against LTTE, but I must clearly state that to the best of our knowledge he has never been directly involved in assaulting any member of the YATV team. We have had him in our studios a number of times. Sanjaya’s suggestion of asking him about his past would be taken in to consideration when issues related to violence against the media are taken up in future programming.

    • Thanks for that Sanjaya. It would be best if YATV could get him back for another interview and confront him with his past actions. Amazing hypocrisy – unless he has finally ‘seen the light’, in which case he must explain the reasons for his turnaround!

    • Just Passing Through

      A Buddhist Saul turns Paul? Maybe saw the light on the road to Dambulla!

      Anyway, can’t condemn a man for his past sins. What matters is what he is now. As a person who has great respect for the Buddha Dhamma, this interview gladdened my heart.

  • Chaminda

    This is a wonderful not only for its message of reconcilliation but also for its uplifting introduction to Buddhism.

    I cannot imagine why this is being discounted by Sanjaya Senanayake and Groundwievs. Whatever this monk said in other context is irrelevant to the message contained in this interview. Take this interview for what it is, spread the word and put it to good use. Leave your pet peeves and petty differences aside. You claim to oppose extrimism but aren’t you being extremist in your judgement of this monk. Yes you can claim him to be inconsistent (although I do not agree with you) so what?

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.-
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead. – Aldous Huxley

    Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde

    Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago. – Bernard Berenson

    • Wallflower

      I heard you loud and clear.

  • justitia

    I have read about,& seen videos about, buddhism.
    This is the best explanation about buddhism I have read.
    This video should be circulated widely.

  • Neville Perera

    Ohhhhhhhhh

    ”64 years” into how many years ????

    Thank you, Sanjaya:

    http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=15164
    15 June 2005

    ”Sri Lanka Police moved to disrupt the fast unto death campaign led by Ven Dambara Amila Thera, the president of the extremist National Bhikku Front (NBF) Wednesday afternoon at 6.30 PM, sources in Colombo said. Police with the support of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) carried the monk from his campaign location in front of Colombo Fort Railway station to a waiting ambulance and drove him to Colombo General Hospital for treatment. ”

  • It would be better if those who comment on this interview would confine themselves to the content of the interview rather than on the person who gave the interview. What matters is that the message augurs well for a proper understanding of what Buddhism stands for and what the people of the country should aspire to achieve.
    Do any of those who have commented on this interview disagree with any of the statements of Rev. Dambara. If so let us hear their reasons for disagreeing. Do they think that the country is only for the Sinhala Buddhists and the others should, if at all, live here as second class citizens ? Do they think that extremists in the country should be allowed a free hand to foul the atmosphere and let those whom such extremists target, to live in this country in constant fear of harassment? Do they say that in the past the different communities of people living in the country had not been living in peace and harmony until politicians disrupted it ? Has not Lord Buddha taught us the value of tolerance and compassion to the non-conformists living amongst us ? These are the matters on which comment or elucidation would be welcome. Indulging in character assassination of a writer could only be the tactic of persons who are unable to meet the arguments of a writer or are uncomfortable with them.
    I wish to repeat what Chaminda has quoted “Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were an year ago.” – Bernard Berenson. Can we now look forward to a lively exchange of views on the very important and timely content of what Rev. Dambara has said ?

    • Sanjaya Senanayake

      Iqbal, I am all for giving people a second chance, but I’m also all for judging people by what they do and not what they say.

      If Amila were to publicly apologize for all the things he has done in the past, and if he was to admit that he hasn’t been the kind of Buddhist that he’s preaching about, then maybe I would be willing to listen to him.

      I wish YATV would bring him back on and question him about his role in the PNM and the NBF. Let him purge those demons before he begins preaching this stuff. Otherwise it’s all just ???? ??.

      • chaminda

        Sanjaya, you neither have the authority to nor is anyone asking you to give anybody a second chance. All we are saying is that this interview, especially for most of us who have never heard of this monk before, is very valuable and useful. We would like to put this interview to good use, to improve the current situation in the country and to benefit people. You seem to be too conceited and arrogant to disassociate your hatred of a person from the content of an interview.
        Furthermore, I want people to evolve, to change their opinions and stance as times change. Otherwise, like I said earlier, it requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.
        Finally, as Thass says below, his earlier stance seems to have been against the LTTE, not any specific ethnicity.

      • Nikhil

        That’s a pretty pretty judgemental and rather hateful viewpoint to have to be honest, Sanjaya. What about the Tamil National Alliance? Should they apologise to everyone for being in cahoots with the LTTE before anyone begins to trust them, or talk to them? I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be advocating that. It is clear you seem to have some issues which you need to deal with but I’m afraid anger and hatred will not get you very far. I think any right thinking person would appreciate the comments made in the video, especially in the current situation where there seems to have been a rise in intolerance. Unfortunately, you seem to want to put oil on the fire, rather than take steps to promote peace and reconciliation. If you look at the comments section from the start, different people were appreciating the sentiments expressed and then there is your comment which really comes off as inordinately hostile and vituperative and possibly constitutes slander. Of course, you have all the freedom to behave in a manner that you wish, but I just hope the world does not deal with you the way that you deal with others. Life is way to short to live through it with a huge chip on one’s shoulder.

      • Basal

        Pretty childish response there Sanjaya. It’s no wonder people in Sri Lanka are afraid to voice their opinions in public – if they do, they get slammed against the wall with all sorts of wild accusations and all manner of abuse. It’s quite sad really. We have a monk here who is saying some pretty awesome things, and yet you insist on demeaning him in a petulant rage. Why? I don’t get it. Have the integrity to see the good in others and the largess to live and let live. I’m pretty damn sure you yourself aren’t the poster boy for good behaviour and/or reconciliation going by the way you have posted your comments and expressed yourself. Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

      • Gamarala

        Sanjaya has raised an important issue and backed it up with evidence. The monk has made both racist statements (“they are only Demalu”) and statements in favour of a Buddhist hegemony, and has happily performed a volte-face for no apparent reason.

        While I too am gladdened by this pleasant turn of affairs, I also agree that it is pertinent to question what led to such a significant change of heart, and any other response is an exercise in wishful thinking and naivete.

        The monk could either be a cynical manipulator, giving a smiley-face to Sinhala-Buddhism, while knowing full-well that his nonchalant mention of not needing Buddhism in the constitution is unlikely to come to pass in our lifetimes, or he may have had a genuine change of heart, in which case there’s no harm in having him explain what caused it, so others too may follow.

      • kadphises

        Gamarala,

        “Four days later, the Presidential Secretariat sent to Jaffna an MMM (PNM) team including JVP’s Weerawanse, PNM Chairman and Jathika Chinthanaya’s Gunadasa Amarasekera, PNM president Ven. Dr. Dambara Amila Thero and Bengamuve Nalaka Thero. The team gave the Army a morale boosting suggestion that the problem could be solved in 24 hours by bombing the place – ‘they are only Demalu’..”

        It is not at all clear from the above (from the UTHR Report) that the quote “They are only Demalu” or the encouragement to bomb mercilessly is attributed to Dambara Amila and not Weerawansa or Gunadasa Amarasekera (Two well known figures from the extreme Sinhala right). Dambara Amila was just one of the 3 different parties visiting Jaffna.

        There is still the possiblity that all he wanted from the Army was to defeat the LTTE in order to build a new nation based on equality and genuine Buddhist compasion. An ideal he regrets has been derailed by the Sinhala right after the war was won.

