Ancient India was divided into a feudal class system where people were divided according to professional functions they have been doing generations after generation accepting them as being born into those professions and there by being of a higher or a lower caste. In this caste system even the spiritual emancipation was restricted according to the caste into which one was born. Unfortunately this ancient caste system still remains almost unchanged in modern India.
The Hindu religion of ancient India was the domain of the Indian elite. The Brahmins claimed complete control of the religion, its practice, and the right to allow or prohibit people from entry into the Hindu Temples. The Scavengers of the time the Dalits as they are known today , were prohibited from entering a temple and if they pronounced the holy Sanskrit Religious Texts they were punished by cutting off their tongue.
The scavengers had to hide themselves when the high caste Indians were on the roads as their shadow falling on a Noble man or a woman was a sacrilege punishable by death. They were prohibited from looking into the face of a person of a higher caste.
Into such an ancient India the introduction of the teachings of the Buddha was a social revolution. The Buddha’s Order of the Sangha accepted followers from what ever caste and they attained the highest Nobel attainments, and the Order was distinct not being class and caste conscious.
Sunita the Scavenger was an untouchable who hid himself on seeing the approaching figure of the Budddha. Buddha asked him whether he would like to be a monk like him, when Sunita consented the Buddha took him with him and bathed him, shaved him and ordained him in the presence of the monks and the lay people. He was treated as an equal in the Buddha’s Order of Monks. Venerable Sunita attained to become a Noble Arahat.
In Sri Lanka the Order of the Sangha changed in the mid-18th century by the formation of the Siyam Nikaya, which later gave rise to two other Nikayas the Amarapura and Ramnnya Nikayas. The Monks of different Nikayas wear their robes differently. The Siyam Nikaya follows a caste system accepting children belonging to good Kandyan families for ordination. The other two Nikayas broke away from the Siyam Nikaya in 1835.
Is it not correct for who ever wants to revive Buddhism at least from the 2600th Buddha Jayanthi to abolish the Nikaya System which is not in keeping with the teachings of the Buddha ? I do not see it in the 20 point plan of action proposed by the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi Steering Committee.
Recently there was a news item about setting up of Quazi Courts in Sri Lanka to settle Muslim Family disputes. In Diplomatic Missions, a diplomat cannot be prosecuted in a foreign civil Court without first obtaining the permission of the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the country represented by the Diplomat. This is called the Diplomatic immunity.
These two cases referred to above makes one wonder why a Buddhist Monk in robes is arrested without first referring the matter to some type of hierarchical council of Buddhist Monks. The Asgiriya Malwatte Chapters of the Siyam Nikaya cannot intervene in the case of Monks from the other two Nikayas as they have no authority over them.
Therefore it becomes all the more reasonable that the Nikaya System should be abolished and the Order of the Sangha of Sri Lanka set up their own Buddhist Councils, such that a Buddhist Monk accused of any criminal offence, is first brought before a Council of Monks. And if the Council of Monks have reasonable doubt of his being guilty of the offence either disrobe or temporarily disrobe him for the Criminal Courts to proceed with the case.
Vinaya of a robed Buddhist Monk is important for the existence itself of the Buddha Sasana. Therefore, the Uposotha should be strictly adhered to. It is better to have a few Buddhist Monks disciplined and highly respected than having a large number of yellow robed individuals who bring shame to a 2600 year old Buddhist Order of the Sangha.
Such a Council of Buddhist Monks should have the respect and obedience of all Buddhist Monks. If for instance a Monk is compelled to take some type of action which is not in keeping with the Buddhist Monkhood, such as a Monk being invited for a Royal Wedding, the matter should be referred to the Council of Monks and receive its approval before accepting such invitation.
Pabbajja or giving up a householders life to become a homeless Monk, is to live a simple life with the minimum of possessions, such as three robes, a begging bowl, and protection against weather. They have to beg for their food, and not handle money. These simple life provides ample mental space for meditation which is the heart of the teachings of the Buddha, and for which sons of noble families had given up householders lives to accept a homeless life.
The education of a monk should therefore be to lead a life convenient for meditation. The 20 point program of the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi Steering Committee states , « Creating and ethico- moral environment in state and private sector institutions ensuring development for both character and attitude formation ». This ethico moral environment is more important in the Temples and among the Buddhist Monks. Therefore, the question of the education of the Buddhist Monks should have been given priority by the Steering Committee, which it does not seem to have done.
