Colombo, Religion and faith

Bad Buddhists, Good Buddhists and True Buddhists

The purpose of this article is to discuss very briefly a few contemporary issues on preaching, interpretations and practices of the Lord Buddha’s teaching from an expatriate’s point of view. First of all I would like to insist that Buddha never preached Buddhism but expounded Dhamma. Discussing these issues is important due to three main reasons. Firstly, from a religious view point such a debate would arouse our own Buddhist cultural thinking, especially among the migrated young Sri Lankan community that will contribute to protect and sustain our value system. Secondly, in a theoretical sense, the points raised here might help to optimize our understanding on the Buddha’s teaching and therefore, could serve to clear certain misconceptions that act as road blocks for non-Buddhists to become Buddhists. Thirdly, from a philosophical point of view, such discussions could inspire interested persons to engage in for further reading, learning through investigations and to accumulate knowledge towards achieving wisdom and mindfulness to become true Buddhists.

Some views have been presented in certain Buddhists publications as Buddhist views which represents the stereotype of ‘Sinhala-Buddhists’, a clear contradiction to what Buddha taught. The Lord Buddha’s response to hatred is very well articulated in the 5th verse of the Dhammapada; “hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world, by non-hatred only that hatred is appeased and this is an Eternal Law”. However, in practical terms there are few things we have to consider because life is precious to everyone.

First of all, it may be useful not to confuse the duty of the State and the duty of the general public in relations to a National issue. Let the State handle the problem and what we as a general public could do is to extend the fullest support without rocking the boat. Buddha thought us the theory of cause and effect and its universal applicability is undisputed. While a State should protect its people from disasters whether man-made i.e. terrorism or natural i.e. tsunami, cyclone or flood etc,  the State should also be wise enough to avoid such disasters by exploring its cause and by eliminating the root causes of the problem for long lasting peace. Now we all know terrorism in Sri Lanka is a problem. We all know the State cannot follow the dasarajadharma to counter today’s terrorism (had the dasarajadharma followed there cannot be such problems but now we are too late). But what seems be eluding or unwilling to accept is that root causes exist for terrorism to be conceived, used and perpetuated. All successive governments since 1950s have proposed different kind of solutions to the root causes of this ethnic issue. Some people still hold the view that there is no ethnic issue/conflict in Sri Lanka, they could be seen as extremists as the LTTE. Our experience is that every elected government, every elected Prime Minister and President in Sri Lanka since 1956 has accepted that there is an ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. All of them have realised the solution is ‘devolution of power’ and have proposed various power-sharing systems during last 52 years although the extent of devolution is widely disputed. Therefore, majority populace, who voted with two major political parties accounted for more than 75%, are in agreement with that there is an ethnic problem in Sri Lanka and long lasting solution is devolution of powers. The problem has been that, no leader or a government has been given the chance to implement the proposals by blood-thirst extremists in the South until 1987 and in both the North and South thereafter. The sad realisation is that the extremism of the South emanate under the mask of Sinhala-Buddhist. Therefore, it is relevant to include this matter in this religious discussion.

The second point is that, there is a clear distinct between beginning of an issue and root cause of an issue/problem. With regards to the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka both the Sinhala and Tamil versions have been discussed, analysed and published in detail all over the world. There are hundreds of websites available in the internet representing the views of both sides and, there are numerous scholarly articles have been published in national as well as international journals and databases. When discussing the starting point of this problem, what we should not forget as Sinhala majority is that ordinary Tamil majority did not demand such power devolutions until late 1950s. When some Tamil leaders (Ex. Federal Leader; Chelvanayagam) campaigned for more powers in early 1950s the ordinary Tamil people did not support them; in fact those campaigns were decisively defeated by Tamils. However, when time passes, our short sighted politicians forced young Tamils to rally around such campaigns by creating reasons/causes and making a conducive environment for the extremists to grow. It is widely argued that it was India’s patronage (by the centre as well as Tamil Nadu) that wiped off the hesitance of the Tamil youth for an armed struggle and provided the boost to the Tamil militant recruitments. Reading both versions could help us to broaden our understanding of the problem, they are least useful in resolving the problem because most of them do not address to the root causes.

The ground situation is that there is a burning problem and root causes have been identified and solutions have been suggested by various legitimate forums such as the recent All Party Conference. LTTE is hell-bent causing severe damages to their own people according to moderate democratic Tamil leaders. Had they followed the Ghandian strategy instead of terrorism to resolve their grievances, a widely accepted speculation is that the North-East would have had far better devolution of powers by today.

