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Importance of the call by the Sanganayakas

By Our Political Editor

(February 13, Colombo, Sri Lnaka Guardian)The four chief monks of the leading orders of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka have called for a gathering of all monks in the island on the 18th of February to deliberate on the disaster caused to the nation by undermining democracy and good governance in recent times. This historical call is of great significance in a majority Buddhist nation where the influence of Buddhist monks has been recognized as a major element in political, social and cultural life.

The text of the letter is as addressed to all monks. It reads as follows:

“We think that by now you would have grasped that a confused situation has arisen in the country regarding democracy and good governance. Our view is that this will create a disastrous situation for the future of our country.

In the face of this situation, it will not be right for us as Buddhist monks to remain silent. Since the ancient times the collective power of Buddhist monks has greatly contributed to the progress of the country, and you would agree that in the recent past this has come under some challengers.

Considering all these facts and with the view to undermine the chaotic situation, with the aim of establishing collective agreement to establish democracy and good governance, with the participation of all Buddhist monks spreads through out the country belonging to three great orders, to have special meeting of monks has being arrange on the 18th of February this year at 3 PM at historical Mahamaluwa of Kandy under the leadership of prelates of three Buddhist chapters have being arranged, we here by notified all monks to attend this meeting.

Signed

The prelates of the four Buddhist chapters –

Siyam Nikaya-Malwatte (Ven. Tibbotuwawe Sri Siddharatha Sumangala Thera), Siyam Nikaya-Asgiriya (Ven. Udugama Sri Ratnapala Buddharakitha Thera), Ramanna Nikaya (Venerable Weweldeniya Medalankara Thera), Amarapura (Ven. Dauldena Gananissara Thera)” - (This is a translation of the letter published in the Sri Lanka Guardian.)

Criticism

So far, the published criticism against the call for this meeting has come from the leading monk of Hella Urumaya, a political party associated with the ruling Rajapaksha government. The criticism of the leading monk Ellawala Meedananda is that the Mahanayakes were silent when there was real Viyasanaya (disaster) and that there is no Viyasanaya now in the country as spoken of by them. By “real Viyasanaya” he means the LTTE and, according to him, the Mahanayakes were silent about this. He explained why there is no Viyasanaya now. He says that during the time of King Vijeyabahu, there was a rebellion and that all the rebels were killed. He implies that destroying the opposition who does not want to cooperate with the government now is not a Viyasanaya but something that has to be done as it has been done by the kings in the past.

The view of Ellawala Meedananda may seem to reflect the government’s point of view about the great gathering of the monks called by the Mahanayakes. According to reports, two government ministers have been assigned to canvas the opinions of monks favorable to the government, with the view to disrupt the proceedings of the proposed meeting. The government’s official response to the meeting is yet to be seen

An official recognition by the Mahanayakes of the threat to democracy and good governance

This is the first recognition by the country’s leading Buddhist clergy of the threat to democracy and good governance that has been made officially. Perhaps the long years of the civil war kept the attention of everyone, including the leading Buddhist prelates, on the perceived threat to national security. The call for this meeting may be signaling the beginning of a new period of national consciousness, wherein problems of democracy and good governance may replace the theme of national security.

From time to time, particularly since 1978, leading monks have made comments on the threats faced by the country’s political system, which was shifting from a rule of law based democracy to a dictatorship which placed the executive presidency above the law. At the very inception of the executive presidential system, there were conflicts between JR Jayawardene and some well-known Buddhist monks on issues related to democracy. Some of them were suppressed very ruthlessly.

However, with the JVP’s second uprising in the late 1980s and the Tamil militancies since the early ‘80s, culminating in the final insurgencies led by the LTTE, the major concerns of the Buddhist clergy shifted to national security and willingness to support the ruling regimes at any cost in suppressing these rebellions. Even in the disappearances of over 30,000 youth persons, mostly Sinhalese, in the late ‘80s, the Buddhist prelates did not play much of a visible role in criticizing such actions. The overall concern for what was considered as a threat to national security subdued all other interests.

Under those circumstances, another extreme view emerged among some sections of Buddhists, who thought that there should be a return to the past style of ruling as during the times of the kings, and that in rejecting western influences, the very structure of democracy and the rule of law introduced by the British should also be wholesale rejected. This view went unchallenged as the overall perception of a threat to national security was the main preoccupation.

With the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, perhaps the overall objective circumstances which gave priority to the national security concerns have ceased to exist. The dangers faced by the political system and the social life may be gaining recognition in the minds of all, including the majority community. Such recognition is quite visible in the statement of many Buddhist monks in recent times. Perhaps a collective agreement may be emerging to address the issues relating to the political system in the country. This may be what is reflected in the call for a great gathering of monks by the Mahanayakes.

Such gatherings are of historical importance. Perhaps the more learned and the wiser elements among the Buddhist clergy may have begun to perceive the overall threat that is facing the whole nation, including the problems faced by the minorities. If such wisdom is to emerge out of this great gathering, it would be hardly possible for any political party to ignore it.

JR Jayawardene, who introduced the executive presidential system, was quoted as saying that the only force that he feared was the emergence of the yellow robes in the streets. Perhaps he was aware of the historical role played by the monks in the past. Whether that moment is now emerging, even belatedly, to threaten the system introduced by JR Jayawardene through the 1978 constitution, is yet to be seen.

The emergence of a religious wisdom under trying circumstances have contributed to alter disastrous turns and to generate more positive turns in history. Perhaps Sri Lanka may be in the process of witnessing such a situation.

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