Sangha Should Not Be In Parliament -Wijayadasa Rajapaksha
By Niranjala Ariyawansha
It was on the 30th of May that UNP parliamentarian Wijayadasa Rajapaksha introduced a private members motion to parliament to prevent Buddhist monks from entering parliament by contesting elections. It is yet to be debated. Yet the public debate on this rages on. On a request made by the JHU, its leader Ven. Omalpe Sobitha joined Wijayadasa Rajapaksha in debate on Derana TV three weeks ago.
As the debate progresses outside parliament The Sunday Leader spoke to a cross section of people seeking their views. “Politics and Buddhism are two different concepts. Buddha said to propagate his teachings, not politics. I do not think that the parliament is a suitable place for monks. If they stay in the temples it’s well and good.”
- Shantha Kodithuwakku , 13, Ihalagama, Balangoda.
“Our stance would be based on the thinking of the Maha Nayaka Thero’s decision and advice. We are awaiting their advice. There are two sides to this issue. There was good and bad in Buddhist monks coming to parliament. If one goes back in history the Maha Nayakas have, through their sermons and advice, spoken whenever national issues came to the fore. The monks should mediate when such issues come up. But by coming into parliament there is a doubt created whether their respect has been dented.”
- Jagath Sumathipala, President, ACBC.
“The constitutional right by which any religious cleric could enter parliament should be respected. That is the right of every citizen. I do not think this will erode the respect and dignity of religions”.
- M. M. S. Udayanga, Chakkindarama Rd, Ratmalana. “This proposed Act is against the Constitution. Other than someone who has been convicted of a crime through a court of law, anyone can present himself or herself at an election and enter parliament. That right cannot be taken away by an Act of Parliament.
Here the monks too are exercising that right. They must have that right. History records that Buddhist monks have, since time immemorial, been involved in the politics of Sri Lanka. Their input into politics and the propagation of the precepts will be needed in the future too. MP Rajapaksa says that Buddhism must be saved from the monks. What rubbish is that? It has been saved thus far by the Bhikkus and not by lay persons. Therefore I think Bhikkus must be in parliament”.
- Tirantha Walaliyadde, Lawyer.
“There are two types of leaders in all religions of the world. Those who lead the people spiritually and others who just teach religion.
Those who are spiritually inclined adopt the six precepts of love, forgiveness, righteousness, equality, simple life and sharing.
If one has all the above attributes the person becomes a role model. One does not have to go to parliament to lead the people.
- Prof. F J Yogaraja, Linguistic Dept., Kelaniya University
Q Why did you bring an Act such as this? What compelled you?
A: I have seen the deterioration of standards amongst the Sangha in recent times. This downfall of standards was not due to The Maha Nayakas or the second tier of monks in the Sangha. It was due to the acts of those who are against the Buddhist philosophy. Thereby the lay people by and large have no respect for the Sangha. Therefore the lay people have a duty to take some action to reverse this trend.
We started to enact laws in this regard with the advice of the Maha Nayakas of the Tri Sects way back as 2005. There too I was at the forefront. Accordingly, with the agreement of the four Maha Nayakas, the Asgiri Maha Nayaka presented to the President the amended version of the Buddhist Temporalities Act. That was done on the 11th of August 2011. It was referred to the Minister of Buddha Sasana who is also the Prime Minister. It is now 11 months and nothing has been done about it.
Q: What is the reason?
A: A few monks who are in politics are blocking this. They have conspired to stop this. They will lose all the profits and perks if this comes to pass. The entire money allocated by the government to the Buddha Sasana is being utilised by seven or eight monks. They are afraid they would lose all that. Therefore only a few who are going to lose out are against this.
Q: Would you like to name them?
A: Yes. Jathika Hela Urumaya is at No 1. Then there are Presidential Advisers, Ministerial Advisers and Monks out for political favours. They are the ones.
Q: Was your intention to save the Buddha Sasanaya from monks?
A: Definitely…Yes. Buddha has said that Buddhism would be destroyed by none other than Buddhist monks. The proverb goes thus.. An iron rod will not corrode due to external attacks. This will happen internally. This is true of Buddhism. The monks would do that from within. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd sermons were done due to that reason. The discussions at Dimbulagala and Dambadeniya were also examples. It was agreed that there was no purpose in having one lakh of monks but one devout monk is enough to save the Sasanaya.
