The Sunday Leader

Dialogue Heats Up On Theravada Bhikku Bill

By Ashanthi Warunasuriya

The proposed Theravada Bhikku Dialogue Act which will enable every Bhikku to act in compliance with the provisions of the registered Chapter or Kathikawatha, was presented to parliament recently. According to the Bill presented by Mass Media and Parliamentary Reforms Minister and Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunathilake, it provides provisions for the formulation and registration of the Kathikawatha (Dialogue) in relation to Nikaya (chapters) of the Theravadi Bhikkus in Sri Lanka. The Bill provides for every Bhikku to act in compliance with the provisions of the registered Chapter or Kathikawatha. However at present, this Act has become one of the most controversial legislations in the recent parliament history.

Even the opinion of the Maha Sangha in this regard appears to be divided. While some of the monks have justified the enactment of such a law, some have heavily objected to this bill claiming that it would diminish Budhists monks’ trights and freedoms.

Regulations on Bhikku discipline were first introduced by the Lord Buddha for the betterment of the Buddha Sasana and the monks themselves. Every time such rules were imposed, it was due to some form of just cause. At the time the Lord Buddha passed away into Parinibbana (Expiration), he advised the Bhikkus to amend minor disciplinary rules according to necessity. However, after the first Buddhist Council (Sangayana) it was decided by the Maha Sangha  that there would not be a necessity to change any disciplinary rule. Hence the Vinaya Pitakaya (The guide book on discipline) was created, and up to date, the disciplinary issues of the Maha Sangha (The entire umber of monks who folow Buddhsit teaching) were mainly decided according to this book. However, when observing the current behaviour of the Maha Sangha, it has become problematic as to whether the Bhikkus are actually following these rules.


In the guise of Buddhist Monks

We often hear about those who are engaged in businesses and other rackets in the guise of Buddhist monks. Since the saffron cloth is immensely respected by Sri Lankans, it is being used by many culprits to cover up their dirty deeds. This in fact is a disgrace to those pure and honest Buddhist monks who follow the Aryan way. Therefore, att a time like this, the need for another Buddhist council is a dire need.

The bill seeks to set up a code of conduct and discipline which would enable Mahanayake theros to punish a bhikkus who engage in or carry out occult practices or similar activities and giving publicity to such activities; involve in trade or business activities; obtain driving licences and drive vehicles, engage in any employment in the public or private sector other than in the fields of education, social services and religious affairs and engage in activities unsuitable for a bhikku in a manner contrary to bhikku vinaya (discipline) in public places.

Although the government claimed the bill was drafted following consultations with the chief prelates of all three chapters, it was subjected to severe objection by members of the maha sangha, claiming that the Bhikkus are not objecting the government’s move to prevent Bhikkus from obtaining driving licences and engaging in businesses. Secretary of the Pevidi Handa organisation Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka thero said their organisation protests against the arbitrary move taken by the government to control the Buddhist monks. The thero said Bhikkus had been engaging in astrology and had been leading uprisings against tyranny for many centuries. He said the proposed bill intends to punish monks for involving in such activities.

Justifying the government’s stance, Minister for Buddha Sasana Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said the government would not be imposing any law on the conduct of Buddhist monks but would merely be tabling the bill to give legal validity to the proposed Bikku Dialogue as requested by the chief prelates. He said the ministry has taken steps to raise the awareness of the Maha Sangha regarding the proposed legislation.

Explaining further, the Minister said the bill would only give legal force to the existing disciplinary codes of the Maha Sangha. He said these reforms began 40 years ago in 1974 during the reign of then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike regarding the amendment of the Buddhist Temperance Ordinance. While pointing out that the bill only contains the opinions of the chief prelates, Rajapakshe said the necessary regulations would be drafted by the respective chapters. According to the bill, the Karaka Sangha Sabha (Working Committes) of each Theravadha Bhikku Nikaya or Chapter (namely the three nikayas adopted and accepted in Sri Lanka in accordance with the Theravadha tradition as Shyamopali Maha Nakaya, Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Nikaya, and Sri Lanka Ramgnna Maha Nikaya) is expected to formulate and adopt a Dialogue relevant to that Chapter.


