Rohana R. Wasala

Rohana R. Wasala is a freelance journalist and regular columnist for Sri Lanka Guardian, with a background in academia.

Unhinged Escapades: Jerome Fernando’s Boundary-Pushing Feats

The Jerome Fernando escapade, if rightly handled, will provide a golden opportunity to neutralise external threats to the prevailing peaceful religious coexistence in the Sinhalese Buddhist majority Sri Lanka. I hope that the fair minded reader will not immediately condemn me as a Sinhalese racist and a Buddhist extremist for stating a rational expectation in those terms based on facts. I am proud of my Sinhalese race, as an individual born to parents considered racially Sinhalese, but I never hold myself as superior or inferior to people of other races, but only as equal to them as humans. I outgrew religion at the young age of sixteen and now, in my sunset years, I still remain firm in those my early convictions. I have always tried to follow the secular moral principles intrinsic to Buddhism which inspires the ethical culture into which I was born. 

Over the past many days, a maverick Christian pastor (rumoured to be of the Born Again sect) by the name of Jerome Fernando, a self-styled prophet, has been hogging the attention of the media, especially the social media, for insulting the Buddha and Buddhism, as well as Hindu and Islamic religions by making certain derogatory remarks about them during a sermon or service that he conducted. About the Buddha he asserted that Jesus was the Light that he sought. Unfortunately, hardly anyone among the vociferous critics seems to understand, like I do, that Jerome Fernando is bringing disgrace and disrepute to the noble religion he claims to profess, through what Buddhists are likely to consider his blatant lies, delusional beliefs, and deceptive stratagems. Kirthi Ratnayake (former air force officer turned investigative journalist) said, during an interview with YouTuber Chamuditha Samarawickrema, that Jerome Fernando once before uttered something worse in Sinhala: ‘budun ettha, namuth satyaya nowei/Buddha is true, but not the Truth’. If he is rash enough to judge the Buddha, one can guess how impervious he is to the sensitivities of ordinary Buddhists. Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you (Matthew 7: Verses 1 and 2, NKJV). This is almost identical with Buddhism. Galatians 6: Verse 7 has this: …whatever a man sows, that he will also reap…, which, needless to say, like the above, agrees exactly with the kamma/karma concept of Buddhism.

For the information of Jerome Fernando and the people whom he was trying to mislead, (particularly for the benefit of the latter) I offer the following facts: Gautama Buddha used the metaphor of light for  the Enlightenment he achieved: Declaring “aloko udapadi” “Light arose”, he rejoiced soon after his Enlightenment. He visited his five  former closest colleagues and co-seekers to share with them what he had discovered: “There arose in  me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light”. That is, light came to him with his Enlightenment. (Incidentally, the traditional Vesak illuminations that you saw in Sri Lanka around May 5 and 6 were for commemorating the Buddha’s Enlightenment, the Arising of the Light.) The Buddha dedicated his life to teaching and guiding people towards seeing the Supreme Truth of Nibbana. Never did he force anyone to accept his teaching and follow it unless they saw for themselves its potential for enabling them to realise the ultimate truth through their own unaided individual efforts. If you are ill, you must take medicines. No one else can take medicines for your illness. You are your own saviour. In the last analysis, this is pretty much what all religions teach their followers (I don’t include Buddhism among religions). Each individual is responsible for their own emancipation (from the unsatisfactory state of earthly existence). ‘Atta deepo bhava/Be a light or lamp unto yourself’ is the essence of the Kalama Sutta to which I will refer later in this essay.

But let’s begin from the beginning. According to news reports published in online sources that I usually access, Vidura Wickremanayake, the minister for Buddhashasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs stated that he was going to take stern action against this person; and president Ranil Wickremasinghe instructed Sagala Ratnayake, presidential advisor and head of the Presidential Task Force to initiate an immediate investigation into pastor Jerome Fernando saying that his irresponsible statements could lead to conflicts that would be detrimental to religious reconciliation. Their assurances ring hollow, though, to say the least. 

Knowledgeable critics such as Dr Wasantha Bandara, spokesperson for the Federation of National Organisations (FNO), says that Wickremasinghe (if he was really serious) should have assigned the task mentioned to the DIG who is equipped with the knowledge, competence and capacity, and has  the necessary personnel to do it,  instead of his close buddy greenhorn Sagala Ratnayake.  As for Vidura Wickremanayake, when he visited the eastern province as minister a couple of years ago, he didn’t care to listen to the grievances of the well known Madakalapuwe Hamuduruwo. (This monk is still conducting his lone struggle against corrupt and inefficient government servants of his area who,  under the influence of the local racist and casteist MPs, neglect to perform their duties properly to relieve the hardships of the innocent poverty-stricken rural residents of a couple of isolated villages there belonging to all three communities; but the minister, on that occasion, did not forget to exchange pleasantries with the very Tamil MPs or their stooges he was complaining against waiting not far from where he was standing to urge the visiting dignitary to look into his legitimate petitions on behalf of those suffering people. Obviously, political considerations prevented the minister from attending to the monk, who later showed the episode in one of his YouTube videos. I derived this information from that video. 

Having said that, in my humble opinion as a genuinely concerned, but not unduly worried, ordinary Sri Lankan, the president’s or the minister’s involvement in this case is not necessary (which, I am sure, is their attitude as well) beyond the point where they  leave the law enforcement authorities to deal with the matter without any improper interference from any quarter in or with the due legal processes.

Father Cyril Gamini of the Catholic Church has told the media that Jerome Fernando has no connection with his church. Some prominent Buddhist monks, Hindu kurukkals, and Muslim maulvis have also roundly condemned the man, while pointing at the existing inter-religious amity in the Buddhist-majority country. However, Jerome Fernando’s proselytising utterances and activities as a born again Christian pastor have different implications for the adherents of the four main religious faiths of Sri Lanka, Christians and Muslims on the one hand, and Buddhists and Hindus on the other. Therefore, they are bound to create distrust and disharmony between the diverse communities. To preserve the unity in diversity that we have enjoyed for many centuries and still cherish, Jerome Fernando must be exposed for what he is, and the poison he has begun spreading must be immediately counteracted.

Although there is no one single definition of religion universally accepted by scholars of religious systems around the world, the most commonly accepted one (particularly, in the West) is what the Oxford Dictionary defines as ‘the belief in and/or a superhuman controlling power, especially a god or gods’. Hinduism and Buddhism cannot be classified as religions according to this definition, though they also have certain specific spiritual concepts and practices considered sacred that inform long established cultural traditions involving ritual observances, shrines, and objects of worship. Emeritus professor of Princeton Theological Seminary Max Lynn Stackhouse provides a definition  of religion that I think might roughly accommodate Buddhism and Hinduism: (a religion is) “a comprehensive worldview or ‘metaphysical moral vision’ that is accepted as binding because it is held to be in itself basically true and just even if all dimensions of it cannot be either fully confirmed or refuted.”

Now the problem is that in less enlightened times believers in religions covered by the Oxford Dictionary definition given above were required to dismiss other religious belief systems that didn’t come within that identification, as ‘heresies’. That term used to be applied to the Dharmic religions of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. But Abrahamic religions (Christianity and Islam, not to mention Judaism) have moderated that extremist attitude since. Only a few extremists today would hold on to mediaeval ideas which usually led to violence against people of other spiritual traditions whom they considered ‘infidels’. Jerome Fernando may be harking back to that outdated mentality, which was behind zealous, self-righteous conversion movements targeting unbelievers or non-believers who were deemed to be in need of being saved in so-called pagan lands; such proselytising attempts were not always nonviolent. 

In Sri Lanka, freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed to all the citizens. A citizen can profess any religion, practise it, teach it, and disseminate its message among others, but through legitimate means. The sort of blatant abuse of Sri Lanka’s most liberal institution of freedom of religious belief and practice that Jerome Fernando is being accused of cannot be expected of a pastor who claims to have been inspired by Jesus’ answer to a question by Nicodemus the Pharisee (a prominent Jew of the time credited with thorough knowledge of the scriptures and great saintliness): “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” in the Gospel according to John 3:3 (NKJV), where this means ‘born again in spirit, not in flesh’. For the Christian believer this is deeply meaningful. A believer who has ‘seen the kingdom of God’ cannot be thought to be guilty of such outrageous conduct as Jerome Fernando is displaying.  By the way, this ‘born again’ idea is akin to the ‘twice born’ (Sanskrit: dvija) sacrament of initiation of a young Brahman’s spiritual journey in terms of Hinduism. Buddhism and the more ancient Hinduism have much in common, and are almost identical in their Dharmic aspect, except that Buddhism has no belief in the existence of an eternal soul (Atman) unlike Hinduism.

Some well meaning, erudite, but very naive and innocent,  young bhikkhus are challenging the pastor to a debate over his deprecatory remarks about Buddhism, which I think is ridiculously ingenuous and unnecessary, because that is giving this mocker of the sacred a measure of dignity that he doesn’t deserve, and also because he cannot be credited with a decent understanding even of Christianity, let alone anything additional outside that domain. These young monks are being eclipsed in their calm but determined attempt to react to Jerome’s disinformation and deception without any ill will. By whom? They are getting overshadowed by a few yellow-robed  imposters who are themselves Buddhist versions of pastor Jerome Fernando. Actually, those few false monks and the fake prophet are birds of a feather  probably fed by the same hands, as some say. 

It has also been observed that certain discredited politicians are exploiting the opportunity that came their way through this obviously well rehearsed Jerome Fernando episode to take a dig at each other for the heck of it, without utilising it to repair the damage it is causing to reconciliation.  Last but not least, where are the Ven Mahanayake theras? Their silence in crisis situations has often aggravated issues affecting the Buddha Sasana. The online media I normally consult have nothing in this regard. However, one can’t blame the Ven Mahanayakes because they avoid politics, as they have done down the centuries. They used to advise the monarch only in spiritual matters, and the monarch took responsibility for looking after the Shashanaya. The most senior monk or monks, close to the royalty, offered their opinion in succession matters on rare occasions, and also when the ruler failed in his duties or when there were foreign threats to the nation. The Sangha never took part in ruling, but remained above the ruler.  The Buddhist Sangha is a very democratic community, where one monk has no control over another. Times have changed. It is urgent that the Mahanayakes do more to save the Buddha Shasanaya including the Fourfold Assembly of Followers (Sivvanak Pirisa) of male and female lay Buddhists and bhikkhus and bhikshunis.  . 

Back to the topic. Meanwhile, a complaint was lodged with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) by the propaganda secretary of the political party, Pivituru Hela Urumaya (PHU), Iranga Vidvath Mendis, in connection with the relevant offensive statements made by Jerome Fernando who calls himself a prophet, which are derogatory to the Buddha, Buddhism, and other religions. This is the only meaningful reaction I have seen so far to Jerome Fernando’s outrage (up to the time of writing). The complainant demands that the law be applied to the (suspect) offender in this case in terms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007.  

The aforementioned petition to the CID was published in a news report in the online lanka c news.  It quoted the following fromJerome Fernando’s importunate harangue:

 “This is what separates Christianity from Buddhism. Because for a Buddhist in their mind, it’s like, okay, අනුන්ට කලදේ තමන්ට පලදේ in a sense, it’s true, especially if you do something to a prophet. Anyways. Now, but in the Buddhist mind, they never hear the love of Buddha. Are you hearing this? Their focus is enlightenment. But to be enlightened, you need light. The Buddha himself, the name Buddha means enlightened one. Ladies and gentlemen, what is greater, light or enlightened? Jesus said, I’m the light of the world. so i tell you now, jesus didn’t said i’am the enlightened one, No, no, no, no. Jesus came from a different wavelength. Jesus said I’m the light. So I submit to you, the Buddha was looking for light. He was actually looking for Jesus. This is why every Buddhist needs Jesus.”

I came across a YouTube video clip of the relevant part of Jerome Fernando’s coercive religious rant against the Buddha, Buddhism and Buddhists that contained more. There was a singing part to it too, that ridicules such traditional curative and protective magical remedies as tying charmed threads, anointing charmed oil, etc usually found among rural folk, as superstitious practices based on Buddhist teachings. Those are cultural things and should not be confused with Buddhism. Buddha did not advocate such things. He himself visited a physician called Jeevaka when he fell ill, according to the known life of the Buddha. He preached no religion, and never prescribed blind-faith based devotional practices or mindless rituals. Even the most ignorant Buddhists know that magical cures like charmed threads, oils, and chants are not part of the doctrine they actually follow. Instead, those ritual performances are part and parcel of the established holistic native healing culture which maintains the vital balance between the physical and mental aspects of the patients’ health. These ancient healing arts have survived, particularly  among villagers, into modern times. Jerome also staged some faith healing episodes, not different from them. Such magical fake cures are daily performed in many hundreds of devales dedicated to local deities found across the country which are patronised not only by gullible villagers, but by superstitious city dwellers including politicians and businessmen among others of the same ilk seeking divine assistance with their often nefarious projects.  Why should a prophet demean his god by descending to the level of a village kapurala unless he was a genuine fake?

 In the letter to the CID referred to above, Mendis has left out (probably, as irrelevant to the point of his plaint) Fernando’s disparaging references to Hinduism and Islam and relevant sacred figures, which are equally outrageous, such as that Hindus venerate animals. A common allegation he raised against the leaders of all three non-Christian religions did not preach Love! But this fake prophet’s real target is the Buddha, his teaching and the Buddhists, his followers, whom he demeans, by implication, as a spiritually misguided lot. Though it is evident that Jerome is proficient enough in Sinhala for preaching to them, he speaks only in English and has himself interpreted in Sinhala. That, I think, is just an act he puts on to further impress his apparently mesmerised audience, whose awed gazes were fixed on his constantly beaming beatific smile. 

What is Jerome Fernando saying in the snatch of speech quoted above? Simply, nonsense. He appears to be ignorant of his own religion of Christianity and its truly great founder Jesus Christ. Christianity came five or six hundred years after Buddhism. The latter is definitely beyond pastor Fernando’s power of understanding. What did Buddhists do to him (if he means himself by ‘prophet’) for him to say “anunta kala de tamanta pala de” (which would be equivalent to the English proverb ‘Curses come home to roost’)? (When he said this, though, he seemed to be mocking his own ‘prophet’ act!) This idea of ‘retaliatory justice’ is not part of the Buddhist concept of karmic causation. People from different cultural backgrounds accept the idea that bad deeds earn you bad results and that good deeds bring you good results, as a self-evident truth. The Karma concept taught in Buddhism is much more profound and complex than ‘Curses come home to roost’. 

A word about the idea of love that Jerome finds missing in Buddhism. Buddhism is nothing if it is not about wisdom and compassion. Buddha does uphold love as a positive emotion,  but says that it is ultimately based on selfishness/the illusion of ‘self’. Buddha’s teaching recognizes a difference between love (that you feel for a person) and unconditional universal compassion or loving-kindness (maitri, friendliness) towards all sentient beings, something that is completely selfless. I think Christian love is also very close to or identical with the Buddhist concept of loving-kindness. To me it looks like the highly intelligent Jerome Fernando has not so far cared to grasp at least a faint idea of the Buddha’s profound dhamma. He has no sense of history, for he doesn’t know that the Buddha lived five to six centuries before Jesus was born. Otherwise, if he is in his right senses at least temporarily, how can he say that the Buddha was looking for Jesus? What do you know about the Enlightenment concept taught in Buddhism, Jerome? Obviously, NOTHING! You equate enlightenment to lighting up or illuminating something. That is stupid. An Australian YouTuber of Sri Lankan origin says that he had some slight acquaintance with Jerome as a young Burgher with a different name doing modelling work for commercial firms about twenty years back. It’s plausible information. He uses both Sinhala and English equally fluently. Oops! I almost forgot. At the end or thereabouts of his Buddha bashing, in brazen contradiction to what he has been doing all along, he admonishes his congregation: “Never persecute anybody, never shame another person’s faith”.