Q: You are a devout Buddhist. Did you not think that some would question your Buddhistic principles when you brought such a law?
A: I have taken such challenges before. When I was the Chairman of COPE, I recommended the taking back of property worth Rs. 3 billion which were handed over in an incorrect manner and some people would want to kill me. There was a time I could not even move about. One day about 80 STF personnel came and surrounded my house but I still went to parliament.
It is my duty as a Buddhist parliamentarian. But in a country where there are many undisciplined parliamentarians I expected the challenges that went along with it. But the Maha Nayakas have accepted my position and has requested the Prime Minister to resign. But this is a good situation for the country to verify if I am a good Buddhist or not.
Q: According to what you say, on the 14th of August 2011 the Asgiri Maha Nayaka has sent this draft to the President. Is it not the responsibility of the President then to implement it?
A: Yes, he is the head of the Cabinet. Since the Prime Minister is the Minister for Buddhist Affairs he has been tasked with this. He avoided it. The President even at this late stage could bring this before the parliament.
Q: Why do you think the Prime Minister is avoiding this?
A: The Prime Minister on the 05th of July lied when he said that the Maha Nayakas have not approved this. He misled the whole country.
Q: The JHU said that by bringing this Act you are conspiring against Buddhism?
A: They do not know Buddhism. The head of JHU Omalpe Sobitha thero agreed with me that this Act should be brought forward at a TV debate. A spokesperson for the Ramanna Nikaya has said that monks are banned from being in politics. But there are some acolytes of his who are dependent on the assets of the temples. They are the most vociferous, especially Champika Ranawaka, Udaya Gammanpila and Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe. They speak to the media but I have not observed any other who voice such objections.
Q: They also think that a lay person cannot lay down rules to the Sanga.
A: They are ignorant. Even now the Sanga Sabha is governed by the rules laid down by foreigners. In 1931 there were no monks in the Legislative Council. Even in 1978 when J. R. Jayawardene introduced the Constitution there were no monks in parliament. That Constitution states “Buddhism will get the foremost place”. These were passed by lay people. Does the Maha Nayakas approve the Acts brought forward by lay people?
There are no two places to formulate laws. Lord Buddha has said that the monks should fall in line with the authority that lays down the laws.
Q: Sri Lanka is a democratic nation according to the Constitution. Anyone can contest at an election. In this backdrop Section 9 in the Constitution says that, “Buddhism will get the foremost place”. In a democracy when everyone is given equal opportunities do you think it’s right to have such a clause?
A: The monks are placed at a higher pedestal through that clause. Every society places the religious at a higher level than lay people.
Q: Why does it need to be in the Constitution?
A: Why was the death penalty included in the Penal Code? A disciplined society did not murder people. But when undisciplined people are around and murder people the law was enacted.
Q: Will the people respect the clergy purely because it is in the Constitution?
A: No. But this is the place where laws are passed. Gradually the government has got embroiled in religious proclivities. These proclivities have come into parliament. On this path the clergy has become political thugs. Therefore Buddhist monks go to other religious organisations and attack them with poles. Even if the monk has achieved a level of emancipation he goes and attacks with poles. If politics and religion gets intertwined there will be trouble in that country. Other religious groups are aware that Buddhist monks have greater privileges due to political strength. With this as an example other religious groups have also planned to get into politics. If that happens the peace and stability of the parliament will be in peril and racism and religious tensions will erupt and the country will get into religious battles. These monks have taken the country a fair way down that path. The Dambulla incident showed that.
Q: A religion does not project a power base.
A: You are very correct. Section 9 of the Constitution should propagate the development of a religion. When a religion is advancing thugs in a country will diminish. It becomes peaceful.
Q: History has shown that Buddhism was used as a cover to gain political power and thereafter to retain it. By including it in the constitution does it not legalise such an anomaly?
A: Yes. Take the position given to Sinhala since 1956. Has it enhanced the Sinhalese? No, in fact it has been the reverse. This war also started at that point. In 1956 Bandaranaike made use of race and religion. I will criticise Bandaranaike only for bringing the Buddhist clergy into politics.
