Sunday, 15 June 2014

Casinos, Tourism, and the Buddhist Monks.

Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardhana and James Parker

So much is being said about Casinos these days that one begins to wander whether Casinos are the only thing that will mar the peace and serenity of the well disciplined, very Buddhist Sri Lanka, where every thing is being happening according to the teachings of the Buddha.  

One is made to come to that conclusion as it is the very Buddhist JHU and Wimal Weerawansa that seem to be anxious about the danger to Buddhist morals by the introduction of Casinos.  Casinos spell gambling , games of chance. But in case of a Buddhist it is not forbidden in the five  precepts, though it is against a right livelihood in  the noble eight fold path.

If Casinos are condemned for making it another marketable addition to make Sri Lanka  attractive to tourists as a place for pleasure and entertainment. Why only Casinos ? Nobody seems to complain that putting  all cards for economic development and financial stability on tourism, is by itself an issue that needs rethinking as it is tourism that keeps increasing entertainment projects, and with them  that come all evil, such as sex, drugs, crimes and gambling. The fear perhaps is because this reminds of pre Castro Cuba which was a gambling den controlled by the American Mafia.

But unfortunately tourism is an  all  important item for Sri Lanka’s economic growth as  industries and even agriculture as potential foreign exchange earners are limited and slow in development. Hence tourism and foreign  employment are the primary foreign exchange earning industries in Sri Lanka.
Monte Carlo Casino
There are three types of Casinos.  The Casinos open to the public at large, Casinos in Hotels which are open to the clients of the Hotels, and on line Casinos which are open to any one using computers with internet connection.  The Casinos in Hotels cater for the tourists for whom the Hotel industry is being developed. 

Is James Parker’s 400 million Dollar  Casino complex open to any one or just to tourists  and others who are clients of the Hotels ?  In the news item it only says , “ once constructed, the resort will have  450 rooms , restaurants and gambling spaces.”  It seems to be restricted to the clients of the Hotel and restaurant complex.
Casino inside a Hotel
If it is open only to clients of the hotels and not to any Dick, Tom and Harry, that would not affect the morality of the Buddhists.  If that factor is not considered, those who manifest against Casinos should then manifest against tourism itself, which would be like biting the hand that feeds you. If it is a case of ordinary Citizens of Sri Lanka getting ruined playing in James Parker’s casinos, then we will also  have to consider blocking  internet online  Casinos.

Then why is all this furore about.  If its only to preserve the sanctity of the Buddhist Sri Lanka, the priests who have taken to roads to protest against Casinos should rethink what they the Buddhist monks as the protectors of the Buddha Sasana should do to stop the declining morality of the Buddhist laity without seeking to make Sri Lanka commit  economic suicide by not developing  the country to attract foreigners as a place for entertainment and thus get the much needed foreign exchange for development projects. 

The Monks may for instance demand that the tourist industry should  give foreign tourist a Sri Lanka style vacation with attractions such  as  sight seeing tours, restful beaches, enjoy Sri Lankan peace and serenity by visiting Buddhist and other religious places of worship, provide them with entertainment respecting Sri Lanka’s cultural values. Provide the tourists with Sri Lankan fruit juices, or Sri Lankan beer instead of  other alcoholic drinks such as wines that are available in plenty in their own home countries. The tourists love health resorts, therefore encourage opening Ayurvedic health centres and bath spas etc.

But yet that is not the role of the Buddhist monks, there are the laymen qualified to make tourism in Sri Lanka a different experience for foreign tourists.  But  those who are in charge of developing tourism in Sri Lanka are trying to make tourist entertainment in Sri Lanka an overbearing  imitation of  what it is  in  the countries from where the tourists  come. 

There are night racing.  Normally car racing are in automobile producing countries to compete with different marks of automobiles  produced by different producers.  There are very few  car racing courses outside  automobile producing countries.  Sri Lanka should not go all out to make car racing a  Sri Lankan experience. Even Golf links are not a profitable venture.  There is even a proposal to set ice rinks and even making an artificial island for a racecourse.  There is also a proposal to invest on a cable car service to Adma’s Peak.  Where is this madness going to end ?

These are excessive considering that while main roads, bridges and flyovers have been constructed  certainly for the greater benefit of the country, the village roads have been neglected. The transport board has no suitable small  buses to ply on small village roads and roads linking towns in the interior of Sri Lanka.  The big Leyland buses plying on village roads not only damage the roads, but also become a dangerous nuisance to villagers who have to take the same roads to move from one place to another.

Therefore, Casinos within Hotels are not that much of a danger to the life of the people of Sri Lanka if they are properly controlled.  But the role of the monks is to teach the people to live a Buddhist way of life without seeking  activities that is not in keeping with their effort to follow the noble eightfold path to purity and emancipation from the bonds of Samsara. 

The Buddhist laymen should be taught to keep away from vice, as  vice by itself cannot be removed. During the life time of the Buddha, pigs were slaughtered outside the Jetawanaramaya.  The Buddha did not ask the King to stop the butchers from killing pigs, but taught the people why it is wrong to eat the meat of slaughtered animals.  In the discourses of the Buddha we note that there had been liquor addicts. But the Buddha taught the monks to be an example for others, and  required lay Buddhists to refrain from taking intoxicating drinks.

It is an indisciplined mind that seeks out vice, therefore the duty of the Buddhist monk is not to manifest on public roads to make people good Buddhists, but to teach them what is good and what is bad in their temples by making the temple a place of sanctity where the monks practice meditation, and conduct retreats or meditation sessions to the people. The monks should make their temple where people come not only to worship, but also to seek  solace and advice.

While our learned Buddhist Monks who have donned the yellow robes, are dabbling in matters that are outside their vocation as monks, some demand driving licences, and employment in the public administration,  others get into politics even seeking to be candidates for the Presidential elections, it was announced that 450 Buddhist temples are to be closed for lack of Buddhist Monks.

Buddhist culture is entwined with the temple and the people.  If the temple gets away from the people or the people gets away from the temple it would be to the disadvantage of the existence of the Buddha Sasana.  Therefore the Buddhist monk should cultivate closer contact with the people to be their guide and protector.  Today what we see is that a greater number of  Buddhist Monks  is preoccupied with matters that are best left for the laity, becoming thus laymen in yellow robes.

Buddhism had a smooth uninterrupted  existence in Sri Lanka for 2300 years since Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Venerable Mahinda Thera.  Therefore , Buddha Sasana as much as the Sinhala Buddhists have to be protected  from religions which do not  teach their followers ways to get away from suffering, but make use of  them to assure their existence,  are spreading like weeds. 

Therefore, the Buddhist Monks associating to fight against these enemies as protectors of the Buddha Sasana cannot be condemned.  But they should not be divided as Budu Bala Sena, Sihala Ravaya, and Ravana Balakaya, but  should form into one large Association. They should conduct themselves as the  disciples of the Great teacher the  Buddha, disciplined in their thoughts, words and actions according to the Dhamma.

Protecting the Buddha Sasana is a greater issue on which the Buddhist monks should take an active interest, leaving aside manifesting against setting up Casinos, abolition of the Executive Presidency , or presenting themselves as common candidates for Presidential elections.

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