By Kalana Krishantha
The world devolves from bad to worse, day by day, with the spread of conflict, terrorism, political instability, poverty and impending economic crises. At times, the interpretation of religious teachings can also cause controversy and wreak havoc. However, above all, Buddhism is purely based on nonviolence. Yet, in countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Tibet, a group of monks have been behaving in a violent manner—at times even with the support of the political leadership of their respective countries. They are unnecessarily influencing the country’s political affairs and spreading racism. They promote violence, which can be considered as deeply disrespectful to Lord Buddha, who endorsed a philosophy of non-violence.
The purpose of Buddhism
Buddhism is not a traditional religion or a series of rituals. It is a way of life or a philosophy. According to Lord Buddha’s teachings, all livings beings are entangled in an interminable cycle of life and death. To be born as a human is a rare thing. In this lifetime, what humans should do is to try and understand the reason for suffering and make an effort to eradicate the cause by following the Eight-fold Path.
The ideal Bhikku Life
A Bhikku, or a Buddhist monk, is a person who has dedicated his entire life to being rescued from the interminable cycle of life and death while supporting and guiding his followers to do the same. There is sufficient evidence from Buddhist Tripitaka scripts that depict Lord Buddha as advising his followers on what path to take. Two hundred and twenty-seven disciplinary rules are included in the vinaya pitaka (the moral guide for Bhikkus). According to these rules, the ideal Bhikku should be a simple character in society, without consuming money, or pursuing a luxury lifestyle.
The Theravada tradition encourages self-enlightenment and solitude for monks. Lord Buddha expected his followers or monks to be disciplined. According to Buddhist philosophy, the tendency to direct attention to external things can become a barrier to his spiritual journey towards Nibbana. Lord Buddha discouraged his followers from talking about mundane things and always encouraged them to talk about the Four Noble Truths—the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering and the truth of the way to the cessation of suffering.
The Sri Lankan context
Historically, real Buddhist teachings have become polluted by the so-called, “Sinhala Buddhist culture”. This practice has continued even from the age of ancient kings. The most recent significant event was the Mavil Aru incident. According to Buddhist texts, when the Sakya and Koliya people entered into conflict for water resources, Lord Buddha became the buffer for war and preached to them about the bad effects of war and the good effects of harmony. Here in Sri Lanka, in 2006, Buddhist monks became the front-liners for a disastrous war. This depicts how far the purity of Buddhist teachings has deteriorated here.
During the war and even after, many Buddhist monks appeared to give preference to the Sinhala race. However, pure Buddhism rejects racism and ultimately, the very concept of “race”. Buddhism itself teaches about the impermanence and emptiness of all prenominal things. How can a factor like race be said to prevail in such circumstances? A race is not a determinant of a person’s character. People are good or bad solely in terms of their actions, and that is how they should be judged—not by their race. There is a wonderful section in the Vasettha Sutta, where the Buddha notes that, with common animals, you know the animal by its colouring and markings, whereas the same standard doesn’t apply to human beings: There’s no physical mark that tells you whether a person is trustworthy or not. If you judge people as good or bad by their appearance, you’re reducing human beings—yourself and others—to animals. So, Buddhist monks should have nothing to do with racism, nor should they advise Sinhalese to have more children which would only serve to increase craving.
Slighting the Buddha’s principles
Lord Buddha appreciated silence, calmness and serenity. Yet today, as is apparent from many protests, Buddhist monks are sometimes a force that spreads violence, both physically and verbally. The recent incident involving Rohingya refugees being housed in Mount Lavinia can be considered as a prime example.
Lord Buddha only advised the kings and did not issue orders. What Lord Buddha did during his time was not related to racism or extremism. Yet what is currently happening is that monks are giving orders to the government to avoid bringing about the long-awaited new constitution. The reasons they are putting forward for this is solely based on religious extremism and racism; principles that the Lord Buddha totally rejected.
It has become clear that despite Buddhist teachings of the pure and the eternal, religious institutes and implementation on the ground are deteriorating rapidly. There do remain pious monks in Sri Lanka who live calm and serene lives while giving spiritual advice to lay people. However, an increasing number of racist, extremist groups have been tarnishing the image of Theravada Buddhism of Sri Lanka. There is a famous quote by the Lord Buddha, that goes, “My dispensation will vanish, not because of external forces, but as a result of some empty people, who will become monks in future.”
It seems that his prediction is being realised.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Originally published at Groundviews