I will wind up with a reference to the Buddha’s famous Kalama Sutta discourse. The Buddha advised his disciples to question and examine even the Tathagata (Buddha) himself to find the trustworthiness, the authenticity, of the teacher they  chose to follow. A group of young men called the Kalamas came to the Buddha with a question. They wanted to learn from him how they could separate truths from falsehoods uttered by the various venerable recluses and brahmanas who visited their village of Kesaputta from time to time and preached their different doctrines that disagreed with each other. Obviously, the young men had heard of the fame of the Buddha who himself had studied under the most famous teachers of the time and exhaustively analysed their teachings, and dissatisfied, had embarked on his own long and assiduous search for the Truth and  eventually attained Enlightenment. The Buddha’s advice to them was: “Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic and inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But…when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up… and when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them”. (I am quoting here from Ven Walpola Rahula thera’s classic dhamma compendium ‘What the Buddha Taught’ first published in London in 1959, and reprinted many times since, which Jerome Fernando may profitably read and still remain, or learn to become, a pious and virtuous Christian (which, I am afraid, he is not at present.)

I can easily answer your criticisms of Hinduism and Islam, but it is better for you to learn by yourself their moral essence that is as noble and as ennobling as that of Christianity. 

The first Global Buddhist Summit and the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, based in Dharamsala in the state of Himachal Pradesh in India, flew to New Delhi to attend the two-day Global Buddhist Summit held in Hotel Ashok there on April 20 and 21, 2023.  The event was the first of its kind. This inaugural Global Buddhist Summit was organized by the Union Ministry of Culture under the auspices of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in collaboration with the International Buddhist Confederation, an NGO headquartered in New Delhi where it was formed in 2011. Delegates from nearly thirty countries including Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka participated. Among them were prominent scholars, leading members of the Sangha, Dhamma practitioners, and Buddhist monks. The theme of the conference was: ‘Responses to Contemporary Challenges: Philosophy to Praxis.’

Prime Minister Modi, in his opening speech on the first day of the summit, said that Buddhism is the biggest strength on earth today (for resolving the many issues – conflicts between countries, climate change, environmental degradation, economic instability  through Buddhist wisdom and compassion). HH The Dalai Lama participated in the event on the second day. He emphasized the importance of the Bodhicitta (enlightenment mind or thought of awakening through wisdom and compassion) and of Buddhist resilience in facing crises. The Summit concluded on the theme that ‘peace is the foundation for human happiness and wellbeing’. 

Tenzin Gyatso, better known as His Holiness Dalai Lama XIV, is arguably the most popular spiritual leader of the world today. Though he doesn’t radiate ‘spirituality’, he demonstrates it by his practice and his precept; he is the most relaxed looking ‘holy man’ that people of all faiths are inspired to look on and listen to; his smiling face looks hardly saintly; by his own account, he is ‘a simple monk’; he is the Buddhist ‘missionary’ who advises potential converts from other than Buddhist backgrounds to stick to their original religions if they feel comfortable in them, saying that he believes ‘that all the major world religions have the potential to serve humanity and develop good human beings’; by ‘good’ human beings, he says he means those who ‘have a good and more compassionate heart’. (In the same context he also said: ‘This is why I always say that it is better to follow one’s own traditional religion, because by changing religion you may eventually find emotional or intellectual difficulties’. But he adds that for those who think their traditional religions are not effective for them and for those who have no religious beliefs, the Buddhist way of explaining things may have some attraction’. Source: a talk given in London, contained in “The Heart of the Buddha’s Path”, Thorsons, Harper Collins Publishers, London, 1995) What better healing advice can a spiritual and ethical teacher give to humanity that is living today, as it is, in a world riven by brands of hate driven religious fanaticism? 

The extremely politicized Nobel Peace Prize might have accidentally recovered some of its lost prestige by being awarded to the Dalai Lama in 1989. But all the adulation that he inspires leaves him unaffected. He is an example, if not an epitome, of egolessness; his relative freedom from ‘the illusion of the self’ is the essence of his magnetic personality. This does not, however, stop him from being identified as a controversial political figure in robes. In fact, that is the other side of his public image, for he is also a man of the world, a consummate politician, as he ought to be, as both the spiritual and temporal leader of his unique  tradition governed community, the Tibetans. Tenzin Gyatso may be called a willing philosopher-king who is not being allowed to rule his kingdom. Historically speaking though, he is the deposed or self-exiled 14th ruler in a line of God-Kings that ruled the country from the mid-17th to the mid-20th century.

The Dalai Lama that we know has come to us through the media, which is as good as if he came to us in person. However, behind the affably smiling, lovable, somewhat clownish, yellow clad Yeatsian figure of ‘a comfortable kind of old scarecrow’ is the sage who exemplifies in his conduct and speech the two cardinal virtues of wisdom and compassion taught in Buddhism. He easily reminds us of the Laughing Buddha, who is basically a part of Chinese Buddhist and Japanese Shinto culture. Though the Shinto religion predated Buddhism in Japan, the Laughing Buddha was later admitted into its pantheon as one of the seven gods of good luck. Actually, the Laughing Buddha is believed to have originated in a mix of Buddhist and Shinto religions during the latter part of the Liang dynasty  in China. Pu Tai or Bu Dai (so called because of the trademark cloth sack he carried) was a Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist monk who lived in that period (907-923 CE). Though a beggar (a Buddhist bhikkhu is by definition a mendicant), he was contented and happy in the way a Buddhist monk had to be. His never failing smile (which expressed his loving-kindness, friendliness, metta/maitri) made people happy wherever he went, and this earned him another nickname, the ‘Loving/Friendly One’. He came to be honoured as a bodhisattva (a buddha-to-be). The Laughing Buddha is venerated as the Maitreya Buddha-to-be, the future Buddha according to the belief of Buddhists belonging to different sects. The Dalai Lama is regarded as an ’emanation’ of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, an iconic figure that embodies boundless compassion. Just as the Laughing Buddha tradition is claimed to have brought Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and later, even Western cultures closer together, so can the Dalai Lama phenomenon be regarded as a force for easing East-West tension and for dowsing sectarian passions engulfing the world at present.       

There is no monolithic version of Buddhism that is followed across the world. Seeds of the Buddhist teaching which were planted by ancient missionary monks in different parts of the world have given rise to a bewildering mass of sects, movements, and divisions of Buddhism  coloured by local cultures. However, the basic teaching of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths, is common to all these versions. Scholars of Buddhism recognize three main schools: Theravada (the Teaching of the Elders), the traditional Mahayana (the Great Vehicle), and its split Vajrayana (the Diamond Vehicle). Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Dalai Lama is the best known exponent, consists of elements from all three branches. Of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism Nyingma, Sakya, Kegyu, and Gelug, the Dalai Lama represents the last.

About eight years ago, it was reported that though the Dalai Lama was invited to visit Sri Lanka by some Buddhist monks, he was denied a visa by the government. The government’s denial of a visa was not something difficult to understand. In this regard, the Sri Lankan government had been caught up in a Catch 22 situation in that Sri Lankans could not extend their eager hospitality to His Holiness without antagonizing China, Sri Lanka’s indispensable friend-in-need. The reason for this dilemma is that the Dalai Lama is being used by the West as a bludgeon against the emerging economic superpower, for the Tibet problem provides the West with an ideal opportunity to rock on its liberal hobby horse. It was certain that the refusal of a visa to His Holiness by the government, while confirming our friendly relations with China, did not lessen the Lama’s compassionate goodwill towards us Sri Lankans, and that the  government’s forgivable refusal to grant a visa to his Holiness did not cause us unnecessary disappointment in spite of it effectively denying us a chance to have him among us for a short time. But we are still able to see him well through his words and actions.

Dalai Lama XIV has been of interest to the West and to China in contrary ways from the very beginning. When the young Dalai Lama (then only 24) fled Tibet and reached the Indian border after a two week trek across the mountains disguised as a common soldier in 1959, it made world news, as Lynn M. Hamilton says in her short biography of the Tibetan leader ‘The Dalai Lama: A Life Inspired’ (Wyatt North Publishing, Oct. 2014) on Kindle. According to her, the then US president Dwight Eisenhower put a trail of pins in a map tracing the Lama’s escape route! Hamilton says that CIA operative John Greaney cabled to India asking on behalf of the US that the Dalai Lama be given asylum there. She is unable to say whether or not this US directive influenced the Indian response to the problem. But the Indian premier of the time, Jawaharlal Nehru, of his own accord, gave the Lama political sanctuary, and eventually settled him and his fellow Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala where he has been based to this day. 

China acts as if the Dalai Lama is a threat to it. He may or may not be, for different reasons. But one thing is clear: It is that he has become a pawn in the chessboard of geopolitics where the two major players America and China try to move him as their interests dictate. Unfortunate though that is, it doesn’t concern those of us who are only interested in the moral or spiritual message he has to communicate to the world. We remember that there were anti-Chinese protests in Tibet in the lead up to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, sometimes involving violence, which the Chinese blamed the Dalai Lama for. They said he was a political stooge in the pay of American intelligence. Chinese supporters maintained that there was no ‘ national liberation struggle’ as such in Tibet, but that ‘secessionists’ backed by America were causing disruption. Zhang Qingli, the secretary of  the Communist Party in Tibet was widely reported to have made the following comments: (in translation) “The Dalai Lama is a wolf wrapped in a habit, a monster with human face and an animal’s heart”. This characterization is not accepted by many including both pro-China and anti-China commentators. In 2008, Randeep Ramesh, a journalist attached to The Guardian, London (UK), ridiculed the  Chinese concern as a case of “a Chinese dragon (being) scared by a mouse that prayed”. I share that opinion. A Chinese change of heart towards the aging Dalai Lama, which is not unlikely, will be beneficial, not only to India and Sri Lanka but to China itself in terms of regional peace and cultural solidarity. 

As far as that conflict  (involving the Dalai Lama being wooed by the West and rejected by China) goes, it is hardly likely that Tibet will eventually be able to assert itself as an entity completely independent of the latter, despite or because of the fact that it is wedged between three nuclear powers, while being located in a watershed that plays an important part in the world’s water supply. On the other hand, Tibet’s cultural deracination as a cross product of these forces is inevitable, but that will not be the end of the 14th Dalai Lama’s influence on the peace loving rational people of the world. The institution of the Dalai Lama as the political and spiritual leader of Tibet may have already lapsed into obsolescence. Probably, no one knows this better than the present Dalai Lama himself. According to Donald Lopez, professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, ‘the Dalai Lama has been one of the harshest critics of “old Tibet”…’. He adds that the Lama would have introduced political reforms without the Chinese intervention. Professor Robert Barnett, Director of Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University believes that ‘as a political leader, he asks for very little – he seems quite happy to accept a merely symbolic gesture like a cup of tea and a photo’. That may be to put too low a value on his actual political significance. In any case, he has tried to come to an agreement with the Chinese authorities by opting for a degree of autonomy for Tibet while remaining a territory of China, provided it is allowed to enjoy a status that is similar to the status of Hong Kong: a large measure of self-government with its own political and legal systems. He has even indicated his readiness to let Tibet have a communist government, with “meaningful” autonomy, but China will not agree to such a settlement just yet. It may be that with the death of the Dalai Lama (87 this year, 2023) the world might forget Tibet as it was with him living; it will be the end of history for Tibet under its god-king. The Dalai Lama’s lasting legacy for the world will be what he stands for today as a spiritual leader, not as a mundane political figure.

Mainly because of its sizable Tibetan migrant Tibetan community of over 2500, Australia remained a regular destination for the Dalai Lama until about eight years ago. His last visit here, when he was 80, was in 2015 (his 10th visit since 1982). On that occasion, he went to the Uluru sacred site of the native aboriginal community in the Northern Territory to express his respect to their culture. He said: 

 “In different parts of the world, Indigenous people, local people, they have their own cultural heritage, so that’s the main reason I am here, in order to express my respect to your culture,” 

When in an interview with the ABC Television during his earlier visit in Australia in 2013 (he was 78 then) he was asked whether he was upset by the then PM Julia Gillard’s refusal to see him, he said “No. I have no political agenda. … My concern is with the people…My main concern is to promote human values, affection, compassion, harmony….(among them)”. About relations with China, he said that the Tibetans could remain within China, like Hong Kong, but with its own distinct cultural identity intact. He stressed though that “Real change must come from within Tibet, not from outside”.  

Professor Barnett points out that the Dalai Lama declared in 2011, in an “Important Proclamation”, that he would make a decision on the problem of succession after consulting with other high lamas and the Tibetan public, and that this would be in 2024. He has also hinted at the possibility of there being no 15th Dalai Lama. But if there is, the Lama has explained, there will be a child identified as his reincarnation after his death or an adult person as an “emanation” chosen by him while he is still alive, and he will leave clear written instructions. In another source which I can’t now remember, he was reported to have confirmed that he will not return to Tibet. This was probably meant to send the Chinese a signal indicating that the time for a peaceful settlement was running out. He was also said to have suggested that his successor could be a woman. But it is generally the case that news hungry journalists misreport their own speculations as assertions allegedly made by the Dalai Lama. His promise to leave written instructions about his succession, Professor Barnett says, was “presumably (intended) to help journalists and others get the story right”. All this goes to prove that the Dalai Lama is no less a politician than a monk. 

He set up the Tibetan Central Authority (CTA) , aka Tibetan Government in exile, for the Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala who number about 100,000. But he has relinquished political control of the government in exile. The CTA operates as a democracy with an elected prime minister and parliament. Its constitution is based on Buddhist principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, the Dalai Lama seems to have divested himself of serious political responsibility as far as the Tibetan government in exile is concerned. While remaining the head of Tibetan Buddhism, however, he has assumed the role of an ambassador of Buddhism at large to the world. The Dalai Lama remains a symbol of wisdom, peace, and compassion in a world threatened by violence born out of religious fundamentalism and hegemonic geopolitics. Sri Lanka is currently in the grip of the latter twin evils.

The diminishing political stature of the Dalai Lama is being compensated for by his increasing spiritual significance for the world. As a teacher of Buddhism should do, he provides guidance for spirituality without religion (though he does not describe it as such), an urgent need for the world today. Incidentally, I must make it clear that I am aware of the risk I am taking of annoying my readers who accept religions as well as those who reject them or have nothing to do with religions, but I beg that they bear with me, for I don’t mean to hurt their feelings. I am expressing some opinions (relevant to the subject of this essay) that are open to constructive criticism. It is necessary to distinguish between spirituality and religion in trying to explain in what sense the Dalai Lama is important as a spiritual teacher or leader, who is, strictly speaking, not ‘religious’ in the normal theistic sense. 

In Buddhism, there is no belief in a creator god who supervises our lives unseen from above and rewards or punishes us eternally according as we obey or transgress his moral law. The Buddha Gautama taught the karma principle, that is, the principle of causality which says that the good intents and actions of an individual bring about good karmic results, and bad intents and actions bad results; no outside power is involved in that, so there is no need to praise, pray to, or otherwise propitiate such an agency. This is one of the senses in which Buddhism is not a religion. Buddha, in fact, did not found a religion, a system of prayer and worship, but explained a non-religious ethical system based on self-realization, on seeing things as they really are, i.e., on enlightenment. The whole of the Buddhist teaching can be briefly summarized as the Four Noble Truths: that life is suffering, that the suffering is due to a cause, that an end to suffering is available, and that there is a path leading to that end. The principle of causality known as karma underlies this four-term formula of the Buddhist teaching.

So while the concept of spirituality in religions involves a divine dimension, in Buddhism it doesn’t. What is considered spiritual in Buddhism is not tantamount to making contact with the so-called ‘divine’; instead, it consists in attaining heightened mental states through the extinction of the sense of self. A basic teaching of Buddhism is that there is no enduring entity that can be called self (soul); the idea of self is an illusion. ‘Spiritual’ experiences are heightened mental states such as self-transcending love, inner light, ecstasy, bliss which have been found to be common to people of different religions as well as to people who have no religion. Since religions are ideologically different, these phenomena cannot be explained in terms of their unchallengeable dogmas which contradict each other; so there must be a non-religious principle involved, which means that spirituality must be separated from religion.  (A good source to consult, for an explanation of what ‘self is an illusion’ means is neuroscientist Dr. Sam Harris’s excellent book ‘Waking Up: Searching for spirituality without religion’ {Random House UK, 2014}. A Kindle edition of the same is also available. It is in this sense that the Dalai Lama should be taken as a spiritual guide, rather than as a religious teacher. The book elaborates a scientific argument that true spirituality consists in realizing that the sense of self is an illusion. Dr Harris refers to the Dalai Lama’s participation, representing the Buddhist perspective, in scientific discussions involving the study of consciousness. 

