Beyond collective egos: Our relational grounds of belonging and faith

While racial hatred burns, with fires so ably lit by the ignorant on both sides of Palk Straits, there is another source of energy – hidden from view but none the less real – that burns deep inside.

For the Sinhala Buddhist today, regaining identity and faith is necessarily bound up with reclaiming a lost inheritance. This inheritance is our cultural relationship with India or Maha Bharata which shaped and moulded our broad sense of “Sinhalese-ness” and “Buddhist-ness” for 16 centuries through a line of 134 monarchs up to Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 AD).

But Vijayabahu liberated a dying state. His brilliant nephew Parakramabahu (1153-1186 AD) represented a glorious end to a glorious culture. More importantly for us – he also represented an abandoned and failed beginning of a new culture that might have been. The physical remains of this abandonment can be seen at the Demala Maha Seya in Polonnaruva and the Suthigara Chaitya in Dedigama – ambitious works that Parakramabahu commenced but could not complete. His vision of a strong centralized state and strong economy – modernized to move with changing times, was not shared or realized by any of the kings who succeeded him. Within 30 years of his death rajarata lay in ruins, destroyed by a usurper from Kalinga (modern day Orissa State in India) named Magha who ruled for 19 years from 1215 and brought a proud society to its knees. Lanka never recovered from the multiple losses that took place around this period. What were these great losses?

  1. Loss of the rajarata irrigation culture – and a way of life organized around tanks
  2. Loss of the function of Abhayagiri Viharaya which connected local Buddhists with India and other progressive minded Buddhist centres around Asia
  3. Loss of the Order of Buddhist Nuns, loss of the meditation tradition and critical tradition in Buddhism
  4. Loss of social cohesion reflected in
    • the weakening of village democracies especially in the south after the three devastating campaigns of Parakramabahu. This turned the island into an authoritarian, top down system with weak communities, competing regional systems and a central government that from British times derived legitimacy through force and not consent; and
    • a growing alienation between a cosmopolitan elite and common people; as Martin Wickramasinghe said ‘from about the 12th century our rulers and the educated urban minority lost their cultural independence and became imitators of Sanskrit culture.’
  5. Loss of depth in culture accompanied by the loss of the Buddhist critical tradition and independence of thought which led to a slavish culture of imitation of foreigners from the Portugese to the British and beyond. This inability to separate form from substance meant that no effective cross cultural exchange or learning would take place except at the most superficial level. In modern times the idea of human rights has received the same superficial treatment in Sri Lanka.
  6. Gradual loss of economic sovereignty and with it political autonomy to manage our own affairs without external interference

In this way a cycle that originated with the brutal Kalinga campaign of Emperor Asoka ended with a royal connection with the same land fostered by the House of Vijayabahu in Polonnaruva – bringing home to the Lankans the Buddha’s teaching on impermanence. The principal challenge that faced them at the spiritual level was to let go of the past and begin afresh.

As the Wikipedia write up on Kalinga Magha comments:

“The bitter memory of Magha’s invasion also tainted the previously close relationship between the Sinhalese and the Chola, Chera and Pandya inhabitants of southern India. Whereas the great families of Rajarata had invariably been polity-spanning clans, with extensive intermarriage between Indian and Sri Lankan branches, the royal families of the Middle Ages became more distinctive and recognisably Sinhalese in the modern sense of the word. This is not to say however that south Indian influence in Sri Lankan politics ended altogether – witness the Nayakkar dynasty of Kandy. However the age of the great, Indo-Lankan clans like the Moriya and Lambakanna was over.

Native authority over Sri Lanka, already in decline before Magha’s invasion, never fully recovered from the invasion; the next three centuries were marked by near-anarchy. This period of Sri Lanka’s history ended only with the arrival of a foe that would eventually subsume both the great empires of south India and the kingdoms of Sri Lanka under its authority – the forces of colonial Europe.”

Geographically an island, culturally we shared a larger space and a deep underlying unity with India in the growth period of Sinhalese culture in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva Kingdoms. But traumatized and shaken by the terror of Magha a new breed of Sinhalese who re-grouped in Dambadeniya set their faces against this cultural relationship. As the centuries wore on the old sense of respect, connection and solidarity became more and more distant and the centre of Sinhalese culture moved from East to West – or remained suspended without finding a home in either.

The cultural shift from cooperative to adversarial religion became a prominent feature of the relations with the westerner starting with the Portugese. Race, religion and caste became more and more rigid and inflexible categories – a process that reached its zenith in the Kandyan Highlands where the Sinhalese would stage their last stand in defence of their ancient culture and civilization.

Portugese

Modern monument to the 16th century defeat of Portugese at Mulleriya Wela] From Dambadeniya to Colombo military victories did not necessarily lead to peace.

The shift of our cultural centre from East towards the West commenced long years ago within the Sangha itself. In the First Century BC the Buddha’s path of freedom was converted to a religion of the book with the codification of the pali canon. This was accompanied by an election upon a great debate between meditating rag robe wearers (pamsukulikas) and preaching village monks (dhammakathikas) won by the latter that learning and not practice is the essential foundation of the Sasana in Lanka. With this great deviation from the word of the Buddha the Dhamma and Sangha became the preserve of scholars and priests rather than the living example and striving of practitioners and wandering mendicant monks.

Buddha located the sangha (note – in lower case) outside society and established small groups of monks who would share close personal relations and perform their bi-weekly uposatha ceremony reciting the code of discipline within their common sima. Most importantly these monks would be a ‘state within’ who would not share any racial or caste identities with their lay supporters. The Sinhalese located the Sangha within society with a great measure of economic security. They would follow the secular state in creating a hierarchical organization. Has the bi-weekly uposatha observance – the cardinal tenet in vinaya (also referred to as vinaya pohoya karma), disappeared from monastic practice in Sri Lanka? This is an inquiry that must penetrate the smoke screen set up with the popular slogan ‘piliwethin pelagesemu’.

Historically the Buddhist priests became fully integrated monastic landlords at the hierarchical apex of a feudal caste based society. They would thus exercise power and influence and enjoy wealth behind a spiritual facade like any conventional western Christian Church.

The Buddhist ego that emerged from the encounter with western colonialism was based on such an external and worldly foundation. When Anagarika Dharmapala began his fearless crusade to revive Buddhism in Lanka in the 19th century and also moved to regain Buddhagaya for the Buddhists this same separate ego became a point of discord and division with ‘Hindu’ India.

Thus Jinarajadasa – one of the early Lankan Theosophists who remained true to its eclectic spirit said:

“Speaking frankly to the young generation, who are doing much work today, I would like to mention one profound cause for my dissatisfaction when I tried to do something for Buddhism and for Ceylon. It is the complete mental separation which exists between Ceylon and the great tradition of India. Anyone who has had even a glimpse into Hindu traditions knows at once that all that is of real significance in Sinhalese civilization is closely linked to Hindu civilization, if not fully derived from it … All those who consider themselves intelligent Buddhists – particularly the leading priests – never seemed to realize that it was scarcely possible to understand any Buddhist philosophical term without a thorough knowledge of the Hindu philosophies of the time of the Lord Buddha.”

Similar ideas were expressed by Ananda Coomaraswamy. But the vast majority of Sinhala Buddhists remained indifferent to this ‘great tradition’ of India.

And in an interview with Anagarika Dharmapala reproduced in the 1892 Journal of the Maha Bodhi Society the Thai Prince Dhamrong cautioned him in the following terms:

“Mr. Dharmapala,” the Prince said, “Buddhism is not brick and mortar; you may spend a lac of rupees in buying up the sacred temple, but before you do that, you ought to prepare the way for the dissemination of the moral truths of Buddhism. Later on, you may direct your attention to the Temple…By all means carry on your good work, and try to work in harmony with the Hindus. Concentrate your efforts on the diffusion of knowledge, for that constitutes Buddhism. The British government is taking care of the temple, and it could not be in better hands. I have watched with interest your movement and no better work could be done. I saw the High Priest Sumangala in Ceylon, and I may say that I have hardly met so good a priest.”  [Emphasis added]

Thus today Sri Lanka remains fundamentally alienated from her Indian roots – unable to achieve harmony with the source energies of spirituality that sprang from its fertile soil. Our fingers grasp greedily for Indian rupees, blind to the face and significance of Gandhi that adorn them.

Gandhi came closer to Buddha’s message of peace and compassion than any Sinhala Buddhist has in centuries. Other Asians who trod his path – Dalai Lama of Tibet, Aung San Sukyi of Burma and Thich Nhat Hanh of Vietnam have raised a standard that infused politics and social work with sanity and intelligence in an age of great arrogance, insanity and greed for power and money. An American preacher called Martin Luther King and the South African Nelson Mandela were all inspired by Gandhi’s creed of non violence.

INR

 

Indian rupee notes adorned by a single human face symbolizing the spiritual inheritance of India

In other words his message has now transcended the narrow confines of race, religion and country. To the ordinary Sri Lankan trapped by these divisions these ‘international icons’ may seem very distant ideals.

In fact they are not. The only reserve these non violent leaders tapped was the depth of their own humanity. Our transition from childhood to adulthood can mark us with permanent scars when experience deprives us of our innocence. This happens to all of us and we become reckless and cynical and short sighted and forsake happiness in our search for happiness. History can help us understand how ideas were shaped by circumstances and how those ideas went on to shape people – how they identified themselves and related to others. These are all shifting sands that we must negotiate with skill if past mistakes are not to be repeated.

