The Buddha Sasana Ministry is proposing to set up special courts to hear cases involving Buddhist monks. The move comes in the wake of the imprisonment of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera and the controversy over whether he can continue to wear his monk’s robes while in prison instead of [...]


Sangha courts mooted to deal with convicted monks

Mahanayakes and Govt. leaders will meet on July 2 to discuss proposal to set up special tribunals after Gnanasara Thera’s jail uniform stirs controversy

The Buddha Sasana Ministry is proposing to set up special courts to hear cases involving Buddhist monks.

The Ven. Gnanasara Thera taking part in religious ceremonies after being given bail on Friday. Pic Lahiru Harshana

The move comes in the wake of the imprisonment of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera and the controversy over whether he can continue to wear his monk’s robes while in prison instead of the prisoners’ uniform.

Buddha Sasana Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera told the Sunday Times that he would propose the setting up of three courts in Kandy, Kurunegala and Ratnapura to hear cases involving Buddhist monks. He said the matter would be discussed with the Mahanayaka Theras at a special meeting to be held in the Parliament complex on July 2.

The minister said Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Justice and Prison Reforms Minister Thalatha Atukorale, Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam would join him at this meeting with the Mahanayaka Theras.

Meanwhile, the Buddhist Advisory Council will meet the Mahanayaka Theras on July 10 to discuss wide-ranging issues affecting Buddhist monks and Buddhism in general.

The Government’s moves come amidst increasing calls to establish a ‘Sanghaadhikarana’ (Sangha Court) for monks. Among other things, such a court would have the power to decide whether a monk convicted in a court of law can continue to remain a monk and wear his robes while serving his sentence.

The matter came to a head after the Homagama Magistrate on June 14 sentenced the Ven. Gnanasara Thera to one year’s rigorous imprisonment, to be served in six months, after he was found guilty of threatening Sandya Ekneligoda, wife of missing journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, within the Homagama Court premises.

Prisons Department officials insisted that all prisoners are treated equally, and as such, the monk would have to wear the prison garb just like other prisoners. The BBS and several Buddhist monks protested, stating that civilian authorities had no right to disrobe a monk.

At present, at least 15 Buddhist monks are serving prison sentences after being convicted of various crimes.

Stakes were raised further when the Ven. Prof. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura said that Gnanasara Thera could, in theory, cease to be a monk if he stopped wearing his monk’s robes for seven straight nights under the Vinaya Pitakaya (Disciplinary Code for Buddhist monks).

Speaking to the Sunday Times later in the week, the Ven. Prof. Abhayatissa Thera, however, clarified his earlier statement. He said that since Gnanasara Thera had been compelled to give up his robes without his consent, he would still remain a monk even if he were to spend more than seven nights without his monk’s robes.

Nevertheless, he said, the incident has created a discourse within Buddhist society and had renewed calls to maintain a suitable balance between the law of the State and the law of the Sangha (Sangha Neethiya).

“In terms of the Sangha Neethiya, the offence Gnanasara Thera was convicted of does not construe a severe offence to be deprived of his Bhikkhu robes,” the Ven. Prof. Abhayatissa Thera said, alleging that the state had forcibly done so. If a monk commits a serious offence such as murder, rape and theft and is found guilty by a court of law, then he should be removed from the priesthood. “Such offences are considered severe, not just by State law but by the laws of the Sangha, too. Any monk who commits such offences will be stripped of his priesthood.”

Elaborating the complexities of the laws that governed the Sangha, the Ven. Prof. Abhayatissa Thera noted that in certain instances, matters that were not treated as offences by lay society were grave offences among the Sangha. For example, a Buddhist monk who engages in sexual relations is liable to be thrown out of the Sangha order, whereas in lay society, sex between two consenting adults is not a crime.

Commenting on the controversy, the Ven. Iththekande Saddhatissa Thera, Convenor of the Ravana Balaya Organisation, said Buddhist monks were not seeking exemptions from the country’s civil laws. “What we are saying is that if a special Sanghaadhikarana is set up, controversies such as the one over Gnanasara Thera and his prison garb could be averted,” he said.

He said that laws should be enacted to empower the Sangha court to assess the gravity of the offence a Buddhist monk convicted by a court of law had committed, and decide whether he should be expelled from the monkhood.

“The Sangha Court will merely rule on whether the person convicted can continue to remain a monk or not. If the Sangha Court rules that the offence is not severe enough to deprive the monk of his priesthood, then he should be allowed to wear his robes during the period of his sentence.”

Though the controversy over Gnanasara Thera’s prison uniform more or less ended on Friday with the monk being granted bail by Homagama Magistrate Thushara Upuldeniya, a Prisons Department spokesman said the Thera was “extremely understanding” of the prison rules and voluntarily gave up his robes for prison attire during his stay in prison.

Gnanasara Thera granted bail, barred from leaving country

After serving nine days of his six-month prison sentence, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary, the Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, was on Friday granted bail by the Homagama Magistrate, following an appeal filed by his lawyer.

Homagama Magistrate Udesh Ranatunga ordered that Gnanasara Thera be released on two personal bonds of Rs. 500,000 each. The Thera was also barred from travelling overseas and the magistrate ordered that the Immigration and Emigration Controller be notified regarding the ruling.

The Thera’s appeal was originally due to be taken up on Tuesday, but was postponed to 2 pm on Friday after officials from the Attorney General’s Department failed to turn up in court.

A large number of Buddhist monks and supporters of the Thera were present within and outside the Homagama Magistrate’s Court’s premises on Friday afternoon when the case was taken up.

A group of BBS monks, who had earlier launched a Satyagraha campaign in Fort calling for the Thera’s release, threatened to begin a fast-unto-death if Gnanasara Thera was not released on bail that day.

The BBS general secretary was not in court when the case was taken up. But once the magistrate granted him bail and the decision was conveyed to the Welikada Prison where Gnanasara Thera was serving his sentence, he was taken by a Prisons Department vehicle to the Homagama Magistrate’s courts to furnish his bail.

The Thera was warmly greeted by his supporters outside the court premises. They took him in a procession to a nearby temple where he took part in religious observances.

Addressing the media thereafter, the Ven. Gnanasara Thera thanked the prisons authorities and inmates for their conduct towards him. The Thera was rather cryptic on the questions of whether he wore the ‘prison jumper’ while serving his sentence. He said he behaved in a way that did not contravene either the laws of the State or the laws of the Sangha. He said he still had much work to do.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.