It is because of these reasons that Buddhist scholar and former Tibetan monk Robert Thurman, author of ‘Why the Dalai Lama Matters’ (Atria Books, New York, 2008) says that his importance is multifaceted: it can be understood psychologically, physically, mythologically, historically, culturally, doctrinally, and spiritually. 

Writing the Introduction to ‘A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World’ by the best-selling author of ‘Emotional Intelligence’ Daniel Goleman, His Holiness says:

“As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously. It’s unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved on the basis of prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action. Therefore, my first commitment is to contribute to human happiness as best I can. I am also a Buddhist monk, and according to my experience, all religious traditions have the potential to convey the message of love and compassion. So my second commitment is to foster harmony and friendly relations between them. Thirdly, I am a Tibetan, and although I have retired from political responsibility, I remain concerned to do what I can to help the Tibetan people, and to preserve our Buddhist culture and the natural environment of Tibet – both of which are under threat of destruction.”  

In essence, the Dalai Lama’s message involves the importance of moral responsibility based on loving-kindness. This is of particular relevance to political leaders of all nations. The Global Buddhist Summit is sure to gain momentum in its epoch making endeavour for initiating solidarity among all the various sects of Buddhism that are found across the world today from  HH Dalai Lama XIV’s exalted participation in its inaugural proceedings.

Sri Lanka: A Nation’s Quest for Identity and Unity

I concluded a previous article published  Sri Lanka Guardian on January 28, 2023 (Is recolonisation the final solution II) touching on the deplorable situation that innocent Sri Lankans have been plunged into not only by the current economic crisis but also by the so-called Tamil ethnic problem, both aggravated by unjust direct foreign intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, subversive NGO activities and various forms of imported religious fundamentalism, with the following words:

“The solution is not to try to return to the alleged Utopia that the British are believed by some to have bequeathed to us at independence (for such wasn’t the reality), or to overlook the 1972 change as insignificant, but to make way for the young of the country today to make a correct assessment of what has been achieved and what has not been achieved by the previous generations since independence (who were no less patriotic, no less proactive than them) and forge ahead with new insights, new visions, and appropriate course corrections as our ancestors did during crises to ensure our survival for so long as one people in spite of manifold differences among us.”

Now a large proportion of “the young of the country today”, unfortunately, are not aware of the unspoken truth behind the growing political instability and the artificial economic ruin that is engulfing the nation. The criticism often repeated these days that all post-independence governments mismanaged the economy, ruined everything through corruption and did nothing for nation building is not a valid one. It is deliberate disinformation chiefly peddled by anti-national political and religious extremists, that is, Tamil federalists/separatists, and Christian/Catholic and Islamist fundamentalist groups. Ordinary Tamils and Muslims have lived peacefully with the Sinhalese majority as equal citizens of one country for many centuries.  Although extremists are only a handful among the relevant mainstream minority communities, they are a power to reckon with in Sri Lanka’s current besieged condition.

The aforementioned misrepresentations and corresponding misconceptions are accepted as indisputable facts, particularly by the sadly uninformed credulous section of the young population today. They are largely ignorant of the origin of the alleged Tamil ethnic problem and its exploitation by the former colonial powers and their allies to destabilize our little island that is located in a geostrategically and geopolitically sensitive region. The future that the genuinely concerned young people envisage for the country could end up as a mere pipedream unless they make a serious study of what truly happened within the past seventy-five years of independence and shape their strategies, learning from the formidable challenges the older generations had to meet, and the admirable successes as well as the dismal failures that they had experienced in the course of the past three quarters of a century. 

Had these misguided young people including the yellow robed ones among them been properly instructed about the sharp political awareness and inspired activism that the brave youth of their parents’ generation involved in the second JVP insurrection of the 1986-1990 period displayed, they would be ashamed of themselves. Had they learned about the ideologically even more sophisticated fresh young men and women of their grandparents’ time who took to arms in the first JVP rebellion of 1971 against the popular, newly elected left-of-centre United Front government of Mrs Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike without any provocation except a self-denying revolutionary zeal to force a real system change in the country’s politics, the strange bedfellows of the so-called Galle Face Aragalaya  would have died of self-loathing. 

Of course, it must be remembered that the majority of the Aragalaya protestors were genuine. I would not include among them the handful of religious extremists who staged an ‘Aadaraye Aragalaya’ (Struggle of Love). The authentic agitators were similar to, if not identical with, the countless groups of spontaneously inspired young boys and girls from diverse communities who volunteered to adorn the city walls across the country with beautiful paintings (some with historical themes) to celebrate what they thought was the dawn of a new era with the eagerly awaited ‘system change’ made possible by Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as president in 2019. The expectations of the youth of the country were dashed to the ground when president Gotabaya, earlier universally believed to be the iconic leader the country needed to salvage it from the mire of corrupt politics and the Yahapalanaya, Good Governance, misadventure (now conveniently forgotten), failed to deliver due to countervailing internal and external forces assisted, as suspected,  by the treachery of his family as well as his own lack of pragmatic political skills, in spite of his undoubted moral uprightness. These genuine protestors should be distinguished from the few political and religious extremists who wanted to hog media attention by making the loudest noises. 

Corruption among politicians is a fact. ‘Dealer politics’ is also a perennial issue. Mahinda Rajapaksa embodies a striking example of both. He, whose political leadership helped to rid the country of LTTE terrorism, has almost totally nullified the benign results of that success through his horse trading with extremists aimed at perpetuating his family’s ascendancy over Sri Lanka’s political landscape. Corruption charges against him remain yet to be substantiated. But the notoriety he has been already accorded in the media cannot be any worse if the allegations turn out to be true. These evils – corruption in high places and abuse of democracy for selfish gain – must be fixed by the enlightened youth of the country. But the present economic crisis and political instability cannot be totally attributed to these evils alone. Such simplistic generalization in itself is a grave error. It is a graver error, a crime against the nation in fact, to dismiss the history of the past seventy-five years since independence as one of unchecked thievery and erroneous policy making by unpatriotic politicians.   

Within the first two decades after severing ties with the British monarchy, thousands of pure-hearted idealistic young men and women (over 5000 in 1971 and over 60,000 in 1986-90, almost totally from the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community) paid the ultimate price, laid down their lives, in the name of their Motherland. They fought for the country, not for a particular race or community. Their battle cry was: “mau bima naeththam maranaya” “Motherland or Death”. The 1971 JVP rebellion provided a major stimulus for the government to introduce many progressive measures to build a self-reliant national economy through new state enterprises (such as the tyre and steel corporations, paper mills, sugar mills, and chemical fertilizer plants) as well as through increasing domestic food production. Similarly, the second JVP uprising of 1986-90 became a watershed for a profound change of course in Sri Lankan politics. The deluded, impractical modern day Aragalakarayas who are merely adding to the hardships of  the suffering masses by their exasperating antics must remember that they are by no means pioneers in the struggle for a system change in Lankan politics. (Of course, today’s JVP is not what it was then. Its new leaders do not seem to understand the meaning of simple concepts like nationalism, racism, secularism, religious fundamentalism, culture, and the rest.)

Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known to the outside world before 1972) was under Christian European domination for roughly four and a half centuries from the beginning of the sixteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. With the annexation (through conspiracy rather than conquest) of the Kandyan kingdom (or the Kingdom of Sinhale as it was called then) to the British empire in 1815, the whole of the country came under colonial rule. The British left in 1948 having granted Ceylon what was known as dominion status independence. That is, it became one of the “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations”. It is clear from the Wikipedia definition quoted in the previous sentence that the ‘independence’ given in 1948 was subject to lingering colonial restraints. Full independence was achieved in 1972 through the promulgation of the first republican constitution under the United Front government headed by prime minister Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike. 

In talking about the eventful seventy-five years since 1948, we need to take a quick retrospective look at the immediate pre-independence years. The minority leaders, particularly, Tamil leaders, feared that the majority Sinhalese would dominate the government on the basis of their superior numerical strength to their disadvantage when the proposed Westminster type parliamentary system would come into operation with the departure of the colonial British. It was to avoid such potential Sinhalese dominance emerging that the Ceylon Tamil Congress leader and lawyer G.G. Ponnambalam demanded a 50-50 allocation of parliamentary seats for the Sihalese and all the minorities put together, which was grossly unfair by the former. The proposal was scornfully rejected by the Soulbury commissioners who drafted the independence constitution. Sinhalese leaders headed by D.S. Senanayake assured a government representative of all the communities without discrimination. The aim of his United National Party founded in 1946 was for the various communities in the country to evolve into one Ceylonese nation living in unity. But Tamil leaders always thought in communal terms. They wanted the privileged status that the Tamil elite of the time had enjoyed under the British to continue. But they knew this was going to change after 1948 when the native Sinhalese majority would try to restore their long lost rights. So, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam founded the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi or Lanka Tamil State Party in 1949. They popularized it as the Federal Party. The misleading English name was meant to conceal the ultimate goal of the party, a separate state for Tamils within the territory of Ceylon/Sinhalay (since this was not possible to achieve within the strong gigantic Union of India where Tamil Nadu, Tamils’ real homeland, lies). 

At independence, the British colonialists left a country that was able to flaunt relatively high economic indices due to volatile external factors associated with the end of World War II in 1945 (such as the increase in the price of rubber exports from Ceylon). A 1948 UN report described the Sri Lankan economy as agricultural and industrially underdeveloped; low productivity and unavailability of resources relative to the country’s population hampered its economic development. The people were socially and communally divided as a result of the imperial policy of ‘divide and rule’. A minuscule minority of citizens that emerged as an English speaking, Westernized and generally Christian elite was privileged over the rest of the downtrodden population. (Today some members of the same class are looking forward to a return to the good old days.) The vast majority of the people lived in grinding poverty then. The reality was a far cry from what (probably the majority of) today’s young people have been brainwashed to believe through propaganda, a pre-independence Utopia of sorts.

The seventy-five year post-independence history of Sri Lanka is the  record of one long national struggle conducted according to democratic norms from the very beginning for the historic goal of building a Sri Lankan nation that stands on its own feet as a single sovereign state that is second to none in the world. In my opinion, six iconic leaders gave leadership to this struggle, whose approaches were different, though the goal remained the same. Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake (1947-52) regarded all citizens as ‘Ceylonese’, not as Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, etc who were at loggerheads with each other. He began his national service decades before independence. As minister for agriculture and lands in the State Council in the 1930s, he brought in legislation to bring bare lands into cultivation through irrigation schemes. Under his multipurpose Gal Oya Development project, 250,000 landless peasants were settled in uninhabited areas in the eastern province. Some communal-minded Tamil politicians objected to this to no avail. It was Senanayake who proposed the use of hydroelectricity, as Sri Lanka had no coal or gas for energy production. He was popular among ordinary people of all communities as well as among the British who were leaving. His unexpected death in 1952 removed his sound leadership. Like D.S. before him, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (1956-59) was elected at a parliamentary election to lead the nation as prime minister in 1956. He was a true nationalist like Senanayake. As such, he took steps to redress the harsh discrimination that the majority Sinhalese were subjected to under the colonial British. Communalist Tamil leaders vehemently opposed him. Tamil MPs opposed him even when he had the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act No. 21, 1957 passed. The particular act was  meant as a check on caste discrimination, a social evil that was especially severe among their own community. (Some hooligans among the Aragalakarayas at Galle Face wanted to pull down the Bandaranaike statue there for obvious reasons.) It was his widowed wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1961-65, 1970-77, 1994-2000) who was able to turn the Dominion of Ceylon into the fully independent Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, which was the most profound system change that any post-independence leader ever achieved in the name of the Sri Lankan people (nation). She pioneered certain economic policies, that harked back to the D.S. Senanayake era of agricultural development just as well as they looked forward to a future of local industrial advancement. The austerity measures her government introduced were too much for the people. The opposition made use of the spreading public disaffection with her administration and the emergence of a streak of authoritarianism on her part in undemocratically prolonging the government’s term of office by two years. J.R. Jayawardane (1977-89), who was himself a staunch nationalist like his predecessors, had the second republican constitution promulgated by which he instituted the all powerful executive presidency. The institution of the executive presidency has to date protected the unitary status of the Sri Lankan state. J.R. saw to it that it survived even the Indian imposed 13A, at least tenuously. He introduced the open market economy model for national development. He implemented the Accelerated Mahaweli Programme, the largest multipurpose development project ever undertaken in the history of the country. It was the fruition of an plan proposed by Sirima Bandaranaike as (the world’s first female) prime minister in 1961. Following J.R. Jayawardane, R. Premadasa (1989-93) made history as the first ‘commoner’ to become head of state of Sri Lanka. He got elected as president at a time when the country was literally being torn apart by civil strife by the JVP in the South and by the LTTE in the North. The JVP violently opposed the UNP government of JRJ for giving into Indian expansionist intervention in Sri Lanka). Premadasa himself, though prime minister under Jayawardane, had demonstrated his angry disapproval of the Indo-Lanka accord by absenting himself from the signing ceremony between JR and Rajiv Gandhi. Premadasa put an end to the JVP insurgency in1989 through ruthless violence. The LTTE was mounting terrorist attacks on civilian as well as military targets in pursuit of their dream of establishing a separate state on Sri Lankan territory. On becoming president, Premadasa flatly asked India at a public rally to withdraw the Indian Peace Keeping Force. He was determined to resolve the Tamil problem peacefully as an internal matter. He made peace overtures to the LTTE. He was said to have given arms to the LTTE to fight the IPKF. But finally, Premadasa was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber. Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to militarily defeat the LTTE terrorism through his political management skills. But he gravely mismanaged the aftermath through personal hybris as well as family bandyism. Even his nationalist credentials are in doubt now. But his past achievements cannot be forgotten.

The great nationalist achievements of the past seventy-five years, which belong to all the communities that make Sri Lanka their home, are a memorable part of the country’s history, whatever its future is going to be. This truth must be revealed to the global powers – the America-led West, India, and China – who have remained our friends throughout the last seventy-five years and helped us generously in their different ways in spite of their own conflicting national interests. Sri Lanka is indispensable for each of them because of its geostrategic location. The highly cultured peaceful Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities have been living in peace and harmony for centuries. Disinformation by the few separatists and the handful of religious extremists who are exploiting the misplaced generosity of charitable international donors should not be allowed to prolong the suffering of these innocent people, who pose no threat to any of those powers. All Sri Lankans want the geostrategic location of their island to be a blessing for them, not a curse.

Sri Lanka: Is Mahinda Rajapaksa still bluffing?


The Most Venerable Mahanayake theras of the Three Nikayas (Siyam, Amarapura and Ramanna) wrote to president Ranil Wickremasinghe admonishing him not to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution two weeks ago, on February 2, as reported in The Island (‘Mahanayakes tell President not to implement 13A’/February 3, 2023). The Buddhist prelates reminded the president that his predecessors did not implement 13A fully because of the devastating consequences this would have on the country, and that the executive presidency was established to safeguard the people’s sovereignty. The Mahanayake theras warned him of public anger rising against him if he carried out activities that tend to weaken the central government. It is evident that the senior monks are aware of the current economic crisis that the country is going through. They understand that Sri Lanka needs the assistance of global powers to overcome these difficulties. However, they correctly point out that proposals that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country must be rejected. According to The Island report, the Mahanayakes also told the president that the country as a whole.. ….”faced many difficulties during the war. The government must do more to develop the North and East and uplift the livelihood of people who faced the most damage. Politicians who come from those parts hold Cabinet posts and can do a lot to develop these areas. At such a time, fully implementing the 13th amendment will create confusion….”