In view of the creation of an ethico moral environment referred to above , the University Education for the Buddhist Monks should be stopped, reverting them back to Pirivena System of Education for Buddhist Monks, with emphasis on following the 227 Vinaya Rules. Any Monk who is against it may be requested to leave the Community of Monks.
Pabbajja going forth from home to homeless life, to live a simple life is an impetus for meditation. Every Buddhist Monk should be trained in meditation and prepare to lead a life of meditation. Every Temple should have meditation kuti, or a meditation hall for regular meditation practice by the resident monks. This requirement too has been over looked by the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi Steering Committee, perhaps because they fear opposition for it by the Buddhist Monks themselves.
Pabbajja of going forth from a household state to a homeless state of the Buddhist Monkhood, is today a going forth from a comfortless state to a comfortable life, where there is food, a university education, and the possibility of a Government job.
The Buddhists when they complain of other religions such as the Catholic Church, becoming more powerful in the country displacing the place of importance of the Sinhala Buddhist religion we should take into account the radical changes taking place amoung the guardians of the teachings of the Buddha in Sri Lanka, the Order of the Sangha –the Buddhist Monks. Some of the Student Monks are a disgrace to the teachings of the Buddha, they should be asked to change their ways or give up their Robes.
We should question whether these Buddhist Monks of today live a life as required by the teachings of the Buddha, and if they do not then it is up to the Buddhists at least now to change the situation.
We cannot minimize the serious situation the Buddha Sasana is facing today, by saying that it is only a small number of Buddhist Monks who are rebellious without respect to the pattern of behavior expected of Buddhist Monks. The moral degeneration of the Society the Sambuddhatva Jayanty Steering Committee mentions is a side effect of the degeneration of the discipline of the Buddhist Monks . Therefore any human development process should go hand in hand with the regeneration of the Order of the Sangha-the Buddhist Monks.
In the promoting the value of the Dhamma Education, the Buddhist Monks and Nuns should be invited to Schools to make Dhamma “talks” and conduct Meditation courses for which they should not be paid, or if any payments are made they should be made to the Temples from which they come.
A most important development in Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka today after 2600 years of its existence has been completely left out by the Sambuddhatva Jayanthy Steering Committee. It is the re-establishment of the Meheni Sasna or the Order of Bikkhuni, and the development of the Dasasil Matavo.
Specially the latter-the Dasa Sil Matavo are doing a great service in some parts of Sri Lanka in conducting Meditation Centres. They had been neglected both by the Buddhist Temples and the Governments. They should be assisted and their conditions should be improved. Both the Bikkhunis and Dasa Sil Matavo have an important role to play in our Society today.
In Sri Lanka today, in its forward march towards modernity, with a surge of tourism which brings with it a considerable economic benefit, we should not be blind to the fact that it also brings with it considerable danger to our culture and way of life. Our younger generation is caught between their past Buddhist cultural values, and the temptations of modern social development and entertainment.
The young women are more susceptible to these dangers of modernity, it would therefore be a very effective influence to bring in the Bikkhunis and Sil Mathavos to be used in the moral advancement and respect to religio cultural values by getting them to play a role in introducing Buddhist meditation in girls schools and other areas where large communities of women work such as Nursing Schools, Prisons for Women, and Industrial Centres
There for the Ministry of Buddhasasan has a duty to take an active interest in the progress of the Bikkuni Sasana and the Dasa Sil Mathavo and provide them with accommodation, Meheni Aramayas, and special hospitals or separate wards for them in hospitals.
Another important matter would be to make all Buddhist Children learn to read and understand Pali- the language in which the Buddha made his discourses and the language in which the Tripitaka has been written, from a very young age.
This will create an interest in Buddhism, making them understand better the religion to which they were born. It will also give a chance for us to have a well informed well disciplined Buddhist Monks in future, who having given up their householders lives, live a really beneficial life of homelessness through conviction of the value of Buddhist teachings and the path it has traced.
If the Ministry of Buddha Sasana makes an effort to bring about real changes to the way we are practicing Buddhism now , we could still hope to go back to Buddhism of the past, when we had more disciplined Buddhist Monks studying the teachings of the Buddha in Pirivena Schools, highly respected by the people.
In the West there are already Buddhist monks, may be a few in number, who live according to the Vinaya Rules giving importance to meditation. Therefore, it not impossible that we could change the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka and bring it back to its pristine glory.