Even as Bodu Bala Sena Boss Gnanasara Thera shed his shameful jailbird jumper and adorned himself with the saffron robe of the Buddhist Sasuna and slipped through a back door exit from Welikada jail on Thursday afternoon, many questions arose as to the wisdom of the President’s rash decision to grant the wayward monk special [...]


Wreak havoc and set free Bodu Bala Sena bigotry

DID SIRISENA UNDERMINE JUDICIARY WHEN HE CUT SHORT REBEL MONK’S JAIL TERM? -- Whilst communal flames still threaten to flare, was the President right to add fuel to the fire?

Even as Bodu Bala Sena Boss Gnanasara Thera shed his shameful jailbird jumper and adorned himself with the saffron robe of the Buddhist Sasuna and slipped through a back door exit from Welikada jail on Thursday afternoon, many questions arose as to the wisdom of the President’s rash decision to grant the wayward monk special presidential pardon and let him walk a free man.

He had insulted in open court the judge and the entire judicial system; and had been found guilty of contempt by the Appeal Court and sentenced to 19 years rigorous imprisonment to be served in six years. The President had set him free in less than nine months.

Basking in the limelight after a most welcome absence of time in the slammer, Gnanasara told the media that the vast majority of the country’s Buddhist, Hindus, Catholics and Muslims were clamouring for his release.

He said: “In spite of strong international opposition, the President had the courage to release me. The prison sentence the court had decreed was 19 years reduced to six years. The people had great hope that the President would release me before that time. It was the wish and prayer of the public of this country — there was no racial divide — all Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burgher and Malays prayed for my early release.”

Perhaps, some mysterious voices from the great beyond had been whispering in his ears during his dark days of solitude behind bars to give him the notion that the nation had naught in their thoughts and in their prayers but him and that every day temple flowers bloomed for him, kovil bells pealed for him, Christian candles were lit for him and mosques prayers were hailed for him, all praying in unison for his early release.

BODU BALA SENA NAYAKE: Gnanasara Thera says prison life has reformed him

And the President became the instrument of God’s and Karmic will. And, no doubt, the President would have blushed pink to hear from the lips of the man who not so long ago had condemned him as a spineless imbecile or words to that effect, now sing hosannas in his name and hail him as a hero for the courageous act he did in releasing the canary from his  Welikada cage.

But life behind bars seems to have made the bigoted monk go ‘cold turkey’ deprived as he was of his addiction to rabble rousing and espousing communal hate.

He said on Thursday night that he is 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.”

Jolly good. Prison seems to have been his confessional box and when this renegade monk says that he has atoned for his sins and is now reformed, it is certainly good news. For no one is beyond the pale of redemption if he truly repents his sins.

Except for one thing. 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.

Before one faces the unpredictable future, it is wise to ponder over the past, over the creation and subsequent actions of the Bodu Bala Sena movement which Gnanasara led and still heads.

Just to recap the past, let’s stroll down memory lane.

For starters, eighteen years ago, it was this same monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara, now meteorically raised to the heights of national infamy, who, whilst driving a car in a drunken stupor, knocked down a man who had to be rushed to hospital with a smashed leg. He was convicted for drink and driving, in the Colombo Magistrate’s (Road Motor Vehicle) Court in case No 6315/2000, including the charge, amongst nine, of not reporting the accident.

For one who claims that his every act is done in the name of the Buddha Sasana and that every adverse reaction levelled against the Buddha Sasana, and that if there is any matter to be settled it must be settled then and there, Gnanasara Thera  is quite averse to discussing the incident and told a television interviewer three years ago that it will be a waste of time to  talk about it and to skip the subject altogether.

After remaining as a blessed nonentity for the nation’s good during the turbulent war years, he graduated to the big league when peace had dawned to raise the lion’s tail of Sinhala patriotism against a new racial foe, the Muslims; and, in 2012, launched the Bodu Bala Sena in a lavish ceremony from the BMICH under the Rajapaksa regime’s patronage with the declared aim of subjugating the Muslim minority  through waves of terror.

Ever since, he has done nothing else but peddle the racist and bigotry jingo and has used a garbage truck to carry his bellicose chauvinism to bulldoze Buddhism’s pillars of ahimsa or nonviolence and tolerance to all and disfigure the head, limbs and torso of the collective Sinhala populace, and render them damned with the mark of racism and religious bigotry from tress to nail.