        However, as you say only he can explain his position on this.

      • Gamarala

        Kadphises,

        Fair point. The quote is not directly attributable to Amila, and it is entirely possible that he had nothing to do with it. In addition, it may also be possible that he wanted to kill people on pragmatic grounds in order to spread Buddhist compassion, but that sentence doesn’t quite sound right even before you get to the end of it, does it?

        Regardless, he did say that “Ms Kumaratunga did not keep her pledge and went against the Buddhist hierarchy of the country”, while claiming to want a de-politicized version of Buddhism.

        I reckon some clarification from him would be desirable.

  • Thass

    His earlier speeches and fasts etc seem directed against the LTTE which is a terrorist outfit not against any minority or religous group. It is difficult to judge an individual when he participates in a mass movement or gathering were many different views may be expressed. However we welcome the views expressed by him in this interview.

  • kadphises

    I must confess I was surprised to find that this priest has been a former (or current) member of the PNP. His sermon here is unequivocally pro-minority, pro-reconcilliation and anti Sinhala hegemonist. However the PNP was a movement whose main aim was to convince the political leadership of that day that the only way to peace was through defeating the LTTE militarily.

    Although his two positions seem contradictory at first, on closer inspection I feel they may not be all that contradictory.

    Is his earlier held position on militarily defeating the LTTE justified?

    The LTTE at no point compromised on their demand for a vastly disproportionate portion of the country. The North and East merger, and full police and land and military powers over it was something they never compromised on.

    So can anyone be blamed for seeing this as unfair by the rest of the country and advocating a military response when talks appeared to have failed? Was there any other way?

    However once the victorty was achieved, opinion among these “belligerents” seem to have diverged on how best to proceed.

    Those with the Government seem to favour Sinhala hegemony and forced assimilation of minorities.

    This priest on the other hand is advocating respect, tolerance and generosity towards minority religions and cultures. He is also arguing for the removal of State patronisation of Buddhism, and a national project to unite all Sri Lankan people as one nation while retaining their religious and cultural diversity.

    Does that make him a hypocrite? I think not.

    • Bongsy

      Absolutely agree. I do not appreciate the attempts at mud slinging a vision that all moderates agree on. We all agree this monks voice is a real path to reconciliation (even going as far as saying that stupid unnecessary clause about special protection for Buddhism in the constitution should be got rid of).

      I wouldn’t be surprised if those who gain by divisionism in Sri Lanka are going to go after this monk. They always seems to kill of the good guys (reminds me of Kadiragamar).

  • Nikhil

    Thank you for sharing this video with us, Groundviews and for taking the time and effort to get English subtitles placed. I think the monk spoke some home truths, things that needed to be said and which a substantial number of Sri Lankan Buddhists agree with/believe, but haven’t given enough voice to. People such as this Buddhist monk need to be encouraged and supported if there is to be real change on the ground, but unfortunately true to Sri Lankan tradition we are very quick to put down and demean others. I think it is very true how ordinary people get on with their lives without much ado, but are easily provoked into doing silly things based on tribalism – this applies equally to all ethnicities/religious groups. This cycle needs to be broken.

  • Sanjaya Senanayake

    Now now, I’m all for the message.

    I just wish I could take lessons on Buddhism from someone who isn’t such a warmonger.

    Killing people is not very Buddhist no? ‘Siyalu sathwayo’ and all that.

    • Bongsy

      That’s a misguided remark Sanjay. If Buddhists were all pacifists, there would be no Buddhism today. As for siyalu sathwayo, it is a meditation for ones own mind, it is not some sort of prayer. Do you think if a raging bull marches at a Buddhist, he should sit there and go siyalu sathwayo? Get real, and fess up that you may have jumped the gun calling this monk a “racist” or that he was engaged in beating up journalists. Either that or bring the proof of any of this (other than his opinions against the LTTE, the ‘raging bull’) and I’ll retract these statements.


      Unlike the Vedic religion, ancient Buddhism had strong misgivings about violent ways of punishing criminals and about war. Both were not explicitly condemned,[84] but peaceful ways of conflict resolution and punishment with the least amount of injury were encouraged.[85][86] The early texts condemn rather the mental states that lead to violent behavior.[87]

      Non-violence is an over-riding concern of the Pali Canon.[88] While the early texts condemn killing in the strongest terms, and portray the ideal king as a pacifist, such a king is nonetheless flanked by an army.[89] It seems that the Buddha’s teaching on non-violence was not interpreted or put into practice in an uncompromisingly pacifist or anti-military-service way by early Buddhists.[89]

      The early texts assume war to be a fact of life, and well-skilled warriors are viewed as a necessity for defensive warfare.[90] In Pali texts, injunctions to abstain from violence and involvement with military affairs are directed at members of the sangha; later Mahayana texts, which often generalize monastic norms to laity, require this of lay people as well.[91]

      The early texts do not contain just-war ideology as such.[92] Some argue that a sutta in the Gamani Samyuttam rules out all military service. In this passage, a soldier asks the Buddha if it is true that, as he has been told, soldiers slain in battle are reborn in a heavenly realm. The Buddha reluctantly replies that if he is killed in battle while his mind is seized with the intention to kill, he will undergo an unpleasant rebirth.[93] In the early texts, a person’s mental state at the time of death is generally viewed as having an inordinate impact on the next birth.[94]

      Some Buddhists point to other early texts as justifying defensive war.[95] One example is the Kosala Samyutta, in which King Pasenadi, a righteous king favored by the Buddha, learns of an impending attack on his kingdom. He arms himself in defense, and leads his army into battle to protect his kingdom from attack. He lost a battle but won the war. King Pasenadi defeated King Ajatasattu and captured him alive. He thought that although this King of Magadha has transgressed against him while he has not transgressed against him, Ajatasattu is still his nephew. He released Ajatasattu and did not harm him.[96]
      Upon his return, the Buddha says, among other things, that Pasenadi is “a friend of virtue, acquainted with virtue, intimate with virtue”, while the opposite is said of the aggressor, King Ajatasattu.[97]

      According to Theravada commentaries, there are five requisite factors that must all be fulfilled for an act to be both an act of killing and to be karmically negative. These are: (1) the presence of a living being, human or animal; (2) the knowledge that the being is a living being; (3) the intent to kill; (4) the act of killing by some means; and (5) the resulting death.[98] Some Buddhists have argued on this basis that the act of killing is complicated, and its ethicization is predicated upon intent.[99] Some have argued that in defensive postures, for example, the primary intention of a soldier is not to kill, but to save, and the act of killing in that situation would have minimal negative karmic repercussions.[100]

      According to Babasaheb Ambedkar, the doctrine of Ahimsa does not say “Kill not” it says, “Love all”. Buddha said “Love all, so that you may not wish to kill any” This is a positive way of stating the principle of Ahimsa. The Buddhas’ Ahimsa is quite in keeping with his middle path. To put it differently, the Buddha made a distinction between Principle and Rule. He did not make Ahimsa a matter of Rule. He enunciated it as a matter of Principle or way of life. A principle leaves you freedom to act. A rule does not. Rule either breaks you, or you break the rule.[101]

      Sourced from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahimsa#Buddhism

  • Sanjaya Senanayake

    Aney Bongsy, I don’t see how something as simple as ‘Siyalu sathwayo’ can be so hard to understand. Alawaka and Angulimala et al.

    Amila’s a warmongering racist, the bane of Sri Lanka’s Buddhism.

