The sighting of the Ramadan new moon on the night of June 4th which bade the Muslims to break their fast and feast and share their sawans with the other races in a traditional show of communal harmony may, sadly, have been only a brief breather from the storms that unknown evil forces plan to [...]


Ramadan’s new moon portends bad moon rising for all Lankans

Even as the nation mourned in silence and prayed for peace in despair chauvinists sought to set the country ablaze in communal flare

The sighting of the Ramadan new moon on the night of June 4th which bade the Muslims to break their fast and feast and share their sawans with the other races in a traditional show of communal harmony may, sadly, have been only a brief breather from the storms that unknown evil forces plan to unleash upon this thrice blessed land in times to come.

Just one and a half months before, the 42 day Christian Lent of self denial – observed to share Christ’s sufferings on the cross for the biblical concept of original sin and the need for God’s own Son to be the lamb of sacrifice – had ended on the day of an Easter celebration of His resurrection in a bloody Easter Sunday carnage which left more than two hundred dead.

Unlike that fateful July 23rd in 1983, when Sinhala mobs stormed Tamil houses, killed Tamils and set fire to their businesses when the bodies of thirteen soldiers killed in an LTTE ambush in Jaffna arrived in Colombo the night before, thankfully there was no backlash.  The country remained quiet, grieving the dead and vengeance was furthest from its mind, though the shock and grief was well embedded in their hearts.

The nation mourned in silence and it prayed for peace in despair.

Had the Sinhalese reacted that week and burnt down Muslim houses, attacked Muslim  mosques of prayer and reduced to ashes Muslim establishments, had they killed innocent Muslims on the streets, the world would have downplayed extremist Islam’s terrorist act and tarred the Sinhalese with the same brush of tar as they did   in 1983. The focus would gave been on the reaction, not on what caused it.

Thankfully, the Sinhalese seemed to have learnt from the lessons of that Black July of 1983. Except for a few.

For even as the Muslims were waiting to sight Ramadan’s new moon and eager to break bread, even as the country was limping back to normalcy, even as the nation was experiencing a peaceful interlude of calm and quiet, even as the Vesak moon was waning and three days before the moonless night, the night of amavaka was setting in, one politically motivated monk thought fit to  set the country aflame, to make it burn in communal fires purely to make himself the Sinhala chauvinist hero of the hour and thereby light his own lamp, to rekindle the flame on his limp wick with his own brand of Sinhala fire.

The monk's fast-unto-death campaign in Kandy drew a large crowd

Even as the tensions between the Sinhalese and the Muslims were simmering, Rathane Thera sat on the garden opposite the Sacred Sri Dalada in a bid to bring it to a boil.  And if not for the unseen hand of providence it would have spilled over and engulfed the nation in communal flames.

On May 31st, after offering flowers at the Sri Dalada Maligawa and, thereafter,  having a brief meeting with the chief monk of the Malwatte Chapter, this monk who broke the mould of the pristine Buddhist monk’s role  when he transgressed the rules of discipline as laid down by the Buddha for monks to follow in the Vinaya Code preaching and practicing the Dhamma alone and not matters that lay in the realm of laymen, walks to the garden turf directly opposite the Sacred Dalada and announces his intention to fast unto to death, against the Buddha’s tenets.

He adopts the lotus posture of the meditating monk and remains still while the television media hover around him. Soon a bed is provided for him. Soon, like the cobra hood the Naga Raja provided to shelter Siddhartha from the sun and rain, a marquis is erected over him to shield him from the elements.

But the question is: What is this monk meditating upon before the Sri Dalada? And doing so with his avowal to never rise from his spring mattress set beneath his marquis canopy until his demands were met?

First let’s examine the correctness of his declared fast unto the death. The respect for him comes not for him but purely and simply because he is a monk representing the Noble Buddhist Sasana of the Buddha.  Whilst those gathered around him respect him and worship him, is one worthy of respect who oneself does not respect its source and origins?

Already he had made tawdry the sacred saffron robe of the Buddha by flouting the strict Vinaya Code by leaving the temple, by renouncing his religious duties to indulge in politics and seek refuge in Parliament.