Tamils in Sri Lanka committed moral suicide when they embraced racism. The Sinhalese followed suit. Two deaths don’t add up to a victory for anyone. We await the re-birth of innocence and gentleness that helps us to re-connect and appreciate each other socially and culturally. Unknown to many of us our political perspectives are shaped by two great men who strode the world stage in the 20th century – Gandhi and Churchill. The latter was a humanist who rejected religion and he found it impossible to relate to or have sympathy with the quaint Indian naked fakir. But at the end of his life when Gandhi was no more he uttered his greatest insight into their relationship (as narrated by Arthur Herman)

“When I was subaltern the Indian did not seem to me equal to the white man,” Churchill recalled in 1952. It was an attitude that, he had belatedly come to realize, had hurt the Raj.

Then he said something unlike anything he had ever said about India: “if we had made friends with them and taken them into our lives instead of restricting our intercourse to the political field, things might have been very different.” That regretful musing was a final landmark on a long journey. The opening that Gandhi had wanted had finally appeared – but too late for either of them.

The same lesson that Prabhakaran learned – that military power confers only a temporary and limited advantage against a bigger adversary must now be learned by Sri Lanka as well. True safety and prosperity lies in a genuine friendship of respect and mutual appreciation with our neighbour. This warmth must be shared between peoples of both countries both rich and poor. Where this foundation is absent neither clever politics nor clever diplomacy will be of any avail.

There is no permanent ‘Sinhala’ or ‘Buddhist’ identity to be found, whether we look at the past or present – and there will not be such an identity in future. The attributes and qualities of identity have always been defined relationally and contextually. The original and most powerful relationship was with ‘India’ – and this influenced the Sinhala and Buddhist identities both positively and negatively. With the arrival of ‘Europeans’ we found the same mixed bag, subject however to the condition that by the ‘Kandyan Period’ the negatives outweighed the positives. The most recent interaction of the state has been with insurgency and terrorism and we should not be surprised to see the fallout of these interactions on human relations and human identity. Again, while Buddhist revivalism in the 19th century followed a Christian protestant format with a controlled adversarial spirit the post war Buddhist activism of BBS seems to be taking the intolerant Islamic model of Arabian countries as its guiding model. Taking on the fundamental attributes of those whom we hate, resist and oppose seems to be the fate of all oppositional warriors in the end….

For the ‘Sinhalese’, ‘Tamils’ and ‘Muslims’ for whom identity still remains a matter of importance in negotiating a sense of meaning the challenge is to realize there is only sharing, rather than separate existences – with sharing negatives or positives being the sole choice.

To sum up we can unite with the other in conflict and share our negatives. Or we can unite in peace and share our positives. Like an onion, identity goes on an on, with an “I” in the middle – but that I is empty and contains nothing. Ultimately there are no countries or nations either – just dominant ideas and influences that keep changing from time to time. This is my understanding of the truth of anatta. Not knowing this we take what is transient as permanent; and what is suffering as happiness. In the name of patriotism and religion, all that we are celebrating is naked egoism. The whole world can see this even as the ego deceives us – as it is wont to do, that we are basically ok.

As we all stagnate (together) in this quagmire of our own making, Buddha (the pure and awakened mind) is waiting… and of course we must pull ourselves out. There will be no divine intervention.

  • Burning_Issue

    “Tamils in Sri Lanka committed moral suicide when they embraced racism. The Sinhalese followed suit.”

    What a contentious statement! I take it that you intend to appeal to the Sinhala Buddhists; making such a punch statement would make them take note. But I must say it is very disparaging and many would take issues with that.

    However, overall your focus on lost Indian connection is a good reading. I believe that the Sinhala Buddhists are badly lead and deluded such that they perceive that everything about Sinhala is made in Sri Lanka!

    • Thrishantha

      A good chance to reflect upon the transient nature of identities, or to be more accurate, the emptiness of social labels.

      If I identify myself as Sinhalese and my genetic ancestors who lived thousand years ago, in a totally different cultural setting also identified themselves as Sinhalese, how solid is this label? Same with other social labels. What is at the core is just the nature of human beings, who can be conditioned by the environment to speaak a language that changes, to have some appearance that changes, and have thought patterns that change. Grip these transient currents, knowing that it will just continue to move, burning those who try to grip it.

  • Orion

    Sajeeva, S.
    You said, “Ultimately there are no countries or nations either – just dominant ideas and influences that keep changing from time to time. This is my understanding of the truth of anatta. Not knowing this we take what is transient as permanent; and what is suffering as happiness. In the name of patriotism and religion, all that we are celebrating is naked egoism.”

    Countries and states are modern way of implementing the “Territorial Imperative” of our animal ancestors who piss to mark their boundaries and bare their teeth to keep the “other” out. We are however civilised a little. We issue passports and visas.
    I think it is Bernard Shaw who said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”

  • Humanist

    I agree with Burning Issue that this statement is contentious. My reading of Sri Lankan political history of the 1950s is that it was the Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed. However, this can lead to an endless and futile argument about what comes first -the chicken or the egg. In any case, both Sinhalese and Tamils committed moral suicide by embracing racism and that is the status quo today.

    Aside from that statement, I would recommend Mr. Samaranayake to get this article translated and published in the op-ed pages of both Sinhalese and Tamil newspapers, especially the Sinhalese ones since their readers seem to think that they landed on this island on a space ship, and have forgotten the historical links and relations that enriched their culture.

    If I follow the author’s line of argument to its logical end, there is no such person as a Sinhalese Buddhist. If you are a practicing Buddhist, you are above caste, creed, ethnicity, race and nation. So if you are a Buddhist, then you cannot be a Sinhalese. I think this message is a very pertinent one right now.

    • Dominic Arias

      That would be incorrect the describe 1950’s Sinhalese politics as racism. There was nothing wrong with the dominant culture of Sinhalese wanting their place after British packed up left.
      The problem was the dominantly Sinhalese government tried to address the thousand years of grievances in matter of few years. Lets not forget that British did not conquer the Kandyan Kingdom. Sinhalese handed the king and the kingdom over to British. Deterioration and grievances of Sinhalese started even before Western invaders.
      If the politicians had the ability to understand that, the outcome would have been better and we wouldn’t have Tamil Tigers. But, that would’ve been a big ask for these politicians.

      The glorious times for Sinhalese culture was during Anuradhapura era.
      And that time was long gone.
      If we are to bring some of those ancient glory and way of life, we must do it while living in modern society, where our behaviour is very much modeled by western influences, whether we like it or not.

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    Excellent and enlightening article about the dynamics of centralization and how the Sanga got into the pocket of the state – which was not at all the intent of the Buddha.

    The problem of centralization is co-option of the intelligent folks into dumb power driven agendas that are sub-optimal for every once else, other than those in power, seem not to be new. Such dynamics makes societies dumber, less resilient and prone to collapse as you have explained. There is richness and value in diversity that centralization works to destroys – at its peril.

    Bigger societies with better dynamics are able to create better systems, knowledge and civilization – which small islanders often fail to recognize. The advantage that small islanders have is the benefit of all that is best from the world along with the possibility of combining it into a workable system – in a way that larger nations cannot: But small island nationalism works against it. It breeds insularity driven by insecurity and reaches a point of internal collapse – often accompanied by trauma, unable to bounce back for a couple of hundred years.

    A pleasure to read a historic review of such quality on Sri Lanka; it helps us understand the mess we are in. Thank you Sanjeeva, for sharing your valuable perspective.

    Sivam Krish

  • sajeeva samaranayake

    To place a highly contentious and dualistic statement in the middle of an article with a holistic and relational focus helped, perhaps to highlight the dangers of this kind of black and white thinking.

    Thus if I had said
    “SOME people in this island embraced racism – and then they were followed by more…” it would not have been noticed. However this is simply what I have said. At the beginning of the eelam war when we were schoolboys in the 80’s there was very little racism in evidence. At least people would have been embarrassed to make such statements. Once when in Grade 3 I fought with a Tamil boy and called him “demala” or something to that effect. This was reported and I was advised by a teacher that this was not acceptable.

    Norms are made or broken in such interpersonal interactions and when there is a sufficient number of negative interactions they can suddenly burst on us like a nightmare.

    Ultimately however racism and tribalism become globally integrated within a global political ideology where external colonization is succeeded by internal colonization of the powerless by the powerful. The societal foundation for governance thus remains the ever present threat of violence by man against man to enforce the authority of the state in all matters.

    We have also failed to discern and separate the imprisoning strands of western culture from its liberating ones (what may be termed the Faustian and broadly Buddhist influences)and failed to maximise the opportunities afforded by the latter.