    Don’t quote others no? Tell me what YOU think.

    • Bongsy

      Angulimala? Lol, what about the more recent Ratwatte? If you don’t understan these things, ask gamarala, he’ll fill you in with the “quasi scientific” curry favour intellectualism that is Buddhism is.

  • Neville Perera

    Dear all

    Let’s do something to show the slightest of our understanding of Buddhism:

    ask the government to start implementing the easiest of LLRC recommendations:

    Some matters in the LLRC report that need immediate attention are:
    1. releasing the report of the Udalagama Commission of Inquiry into killings, including that of the five students in Trincomalee and the seventeen aid workers in Mutur,
    2. making available names of detainees and missing persons in regard to whom there is documented information of death, and
    3. taking measures to prevent abductions and investigating such allegations as a matter of urgency and prosecuting offenders.
    These are measures within the immediate competence of the government, given the intelligence and security apparatus that exists” – It is also now necessary for the Government to draw up and present to the public an action plan or road map for the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. It is also important that this should be done in a transparent and non-partisan manner. …” – Govt must present road map for implementing recommendations in LLRC Report , 28 March 2012, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/5148

  • Just Passing Through

    Bangsy is absolutely correct when he/she says that if all Buddhists were compelled to be passive as a rule, there would be no Buddhism or Buddhists. Predators waving banners bearing the star and crescent and the cross and Kali would have made them extinct a long time ago. These rapacious people had a divine warrant to do so! Indeed, the former and the latter did make Buddhism extinct in the land of its birth. It survived in Sri Lanka for 2, 300 years, making it the longest continuously Buddhist country in the world. It could not have survived if not for the efforts of those who protected it.

    Even now, we can’t deny that evangelists and imams connive to annihilate Buddhism and try to make moves towards that end. The aggressive Buddhism we see is a response to that: when any group is under existential threat, they attack. They may remain cool for a while, but not forever. There will come a point when things come to a head, when it hits the fan. This is nothing to do with Buddhism per se. It’s a primeval reaction, triggered by the workings of the ancient brain, which overrides the recent ‘civilized’ crust more often than not. In fact, the followers of religions who tell them to turn the other cheek hardly ever did or do. Neither do followers of religions professing to be peaceful. On the contrary.

    Buddhism is intrinsic to the identity of this particular group of people called the Sinhala, and real or perceived threats to Buddhism, are sensed as a threat to their way of life and unique identity as a people. Because of a written history and history visible in brick and mortar and story and song and poem, their folk memory goes back a long way. And embedded in that folk memory are narratives of aggression against them from near and far, and their resistance and survival against very great odds.

    Indeed, it is perhaps that aggressive streak that enabled these people to survive on this small island – the only one they have a sense of belonging to – for so long. If they had all religiously stuck to ahimsa (as those who would see them dead and gone would dearly hope they would), we might now catch a glimpse of them and their culture in museums. Fortunately, this unique global ethnic minority of some 15 million, is still alive and kicking.

    • Gamarala

      Thank you for being forthright about it, and admitting that there’s nothing particularly peaceful about Buddhism – it can be as aggressive and as tribally divisive, as most other religions.

      Buddhism, is also one of the few religions that tries to proselytize a sanitized, quasi-scientific “western” version of itself to reel in the uninitiated and curry favour with intellectuals.

      I suppose that’s only complementary to the already brazen hypocrisy of “militant Buddhism”.

    • Happy Heathen

      Just Passing Through
      May 18, 2012 • 2:24 pm

      Even though cogently argued, I fail to understand the point of protecting Buddhism.

      Yes, there might have been instances in the history where one had to fight to protect Buddhism, but in this age of mass communication, if anyone wants to learn Buddhism, there are plenty of avenues.
      Amila himself conceded that Buddhism is not about numbers.

      Those bearded Mullahs couldn’t destroy Buddhism by blowing up Bamiyan Buddhas, just like the fall of USSR did not mean the end of Lennism. (or End of History like Francis Fukuyama erroneously wrote)

      The history is strewn with failed ideologies and religion is a major part of it.
      No one believes in Athena or Thor any more, but if you want to learn about them there is plenty of material.

    • kadphises

      Just passing through,

      You appear to interpret recent incidents as Buddhist retalliation against attacks by Mullahs and Evangelists.

      Can you elaborate more on what these attacks against Buddhism are?

      Have Temples been burnt or pillaged? No. They popping up everywher,e even in areas where there are hardly any Buddhists.

      Have any Buddhist Monks been molested or attacked? No. It is they themselves who have been on the offensive in Anuradhapura, Dambulla and several evangelical churches.

      Has the Buddhist establishment lost any of the power it enjoys? No. It is the sole religion afforded government patronage in the constitution.

      Have Evangelists been converting Buddhists? Yes. But does anyone have the right to dictate another’s religious belifs? And would you not agree that the number that may have been so converted is miniscule?

      Could you give us a few examples of how Buddhism is under threat in Sri Lanka before you try to justify Dambulla style retalliation?

      • Off the Cuff

        Kadphises,

        You wrote “Have Evangelists been converting Buddhists? Yes. But does anyone have the right to dictate another’s religious belifs? And would you not agree that the number that may have been so converted is miniscule? “

        Conversion by itself is not the problem.
        It is the methods that are employed that causes the problem.

        Conversion by conviction will not cause problems as that is an individual’s right and will remain private. But if Evangelists employ methods that are designed to show contempt of other Religions problems can and has arisen.

        I personally have seen a handbill printed and distributed which depicted a Samadhi Buddha image with a cross overprinted across the eyes and the body. This was a long time ago. It is to the credit of Buddhists that such acts did not cause religious riots in that town.

        Buddhism is a mind centric philosophy. Not all who are Buddhists will have the capacity to live the philosophy. The fact that Gold and other precious objects are showered on Buddha relics when the living Buddha rejected all these is evidence. Why else would there be Bodhi Poojas? Why else would hierarchical symbols be used within the Sangha? Non of these would exist if all those who call themselves Buddhist really understood the mind centric philosophy that Buddhism is.

        Today it is reported that prospective converts have to perform acts that show contempt of the Buddha before they receive any financial assistance which is the carrot offered to impoverished prospects. These sort of things cannot be kept secret for long and will get into the public domain. You can imagine the depth of anger that it will cause amongst those who are infants of Buddhism.

        Dambara Amila deplores what happened in Dambulla. Whatever the provocation (if any) Dambula behaviour should be put down in no uncertain terms.

    • Bongsy

      @kadphises

      The context in which we’re discussing this is this monks past acts in retaliation to the LTTE (apart from the point Sanjaya pointed out and gamarala reiterated, that remark about ‘demalu’ which I disagree with, I am not in disagreement with his other acts, I can understand where those may have come from). We shouldn’t forget the most important thing this monk here proposed. He’s in agreement that we should remove unnecessary patronage to Buddhism through the constitution. I think that is a great step forward. So in essence he is in agreement with you that there is no need for such things.

      @gamarala
      No body is denying that Buddhism has not seen its share of bloodshed. Buddhism wasn’t exactly spread through violence though, but Buddhist nations and Buddhist people have not been pacifists, not now nor in its ancient history and probably won’t be in the future. That has little to do with religion and more to do with people.

      What everyone seems to forget and unfortunately dilute is the fact that what this monk proposes is rare and a welcome change, in terms of the nationalist buddhist sentiment, which nobody argues with as being misguided.