Hell bent as he was trying his best, even unwittingly,  to destroy Buddhism while claiming to safeguard it, no wonder he was heaven-sent for proselytising foreign missionaries to exploit his words and deeds and turn thousands off Buddhism’s sublime philosophy based on loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic  and equanimity. No wonder, it enabled them to hold up the Buddha’s noble tenet to display tolerance to all religions and creeds as an orchestrated sham of the ages — as evidenced, as did claim, by the glorified vile practice of one who professed to be a robed, card carrying disciple of the Buddhist order of monks, whose constant assertion that his deplorable acts have the blessings of the entire Order of Buddhist Monks was largely aired and left uncontradicted.

Since its formation in 2012, during the Rajapaksa regime, the Bodu Bala Sena led by Gnanasara had the freedom to wage with impunity without fear of prosecution their various attacks on Muslim businesses. But what they would regard as their shining hour came in June 2014, which three days after thousands of Lankan Buddhists had commemorated the arrival of Buddhism to Lanka 2558 years ago and spent the day in the practice of Buddhist ethics, meditating upon the sublime states of loving kindness to all and tolerance toward all faiths and creeds. A small group of rebel monks launched another serial attack on Muslims and showed the world the other side of Poson’s midnight moon.

At a time when religious and racial tensions are at their highest, the Bodu Bala mob arrives in full force to fan the flames to a higher pitch.

Gnanasara proudly declares at the Aluthgama meeting as if it was the best epithet he could receive, “Spineless ministers and others say we are racists, they say we are religious bigots. Yes, we are racists. Yes, we are religious bigots.”

Inciting the crowds with vicious language and rhetoric of Sinhala supremacy in Lanka and declaring the undisputable right of the majority race to inflict violence on any minority grouping who dared to outstep the allowed bounds of their limited tolerance, the head of this rabid renegade brigand of fanatical monks, the saffron robed Galagodatte Gnanasara arrogantly proclaims in his inflammatory speech to a crowd clapping his every word: “If we do not unite and determine today to do our duty, our still unborn generations will, at a future date, curse us to be struck down by lightning. Without being subject to that curse, look at our ancestors, our forefathers and what they did. They sacrificed their blood, tears, sweat and their lives, donated their eyes, their flesh, their blood to safeguard this age old heritage on behalf of us. Today, evil sinful forces have emerged from all four directions to plunder this heritage.”

And then comes the crunch:

“We tell everyone,” Gnanasara warns, raising his hand defiantly, “This country still has a Sinhala police. Still has a Sinhala army. After today, if one Sinhalese is even touched, let alone a robe, if one Sinhalese is even touched by any Muslim or anyone else that will be the end of them all.”

The mob violence began soon after. And it was to claim the lives of two Muslims.

That was the night the Bodu Bala had blood on its robes and evil sin on its conscience. Missing still were the manacles on its hands. But retribution would come four years hence.

It came when the river burst its banks on January 25th 2016 and flooded the Homagama Magistrate’s Court when Gnanasara unleashed a barrage of abuse. Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake had just finished remanding the six army intelligence officers arrested in connection with the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda for a further period, when from the spectators’ seats rose Gnanasara bellowing, “Government officials are remanding war heroes who saved the country by crushing the Tigers.” He also turned his wrath on the grieving wife of the missing Ekneligoda, who is feared dead after having been abducted and taken in a white van over five years ago, and accused her of being a pawn of the West.

The Magistrate who would have been startled by this sudden court outburst especially coming from a man dressed in robes, instead of ordering the immediate arrest of the offender who had dared to scandalise the court and was obviously in contempt, took the unprecedented step of trying to explain, perhaps in deference to the robe, the duty cast upon him by the law of the land. But to no avail. To Gnanasara Thera, this was an invitation to launch his full frontal assault on the judiciary and reportedly retorted, “This is white man’s law. Give me any punishment. I’m ready to accept it. We can’t tolerate this practice and that’s why we are here today”.  And stormed out of court.

No one can say he didn’t ask for it. The magistrate issued a warrant for his immediate arrest. After leaving his two storey white house, his hallowed temple in Rajagiriya, accompanied by a few policemen in his black Benz, he arrived at the court premises to be accorded a hero’s welcome by his rabid supporters who hailed him as a martyr about to receive his martyrdom at the burning stake.

