‘Illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within’-Arthur Erickson
Ratana Thero, who took time off his earlier strong nationalist (anti-Muslim) stance during the last presidential campaign, has woken up once again from his deep slumber while Champika has re-started talking about ‘hidden threats’ Meanwhile, BBS appear to have found new patrons in the MS-RW government with GST gone into sham hiding, with hypocritical official statements being made about the need for communal harmony and taking ‘stern’ action against the perpetrators. Groups such as Mahason Balakaya, Sinha-ley and other mini groups are exposing each other while dubiously living off the earnings of the Diaspora by relating pack of proven lies and woven tales about the ‘threat from the Muslims’. Not just Muslims, even the voice of Christians are being suppressed under Yahapalanaya preventing activists like Lakshan Dias for example from highlighting harassment of Christians.
In a recent TV interview, Ratana Thero lamented that Islamic Extremism is being forgotten while Sinhala Buddhist extremism is being repeatedly stressed in public discourses. He was in fact comparing the incomparable by equating fundamentalism but non-violent (per his own version) seen among the Muslims to the violent Islamophobic Sinhala Buddhist nationalism of these fringe groups. BBS ironically in a recent interview blamed Ratana Thero for Gnanasara Thero (GST)’s violent actions and for egging him towards prachandathwaya (violence). According to Vithanage , ‘Upasaka Mahaththaya’ Champika apparently used GST as ‘his personal hitman. GST further claimed that Ratana Thero even tried to use him for some ‘illegal’ un-Buddhist assignments during CBK days too.
True! The majority community has voiced concerns about some recent practices and attire of the Muslim community for good reasons, which has led to an engaged discourse among the Muslim intelligentsia whether the community is becoming divorced from the traditional Sri Lankan Muslim culture, their predecessors adopted. It is however clear that Muslims have generally been peaceful and in fact showing an admirable level of restraint and patience especially in recent times amidst high levels of provocation.
In the light of these Post-war anti-Muslim developments, the question arises : is there more to what meets the eye, are they mere flashes in the pan or are we as a nation missing the wood for the trees? In Buddhism Betrayed, Stanley J. Tambiah argues that the political activities of the bhikkus promoted a narrow and exclusive ethno religious, nationalist ideology. Nineteenth and twentieth century Buddhist nationalists deftly used the Mahawamsa and Duthagamani myths to institute Sinhalese Buddhist domination. Political leaders, Maha Sangha and their acolytes regurgitate these accounts to justify policy prescriptions, including ethnocentric practices, and legitimize their standing as good and valiant Sinhalese Buddhists. Myths clearly have been used, especially since the nineteenth century, for politicking purposes and have been deleterious to the fashioning of a peaceful poly-ethnic society with a common Sri Lankan identity.
Social scientist Jayadeva Uyangoda too says ‘the involvement of Buddhist monks in politics following independence in 1948, in effect, transformed Buddhism into a highly politicised religion. Since independence, Buddhist interest lobbies have been active in politics’ and that “Sinhalese Buddhism has made no significant contribution to the evolution of a non-violent social ideology. On the contrary, the Sinhalese Buddhist historiographical tradition and ideology inherent in it supports ethnic political violence”. Events that transpired in post-independence Sri Lanka when Buddhist leaders and Buddhist monks campaigned for policies that exacerbated ethnoreligious violence highlight Uyangoda’s argument.
Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne in ‘Nation, Constitutionalism and Buddhism in Sri Lanka’ argues that Sinhalese nationalists have invoked a centralizing cosmic order which with many of its’ metaphors emanate from a deep sense of faith and belief, and not as a consequence of any scientific inquiry as such. What this implies is that no amount of historical analysis or critical re-interpretation of historical evidence can challenge or change a belief; for beliefs defy any such attempt at ‘rationalizing’ the debate.
Further, as Kalana Senaratna says in an ‘Island’ article (2014): the more fundamental reason for the emergence of Sinhala-Buddhism, as well as groups such as BBS, has to do with the inadequacy of the true Buddha-teaching for contemporary political engagement, especially in an identity-seeking, identity-promoting multi-ethnic and pluri-national political setting. The Buddha-teaching is unhelpful in political struggle. Thus, there is a yawning and enduring gap between precept and practice. And it is this vacuum of a solid political ideology which is sought to be filled through the adoption of a culturally-constructed form of Buddhism. In Sri Lanka, this comes to be called Sinhala-Buddhism.