    People like Governor Ward, Colonel Olcott, the German Bikkhus Nyanatiloka and Nyanaponika, educationsists like Fraser, Marie Higgins, Woodward, Blaze and Senior (to name a few) all worked tirelessly to sow the moral seeds of this nation for the benefit of future generations. However the question remains whether we have made full use of these legacies and allowed them to change and transform us. If we still read ceylon history as ‘Sinhalese’ or ‘Tamils’ and our main object is to bolster our egos rather than to learn critically and with openness from the past then we have missed the bus

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Sanjeewa, Humanist and Burning Issue,

      Sanjeewa, you need not apologise for stating a fact. It is the politics of G.G. Ponnambalam, the Tamil lawyer politician of the 1930’s, that introduced Racism to Sri Lankan politics of the 20th century. He did so to wrest leadership of the Tamils from the Arunachalams and the Ramanathans.

      see Dr. Jane Russell’s, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution.
      Hansard of 1935 column 3045.
      The Hindu Organ of Nov 1, 1939 (published in Jaffna).
      Hindu Organ (of June 22, 1939, page 4)

      “THE WRITING ON THE WALL”, The Hindu Organ, in an editorial said:

      “Communal differences, though there existed hardly any during the time of the last generation of leaders, have now been multiplied and intensified, thanks to the hot-heads and irresponsible talkers in the country who care more for the plaudits of the mob than for the welfare of the people…..A verbal bombshell dropped unwittingly by a Tamil politician at Nawalapitiya appears to have set the South on fire.

      The evidence I have produced is from the Tamil press in the 1930s and were real time observations from the Tamils themselves and of a British Historian who lived in Sri Lanka for a very long time.

      Yes what you have stated is contentious but what is not contentious when discussing Sri Lankan politics?

      It has been the Tamil Nationalist strategy to blame the Sinhalese. The effectiveness of that propaganda is reflected in “Humanist’s” comment above. However Humanist has astutely observed that, “If I follow the author’s line of argument to its logical end, there is no such person as a Sinhalese Buddhist. If you are a practicing Buddhist, you are above caste, creed, ethnicity, race and nation”.

      But he errs in his conclusion “So if you are a Buddhist, then you cannot be a Sinhalese”. He should have stated if you are a Buddhist you could be from any ethnicity as we have Buddhist Tamils, Buddhist Sinhalese, Buddhist Europeans, Buddhist Asians etc and the same applies to any other religion.

      Burning Issue would not accept that it was indeed the Tamils who uncorked the bottle and let the genie of Racism loose in the 20th century, despite the evidence.

      Sinhalese is a mixed race. I wonder whether a “pure” race can be found anywhere in the world. But everything Sinhalese, has been assembled and manufactured in Sri Lanka from imported and indigenous parts.

  • Burning_Issue

    Unfortunately, you have defended you position with another sweeping statement!

    ” At the beginning of the eelam war when we were schoolboys in the 80?s there was very little racism in evidence”

    Wow; obviously, a middle class Colombo Sinhala Buddhist school boy would not know much about what went on during the JRJ lead UNP goings on! I can overlook your previous contentious statement but this one has taken it to another level. The Black July was not just incidental there was a well orchestrated government-backed gangs behind it. MP Cyril Matthews was at the forefront of it. The burning of Jaffna Library was when? Please do yourself a favour; just stick to promoting Indo-Lanka relations. The Tamils have paid a mammoth price for trying to stand up for their rights. I do not dispute racism in the Tamil psyic but non-violent Tamil resistance is not racism. It is their right.

  • Humanist

    Sanjeeva S,

    Your statement is contentious, not because of its duality or it is a fact (as claimed by Off the cuff) but because each of us will interpret what “racism” means differently and at what time in the island’s long history it started differently – as the respondents to this discussion here are already doing. That is why I consider it an endless and futile argument. What matters is that racism exists now and has existed always in human history.

    I think Off the cuff has missed the point of your argument. Just because you might be born to Sinhalese or Tamil or European parents and claim to be a Buddhist by socialization, persuasion or conversion, it does not mean that you are actually a Buddhist. Unless you can say, if I am a Buddhist I am first of all a Buddhist – my caste, creed, ethnicity, nation matters not a trifle and I have no hatred against anyone based on caste, creed, ethnicity, nation. If these identities do matter to you, you might remain a Sinhalese, Tamil or European but you are definitely not a Buddhist.

    I remain,
    A humanist

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Humanist,

      I admire the following statement of yours.

      “Just because you might be born to Sinhalese or Tamil or European parents and claim to be a Buddhist by socialization, persuasion or conversion, it does not mean that you are actually a Buddhist. Unless you can say, if I am a Buddhist I am first of all a Buddhist – my caste, creed, ethnicity, nation matters not a trifle and I have no hatred against anyone based on caste, creed, ethnicity, nation. If these identities do matter to you, you might remain a Sinhalese, Tamil or European but you are definitely not a Buddhist.”

      If you were describing an Arahath, then your description is faultless and I would agree with you a 100%. But an Arahath is the pinnacle of attainment. There are three other lower states of attainment namely Sotapanna, Sakadagami and Anagami.

      The overwhelming majority of lay people and Monks would have not entered even the lowest state of realisation which is Sotapanna. It is not only the Arahaths that are Buddhists which essentially is your claim. But the word Buddhist describes a group of people who follow a path described by the Buddha. It includes those with varying degrees of attainment even someone who worships the Buddha and ask Him to provide relief or salvation which the Buddha Himself said he cant do. It includes even those people who shower Buddha’s relics with Gems, Gold and things valuable, things that He totally rejected when He was living.

      I am definitely not a Sotapanna. I don’t ask the Buddha for salvation because I know He cannot do that for me. I do not offer things the Buddha rejected when He was living, expecting to find salvation through such acts. I consider myself a Sinhalese because that is what my genetic heritage is. But I am most definitely a Buddhist because I strive to follow the path the Buddha described. And so are the billions who follow the path described by the Buddha, irrespective of the state of attainment, of each of them.

      The problem is the inability of everyone who criticise the Buddhists to recognise that within their own Religions, the followers are not all Saints. Likewise Buddhists are not all Arahaths.

      • Humanist

        Off-the-cuff,

        I thank you for this constructive engagement. I agree with you that there are different stages of attainment in Buddhism but ultimately the goal is Nirvana for everyone and there is a common path, which we consider the “core” of Buddhism. That core includes for example, principles such as hatred is not appeased by hatred, and one becomes a buddhist not by birth but by deeds, as enshrined in the Dhammapada. These core values are not limited to arahants, I assume.

        Now human beings being what they are, will always err and will fall short of the path they have committed themselves to – in this case Buddhism. Let’s leave other religions aside, since I assume both of us come from a Buddhist heritage. However, if we claim to be Buddhists we have to try to follow that path – as you know intention is very important in Buddhism. So if we wave our national flag and attach ourselves to it with pride as Sri Lankans or Sinhalese, we have to remember that as we engage in that deed we are straying from the path of Buddhism. If we insult a Muslim woman for the dress she is wearing, we are straying from that path again. If people dressed in saffron robes walk around with sticks and stones and threaten other people, they are way off the path of Buddhism. Because when you are engaged in those deeds you are not acting in a way befitting a Buddhist. In my book, at that moment you have no right to call yourself a Buddhist. Because your intention is nowhere close to even trying to tread the path of Buddhism. We are taught the values of Buddhism from childhood. If you knowingly flout these values, you cannot be a Buddhist.

        I myself do not call myself a Buddhist because even though I do try to follow the humanist core of Buddhism, I do not try to curb some of my cravings for pleasure – music, art, literature, food, enjoyment of the beauty of nature. When the Census comes around, I always declare myself as “other” for ethnicity and religion. If I have to fill in a form that asks for “race”, this is a very simple matter for me because, all I have to respond is “human”. I think we all have a responsibility when we claim to be something, including being a Buddhist.

        • Off the Cuff

          Dear Humanist,

          When you say “I myself do not call myself a Buddhist because even though I do try to follow the humanist core of Buddhism, I do not try to curb some of my cravings for pleasure” you are applying your own definition of what a Buddhist should be. But though you do not call yourself a Buddhist you are a Buddhist as you are treading the path that the Buddha taught (distinct from treading the path of another religion).

          Here is an extract of an article that describes who a Buddhist is.

          “Bhikkhus, there are these five faculties. What five? The faculty of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. These are the five faculties. One who has completed and fulfilled these five faculties is an arahant. If they are weaker than that, one is a non-returner; if still weaker, a once-returner; if still weaker, a stream-enterer; if still weaker, a Dhamma-follower; if still weaker, a faith-follower.” Samyutta Nikaya 48.12

          The Buddha states that even if one is not a Dhamma follower, one can still be a faith-follower. A faith-follower may not be even following the teachings very well or at all. This is fitting with the general definition as a person who simply supports the teachings of Buddha and attempts to follow them as much as he or she is able. One need not go for refuge either in a public or private ritual. Buddhists acknowledge that people are on a Path to enlightenment and that some will be further along than others and judgment is not used against any others who may be at a lower level in their progress along the Path.

          So what makes a person a Buddhist? Anyone who wants to be called a Buddhist, is a Buddhist. It does not matter if they have taken refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha or not.

          End extract

          I can understand your anger about the behaviour of some monks and lay people because I am angered by them too. They defile what the Buddha Dhamma stands for. But unfortunately there are no laws that can be used to disrobe the yellow robe. Police inaction compounds the problem and underlines bad governance.

          “If we insult a Muslim woman for the dress she is wearing, we are straying from that path again”

          Muslim women wore a distinctive dress for ages. The Saree was worn differently and those who elected to wear the frock did so with a trouser and a shawl. Some Sinhala and Tamil women also followed suit. Pakistani dresses are in fashion and is worn by many young women who are not Muslim. As far as I can remember there never was a problem for nearly a century. If there is a problem now the cause should be identified and steps taken to prevent disharmony.