And, by the way, who gave him permission to conduct this political circus, this political farce, this political pantomime on the grounds directly before the Sri Dalada Maligawa which is not only a high security zone but also a declared sacred area?

Did the Malwatte Mahanayake give Rathane Thera the nod and his blessings to turn the sacred precincts of the Sri Dalada and turn it to a political carnival, sort of a media Mardi Gras -  where a member of  the Noble Order of the Buddha Sasana was staging a fast unto to the death against the Buddha’s tenets.

For apart from the fact that the act of a man fasting unto death can be construed as a suicide bid, a criminal offence under the Penal Code, does it not also violate the tenet of the Buddha when he exhorted his disciples ‘not to do anything to harm oneself, not to do anything to harm another and not to do anything that harms both oneself and another, the triple offense as stated in the “Ambalatthika Rahulovada Sutta.”   Also Rathana Thera’s hunger fast was motivated by ‘thrushnava’, out of a desire to obtain some earthly goal. It was also prompted by ‘dwesha’, out of anger and frustration. In Buddhist scripture, acts done out of these two motives do command respect or admiration but only invite condemnation and abhorrence. That’s not the way of the Thathagata, the Great Teacher of the shining light of the Dhamma. Bad as it is for laymen, it is worse for one who has draped himself in the saffron robe and thus symbolically holds himself as an example for others to follow the path the Buddha trod.

Mohandas Gandhi fasted for higher nobler causes: One to gain Independence for India and later to bring the warring Hindus and Muslims together in peace. But why was this Rathana Thear fasting for? Not to unite the communities but to increase the divide and set the nation on fire. The removal of Salley and Hizbullah, western and Eastern Governors respectively, and the resignation of Minister Rishad Bathiudeen.

Pray say, will anyone, in his right mind, think of sacrificing his or her lives for Salley, Hizbullah or Bathiudeen? Is that how cheap one considers one’s own life to be to stage a fast unto the death – and do so as a member of the Noble Order of the Sangha  and disgrace the entire Sasuna – merely to ask the scalps of these three already discredited Muslims? Especially when there are other legal and political ways of getting rid of them,?

On Sunday, Gnanasara Thera visits the Kandy scene of action where before the Sri Dalada Rathana Thera lies. But Gnanasara Thera’s bedside manner is quite different to one who has come to give benediction. He says to the media that he will not let the fasting Rathane Thera be weakened, that he had come to give him strength. And he then delivers an ultimatum to the Government that if Hizbullah, the Governor of the Eastern Province appointed by the President this year does not resign or is not sacked before Monday high noon, then the nation can witness the carnival that will follow. Funnily enough he makes no mention of the other two, namely, Sally and Bathiudeen.

Monday dawns. And as the sun rises in the eastern hemisphere and rolls around heaven’s firmament till it reaches noon, it sheds light on the scene below which sees Gnanasara Thera leading a mob, marching towards Colombo and Gnanasara declaring with impunity that they are marching to the capital to force the government to resign.

This was the same person who, exchanging his prison jumper and donning again the saffron robe, had stated to the nation after receiving presidential pardon that he was reformed person and that he will henceforth dedicate himself to religious observances only.

He said on May 24th on the night of his release: “I am now a reformed person. I ask you all to act with care now. I plan to spend the rest of my time by following the Dhamma, as befits a Buddhist monk. I will henceforth dedicate myself to religious activities alone.”

As the SUNDAY PUNCH commented three days later on Sunday May 26: “Religious activity always has been his launching pad to attack other religious faiths. And thus it’s wise to keep fingers crossed and remember that even a caged zoo leopard when released to the wild by some bleeding heart fool of an animal lover, never changes its’ spots.”

But his march to Colombo to topple the Government is cut short in mid stride when news breaks that Hizbullah and Salley had resigned and that Bathiudeen, too, had given the assurance that he will resign. And that as a result that Rathane Thera had given up his fast. With the cause célèbre lost, Gnanasara Thera has no option but to halt the march and returns to Colombo to assume renewed stardom as television’s media star.

