Monk makes startling claim from Mahinda’s office in political temple ‘Don’t come to play around with the Buddhist robe’ warning to Govt When a Buddhist monk belonging to the Rajapaksa chapter suddenly stands up and says there is something fishy in the way the chief architect of the Yahapalana movement, the Venerable Sobitha Thera, died; [...]


Was Sobitha Thera ‘done in’ to stop him singing the Yahapalana blues?


Monk makes startling claim from Mahinda’s office in political temple
‘Don’t come to play around with the Buddhist robe’ warning to Govt

SOBITHA THERA: Yahapalana architect

When a Buddhist monk belonging to the Rajapaksa chapter suddenly stands up and says there is something fishy in the way the chief architect of the Yahapalana movement, the Venerable Sobitha Thera, died; and casts an aspersion that he may have been ‘done in’ by forces who feared he would speak of his growing disappointment with the government he helped create to give true effect to the democratic ideals he advanced; it is time for the President and Prime Minister to take careful note of the dangerous diatribe levelled against them and appoint an independent commission whose findings, hopefully, will nip this canard in the blooming bud.

For it seems as though the ‘Bring Back Mahinda’ mafia have temporary laid down their worn out Sinhala chauvinistic drum aside and instead of the Bodu Bala Davula made a different set of monks pick up the Ruhunu Drum also known as the Yak Beraya to thump out the no less potent ‘ Save Buddhism ’ warning; and come up with a ‘mystery’ element in the death of the Venerable Sobitha Thera to serve as the rhythmic theme to whip up protests against the Yahapalana doctrine of which, ironically, the Ven. Thera was the prime promoter, the seer and sire.

In a surprise outburst coming four months after the death of the venerable Sobitha Thera who died of heart failure at Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital on November 8 last year, Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera, now released from his remand cell after a judge freed him on bail three weeks ago, claims that there was a conspiracy behind the Thera’s ‘sudden’ demise. Speaking from Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political office at the Abayaramaya Temple in Narahenpita on Monday, he added a sinister touch to his delayed yet timely charge when he said that Ven. Sobitha had visited him several days before his ‘sudden’ death and had expressed his disapproval at the direction the country was moving in.

UDUWE DHAMMALOKA THERA: Ven. Sobitha Thera confided in me of his heartbreak.

“Sobitha Thera had been ill but he was never weak. A surgery performed on Sobitha Thera had been successful and he had recovered,” Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera said, giving his ‘all clear’ prognosis of the Thera’s medical condition. “Therefore, there were serious doubts about his death. When I stated that Ven. Sobitha Thera’s death was suspicious and there should be an investigation, some top members of the Government sought to brush my views aside. Instead of an investigation, they obtained statements from Mahanayakes to undermine what I said. I demand that the Government hold an inquiry forthwith.”

True, the claims of a pro-Mahinda monk made from his political Mahanayake Mahinda’s office in Abhayarama temple can be attributed to his political bent and the Government can dismiss the insinuation it contains with the contempt it deserves. True, the canard hurled from the lips of one who normally unzips it to give voice on radio and TV to exhort others to uphold the fourth precept can perhaps be attributed to an inherent craving to avenge his incarceration in a remand cell last month for allegedly possessing a baby elephant illegally, which he says, in his defence, was abandoned on his temple land by someone — perhaps in the way some drop unwanted kittens on another’s premises, especially on temple ground where food is plenty, rather than drowning them in the Beira Lake. True, the Government has many grounds to base a decision to reject Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera’s claim outright but shouldn’t prudence dictate that rather than wish it away it is best it is tackled head on and laid to rest once and for all?

Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera’s claim that Sobitha Thera had visited him to confide in him – him? a known confirmed Rajapaksa disciple? – is indeed surprising. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera is much junior to Sobitha Thera, not only in years but also in terms of ordination hierarchy – and his claim that Sobitha Tthera visited him must give pause since it is rather unusual for senior monks, especially those ill with serious heart conditions, to pay house calls on those way down the seniority line. If Ven Sobitha Thera indeed did, how sad that Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera didn’t go to see this ailing mount of a man but waited till the mountain came to him.