          Some of the problems that you see today are caused by the inability to respect the space of your neighbour. A simple example would be the creation of noise, whether on the road, in public spaces and in the the neighbourhood. Use of loud horns to blast away other road users. Use of Loudspeakers in Temples, Mosques and Churches to throw sound beyond their boundaries. Use of loudspeakers by street sellers at all times of the day, peddling ice cream, Bakery products, sweep tickets etc. The new trend of using Loudspeakers strung on every lamp post along a road blasting away regardless.

          Another example is the invasion of privacy by sending unsolicited SMS to phones by Commercial establishments such as Pizza Hut, Banks, Phone companies and even the govt. Each SMS disturbs the recipient as it has to be looked at for fear of missing what you want to receive.

          All these causes anger to build up and spill over to the public space, over time.

          • Humanist

            Off the cuff,

            I agree with much of what you have written here – especially your views on loudspeakers. There could be a law to confine loudspeakers to closed spaces where people have a choice whether to listen through one or not. But where would our politicians be then?

            I have no problem with the Samyutta Nikaya which you have quoted. But I do have a problem with its interpretation that follows in the article that you have quoted. From my reading of the SN, it is not written that a faith follower may not follow the teaching at all. Only that s/he tries to follow it as best as s/he can, although at a much weaker level, based on faith, i.e. with less understanding.

            The danger of the interpretation to which you have referred is that someone could argue that since you are a lower level Buddhist, you can do pretty much anything and get away with it, and still be a Buddhist because you claim to follow the path (unlike in Catholicism, you don’t even have to confess). I think that is an interpretation of being a Buddhist made in bad faith, without personal responsibility. It becomes even more dangerous if one goes on to say that most practitioners of other religions are also low level followers of their religions and do whatever they please, and therefore have no right to question whether Buddhists are on their path or not.

  • sajeeva samaranayake

    Thank you sincerely for all corrections.

    One thing does seem clear. The leap of faith we need to make is something that all Sri Lankans must contemplate seriously. Today there is no Sri Lankan identity. But it is a practical necessity – not for politicians but for ordinary people to live in peace. It is also clear that all presently constituted power structures and relations are based on the manipulation of parochial identities and that the establishment of a cohesive and harmonious nation will need those structures to be dismantled completely.

    This new human identity has to be created with an act of faith or detachment which is to accept the unconditional equality of all citizens. But to do so we must dig within each tradition. Sinhalese, tamils, muslims must all see if they have used the liberating aspects of their religion, culture and history to imprison themselves. If so those chains must be discarded and in doing so they will only become deeper buddhists, hindus, christians and muslims.

    in another post i referred to Prof Gananath’s observation that the sense in which the sinhalese understood the idea of nation is the sasana. Now within the sasana there has to be unconditional love for all living beings – nothing less. Within the sasana there cannot be different categories and gradations of human beings.

    religious pioneers from different faiths must help each other through this difficult process of letting go to rise above the ego created divisions. If buddhists,christians, hindus and muslims can humbly learn from each other this is eminently doable.

  • sajeeva samaranayake

    Re the discussion between humanist and OTC (I hope its not private:)I just want to come in on the loudspeaker issue.

    From the religious perspective laws are for people who cannot resolve their own issues and govern their own lives. But loudspeakers test our tolerance because it is in a sense personal violence – something that invades our personal space by force and causes vexation.

    So how would a religious person respond? This is an important question. Others can go to police and courts as they are well entitled to. But the religions have other methods which when applied properly do help all parties. We need these approaches to come out. It is also when we directly experience some form of violence that our faith is tested and these are all great opportunities for spiritual practice. In such cases a bad experience becomes a particularly interesting and rich one. Religious thought therefore is post-conventional and will not make sense to the ordinary soul.

    There were 2 instances when catholics and muslims declined to go to court in response to what were felt as violations of their rights. The first was the raid on Missionaries for Charity in rawatawatte and the arrest and remand of the sister superior. The catholics protested and the cardinal said he will boycott state ceremonies during christmas and the charges were dropped. however the usual FR case and defamataion case that others resort to were not pursued.

    Then there was the recent fashion bug case.

    Now both are contentious – perhaps the former where some do think there was a crime to be investigated which was not properly done.

    My point is that other considerations prevailed and at least some of these were religious.

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Humanist,

      Let’s consider the lowest level of being a Buddhist.
      Suppose there is a person who indulges in breaking All the five basic precepts that a Lay person is expected to uphold but is a member of a Buddhist family. This person would be intoxicated at times and at other times quite sober. When sober this person shows compassion, respects the opposite sex, respects property of others and takes part in religious activities, due to faith. But is still an incorrigible liar (out of necessity due to the crimes committed). This person considers him/herself a Buddhist.

      If this person is a man he may be having consensual sex with many partners while being married or may have even committed acts of rape. If she was a woman she may be a nymphomaniac or a prostitute. What I have stated above holds true watt ever the religion professed by this person.

      This person is unbuddhistic at times and Buddhistic at other times. Who are we to sit in judgement and say he is not a Buddhist?

      Religion is a personal thing. For a Buddhist it is more so as there is no superior being from whom salvation can be sought by confession. For a Buddhist the merit or sin of any action that is performed is personal and is called Karma.

      Hence you err when you say “….. you can do pretty much anything and get away with it, and still be a Buddhist because you claim to follow the path (unlike in Catholicism, you don’t even have to confess).” Getting away from the Karmic forces of one’s actions is not possible and you will pay for your sins in time (unless you become an Arahath before these forces have time to act).

      The danger you see is because you expect Buddhism to keep order in society. If we had a world populated by people of other religions and Buddhist who have ALL attained at least the lowest level of attainment, namely Sotapanna, then what you expect from Buddhists would happen but not otherwise.

      Dear Sajeewa,

      Assume that you are a Buddhist who goes to bed around 11 pm after a hard days work and is bombarded daily at 5 am by an overzealous temple (or even a group of misguided Buddhists at the nearby junction) that puts “Pirith” at full blast and again repeats it in the evening around 6 pm. If even as a Buddhist I find that unacceptable how would a person who is not a Buddhist feel?

      Imagine that you live near a Mosque and is bombarded five times a day (starting at 5am) by a prayer to God over a loudspeaker going full blast would anyone (other than a Muslim who is compelled to do the prayer) find that acceptable?

      Imagine you live close to a Church and is disturbed daily by loud music and prayer would it be acceptable?

      This is what I meant by disrespect of the neighbours space.

      The temple and that group at the junction feels that the “Pirith” on tape will “protect those within earshot” of the sound and tries to broaden the boundary within earshot.

      The Mosque authorities feel it is a call to the faithful and that God will be able to hear better the louder the call.

      In comparison the Church produces the lowest disturbance but that is no consolation to those nearby.

      What could be a religious response to this?
      I can’t see anything that will solve this foolishness peacefully other than enforcement of the law impartially.

      I am aware of a Temple that responded to a nearby Mosque’s call to prayer at 5 am by broadcasting “Pirith” over loudspeakers that matched the loudness of the call. Till that time there was no “Pirith” from that temple at 5am. More people suffered silently as a consequence.

      I see no replacement to the impartial enforcement of the Law and this means proper governance.

      • sajeeva samaranayake

        Dear OTC

        I can offer some thoughts with my sympathies for those who are more directly and violently affected than me. At first glance my sympathies and thoughts can give very little solace for these people

        How can we change a pattern of behaviour that came through new technology and became exacerbated with some religions going to the market – to follow the same rules of aggressive advertising?

        Impartial law enforcement is no longer guaranteed is it? The former CJ Sarath N Silva took a hardline and even remanded a monk – but today the same temple continues to harass the residents of this area with impunity. So these attempts have been very short-lived.

        We need to look beyond short term solutions.

        Normally when we have a problem we define it very narrowly – so that the response becomes equally narrow. Especially when we make something a legal issue the scope of our inquiries and engagement are narrow. I referred to this with the quote from Churchill who regretted late in life not having engaged the indians at the social level.

        We must re-engage the temples. There is no alternative to this. This is not simply about loudspeakers. It is also about the alienation of a segment of Buddhists – what I would call moderates, eclectics and the westernized who have moved beyond temples and forgotten them.

        The temples are now forcing us to pay attention to what they are doing. In some ways this reminds me about delinquent children who go further afield looking for love because their parents did not bother to hold them. Eventually it is the prison bars that do the holding and society has missed the opportunity of connecting with them. I believe it is the same with every kind of deviant behaviour.

        We are shutting out the more informal, social and human modes of engagement in favour of purposive and narrow interventions. The latter have largely failed. The way I see it in the long run (that must start soon enough) there is no real alternative to this.

        As a society we have lost our soul. And with every new problem we confront we continue to lose this because we miss the opportunity of human and non violent engagement. This can extend to social protest as well. But we must work on organizing these properly so that we develop a foundation of social responsibility before calling upon others to become part of it.

        When the only model of society is the competitive market so that there is in fact no village and no community we cannot bring in abstract norms. The social organization must support norms and this entails a different way of living. Challenging – yes, but worth a try.

        • Off the Cuff

          Dear Sajeewa,

          The main point I raised is the inability to respect the space of your neighbour. This is a multifaceted and complex issue, of which loudspeaker use was just a small example of one aspect of it. Look at it as, Trespassing in to the neighbours space.