Q: The Buddhist monks preach and bless the soldiers when they go into war. How do you see this?
A: So? Our monks preached and blessed Karuna Amman too. When he went to meet the Maha Nayakas pirith was chanted and a pirith thread was tied on him.
Buddhism allows anyone to come to a monk for blessings. I do not say that by this the monks gave advice on how to prosecute the war. Blessings will be invoked on anyone who seeks. Monks without indulging in politics have invoked blessings, advised and guided politicians. I see nothing wrong in that. Even in chanting pirith.
Q: I have a difficulty here. The monks will know that these people will receive their blessing and then go to war and kill people.
A: The monks’ blessings are to the people and not for war.
Q: Do you see this as only a religious problem?
A: No. This is a mixture of politics and religion. Every religion has some impact on politics. But Catholic priests do not contest at elections to become MPs.
If they try to do so our monks will create mayhem. But they also have that right. Through this Act, I am trying to prove that no religious clergyman should be involved in parliamentary politics.
Q: Religion should be a very private matter to each individual. But by including it in the laws in the manner it has been done it has brought religion and State together. If this is separated could not the problem be solved?
A: It is like this. Countries like the USA, China, Malaysia and India are secular states. Then you have Norway, France, England, Germany and Sri Lanka where religion and state are twinned. There are nations that have prospered and also declined within both groups.
Q: Sri Lanka is a multi religious country. By giving a foremost place to one religion…..?
A: Definitely it will create an anomaly.
Q: Couldn’t this be avoided if the state does not propagate a religion?
A: It is a constitutional problem. You are talking about a comprehensive constitutional policy. It will lead to bigger problems if we go into that now. In 1950 India discussed this for two years.
Q: Can we set a discussion on that?
A: Yes. There must be such a discussion. But it must be with all 225 MPs in parliament and not only with me. There are thousands of media people. All must be involved.
Q: You spoke that the monks in parliament are behaving like political thugs. Is a Buddhist fundamentalism being propagated?
A: Yes. But this is not fundamentalism. Extreme religiousness is more appropriate. It is not a good thing. Extremism will hurt other religions. Therein lies a conflict. It is not good for the country. Duminda Silva shooting and killing Bharatha Luxman did not provoke the people. That is because they were two lay people. But if a Buddhist monk was at the receiving end Buddhists would have got disturbed. It is similar with other religions. It is emotive. By using an emotional area like religion to achieve political power will erode a nation. Buddha propagated a middle path. Not extremism.
Q: Doesn’t the middle path more appropriate to Buddhist monks?
A: Definitely. The middle path is mostly for monks. We have trained some monks down that path. This Act is hailed by all. Other than those delivering speeches through the media, most religious personnel, the intelligentsia and people from all religions have blessed me for this Act. This is a dream of the Maha Nayakas. To follow any religion one has to have a peaceful country. Eg: Singapore, Malaysia and the USA do not do any of these things. Once togetherness is achieved, as you said earlier, each person is free to follow their religions in whatever manner they wish. Some people think just because we are Buddhists all others too must be so. Therein lies the problem. Aristotle has said that each foolish man that is born dreams of controlling other people.
Q: Are religions innocent?
A: Some are. Some not. The most innocent one in the world is Buddhism.
Q: If religions are innocent why do people get agitated and provocative when discussing it? Why do people kill in the name of religion?
A: That is the problem. There is a saying “religious beliefs can move mountains”. That is the nature of people. I do not have an answer to that.
I could say this. In every religion there are decent and balanced people. There are also extremists. One can escape only if you hold the serpent from its head. If you hold it by the tail it will sting. Just like that…people have held the religion too by the wrong end. By that a society and oneself will be destroyed.
It’s A Fundamental Right
The clergy, like all citizens of this country, have a Fundamental Right to contest an election and to sit in Parliament. This right should be protected and it must not be restricted by legislation. The ethics of whether or not clergy should be in parliament is consequently a matter that must be dealt with by the respective religions and not by Parliament. However the far more pressing issue before us today as a multi-religious society is the need for a secular state.