He was arrested and remanded. The magistrate complained to the Appeal Court and gave evidence in person as to what had transpired in open court to bring down the dignity and respect of the court. The Appeal Court found Gnanasara guilty of contempt of court. And in August the manacles fell on his hands and the iron bars of a jail cell was all he had to behold.

He appealed to the Supreme Court but all the Supreme Court did was to dismiss the appeal offhand with Justice Prasanna Jayawardena saying the Supreme Court is bound to protect the dignity of the judiciary.

Gnanasara had exhausted the entire gamut of the judiciary, from Magistrate Court to Appeal Court, from Appeal Court to Supreme Court and the law lords had upheld the conviction and agreed with the sentence of six years in prison, cut down by the courts from the 19 years imprisonment inflicted upon him.

And this week the president goes and sets him free.

The question is whether Sirisena’s timing was right to display his political sympathy over the plight of a renegade monk in jail, notorious for his history of inciting communal violence and uncage him to unleash his fury free again when just last Monday politically driven Sinhala Buddhist mobs caused communal violence in Kurunegala and surrounding areas?

The question is also whether Sirisena was right to release a convicted man who had been duly convicted and sentenced by the Supreme Court of the land to serve a term of 19 years cut down to six years in prison, less than ten months of his confinement?

True, he has the untrammeled constitutional power to do so. Under Article 34 of the Constitution he certainly has it. It says that the President may in the case of any offender convicted of any offence in any court within the Republic of Lanka grant a pardon except in the case of any offender who has been condemned to suffer death by the sentence of any court in which a certain prescribed procedure has to be followed.

But despite this power, the question, however, lingers: must not the president exercise that power judicially, responsibly and not out of political gain or personal sympathy? Would it then be undermining the very foundations of the judiciary which sentences a man to twenty years or even life only for the President to overrule the sentence and free the convicted overnight by midnight gazette?

PS: He who is friendly amongst the hostile, peaceful amongst the violent, who is detached amongst the attached, him do I call  a holy one. – Dhammapada

What makes a Sinhalese, a BuddhistUNP Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera declared last Monday that Sri Lanka was not a Sinhalese Buddhist land. He said:  “Sri Lanka is not a Sinhala Buddhist country but a country belonging to all who have taken Sri Lanka as their motherland.”

Others rushed and begged to differ.

MANGALA: This land is your land, this land is my land

Unlike America where all the refugees from Europe and other parts of the world arrived in droves less than five hundred years ago and immediately became Americans the moment they set foot on its soil, the Sinhalese have lived, worked and wrought its culture and traditions and established their distinct identify for over 2500 years; and thus can rightfully claim title to the land.

This was no land of asylum seekers. Where the Statue of Liberty, gratuitously gifted to it by the French in 1886, hails all with the slogan: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Arab Moors were sea traders and they made Lanka one of their ports of call. All of them did not settle down in one full invasion. A few did at first. Others followed suit in stages and established base camp, especially in the East of Lanka near the Magama Port served as harbour for their ships. The small community grew gradually. When the Portuguese took control of the coastal belt of the island, the Muslims were persecuted. The Sinhala kings in Kandy offered them protection and granted them asylum in the hill country. The Dutch, in the 18th century brought Javanese and Malaysian Muslims. Other Muslims too arrived from India in the 19th century when the British rule held sway over the entire island.

Thus it’s a fallacy to say that Muslims have been here from 1,300 years. They came as traders. Were allowed to reside here as guests and only later not more than three hundred years ago were accepted as Sri Lankan Muslims.

The Sinhalese on the other hand have been here for over two thousand five hundred years ago. Perhaps even more. From time immemorial, from Ravana’s time. The land was called the land of Sihale, where the Sihale people, the Sinhalese  lived for thousands of years.

Vijaya, who the Mahawamsa holds to be the founder of the Sinhala race – a fact now decried by archaeologist – did not found the Sihale or Sinhalese race. If the legend is true at all, he merely assumed kingship over the people, the Sihalese who lived in Sihale.

As for Buddhism, it was declared the state religion by King Devanampiyatissa in 300BC after the arrival of India’s Emperor Asoka son with the Buddha’s bowl of the Dhamma as his invaluable gift to the island race.

Historical records found in both India and Lanka confirm these facts. These are not wild assumptions made without base.