      And the rest of the sentiments seem to be with misgivings with some Buddhist people. I wonder why that is.

      Lets see if this monk is true to what he preaches here. I for one welcome this, some of you clearly don’t care and would rather pick on the messenger than the message. Kind of ironic, didn’t expect that to come “journalists”.

  • Sanjaya Senanayake

    Allow me the liberty to slightly alter a pop culture adage.

    Killing for Buddhism is like fucking for virginity.

    (I hope the admins find a suitable way to publish that)

    • The phrase cannot be improved upon.

      • Dayalan

        Yes, I agree the phrase cannot be improved. However unsavoury, Sanjaya’s adage brings home the contradiction in the evolving conscousness of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

        However, I am not at in favour of Sanjaya, discounting the BRILLIANCE of this lecture by Amilo thero. It is a very concise and clear interpretation of what the Buddha had in mind.

        To my thinking, the Road map for the Sri Lanka we aspire, is comprised of milestones such as —- War (an unnecessery reality)—-> Absence of War —–> Peace and reconciliation. Where Amila thero and I and other Peace activist differ is, the alternatives that should have been chosen before the stage of Absence of War. In other words, the thero’s method of achieving “Absence of War” and mine were far apart. However, today we are all at this stage of Absence of War, and I think Peace activists, the Military option supporters, et all, can move forward together towards achieving PEACE & RECONCILIATION.
        In this regard, I consider this a GEM by Amilo thero.
        Thanks Groundviews and YA tv.

  • georgethebushpig

    GV, pls use this version. Apologies for the multiple postings of drafts.

    Dear Sanjaya Senanayake,

    I appreciate you bringing to light the past political orientation of Rev. Dambara Amila Thero however I conclude that his past regressive politics can be put to good use now.

    It is as if Avigdor Lieberman (Ultra orthodox Yisrael Beiteinu party) were to come out and criticize Zionism and to state that Israel is not a Jewish but a pluralistic state where Arab Israelis share the same rights as Jews.

    It is always better when a contrary view comes from within the same camp. Kalana Senaratne’s brilliant article on political Buddhism raises the issue of silence among the Sangha with relation to the Dambulla incident. The venerable Dambara Amila Thero couldn’t be a better candidate for criticizing the skinheads from Dambulla.

  • Rory Winter

    This interview with the Rev. Dambara Amika Thero goes a long way in bringing back sanity and balance into the image of the Sangha in Sri Lanka.

    The Thero’s viewpoints are ones that should remind all Buddhists of the reality of the teachings in contrast to the distortions we have seen coming from the extremists, be they bhikkus or political parties. “We don’t have any problem with regard to the Tamil temples or Mosques,” says the Thero. “There is no conflict at all … the problem at hand does not concern ordinary people. It is influenced by political parties that USE RELIGION & NATIONALISM FOR SECURING POWER … With this they use the Buddhist flag and provoke the unsuspecting general public … This is a very sad affair. I warned them against it … If one is an extremist then he is not a Buddhist.”

    • Dayalan

      Yes, Rory Winter, you are quite right. But would n.t it be great if this message from Amila thero be dessiminated via mainstream media i.e TV stations, Newspapers etc ?, This would start a dialogue on the issue, within the masses. Any ideas on how this could be done ?

  • Ranjith

    I grew up in Sri Lanka in a strong Buddhist culture. The most important teaching for me was that Buddha did not ask his followers to blindly accept his doctrine. He asked them to analyse his teachings and accept what is rational. Sadly the teachings of this great person has given rise to a religion with its own hierarchy of priests established in orders and posts like nayakas and mahanayakas.
    To the average man the words of these monks are the words of the great teacher, however deviated their path from the original preachings of Buddha. Monks of today living in luxurious lives provided by middle class Sri Lankans expecting rewards in the next life, have very little interest in preaching the real teachings of Buddha. While chasing worldly power and wealth,these monks preach intolerance of other religions and beliefs, Tribalism, they even practice caste intolerance as evidenced by not ordaining novices from certain casts.
    Amila thero what ever his journey so far is highlighting some very important aspects of true Buddhist teachings. I found his comments to be very mature and humanistic, as someone believing in liberal humanistic values I appreciate his comments on state patronage of religion. If his beliefs in the past were different it is even more important that he is now in this position. I wish him good luck.

  • Leela

    I live just a few km down the road from the family house of Ven. Amila. Without writing much and insult the ‘robe’, suffix if I say that according to neighbours; his politicking and related business had brought enough benefits to his family members.Leela

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Groundviews must be congratulated on posting the two finest interventions in recent years on Buddhism by knowledgeable and progressive Buddhists: Kalana Senaratne and Ven Dambara Amila. I see a very considerable overlap in their perspectives.

    As for the debate about Ven Amila, as long as it is not understood that one can be anti-LTTE and not anti-Tamil, and indeed that one must be anti-LTTE and anti-Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism, a more pluralist, liberal-progressive Buddhism will never become the mainstream.

    It is precisely because liberal Buddhist voices ( inclduing bhikkus) were identified with the Sudu Nelum and other movements of appeasement of the Tigers, that they were discredited and marginalised while the militant, sectarian Buddhists enjoyed a social surge in the past decade and a half.

    Note the latest public intervention– subsequent to his YA TV interview- by Dambara Amila, as the head of the Anti-Imperialist Peoples Mobilisation. I do not agree with some of his views on that occasion and I suspect, even from his YATV interview that he is not for devolution, but that does not mean he is anti-Tamil or that his is not a strong, valuable antidote to chauvinist Sinhala Buddhism. Indeed he performs an exceedingly meritorous ideological deed by pointing out that Buddhism must not and cannot be Sinhala Buddhism! That he combines that with radical anti-imperialism/anti-interventionism only gives his non-chauvinist Buddhism greater acceptability.

    I certainly fail to understand why his praise for Ven Sumangala who hauled down the Union Jack, is evidence of Ven Amila or Ven Wariyapola Sumangala being anti-Tamil! That can be so only if one were to identify the Union Jack with the Tamil people and vice versa! have things reached such a pass that any anti-colonial, anti-imperialist action in defence of sovereignty, is seen as Sinhala chauvinism? Is that not the greatest compliment anyone can pay the Sinhala chauvinists? Is it any wonder then that liberal-progressive and anti-racist opinion in Sri lanka is on the backfoot?

    It does not seem to ocured to critics of Ven Amila that it is precisely his anti-imperialist ideological radicalism — his leftist orientation– that gives him the conviction and courage to take a stand IN SINHALA, and FROM WITHIN THE SANGHA, against Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. His leftism also reinforces and is doubtless a well spring of his rational Buddhist (and what is Buddhism if not rationalist?) critique of chauvinism, inclduing that emanting from sections of the Sangha.

    • neil

      Though I do not wish to diminish my appreciation for GroundViews for giving greater publicity to this wonderful interview, I was rather disappointed by your editors’ quick embrace of Sanjaya Senanayake’s criticisms. All seven quotes cited by Sanjaya were about the strong anti-LTTE stance of the monk in the past which has no relevance to the interview. There was only one quote, from the respected UTHR(J), which though clearly racist, is hardly definitive, as others have pointed out.

      So, I wish the editors did not so readily judge, and suggest that everything Rev Amila had said, which obviously they too thought was exceptional, was now suspect.