Is this dabbling in politics on the part of the Mahanayakes? Absolutely not. They are just attending to the hallowed duty assigned to the bhikkhus of our country by a tradition that began 2260 years ago with the official introduction of Buddhism: to come forward/usually to offer advice to the ruler when the country, the people and the Buddha Sasana are in jeopardy. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist majority country. Countries that possess such a long unbroken history of the same spiritual culture are extremely rare. Doesn’t that imply something about the dominant cultural background of the country and the people’s beliefs and ideas about the living of life, worldly happiness, social obligations, spiritual fulfillment, and so on?  As the spiritual guides of at least 70% of the Sri Lankan population, they have a historic responsibility to advise the ruler when they realize that the interests of the people of the country (including non-Buddhists) are threatened as understood at present by a large majority of the population. 

The Maha Sangha are arguably the most democratic community of clerical men and women on earth. They are averse to totalitarian control of any kind (something hinted at by the president in the Buddha’s admonition to his followers “Be a lamp unto yourself” with which pithy quote he ended his policy statement, though its appositeness in that context may be in question). 

In their missive, the Buddhist hierarchs express their sincere concern about the need to address the current economic issues with special attention to the livelihood problems of the people of the North and the East who faced the brunt of the civil conflict. At the same, they urge the president not to carry out the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. (Though the Venerables didn’t mention it, the 13th Amendment was forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka grossly violating her sovereignty in 1987 in less than ideal, less than democratic circumstances as the older generation of Sri Lankans knew at first hand.)

While presidents, prime ministers, and governments come and go from time to time, changing their powers and policies as appropriate or otherwise, the Mahanayakes who are symbols of wisdom and compassion remain more permanent, like the sovereign state itself. However, hardly ever do they usurp a ruler’s role. The intrinsic secular nature of Article 9 (relating to Buddhism) of Sri Lanka’s existent republican constitution is something that Western observers, and even our own politicians including the nationalists among them do not or do not want to understand; the latter seem to be abysmally ignorant of the term ‘secularism’, and play havoc with it.  

Contrary to what people expected, in his ceremonial policy statement from the Speaker’s chair in parliament on February 8,  president Wickremasinghe did not seem to respond to the Mahanayakes’ earnest advice conveyed to him nearly a week previously, but he did so by implication, towards the end of his speech. Some of his utterances, probably, increased their apprehensions. He talked about having to take unpopular decisions. “I am not here to be popular!”, he said. Ranil Wickremasinghe can well say that since it was not because he was popular that he became executive president. He, as a would-be technocrat, can take unpopular decisions, as he thinks fit, in dealing with purely economic issues. But if his economic policies are based on wrong political decisions, it’s a different issue, where his personal moral values get tested (in spite of his indispensability at this juncture).

The president devoted the first half of his speech to dealing with strictly economic matters: Rebuilding the nation, foreign reserves, IMF negotiations, revival of tourism, economic reforms, etc. To properly handle these it will be helpful for him to keep in mind the concerns raised by the monks. For example, one of the worries of these leading monks, though not mentioned in the letter, relates to the preservation of the Buddhist archaeological heritage of the northern and eastern areas. The archaeological treasures connected with the history of Sinhalese habitation in the northern, north central and eastern parts of the island have been under threat for decades; some of them have been  deliberately destroyed, reburied, built over or falsely claimed by non-Buddhists.  There is history written on rock in the form of rock inscriptions right across the country from north to south and from east to west that bear witness to the presence of the Sinhalese throughout the island. Archaeological remains and sites are great tourist attractions, which means their preservation is economically very important, too.

Most of the other half is about establishing communal harmony.  President Wickremasinghe takes great pains to convince the Tamil and Muslim minorities about his determination to solve their problems. He had discussed with R. Sampandan MP in 1977 (i.e., 45 years ago) about how to resolve the Tamil ethnic issue. The time has come at long last for them to achieve their goal. Ranil had been made aware of problems of the Muslims by minister A.C.S. Hameed, presumably in the latter 1980s, i.e., 35 years ago. All sensible Sri Lankans appreciate Ranil Wickremasinghe’s desire to resolve minority problems, but he should remember that no politician has a moral right to disregard the human rights interests of the majority community.

While listening to the policy statement streamed live on February 8th, I felt that the president displayed less enthusiasm in talking about the problems that the majority community suffer from. It looked as though he thought those problems were less substantive than the ones that the minorities faced. His single apathetic utterance in this regard was: “The Sinhalese community is also facing issues of their own which require open discussion. We expect to recognize the communities that are marginalized in society especially due to caste discrimination”. This is tantamount to associating the caste issue with the Sinhalese instead of the Tamils, particularly those in the North, who are persecuted by religion sanctioned casteism. The caste problem among the Sinhalese – historically borrowed from Tamil Hindu culture – is very mild, confined perhaps to party politics and matrimonial occasions, and is fast disappearing. Tamil civil society activist Arun Siddharthan often mentions this problem among Tamils. Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera MP said in Parliament recently stated that blood needed for blood transfusion in Jaffna hospitals was in short supply due to (Hindu religion based) caste discrimination and had to be donated by Sinhalese soldiers. Of course, how seriously the particular form of social injustice affects the Tamil society can’t have escaped the president’s attention.

Paradoxically, though, in stark contradiction with basic Buddhist teachings, caste distinctions are still observed by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks, who have divided themselves into caste-based nikayas, something initiated by the Siyam nikaya in unalterable historical circumstances in the 18th century. It’s an evil that the Mahanayakes could have corrected, at least decades before, had they been less worldly, and more devoted to the Dhamma, and more dedicated to the welfare of the Buddhist laity, and the society in general. At least now, they must bury these undue divisions among themselves, and unite as a single body and realize and demonstrate to the world what the power of the Maha Sangha is. This is urgent for the survival of the Buddha Sasana.

President Wickremasinghe expressed his determination for bringing in maximum devolution of power within a unitary Sri Lanka (not united Sri Lanka as he used to say in the past). How he can secure this is yet to be disclosed. The people must be wary, for the devil is in the details. He says quite correctly that reconciliation alone will not bring about economic development: people’s attitudes must change. (Of course, this should apply not only to the majority, but also to the minorities.) This is perhaps a reference to his decision to get Tamil diaspora entrepreneurs involved in the development of the war-damaged North, for which he will create a separate department. We remember that, even months before, diaspora representatives indicated their readiness to bring in foreign funds to ease Sri Lanka’s dollar crunch, but that was with the proviso that those funds will be utilized exclusively for the economic development of the North.  

During his closing words, president Wickremasinghe said: 

“,,,,,,,We are all bound to protect the State of Sri Lanka. Any citizen has the opportunity to democratically change Governments through the elections. However, no one has the right to create anarchy in Sri Lanka. Not any political party. Not any group.

“We cannot allow our motherland to become an economic or social colony. Anarchy cannot be allowed. No one who truly loves the nation will allow such a situation. We all should stand on the side that supports the nation and not that which is bent to destroy the country..”.

That is a kind of assurance given that the sovereign Sri Lankan state will remain whole; there will be no division of the country. Governments will be changed democratically through elections. This means that the sort of annihilationist anarchy that the chaotic medley of leaderless directionless political and religious desperados of the foreign funded, anti national, conspiratorial ‘Aragalaya’ will not be allowed. The president promised that his proposals will be implemented through the National Assembly of the Parliament. What better guarantee can be given than this that the kind of undemocratic coercion that forced the 13th Amendment on a hapless Sri Lanka in 1987 under a dictatorial president who had succumbed to undue Indian pressure will not be applied in the present situation?

If the 13th Amendment must be implemented in full, let it be implemented in that democratic way. But we know that the present parliament doesn’t have a legitimate mandate to achieve that end. The SLPP was returned to power with a near two thirds majority, having fought elections on the platform of ‘One country, One law’. It is still an SLPP government. So they do not have the moral right to pass legislation that is entirely opposed to the original rallying cry that brought it to power. To cut a long story short, it is only Mahinda Rajapaksa MP who can persuade the unelected, president by default, Ranil Wickremasinghe from using the sitting parliament to enact 13A in its entirety without consulting the public regarding it through a referendum or a general election. Of course, in the past, Mahinda Rajapaksa used to repeat that he’d offer a 13A+. But I thought he was just bluffing then. Now Ranil seems to have called his bluff. Almost all members of parliament including Mahinda Rajapaksa, except a small splinter group who have left the SLPP alliance, have expressed agreement to the president’s decision to execute the full implementation of 13A. So, legally, there is no obstacle to his plan. But it is undemocratic and immoral.

It is the conscientious assertion of a nation’s dominant moral values by the three branches of government in a democracy – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – in their activities that saves that nation from collapse and disaster. In the final analysis, Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president and prime minister, despite his, perhaps, unmatchable past achievements, is responsible for the present unprecedented crisis, especially, the ruinous political chaos. Only he can put an end to it by putting the country before himself, if possible. He used to say that his  Priority Number One, Number Two, and Number Three was the same: the Motherland/the Nation. Let him redeem his lost honour and popularity, and also win back the love of the people he tried to serve. 

Most Venerable Mahanayake Theros, I would like to beseech you Reverend Sirs, in all humility and with the deepest respect, to please write to Mahinda Rajapaksa MP or summon him before you Reverends, to demand that he explain to the nation why he now supports a measure that is likely to prolong the suffering and insecurity of the people and to endanger the survival of the Buddha Sasana, and, if it is something unavoidable at this stage, how he is going to make the proposed change harmless. Please remind him that he was a former prime minister, president, and a minister for Buddha Sasana.

Sri Lanka: An open letter to the NPP/JVP


Two stalwarts of the JVP-led National People’s Power (NPP) alliance, Dr Harini Amarasuriya MP and Mr Tilvin Silva, JVP General Secretary, as reported in the media early February 2023, have made more or less clear the alliance’s stand on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (suggested by the president): the NPP is broadly for it. But both Amarasuriya and Silva are not convinced of president Ranil Wickremasinghe’s actual commitment to his decision to fully implement the controversial amendment. They both express misgivings about president Wickremasinghe’s real intentions in bringing up the issue at this critical juncture.

Amarasuriya says he didn’t do it when he had ‘opportunities’ to do it in the past. Well, actually, to be fair by Wickremasinghe, he didn’t have any opportunity to make the decisive move. He neither became executive president nor got sufficient parliamentary power to do so  before he ultimately got kicked out of parliament altogether for pursuing policies that tended towards the full implementation of 13A. But for the Rajapaksas’ perfidious betrayal of the nearly seven million patriotic Sri Lankans who voted in Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president and 140+ MPs on the SLPP ticket to defeat the yahapalanaya that he had controlled under Sirisena’s lame executive presidency, he won’t have entered parliament even as an ordinary MP, let alone be executive president. (The Rajapaksas’ treachery is a different matter.)

Tilvin Silva sees the main parties (presumably, the UNP and SLFP rumps and their utterly disoriented new manifestations) as arousing communal passions through the debate on 13A. Those that he calls ‘diehard racists…’ (who, according to him, had been hiding these few months) are coming out of the woodwork. Who are these so-called ‘racists’? They are, of course, those who are opposed to 13A, the patriots who are opposed to the division of the country into nine virtually independent units, resulting in the disintegration of the unitary state.   

Tilvin Silva said that what people in the North and the South are asking for are food, fuel and medicine and so on; but the Northerners have problems. “We do not think that any other party except a government of the JVP-led NPP can give real solutions to the problems of people in the North. We would form an NPP government and bring in a new constitution with a mechanism to solve the problems of Tamil people. We get it passed with people’s approval and provide solutions for the problems of the Northerner. Until such times, provincial councils will have their existence,” Silva said, as reported in one national English daily.

It is not clear how the NPP is going to deal with the 13A issue. But if it is hoping to wangle the support of the Sinhala Buddhist masses, who are always at the receiving end, while horse-trading with the federalists, Anura’s chances of becoming president will evaporate soon. As he has already apparently indicated that his prime minister will be Sumanthiran (I am not sure of the authenticity of this piece of information, though) in case he becomes president, the voters in the South will be even more sceptical about voting for him. Sumanthiran is the exact opposite of Lakshman Kadirgamar, whom the Sinhalese universally loved and honoured above all other politicians, but whom the LTTE assassinated as a traitor to the separatist cause.

The truth is that the majority of ordinary Tamils in Jaffna do not want to live in a separate state. They want to live in peace with the other communities of the country. According to Arun Siddharthan, the convener of the Jaffna Civil Society Centre, the proposed full implementation of 13A is a conspiracy of the casteist TNA. People in the North actually suffer from casteism, not from any political discrimination or human rights violations by the Sinhalese majority. Tamils deemed to belong to low castes like himself (but he doesn’t accept casteism; he is a much more honourable man than his racist, casteist opponents) have no human rights.  He says he is not allowed to have a press conference in Jaffna. Hence he holds his news briefings in Colombo. At this briefing, Arun Siddharthan refers to the non-implementation in Jaffna of the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act No. 21 of 1957 adopted by the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike government of the day amidst opposition from casteist Tamil MPs. Arun Siddharthan warns that if the government tries to implement 13A, there will be a communal uprising against it in Jaffna, which, though, in my opinion will be counterproductive. It might provide an opportunity for India to intervene militarily, and make matters worse.

Leaders of the NPP, please stop being misled by your ‘friends’, certain Colombo-based crafty Tamil lawyers and moribund political counsellors who, unlike you, are out and out  misanthropic,  racists. Trust young Tamil leaders like Arun to befriend the Tamil polity in the North as well as in the South. To increase your appeal among the Sinhalese, please enlist the support of JVP founder Rohana Wijeweera’s son Uvindu wherever he is and young grassroots level nationalist activists like Amith Weerasinghe, who is already doing much to relieve the suffering of the poor of all communities around Kandy in central Sri Lanka (hence disliked by traditional politicians as a threat to their political existence). 

What is the point of your insisting on the holding of local government elections? There is no meaning in having elections at this time. Even if they are held, you will not stand to win. You hardly won any seats at the last local government election in 2018, don’t you remember? You will not do better this time if you stick to your purblind policy of cozying up to the casteist elite of the Tamil society in the North, while ignoring the populace suffering at their hands, and while taking the support of the Sinhalese majority for granted. As it is clear to the intelligent voters that you have swallowed the TNA cajolery hook, line, and sinker, people will not trust you enough to vote for you. What you can do instead is to use the next two years to educate the young people of today about the JVP’s heroic past, with a genuine analysis of its costly errors (Uvindu has an idea about that) and organise the multiethnic electorate (dominated by the lower middle and working classes) across the country for a resounding victory at the next presidential and parliamentary elections. Until then, try to help prevent Ranil Wickremasinghe from doing anything really detrimental to the country that is irreversible.

As I wrote in my previous writeup “Is 13A PANACEA? Cynical irony of……….” (Sri Lanka Guardian/February 2, 2023) “We need statesmen/women, not mere politicians. People are fed up with the latter. Anura is not likely to turn out to be a real statesman, even if he gets the chance to do so one day, if he pursues his proven hypocrisy. However, compared to the leading buffoons of the two traditional parties (the UNP and the SLFP/or their ghostly modern reincarnations), Anura Dissanayake would be someone that the people can look towards as an alternative leader, provided he does not forfeit the trust of the majority Sinhala Buddhists in his attempt to win the loyalty of the traditional minority leaders, who will never ever change their spots, though they may change their hunting grounds”.

Let me end this piece with the last paragraph of an essay I wrote four years ago (‘JVP at a crossroads’/The Island/March 5, 2018): 

“The JVP must take a good hard look at its wasteful past and subject itself to serious reform as a party. It must get rid of its outdated ideologies and outmoded leaders. It must not condemn the voters as idiots for not voting for them. Most important, the JVP’ers must find political allies with whom they can coexist and serve the nation.”

Sri Lanka: Is 13A Panacea?


Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesman and Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran says that his party has decided to boycott the independence day celebrations this year, as reported in The Island of January 31, 2023. Instead, they will declare it a Black Day and commence a movement towards achieving what they call true freedom. According to him, “Immediately after independence, it was transformed into a majority system under the guise of democracy. That’s why other people living in this country did not get freedom”. What he implies is that the ‘independence’ given was only for the majority Sinhalese, and not for the others (presumably, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, etc., the minority communities). Sumanthiran thinks that even though the  majority Sinhala Buddhist people had been under the impression that they got freedom for many years, they also now feel that they didn’t get any freedom either. So, when the 75th independence day is celebrated, the TNA “will declare it a black day and start a campaign for the country to get its freedom properly”.   