Ven. Bellanwila Nayaka thero and Ven. Dabara Amila thero and Ven. Gnanasara thero


Every Dialogue shall have provisions pertaining to the composition and functions of the Karaka Sangha sabha of the relevant chapter, a code of conduct and discipline to be strictly followed by a bhikku in conducting himself; the manner of conducting inquiries in case of an alleged violation by a bhikku of the code of conduct and discipline and punishments for such violations.

The Minister of Buddhist Affairs in consultation with the Most Venerable Mahanayake theros of the three chapters is expected to appoint a five member panel of experts that shall consist of three Buddhist bhikkus; and two attorneys at law conversant with the disciplinary rules pertaining to Buddhist bhikkus for the purpose of examining the Dialogue.

The Bhikkus who violate aforementioned provisions will be punished with temporary or permanent expulsion from the residing temple, temporary or permanent removal from the office of Viharadhipathy, (Chief Incumbent) expulsion from the studentship, expulsion from the relevant chapter and cancellation of the bhikku registration, the bill says. Also, a bhikku who fails or refuses to comply with such decision shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction after summary trial by a magistrate be liable to a fine not less than Rs. 50,000 or to a terms of imprisonment not exceeding six months or both such fine and imprisonment.

Expressing his views about the bill, the Deputy Prelate of the Asgiri Chapter in the Siyam Nikaya, Ven. Wendaruwe Upali thero, said, “No one should get excited about this bill. This is a timely move. But it would be better to engage in a proper dialogue regarding the provisions of the bill before it is presented to parliament for approval.

“For certain provisions in the bill intend to prevent the maha sangha from engaging in traditional practices such as indigenous medicine. The main task expected from a monk is to build the moral qualities of the people. Although Bhikkus could contribute to the field of education, monks working as administrative officers in offices cannot be approved. Some Bhikkus are even asking for licences for driving. Some have requested elections duties. These are totally unacceptable. However, it is the practice of the Asgiri chapter to punish the wrongdoers according to the teaching of the Buddha. So it would be better not to involve the State in the execution of the punishments. So, the bill contains both pros and cons. We are still discussing them. “

Expressing his view on the proposed legislation, Deputy Prelate of the Sri Lanka Ramagna nikaya Ven. Prof. Warakawe Premarathana thero said the Bhikku Council should hold the power to decide these matters. Confirming this view, the acting registrar of the Malwatte Chapter ,Ven. Dr. Pahamune Sumangala thero, said nothing that surpasses the authority of the chief prelates, cannot be done.

Due to the behaviour and the conduct of certain Buddhist monks and Bhikku organisations, the good name of the Maha Sanga was tarnished. Hence some describe this as a move to protect the Buddha Sasana.

Expressing his views on the bill, the chancellor of the Sri Jayewardenepura University, Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana thero, says no one should become tensed about the bill. Pointing out that certain members of the clergy belonging to extremist and racist sects are trying to spread false views about the bill, the thero said it would only set up a mechanism to carry out the already existing disciplinary procedures of the Maha Sangha.

Ven. Wimalarathana thero further said, “The intention of this bill is to create a progressive Sangha Kathikawatha. During recent times, the Bhikku society created this Dialogue to address the lapses in Bhikku discipline. It was presented to both Chandrika Kumaratunge and Mahinda Rajapaksa governments. But in both occasions, the legislation was postponed. What the Mahanayaka theros intended was to create a separate legal framework for monks in order to minimise the influence of ordinary law imposed upon maha Sangha. This allows the Maha Sangha to conquer any outside force. But there could be imposters amongst Buddhist clergy who are against this procedure. We would ask them to become aware of the bill first.” However, certain monks have criticised this move claiming that even during the colonial period, despite the heavy resistance, the Buddhist monks had opposed white rulers, they had not imposed any laws upon the Maha Sangha. Several monks had even taken steps to file a petition at the parliament against this move of thie government. These protests even took a serious turn when Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka thero threatened to lay siege to parliament with the people.

Expressing his views regarding the bill, Senior lecturer of Jayewardenepura University Ven. Dambara Amila thero said, “This is something that had been discussed since a long time. The intention of this bill is to allow the three Nikayas to create dialogues easily. This is an opportunity to save the Bhikku Sasana. This could be used to solve many problems that we see among Buddhist monks today. It is important that the Bhikku society to have a strong stance regarding issues such as monks engaging in sorcery, businesses and even leaving the Sasana. If there is legal backing for a Kathikavatha, it is going to become influential. So, it is important to support this act.”


Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe

Intention of controling

Criticising the proposed legislation, Chairman of the Bodu Bala Sena Ven. Galagodatte Gnanasara thero said, “The government is attempting to bring in an Act that puts conditions on the Buddhist clergy. Buddhist clergies would not be controlled by parliament, and that any rules on monks should only be proposed by the Buddhist Sangha. We are facing these problems because of not taking the right decision at the right time, a point which has not been understood by political leaders. We will not let the Act to be brought. We respect the country’s law, but we are not going to bow before the white man’s law unless it is relevant to our country. We request Buddhist monks to boycott the courts of this country. If the government fails to call for a Sangh akadikaranya, (Judician courts for monks), we will break the civil law. Then the government has to convert every coconut tree into a gallows and every school into a prison to suppress the Sinhala Buddhist people.”

Accordingly, a delegation of monks including the Vice Chancellor of the Buddhist and Pali University, Ven. Prof. Galalle Sumanasiri thero; Chief Priest of the Vidyodaya Pirivena ven, Dr. Akuratiye Nanda thero; Ven. Thibbotuwawe Siddhartha Nayaka Thero; Ven. Prof. Agalakada Sirisumana thero met President recently.

The ecretary of the Ministry of Buddha sasana, Wasantha Ekanayake, and the Presidential Coordinator, Shiral Lakthilaka, also took part in this meeting.

Here the President expressed his gratitude for the Maha Sangha for participating in the event, and he  also  emphasised the importance of establishing such a Buddhist think tank in the present political context. He said it is only a proposal and that it should be passed in parliament after making the necessary changes.

The President further said the government would take any step to pass it as an emergency bill but would adopt it only with the blessing of the Maha Sangha. The ability of the Buddhist philosophy to influence issues in the field of environment, social and cultural issues is very comprehensive, the President said. The President said that before using them to find practical solutions for these issues is vital. Accordingly, the President has promised that the bill would be presented to the Chief Prelates for having further advices.

6 Comments for “Dialogue Heats Up On Theravada Bhikku Bill”

  1. Rainier

    How can a bikkhu be fined when he is not supposed to own or have control of money?

  2. Lima


  3. Bhante J

    Dear All,

    The whole country has been deteriorating from moral principle, ethics and values for many decades. This tragedy is clear in politics, economy, education and civil society and even family basis. How can the Bhikkhu order survive without such corruptions and problems. The Bhikkhu Sangha is a part of the mainstream and anything in the mainstream flows to the sangha order as well.

    The existing laws are enough if they are put into practice by the authorities and general public including monks. Unfortunately, no one is looking at such aspects. According to viewpoint, the intention of this act might be genuine but I am not sure whether the law enforcement of it will be applied accordingly because the authorities in Bhikkhu sangha, general sangha and people will be the same.

    As monks, we must expect a loud voice of lay people about our discipline. Such things had happened in the past for many reasons. Monks, let’s take this incident as a close call for us to wake up strongly as a community and correct our mistakes. While there are very disciplined monks who work of their salvation and show the path for others, we can not reject that some take the priestly life for variety of illegitimate purposes. When we reject this act, though it has dangerous consequences, we must be able to have an alternative solutions because the cause of the act is true and correct. Why don’t we sit together as Sangha Sabha and discuss the issue? I see many monks want to build up a character by working along. This is not a good sign. Majority of Sangha still consider the Mahanayakas of each chapters are the leaders of the community. Why don’t we gather around them and find a solution for the problem?

    Mahanayaka Theros, you must be active and creative. As a young monk, unfortunately I can not follow you for the moment because you reverend sirs do only a very traditional things. I like to see from you the great qualities of late Mahanayakas (Madihe Panghaseeha, Kaburupitiye Wanarathana…. ) Please wake up and act according to the Dhamma. The country thinks that you favour politicians and do nothing. Although I do not believe it 100%, it is what we see in the media.

    Lay people can blame us for many issue in our Sangha community because they are the people who look after the Sangha. It is we who are responsible for many things. Since lay people have no direct experiences of priesthood, anything coming from them as laws and recommendations have naturally mistakes. Without blaming them, we should either correct them or present a new one which is made by sangha.

