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23rd January 2000

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Theravada Buddhism and the enemy within

By Kumbakarana

January 25, 1998 was a day of sorrow for all Buddhists, for it is on this day the LTTE attacked Buddhism's holiest shrine , the Dalada Maligawa. Although the sacred tooth relic was saved, this attack went deep into hearts of Buddhists.

The LTTE had three main reasons for this attack. First, it wanted to disrupt the golden jubilee Independence celebrations that year. The second was to attack a site which symbolically represented the Sri Lankan state. The third was to incite a backlash against the Tamil population specifically in the hill country, and thereby to gain support amongst them and to win international sympathy.

Although, the first two objectives were even in part a success, the final objective inciting the Sinhala people against the Tamils failed miserably.

For Buddhists, the Dalada Maligawa is what is Vatican for Catholics, Mecca for Muslims, or the Golden Temple for Sikhs. The Christian attempt to wrest control of Jerusalem from the Muslims resulted in a 300 year war (the Crusades). Indra Gandhi's decision to flush out Sikh rebels from the Golden Temple resulted in her death and the death of tens of thousands of others in communal backlashes. The demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by Hindu fundamentalists resulted in a similar backlash. But such a thing did not happen in 1998.

Three explanations are offered. First, the Sinhala Buddhists had taken the Buddha's call for non-violence to heart. The second explanation is that the Sinhala society driven by selfish attitudes is submerged so deeply in a consumer culture that they do not care. The third one which is favourite amongst the Tamil elite, is that the Sinhala society is frightened by a possible counter attack by Tamil Tigers.

Even the LTTE is said to have been perplexed at this lack of reaction. In the wake of a major setback for troops in Kilinochchi in 1998, the LTTE reportedly said that the attitude of the Sinhala population had hardened and that it was like pouring water on a duck's back.

There are attempts at a deeper sociological theory . According to this theory, a society where Theravada Buddhism which is a personal liberationist doctrine, cannot form strong civilizational structures and thereby they weakly respond to aggression. Even the formation of a strong army or police force within these societies is questioned.

The formation of a state and its apparatus has always been a dilemma to Theravada Buddhist societies. It seemed to contradict its theory of liberation.

One can witness the working of this dilemma in history. In the 8th century A.D. the Islamic Conqueror Mohamed Bin Quasim and his followers, occupied Buddhist lands from Afghanistan, through North India to as far as Indonesia, with ease. Even in the spread of Western empires, the least resistance was encountered from Buddhist lands.

When the reaction to imperialism came, it was by and large dominated by Marxists in Buddhist countries. Even in history, prior to Dutugemunu, Buddhist Sri Lanka was easily over-run by invaders. There is a feeling that the rise of the LTTE is due more to the tolerance rather than the suppression of the Buddhist societies.

The Agganna Sutra describing the evolution of beings, state and society, explains how a state, with repressive measures, comes to be, not through the sanction of God's but by the consent of the people. This dilemma was resolved to some extent by Dutugemunu in his creation of a centralized state with organized armed forces to protect it. This has been justified in the Mahawansa but with excuses. Thus there had been a relatively stable stage and society in Sri Lanka for some time.

The Dalada was brought to Sri Lanka during this period of stability. The parody of the attack on the Dalada lies in several directions. The tons of explosives smuggled by the LTTE through Buddhist countries (Burma and Kampuchea), during the so-called peace talks between the government and the LTTE, were probably used to attack the Dalada Maligawa.

The present Dalada Maligawa itself had been built by a Dravidian Buddhist King, and now the Buddhists could not even properly protect it. There was no significant reaction against this from the Buddhist world. The Indian low caste have become Buddhists in India; support is derived by the Dravidian movement from these sectors, against perceived Brahmin oppression. There are movements within Burma, Thailand, Bhutan and Kampuchea which have links and are supportive of the LTTE.

While the Sri Lankan Buddhists have purely commercial transactions with Buddhist countries such as Japan and Taiwan they also discourse intellectually with the Western Buddhist movements. The LTTE on the other hand derives support from and by groups within these countries. This has been not so much due to the cleverness of the LTTE, but more due to the weak organization of the Theravada Buddhist polity. It can be concluded that the real enemy of Sri Lankan Buddhist lies within rather than in the Wanni.


Religious events to mark attack on Maligawa

The Sinhala Veera Widahana has organsied several religious events on Tuesday to commemorate an LTTE attack on the Dalada two years ago.