Meanwhile, the Indian news website The Federal reported that the 74th Indian Republic Day was celebrated at the Indian Consulate in Jaffna with a function attended by a large gathering of people including Indians, and  some local Sri Lankans, mainly Tamils, on January 26, 2023. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police took part in the celebration. Consul General, Madurai-born Raakesh Nataraj, mingled with the guests and exchanged greetings. According to The Federal, both Indian Republic Day and Independence day had been regularly observed in Jaffna until the outbreak of the ethnic conflict.

I wondered why our leaders (apparently) never thought of declaring a Sri Lankan Republic Day after the 1972 republican constitution was enacted on May 22nd that year, and the island nation became a republic independent of any links with the British monarchy . 

The truth is that Sumanthiran here, tongue in cheek,is  only hinting at a fresh (a last, hopefully successful, as he probably fancies) attempt at eventually realizing the idea of establishing a separate sovereign state for Tamils (but strategically camouflaged asTamil speaking people to co-opt Muslims into the project) in the (soon to be re-merged?) north and east provinces where respectively Tamils and Muslims form the majority, and the Sinhalese  are now in a thin minority due to ethnic cleansing by the LTTE. Late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi (1980-84) also talked about solving ‘the problem of the Tamil speaking people’ in these provinces in Sri Lanka, lumping Hindus and Muslims together as Tamil speaking people, in the interest of India’s own traditional expansionist ambitions against its smaller, weaker neighbours.

Sumanthiran is thinking exclusively about freedom for the Tamil minority, whereas the nationalists – the majority Sinhalese and the sensible majority of the Tamil, Muslim and other minority communities – are concerned about freedom for all who make Sri Lanka their home, that is, the Sri Lankan people or nation; they don’t talk about nations based on ethno-cultural identities.  Deliberate disinformation by Eelam lobbyists and parasitic NGOs has turned nationalists into racists, chauvinists, xenophobes, right-wing nationalists, and whatnot in the eyes of the global media. 

Since 1948, all Sinhalese leaders have acted on the basis of the concept of one nation or one country, where the majority Sinhalese, who are the true autochthonous inhabitants of the island, along with the veddahs, were joined by other numerically small groups in the course of history in various contexts, such as trade, war, invasion, travel, and so on. The first prime minister of independent Ceylon D.S. Senanayake, when asked by the Soulbury Commissioners at the end of the 1947 parliamentary elections how many Tamils he wanted in his cabinet, said he didn’t mind even if all the cabinet members were Tamil provided they acted as Ceylonese. No Sinhalese parliamentarian has deviated from this line of thinking. 

On the other hand, Tamil leaders like All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) leader and later founder of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) lawyer G.G. Ponnambalam were different. They adopted an anti-Sinhala racist attitude. They focused on perpetuating the special privileges that the Tamil elite enjoyed under the British. They felt threatened by a system of parliamentary democracy, because they feared that the Sinhalese majority would put an end to their privileged status. It was Ponnambalam who, for years before independence, had been making the absurd 50-50 demand (clamouring for the allocation of 50% of the seats in the  parliament yet to be introduced  for the Sinhalese who were the overwhelming majority of the population, and 50% for all the minority groups). The Soulbury Commissioners rejected that demand with contempt. Another Tamil lawyer who came from Malaysia, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, founded the Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Tamil State Party/euphemistically in English the Federal Party) in 1949 and the rest is history. Sumanthiran seems to be basically among the latest in this tradition.

 While preparations are being earnestly made by the government for marking an independence that was not granted (a long retired civil servant likens it to a birthday party for a baby that was never born), the 25th anniversary of the devastating LTTE suicide-truck-bomb attack on the Sri Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth Relic) in Kandy fell on January 25, without anyone remembering it. It looks as if the government let it pass without any commemorative observances unlike in previous years. Why? (My sincere apologies to everybody concerned, if I am mistaken in this assumption) Was it in the name of so-called ‘reconciliation’, which has been a not so seriously meant, hollow slogan right from the beginning? Or was it in order to avoid spoiling the national mood for ‘consecrating’ some ostensibly momentous event that is going to coincide with the 75th independence day ceremony? The epoch-making event that Ranil Wickremasinghe wants to celebrate thus, as everybody knows now, is the purported settlement of the alleged Tamil ethnic problem through the full implementation of the controversial 13A (forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka by India, without doubt, in the latter’s exclusive national interest, in 1987). Grown-up Sri Lankans remember how thousands of our patriotic youngsters died in opposing Indian intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, in the second JVP uprising, which occurred in the years 1986-89 during UNP rule. A thirty year civil conflict claimed the lives of thousands of Sri Lanka’s defence forces personnel,  Tamil rebel cadres, and civilians caught in terrorist bomb blasts; the conflict left many more injured. All this was in trying to prevent the certain Balkanization of the country through the 13A. Seven executive presidents from JR Jayawardane to Gotabaya Rajapaksa back-burnered it for a legitimate reason. What are the benefits of a fully implemented 13A that justify such sacrifices of the country’s youth of the previous generation?

Be that as it may, does Ranil Wickremasinghe want to invest this servile surrender to foreign pressure with a sacred quality by having a special Sacred Tooth Relic exposition? It can’t be that he is mocking Sinhalese Buddhist sentiments. True, he was totally rejected by the mainly Buddhist Lankan electorate as a prospective candidate for executive presidency. It could also  be a similar passive-aggressive attack on his part on the pohottuwa alliance (the Sri Lanka Podu Peramuna, the SLPP). He must have been waiting for a chance to take his revenge on the SLPP, which turned itself into his nemesis in the last parliamentary election. But the principal partners of the SLPP, the treacherous Rajapaksas, as it has now become so clear to the betrayed public, were able to do this otherwise commendable thing, by pretending to espouse the popular nationalist cause, merely to hoodwink the masses to win votes. Ranil and the Rajapaksas are partners now. They are not strange bedfellows; they are natural allies. Whatever they are making common cause in achieving, turning the country’s hallowed Sinhala Buddhist cultural heritage into a political football between rival factions of conflicting persuasions is something worse than the Maligawa bombing itself. It does not augur well for the future of our Motherland. It is the last thing that fair-minded patriotic citizens belonging to all communities are likely to take lying down. 

The only thing that people expect Ranil Wicktremasinghe to do at this moment is to focus on rescuing the country from the economic crisis that it is engulfed in, and leave it to the present day youth of the country from all the diverse communities to lawfully, democratically and peacefully usher in the new corruption free Sri Lanka that they want to build. 

When three LTTE suicide cadres drove an explosives laden truck to the Maligawa early on the morning of January 25, 1998, and set it off, it caused massive damage to the building, while killing seventeen innocent worshippers including two two-year old infants and the three suicide bombers. The attack was universally condemned across the civilized world in the sternest terms. It was reported that three times more money was donated by the ordinary people than was necessary for restoring the destroyed parts of the Maligawa, which was completed within two years of the heinous crime. Ranil Wickremasinghe was the leader of the opposition then. Condemning the bombing he said, “Not even in the darkest moments of Sri Lanka’s 2000 year history has such an act of destruction been perpetrated against the very symbol of our civilization and history.” He should know (I am sure he does, for he is a very well-read knowledgeable person) that the Tooth Relic has been a symbol of sovereignty over the island since the 4th century CE when it was brought to Anuradhapura from Dantapuri (modern Puri, Odisha) in India. If he insists on having the Mahanayakes agree to hold a Tooth Relic exposition to give some sort of legitimacy to his controversial move, and if his request is granted by them, then he will appear to mock the sanity of Sri Lankans and the sanctity of this national symbol. 

To my shock, however, I hear that the relic exhibition that Ranil Wickremasinghe proposed, is scheduled to start on March 4, a month after the day of disputed independence. If this incredible piece of information is true, then it means that the two Mahanayakes, the guardians of the Maligawa, (no one is above them in this matter) have agreed to bless the ultimate victory of those who wanted to destroy ‘the symbol of our civilization and history’!

Of course, Ranil Wickremasinghe alone cannot be held responsible for what is now almost a certainty. All the leaders (or most of them) and their mostly inarticulate juniors in parliament  reportedly support the president’s decision. They should share responsibility, too, for what is going to happen. Constitutionally, of course, there appears to be no barrier to the full implementation of 13A. But that is only a technical point, beyond morality. The three pillars of parliamentary democracy are said to be the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The country’s moral values reign over all three. The ethical conduct of the humans who embody the legislative, executive, and judicial powers is imperative for the proper functioning of the democratic system. That is my idea. 

Civil social activist and Vinivida Foundation convener, lawyer Nagananda Kodituwakku argues in a recent video that president Wickremasinghe has no moral right to take that decision, but that it is in accordance with an agreement reached between the Tamil  National Alliance (TNA), the UNP, and the JVP (represented by Anura Dissanayake, now National People’s Power leader) on September 20, 2017. Recently, Anura Dissanayake even appeared on a TNA stage in the north, according to him.

The NPP leaders say that their goal is to bring in a good government that is free from corruption and theft, and that  establishes the rule of law. But that is the main platform on which even UNP’s J.R. Jayawardane fought the 1977 general election, pledging to bring in a Righteous Society (that has to date failed to materialise). The Island newspaper reported (February 2, 2023) that NPP MP Dr Harini Amarasuriya, asked about her party’s stand on Ranil Wickremasinghe’s decision to implement the 13A fully, said she didn’t believe he would do that, because he didn’t do it when he could do it. The NPP also believes that it should be fully implemented, though there was still a debate about this within the party. She told The Island: 

“It has been presented as a solution to the national problem. It is already there in the Constitution and we believe that it should be implemented, but we have a debate whether it could be a tenable solution for the national problem. Our standpoint is that a government with genuine intention of addressing the issues of Tamil people must bring about solutions to the national problem, and we have no faith in other parties, but only the NPP could do that.”

It is not clear how the NPP is going to deal with the 13A issue. But if it is hoping to wangle the support of the Sinhala Buddhist masses while horse-trading with the federalists, Anura’s chances of becoming president will evaporate soon. As he has already apparently indicated that his prime minister will be Sumanthiran (I am not sure of this piece of gossip) in case he becomes president, the voters in the south will be even more sceptical about voting for him. Sumanthiran is the exact opposite of Lakshman Kadirgamar, that the Sinhalese universally loved, and honoured above all other politicians.

To return to Nagananda, he blames former elections commissioner Mahinda Desapriya for conniving at the TNA’s treacherous intentions revealed in its constitution. Desapriya had been given only the Tamil version of the TNA’s constitutional proposals, which he apparently couldn’t read and understand. He hadn’t asked for or they hadn’t given him the English version of the document (which means, according to Nagananda, they didn’t want its contents to be accessible to the Sinhala majority). Nagananda claims that he had some significant parts rendered into English: According to him, the TNA constitution (includes) “…… the right to self determination, the policy of founding an autochthonous Tamil State, Tamil Aru, and an autochthonous Muslim State, Muslim Aru, and thereby seeing the liberation of the political and economic aspects of the Tamil speaking people…….

Note: An absolute guarantee will be given to the right of religion and language of the minority national races that live in the autochthonous Tamil State that will be set up in the Tamil Motherland……..”.

(Incidentally, I do not agree with Nagananda’s explanation of the concept of the independence of the judiciary in this context.)

Now these autochthonous claims for Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka are ludicrous inventions. Authoritative historians (including Professors Karthigesu Indrapala and Kingsley de Silva) have shown that before the 13th century invasion by Magha of Kalinga, there was no Tamil kingdom in the north of Sri Lanka nor a settled Tamil population there. Tamils are the autochthonous inhabitants of Tamil Nadu in the mainland India. As for Muslims in the eastern province, they were settled there by king Senerath of Kandy (1604-1635 CE) as fugitives from Portuguese persecution in the coastal areas that they were occupying. Muslims and Portuguese were rival traders. The Sinhalese king also settled some of these Muslims in the central highlands. Still later the occupying Dutch and British brought Javanese and Malaysian Muslims, thereby adding to the growing Muslim population in Sri Lanka in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Implications of Nagananda’s revelations for the country need not be elaborated. He emphatically says that the ordinary Tamil people he met in Jaffna do not ask for a separate state. They only want to live in one Sri Lanka peaceably with the other communities.

Nagananda believes that the local government elections that are going to be held will not be of any value and that the Anura Dissanayake-led NPP is unlikely to win such a significant victory at imminent local government election. I personally think that the NPP appears to be the front runner, judging by the size of the crowds that attend its rallies (as reported on online media). But do these people know what the party leaders are really committed to, I wonder? There is no stamp of conviction on most faces, though. Most look sceptical of the leaders

We need statesmen/women, not mere politicians. People are fed up with the latter. Anura is not likely to turn out to be a real statesman, even if he gets the chance to do so one day, if he pursues his proven hypocrisy. However, compared to the leading buffoons of the two traditional parties (the UNP and the SLFP/or their ghostly modern reincarnations), Anura Dissanayake would be someone that the people can look towards as an alternative leader, provided he does not forfeit the trust of the majority Sinhala Buddhists in his attempt to win the loyalty of the traditional minority leaders, who will never ever change their spots, though they may change their hunting grounds.

Ranil Wickremasinghe has got his last chance to prove his statesmanship and retrieve his lost popularity and honour. He should not, as default president, abuse his executive powers to implement the long disputed 13A for the time being, but do whatever he can do to address the economic woes of our suffering masses before the current presidency ends. It is hoped that he will use his constitutional powers to achieve that end. Then let him call presidential elections and fight it himself or get his nominee to fight it on the single issue of the all important 13th Amendment, perhaps against a principal rival like Anura Dissanayake. Whoever it is, the next president must have the support of the active, truly educated youth of the country, not the half-wits now in the limelight.

Sri Lanka: Is recolonisation the final solution?- II


This is the second part of this series. Click here to read the part one

To assert, as Mr Sirimanne does, that “From ancient times the Northern region in the island was a kingdom occupied by Tamils due to its closeness to South India…….. during the reign of King Elara, a Tamil, there was a war between the Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms…..” is completely wrong. It is a very irresponsible statement. The factual situation is that the young prince Dutugemunu of Magama in the south, after a long military campaign involving a series of hardwon battles, defeated usurper king Elara who had come from India as an invader. There had been no Tamil kingdom in the north or a permanent Tamil population in the north before the 13th century CE, as Professor Kingsley de Silva argues with evidence in his ‘A History of Sri Lanka’ (Penguin Books, London, 2005). Magha of Kalinga’s cataclysmic invasion with a massive army of twenty thousand Kerala and Tamil mercenaries and his ruinous occupation of Lanka for twenty-one years (‘moved thereto by the lust of wealth and power’ as the Mahavansa puts it), laid waste to the kingdom and the religion, and put an end to the achievements of the dry zone- based hydraulic civilization that the Sinhalese kings had built over the centuries. But during Magha’s reign ‘… there dwelt, scattered in the beautiful cities and hamlets that they had built for themselves in the great strongholds and mountainous parts of the country, some great and good men who defended the people and the religion from the disturber’ (Chapter 81 of the Mahavansa). This means that the Magha invasion caused the disintegration of the Lankan kingdom into a number of regional strongholds from which ‘great and good men’ (such as Subha Senadhipathi of Yapahuwa, a general, Sankha of Gangadoni, another military chief, and Bhuvaneka Bahu on the top of the Govinda rock) defended the rest of the country, until king Vijayabahu III of Dambabeniya’s son and successor, Parakrabahu II, was finally able to drive away the despoilers. In earlier times, South Indian invaders, when defeated and driven away, sailed back to India, but this time, Magha with his retreating army made a permanent Tamil settlement in the north.