      It’s nice to see Dr Dayan J also coming to the defence of this monk. Though I have enormous respect for his pivotal contribution to the country in Geneva, I too don’t agree with him (what I think his position is) on devolution. I believe support for devolution inherently acknowledges that the racial identity trumps everything else in one’s affairs. That a Tamil would rather see a Tamil physician, work for a Tamil boss, be issued a traffic ticket by a Tamil cop, etc. I am totally convinced that both Sinhalese and Tamils (and Muslims and Burghers) stand to lose if we create special enclaves based on ethnicity. Various functions can be decentralized purely based on management or administrative effectiveness. It should not be a constitutional matter, but rather something that can change if the circumstances demand it. Do we rule out the possibility of a Tamil president in SL, in the not-so-distant future?

      I did not know of this monk until this interview, but this controversy reminded me of those who condemned Martin Luther King as anti-American for his Riverside Church speech or totally discounted him for his various extra marital affairs. Men are not perfect; and, they may not match our own ideals. But great ideas, especially those that require courage to express, are so rare, let’s give them all the breathing room they need.

      • From an email to Young Asia Television, which expressed similar concerns when we qualified the interview after receiving Sanjaya’s comments.

        “The issue is a matter of principle. CBK may today speak about good governance, but we can’t forget what she did when she was in power. People may be clamouring for SF’s release today, but can journalists forget what he called them, and did to them, a few years ago? That CBK is better than the incumbents, or that the fate of SF today is tragic, isn’t the point. What matters more is whether one is principled, or not, and whether one changes thinking based on partisan interests, or as the Amila Thero suggests, intellectual rigour that leads to a higher truth?

        Sanjay’s flagged a number of instances, followed up by one other commentator quoting Tamilnet, that clearly suggests Amila Thero is as politically motivated as the Dambulla Prelate. I haven’t dismissed what he has to say, but said that it needs to be framed against what he has said and done in the past.

        Let the reader make up her/his mind on how to appreciate the interview, in light of this history.”

  • Omi Gosh

    As someone who was drawn to Buddhism instinctively just a few years ago, and who has through study, learning to understand it, and generally applying it to life, i.e. applied Buddhism if you may call it, I feel Buddhism is beyond destruction by third parties. This is purely because it is a very personal odyssey into the realms of one’s own consciousness that does not really require the presence of the physical structures of Buddhism such as temples. Temples and statues are good and useful on the path, but without that deep buy-into the philosophy itself, they are of no use. Likewise, authentic teachers are essential sanga jewels, and if they are present, they are invaluable guides along the path. Bad teachers will be stumbling blocks. I am lucky enough to have all the necessary implements to further my journey into Buddhism – the temple, the teachers and teachings on hand, and also the heartfelt desire to do it, without which the other factors will be useless.

    In my understanding, Buddhism is all about understanding of the nature of the conceptual mind and how it keeps us trapped in samsara, and learning how to tame it so that it becomes an asset and not a liability. The mind at its untamed best is dualistic in nature and drawn towards good/bad – or in other words black/white. That is why many tend to judge in black and white. The good qualities of whatever it views as being agreeable are exaggerated and the bad is negated, and the negative qualities of whatever it wishes to see as bad are exaggerated and the good is negated. The reality is that there are shades of grey and nothing is black and white. But it is the nature of the mind to blind us to the fact. As the mind is gradually tamed through awareness and practice of virtue, it moves away from negative behavior.

    So, the real culprit is not really what goes on around us, but the way the mind processes these incidents and reacts to it. If one is not mindful, one can get caught up in all sorts of issues and harm oneself and others. The tendency towards extreme views clouds reason and Buddhism shows you how, why it causes so much suffering and tells you what you can do to stop the misery. This is what I find absolutely stunning in Buddhism, and why as I study it, my respect and love for it grows.

    It is the nature of the samsaric mind to keep people trapped in this superficial existence. If you dive beneath the waves of this good/bad view, you come to a more balanced state called equanimity. Buddhism gives you the manual on how to tame the mind and move it into a more neutral area where all is in balance. The sutra teachings tell you why. The practice of meditation moves the mind into neutral mindful space. The deeper you go into meditation, the closer you get to neutrality. At some point, with effort, the rampaging mind will be stilled and clarity appears. States of clarity and equilibrium, rather than being weak, are in fact empowering because they help people to make careful and wise decisions.

    Decisions based on fear, anger, pride, arrogance etc tend to cloud reason, generate more negative states of mind. If you just stand back from all the incidents — from the Dambulla protest to the Frontline video and the behaviour of those in power at home and abroad, all you will see is more misery being generated by unmindful behavior – instead of solving the problem, more will be created, and worse, more misrepresentation of Buddhism, separating people from a set of life skills they sorely need today. On the plus side, for those who care to see, all the madness around us is the stage of samsara – the platform to learn and understand real Buddhism. If you look at these incidents more deeply, you will see in them the lessons that the Buddha taught.

    The players, we, are just victims of the samsaric mind. The mind is like this beautiful horse, untamed – it can send us to hell on earth, or to the moon. We climb on its back and instead of taking us to the beautiful place that we could go to, it tosses us about with its wild wanderings and we allow it to take us to dangerous places now and in the future.

    I am thankful to have good sanga who took time and effort to drive these important points home into my otherwise thick nut. They have taught me and others who attend our temple how to act as a sentries to our own stream of consciousness so that we can have a better lasting happiness if not now in the future. To me, this more than anything else is the first step to Buddhism – a brutal honesty of one’s own thoughts, and the desire to keep them good and pure, and train oneself to always act with pure intent. It does not mean that one becomes a pushover – rather one becomes empowered and increasingly gains control over one’s own destiny. It’s something no one can take away from you.

    The very fact that there is the physical presence of Buddhism all over Sri Lanka is actually wonderful – because this shows potential. It is the medicine that not only Sri Lanka needs but just everyone needs. But medicine, as my sanga says, has to be administered – there is no point in people reading medical books or giving themselves labels and expecting cures. It has to be taken, imbibed, the course has to be followed diligently. If all the sanga, those who have taken robes with the promise to show people the path, walked their talk and showed the way. And if all those who call themselves Buddhists also committed to walking their talk, then peace will follow – because on unseen level real applied Buddhism feeds the virtuous mind and weakens the non virtuous mind, the bad will slowly and surely fade, and the good will come out. Its somewhat like the economics of consciousness. More conditions for better lives will be sown if not for us now, for the future generations.

    Sri Lanka is busy trying to mine for oil and other natural resources. Perhaps it needs to unearth and shine up that stunning jewel in its own backyard called Buddhism.

    • Off the Cuff

      Omi Gosh,

      “……act as a sentries to our own stream of consciousness so that we can have a better lasting happiness if not now in the future. To me, this more than anything else is the first step to Buddhism – a brutal honesty of one’s own thoughts, and the desire to keep them good and pure, and train oneself to always act with pure intent “

      If that could be understood by the Sceptics they would know what Buddhism is.

      • Omi Gosh

        The Sceptics I presume are people of other faiths, because if they are skeptical of Buddhism, they would not be Buddhists. People of other faiths should be left to practice their faiths.

        On the stream of consciousness: if anyone really wants to know, there are plenty of teachings online, as you yourself mentioned in a earlier post. Some very good, and others not. This link draws parallels to the higher teachings on consciousness and psychology: http://www.cs.ru.nl/~henk/G.pdf and may be ok for skeptics who really have a desire to get to the bottom of the truth. But if the contents sound too lofty, a pure and skilled member of the sanga will be able to make it practical and applicable to life here and now.