The man who said that he visited the bedside of the fasting Rathane Thera to strengthen his resolve now states before the media that Rathane Thera had let the side down by his unilateral action. He states: “Ven. Rathana Thera should not take the prevailing issues into his own hands merely because of his political bankruptcy. He should have sought a common solution after holding discussions with others. The solution should be found to the real issue. The Karaka Maha Sangha Sabha was to meet and discuss the prevailing situation last Saturday June 1. However, Venerable Rathana Thera had already started a fast by then. If I did not go to see Ven. Rathana Thera during the fast people might have blamed the BBS saying that I had been released by the President with conditions.

And then Gnanasara Thera says: “I do not trust any politician but only the Buddha.” Unfortunately he does not trust in the Buddha’s philosophy enough to follow it as best he can. But when one prays for rains, it pours. And didn’t it pour this Monday. Rathane’s hunger strike demand had only been to call for the resignations of Salley, Hizbullah and Bathiudeen. Well, the downpour brought a flood of resignations when all the Muslim ministers, deputy and state ministers held a press conference and announced their resignation in toto.A certain Sinhala chauvinist sect was euphoric at this turn of events and hailed Rathana Thera as a hero for this great Muslim purge. Having been upstaged by Rathana Thera in the eyes of these chauvinists, Gnanasara Thera changed tactics and has now begun to state that nothing had been achieved by these resignations and that Rathana Thera’s fast had only served to sweep the real problem under the carpet.

To a certain extent, he is correct. With the Muslim ministers, deputies and state ministers decamping on masse, all that had been achieved by this manic spring of Sinhala Buddhist egotism is to further isolate the Muslims and, perhaps, drive them to the radial camp. It’s a price the nation will have to pay dearly for in the future, if the mad Rasputins of Sinhala Buddhism continue to beat their jingoist drums.

Certain questions must be asked at this juncture.

Is there a method in the prevalent madness? Is there ian unseen hand at work, at play to cause communal disharmony between the peace loving Sinhalese and the peaceloving Muslims? To cause communal violence to break out and further destabilize the country.

n What was the real reason for Muslim extremists to attack Catholic churches and hotels on Easter Sunday? Was it to achieve a backlash? If so thankfully it did not occur?  First blessing.

n Why did an organized gang of Sinhala goons on bikes attack Muslim shops in Kurunegala, Negombo and other areas three weeks after the Easter bombing? When intial passions and emotions have simmered and cooling? Was it to create a mass attack throughout the country against the Muslims? If so, it didn’t happen.

Second blessing.

n Why did Rathane Thera suddenly decide to stage a fast unto death before the sacred Sri Dalada nine weeks after the Easter bombing, calling for the resignation of three Muslims from their high posts when there were other legimate ways of achieving that goal?

n Why was Gnanasara who had insulted the judiciary in open court and serving a jail term imposed upon him by the high courts of the land suddenly released without any grounds for pardon and based solely on the president’s whim and fancy?

n What made Gnanasara stage his march with his rabid mob ostensibly to topple the government by demanding their resignation which could have caused communal havoc along the way, especially in Mawanella and led to similar riots throughout the land? Luckily it didn’t happen.

Third Blessing.

But at this rate are Lanka’s blessings, like a cat of nine lives, fast running out?

Lanka seems to be hell bent on following a suicidal course. Muslim suicidal bombers attack places of worship to achieve their own fanatical religious aims. The nation’s leaders commit political suicide when they profess they were blithely unaware of early warnings the nation’s security intelligence bureau conveyed before the Easter carnage. It allows a monk to stage a suicidal bid opposite the hallowed precincts of the sacred Sri Dalada to deliver political ultimatums  to the government when other means of settling the despite existed. In its suicidal stride it releases a monk sentenced to a six year jail term by the highest courts of the land for insulting the judiciary and bring it to contempt to add more fuel to the communal fire.

Two matters must be mentioned here. One legal. The other food for thought.

The legal one is the rule established by Britain’s House of Lords in the case Rylands v Fletcher” that “the person who for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and, if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape.

What’s the responsibility of one who arbitrarily sets free a danger the courts  had once caged?

The second one is of the nature of patriotism.