Since a millennium before that time, the interactions between the island and the southern and eastern regions of the subcontinent were almost exclusively at the trade and cultural or religious levels, and the island’s sovereignty was not challenged. But occasionally, right from the earliest times, traders became invaders. Thus, as the Mahavansa (Ch.11 ) records, ‘Two damila (malabar) youths powerful in cavalry and navy, named Sena and Guttika’ (Sena and Guttika were horse traders with a fleet of ships.), after killing the reigning monarch Suratissa, who must have been very old by that time, ‘righteously reigned for twenty-two years’ from 237 to 215 BCE. But Suratissa’s youngest brother (most probably nephew) Asela defeated and put to death the usurpers, and restored Sinhalese sovereignty, and ruled at Anuradhapura for ten years. Then, another powerful trader (as recently concluded by historians) from South India named Elara killed king Asela, and ruled the country for forty-four years. But see how the Mahavansa (Ch. 11) records this event: ‘A damila named Elara of the illustrious “Uju” tribe, invading this island from the Cola country, for the purpose of usurping the sovereignty, and putting to death the reigning king Asela, ruled the kingdom for forty-four years, – administering justice with impartiality to friends and to foe.’

Following is how king Dutugemunu treated his fallen enemy king Elara, fully recognizing the latter’s noble reputation as a righteous ruler, though a usurper, as recorded in the Mahavansa Ch. 25: (Mr Sirimanne alludes to this episode in a rather offhand manner.)

‘Summoning within the town the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, within the distance of a yojana, he held a festival in honour of king Elara. Consuming the corpse in a funeral pile on the spot where he fell, he built a tomb there; and ordained that it should receive honours (like unto those conferred on a Cakkavatti). Even unto this day, the monarchs who have succeeded to the kingdom of Lanka, on reaching that quarter of the city, whatever the procession may be, they silence their musical band.’

(This royal decree is honoured by the Sinhalese Buddhists even today, after over two thousand years.)

Isn’t this something hard to come by in the history of war in the world, war being an ever present necessary evil, as it were, in human affairs? King Dutugemunu’s magnanimity in victory came from his Buddhist upbringing. At the beginning of his campaign against Elara, prince Dutugemunu declared: ‘This enterprise of mine is not for the purpose of acquiring the pomp and advantages of royalty. This undertaking has always had for its object the re-establishment of the religion of the Supreme Buddha…..’. (The country’s ancient Buddhist culture is a world heritage that must be protected.) The same compassionate and generous spirit was alive in the hearts of the young soldiers and their commanders who took part in the humanitarian operation in the north that put an end to the armed separatist terrorism in 2009. They could have brought the war to a quicker end and suffered a lot fewer casualties among themselves than they did, had they chosen to defy what was inherent in their cultural DNA. Unfortunately, the geo-poiltics driven superpowers have not recognized this fact, and have visited punitive afflictions on Sri Lanka for alleged violation of human rights that make life miserable for all Sri Lankans.

To return to my subject, geographical proximity no doubt was a factor in the stimulation of interactions between the two countries, but mass movements of population to and fro were not so easy as to be a usual occurrence. The fact that Sinhala kings sometimes brought queen consorts from South India (due to complicated succession problems that had nothing to do with the then existing demography of the country) is not something unique to them. Just look at the Wikipedia: The recently deceased queen Elizabeth II’s family tree has ancient roots in Germany, Denmark, Russia, etc.; but citizens of those countries do not seem to think of claiming that she was of their ethnicity or of assuming that the fact had any political significance.

Of course, as a result of these interactions, the Sinhalese acquired a great deal of Indian culture. But the important thing to remember while appreciating that fact is that over the past twenty-three centuries the Sinhalese have cherished their own language, their own distinct spiritual doctrine (Buddhism), and their island home with its rich abundance of recorded and unrecorded evidence of their prehistoric insular ancestry and their ancient Buddhist heritage. When it comes to sharing the natural resources of the land with minorities with different religious cultures, languages, ethnicities, etc. that joined them later in different contexts, there is no other race of people who are more humanely accommodating than the Sinhalese Buddhists in spite of the fact that they were the most persecuted community during the past half a millennium under the jackboot of three European colonial powers. Why were they singled out for such suppressive treatment? It was because the colonialists correctly identified the Sinhalese (under the benign sway of their spiritual masters, the Buddhist monks) as their only implacable enemy.

Traditionally, whenever the country and the Buddha Sasanaya were in jeopardy, the monks have come forward as defenders, on rare occasions even as armed soldiers. Warrior king Dhatusena who ruled at Anuradhapura from 455 to 473 CE, having defeated six Dravidian usurpers, was a Buddhist monk in his youth. King Senerath of Kandy (who reigned from 1604 to 1635 CE) was originally a monk. He disrobed to become king in order to try to rid the country of invading foreign powers. He fought against the occupying Portuguese and expanded the territory of his kingdom. The Sinhalese only thought of the country, the Buddha Sasanaya, and the commonality of people, not so much about their race. In modern times, sometimes Buddhist monks have cause to feel threatened by non-Buddhist extremists who forcibly enter the Buddhists’ religious space or when they vandalize or lay claim to ancient Buddhist archaeological sites (even violating the antiquities ordinances established in British times). It is natural that they try to raise awareness among the citizens about these things and to get the political authorities to set things right according to the law. People who have political or sectarian or religious axes to grind have no qualms about excoriating the monks and lay Buddhists for alleged racism, chauvinism, extremism, xenophobia, and so on, simply because they raise their voice against the covert and overt excesses of extremists that go undetected or unrecognized by local political authorities and the hostile foreign NGO brigade. Of course, it must be remembered that Tamil Hindus face the same threats from religious fundamentalists. Actually, Tamil Hindu and Sinhala Buddhist solidarity is indispensable for mutual protection from the proselytizing zealotry of mindless fundamentalists. Certain foreign funded NGOs and their local allies do everything possible to prevent the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus from uniting for making common cause against unethical conversion projects.

Mr Sirimanne seems to imply that colonizing of Sri Lanka by three European nations happened as a matter of course, apparently unopposed by the native Sinhalese and Tamils, and that they somehow benefited from the experience. The truth is otherwise. Our people were massacred, our places of worship were vandalized, desecrated, burned down, or alienated to strangers or converts, while the country’s natural resources were plundered, and the sons of the soil were oppressed, downtrodden, and exploited. Because of this historical reality, for all the missionaries’ efforts of four and a half centuries, only about six percent of the local population had embraced Christianity/Catholicism by 1947, and the rest 94% had willingly forfeited all claims to possible material rewards by refusing to abandon their no less humanizing hereditary faiths.

At first, under the Portuguese, Sinhalese Buddhists in coastal areas embraced Christianity under duress, but later, as Mr Sirimanne says ‘Many Sinhalese in towns and cities for favors changed their religion and acquired Portuguese names’. Serving or saving the Sinhalese was not the real concern of the Portuguese. They thought of their own people back home, just as the foreign powers involved in our internal affairs currently do. Portugal at that time was not as resource-rich as Sri Lanka, its people were enjoying a far lower standard of living than the contemporary Sinhalese. Provocation for plunder was high. And it didn’t go unheeded. (See Dr Susantha Goonatilake’s ‘A 16th Century Clash of Civilisations: Portuguese Presence in Sri Lanka’, Vijitha Yapa, 2010) The Dutch who followed them introduced a network of canals for transport of local products for export for their own revenue, and introduced Roman Dutch Law for ease of administering the provinces they were occupying. It is true that in the course of time, these innovations became useful to the descendants of the people that they had indifferently robbed.

On February 4, 1948, Sri Lanka was granted dominion status (within the British Commonwealth) which was short of full independence. It was not something remarkable or memorable by any means. India was given the same status on August 15, 1947. But the wiser and more dignified Indian leaders implicitly eschewed the ‘benefits’ of membership of that body, and officially quit it on January 26, 1950, and asserted their country’s full independence, worthy of their many millennia of glorious civilization, which produced the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka, who introduced Buddhism to our country, and about whom H.G. Wells said: “……..amid tens of thousands of names of monarchs, “Ashoka shines, shines almost alone, a star” .

The patriotic progressive people of Sri Lanka under the leadership of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike declared Sri Lanka a republic on May 22, 1972. Now that was a momentous occasion for the whole nation to celebrate. But it was less than an ideal choice to remain a member of the Commonwealth. Probably the choice was made for us by the powers that be. Has any special benefit accrued to Sri Lanka as a result? Has it done anything to relieve the suffering inflicted on the peaceful citizens for having defeated terrorism and saved democracy? Has it ever intervened on our behalf in such situations?

Mr D.L. Sirimanne ends his interesting article “Celebrating 75th Anniversary of Independence” (The Island/Opinion/January 18, 2023) with the following paragraph, which prompted this response:

‘It is almost 75 years since Sri Lanka obtained Independence from Britain and unfortunately the country was misruled and ruined by ignorant avaricious unpatriotic Sinhalese leaders fighting for power. It is now a bankrupt nation and 80% of the population is starving without food, fuel and medicine. It a disgrace to plan celebrating 75 years of ‘misrule’ as ’75 years of Independence.’ The 4th February 2023 should be a day of repentance and religious prayers to God, Allah and all the Devas to make Sri Lanka a prosperous and happy nation, with freedom and equality to all its multinational and multireligious citizens in the very near future.’

That within the last seventy-five years since the end of British occupation there have been some ‘ignorant avaricious unpatriotic Sinhalese leaders fighting for power’ is undeniable. We have living examples in the highest places even today. But to say that the country has been misruled and ruined solely by these unpatriotic Sinhalese leaders is a crass generalization that arbitrarily transfers all blame to the leaders of the Sinhala majority, while exonerating the few communalists among the minority politicians, who are actually even more responsible for retarding the forward march of post-independence Sri Lanka by adopting hostile attitudes to nationally beneficial changes proposed by Sinhalese leaders.

The Sinhalese voters, whenever they have the chance to do so, democratically elect their parliamentary representatives, hoping or requiring that they make laws for governing the country for the good of all its citizens regardless of multifarious differences among them. On every occasion that they felt persuaded that the leader who would be able to bring in necessary changes to transform the country so that this goal could be fully realized, they elected him or her with tremendous majorities, which were augmented by at least some votes from the minorities as well, such as when they elected Mr Bandaranaike in 1956, Mrs Bandaranaike in 1970, Mr Jayawardane in 1977, Mrs Chandrika Bandaranaik Kumaratungae in 1994, Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010, and Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019. In all these cases, they were elected on a nationalist platform, not on a communalist basis. Although ordinary Tamil and Muslim voters are as fair-minded and as democratic as the ordinary Sinhalese voters, the ruling elite of each minority community rouse communal feelings among its polity against the majority for their own advantage, rather than for that of the community they claim to represent. The evil practice of political horse-trading between majority and minority politicians seems to have come to stay. Global and regional superpowers exploit this situation to push their geopolitical agendas at the expense of Sri Lanka.

Mr Sirimanne’s wish for ‘a prosperous and happy nation, with freedom and equality to all its multinational and multireligious citizens’ is what all right-minded Sri Lankans have shared and have been slowly but surely moving towards since 1948. The British adopted the infamous divide and rule imperial policy, which is still being used against us. The term ‘multinational’ is problematic for our small country in that it denotes a number of nations, which means it promotes division. To say that we are a multiethnic or multiracial and multicultural nation is better for establishing ‘freedom and equality’ for all Sri Lankans. They already enjoy these. If there are any lapses, they are common to all communities.

The solution is not to try to return to the alleged Utopia that the British are believed by some to have bequeathed to us at independence (for such wasn’t the reality), or to overlook the 1972 change as insignificant, but to make way for the young of the country today to make a correct assessment of what has been achieved and what has not been achieved by the previous generations since independence (who were no less patriotic, no less proactive than them) and forge ahead with new insights, new visions, and appropriate course corrections as our ancestors did during crises to ensure our survival for so long as one people in spite of manifold differences among us.


Sri Lanka: Is recolonisation the final solution?


First of all, let me express my sincere respects to Mr D.L. Sirimanne, the writer of the interesting article entitled ‘Celebrating 75th Anniversary of Independence’ (The Island/Opinion/January 18, 2023). He struck me as a venerable old man, who, at 103 years of age, still thinks about the welfare of his fellow Sri Lankans. It is rare for a person of that age to be so clear-headed and lucid in his writing. His generous spirit and his literary activity may be one reason for his healthy longevity, I think. His mention of retired aviator turned writer Elmo Jayawardana, whom  I highly admire for the same altruistism of character and the same literary gifts that Mr Sirimanne displays, made me check out whatever other information is available about him online. Actually, I had never come across the name D.L. Sirimanne before I read his Sat Mag feature in The Island ‘An epic Air Ceylon charter flight…….’ on October 24, 2020, which I re-visited today and which enabled me to relive the delightful experience of reading it. I also watched an old TV interview uploaded to the You Tube, featuring him. We have very few unsung heroes like Mr Sirimanne. It was time well spent, I thought, although I do not share his views about the history of Sri Lanka, the hallowed and historic homeland of the Sinhalese, their inalienable Motherland, or his opinion about the primary cause of the economic mess that Sri Lanka is currently undergoing. But the old ghosts he recalls in the otherwise excellent essay that he’s written had better be exorcized once and for all, for denigrating the majority Sinhalese community and belittling their history which is synonymous with that of their island home, based entirely on wrong assumptions, will definitely undermine all attempts to bring political stability, economic prosperity, and intercommunal harmony to Sri Lanka.

Please rest assured, Mr Sirimanne, my writing this will not detract in the least from my deepest admiration for you. You are not wrong in holding the views that you are sharing with the readers, given the time that you spent your youth, the most vibrant years of your life. It is only that times have changed, new discoveries have been made in science leading to the emergence of new technologies, and corresponding advances in the ever expanding universe of human knowledge, including such domains as astronomy, psychology, social sciences, art, culture, politics, history and archaeology and so on, in the light of which we are developing a better, more accurate idea of our past among other things. Something that has not changed, though, as far as our country is concerned, is the interfering ghost of departed Western colonialism, that is largely responsible for our problems. 

The fact that we are surrounded by the ocean has determined the nature of our evolution as an independent civilization, and the character of our commercial, cultural and political/diplomatic relations we have had with the outside world. As island dwellers, quite naturally, we have always been wary of foreigners though we have always treated them hospitably; we have been always independent spirited, and protective of our land, and our Buddhist culture. Before the depredations of European occupation, we, as an island nation had an extensive global reach on account of trade and our Buddhist spiritual culture. Groups of people and individuals travelled into as well as out of the island in connection with the last mentioned. The main body of the original inhabitants of the island were saved from being numerically overwhelmed by the influx of large numbers of immigrants from the relatively less hospitable or less inhabitable lands around, due to the sea barrier. Foreign commercial-cum-military powers that made incursions into the island from the legendary Vijaya to the British mercantile/imperial power at the end of the 18th century had first come as traders, attracted by the natural riches of the country. (According to new scientific findings in historiography and archaeology, the legendary Vijaya and the later invader Elara who ruled at Anuradhapura (205-161 BCE) were actually connected with trade.)

Mr Sirimanne seems to come from the minuscule Westernized,English speaking, Christian ‘elite’ society, the comprador class of the native population, that lived in relative comfort and  probably didn’t worry too much about independence from the British.They were akin to the ‘mimic men’ in Trinidad-born English novelist V.S. Naivpaul’s novel by that name, who tried to be what the imperial British did not allow them to be. But this was at the expense of the vast mass of the downtrodden  colonized ‘natives’, who were subjected to flagrant exploitation and relentless dehumanization, something that reminds me of what journalist and novelist Robert McCrum says about the lack of moral justification for the comfortable lifestyle of the rich upper crust of the Anglo-American society today: “No one dwelling in comfort on the higher ground of Anglo-American society should ever forget that a brutal trade in human lives was a motor of the British and American economies throughout the eighteenth and part of the nineteenth century….”. (Globish, Viking, 2010). McCrum, of course, is referring to the slave trade.