Different views and suggested solutions in the continuum of the two extremes are depicted below. We can notice that two major Sinhala Buddhist dominating parties (UNP and SLFP) progressing towards more devolution of power with their proposals over the time from 1956 to 2002 with a little step back in 2007 by both SLFP and UNP which discarded the federal proposals recently. JVP and JHU solution is to address all economic and social problems together not only in the North and the East but also in the South so that no problem would be there to all the populace irrespective of whether Tamil or Sinhala. Undoubtedly this solution may be the best not only to Sri Lanka but for the whole planet but unfortunately those solutions can be viewed only in dream-worlds, because they are not pragmatic or realistic and therefore, falls into the category of utopian solutions.

Constitutional Reform

The sad irony of all solutions suggested so far is that once proposed by the party in government (either UNP or SLFP) the opposition party provokes the ‘Sinhala-Buddhists’ elements to thwart the implementation and once they gain the political power, similar proposals are put forward to be scuttled by the party now in opposition. We have experienced this almost 6 times during the past 52 years since 1958. The invariable result is extenuation of suffering not only by the Sinhala or Tamil but the country as a whole. Therefore, it is high time for Sinhala Buddhists to be wiser and not to be misled by such extremist appeals based on racism. Let the prevailing government handle it; means defeat terrorism by addressing to the root causes for a long lasting peace.

The construct of LTTE as a Trans National Corporation (TNC) with no accountability that has given them the means to commit any uncivilized/inhumane act of terrorism. Piripaharan is only a director of this behemoth of TNC. Therefore, the notion of eliminating one director with the hope of finishing or closing-up such a large corporation is a myth, because, no person including Piripaharan is indispensable. Even our most successful Army Commander Sarath Fonseka recently confirmed that complete elimination of terrorism is not possible even though the LTTE is defeated in conventional military means. The president who was a mighty opponent of 13th amendment in 1987 now has pledged to implement the already constituted laws fully to ‘solve’ the ‘ethnic problem’. It is not that politicians do not have brains or intelligence when they are in the opposition. They use their brains, intelligence and all sorts of strategies and tactics only to grab, execute, hold and enjoy powers. The heart breaking issue is that they never have gratitude to the people whom they lead, guide and patronise. These insulting attitudes are in our genes.  Even though it is late, cost thousand of lives and resources now people seem ready to accept devolution of power, this reflects a little other than a sheer mana (egotistic) of people according to Buddha.  Therefore, what we, the ordinary Sri Lankans, should do is to just support whatever legitimate democratically elected government, in its attempt to handle the situation without doing party politics and creating road blocks for the ultimate well being of people in Sri Lanka.

The Lord Buddha’s advice for us in this regard is very clear. We as Buddhists cannot promote, advocate killing (Dhammapada 129; all tremble at violence; all fear death and one should not kill nor cause another to kill). Whether the culprit is a criminal or murderer if we say “kill him/her” then we are not true Buddhists. Those Buddhists who favour that, the war is the ONLY solution, without agreeing to proposals of the government in its attempt to at least to isolate the extremists by addressing to the root causes, are blind with dogmatic attitudes and wrong perceptions which are against the teaching of Buddha. They do a huge damage to themselves by creating a lot of dvesha cittas which are the most harmful akusala cittas according to Abhidhamma.

Most Sri Lankan migrants are aware of the cultural diversity prevail around them but they prefer to preserve their own cultural values such as respecting adults and moral traditions such as avoid using filth etc. We should train our children with necessary skills to preserve our values especially to face the peer pressure based on western thinking. As any other culture, which is generally shaped up by religious beliefs, Sinhala culture too is primarily framed by Buddhist beliefs and therefore, different from other Sri Lankans who have other faiths such as Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. But we have to live together with solidarity as Buddha advises. Also there are philosophical Buddhists who do not follow certain anti Buddhists practices such as yanthara, manthara, gurukam (mythical forces) as well as believing kendara,(astrology). They are not ‘bad’ Buddhists, in fact they are true Buddhists, because their Buddhism is not contaminated by Hindu beliefs such as Vishnu, Kataragama and Saraswathie. We don’t know exactly what we really know and whether what is known is  really the truth until we gain achala sadda as a Stream-Winner (Sothapanna) according to Buddha’s teaching. Therefore, we will keep our minds open without getting embroiled in dogmatic unproductive praxis and continue to maintain what is perceived as ‘good’ Buddhist practices, which may appear as non-progressive and backward. All the elected governments since 1956 have accepted that there is an ethnic problem and made efforts to resolve by offering certain powers to Tamil speaking minority population in the North and East. Since majority populace have voted for these governments to be elected and therefore, it could be concluded that most people have accepted that there is an ethnic problem in Sri Lanka and also have identified ‘devolution of power’ as the ultimate solution to this problem. We shall make all the attempts to be wiser at least relatively and to avoid hatred which is being inculcated by certain forces driven by ulterior motives, not to be gullible and, getaway from illusory utopian interpretations & ‘solutions’.

May all Buddhists be true Buddhists!