Some Civil Society Questions for Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)

Photo by Dinouk Colombage, Al Jazeera

The Facebook (FB) group called “Buddhists Questioning Bodu Bala Sena (BQBBS)” once compiled a list of questions for BBS through a lengthy consultation period with its online members. I volunteered to mediate between BQBBS and Dilanthe Withanage of BBS to pass these questions to him to initiate a dialog. However, due to the busy schedule of BBS, answering to these questions got delayed by months. Since I am no longer on FB, I am not sure if these questions were later answered directly on FB. In any case, I wish to post the questions again here on Groundviews, so that a fresh dialog can be started. It is pertinent than ever before, given the widespread violence in Sri Lanka at present.

Question 1) As Sri Lankan citizens, you (members of Bodu Bala Sena) are under oath to defend the constitution of Sri Lanka. Can you re-affirm that you stay bound to defend the citizenship rights stipulated under section 7 of the constitution of Sri Lanka?

Section 7. (1) The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while guaranteeing to all religions the rights granted by Articles 15 (1) and 15 (3).

Article 15. (1) Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

(3) Every person is entitled to the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

(4) No restrictions shall be placed on the rights declared and recognised by paragraph (3) of this Article other than such restrictions prescribed by law as are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public order, or for securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others.

Question 2) In order to sustain Buddha Sasana, Lord Buddha preached several recommendations in the Maha Parinibbana Sutta (please see below). Do you think Monks in BBS fully strive to abide by those recommendations?

From Mahaparinibbana Sutta:

“The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, bhikkhus, so long as they assemble frequently and in large numbers; meet and disperse peacefully and attend to the affairs of the Sangha in concord; so long as they appoint no new rules, and do not abolish the existing ones, but proceed in accordance with the code of training (Vinaya) laid down; so long as they show respect, honor, esteem, and veneration towards the elder bhikkhus, those of long standing, long gone forth, the fathers and leaders of the Sangha, and think it worthwhile to listen to them; so long as they do not come under the power of the craving that leads to fresh becoming; so long as they cherish the forest depths for their dwellings; so long as they establish themselves in mindfulness, so that virtuous brethren of the Order who have not come yet might do so, and those already come might live in peace; so long, bhikkhus, as these seven conditions leading to welfare endure among the bhikkhus and the bhikkhus are known for it, their growth is to be expected, not their decline.”

“The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, bhikkhus, so long as they do not delight in, are not pleased with, and are not fond of activities, talk, sleep, and company; so long as they do not harbor, do not come under the spell of evil desires; have no bad friends, associates, or companions; and so long as they do not stop halfway on account of some trifling achievement. So long, bhikkhus, as these seven conditions leading to welfare endure among the bhikkhus and the bhikkhus are known for it, their growth is to be expected, not their decline.”

“The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, bhikkhus, so long as they shall have faith, so long as they have moral shame and fear of misconduct, are proficient in learning, resolute, mindful, and wise. So long, bhikkhus, as these seven conditions leading to welfare endure among the bhikkhus, and the bhikkhus are known for it, their growth is to be expected, not their decline.”

“The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, bhikkhus, so long as they cultivate the seven factors of enlightenment, that is: mindfulness, investigation into phenomena, energy, bliss, tranquillity, concentration, and equanimity. So long, bhikkhus, as these seven conditions leading to welfare endure among the bhikkhus, and the bhikkhus are known for it, their growth is to be expected, not their decline.”

“The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, bhikkhus, so long as they cultivate the perception of impermanence, of egolessness, of (the body’s) impurity, of (the body’s) wretchedness, of relinquishment, of dispassion, and of cessation. So long, bhikkhus, as these seven conditions leading to welfare endure among the bhikkhus, and the bhikkhus are known for it, their growth is to be expected, not their decline.”

“The growth of the bhikkhus is to be expected, not their decline, bhikkhus, so long as they attend on each other with loving-kindness in deed, word, and thought, both openly and in private; so long as in respect of what they receive as due offerings, even the contents of their alms bowls, they do not make use of them without sharing them with virtuous members of the community; so long as, in company with their brethren, they train themselves, openly and in private, in the rules of conduct, which are complete and perfect, spotless and pure, liberating, praised by the wise, uninfluenced (by mundane concerns), and favorable to concentration of mind; and in company with their brethren, preserve, openly and in private, the insight that is noble and liberating, and leads one who acts upon it to the utter destruction of suffering. So long, bhikkhus, as these six conditions leading to welfare endure among the bhikkhus, and the bhikkhus are known for it, their growth is to be expected, not their decline.”

Question 3) Has BBS looked at how Buddhism is practiced in Sri Lanka itself before blaming others for the deterioration of Buddhism in Sri Lanka? Why do Buddhists convert? If we worked harder to help and educate ourselves, our youth and the needy and vulnerable amongst us would we not promote our Buddhist culture and dissuade conversions. Instead don’t we spend our money on building bigger and larger temples and statues?

Question 4) Does BBS think that the spread of alternate ways of life other than Buddhism can be stopped through legislation thus banning its practices and rituals?

Question 5) If BBS is truly interested in protecting the Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka, why don’t you openly object to Gambling, Alcoholism and Brothels in Sri Lanka?

Question 6) When giving speeches, why don’t the Ven Monks encourage participants to be better Buddhists instead of attacking other faiths and their leaders?

Question 7) In a recent speech, BBS insulted Mullahs and other religious clergy saying that they are not fit to sit at the same level. It shows not only disrespect but also ignorance. I (the friend who contributed this question) respect Buddhist Monks, I respect the institution of the Sanga, and I expect non-Buddhists to also respect the Sanga as they are my teachers. Likewise BBS should realize that it is insulting and hurtful to belittle the teachers/leaders of other religions.

Question 8) The BBS encourages Sinhala families to have more children. Are we trying to outbreed other religions? Is quantity better than quality? By encouraging poor parents to have more children do we want to produce a generation of Sinhala Buddhists who will be malnourished and uneducated so they can work for the Muslim businessmen or work as maids in the Middle-east?

Question 9) You frequently state that there is Muslim extremism in Sri Lanka. There are a lot of Muslims in this forum to offer support to counter such extremism if you can point out facts. Can you show some facts as to where we can see such Muslim extremism in Sri Lanka, and why you think it is extremism? It is helpful if you can compare with how BBS monks behave, because extremism is a relative notion.

Apart from these questions, my discussions with Muslim friends in Sri Lanka confirm that the present situation is not an ethnic issue, but a catastrophic collapse of rule of law and widespread impunity. Therefore I urge all communities to act with care, not to generalize any ethno-centric hatred, that leads nowhere, but misery. Documentation of violence in police records and those in the parliament may lead to justice one day if not today. Trust that and let wisdom guide us.