In the case of Sri Lanka and its large northern neighbour India, this period of European imperial exploitation became most virulent for the two centuries from around the mid-18th to the mid-20th century. (It looks as if, in the West dominated global media, this history is being fast sanitized.)  Former Indian diplomat and writer Dr Shashi Tharoor (who served at the UN for twenty-nine years, ending his stint there as Under Secretary General), in his ‘INGLORIOUS EMPIRE: What the British did to India’ (Scribe, Melbourne and London, 2018) tells the thoroughly researched true story of the British in India – from the arrival of the East India Company to the end of the Raj – and reveals how Britain’s rise was built upon its plunder of India. However, the careful reader understands that Tharoor’s purpose is not to narrate a sequence of events and tell a story as such, but to critically study the legacy the British left in India and to demolish arguments that try to support claims for alleged benefits of colonial rule. (However, Tharoor does not deny that the British did leave, incidentally though, a few treasures, such as a democratic form of government, and the English language.) Delhi-based historian William Dalrymple’s ‘THE ANARCHY: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company’ (Bloomsbury Publishing Company, London, 2019) is a riveting narrative that tells the story of how the (British) East India Company transformed itself from an international trading corporation into something quite different: an aggressive colonial power in the guise of a multinational business run by English merchants collecting taxes from the impoverished natives using a ruthless private army. 

Sri Lanka is very small compared to India in terms of area. India is roughly 46 times the size of Sri Lanka and its population roughly 64 times. But internationally, we are accepted as an independent sovereign state similar to India that enjoys full fledged membership of the United Nations. There is nothing unusual about this. There are dozens of countries with even smaller populations than ours, such as Burkino Faso, Chile, Malavi, Mali, Romania, Zambia, etc., that stand as independent sovereign states. We are not, by any means, inferior to India as a sovereign nation.     

To liken Ceylon (or Sri Lanka) to ‘a brilliant emerald on the beautiful pendant of Mother India’ is to imply that our country is/was an appendage of India! It never was, but present day Indian politicians appear to wish it was, and even to behave as if it already is, and some of our own worthless unpatriotic politicians seem to agree! How can a Sri Lankan celebrate a ‘Mother India’, instead of Mother Lanka? To be colonized by foreign invaders is not an experience that can be or should be forgotten with glib talk. No self-respecting nation in the world will relish that humiliating experience. We are a people with an honourable history. Our country has been called Sihele or Sivhela or Sinhale or Sinhaladipa (the europeanized ‘Ceylon’ is a derivative of Sihele), or Lanka, as it is often referred to in the 5th century CE Mahavansa or the Great Chronicle and as it is usually called in colloquial Sinhala even today, and Tamilized as Ilankei. (Incidentally, all the quotations from the Mahavansa and its continuation the Cuavansa found in this essay are from Mudaliyar L. C. Wijesinghe’s translation of 1889.) 

Sri Lanka had survived 17 invasions from South India before the European phase of colonization actually started at the beginning of the 17th century (1602), though the fortuitous arrival of the Portuguese happened almost a century earlier in 1505. The Portuguese were in Sri Lanka till they were driven away in 1658 by the Dutch, who in their turn gave way to the British in 1796. The British helped themselves to the maritime provinces of the country previously occupied by the other two European powers. All these invasions and occupations met with the fiercest resistance from the native Sinhalese  population. They did not bring Tamils from South India to fight these wars. Jayantha Somasundaram claimed in an article published in The Island a couple of months ago that the Sinhalese did not go to war against invaders because as Buddhists they did not want to kill. This is a deliberate falsehood. Of course, it is true that when there was internecine strife, Sinhalese kings sometimes brought in mercenaries from South India as when Mugalan did in order to challenge his half-brother Kasyapa of Sigiriya in the 5th century CE. Invader Magha of Kalinga brought an army of Kerala mercenaries (according to Chapter 80 of the Mahavansa (in the form of Culavansa written in the 13th century CE by a Buddhist Bhikkhu named Dhammakitti) to fight against the ruler of Lanka at the time Parakrama Pandyan of Polonnaruwa in 1215 CE. By the time of the British advent at the end of the 18th century, the interior part of the island formed the Kandyan kingdom or the diminished kingdom of Sinhale hemmed in all sides by occupied territories; but it had itself repeatedly and heroically foiled European military occupation. It was only through subtle diplomatic intrigue that it was annexed to the British Empire in 1815.  

Even my father (who was of Mr D.L. Sirimanne’s generation), though he was no historian, scoffed at the implausibility of the Mahavansa story about prince Vijaya. “How could we be descendants of a lion, an animal, and still be humans?” he used to say. He also ridiculed the Aryan claim in the Hitlerian sense. He only believed in the word ‘Arya’ as it is used in Buddhism, that is, to refer to a spiritually advanced person. But Mr Sirimanne seems to have no issue with the ‘Aryan’ identity of the Sinhalese, who had allegedly come from Sinhapura in North India.  Mr Sirimanne believes that the tribes that inhabited the place when prince Vijaya landed at Tambapanni, known as Yakkas and Nagas, were ‘probably Hindus from South India’. He has left out the Devas and the Rakshas, the other two of the four indigenous tribes who are believed to have inhabited the island then. 

However, the Vijaya legend must have a nucleus of historical truth in it. It might be based on an actual invasion by a north Indian prince, who initiated a dynasty that imported princes from the mythical Sinhapura to rule at Tambapanni. The subject Yakkas’ Sinhalese identity must have derived from the natural admixture at that stage of the native Yakkas with the members of the invading north indian ‘Aryan’ clan. There definitely had developed a struggle between the invaders and the local elite over sovereignty by the time of the death of king Panduvasudeva (who reigned at Tambapanni from 504 to 474 BCE). In fact, Pandukabhaya (born in 474 BCE, the year his grandfather died) who ascended the throne at Anuradhapura after a protracted military struggle against his uncles is considered the first truly Lankan monarch (but the 6th king overall) since Vijaya. The Mahavansa story (found in Ch. 10) about the emergence of Pandukabhaya features a number of real Yakkhas and Yakkhinis, who are shown to be as much human as those who had come from Sinhapura (though they are presented with a supernatural touch.) 

But today we know for sure that the Yakkas were the real ancestors of the Sinhalese (Kuveni was a Yakka princess), and that they were also contemporaneous with the Veddas. The fake classification of the Veddas as ‘aadivasin’ (aborigines) by Western anthropologists was probably meant to deny the Sinhalese their autochthonous origin in this island.  Yakka language inscriptions have been found and deciphered, one of which, according to archaeology Professor Raj Somadeva, declares “api yakku” we are yakkas. The Mahavansa says that the missionary Mahinda Thera preached Buddhism ‘in the language of the islanders’, which was undoubtedly, the Yakka language, the ancient version of Sinhala, that was in circulation then. 

The most powerful factor, next to genetics, that distinguishes one race from another is its language. In the case of the Sinhalese it is the Sinhala language with its unique vocal sound system, its own grammar and vocabulary. (Words like vatura for water, vee for rice paddy, haal/sahal for(rice, bath for cooked rice, kamata for threshing floor, gala  for rock, and so on are original Sinhala words, not borrowed from any other language; another original Sinhala word is ‘wewa’ (turned into Pali form in the chronicles as waapi)), meaning an artificial water reservoir constructed by building a dam across a valley for storing water for agricultural irrigation during rainless months. However, down the ages, contact with the North Indian languages of Pali or Magadi and Sanskrit has heavily hybridized the Sinhala vocabulary. This is the reason why Sanskrit-derived Hindi and Bengali languages sound more familiar and are more easily intelligible to the Sinhalese than the Dravidian languages of South India such as Tamil or Malayalam (a few elements from the last two can also be detected, particularly in spoken (non-formal, non-literary) Sinhala…


Source: The Island

What does Ranil Wickremasinghe have up his sleeve? 

Whatever it is, equipped with his education, native intelligence and acquired political wisdom, he will be able to hold the country whole until it passes lawfully into the hands of the uncorrupt patriotic young generation that is waiting in the wings in patient silence (not into those of the ignorant noisy buffoons in the ‘aragalaya‘). 

A number of sacrilegious attacks have been made in recent times on the Sri Dalada (the Sacred Tooth Relic) in Kandy, astonishingly by some Buddhists. The two most recent instances are: Sepala Amerasinghe, an elderly YouTuber, committing repeated verbal sacrilege by calling the Tooth Relic a ‘labba’ (an impolite word implying a pendant male sexual organ) in his videos; the other instance may be described as a form of desecration of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy where the the Tooth Relic is housed: a kind of faith-healing veda mahattaya/native physician (a notorious charlatan and a crooked businessman according to social media accounts) by the name of Janaka C. Senadhipathi is building at Potuhera, Kurunegala, an unauthorized replica of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, claiming that the sacred relic will be miraculously transported to his new shrine from the Kandy Sri Dalada Maligawa, which according to him, is polluted by the materialistic corruption of its present custodians). It is ironic that these acts take place (by design or coincidence) only a few days after president Ranil Wickremesinghe showed his desire to have a special exposition of the Dalada ahead of the next independence day due to be held in February. The president is obviously hoping to achieve something of tremendous importance for the nation that he seems to think is significant enough to be celebrated with a Dalada exhibition. What this epoch making development probably is not a mystery to adult Sri Lankans who have some idea about the dynamics of post-independence politics in Sri Lanka. It must be something to do with the final settlement of the so-called Tamil national problem or the implementation of 13A+.

This confronts the nation with a dilemma concerning Ranil Wickremesinghe as everybody’s  (225 in parliament’s and the general public’s) refuge/saviour: it is the general public perception that, at this moment, there is no political leader who can at least try to bring about some sort of economic stability to the country except Ranil Wickremasinghe. But will he be able to garner enough parliamentary support to implement 13A+? To compound the confusion, there is the problem of holding the lawfully scheduled local government elections, the likely result of which will not strengthen the mutually dependent parliament+president combine, nor benefit the nation economically or politically. The people will question: Why are you so particular about sticking to the electoral laws at this critical juncture where the flagrant violation of other existing vital laws such as the antiquities ordinances has introduced a previously non-existent religious and racial dimension to the country’s political divisions? But be that as it may. Let’s return to our present topic.

Since the arrival of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka in the 4th century CE (this is well recorded in the Mahavamsa and other chronicles), a tradition evolved according to which the ruler of the island acquired the legitimacy of his sovereignty by virtue of the possession of the sacred relic. The Dalada was held in a shrine within the palace complex. The shrine itself later came to be called ‘Maligawa’ or palace, the residence of the king, because of this connection between sovereignty and the sacred relic. Due to this reason, the Dalada was subject to changing hands between external invaders or internal rivals and the reigning monarchs in troublous times, as happened several times before the European advent in the island and after. The desacralization of the sacred relic and the attempted dilution of the sanctity of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy could be premeditated. Though it is  well known that the Dalada has neither any connection with, nor bears any responsibility for, the current economic and political crises, it has become a target for attack concerning even natural disasters. Sepala Amerasinghe mentioned above, before calling the Dalada a ‘labba’ for which offence he has been arrested and remanded till January 17, blamed the recent floods in Kandy caused by heavy rain on the ‘kunu datha’ (rotten tooth) in one of his videos. This was an oblique reference to the traditionally held belief among Buddhists that the Dalada has rain making powers. Such beliefs (and relic worship itself for that matter) are not found in Theravada Buddhism, but are imports from the Mahayana tradition which are now part of the local Buddhist religious culture.

So there seems to be a deliberate attempt by certain inimical forces  to dilute or totally negate the symbolic power of the Sacred Tooth Relic for the majority Sinhalese Buddhist polity. It is the bounden duty of the government on behalf of all concerned citizens to investigate what sinister force is behind these incidents and take remedial action. But there are no blasphemy laws in Buddhism. When a TouTuber brought the ‘kunu data’ insult to their notice by phone, the Anu Nayake Theras of both Malwatte showed little concern about it. It was when several concerned lay Buddhists complained to them again about Sepala Amerasinghe repeatedly making sacrilegious statements that the Mahanayake Theras and the Diyawadana Nilame, the guardian of the Maligawa, wrote to the president about it.

Incidentally, Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to be lurking protectively behind Senadhipathi. The former’s erstwhile sidekick Mervin Silva visited Potuhera, and ordered the demolition of the front part of the building in question, declaring that there should be only one Dalada Maligawa, the one in Kandy and that the rest of structures in the place must remain. Mervin Silva was reported to have threatened with death social activist Nilantha Ranasinghe who had raised the issue in public and exposed Senadhipathi’s questionable activities with audio, video and print evidence. Mervin Silva told another YouTuber (named Chaturanga Bandara) that Mahinda Rajapaksa phoned him to thank him for what he did.)  Mahinda exploited the nationalist groundswell to sweep the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary elections against the previous infamous yahapalanaya led by prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and president Maithripala Sirisena; but he totally betrayed that victory through the entrenched corruption he supported among his stooges and his own obsession with dynastic rule, which ultimately brought repeatedly rejected Ranil Wickremasinghe to the helm. Mahinda seems to have so morally weakened in parallel with his obvious physical degeneration as to make a futile attempt to salvage his lost popularity among the Buddhist voters by championing fake ‘Bosath’ Janaka Senadhipathi, with the help of thuggish Mervin. 

To return to the beginning, the media reported (December 24, 2022) that a request that president Ranil Wickremasinghe made for a special exposition of the Sacred Tooth Relic before February 2023 when Sri Lanka completes seventy-five years of independence did not get a positive response from either of the two Ven. Mahanayake Theras of the Siam Nikaya, Malwatte and Asgiriya, in Kandy, who are joint custodians of the Sri Dalada Maligawa. The president’s request was conveyed to the prelates in a letter from him personally delivered to them by prime minister Dinesh Gunawardane, who expressly called on them for the purpose. The Malwatte prelate, according to the news reports, suggested that the PM should approach the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera about this as it is the latter’s turn at the moment to be in charge of the service at the Dalada Maligawa. When the premier visited the  Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera with the president’s proposal or appeal, the latter wonderingly asked him  if a Tooth Relic exposition at this juncture wasn’t a difficult task to perform.

With hindsight one would hazard a guess that the two Buddhist prelates of the Siam Nikaya, namely the Most Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera of the Malwatte Chapter and the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, especially the former, might accommodate the presidential wish, if  Buddhist public opinion also favours it. There are two other nikayas, Ramanna and Amarapura, which signed an agreement to merge in August 2019; the expected merger was a step in the right direction, for the Maha Sangha unity is indispensable for the survival of the Buddhasasanaya as a religious cultural establishment. The living component of the Buddhasasanaya is the ‘sivvanak pirisa’ or the fourfold community of male and female bhikshus and male and female lay Buddhists. This is not a political entity, but a religious one, though it needs state protection (just as it enjoyed full royal patronage under Sinhala kings before the time of foreign invasions); in this, the Sinhala Buddhist community  is not different from other religious communities. (In Sri Lanka, 70% of the ethnically and religiously diverse total population comprise Buddhists.) No religion is more compatible with the best form of government evolved to date, democracy than Buddhism, though it is not your average religion. Bhikkhus and Bhikshunis may personally hold different political views, and even exercise their voting rights as they please, as citizens, but it is not proper for them to engage in partisan politics, because that would definitely cause divisions within the fourfold community of Buddhists. The clergy must leave active politics involving campaigning and electioneering entirely to the lay Buddhists. May the Mahanayakes have the wisdom to tell the president not to desecrate the Sri Dalada by dragging it into politics.

However, traditionally and historically, Buddhist monks have wielded great power over the Buddhist community including the rulers. Currently though, they are becoming increasingly powerless, mainly because of their meddling in politics, patronizing corrupt politicians, and also because of the Mahanayake Theras’ incomprehensible inaction and disunity. President Wickremesinghe’s seemingly cynical suggestion must be viewed in this context. Is he, through having a special Tooth Relic exposition held to coincide with the implementation of whatever solution he proposes to the Tamil ethnic problem, trying to make palatable to the Sinhala Buddhist majority something they would not normally look upon with favour. Is he bringing back an earlier unpopular deal that sent him and his party home at the hustings? But Ranil is too intelligent to repeat past errors.

I am tempted to say this because Ranil Wickremesinghe, unlike his predecessors Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, does not usually make a show of unfelt religious piety for hoodwinking the masses. If he wants, he uses religion in a more street-smart way. Unlike the latter duo again, he is no religious hypocrite; he doesn’t even care to show if he is really a Buddhist (which of course is right, and befits a genuine Buddhist). The important thing, I think, is that he seems to know that ordinary Buddhist voters, true to their faith, do not worry too much about whether he is a Buddhist or a non-Buddhist. (Unfortunately, however, global scale media distortion against them demonizes Sinhalese Buddhists as racist chauvinists and religious fanatics simply because circumstances force them to raise their voice when their human rights are violated by others (such as unethical conversion of Buddhists, encroachment or vandalizing or desecration of Buddhist archaeological sites, deliberate distortion of historical and Buddhist doctrinal facts).

