Buddhism and SWRD’s “SMS”

Can Article 9 Save “Buddhism” ? (Original Title) 

“The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).” [Chapter II – Buddhism; Article 9 of Constitution]

This Constitutional provision written into the first Republican Constitution of 1972 was adopted in May the same year. “The foremost place” to “Buddhism” the Constitution promised, was about institutionalised Buddhist religion (not Buddhist philosophy preached by Lord Buddha). But Buddha “Sasana” does not necessarily mean Buddhism. “Sasana” in simple language is the collective of Buddhist monks belonging to over 26 “Sects” (Nikyas) divided along “Caste” that even recognise differences between Upcountry and Low country Sinhalese.Thus providing a “foremost place to Buddhism” through the Constitutional provision in real world meant promoting the vertically and horizontally divided “Sangha”.That was 45 years and 05 months ago when politicians promised to patronise Buddhism through “Constitution”.

Long before that, to be precise 92 years before the1972 Constitution,it was laymen who nurtured and promoted Buddhism.The first Dhamma School was started at the Vijeyananda Pirivena in Galle by the Buddhist Theosophical Society in 1880. Six years later the first school to train Buddhist teachers was set up in 1886 at the same Pirivena. Many Daham Pasal were established thereafter. In Bambalapitiya the Vajirarama Daham Pasala was begun in 1918 for the urban children.Thirteen years later,the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance No.19 of 1931 was made into law by the first State Council.

That Ordinance, nevertheless did not take over the responsibility of State patronage of promoting Buddhism. Many Buddhist associations in 1919 came together and held a joint Conference resulting in the formation of the “All Ceylon Buddhist Congress” (ACBC). It was then decided the YMBA would organise and conduct “Dhamma Examinations” in Dhamma Schools. First Dhamma examination held in 1920 was considered a success and examinations for Dhamma School teachers were started in 1926, also organised by the YMBA.

After over 60 years of political patronage from Sinhala governments and 45 years of direct State patronage, the Sangha as recruits from this Sinhala Buddhist society should be the most disciplined, most compassionate, the most patient and forgiving

Meanwhile in 1935 the Sinhala Maha Sabha (SMS) was formed.Led by S.W.R.D Bandaranayake the SMS provided leverage to this Buddhist resurgence. Sinhala Buddhist traders were supportive of this new identity the Y.M.B.A and the Sinhala Maha Sabha together created in society. This led to the Ceylon National Congress and the SMS in forming the UNP led by D.S. Senanayake, with Bandaranaike as the most conspicuous next leader.Tamil, Moor and Malay leaders too were included by D.S.Senanayake, presenting a unified political force to qualify for independence. His UNP government that disenfranchised and de-citizenised Indian origin Upcountry plantation labour nevertheless ran into political and personality clashes before long. The SMS faction in the UNP led by Bandaranaike broke off in 1951 to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in September.

In 1953 December the ACBC in its annual sessions chaired by Gunapala Malalasekera decided to establish a Buddhist Commission of Investigations to look into ways and means of propagating Buddhism. This in a way was political galvanising of Sinhala Buddhist opinion makers in local areas.

Elected to office, at the April 1956 parliamentary elections, PM Bandaranaike immediately accepted the Buddhist Commission Report. Accordingly in March 1957 the Buddha Sasana Commission was officially appointed. In July the same year the Dhamma School Examination Syndicate was established. Thus started State patronage of Buddhism even without Constitutional privileges.

This promoted Sunday Dhamma Schools and 1,685 candidates sat for the Dhamma School teachers’ exam in 1957. And 172,349 students sat for the Daham Pasal examination. With reforms in curricula and promotion of Daham Pasal there were around 900,000 students in Sunday Dhamma Schools by 1965. (source – History of Dhamma Schools and their development / Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake Thero).

The following period saw a crisis in education. It was Dudley Senanayake’s 1965 government with many partners. Minister I.M.R.A. Iriyagolla was the fall guy in the government as a very arrogant Education Minister who tried his own reforms in school curricula. Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake Thero says, with school education becoming more stressful, attendance in Daham Pasal dropped to a low of 600,000 at the end of this period.

Provisions of the 1972 Republican Constitution paved the way for politicising of the Sangha. Relationship between the State and the Sangha gradually evolved into a political bargain with Sinhala Buddhist dominance. Necessity to provide State assistance to Daham Pasal was accordingly agreed upon and a Committee to look into improvements in Buddhist teaching was appointed by then Cultural Minister T.B. Tennakoon whose ministerial responsibility it was to foster Buddhism.This Committee was headed by Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha MahanayakeThero.

