Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Mobs, Monks and the Problem of Political-Buddhism: explaining matters to Kalana Senaratne.

Mr.Kalana Senaratne’s article of the 5 May,2012 on the above subject is confusing.  He mixes religious doctrine with matters outside it.  One should not bring in Buddhist teachings in order to condemn human behaviour and people’s attachment to traditions and accepted religious norms ,  sanctity of  all that  belongs to the performance of religious rituals.

Buddhism is the oldest religion of Sri Lanka, apart from what ever belief system King Devanampiyatissa followed before the advent of Buddhism.

Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lankan during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa.  That was between the years 250-210 Before Current Era, where as Islamism is quite recent. 

Mohamed while in Mecca was said to have begun receiving the revelation from God in the year 610 of the Current Era. Islamism was brought to Sri Lanka by Arab traders only in the 8th Century. When the Portuguese and the Dutch came to Sri Lanka the Arabs fled to the Kandyan Kingdom where they were given protection.

Therefore when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka there were no other  religious faith in Sri Lanka.  The King Devanampiya Tissa was the king of the  whole of Sri Lanka.  He after accepting Buddhism offered the Island  of Sri Lanka to the Buddha Sasana.  Therefore the Buddhists believe that this country has been sanctified by that offering  and there are four gods that protect the land where the teachings of the Buddha has taken root.

Therefore Mr.Senaratne  what you say, “It is always a curious and odd little matter, to witness how even Buddhists become so obsessively attached to ‘sacred’ lands and in protecting them, commit acts seemingly prompted by hatred, delusion and ill-will.” seems to be through your ignorance of Buddhist history.

Land is by itself not sacred but it becomes sacred by virtue of the sacred purpose for which it had been offered.  Therefore, your reference to Vasala sutta and the rest has no relevance to why a land  is considered “sacred” by the Buddhists.

You say Mr.Senaratne: “…. that a land becomes a ‘sacred’ (or Buddhist) land not by anything else but only by the words and deeds of those inhabiting that land. Even a place of religious worship would lose its sacredness if, in the guise of religion, all manner of nefarious activities are carried out therein. In such cases, your virtuous neighbour’s backyard becomes more sacred than the ‘sacred’ land or place of worship…”

But all what you say is rank nonsense.  You state those irrelevancies, through your failure to have investigate why land could be “sacred” before writing your article. When a Buddhist Monastery is built along with a Temple, it has to be maintained. As the monks devoted their time to meditate, study the scriptures or write commentaries, they did not have the time to prepare their meals, cultivate the land and grow vegetables for consumption, performs the religious rituals, and prepare ceremonies etc. 

So what the King did when he constructed a Monastery and a Temple for worship was to donate a large extent of land to the temple.  The Temple in turn gave lands to various people who in return performed various services to the Monastery and the Temple.  There were the drummers who performed religious rights and participated in temple ceremonies, the land was given to people for cultivation to provide paddy, and other agricultural produce for the well being of the monks.  There were others who cooked the meals and kept the Monastery and the Temple clean. 
These lands given to the people to perform various services were sacred land that cannot be sold. And consequently all that land offered by a King to a Monastery and a Temple became “sacred temple land”, which cannot be sold out to any one outside the temple.  And the owner ship of the land by the temple is eternal.  Therefore no one can put up a building on a temple land and reside in it for a number of years and then claim it as his land, as that land would always belong to the temple.

Then you say a whole lot of  things you do not seem to have understood.  You say, “.. However, these are not ideal times and ideal societies. Laws and regulations can be enacted empowering ministers and other officials to declare a particular territorial area a sacred land.”

If you refer to lands reserved for places of worship as “puja bhumi”, these are not new land that has  been declared  as “sacred land” but these are the original land offered to a place of worship demarcated by providing  new visible boundaries, so that the place will not be desecrated  by putting up buildings and other unauthorised constructions.

Then you continue your harangue , “And of course, this is not a practice limited to Buddhists alone. But when mob violence is seen to be propagated, as was done in Dambulla on the 20th of April – when a number of Buddhist monks and laymen stormed a mosque in Dambulla and demanded the dismantling of that mosque – we know, very well, that something is not quite right; not only in the ‘sacred’ land of Dambulla, but also in this supposedly Buddhist-country.” 

Nothing is wrong Mr. Senaratne in this supposedly Buddhist-country, but what is wrong is the way you look at it without knowing the history of the “supposedly Buddhist-country”.
Then you write on the Dambulla mob attack, putting the whole blame on the Buddhist priests, it is worth quoting:

“The immediate concerns arising from the unfortunate vulgarity exhibited by some Buddhist monks and their lay followers have been already highlighted. In what was said by some of the protesting monks, there are the obvious traces of violence, racism, religious extremism and that burning desire, if necessary, to cleanse the territory concerned of the ‘other’ (the ‘other’, in this case, being the follower of the Islamic religion). How this plays out politically – domestically and internationally, both against the country and against Buddhism – is easy to understand “

This  is an unnecessary , unfair attack without looking at the problem objectively , and leaving room for nefarious activities of followers of some religions to mark there “rights” by placing a statue  or converting a shop to a prayer room to later claim that place so “marked” as their rightful place of worship and construct a place of  their religion adjacent to an  existing place of  worship on a land “sacred” to that existing place of worship having received it as an offering by an ancient King.

In that case that Temple has the right to reclaim its ownership to the land on which unauthorised  religious activities are being carried out .  The fault in that case is not that of the Buddhist priests or the supporters( Dayakayas) of the temple, but it is the fault of the people who have used a temple land as a place of prayer with the ulterior motive to claim that land later as theirs by the mere fact that they had prayed in a place there on that land.

It is unnecessary  to go through Senaratne’s  very long article,  as  what has been written above may perhaps make him understand  why the Buddhists Monks have taken up the issue in Dambulla  and demand the removal of the Islamic Prayer room which is on temple land.

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