    I personally do not like monks to involve in party politics although it sometimes gives a kind of advantages in provincial and national level. Please come to a agreement within sangha not to have party politics.

    Let’s make our objectives clear again ‘why we stay in this priesthood?’ what is the purpose our spiritual life? How we behave as exemplary community in front of people?

    Buddhism can only be protected by the individual practice and the mutual understanding of Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, and lay people. If these people do not realize the message of the Buddha and practice it individually and as a community, the disappearance of Buddhist values is inevitable. No Muslim, Christian, or any other can destroy Buddhism. It is we who do that. Please recall what the Buddha said about this.

    We should change the direction of Sangha education and Buddhist education in school. I remember that we were motivated in pirivena education to be ‘scholarly monks’ which is good. But only handful of occasions, i received instructions to be a spiritually developed monks who can guide myself and the community. An motivation is given to young monks in the early stages to be well-educated and hold big positions in the country. But we should encourage young monks more towards the spiritual aspects while keeping scholarly monkhood as secondary. This means that the system of education should be changed.

    School education on Buddhism should change from certificate based system to practical based. In USA and Canada, many school have been integrating ‘meditation’ as a method, which both teachers and students find solace. They meditate at school everyday. Alas! we were born with it but I suspect that whether the minister of education, officials in the ministry, principles, teachers, parents and students know how to meditate. I do not look down upon those who know but I do not see from their behavior.

    I would like to request something from lay community. Do not think that all Sri Lankan Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis are corrupted. They are very genuine individuals but they are silent because those monks do not want to quarrel with monks in front line. So my friendly readers, do not blame everyone. It is not only recognizing the culprits as they are but also it is not positive for your practice. If Bhikkhus violate their principles, they are the one who experience suffering. Why do you pollute your minds by using indecent words?

    These words in the article are incorrect; Bhikku, Budhist tright, umber. They should be corrected as follows’ Bhikkhu, Buddhist right and number.

    Hope everyone act wisely.

    May you all be well, happy and peaceful!

    Bhante J
    Ottawa, Canada

  4. The budhhist monks were well regainsed some village , build the temples and on religion back ground fooling the people, under cover they need women in the night, political powers in the village level, person wanted to politics start with the village monks. saffron make people to worship, he is like other human were mislead by the saffron cloths, when I was student saffron monks was invited to home for religious prayer then luxury meals for them come in even number.1983 monks were worst thugs and criminal killed the Tamils some monks are rich by robbery money and jewelry, this is the saffron monks, 1983 they were with out saffron. they want control parliament by helping politicians to win the election . some want came to parliament to enjoy power children were trained to became a Buddhist monks ,when they teen age most leave to monks remove the Robe, they want work and marred live ,ministers and members of parliament use the saffron for political purpose, most Buddhist ministers are not suitable minister for ministry of Buddhist is business and trade ,monks go to foreign countries collect money and go to club and enjoy live with women out of saffron,

    • Bhante J

      Dear Sir,

      I accept most of your claims and respect you unconditionally. Nevertheless, I need to show you that not everyone is wrong. If one mother or father does not treat their children, we are not going to blame all mothers and fathers in the world.

      When you say that all monks do all kind of bad things as mentioned, somebody can ask what method you employed to investigate? how can you say exactly that all monks violate rules?

      As a monk for twenty two years, I have seen the problems in the Sangha. I also have seen corrupted ones and as well as pure, innocent monks.

      In terms of treating Tamils and Muslims, there are monks who treat them as their brothers and sisters. I too have a lot Muslims and Tamils friends.

      I can see that you have seen only one side of sangha community. please investigate the other side. Do not rely only on news in media to decide something.

      Anyway, I like your comments and wish you a good health and spiritual progress no matter which faith you follow on

      Bhante J

  5. budhhist monks can form the own act,why? parliament to bring to constitution. it became a law. it not suitable to monks, they have there philosophy it they fellow the philosophy it very good for envirment discipline. present monks are not fellow anything they saffron make the monks go indisipilian monks have no right to interfere in politics,, they became politician and budhhism became politics, it is two different subject, saffron want power ,budhhist. philosoply is not politics politics is enemy. today minister of justice bring politics to the judicial it was did by former presient,

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