[The triple gem of Anuradhapura; Abhayagiriya facing north and its synthesis of Theravada and Mahayana represents the spiritual values of balance and integration; Ruvanweliseya in the western corner symbolizes caution, orthodoxy and conservatism; Jethavanaramaya in the eastern corner symbolizes optimism and progress – the mentality of the rising sun. To the south is materialism into whose clutches the sinhalese walked innocently without any of the safeguards afforded by this ancient Trinity.]
Left their unity and security at Anuradhapura.
They have not been safe or secure in any of the subsequent capitals. This chronic insecurity has something to do with their narrow version of domesticated Buddhism and a Sangha that enjoys entrenched privilege upon a notion of an exclusive Sinhala Buddhist identity. The original sense of brotherhood upon which the Indian invaders and natives finally settled, sealing their compact with the Ruvanweliseya and Gamani Kingship was whittled down in stages into a sharp hierarchy where the Sangha and king and nobles occupied the apex of our societal pyramid.
This hierarchy was threatened with the influx of western powers from the 16th century. But the efforts of Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe and Ven Welivita Saranankara ensured that it would survive. This feudal inequality within our society has now received a fresh lease of life after the victory in the Eelam War.
Is not the capital of the Sinhalese. A Muslim chief controlled this port city in the 14th century and no king of this country ever captured Colombo. Today it is the capital of a hybrid and privileged community that has evolved through the new sources of local and international power – commerce and finance and affiliated services, the British political, administrative ad legal order, western culture and lifestyles and the English language.
The predominantly rural Sinhalese have struggled to come to terms with these new sources of power. Their native ideology pulls them back into parochial identities among which caste and religion are the strongest. On the other hand the realities of life in the 21st century keep them bound to a relentless rat race – in politics, in the professions and vocations and even family life.
This is the contradictory, competitive and self destructive pattern the Sinhalese have fallen into.
Is the new capital. But this is simply an extension of Colombo. It offers space, and perhaps a little more by way of nature and greenery but not contentment.
A community split in two, alienated from ourselves, dissatisfied and frustrated, moving between cycles of passivity and aggression, but still searching for peace, rest and leisure.
Real leisure where we can bring out that ancient mirror in which we can see ourselves clearly once more.
What characterised the grand 1000 plus year epoch of the Anuradhapura Kingdom?
Derived from a balance of material and spiritual forces. Whatever the material accomplishments, they were perfected, balanced and moderated by the Integrating force of Buddhist humanism.
Buddhism was not dominated by any single version or orthodoxy and the emergence of Abhayagiriya and Jethavanaramaya acted as checks on the power of Mahaviharaya. Their frictions, debates and interactions kept the critical tradition of Buddhism alive. Buddhism was both balanced and enriched with insights that came through Mahayana and Vajrayana. Thus it never became a source of domination.
Buddhism at Anuradhapura was a way of life – not a special way. As we drifted to the South West Buddhism got separated from ordinary life and became a special way; a special way to be sought through a privileged and elite noble order of priests who would become proficient in Buddhist scholarship, preaching what the Buddha said and organizing grand rituals and expensive merit making ceremonies.
Never forgot Buddha, not because they preserved his image in stone – but because they continued to produce muni’s guru’s and acharyas – essentially sramanas (irrespective of their official creed) who would, like Buddha renounce the world, seek the truth by themselves and teach the common people in their own language. They, like the Buddha, epitomized unconditional love. We had forgotten the sramana so much that when,
Appeared we ignored him in favour of an anglicized elite freedom movement, fully modernized in their English suits. The life and times of the Anagarika must be appreciated together. Buddhism in the late 19th century was in survival mode fighting a powerful missionary movement backed by the might of an empire. Some of his statements and perspectives must be contextualized to be understood clearly. In any event if there is a serious discrepancy between the Buddha’s teachings and certain stances of the Anagarika serious and conscious Buddhists must know how to choose which direction they must take. In the 20th century Buddhism has spread to many parts of the world through the peaceful efforts of its exemplars and this movement in terms of scale is unprecedented in Buddhist history. Modern communication technology has been a strong supportive influence.
Thus Buddhism as a universal religion has many adherents and supporters the world over – black and white, brown and yellow. It was never a tribal religion of a select race. In fact it is the reason why the four famous tribes in ancient Lanka – the Yakshas, Nagas, Sakyas and Devas shed their old identities to embrace a modern and more civilized way of life. There does not seem to be anything in the way of stopping the Sinhalese from going back to that old way of life today. If there are no true individuals in their midst and it is the herd instinct that dominates this must be their destiny. Of course to do this in the 21st century would naturally entail an implicit invitation for the international community to step in and safeguard the Tamils and Muslims who are thus excluded from this new tribal identity. This would also mean that the brave soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice in the Eelam War would have died in vain.
In any event, as Winston Churchill once said to remain positive and open is the only option.
The integration of the material and spiritual into our lives is something that can be done at the individual and family levels. It does not require a new capital. Much less does it require elaborate collective pujas which only affirm a narrow identity and reinforce our insecurities. This personal transformation can take place irrespective of the name and ancestry of our leaders and whether or not they wear moustaches and national dresses. It is about self reliance.
Integration is the challenge
The triple gem of Anuradhapura; Abhayagiriya facing north and its synthesis of Theravada and Mahayana represents the spiritual values of balance and integration; Ruvanweliseya in the western corner symbolizes caution, orthodoxy and conservatism; Jethavanaramaya in the eastern corner symbolizes optimism and progress – the mentality of the rising sun. To the south is materialism into whose clutches the sinhalese walked innocently without any of the safeguards afforded by this ancient Trinity.