Lakshman Kadirgamar, Lanka’s most distinguished and able Foreign Minister who was assassinated by the LTTE once in his younger days wrote in his very good friend and Trinity schoolmate Sinha Weerasinghe’s autograph book the following lines as Kadirgamar’s daughter Ajitha relates in her book, ‘The cake that was baked at home’ a biography of Lakshman Kadirgamar.

It read: ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’

The meaning: ‘How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country.’

But death cannot be sweet but only sour, not honourable but disgraceful if the reason one is willing to lay down one’s life in the name of king and country is to divide it, to flambé it with communal hate and violence, not douse the fire with love and compassion and, worst of all, attempt to become a cardboard martyr in the belief that what cannot not be achieved in life can be achieved in death or in a fast unto the death.

Mangala’s temple ‘Taliban’ banThis week on Wednesday, the Matara District Chief Incumbents’ Union and Matara District Shasanarakshaka Bala Mandalaya issued a ‘Sangha Order’ against Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

This order entails boycotting any event the minister participates in and banning him from entering Buddhist places of worship in the Matara District.

A pledge was made to this effect in front of the historic Matara Bodhiya by the Maha Sangha including the Chief Incumbents in the Matara District. Here it was agreed that Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera should not be allowed to enter temples, hermitages, hermitages for nuns, and all places of Buddhist religious worship in the Matara District.

Apart from the fact whether any Buddhist temple has the power to ban anyone comes to pay his respects to the Buddha, the burning question of the moment is for what offence?

Earlier on June 4th, the Gampaha Sasanarakshaka Balamandalaya, had banned him from entering temples there.

What’s the offence which demands such drastic punishment?

For merely saying that this is not a Sinhalese Buddhist country and that the country belonged to all, to the Tamils, to the Muslims, the Burgers, the Malays?

As thy Sunday Punch commented on May 26th, this is indeed a Sinhalese Buddhist land, dominated for over two thousand years by Sinhalese Buddhist history, tradition and culture “But that does not give a licence to a Sinhala Buddhist to flaunt the air of supremacy over the other communities but treat them all as citizens of one Lanka having the same equal rights to worship the religion of their choice, to adhere to their customs and traditions and live peacefully in the land as one. Even Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith last week acknowledged that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist land. We are all Sri Lankans living in a Sinhala Buddhist land. No need for anyone to make an issue out of it. Even as all are British in a British Christian land. Even as all are Indians in a Hindu India.”

This is a dangerous trend monks are setting, to arrogate the right who will be allowed to enter temples and who will not.

In reply Mangala said: “The Buddha didn’t even ban Deavadatta, who tried to kill him, from entering temples. He was a great man. Peace be unto the idiots that didn’t understand this.”

True. Suddenly we are witnessing the emergence of a Buddhist extremism which is no different to Wahhabism or to the Taliban creed.

Mangala’s fault is that he was ignorant of Lanka’s history and the demography of its people. His ignorance should not be condemned, only to be pitied. Do not forget the last thing Siddhartha had to shed before he attained enlightenment was not thanha, or desire, but ignorance, the root of all evil.

It’s also ignorance that made the Gamapaha and Matara Shasanarakshaka Bala Mandalaya to issue this unprecedented ban against an identified individual denied right of access to the temples in their areas to pay his respects to the Buddha,

But a true Buddhist on the Buddha’s path does not need a Buddha image to respect or worship. Nearing the end of his life the Buddha was asked by the venerable Ananda Thera and the other disciples “how can we respect you? Can we build statues and pay our reverence thus?”

The Buddha’s reply was a firm no. He said, ‘do not erect any statue for me. For it will divert the people from what is most important. He who respects me most will follow the Dhamma that I have preached.’

The Sunday Punch subscribes to the view that though it may not agree with all the views  expressed by one, it will defend the right of anyone to express it.

It’s only disheartening to find some misguided monks have failed to understand the import of the Kalaama Sutta where the Buddha exhorts all to question his teachings and does not consider it a blasphemy if one still has doubts.

Mangala may have been in all innocence, ignorant of Lanka’s 2500-year-old history. The more pertinent question is whether these monks who passed this ‘Taliban’ ban on him merely for saying that the land is not only a Sinhalese Buddhist country but belongs to all, are ignorant of what the Buddha preached.


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