Saturday, 1 June 2013

Venerable late Bowatte Indarathana thero- and the lessons to be learnt from the tragedy.




Some call it a suicide, others a sacrifice against slaughter of  cattle.  If the Communities in Sri Lanka, including the Muslims who kill animals inside their homes to celebrate their religious festivities  Eid al-Adha, and Hindus sacrificing  animals in thousand for a religious ceremony in Munneswaram  show compassion  and give up these savage religious customs and let the cattle live in freedom without fear of being food for the people,  it would be  a great achievement, which would also glorify the act of self immolation of an innocent, kind, and compassionate being  who was a Buddhist Priest.

Nevertheless, the suicide is against the basic tenants of Buddhism and should be condemned as in the prevailing ignorance of Buddhist vinaya among the young Buddhist monks, we may have an avalanche of suicides even to promote changes in the University system, changes in the dress of monks, for the issue of free motor vehicle licences, more employment for monks in the government sector etcetera.

But this act of a Buddhist Priest also highlights the unfortunate state of the prevailing  condition of rapid degeneration  of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka.  This “malaise” began with the removal of the Pirivena system of education for the Buddhist monks, making them equal to lay students whose discipline has  deteriorated and the University System of Sri Lanka itself is becoming institutions of indiscipline, and their contributions as institutions of higher education  are being questioned.

Buddha wanted a monastic environment for those house holders who left their homes to follow  his teachings.   It is only in such an environment a Buddhist monk will be able to keep the 227 vinaya rules and conduct himself as a monk.  Otherwise there would not be any difference between the laity and the priest, except in the dress.

Unfortunately  today the temples are far from being Monasteries, they have become comfortable homes. In the ancient Monasteries the Monks spent their time studying “dhamma”, discussing the teachings in groups and meditating under the guidance of senior monks.

Therefore in a monastic atmosphere  the minds of the  Buddhist monks were constantly kept within the boundaries of the “dhamma”.  The monks  could under such conditions maintain mindfulness, and  keep the minds free from defilements (kilesa).  

In the present day Universities the student monks imitate the lay students rather than allowing the lay students to follow the disciplined, soft speaking, calm and collected serenity of a Buddhist monk.( ?)  The Buddhist monks should avoid temptation, lust, desire,  ill will and maintain a careful  control of the  mind,  speech and physical action.  This is possible in a priestly  mindful existence , with a training in meditation. Does such an atmosphere exist any where in any Temple in Sri Lanka ?

Today the Temple is not a rallying point of spirituality with enlightened wisdom influenced by the teaching of the Buddha, but they have become centres of political discussion, gathering places of non-descript persons drawing the young monks to vice such as taking , liquor , drug and even participate in theft of sacred treasures within temples.  This happened in a village temple I know.

Indiscipline begins in small ways and if no corrective measures are taken they becomes widespread.  In the former days, we saw monks in villages with well shaven heads, and properly dressed  in their yellow robes as they should be worn by a Buddhist monk. They walked one after the other according to their seniority.   Today such a sight  would be a “luxury”  for the Buddhist laity . I have noticed Buddhist monks wearing the robe like a sari using one end of it to cover the shoulders !!!

It is time that the Buddhist Monks ,the Buddhist laity and Buddhist Associations wake up atleast now after this unfortunate  case of a self immolation of the Buddhist Monk Bowatte Indrathana to reform the Buddha Sasana and take it back to what it had been before.   The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka who is in charge of the Ministry of Buddha Sasana is too old and weak  and has no vision to make valuable reforms for the welfare of the BuddhaSasana.

It is time the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka  retires to give the place to a younger and more active person.  It is a weakness of the President not to make essential changes in the Cabinet and important political changes  without  allowing  the problems get more serious as the time passes.  This is the case with regard to the 13 Amendment and the bunch of  the TNA terrorists hanging on as Parliamentarians of Sri Lanka openly calling for the division of the country.

It is not the presentation of Sannas Patra appointing monks to special position that is necessary,  but it is to get them to clean the Sasana of ills, removing  elements that would be a danger to the Buddha Sasana and undertake  a complete overhaul of the Sasana from Education of the monks to re organise the Temples as Monasteries, with Meditation Kuties and halls for residents monks for their studies of  Sacred Texts, and memorising them in groups.

Monks are being murdered, accused for rape, charged for driving under influence of liquor.  These were unheard of and when things come down to such a deplorable level some one has to intervene to say “stop” and be fearless to call for  immediate changes before the situation goes out of hand.

I have been to many Countries and visited Catholic Monasteries, where they maintain strict religious discipline.  There are no young priests hanging around  outside the Monasteries  doing nothing. They all have their Bible in hand and spend their time usefully learning and reciting  prayers , while others do cultivation of plots of land to provide necessities for the Monastery. 

Our temples are the contrast.  Once I  walked around the Asgiriya temple  and was surprised to see young monks  behind the temple with cigarettes in their mouths, apparently hanging about in groups having nothing to do. I also met a group of young monks in the Kandy Market standing together laughing talking loud and making gesticulations. 

Of course all these things could be treated lightly as these monks are not Arahants, but can we forget the fact that they are aspiring to be Arahants, having given up a comfortable home life to be mendicants.  But is that their ambition or is it to learn Geography, Economics  and Commerce in a University ,   disrobe and do a job later.  Unfortunately that is what it has come to.  If the trend continues we will soon  find men with a yellow thread round their wrists as a sign of his belonging to Buddhist Priesthood.

The Ministry of Buddha Sasana is inactive it should be handed over to a Minister who would have the courage to bring about changes necessary to uplift the  Buddha Sasana , by re-establishing the Pirivena system. 

He should immediately organise a “mini -Buddhist Council” to reorganise the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka by getting the three Nikayas together and make the Mahanayaka theros, a functional institution able to control the Order of the Sangha, strict on keeping Uposatha, and taking strict disciplinary action against “miscreants”. 

The Mahanayaka Theros should be assisted by a committee of senior monks of all three Nikayas as administrators who should meet regularly every month to examine the situation with regard to the Community of Sangha in Sri Lanka, and see that the monks keep their Vinaya, and  make recommendations of necessary actions to be taken by the Mahanayake Theros.

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