A sucide bomber blew a truck outside the Maligawa entrance on January 25, 1998, causing damage to the historic building which is considered to be Buddhism's holiest shrine.

In a ceremony organised around the "Wel Bodhiya" near the Dalada Maligawa, the Sinhala Weera Vidahana will award fifty scholarships to young samanera monks.

Several Nayaka Theras and Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeyaratne will deliver speeches on topics ranging from the 'Buddhist Philosophy and War' to the 'Dangers that befell the Tooth Relic according to history.'


The other side of police-bashingPOLICE PROBLEMS

Last week, a VIP guest related a recent experience he had with the police. He was furious even as he recalled the incident.

The organizer of the millennium show at the Galle Face Green had invited him and his wife as special guests. A car pass was sent along with the invitation card. When he drove to the venue with his wife, he reached a point where the road was closed for traffic.

He showed his VIP invitation card and car-pass to a constable on duty and requested him to let him drive in. The constable told him that no one should be allowed beyond this point.

The VIP friend told us how he blackguarded the constable calling him a fool in the presence of the large crowd. The constable however had been unmoved. Bloody fool, according to my friend!

The incident, however, indicates that arrangements for crowd and traffic control had not been properly co-ordinated by the organizers of the show and the police higher-ups in charge of the arrangements. The poor constable who was confronted by my friend was only carrying out instructions given to him. It is obvious that he had not been briefed about the rest of the arrangements, because, had he known them, he would have been only too happy to direct my friend to the VIP entrance and avoided all that humiliation and stress.

Apart from the co-ordination on the part of the organizers and the police, VIPs, and for that matter all who attend such functions, will do well for themselves and for the poor constables on duty, if they inquire about the arrangements, before setting out from the comfort of their homes, to enable them a smooth approach to the venue.

Similar situations where policemen are confronted with important, impatient and intolerable personalities, are much too many these days. Hence this reference, and the remedies.

On January 14 around 5 pm, I was standing on Kirula Road Narahenpita having dropped my wife and daughter at the Asiri Hospital and parked my car by the roadside as the hospital car-park was full.

Some youngsters who were drunk were crossing the road near the hospital. A police constable was on duty near the hospital and a disorderly youth in the group was doing a ballet like performance, more as an expression of his disregard for the police officer on duty. It was heartening at this stage, or so I thought, to see a traffic sergeant arriving at the scene. But this good feeling was very short lived, as his intervention was of no avail, with the drunken group making such a public show of their disdain towards the elderly sergeant, that he too became helpless.

Shortly thereafter a traffic inspector of police came to the sergeant's rescue. I do not know whether he had been summoned there or whether he was on a routine patrol. The sergeant briefed the inspector on the facts and when the group looked back still making fun at the sergeant, the inspector beckoned them to come up to him. But they ignored the inspector's direction and continued to proceed in the direction of the police station junction. When they were passing me, I heard one of them saying, "Baya venna epa machan, Narahenpita Polisiya mata gedera wagay."(Don't worry machan, Narahenpita police is like my home.)

The inspector rode up to them and spoke to them trying to explain that what they were doing was wrong. The more boisterous one among them was not prepared to accept any warning. The inspector thereupon acted firmly. He held the young man by his shirt at the waist and spoke in no uncertain terms.

The others in the group ran around and summoned several people who tried to have the accused released. The inspector stood firm. He summoned a police jeep and dispatched the drunkard to be dealt according to the law.

While all this happened I was standing close to the inspector to afford him whatever assistance I could, in case he was obstructed. After the drunkard was dispatched I spoke to the inspector and identified myself, as he seemed uneasy about my close presence. His composure relaxed and he gave his name as I.P Gunesekera. I expressed my appreciation of his good work and he proceeded, probably to attend to formalities in regard to the arrest.

My talking to the inspector became my undoing, as it later turned out to be. I was soon accosted by a larger group, and they started questioning me in aggressive manner with the impression that the police had acted on my behest. They too were drunk and incoherent. I had now got into a helpless situation quite unwittingly. Then fortunately for me, Inspector Gunesekera came back anticipating this very situation, and the crowd dispersed. He told me that I should not hang around there, and undertook that police will keep an eye on my car. I then went in and relaxed my nerves before driving back home with wife and daughter.

Considering the enormous stress and strain police officers have to put up with these days, the part played by I.P. Gunesekera was service at its best.

I hope this story will not result in I.P. Gunesekera being drawn to the VIP security division, depriving the public even of small mercies.

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