ELLE GUNAWANSA THERA: Arrests of monks must stop

But what is astonishing is the claim that the Pope of Yahapalanaya Sobitha Thera had come in search of Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera a few days before his death and sought his shoulder to cry on and found in his cherubic countenance the authorised priest confessor to admit his sin of propagating the Yahapalana blasphemy against the Rajapaksa credo. This is the statement smuggled into Uduwe Dhammaloka’s call for a probe into Sobitha Thera’s death that reveals the machinations at work to tar the Government’s canvass with its own foremost artist’s rainbow hued brush. For the innuendo contained therein is nothing short of an accusation of murder done by Yahapalana forces to prevent the moral voice of the nation from singing the Yahapalana blues in public.

No doubt there will be a few similar monks of the same designer robe who will step forward to testify on oath if need be, that indeed Sobitha Thera had risen from his sick bed and tottered to Uduwe Dhammaloka’s sitting room to give tear to his disappointment that the ideals of Yahapalanaya he wished to see firmly established were not taking place and that his long dreamt dream for Lanka was dead. These maybe the monks Uduwe Dhammaloka was thinking of when he said there were ‘many ready to come forward and give evidence before an independent commission’ that the noble monk had expressed his heartbreak at having brought the Maithri-Ranil government into power only to see his dream die.

No doubt there will be many who will give oral testimony that the Yahapalana lion had come to a Rajapaksa kuti to hang his mane in sorrowful remorse; but, alas, from the voiceless lips of the un-replying dead thera there can come no word and Sobitha Thera’s moving spirit will remain mute, impotent to refute even one word of what is now suddenly claimed in his noble name.

But it’s no secret that Sobitha Thera was extremely disappointed in the inability of the Maithripala presidency to bring in the changes he so earnestly wished, notably the failure of the new Government to arrest and indict those who had plundered the country’s coffers, brazenly flouted the country’s laws, abused their powers, denied the people their rights and even kept elephants captured illegally and cruelly from the national parks as a status symbol of their new found power and royal connections.
He also grew exasperated with the Maithripala Government’s delay in reforming the Constitution due to the wild antics of the ‘Bring Back Mahinda’ activists and berated the Government for tarrying reforms and tolerating charades. But he did not hide his disappointment or his frustrations. He did not have to furtively whisper his disillusionments to a few in private. He was not that kind of monk who needed someone else’s crooked shoulder to lean on. That was not his style. What he had to say, he said direct. And couldn’t care less who was listening or taking down notes in the shadows.

Frustrated by the absence of any dynamism in fulfilling promises made in the Maithri manifesto led the Ven Sobitha Thera to rail at President Sirisena on 1st March 2015 at the Social Justice Convention. “Mr. President, we did the most difficult thing with greatest hardship for many years. To heat the griddle we blew the grate for years. We blew and blew and heated and heated the griddle. We heated it to burn the rotiya. Not to bask in the warmth. Now we came here to say we did not heat the griddle to bask in its warmth. We made it to burn the rotiya. So burn the rotiya,” he declared, critical of the slow pace and lethargic attitude in fulfilling the election promises made in the Maithripala manifesto. That was Venerable Sobitha Thera at his no-holds-barred best. To say he was anything else than direct is an affront to his noble memory. It is saddening to note it being suggested that he was wont to saying one thing in public and another behind cloaked robes, behind closed doors

It is also no secret that when President Sirisena decided to give nominations to Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brigand of rebels to contest the August general election under the SLFP banner, it deeply upset the Venerable Thera. An aghast Sobitha Thera addressed the nation and asked all those who had the means to migrate to foreign lands to immediately pack their bags and go; and advised those who could not afford to at least apply for their visas to seek permanent residence in hell. Such was the horror with which he watched the then unfolding scenario and such the dread he held for the possibility of a Rajapaksa comeback to a position of power to wreck to nought the glorious vision he had beheld for so long and worked so tirelessly lifelong to dawn for the people of Lanka, a just and righteous motherland.

Thus Sobitha Thera’s growing despondency over some of the actions of the new government was no closely guarded secret he kept to himself and shared only with a few that it now requires Uduwe Dhammaloka, a follower of Mahinda who treads the Rajapaksa path, to pop out of his remand cell and reveal it to the nation at this juncture without offering an explanation as to why he kept it secret for so long.

As Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya who succeeded the Venerable Thera to become the head of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) which was founded by the Thera to be the vehicle to promote and defend civil liberties, said this week, “Ven. Sobitha had been very disappointed over the Government’s failure. In fact, I strongly criticised the Government and pointed out Ven. Sobitha’s anger at the way Yahapalana rulers behaved. But, those trying to exploit Ven. Sobitha’s death should be exposed.” He urged the Government to inquire into the specific allegations made by Uduwe Dhammaloka thera or face the consequences.

But though the Government can respond to this calumny as the natural outpourings of one with an axe to grind, isn’t it far wiser to nail the innuendo than leave it in the air for mavericks to further exploit? The CID, it is reported has already launched an investigation into the affair. But what is needed is an independent commission to probe the entire affair to the satisfaction of the general public.

This was rightly the demand made by Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera who also addressed a news conference along with Uduwe Dhammaloka and Ven Muruttettuwe Ananda. Gunawansa Thera spoke of eminent monks who have died in the past in circumstances that gave rise to suspicion. He said, “When we were small one of those monks who died was Venerable Kotagama Vachissara Thera. Till today we do not know whether he died or whether death was inflicted upon him. After that another death fuelled suspicion was that of Venerable Panadure Ariyadhamma Thera. Even today we have a doubt in our mind about that death. Then the next death we can talk about is the death of Ven Gangodawila Soma Thera. All these monks lived their lives with the people. Even when they had an illness, even a small illness and we visited them, the next time we would be attending their funeral. Likewise we have a great doubt about the death of Sobitha Thera. It is because of this doubt that we, Ven Muruttettuwe Ananda, Uduwe Thera who remained Sobitha Thera’s ‘kalyani mithra’ or genuine friends, decided to ask the government to appoint a commission with full powers to probe what happened to Sobitha Thera.”

Ven Elle is right in his demand to call for a commission. As he said the people have a right to know what really happened to the thera during his last days in a Singapore hospital. The people have a right to know whether he received the proper treatment for his heart condition. But a call to probe medical negligence is radically different from a call to probe political murder. Then it creates a doubt whether such a call is motivated by a genuine concern or whether it’s spurred by an evil intention, a naraka chethana to exploit the monk’s death for political gain.

Consider what Ven Elle has to say next. He says: “We ask this commission on the grounds of suspicion and doubt. In time to come some of our monks also may die or have death forced on them. We have a doubt about that. Already about 48 Buddhist monks have been taken to courts for diverse reasons and have been imprisoned. In Lankan’s history I have never seen monks being covered in bed sheets and taken like goni billas to the court house. But the constitution says that whilst Buddhism will be safeguarded it shall also be fostered. What is happening now is not nourishment but malnourishment of the Maha Sangha and the Buddhists. We cannot watch this happening. Therefore we tell all athi pundits kindly that we say this with responsibility and like to remind the political sections first ‘do not come to play with the robe’. This is enough. This must stop immediately. Has a member of any other religious clergy been taken into custody? What is happening? An injustice is happening to us. Before this injustice we can no longer keep our mouths shut or merely watch. We have a designated title. We are the nation’s guardian gods. Do Thai or Myanmar monks have this? No. But Buddhist monks in this country are hailed as the nation’s guardian’s gods. We have been given this title for the last 2500 years. It is because of this that all of you are living.”

As these monks ponder over what ever happened to the Ven. Sobitha Thera to whom they say they were ‘kalyani mithra’ or genuine friends, they should also chew over the fact that if, as they say again, he confided in Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera and let him in on his own guarded secret that he was depressed over the failure of the Maithripala presidency to create the Yahapalana state he envisaged, it was only because he abhorred even more the country sliding to the Rajapaksa era again where the rule of law was almost nonexistent – the self same repugnant era they are busy working to see re-established and which Ven Sobitha worked so hard to see demolished.

But before they pick up their watapathas and pledge themselves to the task of bringing the Rajapaksa circus back to town to dawn the carnival for the corrupt and immunity for the guilty, they should — if they aspire to be the nation’s guardian gods — perhaps turn their minds, between media briefings, to stanza 9 of the Yamaka Vagga chapter in the Dhammapada which states: “Whoever, unstainless, without self-control and truthfulness, should don the yellow robe is not worthy of it.”

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