        Sometimes skepticism may be a guise for rejection for other reasons: Buddhism is a hard truth, hard talk, and so has some aspects that might not be as appealing as others. It is human nature to want to hang out in a comfort zone, so one would probably ignore or gloss over the unpleasant parts of the doctrine, like the parts that give the bad news on, for example, karma or the dangers of lower rebirth. (That’s probably why we hear some deluded ‘leaders’ ranting about not wanting immediate nirvana etc as was recently reported in the news – when in fact one in general doesn’t really have a choice over the next birth.)

    • Gamarala

      Dear Omi Gosh,

      I think you have taken great pains to describe the Buddhist equivalent of an acid trip. Escapist fantasy certainly mutes reality, but it doesn’t result in progress. Sit down under a tree, meditate for many days, get up and magically provide some fundamental contributions to science, and then I’ll accept what you are indeed describing a “stunning jewel” in our backyard.

      Otherwise, all that time sitting under a tree is a lot of productive time wasted in fantasy. I don’t disagree that meditation can provide some individual calm and relaxation (or nightmares, your mileage may vary), which may provide some benefits at an individual level, but to indulge in the kind of hyperbole you’ve indulged in – sounds a but like…. fantasy.

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear Gamarala,

        A little curious as to what you would define as being “productive time”?

      • Gamarala

        Productive time = Any time not spent sitting under a tree, optionally moaning about how miserable life is.

        I hope you are not trying to embroil me in some great philosophical debate on what’s productive and what’s not.

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear Gamarala,

        Meditation has been the most difficult of activities that I have engaged in. The times it has gone relatively well for me, not only I, but everyone around me benefits. If more of us meditated more people around us benefit….. and that’s how society can cleanse its putrescent soul… something we in Sri Lanka need rather badly. In terms of time well spent, meditation ranks pretty high and I find it hard to come up with anything else that is equally productive (don’t feel obliged to get embroiled).

        I can see you come from the school that believes Buddhism and meditation are about diving into one’s belly button and drowning in nirvana… that in fact, it is a “waste” of time. Omi Gosh has written a lovely synthesis of some core Buddhist principles and values that if followed, provides a constructive way forward with reconciliation. Simply put, if we don’t get our thoughts sorted out it will be difficult for us to get our act together.

      • Gamarala

        Dear georgethebushpig,

        As I acknowledged earlier, meditation can be beneficial, although people’s mileage vary, and I’m glad to hear you found it to be of great use. My criticism wasn’t aimed at the claim that there were benefits in meditation, but the extrapolation of that claim to the fantastic levels of hyperbole that Omi Gosh indulged in – so much so that Buddhism is the unheeded saviour of this planet. This is typical self-important Buddhist nonsense.

        Buddhism has no monopoly on meditation. Meditation pre-dated Buddhism, although credit is due to Buddhism for fine-tuning its techniques as well as recognizing its value. However, Buddhism is also a religion, albeit one with fantastic super-natural claims. Imbibing these claims is no different to taking an acid trip, and coming out the other end believing in unicorns and rainbows.

      • georgethebushpig

        Dear Gamarala,

        Fair enough. BTW, if one was so inclined or let’s say for a friend in need, where would one get some of that quality acid you keep referring to?

  • Omi Gosh

    Thank you, GBTP.

    Productivity is relative. Someone caught up in the demands of everyday life, who has no or only a superficial understanding of meditation, could easily think of it as a fantastical indulgence.

    Yes, meditation is indeed an effective tool for social harmony as well as mental health.

    Vipassana meditation is excellent. Early attempts at single pointed meditation make one realize just how hard it is to control the stream of thoughts. The key is persistence. You don’t need to spend hours under trees – 15 mins a day in a quiet place anywhere, will be very effective. Even if hard, persistence with a daily practice will bring rewards.

    A good teacher is essential when one gets more seriously into meditation because the inner-scape can be metaphysical. There can be fantastical experiences in the depths of meditation – however, they are inconsequential. The advice from my monks is ignore all of this and keep to the practice. If the point of the meditation is concentration on the breath, then that is the goal. So meditation is never done for the purpose of fantastical trips.

    Once focus is mastered, non-virtuous states of mind such as anger etc begin to quiet down, making space for clarity and wisdom. As you go deeper into the practice, there are more changes. You begin to see the nature of things. You become detached, but contrary to the popular belief that one might then become a nihilistic ascetic and drop out, one actually becomes more involved in a better and healthier way because one is no longer sucked into the chaos around u. You can step back and see it for what it is. I am employed and very productive. I work hard and make a fair bit of honest money. I multitask a lot and meditation has helped me to focus well on one thing at a time without thinking of the rest of the items on my to-do list, and because of this, the items are quickly ticked off and so productivity actually increases.

    Buddhism’s many other tools are also incredibly useful. Actual teachings make you aware of the nature of the choices you face. Deep meditation on the teachings help you to ingrain virtuous states of mind. Awareness of non-virtuous states of mind gives reason for mindfulness.

    For example, I have learned that anger (as described in a text and I will quote extracts) is the “second root delusion” – “a mental factor that is defined as the tendency to exaggerate the unpleasant characteristics of an object and wish to harm it … the fire that burns the wood of our virtue. It lurks behind all disputes whether they are domestic quarrels between a husband and wife or a war between two nations….

    “When we are overcome by hatred, we immediately lose all peace of mind and even our body becomes uncomfortable…. we are plagued by restlessness and the food we eat seems unpalatable … We lose our freedom of choice and are driven here and there by uncontrollable rage. Sometimes this blind rage is even directed at our loved ones and benefactors…. ”

    “… furthermore there is absolutely no purpose in generating anger in our pursuit of material gain because, no matter how much we might acquire, it will all be left behind when we die. The only things that will remain and travel with us into the future are the evil delusions of anger we have placed upon our consciousness.”

    Patience, on the other hand, is a supreme virtue that helps us to stand back, take stock of the situation and carefully formulate plan of action. We use deep meditation techniques to ingrain in our minds the faults of anger and the benefits of patience, and in this way, change our mindscape and our ways…

    Of course that anger is non-virtuous and patience is virtuous is common sense and one might think there is no need to go to school and learn about it… but the reality is, our knowledge flies out of the window when time comes to act on it. Buddhism recognizes anger as a powerful mind that has the power to control our thoughts, speech and action. Actual meditation on the point we learn helps us to take the bull by the horns so to speak and tame the problem maker. In this way, we learn about the nature, consequences and taming of other non-virtuous minds like greed, pride and attachment.

    The point of sharing all this is to show that the real teachings are somewhat different from what we see some monks practice, e.g. the spirit of the demonstrations in Dambulla. If there are issues there is the need to sit back and think through the course of action.

    To me, dharma is invaluable – I am only a student, and the more I learn, the more I appreciate the teachings. For me too, it has improved the quality of life for not just me but those around me. For Buddhists, it is indeed the jewel in their backyard. They shouldn’t accept the pebbles now being touted as Buddhism. The help of good sanga is crucial. So, it’s time for Sri Lanka’s abundance of sanga to revive the essence of the teachings and harness them to really help their congregations.

    • Gamarala

      Dear Omi Gosh,

      For a person who waxes eloquent on mental health, what is mentally healthy about believing in things without evidence?