          How do you plan to ensure that by engaging with the Temples?
          Please discuss with real world examples.

          “Impartial law enforcement is no longer guaranteed is it?”

          Of course not. It has not been so for a very long time in Sri Lanka. Under colonial rule even Laws were unjust and was enforced by a Judiciary that did not understand the local languages. Almost a 100% of litigants did not understand the language of the Courts. The bribery and corruption that takes place daily within court premises is unparalleled and that is not something new. Harassment of SC judges have gone on for sometime now. But is there a Religious solution for all that when even the Vatican has been found wanting?

          I don’t think so. What ends up in court are matters that are prohibited by all mainstream religions. Religious prohibition has not reduced the incidents that end up in court. It proves that religion, which brings justice in the after life, has not deterred the miscreant from refraining from such matters in this life. The solution is to ensure that we have a system that brings justice in this life not the afterlife. That can be ensured by an impartial law enforcement and an impartial judiciary. Resigning ourselves to meekly accepting the lawlessness within the law is not a solution.

          “The former CJ Sarath N Silva took a hardline and even remanded a monk – but today the same temple continues to harass the residents of this area with impunity. So these attempts have been very short-lived”

          Yes true, he did remand a Buddhist monk (though I know of a contributor to GV who thinks Sarath Silva was partial to Buddhists).

          You say “How can we change a pattern of behaviour that came through new technology and became exacerbated with some religions going to the market – to follow the same rules of aggressive advertising?”

          To my mind the effects of new technology on Buddhism has been more positive than negative. It has helped many to increase their understanding of Buddhism. It has allowed Buddhist philosophy to be available to the world unrestricted. Buddhism thrives on knowledge of it.

          Could you elaborate what you say with examples?

          You say “The temples are now forcing us to pay attention to what they are doing. In some ways this reminds me about delinquent children who go further afield looking for love because their parents did not bother to hold them. Eventually it is the prison bars that do the holding and society has missed the opportunity of connecting with them. I believe it is the same with every kind of deviant behaviour.”

          Please explain with examples.

          You say “We are shutting out the more informal, social and human modes of engagement in favour of purposive and narrow interventions. The latter have largely failed. The way I see it in the long run (that must start soon enough) there is no real alternative to this.”
          Please explain with examples.

          You say “As a society we have lost our soul. And with every new problem we confront we continue to lose this because we miss the opportunity of human and non violent engagement. This can extend to social protest as well. But we must work on organizing these properly so that we develop a foundation of social responsibility before calling upon others to become part of it.”

          Please explain with examples.

          You say “When the only model of society is the competitive market so that there is in fact no village and no community we cannot bring in abstract norms. The social organization must support norms and this entails a different way of living.”

          Haven’t you overlooked the Religious model?

          Please explain your plan with examples.

          • sajeeva samaranayake

            Dear OTC

            you have asked for practical examples. If my thoughts are on the right track, if I have sufficient will and compassion action is bound to follow. But I have to admit my ignorance of the practical side right now.

            This does not mean that right thought is useless. It has value in itself. Clear thinking is necessary before we embark on action. Unless we invest sufficient energy at the spiritual and mental levels our actions will take the wrong path and lead to wasted energy.

            Impartial law enforcement is intimately connected with the character of the enforcer. If the character is flawed enforcement will become flawed.

  • Humanist

    Even though I find this notion of lower level and higher level Buddhists a bit elitist, I must say that the prevalence and acceptance of loud speakers in our society might be an indication of the predominance of lower level followers of all religions. As far as I know none of the holy books have declared that you should make as much noise as you possibly can to disturb your neighbours and yourself. If we had more enlightened citizens/government, there would be a civilized understanding, if not a law, to contain this disturbance of the peace.

    According to Off the cuff, “This person is unbuddhistic at times and Buddhistic at other times. Who are we to sit in judgement and say he is not a Buddhist?”

    I am not asking anyone to “sit in judgement”. But the Kalama Sutta allows us to question, inquire and even doubt the teachings of the Buddha. All I am saying is that we have the right to question what Buddhism is or not, interpret it in a way it makes sense within its overall value framework and to engage in a rational discussion about it. I, for one, did in this thread because I found Sanjeeva’s piece here unusually thoughtful.

    At a time when there is a group of people claiming to be Buddhists engaged in a concerted campaign to violate the principles of tolerance, compassion and loving kindness, I think all of us living in a society supposedly steeped in Buddhist values, has not only the right but the obligation to question. Because the intentions and consequences of words and deeds matter in Buddhism.

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Humanist,

      This refers to my post of 05/01/2013 • 3:08 am.

      Please address your mind to the example that I gave in the first paragraph of that post.

      Suppose there is a person who indulges in breaking All the five basic precepts that a Lay person is expected to uphold but is a member of a Buddhist family. This person would be intoxicated at times and at other times quite sober. When sober this person shows compassion, respects the opposite sex, respects property of others and takes part in religious activities, due to faith. But is still an incorrigible liar (out of necessity due to the crimes committed). This person considers him/herself a Buddhist.

      How would you describe such a person?
      a) When he is sober
      b) When he is intoxicated

      Do you agree with the following

      1. In any religion there are people who are very highly religious and some who are just a little religious (mostly irreligious). There is an infinite variation between the two border groups.

      2. According to Buddhism, Merit or Sin of an action accrues to oneself and there is no escape from the Karmic forces that causes a favourable or unfavourable result (Vipaka) within Samsara. An exception being the attainment of Arahath hood before the Vipaka has time to act. Example Angulimaala.

      3. Angulimaala was a mass murderer, the antithesis of a Buddhist. Yet he became an Arahath and ended Samsara in that life itself.

      You stated “Even though I find this notion of lower level and higher level Buddhists a bit elitist,”

      What would you rather say?
      That All Buddhists are equally pious?
      Is that realistic?
      Can you find this type of utopia within any religion?
      It seems to me that expecting the same standard of religiosity from everyone be they Buddhist, Christian, Islamic or whatever, is a bit naive and unrealistic. That is not the real world.

      “I must say that the prevalence and acceptance of loud speakers in our society might be an indication of the predominance of lower level followers of all religions”

      With due respect to you, don’t you see that the above statement is contradictory to your previous position?

      Dear Humanist, I contributed to this thread to correct two errors that you made.

      1) “My reading of Sri Lankan political history of the 1950s is that it was the Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed.”

      2) “So if you are a Buddhist, then you cannot be a Sinhalese”

      The power of the Tamil nationalist propaganda has been so effective, that like you, I too thought that the Sinhalese took to racism first and SWRD Bandaranaike was a prominent racist. That was before I started researching Sri Lankan Political History and found out that SWRDB reacted to counter G.G. Ponnambalam’s Racism. To my surprise I found that the FIRST race riots of the 20th century was instigated by the Tamil Lawyer Politician G.G. Ponnambalam in 1939.

      GGP embarked on arousing racial hatred in order to wrest power from Tamil leaders Arunachelems and Ramanathans. He succeeded in dethroning Arunachelems and Ramanathans and crowning himself but ignited Racial Fires in the process. The evidence I quoted from the Press in Jaffna written and edited by Tamils themselves and the Hansard cannot be assailed. The 20th century saw three riots before 1939 and ALL of them were Tamils revolting against Tamils. There were no race riots for nearly 40 years of the 20th century.

      No Tamil has effectively countered what I have written to date.

      Your first assertion was proved wrong and should read as “It was the Tamils who embraced Racism first and the Sinhalese followed suit”.

      The discussion on item 2 should have proven to you that one could indeed be a Sinhalese while being a Buddhist because your standard in judging who a Buddhist is or who is not is faulty and can be met only by an Arahath.

      You stated “I myself do not call myself a Buddhist because even though I do try to follow the humanist core of Buddhism, I do not try to curb some of my cravings for pleasure – music, art, literature, food, enjoyment of the beauty of nature”

      It gives us a ludicrous definition that will literally excommunicate a Young Buddhist Monk, who diligently follows the path to achieving enlightenment, if he, being a Human, with Human faults, have wet dreams in his sleep.

      Yes the Buddha encouraged anyone to question even the Buddha himself and that is the beauty of Buddhism that no other religion can match.

      Kalama Sutta

      Do not believe in anything (simply)
      because you have heard it.

      Do not believe in traditions because they
      have been handed down for many generations.

      Do not believe in anything because it is
      spoken and rumoured by many.

      Do not believe in anything (simply) because
      it is found written in your religious books.

      Do not believe in anything merely on the authority
      of your teachers and elders.

      But after observation and analysis
      when you find that anything agrees with reason
      and is conductive to the good and benefit of one and all
      then accept it and live up to it.

      (Anguttara Nikaya Vol. 1, 188-193 P.T.S. Ed.)

      You wrote the following “someone could argue that since you are a lower level Buddhist, you can do pretty much anything and get away with it,…”

      Think about it. Can a Buddhist do anything and get away with it?
      When you made the above statement you completely forgot about Karma.

      Continuing you stated “….. and still be a Buddhist because you claim to follow the path (unlike in Catholicism, you don’t even have to confess). I think that is an interpretation of being a Buddhist made in bad faith, without personal responsibility”

      Following a path makes one a Hindu or a Christian or a Mohammedan or a Buddhist according to the Dictionary. It does not mean that you are a pious one.

