The mind is everything. What you think, you become. – Gautama Buddha
Today, as we commemorate Vesak Poya Day, it is important to reflect on the state of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. While this day is meant to honour the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha, it is also a time to acknowledge the challenges that Buddhism has faced in the country.
The late Lakshman Kadirgamar, former Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, was a strong advocate for declaring Vesak Poya Day as an international holiday. He believed that this would be a fitting tribute to the Buddha’s teachings of peace, compassion, and non-violence, and would help to promote global harmony and understanding. Sadly, Kadirgamar’s life was cut short when he was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers in 2005, but his legacy and his vision continue to inspire people around the world. As we pay our respects to this great statesman and diplomat, we can also reflect on the importance of his message of peace and unity, and strive to embody these values in our own lives.
Buddhism is currently like in the past facing challenges both from internal institutional rifts and external threats. One of the greatest challenges facing Buddhism in Sri Lanka is the corruption of its core values by certain Buddhist monks and politicians. Through their actions, they have systematically eroded the true meaning of Buddhism by replacing it with notorious practices of medieval Hinduism such as promoting the caste system and belief in supernatural phenomena.
Unfortunately, instead of unifying towards one goal of Nirvana or emancipation, many monks in Sri Lanka have pursued various political and personal agendas. They have become symbols of polarization, and the temple, which should be a beacon of hope and enlightenment, has contributed to the serious social collapse in the country.
The lack of transparency and accountability in the temple has also prevented much-needed social reforms in Sri Lanka. Despite preaching about the importance of equality and equity, the head monks of the main chapters cannot even sit on the same chairs. This hypocrisy raises the question of how genuine their calls for equality really are.
The state of Buddhism in Sri Lanka has been further deteriorated by the rise of sectarianism, casteism, and a hypocritical political culture. The temple, which should be a place of solace and enlightenment, has been corrupted in an ugly way by these forces. These issues have caused significant harm to the core values of Buddhism and have prevented the temple from being a unifying force in Sri Lanka.
Moreover, there has been an alarming increase in the physical and mental abuse of small novices by the elderly in the temple. It is heartbreaking to see young Samanera Theros subjected to physical and sexual torture. Unfortunately, there is no national program to address and prevent such inhumane practices, leaving victims without a means to seek justice and receive remedies, forcing them to live with the trauma they have experienced. Such practices are not only against the dharma principles preached by Gautama Buddha but also violate basic human rights. The temple should be a safe place for everyone, especially for novices who are in the process of learning about the teachings of the Buddha.
It is the responsibility of both the monks and the responsible people to address these issues and give life to the virtues of the Buddha Dharma. The temple should be a place of equality, where people from all walks of life can come together and practice Buddhism in its truest form. The actions of some monks and politicians have undermined the true essence of Buddhism, and it is time for the responsible parties to take action to restore the temple to its rightful place as a beacon of hope and enlightenment.
Rejuvenating true Buddhism in Sri Lanka requires a collective effort from both the monks and the laypeople. Buddhist monks have a significant responsibility in this regard, as they are the torchbearers of the Buddha’s teachings. The first step towards rejuvenation is for the monks to be mindful of their conduct and to practice what they preach. They must strive to embody the teachings of the Buddha and become a source of inspiration for others.
It is essential for Buddhist monks to engage in continuous self-reflection and self-improvement. They should use their positions of authority and influence to promote unity, harmony, and social justice i.e. core values of Buddhism. They should also actively work towards eradicating the vices that have corrupted the temple, such as sectarianism, casteism, and corruption.
Buddhist monks should focus on educating the younger generation about the true essence of Buddhism. They should provide a safe and nurturing environment for novices to learn and grow. They must ensure that novices are not subjected to any form of abuse and are treated with respect and kindness. By providing a wholesome environment for novices, the monks can help cultivate a new generation of Buddhists who are committed to the values of the Buddha.
The laypeople also have a crucial role to play in rejuvenating true Buddhism. They should hold the monks accountable for their conduct and demand transparency and accountability from the temple authorities. The laypeople should also support the monks who are working towards restoring the core values of Buddhism and create awareness about the importance of unity and social justice.
As Vesak Poya day arrives, let us not only observe the birth, enlightenment, and passing of Gautama Buddha but also take time to contemplate the present condition of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is a crucial moment for us to unite and concentrate our efforts on upholding the fundamental principles of Buddhism, and establishing a temple that is untainted by any form of wrongdoing, mistreatment, or factionalism. We should aim to create a temple that exemplifies the teachings of Gautama Buddha, and fosters harmony and solidarity among all Sri Lankans.