  • Omi Gosh

    Hi Gamarala,

    That’s a hard question to answer, because metaphysical world often defies logic. It is hard to pin down and describe in rational terms – so sometimes, the less said the better. Communication being what it is today, is prone to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. That’s probably why even in our temple, those of us who are into the deeper side of meditation are advised never to discuss them except with those who understand and are sensitive. That’s also why deeper meditation needs a teacher.

    The point of discussing meditation is that it is central to Buddhism – you need to delve into your mind and clean up the cobwebs and the grime. Meditation is a way to do it, and you need to find good sanga to take you there. There are some very good monks in Sri Lanka, amongst the milieu of monks who may also be victims of their own mental states.

    Why is it healthy? Approached in the right way, it can do nothing but good. Approached in the wrong way, it could be harmful, even crazy making. My experiences with meditation and Buddhism have led me to understand that the Buddhist approach to meditation is the real McCoy. I have done many types of meditation and this is the only type of meditation that focused on stilling the mind in order to enable a process of purification or elimination of non-virtuous mind states.

    The problem with the results of meditation is they are hard to pin down and measure because much of it is unseen – the results simply happen over time, and it’s like you look back after a few months and realize that you haven’t been getting angry, or that your temper has kind of withered. That’s pretty good for mental health. You find that issues that bugged you and occupied a lot of mental space have receded. When someone tries to needle you, you find you just aren’t interested in baiting – and you can actually think things through and consider whether there really is an issue, or it’s a bit of mischief and decide whether or not and how to engage. So, you can respond without the usual drama. It’s a nice state of mind. Of course, maturity also does this, but meditation focusses on it.

    There is systematic and thorough elimination of non-virtuous states. It is absolutely necessary to have pure sanga. If you are a Buddhist or interested in Buddhism, then you could read up about these things: the Abhidhamma gives a very good explanation (http://www.buddhanet.net/abhidh03.htm) – and if it sounds a bit over the top, remember that if we delve into some more measurable processes of say, like, digestion, in great detail, and learn how food is processed and the energy distributed within each cell and the rest of the body, then it could all seem magical.

    But you don’t need to know the Abhidhamma or any of the texts. In our temple, we don’t study the process. We just go for the experience. If we don’t really buy into what is being said, we are advised to blindly assume it is so, until the process kicks in, and usually it does. We do the following: single point meditation, analytical meditation (to contemplate the nature of the various states of mind) and placement meditation (where we take the preferred thought and ingrain it into our consciousness.) (Also, all forms of prayer are meditations, since we delve within and pray, hopefully, for good things.)

    A good monk is able to simply take you through the processes without the convolution that too much talk and theory (like what I may now be doing – I am sorry), and in time there are good results. You asked earlier about that ‘stream of consciousness’ — I think my own progress is the result of very strong practice and intention to continue in other lifetimes – which points to that bit on ‘the stream of consciousness’. The work you do on yourself – good or bad – carries on life after life. It takes time, even lifetimes. But it’s worth the effort.

    Enough said! To find out more, go find a robed one, and ask them to teach, otherwise why are they in robes: to teach congregations how to be hooligans in this life and the next? Surely not!

    • Gamarala

      Dear Omi Gosh,

      Thank you for the explanation. Truthfully, I’m not particularly interested in meditation at the present moment. Should I be particularly troubled by the lack of a virtuous state of mind, whatever one’s definition of virtuous might be, I am willing to accept your argument that meditation is a potential remedy.

      My criticism was not particularly directed towards meditation. It was directed at the super-natural beliefs in Buddhism. Chief amongst these beliefs is the belief in rebirth that you so casually mentioned, as if it were an accepted truth.

      Given that much of the rest of the world, as well as the scientific consensus, does not recognize any such phenomenon as rebirth, other than as a common tribal myth prevalent in many cultures that wish to transcend death, your casual reference to it suggests too much contact with fork-lore.

      Secondly, you speak of Buddhism with much reverence. I consider reverence to be the first, and most critical step in shutting down one’s critical thinking facilities and accepting dogma as gospel truth. Desire for virtue, holiness, reverence etc. are ancient impulses programmed into our genetic code. They can be forces of great good, but also forces of great evil. IMO, the only antidote to these primal forces is a healthy dose of scepticism. No society in the world has been misguided because it questioned its fundamental assumptions too vigorously. But societies which believed their dogma too much – well, it’s more of a horror story – and I’m sure we can all think of enough examples.

      • yapa

        Dear Gamarala;

        “Given that much of the rest of the world, as well as the scientific consensus, does not recognize any such phenomenon as rebirth, other than as a common tribal myth prevalent in many cultures that wish to transcend death, your casual reference to it suggests too much contact with fork-lore.”

        I have no idea to object your right to scepticism, but I think you have no right to insult anything off hand. I say because,

        1. There cannot be a scientific consensus about “rebirth” as science cannot handle anything out of the physical world and rebirth is not a physical phenomenon. Therefore it is natural science has not recognize rebirth and this fact does not negate the existence of “rebirth”.

        Just as you say I think others too have a right to scepticism to question your views as well. On what basis do you say it to be a tribal myth?

        On the other hand I don’t think rebirth is prevalent anywhere else other than Buddhism.

        I am not going to comment on meditation, as I do not have that experience. However, my experience is that many give casual general opinions on many things without knowing them. I have seen many are in the practice of rejecting everything just because they are mentioned in a religion on the high mindset of science. They are on the preconception that there cannot be anything true in a religion and there cannot be anything against science, which is neither scientific nor rational.

        Do you have more reasons to negate “rebirth” than Omi Gosh has to claim it? I think if you cannot disprove something you will have to open minded and should not behave as you have already disproved it. That attitude is wrong, my objection is to that.

        Thanks!

  • Omi Gosh

    To each his own… we must learn to accommodate each other’s views if only because it makes the world richer and more interesting.

    Dear Gamarala,

    You make many good points, and I agree that skepticism is good and useful. The Buddha himself advised his followers to question the teachings, and their teachers – it’s healthy. It’s easy to get sucked into questionable areas of the numinous and one has to be discerning. The impulse towards the numinous can be very strong, and makes one vulnerable to manipulation. There are many questionable practices out there – there’s an entire spirituality industry, for example, with metered dispensation of teachings, and dubious behaviours by sections of the religious leaders of all faiths. I myself have often started to stray and have pulled back, thanks to skepticism.

    All faiths are convoluted with tribal practices, so much so one can no longer see the woods for the trees. In Buddhism, for example, where does it say that traumatizing baby elephants is meritorious? I am still looking for this teaching to authenticate it! So, it’s for every practitioner of any faith to get to the good heart of their practice and hold on to it and develop it to move oneself to a better frame of mind and make the world a better place. And to turn their backs on the doubtful. Then we can have harmony and a good exchange.

    My own faith and choice of belief are based on lived experience, and my reverence is not blind faith as such but more a love or delight for it – like the cool beer on a hot day, the delicious dessert after a dinner, the vacation after a heavy spell of work. Its something I look forward and enjoy. I like it so much, I have begun to study the texts formally. For me, Buddhism is a discovery of myself – it has answered most of my questions: why this and why that, why do good things happen to bad people and vice versa. It has made sense of life. As a Buddhist, I believe in karma and rebirth. They are core beliefs of Buddhism. It would be good for many of the practitioners, like the monk in Dambulla and some of these white clad, dhana-giving public figures, to delve into these particular areas of the doctrine and discover well for themselves what they are all about. There’s a Jataka story about that sort of ‘show’ of faith. Sincere practice is better. I applaud the good monk on this page for getting his act together — may he go from strength to strength.