      You are conflating Piety with several issues when you state “At a time when there is a group of people claiming to be Buddhists engaged in a concerted campaign to violate the principles of tolerance, compassion and loving kindness, I think all of us living in a society supposedly steeped in Buddhist values, has not only the right but the obligation to question. Because the intentions and consequences of words and deeds matter in Buddhism.”

      The work of some extremists, Your Right to question, Buddhist values and being a Buddhist are all different issues. I too am angered with the antics of the extremists. But that is no excuse to assail Buddhism just as much as the actions of extremists within Christianity and their conversion Zeal is no excuse to assail Christianity.

      I hope you will take what I have written in the spirit it was written. I wanted to correct a misconception that needed correction not assail your honour which, from your latest post, I feel is what you thought.

      I am sorry if I hurt your feelings. It certainly was not my intent.

  • Humanist

    Off the Cuff,

    We are hopefully engaging in a rational discussion so there is no honor at stake but the ability to persuade. No apologies are needed!

    I still hold that you have a very limited definition of racism. Confining it to few political events in the nation’s long history and arguing about who was racist first is futile. I do not agree with your definition of racism nor that it started only in the 20th century.

    On lower and higher level Buddhists, I don’t have a strong opinion. However, I do believe that there is a common value framework for Buddhists, irrespective of which level they are in, and those who flout these are not Buddhists at that moment and cannot claim to be so. You have not convinced me otherwise with all the words you have used so far.

    A Buddhist monk having a wet dream in his bed is not hurting anyone. But a Buddhist monk calling a Muslim woman a “gonibilla” is hurting her with his words, and hurting her honour. There are also consequences when other men take it upon themselves to harass women wearing abhaya physically, based on the preaching of these monks. I am sorry if you cannot see the difference.

    Let us agree to differ on our different interpretations of what a Buddhist is or not. Metta and karuna.

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Humanist,

      You say “We are hopefully engaging in a rational discussion”

      I sure hope so. So please stop running with the goal posts.

      In your first post you were blaming the Sinhalese based on your reading of History of the 1950s. That is the mid 20th Century. Which prompted me to remind you that the FIRST race riots between Tamils and Sinhalese of THAT CENTURY, occurred in 1939 and not the 1950s as you incorrectly assumed.

      I said that the FIRST race riots of the 20th century was instigated by the Tamil Lawyer Politician G.G. Ponnambalam in 1939. I did not say, as you now try to make out (for whatever reason), that racism started in the 20th century. What I stated is poles apart from your interpretation. Please re read it.

      Humanist – My reading of Sri Lankan political history of the 1950s is that it was the Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed.( 04/25/2013 • 5:07 pm)

      In your latest post you are going further afield, this time shifting the goal posts, probably to the origins of the Sinhalese!!!

      Humanist – Confining it to few political events in the nation’s long history and arguing about who was racist first is futile. I do not agree with your definition of racism nor that it started only in the 20th century.( 05/02/2013 • 2:58 pm)

      If you have the patience to read what I have written with more care and compare it to what you wrote, you may find that it was you, who confined your assessment, to the 20th century (mid 20th century to be exact). I am not arguing about who started it first. I am correcting your unsupported, unfounded and unjust statement blaming the Sinhalese for starting RACISM in the 20th Century just because you lacked the knowledge of History about 20th Century Tamil Politics. What I stated is supported by the Tamils themselves and as I stated before, NO TAMIL has made an effective counter of what I wrote about 20th Century Tamil Politics.

      I am disappointed to note, that with all the talk about core values of Buddhism, you lacked the Humility to acknowledge your error gracefully.

      You say “I still hold that you have a very limited definition of racism”

      Since I have not DEFINED racism, can you explain yourself?

      You say “However, I do believe that there is a common value framework for Buddhists,..”

      Of course that is the Damma. This was not contested as rather than believe I know so. Every religion has a value frame work not just Buddhists. But their followers are not just Black and white without a Gray. In the Real world the Gray exists.

      You say ” irrespective of which level they are in, and those who flout these are not Buddhists at that moment and cannot claim to be so”

      I think you should have a good look at a good dictionary.
      In Christianity it is stated that Thou shall not Commit Adultery. Does that mean Christians cease to be Christian the moment they commit that Sin and become Christian again after performing the ritual of confession? Is that not a childish concept? BTW this was not the definition of a Buddhist that you started with. Your first definition did not recognise a Gray. Why keep changing the goal posts?

      I am also sorry that you have a tendency to quote out of context and when cornered you avoid the question altogether.

      You stated “According to Off the cuff, “This person is unbuddhistic at times and Buddhistic at other times. Who are we to sit in judgement and say he is not a Buddhist?”

      In order to bring home what you have done, I asked you the following questions

      Suppose there is a person who indulges in breaking All the five basic precepts that a Lay person is expected to uphold but is a member of a Buddhist family. This person would be intoxicated at times and at other times quite sober. When sober this person shows compassion, respects the opposite sex, respects property of others and takes part in religious activities, due to faith. But is still an incorrigible liar (out of necessity due to the crimes committed). This person considers him/herself a Buddhist.

      How would you describe such a person?
      a) When he is sober
      b) When he is intoxicated

      Avoiding an answer is your response.

      You say “A Buddhist monk having a wet dream in his bed is not hurting anyone”

      Again out of context.
      I brought out that example to show how ludicrous, your idea of a Buddhist is.

      This is your idea of a Buddhist “I myself do not call myself a Buddhist because even though I do try to follow the humanist core of Buddhism, I do not try to curb some of my cravings for pleasure – music, art, literature, food, enjoyment of the beauty of nature”

      A wet dream is the result of lust.
      And measured against your standard of a Buddhist, even a young Monk will FAIL the test and cease to be a Buddhist. That is how Ludicrous your standard is. That’s the point I tried to get across.

      Now you try to cover it up by conflating it with other issues and quoting me out of context.

      Please do not assail Buddhism to justify your anger. As I said before, I too am angered by the antics of these extremists who destroy the good name of Buddhism by their criminal acts. But using that to justify what you are doing cannot be justified.

      Peace be with you.

  • Off the Cuff

    Dear Sajeewa S,

    “Re the discussion between humanist and OTC (I hope its not private:)”

    Of course its not private.
    My response to you was posted in the last part of my post
    http://groundviews.org/2013/04/24/beyond-collective-egos-our-relational-grounds-of-belonging-and-faith/#comment-52804

  • sajeeva samaranayake

    Dear OTC

    pl see my post of May 2 in reply to yours

    Very briefly we seem to unearth new evidence about racism and how politicians have been sowing the seeds of disaster from British times. It may be that this is a manifestation of something deeper – and we may benefit from going into the determinants. definitely a competitive and sectarian education system where buddhists, hindus, muslims all set up schools to cater to their own flock has a lot to do with why we ended up as a divided, ignorant and prejudiced society.

    Also to seek to define who is or is not a buddhist, christian etc may not be profitable. gandhi said there are as many religions as there are people in this world. I am reminded of the words of major Barbara’s father in Bernard Shaw’s play – ‘ religion? my dear my religion is money…’

  • Burning_Issue

    Dear Humanist,

    Please do yourself a big favour, debating this subject with OTC is futile! He does not even recognise the phenomenon of Sinhala Buddhist Fundamentalism; hence, no chance that he will accept that the Sinhala Buddhists are blemished in anyway! Instead, he points his fingers at the Jaffna Vallala Elite for bring bad in the Sinhala Buddhists.

    The Sinhala Buddhist revivalism started during the nineteenth century snowballing into a mammoth institutionalised force that we see today. Post independence Sri Lankan Sinhala political leaders faced enormous pressure from the nationalists. GGP was wrong in what he put forward. If your were to analyse the first parliamentary election results from Jaffna you well see there was hardly any appetite for Tamil nationalism. There were much support for UNP and LSSP. The LSSP was very popular amongst the Tamil youth. Post Sinhala Only the situation changed. All aspects have been thoroughly debated on Groundviews but this specious gentlemen still carries on and on….

    The bottom line is that the Sinhalese are the overwhelming majority who have to accommodate the minorities with absolute equality for a mature democracy to function. When the majority is chronically insecure nothing will work.

  • Humanist

    Dear Burning Spear,

    Thank you, I will heed your advice. You are absolutely right. When common sense is countered with sophistry, a discussion is futile.

    I’m glad that at least you are convinced that many Sinhalese claiming to be Buddhists are no more Buddhists, than the state that gives us passports stamped with “Democratic, Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” is neither democratic nor socialist. The only silver lining (even if it is rather faint) is that more citizens of the country, especially among our youth, seem to care what these labels might mean than before.

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Humanist,

      You tried resorting to subterfuge, continually shifting goal posts and quoting me out of context to win a debate. You even did not have the Humility to accept the grave error you made in blaming the Sinhalese for starting Racism in the Mid 19th Century even after UNASSAILABLE proof was provided to you from Tamil journals written by Tamils themselves that the 20th century did not see the Sinhalese starting Racism but did see Tamils starting it two decades earlier.

      I am not interested in winning debates. If you prove me wrong I concede it and accept what is proven. I am interested in establishing the Truth and if you think using subterfuge and dishonesty and name calling and moving goal posts can prevent me doing that, you are mistaken.