The capital Anuradhapura of the Sinhalese, with a recorded history of over a thousand five hundred years  had  been in existence for over 1200 years  when the first Islamist traders came with their goods to barter for gems and spices. Even today one can see in every facet of the island’s life and culture what the Sinhala race has done. In its architecture, in its engineering, in the stupas that rivaled only the Giza Pyramids of Egypt, in its irrigational works, in its massive tanks that once, during the rule of Parakramabahu the Great in 11 century AD,  made Lanka known as the granary of the East and which still exist to water the agriculture of the land, one sees the genius of the Sinhala hand

It is the same with England with only a thousand year existence. Unlike America which is a land of refugees, refugees who poured from England, Ireland from the European continent all seeking refuge in a land of the Red Indians – who were massacred – and claiming equal status as Americans, for none could say the land had been developed to its full poetical but all could say that their forefathers in equal measure had helped build its present status.

No doubt that countries should be secular. As India is and Sri Lanka is. India’s constitution states that it is a secular state. Sri Lanka’s constitution does not state that Buddhism will be the state religion of the land but, given that over seventy five present of the people are Buddhist, states that it shall be given foremost place whilst in the same breath and clause guarantees equal rights to all other faiths and consolidates that right by  Article 14 which deals with fundamental rights — the freedom either by himself or in association with others  in public or in private to manifest his belief and worship or otherwise in practice and teaching.

Hinduism, the only religion that has no founder and which is the oldest religion having evolved from the soil, embraces all religions and accepts all to their pantheon of gods; which is why it regards the Buddha as the tenth avatar of Vishnu. And take note that Buddhism can be held as the religion most secular in its nature compared to all the other great religions of the world in its emphasis on practising tolerance toward all those who hold a different creed and faith.

The Kalama Sutra even says not to even take his own message for granted in blind faith but to question it until one is expelled of all doubts and only then to follow it.

Thus it’s why, though the Catholics had their crusades and the Spanish and other inquisitions and the Islamists had their many jihad wars, no single war, throughout the course of human history, has ever been fought in the name of fostering Buddhism.

Buddha was the world’s first missionary. But he and his followers sought to persuade the people to that gentle philosophy he expounded by means of persuasion, not by arms.

The statement ‘I am a Sinhalese Buddhist and I have pride in that’ is a racist and a bigoted statement. If one is born a Sinhalese, there is nothing to be proud in that. It’s a biological fact. Perhaps dictated by one’s karmic fate. If one is born to a Buddhist family, nothing to be proud of that either, Only to be fortunate that birth has given a head start. But that is all.

That is why, even like one born to a Buddhist family who have been Buddhist through five hundred years of foreign domination, one must renounce the ancestral faith for it has become corrupted through the ages due to priest craft, distorted by translations and interpretations, And, strive, as best as one can, to follow the Teachings of Gautama the Buddha as best as one can perceive it.

Finally, the question is not whether we treat other communities as guests or not. The fact is that this land of the Sinhala race for the last two thousand three hundred years has been the cradle of Theravada Buddhism, the pristine form of Buddhism, Lanka’s greatest gift to mankind and future humanity. The 15 million Sinhalese who live here have no other land but the 25,000 square miles of an island. The 3 million Tamils have their Tamil Nadu in India where there over seventy million Tamils. The 1.5 million Muslims have their Arabia and their Mecca to turn to every day and pray and a worldwide populace of over a billion.

The Sinhalese have only the ancient land of the Sihale. And with all its faults, with all its warts, none can deny that they have survived through all the vicissitudes to keep the flame of Buddhism alive to light the life of generations yet to be born not only in this thrice blessed land but in all the four directions of the world.

The above does not make one a racist or a bigot. Only a realist. This country is a Sinhala Buddhist country. That is a historical fact.

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 Sinhalese 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. It’s a fact.

However, in the midst of all this political pedantry, one must not lose sight of an even more important question to ask in this Vesak month.

And the question is: What makes a Sinhalese, a Buddhist?

As the Buddha said when asked what makes a man a Brahmin, what makes one a Buddhist, a Christian, a Hindu or an Islamist is not by one’s birth but by one’s deeds.


Presidential order must baffle Police top brassFollowing this week’s car horn protest against the closure of roads when VIPs were on the move with their heavily armored convoys, President Maithripala Sirisena ordered the Police to close roads to allow VIP movement without obstructing the free flow of traffic.Very creditable. At least it showed that even though he fails sometimes to give ear to human voices, his antenna is fully tuned to car horns.
Except for one thing. It must certainly baffle the Police top brass how to give effect to the Presidential order. How to close roads to allow VIPs to drive through without obstructing the free flow of private traffic.

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