    I think you would like these 3 short talks from ABC on skepticism, science and the numinous by an astro-physicist, a molecular biologist and a Buddhist monk, Ajahn Bhram no less:

    http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2012/03/bia_20120315_2005.mp3

    I thoroughly enjoyed them.

    • Gamarala

      Omi Gosh,

      “For me, Buddhism is a discovery of myself – it has answered most of my questions: why this and why that, why do good things happen to bad people and vice versa. It has made sense of life.”

      Once you accept an incorrect premise, you can build up an entire edifice on that premise, and everything will follow from it. Unfortunately, if the premise is wrong…

      Secondly, you invoke Karma to explain why good things happen to bad things. There is a simpler competing theory. Merely saying that things happen through random interconnections explains the phenomenon equally well (has equal explanatory power, with a simpler construct). Yet you preferentially choose Karma. Ever wondered why?

      Finally, thank you for the link to Ajahn Brahm but I’m sorry to say that I am yet to be impressed by his intellectual integrity. I refer you to this critique for brevity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KauGMZVBnjk
      I’m not sure how being an astro-physicist has any bearing on this matter. John Lennox and Francis Collins are both theists, and far more “accomplished” men.

      I’m sorry to be so contrarian, but unfortunately, you have provided no answer to my original question: there is no recognition of a phenomenon called rebirth or karma in any modern body of knowledge.

      I contend that there are very good reasons for that, for those who actually care to find out. I propose that we not pursue this discussion, as these things generally turn out to be long-winded and fruitless. I am merely noting my objections. You are welcome to provide your closing argument, after which we can both part in peace 🙂

  • Omi Gosh

    Hi Gamarala,

    Thank you for the link. I listened to it twice, and all I saw a man with an agenda to debunk the subjects of his choice, and so he takes some words out of the monk’s mouth and presents them out of context. He misrepresents teachings – making it seem that Ajahn Bhram conconcocted Buddhism and all its premises, when all that this monk is doing is referring to the teachings. It also gave me an insight into the workings of the mind.

    It is clear he has no real understanding of Buddhism – if he takes the trouble to experience it, he might think differently. I could unpack the sceptic’s choice of words, e.g. ‘bullshit’, and talk about use of such words in a message, in the context of semantics and not religion for pushing forward an argument — but as you say, it would just be futile. He accuses the monk of arrogance, but it is the quality lurking in the whole tone of the video. To me, this is a flimsy argument. Of course, the man is entitled to his opinion, and his choice of perspective.

    The proof my choice of pudding has been in the eating, and I have tasted, understood and embraced Buddhism. I have taken the time to study it and to get the experience it, and in that personal interaction with this philosophy, I have realized its truth and its essence.

    As was said in the earlier link, science (in this instance skepticism) can become a religion in itself, and become as dangerous as the mind of a fanatic prelate. Skepticism for the sake of being skeptical, religion for the sake of a label, is waste of time. But skepticism with an open mind for a better world, a religious practice for the sake of a better mind is immensely good. And, frankly, the way religions, including Buddhism, are being practiced by their so-called followers, makes them all very questionable. That is why I said, it is necessary to get back to the good heart of whatever faith one has accepted.

    Here’s more food for thought from a guru of your choice, Lennox: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/religionreport/john-lennox/3165090

    The topic of this discussion was the monk’s take on religious co-existence in Sri Lanka – it’s necessary to learn how to accommodate the views of the other if there is to be any sort of dialogue and harmony in the country. There are better ways to demonstrate lack of belief, understanding and interest in the views of the other, than use arrogance, intimidation and violence; all divisive forms of behavior that can only generate more anger, frustration and problems. Dialogue is smooth and healthy when anger is absent, and accommodation and respect for the other is present. Then, there can be communal and religious co-existence.

    The last word. Have a good life!

    • Gamarala

      Hi Omi Gosh,

      As promised, I will not pursue the subject further. However, I will issue one correction.

      I cited Francis Collins and John Lennox not as my gurus, but as far more qualified people who also engage in magical thinking, as Ajahn Brahm does.

      The explanation I find most plausible for this phenomenon is that of an evolutionary propensity for such beliefs, coupled with cultural indoctrination. Billions of people throughout the centuries who have believed in Gods, Demons, Karmic forces/Godly judgement (to provide divine retribution & justice), Rebirth/Heaven (a way of transcending death), Nirvana/Entering the fold of God (Attainment of ideals/perfection) and other super-natural forces stand as ready evidence for this explanation. The essence and structure of these beliefs are the same, only superficial details differ.

      • yapa

        Dear Gamarala;

        “The explanation I find most plausible for this phenomenon is that of an evolutionary propensity for such beliefs, coupled with cultural indoctrination.”

        I think that is nothing but an arbitrary and arrogant conclusion of yours.

        Thanks!

  • Omi Gosh

    This is for Buddhists and not skeptics: The best thing that can come out of an incident like what happened in Dambulla, is a deep questioning of what the religious experience is all about. Buddhists should ask themselves, is this truly Buddhism in action.

    If one is a buddhist, one believes in karma. Then, what is the karma of an action like that demonstrated by the Buddhist mob in Dambulla. My thought processes go something like this — they have:
    1. Generated confusion in the minds of followers and others.
    2. Generated fear and anxiety in the minds of the group perceived as the enemy.
    3. Generated states of mind such as anger and depression in the minds of followers and others.
    4. Presented a false face of Buddhism to followers and others, thus turning others and some followers away from this Buddhism.
    5. Brought Buddhism to disrepute.
    6. Generated actual and created causes for actual damage and harm to people and property.
    7. Caused more harm to an already damaged country and people.
    etc etc

    Now lets just look at No. 1 from the karmic angle: If someone generates confusion in the minds of say 2000 followers, then that means one has generated 2000 causes for states of confusion to one day return to you. So, that is the credit this monk is adding to his own karma account in his bank of consciousness. He is also encouraging other Buddhists to do the same. We believe in other lives, the nature of which is determined at the point of the last breath: this is when one life ends and the other begins. At this point, a karmic roulette, which no amount of worldly power in this lifetime can influence, will spin and draw a cocktail of karma from this life and previous lives, to determine the nature of the next birth. Lets just say that the roulette spins and gathers the 2000 states of confusion into one lifetime; the next birth will be one of madness.

    Not pleasant at all. Buddhist leaders who claim to be protectors of the dhamma must be very mindful that they truly walk the talk because the power they have in this life is temporary.

    Let’s not follow this (my) thought in discussion in this column, but rather self-relfect – the language of spiritual experiences is ambiguous and therefore malleable and can be turned into guns or roses, depending on whose hands it falls into.

  • To be fair to Dambara Amila Thero, and the Sangha in general, the problem is not them. It is Buddhism itself. Buddhism is the problem because it is a religion.

    Religion is not science. You don’t create new knowledge, unlike science. So anyone who is passionate about his/her religion would do their best to protect that knowledge, in whatever the way they feel is right. They might even believe that the things they do to protect their religion might earn them eternal damnation. But the desire to protect the religion cannot be refused. There’s also the fact that you can never prove that your religion is true. If you can’t prove your religion with evidence, then what can you do for it?

    A science lover doesn’t have to protect science. He can do something better. He can make new knowledge. Also, no matter how much one would argue against science and technology, iPhones will still work.