      Everything that I have written about 20th century Tamil Politics is true and are UNASSAILABLE and I have provided references that cannot be impeached. No Tamil has done it to date. Especially Burning Issue.

      BI who is from Trinco, claimed that CJ Sarath Silva became a Buddhist Monk in an dishonest attempt at proving that the former CJ was biased towards Buddhism (not withstanding the fact that this CJ remanded a Buddhist monk) and that was the reason the Trinco Buddha Statue case fell. He further claimed that the Buddhist Priest who went to the Supreme Court against the removal of the Buddha Statue from the vicinity of the Taxi stand in Trinco, did so under the Primacy Clause of Buddhism in the Constitution. When in fact, it was based on the Equality Clause, as there were 17 illegal religious edifices in Trinco the Majority of which were Hindu, a lesser number Christian and four Buddhist. It is obvious to any sane person that the Buddha statue cannot be removed without removing the 16 others that were there before it, due to the Equality Clause of the Constitution. But that is a sane person.

      I provided Court reportage to prove he was wrong but to date, he insists that the Buddha Statue was protected under the Primacy Status of Buddhism in our Constitution. Burning Issue will look in the mirror and deny that the reflection he sees is not his own if that would be to his advantage.

      I silenced him from spreading that potential explosive Canard on GroundViews as that does not help in reconciliation.

      He lives in the UK and claims that UK is Secular. I have provided him time and again with references that UNASSAILABLY proves UK is not secular and is a Christian State. All Public schools in UK is required by Law to indulge in a COMPULSURY Collective Prayer that is BROADLY CHRISTIAN in nature. What would be his reaction if Public Schools in Lanka is by Law compelled to hold an assembly of ALL students (Hindu, Christian, Mohammedan included) where in they are required to take part in a Broadly Buddhist religious activity?

      BI states – Britain has a tradition by which, the Church of England is procedurally linked to the Head of State, the Queen. (http://groundviews.org/2013/04/16/gotabaya-rajapaksa-are-you-listening/#comment-52517)

      the Royal website states – The Sovereign holds the title ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’.

      The connection between Church and State is also symbolised by the fact that the ‘Lords Spiritual’ (consisting of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and 24 diocesan bishops) sit in the House of Lords. Parish priests also take an oath of allegiance to The Queen. There is no parallel in Sri Lanka.

      Since 1919, the Synod (formerly called the Church Assembly) has had the power to pass Measures on any matter concerning the Church of England. Following acceptance of the Measures by both Houses of Parliament (which cannot amend them), they are submitted for Royal Assent and become law. There is No parallel in Lanka (more details here http://groundviews.org/2013/04/16/gotabaya-rajapaksa-are-you-listening/#comment-52547)

      Debating with Jayalath, Burning Issue tried to establish that there is a group called Sinhala Buddhists which term is used to slander the Buddhists. He made a taunting comment giving a reference to Buddhist Fundamentalism and Minority Identities in Sri Lanka”, a book written by Tessa J. Bartholomeusz and Chandra Richard De Silva.
      (http://groundviews.org/2013/04/03/a-tolerant-sri-lanka-how-far-will-we-go/#comment-51842)

      I researched the book and pointed out that Religious Fundamentalism requires a Canonical text that projects fundamentalism. This is absent in Buddhism. The authors attempt to plug this gaping hole by elevating the Mahavamsa to the status of the Bible / Koran. I made the following observation in my response to BI.

      In an apparent attempt to cover up this failure and flaw, they attempt to elevate the Mahawamsa to the status of the Bible and the Koran. That the Mahavamsa is not a religious text is apparent to even a simpleton. Hence their argument fails to append the adjective “Buddhist” to any Sinhala fundamentalism that may exist.(http://groundviews.org/2013/04/03/a-tolerant-sri-lanka-how-far-will-we-go/#comment-51941)

      P24 of the book carries the following statement
      “Premadasa and those who carried on his ideas after his death, have labled Sarvodaya as anti Sri Lankan, and thus anti Buddhist, agency.”

      I asked “Evidence for anti Sri Lankan to be interpreted as anti Buddhist?”

      Response – Silence!!!

      Page 2 states as follows

      “The identity between Sinhala people and the dhamma, based on a reading of the fifth century “mythohistory”, the Mahavamsa, has contributed to the notion that Sri Lanka, destined to be the island of the dhamma, should be dominated by Buddhist

      I pointed out that the Mahavamsa is not alone when it comes to historical texts that contain Myth. Ramayanaya standing out amongst many others.

      Note the Highlighted text.

      I asked BI: Is it the Mahavamsa that had dictated and created the overwhelming majority of Buddhists in Sri Lanka? That Sri Lanka is dominated by Buddhists is Reality and just plain fact. The Mahavamsa has nothing to do with it.

      Response – Silence!!!

      As you can see, if Burning Issue wants to eat a Thalagoya (Iguana) even a Kabaragoya (Water Monitor) becomes one.

      You say “Dear Burning Spear (sic), Thank you, I will heed your advice. You are absolutely right. When common sense is countered with sophistry, a discussion is futile”

      Is stating FACTS “Sophistry”?

      Is rejecting established history “common sense”?

      I countered your unjust statement of 04/25/2013 • 5:07 pm
      “My reading of Sri Lankan political history of the 1950s is that it was the Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed”
      with Facts supported by references from TAMIL sources. There was no sophistry required to prove you wrong. It is just common sense, to observe that, 1930s came before 1950s.

      I have seen Burning Issue carefully grinding an axe for about 5 years (may be more). He has a thing about the Primacy clause of Buddhism in the Constitution and what he calls the “Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists”. Yet as you can see, all he can do is name calling when he has no counter for facts.

      When you lie down with canines you get up with fleas. So think twice about the advice you received.

      Surprisingly you claimed you follow the Humanist core of Buddhism but you forgot that the whole of Buddhism is Humanist. There is nothing for you to peel and discard.

      Whether you respond or not is immaterial to me as my intent is exposing the lies and getting at the Truth. You will find me challenging any unjustified and half baked statements that you make but will support you when you write the truth.

      Please remember that a Rational Discussion requires honesty and the humility to admit that, one is wrong, when proven wrong.

      • sajeeva samaranayake

        A very quick point with ref to the debate here between humanist and OTC on the issue of racism.

        It seems that all communities who share this island have a common obligation not to stoop to racism. While OTC has pointed out that GG Ponnambalam preceded SWRD by about 20 years in playing the race/language card and that this actually led to riots we need to move beyond what x or y community did to our common obligations to promote a racism free culture.

        While both Sinhalese and Tamils can claim to be distinct communities in SOME respects (like language, culture and a shared history) they are equals at the social, legal and political levels with the same obligations of citizenship.

        Consequently we need to view all these instances – these himalayan blunders of politicians – as common and collective social and political failures of society as a whole. Without this correction the debate on racism will only continue to be trapped within the same stereotypes.

        As educated people we need to avoid this error

    • Burning_Issue

      Dear Humanist,

      I am not going sit here and write pages and pages to defend myself. One thing I need to put right; I am sure a gentlemen called Wijeyapala can come to my witness; I did claim what OTC said about Justice Silva but it was based on an erroneous article that DBS Jayaraj wrote that he later retracted. I did make this point and retracted my claim. However as to all the other claims including the Trinco Buddha statue I vehemently standby what I said. The constitutional provision protecting Buddhism both implicitly and sometimes explicitly upheld by the institutionalised national security forces. There is no denying in that even the BBS is protected. Many Buddha statues have been placed all over North and East on state expenses and being protected by the state institutions would stand testimony to what I claim.

      The UK Is secular in every sense of the word. The Church of England cannot do in the UK what Buddhism is doing in SL. OTC tries his best to semear other mature democracies in order to justify his insidious stand on ethnic harmony in SL. He can think he silenced me if that makes him feel happy; I for one think that he is barking mad and prefer avoid engaging with such individuals!

  • Humanist

    Dear Burning_Issue,

    Apologies for addressing you as Burning Spear previously – not intentional at all, but because I liked his music in my youth!

    Don’t worry – I am glad that you are not writing pages and pages to defend yourself. I am not interested in claims, counter-claims and petty arguments. The main point suffices.

    I agree with the essence of your comments in this thread, as much as I agree with the essence of Sanjeeva’s piece on transcending collective egos and collective failures.

    I am quite convinced, as you are, that the constitutional provision protecting Buddhism in Sri Lanka is both racist in intent and in practice – it is used with impunity to counter tolerance, co-existence and respect of all citizens as equals. This includes some of the cases you have mentioned, as well as many others. It is a wily trick of the powers-that-be to dismantle Hindu, Muslim and Christian structures by declaring them as illegal, while permitting Buddhist structures to remain, and not just in the north east – there is a Buddhist temple right near my house, contravening all manner of building laws. In the last few years, the number of Buddhist statues that have come up in public spaces illegally and have been “legalized” and spruced up with state patronage in my neighbourhood is mind boggling.

    At the end of the day, it is irrelevant to me whether the constitutional provisions in relation to Christianity in the UK (or elsewhere) are racist or not, since this does not make this specific provision of Sri Lanka’s constitution on Buddhism any less racist.

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Humanist,

      Scratching Burning Issues back in return for him scratching yours does not make the Lies you try to propagate on GV anything other than Lies.

      You claimed “My reading of Sri Lankan political history of the 1950s is that it was the Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed.”

