The Sunday Leader

Upsurge In Buddhist Promotion

By Dinouk Colombage – Photo by Dinouk Colombage

The Buddhist Cultural Centre

The opening of a 39 billion rupee Buddhist Cultural Centre was the main talking point of this year’s Vesak celebrations to mark the 2,600th Sambuddathwa Jayanthi.

The cultural centre was opened on May 15 and has been located at the aptly re-named Sri Sambuddathwa Jayanthi Mawatha, previously known as Havelock Road. The multi-story, state-of-the-art complex  is designed at promoting Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The facilities at this venue include the largest Buddhist publishing house in the world and  an auditorium designed at hosting events that accomodate over 500 delegates. The project was initiated by the Venerable Kirama Wimalajothi Thero.
Manager of the Sambud-dhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya, Sumedha Wijeratna, speaking to The Sunday Leader, explained that despite being a predominantly Buddhist nation, Sri Lanka lacked Buddhist teaching material. Wijeratna went on to state that the Venerable Kirama Wimalajothi Thero set about creating an institution to spread Buddhism. When asked as to how the new centre would achieve this, he responded that Sri Lanka was now in possession of ‘one of the largest Buddhist centres in the world.’ Wijeratna said, “This centre would open doors of Sri Lanka to the teachings of Buddhism from all over the world.”  He went on to stress that the centre would not only be a bookshop and event hall, but serve as a meditation centre and carry out Dhamma classes.  When questioned on the cost of the entire venture, Wijeratna stated  that it cost 39 billion rupees to complete. When asked how they sourced such funds, Wijeratna explained that the Venerable Kirama Wimalajothi Thero raised the funds through donations and a sizeable loan, however, he did not disclose the figure of the loan.
The question that now arises  is whether these funds could have been put to better use.
The Ven. Dr. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Nayaka Thera speaking when asked if he felt the recent events celebrating Vesak made religious minorities feel excluded, responded stating that, “the expression of religion is a freedom to be enjoyed by all.” When questioned as to whether the state should exercise caution in expressing this freedom due to tensions that still exist in society, he stated that there was no connection between religion and the ethnic issue and stressed that Sri Lanka was a Buddhist country, and as such, is allowed to celebrate Buddhism. When asked about his opinion on the construction of the Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya, he said that like all other religions, Buddhism must be allowed to spread and such a complex would help achieve this.
With a complex designed at spreading Buddhism costing 39  billion rupees, a road initially named after a colonial governor renamed Sri Sambud-dathwa Jayanthi Mawatha and the entire city lighting up for Vesak, Sri Lanka could not be mistaken for anything but a Buddhist nation. Celebrating 2600 years of Buddhism is cause to go an extra step; but has Sri Lanka gone a step too far?
Head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, spoke of the recent upsurge in the awareness of Buddhism amongst the public. When asked of his opinion on these rumours he responded that the government must realise that the glorification of the Sinhala Buddhist majority will serve to alienate the minority groups within Sri Lanka. He added that measures should be taken to prevent this from happening, lest underlying racial prejudices resurface.
Many have argued that the complex was opened and the road renamed in lieu of the milestone that Buddhism had reached. The city was decorated from top to bottom and few will be unable to find fault with the beauty that was displayed. Shanika Perera, a non-practicing Christian, spoke of her feelings about the Vesak celebrations. Perera said, “I actually thought it was great to see the city full of activity, I really enjoyed going out and seeing the decorations on display.”  Perera was not alone in her feelings; the entire Vesak week saw roads blocked for hours at night as people from all religious backgrounds took to the streets. What the Vesak celebrations achieved was to bring people from different ethnicities together in celebrating a religion. The critics warned that such extravagant celebrations would make the minorities feel alienated. Walking on the streets that week it would be hard to feel isolated. However efforts to ensure this feeling spreads to all religious festivals must be greeted with similar enthusiasm. Many of the Vesak Kuduos had been built by the security forces; will the next religious decorations be given a similar prominence? It is not only the gove-rnment but the individuals themse-lves that must caution against flaunting the religion. Vesak is over and so the high-lighting of being a Bu-ddhist should take a backward step to the illustration of being Sri Lankan.

3 Comments for “Upsurge In Buddhist Promotion”

  1. gamarala

    What matters is what those in power will do after the celebrations are over. Will the Rule of Law, Human Rights and Social Justice be entrenched and enforced with repeal of the Emergency which has existed since 1971, along with the PTA.
    After all, if there is a ‘dharmista society’ as claimed, this should happen.

  2. Aru

    At the rate things are going, don’t be surprised if 50 years hence someone says that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka.

  3. veedhur

    39 billion? didn’t we have a better use for the money? including spending it on IDPs, better housing for colombo slum dwellers, better pay university teachers etc?

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