By Helasingha Bandara
(February 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In the Fools’ Paradise where philosophers, theoreticians and eulogists are many and conspiracy theories are abundant, why should not I try my luck with one such conspiracy theory?
A government Minister has said that Sri Lanka will ban guilty NGOs. “Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) found to be conspiring against the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be banned once investigations are complete, Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, Rishard Bathiudeen said. Courtesy: Daily Mirror” Then presumably a supporter of the government wrote and justified with his own brand of theory that the Buddha Sasana is Sri Lanka’s biggest NGO. “And yet, all such operations, big and small, vile and benign, identifiable or utterly incongruous with the life and philosophy of Jesus Christ, are in every sense ‘tiny’ compared to what is arguably the largest NGO in Sri Lanka: the Buddha Sasana. February 20, 2010 at 9:16 am · Categories: Colombo, Politics and Governance, Religion and faith | by Malinda Seneviratne
Now that the Buddha Sasana is branded the biggest NGO in Sri Lanka and the Mahanayakas are accused of conspiring against the Government, in the light of the Government’s decision to ban the NGOs found to be conspiring against the Government of Mahinda Rajapakasha, it is reasonable to develop fears that the Government would prove that the Buddha Sasana, the so called NGO, is guilty and needs to be banned. This is particularly feasible given that politicians in Sri Lanka do not need credible evidence to prove someone guilty. All they need is some perk-seekers to come forward and say “the Mahanayakas invited me and my friends to organise a Sangha Sammmelanaya against the government with the sole purpose of toppling the Government”. Sri Lanka does not lack perk-seekers. On the contrary, it could truly go to the Guinness book of records on this category. Let us take one recent example for fun. Johnston Fernando has pole–vaulted from UNP to UPFA on the UPFA promise that he would be made constituency organiser for Nikaweratiaya. In return, he has agreed to testify against Sarath Fonseka on allegations that Fonseka engaged in talks with him against the government while holding a military post. See, it is easy in Sri Lanka to frame and prove anybody guilty of any offence that the state deem fit. I feel sorry for the 70% Buddhist population who would thus lose their religion. Personally I do not give a monkey’s because the Government of Sri Lanka cannot ban the Buddha Sasana around the world and I have no doubt that there will be plenty of temples that I will be able to go to.
Malinda appears to think that his claim that he himself is a Buddhist would legitimise his right to criticise the Sasana. We Buddhists let anyone criticise us irrespective of the critic’s race, ethnicity, citizenship, caste, creed, sexual orientation, faith or disability. In the same vein, we expect those critics to accept that we have the right to defend ourselves. With the foresight that this government would do some harm to the Buddha Sasana at least by creating a rift in the Sasana, let me attempt to defend the Buddha Sasana, the so called biggest NGO, and the Head Monks.
Malinda Senevirathne’s theory is that all organisations which have no affiliation to the Government in its structure are considered non governmental organisations. This then includes our Maranadhara Samithiya, Mahila Samithiya and indeed my family. My own family is well organised and has absolutely nothing to do with the Government of Sri Lanka. In that sense we are an international non governmental organisation (INGO) because we do not live in Sri Lanka. I wonder whether our Maranadhara Samithiya, Mahila Samithiya or my family would succeed in getting any funding from any legitimate funding sources. Maranadhara Samithiya and Mahila Samithiya have to survive on the donations of Ukkubanda, Appuhamy etc upasakas and Pemawathie, Kirimenika etc upasikas. Sadly my family has to be funded by me alone.
In business studies organisation is defined as something that is constituted, structured, purpose and action oriented and funded. Sasana means all Buddhist monks and all lay devotees (Bhikshu, Bhikshuni, Upasaka, Upasika). These people organise themselves in various ways to observe their religion but the Sasana is neither constituted, structured on a business sense nor funded by a legitimate funding agency. Therefore the theory that the Buddha Sasana is the largest NGO becomes the most ludicrous theory in history.
Although the banning of the Buddha Sasana can thus be defended the future of the Mahanayaka’s is at stake. Malinda has implied that Mahanayakas have called a meeting because of their political affiliations. In other words the meeting was called to support the political campaign of Sarath Fonseka. In support of his claim he says that the Mahanayakas did not come forward when the Indo Lanka agreement was signed or when the peace accord was signed with Prabhakaran. Buddha Sasana is not run by the four leading monks. They are only ornamental figure heads. Their individual reactions cannot be interpreted as the will of the Buddha Sasana. In this respect, it is incorrect to say the Buddha Sasana was silent in those grave situations. Many monks, upasakas and upasikas have expressed their anger and disbelief in a variety of ways regarding those two instances. In relation to the accusation that the Mahanayakas did not call a Sangha Sammelanaya when Sarath Fonseka threatened to give evidence on war crimes and human rights violations, it must be concluded that if the Mahanayakas were to call a mahasamuluwa on every occasion when a politician bad mouthed or threatened an opponent, then the Sanghas can do nothing else but permanently stay in Kandy for the daily Sammelanas.
The case in point is that Mahanayakas, all four without exception, consider General Fonseka and the two Rajapaksha brothers valued members of our society. When there is a rift appearing between the Rajapakshas and Fonseka, it is most appropriate for the Sangha to come forward to advise the parties. Besides, in Sri Lanka‘s history of parliamentary politics, an opposition leader has never been arrested immediately after the elections. No bigger symptom of the erosion of democracy and the decline of the rule of law is necessary as proof. When the general public was intimidated into silence, the emergence of the Mahanayakas was utterly needed and timely.
There could have been inconsistencies in the behaviour of the Monks in the past. Negative criticism of their current stand against their alleged past silence is not different from Mahinda Rajapaksha’s claim that if Sarath Fonseka came to power, he could be in a Bogambara Prison cell. It is only a big ‘if’ and Sri Lanka does not lack ‘Lu’ stories. At least the monks decided to discuss the matter openly with their colleagues to persuade the Government to derail the perceived wrong path. The Government on their part have sabotaged the attempt even without waiting to hear what they want to say. Irrespective of party affiliations, political beliefs and personal vendettas, most people in Sri Lanka appreciate that Sarath Fonseka was willing to sacrifice his life for the country and its people. His dedication and commitment to the task entrusted upon him made Sri Lanka victorious over the LTTE. The life of such a hero cannot be undermined for contesting an election with the incumbent president. It is up to this government and its eulogists to save his life and let him serve his people more.
By Helasingha Bandara