      That is definitely a Lie as it is a fact that the 20th century had it’s FIRST race riots due to a Racist Tamil’s public hate speech on a political platform berating the Sinhalese. The proof of “this bit of History that has escaped your myopic reading of history” was provided to you from the TAMIL PRESS.

      Sajewa’s comment on 05/03/2013 at 6:38 pm shows that the facts that I have placed here on GV has not been lost.

      It appears to me that your Ego and preconceived notions of blaming the Sinhalese no matter what is standing in the way of acknowledging Historical Fact. It appears to me that you have neither the humility nor honesty to acknowledge your grave error of blaming the Sinhalese.

      If you want to contest the above do so with Facts not by innuendo, deceit or argumentum ad hominem. Inability to do so underlines your intellectual bankruptcy. I thought you said the discussion was rational but your behaviour is anything but rational.

      You say “Don’t worry – I am glad that you are not writing pages and pages to defend yourself. I am not interested in claims, counter-claims and petty arguments. The main point suffices”

      What else can you say when neither you nor Burning Issue has facts to prove your Outrageously False claims?

      BTW I am not interested in convincing you or the like minded of the obvious double standards and bigotry that you try to propagate here under a mask of Rationality and Humanity. My interest is in placing the TRUTH here on GV for the knowledge of the open minded readers.

      Truth will triumph over Lies and Bigotry eventually.

      Prove that your reading of 20th Century History is Correct.

      I will address the other topics raised by you, later, after you substantiate or withdraw your statement that the “Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed.”

  • Humanist

    Off the cuff,

    Ever since you resorted to name calling and insults I stopped considering this a rational discussion and withdrew from participation. I really don’t understand why you can’t let off.

    I continue to have a discussion with Burning Issue because we share the overall parameters of the discussion and it is heartening to discover someone with shared views. Why should this trouble you?

    Since you keep harping on the same tune, let me point out that you have been quoting me out of context from the very beginning. I wrote in my first comment:

    “I agree with Burning Issue that this statement is contentious. My reading of Sri Lankan political history of the 1950s is that it was the Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed. However, this can lead to an endless and futile argument about what comes first -the chicken or the egg. In any case, both Sinhalese and Tamils committed moral suicide by embracing racism and that is the status quo today.”

    However, you kept quoting me out of context, ad infinitum:
    “My reading of Sri Lankan political history of the 1950s is that it was the Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed.”

    I did not claim it to be a fact. I provided it as an example. And I referred to it as “my reading” which in standard English means “my interpretation”. However my main point or essence in this paragraph was:
    “However, this can lead to an endless and futile argument about what comes first -the chicken or the egg. In any case, both Sinhalese and Tamils committed moral suicide by embracing racism and that is the status quo today.”

    Sanjeewa acknowledged this main point of mine. You chose to ignore it.

    The reason for not continuing my discussion with you is simple – I realized that we do not agree on the parameters. What you consider as facts are merely interpretations to me. The “fact” might be that such and such an event/act took place in the 21st, 20th, 19th, etc. centuries. First, the longer the time period has elapsed it is not clear what is fact and what is fiction, since each of us were not present at every event/act and we cannot believe everything that is recorded by others. Second, one might call any one of these events/acts “racist” or not, according to one’s interpretation of what racism is. Third, everyone always selects his/her “facts” from an exhaustive possibility, according to their interpretations of what is considered important. To me these are not ” facts” (in terms of truth) but all interpretations or versions. Granted some interpretations will be considered more balanced than others because of a more holistic assessment of events/acts. However, there is no “correct” reading of 20th or other century history offered by you, me or anyone else, and as such I do not see the need to “withdraw” anything. I do not believe in absolute truth.

    The need of the hour is not facts, but a shared and empathetic understanding.

    So it should be clear to you now that there is no basis for us having any further discussion. I have not called you names nor taunted you. I respectfully request you to refrain from doing so. Live and let live. May peace be with you.

    • Off the Cuff

      Dear Humanist,

      You say “let me point out that you have been quoting me out of context from the very beginning. I wrote in my first comment:”

      OK let’s examine what Sajeewa, Burning Issue, you and I wrote.

      Sajeewa – Tamils in Sri Lanka committed moral suicide when they embraced racism. The Sinhalese followed suit.

      Burning Issue – What a contentious statement! I take it that you intend to appeal to the Sinhala Buddhists; making such a punch statement would make them take note. But I must say it is very disparaging and many would take issues with that.

      Humanist – “I agree with Burning Issue that this statement is contentious. My reading of Sri Lankan political history of the 1950s is that it was the Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed.

      I addressed you, Burning Issue and Sajeewa and stated

      Sanjeewa, you need not apologise for stating a fact. It is the politics of G.G. Ponnambalam, the Tamil lawyer politician of the 1930?s, that introduced Racism to Sri Lankan politics of the 20th century. He did so to wrest leadership of the Tamils from the Arunachalams and the Ramanathans.

      see Dr. Jane Russell’s, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution.
      Hansard of 1935 column 3045.
      The Hindu Organ of Nov 1, 1939 (published in Jaffna).
      Hindu Organ (of June 22, 1939, page 4)

      “THE WRITING ON THE WALL”, The Hindu Organ, in an editorial said:

      “Communal differences, though there existed hardly any during the time of the last generation of leaders, have now been multiplied and intensified, thanks to the hot-heads and irresponsible talkers in the country who care more for the plaudits of the mob than for the welfare of the people…..A verbal bombshell dropped unwittingly by a Tamil politician at Nawalapitiya appears to have set the South on fire.

      The evidence I have produced is from the Tamil press in the 1930s and were real time observations from the Tamils themselves and of a British Historian who lived in Sri Lanka for a very long time.”
      Unquote

      You say “However, you kept quoting me out of context, ad infinitum:”

      Now please show how I have quoted you Out of Context?

      Even after I pointed out the grave historical error that you made you did not have the humility to withdraw your erroneous statement or to acknowledge that you were wrong.

      In fact you tried further justify your stand

      You said “I still hold that you have a very limited definition of racism. Confining it to few political events in the nation’s long history and arguing about who was racist first is futile. I do not agree with your definition of racism nor that it started only in the 20th century.”

      Apparently you read only superficially. Please re read my post of 05/03/2013 • 12:40 am a part of which I reproduce

      quote
      If you have the patience to read what I have written with more care and compare it to what you wrote, you may find that it was you, who confined your assessment, to the 20th century (mid 20th century to be exact). I am not arguing about who started it first. I am correcting your unsupported, unfounded and unjust statement blaming the Sinhalese for starting RACISM in the 20th Century
      unquote

      You say “However, this can lead to an endless and futile argument about what comes first -the chicken or the egg. In any case, both Sinhalese and Tamils committed moral suicide by embracing racism and that is the status quo today.”

      There was no argument about who started what first. I corrected your erroneous statement, Period.

      You say “My reading of Sri Lankan political history of the 1950s is that it was the Sinhalese who embraced racism first and the Tamils followed. I did not claim it to be a fact. I provided it as an example. And I referred to it as “my reading” which in standard English means “my interpretation”.

      Dear Humanist are you in the habit of making FICTIOUS statements in a public forum? In standard English Fiction is the antonym of Fact. We all make mistakes. But some acknowledge them and others try to cover them up. But just like the dog that defecated on a stone found out, doing that is not easy.

      Please don’t bring out lame excuses to cover your perfidy. Your excuse is lame because you wrote it on the 05/10/2013 and I proved your statement wrong with factual and unimpeachable evidence on 04/27/2013 14 days earlier!

      You say ” However, there is no “correct” reading of 20th or other century history offered by you, me or anyone else, and as such I do not see the need to “withdraw” anything. I do not believe in absolute truth”

      I am not sure about your logic but I understand that 1 comes before 2 and 3 comes before 1 & 2. Hence 1930s comes before 1950s.

      You say “The need of the hour is not facts, but a shared and empathetic understanding”

      How do you understand without knowing the facts? I believe that every citizen has equal rights to Sri Lanka. To me 2 is equal to 1+1 and unequal to 1+2.

      Don’t you realise that making unjust accusations will give rise to a counter reaction?

      Don’t you realise that such accusations will provide the fuel that feeds extremism?

      Even the claims that you have made about Buddhism and the Constitution are inflammatory. I have responded to Burning Issue here http://groundviews.org/2013/05/05/northern-provincial-council-the-devolution-debate/#comment-53064

      Join him and contest what I have written, if you can prove what you have stated on 05/06/2013 • 1:15 pm

      Dear Humanist, my role on GV is to challenge false statements and propaganda. There was a time when the Separatists dominated the Internet forums like Canada’s Post unchallenged. The challenge that a few of us mounted was able to make a dent in the one sided Separatist propaganda as we write the truth supported by facts. GroundViews is visited by many high powered people who influence policy. As well as people whose motives are questionable. I have recently challenged Gordon Weiss, Yasmin Sooka (of the infamous Darusman Panel) and Usha Sri Skanda Rajah, Senator, of the TGTE. All of them have gone underground. There is no personal animosity involved but I will defend Sri Lanka to the best of my ability.

      BTW. I do not name and shame people unjustly and if I do so, due to an error on my part, I have no hesitation in tendering my unconditional apologies and withdrawing the offending material.

      I respectfully request you to refrain from writing what you cannot prove. It will not help this beleaguered land to achieve the peace she deserves.