The Committee as Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayake Thero says, was of opinion, “Provision of private tuition has become customary today on the assumption that teaching and learning at general school level is inadequate. In such a context, if the work–load at the Dhamma school becomes excessive, the choice of rejection would naturally be the Dhamma school. What is needed is to get our children to the temple at least once a week. The best way to achieve this is via the Dhamma School. Therefore what we have agreed upon is to prepare lessons which a teacher could put across during the school hours.” Ven. Thero then says, “….. on account of this revised text-books and the increase of population in the land, the Dhamma school attendance which stood at six lakhs (600,000) has gone up to thirteen lakhs (1.3 mn).”[ibid]

It meant, the State not only promoted Buddhism, but also mobilised Buddhist children on a guided Sinhala path, explained as below.

“Our primary aim should be to develop our younger generation on the basis of these five guide lines.

  1. Encourage the regular observance of the five precepts and the observance of the eight precepts on the poya day.

  2. Regular respect of the clergy, parents and elders of the family.

  3. A simple life style in a friendly atmosphere.

  4. Stimulate the growth of discipline and restraint and an awareness of the Buddhist value system.

  5. Bring up a new generation of children awakened to a new religious consciousness, glowing with a spirit of patriotism, stirred up with a deep sense of national pride and enlivened with the commitment to their own language.” [ibid – emphasis added]

It is thus with full State patronage with Constitutional guarantee after 1972, Sinhala Buddhist children were modelled with religious awakening to be “patriotic” with Sinhala given importance. It also meant this Sinhala Buddhist society should respect the clergy, parents, the elderly and the family, live a simple life and is friendly, disciplined and respect the Buddhist value system. In short, after over 60 years of political patronage from Sinhala governments and 45 years of direct State patronage, the Sangha as recruits from this Sinhala Buddhist society should be the most disciplined, most compassionate, the most patient and forgiving. The Sinhala South at least should be totally free of all crimes, rape, child abuse, drug peddling and hate against other human beings.

Yet in reality, after over 60 years of government patronage and 45 years of Constitutional guarantees for Buddhism, the Sinhala South is anything but a decent, civilised society. In a “Quantitative findings from the United Nations Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific”published in 2013, the face of Sri Lanka is gaudy to say the least. Imagine 96.5 per cent of men going scot-free after raping without any legal consequences? And for 64.9 per cent, rape is more a habit and they have raped more than once and 11.1 per cent have raped 04 or more females.

Police Department statistics say in year 2016, abductions total 731 and kidnappings 282. Reported cases of rape of under 16 year old girls account for 291 and of over 16 years 346. Grave sexual abuse 715, cruelty to children 107 reported, cattle theft cases of over Rs.25,000 worth amount to 637 while property thefts of over same value total 5,382.Homicides total 502, arson 481 and robbery 3,429. What is most disturbing is that in all these numbers the Sinhala South accounts for numbers far above its ethnic presence.

Let’s not forget the fact that allegations on war crimes are against an almost 100 per cent Sinhala Buddhist security force. All who have been groomed within the”discipline and restraint and an awareness of the Buddhist value system”since the 1972 Constitution provided State patronage to Buddhism. Taken with the call for extra judicial killings of all who do not agree with the war veteran Rtd. Major General Kamal Gunaratne who labels them as “traitors”, these war crime allegations are no random allegations.This call for murder made at a “Viyathmaga” seminar in Gampaha is endorsed by Rtd. Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera and former Secretary, Ministry of Defence, also a former Colonel, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, as members of “Viyathmaga”. Ironically, all of them are Anandians, one of the most prestigious Sinhala Buddhist schools in Colombo.

State fostering of the Sangha for 45 years has only ruined the Sasana in many ways. Most urban temples have turned into business collectives. Life style of the Sangha has become very sophisticated and no more the “simple life style” Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thero said, their Committee outlined 45 years ago.

Today, in general the Sangha is all about racial extremism, violent street protests, breaking of law and order, thuggery, politics of the worst order, with monks even accused of sexual abuse, fraud and extortions. They simply reflect everything obscene and vulgar in this present day Sinhala society.

The question now is, do we need Constitutional privileges for this Sangha? Is this the Sangha the people should fund through the State and allow governments to take advice from, in governing the country? Should not the lay society take responsibility for nurturing Buddhism in their own way? For sure, State power tied to religion (including Buddhism) leads to very corrupt religious institutes.