What is happening in Sri Lanka in this respect, hardly recognized or taken seriously by the global powers that be, is doubtlessly a crime against humanity carried out by an externally well funded medley of subversive organizations and individuals, that is getting more and more explicit and more and more overpowering in the Sri Lanka’s present economically and politically debilitated situation. It can be argued that the same forces that are behind this insidious barbarity are at least partly responsible for worsening the political and economic maelstrom that is currently engulfing Sri Lanka, despite the abundance of  rich natural resources and the  high quality of the human resources locally available, both of which its citizens can be justly proud of.

For president Wickremasinghe to want a special Dalada exposition he must be contemplating to consecrate, as it were, something momentous like a nationally important historic event concurrently with government celebrations that will mark the completion of seventy-five years of independence (whatever the last word is held to mean) from British colonial occupation. When it comes to true freedom from Britain, we believe that the 1948 independence was eclipsed by the promulgation of the republican constitution in 1972 under the United Front government of Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike. Yet, it looks like that Wickremasinghe wants to return to the Western fold by ignoring the 1972 change, which was not supported by the Illankei Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Lanka Tamil Kingdom/State Party/or misleadingly called the Federal Party in English) founded in 1949 by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, an immigrant Tamil from Malaysia. (The clamour for a separate state for Tamils started soon after the grant of so-called independence, which was actually nothing more than dominion status. The 1972 declaration of Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was until then known among foreigners and English speaking locals) as a republic severed that last link with the  British empire.

 Sri Lankans are a democratic people. Ranil Wickremesinghe or any other political leader could easily accommodate the legitimate interests of the global and regional superpowers that the country’s geographical location makes it obligatory for it to satisfy, if he did it with the people’s full democratic approval, while at the same time preserving their national dignity, sovereignty and independence.     

When in 2019 Wickremesinghe and the UNP that he still leads got kicked out of parliament, he had spent forty-two years in that august body as elected member serving repeatedly in responsible senior positions over that long period as cabinet minister, opposition leader, and prime minister, and now as president at least by default. Ranil Wickremasinghe the politician has nothing more to win or lose in his life; he has nothing to look forward to, except perhaps a dignified obituary. But he suddenly finds ‘greatness thrust upon him’ by a strange turn of events in a context where  Sri Lankans of all religious and political persuasions are up against the wall economically and politically. The Sinhalese Buddhists, in addition to this adverse global predicament experienced, not only in Sri Lanka, but across most of the world outside, are simply facing a form of cultural genocide as argued above. It is expediently connived at by our corrupt traitorous self-seeking politicians and blithely indulged by an apparently unconcerned, blissfully ignorant Maha Sangha.

Ranil Wickremasinghe can still use his intellectual superiority and political acumen to rescue our nation.

Rectifying history to vandalize it: Pujya K. Ariyamagga’s pain


A Youtube video (uploaded December 27, 2022) with the alarmist caption බුදුන් ඉපදුණු මේ ලංකාවට සිදු වු අපරාදෙ අපිත් දැන ගනිමුද  (Let’s be aware of the enormity of the injustice perpetrated on Sri Lanka where the Buddha was born) captured my attention this morning (January 1, 2023), both because of the sensationalism of the title and its association with the popular youtuber Harindra Jayalal who presents its content as an important news bulletin from a so-called ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization (presumably based in the UK). Five days after uploading, the video has got about 8,500 views, and only 301 subscribers. Though Harindra Jayalal presents it as a newsflash under ‘Breaking News’, the maker of the video is someone who chooses to obscure their identity by describing it as a DANAPALA VIDEO. While watching the video, though, I felt that Harindra himself made this video as a strong believer in the controversial new hypothesis that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka. But again, I thought ‘could a person like Harindra subscribe to such an improbable concoction’? In terms of my experience, Harindra is far too rational, educated, cultured and knowledgeable to embrace such a harebrained ideology. I believe that he is too honest to prostitute his journalism for mercenary ends.

Lucidity, idiomaticity, and precision of expression characterize Harindra Jayalal’s Sinhala. Such linguistic elegance is not common among ordinary Sinhala language Youtubers. His professionalism and sophistication as a journalist are hard to match. However, the emphatic positive tone of voice that he adopts right through to the end of the presentation cannot be due to any real personal commitment to the authenticity of the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ claim. Instead, by lending his patronage to this video, he may be helping out a struggling new youtuber through his own established fame. Yet, Harindra seems to be here overdoing his generosity because, his apparent espousal of that extremely anti-national heresy, might only provide some justification for the insidious process of cultural genocide that is being carried out, unknown to most ordinary Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities, against the country’s innocent Sinhala Buddhist majority, something that has been going for decades now. 

Be that as it may, according to this ‘news flash’, “…. The Ariya Kammattahna Sanvidhanaya/Ariya Kammattahna Organization led by a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk named Ariyamagga, resident in Europe, is going to sue the British government. He has taken steps to institute legal action against government officials who served during British colonial times. He charges that Britain has distorted historical information relating to the subcontinent of  India and that his fundamental rights are being violated by officials serving today in their place by intentionally failing to rectify those distortions. ……. The case names the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs, the State Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, Secretary of State for Tourism Zones and National Heritage, and the Secretary of State for Education as respondents……the court action will go ahead as the violations are continuing……”. (This is from the opening of the spoken text of the video as roughly translated by me from Sinhala as other relevant parts of the same spoken script found in the rest of this essay;  details such as names of ministries may not exactly tally with the real ones. – RRW)

The ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization argues that Britain has violated provisions of various legal statutes that it cites such as Britain’s 1998 Human Rights Act, the 1988 Copyrights, Designs, and Patents Act, and the 1907 Hague Convention. It demands that at least certified photocopies of the ancient ola leaf books stashed away in British libraries and museums be made available (to it on behalf of Sri Lankans) free of charge without reserving copyrights and that steps be taken to provide funds for new archaeological excavations needed to correct those (deliberately introduced) errors in our country’s history. 

The plaintiff organization pleads that (the British government) acknowledge that the school education system established under the colonial administration disseminated for public consumption false information without any foundation in Sri Lankans’ (collective) national and religious identity, and also that (the British government) tender an apology to the general public of the world for the crimes committed.

In Sri Lanka’s ancient chronicles, Buddhist literature and even in colloquial parlance in Buddhist religious contexts today the name Jambudipa (Pali) or Dambadiva (Sinhala) refers to the subcontinent of India. But according to the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ theorists, Jambudeepa was in the eastern part of Sri Lanka (if we imagine the map of the country as vertically divided with a line into east and west). A central claim made in the aforementioned plea for justice is that the true location of the Jambudipa where the founder of Theravada Buddhism, Gotama Samana, was born and lived and the locations of its cities and Buddhist holy sites were conspiratorially concealed from the world and that these venues were substituted by those in India by deliberately  altering the maps of Sri Lanka and India. This is alleged to have misled the Theravada Buddhist adherents and deprived them of their right to know the truth about their spiritual master. (By ‘Theravada Buddhists’ the petitioner ‘We Rectify Our History’ organization means Sinhalese Buddhists.) What does it aim to achieve for them by asserting the following harmful falsehood?  

“Having been misled (by false information) as explained above, the Buddhists of today mistake Hindu and Jain holy places to be Buddhist ones and go to worship at them. This is a tragic state of affairs” according to the plaint. But we know it is not. What is there tragic about it, even  if the alleged fraudulent deed actually happened? On the contrary, it would be a happy state of affairs. Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists have much in common (tolerance, nonviolence, compassion, humility, mind culture, inner search for truth, etc.) and have no problem visiting each other’s shrines without being challenged as impure infidels or non-believers. Community of basics makes for intercommunal peace and peaceful coexistence, as has always been the case in Sri Lanka between Hindus and Buddhists. However, this ludicrous complaint lets the cat out of the bag.

The ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ idea is obviously a piece of fiction carefully thought up by some evil minded individual or group to confuse the credulous unsophisticated, grievously ill informed (embarrassingly large) section of the Sinhalese Buddhist community about their religion as well as their history for some political and/or religious advantage. Those who stand to gain by this may be having a field day at present. They must be laughing their heads off in private at the silliness of those Buddhists who have swallowed this and other similar  fabrications (such as the mythical Ravana being their progenitor) hook line and sinker. 

 Believers in the ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ myth might be induced to sever even their sentimental links with places that they correctly believed to be historic Buddhist places of worship in Sri Lanka later built over by invaders. The misguided adherents of the fiction will forget the Sacred Buddha Gaya/Bodh Gaya in India, which our indefatigable Anagarika Dharmapala did much to reclaim for the world Buddhists as he knew it was his historic responsibility as a ‘Sinhale’ Buddhist to do so. (This is because after the missionary Mahinda Thera introduced Theravada Buddhism to Sri Lanka, its scriptures that had been until then transmitted orally was committed to writing there in the 1st century BCE and was preserved for posterity, making the island the repository of Theravada Buddhism. By the end of the 19th century CE, Buddhism had almost entirely disappeared from India due to Muslim invasions and anti-Buddhism Hinduist influence.) Dharmapala met with limited success, no doubt, but it was a great achievement, even an epoch making one, considering his smallness when pitted against the powerful opponents he had to face in that Hindu dominated religious environment during the British Raj at the turn of the 20th century. Anagarika Dharmapala, in association with activists like journalist and poet Sir Edwin Arnold from the British intelligentsia, laid the foundation for the current Buddhist revival in India. Today India is rediscovering and restoring its lost Buddhist heritage, for example in the form of rebuilding the ancient Buddhist monastic University of Nalanda (427-1197 CE) burned down by Muslim invaders in the 12th century. This made it possible for Prime Minister Modi to shout out to the world not long ago: “India gave to the world the Buddha, not yuddha (war)”. India honoured Anagarika Dharmapala by issuing a postage stamp commemorating him in 2014.  

I came across a book written in Sinhala about this ‘Buddha was born in Sri Lanka’ argument. Its title translates as “Evidence to prove that the land of the Buddhas is none other than this ‘Heladiva’ or Sri Lanka: Debunking myths” (2018) by a writer named S. Ariyaratne. It is full of information drawn from authentic sources, but garbled by him through misinterpretation. The book  contains a lot of interesting but, scientifically unauthenticated details both about the dhamma and history, but without any serious supporting evidence or rational elucidation. In some instances Ariyaratne quotes from the Mahavansa, which he seems to modify in his interpretation to suit his thesis that the Buddha was born, lived, and died in Sri Lanka. One example: in Mudaliyar L.C. Wijesinghe’s translation (1889) of the Mahavansa the last verse of Chapter VI is as follows: “This prince named Vijaya, who had then attained the wisdom of experience, landed in the division Tambapanni of this land Lanka, on the day that the successor (of former Buddhas) reclined in the arbour of the two delightful sal trees, to attain nibbana”. Ariyaratne interprets the same Pali verse in Sinhala; his version can be rendered into English thus: “Prince Vijaya of steady wisdom arrived the day that the Tathagata lay down to attain nibbana (in the shade) between two sal trees in Lanka or Tamraparni whose branches were intertwined” (Page 210 of Ariyaratne’s book). 

Between pages 112-132, Ariyaratne looks at Anagarika Dharmapala’s work in India from his own uninformed jaundiced point of view. His unconvincing, idiosyncratic argument is that the Lankan Buddhist  missionary, misled by the suddas (Whites/Europeans), mistakenly identified  Bodh Gaya in India as the birthplace of the Buddha, but  that towards the end of his life, he showed signs that he realized his mistake. But it is only an unsubstantiated assumption on Ariyaratne’s part. He points out that the Bodhi tree found there is not the Bodhi tree under which ascetic Gotama attained enlightenment, which should true for the original probably disappeared during foreign invasions. He thinks Alexander Cunningham (the pioneer of what later became the Archaeological Survey of India)  planted the extant Bodhi tree  in 1870. Concerning this he mentions ‘Relighting the Lamp’ by Australian monk Bhante S. Dhammika (no stranger to English language newspaper readers in Sri Lanka). But Ariyaratne doesn’t seem to have carefully read what he makes reference to. Actually, ‘Relighting the Lamp’ is only the last (or 4th) section of that monk’s 241 page book ‘The Navel of the Earth: The History and Significance of Bodh Gaya’ (BPS, Kandy, 1996)’ between pp. 119-171. In that part of the book, Bhante Dhammika  has included a fairly detailed account of Dharmapala’s legitimate heroic struggle to acquire the sacred place for Buddhists. Dharmapala played a key role in ‘relighting the lamp’ in India. 

Bhante Shravasti Dhammika outlines the historical importance of Bodh Gaya in his preface to ‘The Navel of the Earth…..’:

“…..Bodh Gayā’s historical significance is due to it having a longer and more complete history than almost any other place in the subcontinent, a history supplemented by epigraphical and literary sources from China and Tibet, Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Nor is this history merely an outline of events or a list of doubtful dates, as so often encountered in the study of India’s past. Rather, it includes detailed descriptions of Bodh Gayā’s now vanished temples and shrines, accounts of the elaborate ceremonies and doctrinal disputes that once took place there, and even details of how time was kept in its monasteries. This history is also made more interesting by the participation of some of Asia’s greatest personalities, from Asoka to Curzon, from Xuanzang to Anāgārika Dharmapāla…..” 

The book also supplies information about the conspicuous presence of Buddhist monks from Simhale (Sri Lanka) and the construction of religious buildings in Jambudipa including Bodh Gaya under Sinhalese royal patronage. In the 4th century, Sinhalese king Meghavanne (304-332 CE) built a special monastery at the place of Buddha’s Enlightenment – the Bodh Gaya Monastery. It survived there for a millennium, functioning as a major monastic university complex. It operated along with two other Buddhist universities,the famous  Nalanda and Vikramashila monastic universities, which came into existence later. 

The author of “The Navel of the Earth…” is an extremely more reliable authority on the history of the Buddha’s birthplace than Ariyaratne. In fact, the erudite Bhante S. Dhammika, who is additionally an alumnus of the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, has devoted many years of his life for researching the subject, even traveling on foot where Buddha walked across that part of north India to and fro, preaching his message. He has written and published over a dozen books. A book by Bhante Dhammika published last year (2022) is ‘Lumbini’, which gives a short history of Lumbini “the first of the four major holy places of Buddhism, being where the person who was born to become Buddha was born”.

The truth is that, in my opinion, Ariyaratne is not at all worthy of comparison with Bhante Dhammika in this context. He has had no worthwhile academic training in either Buddhism or the history of Buddhism, not to speak about anything else that is ancillary such as the secular history of Sri Lanka and India. What may be taken as an autobiographical note on pp. 12-14 of Ariyaratne’s book mentioned above says that he was born in a small impoverished village in Nivitigala in 1972. At age 14, he was admitted to the Sangha order as a novice. He studied at a pirivena in Ratnapura, where he became a kind of loner allegedly trying to learn the dhamma in an unorthodox way, which meant  that he read material outside the prescribed syllabuses. Disgusted with the Sangha order at age 19 (i.e., before higher ordination), he disrobed, and became a layman again, reverting to his birth name Ariyaratne. But he claims that he continued his search in which he followed in the footsteps of such ‘Arya utuman’ (Arhants) as the infamous and totally ignorant  Waharaka (Abhayarathanalankara) and Meewanapalane (Siri Dhammalankara)!! Meewanapalane has been officially excommunicated by the Malwatte Nikaya, but he continues to preach to a dwindled audience. Waharaka died in 2017 and his death was described as ‘Parinibbana’!, a term used only in the case of the passing away of an Arhant, most usually in referring to the death of the Buddha. It is an abomination to abuse that terminology to apply to the death of a sinful fake Arhant. (There is a great possibility, nay probability, that these are plants intended to destroy the Buddha Sasanaya, which is the breath and being of our over 2500 year old Lankan/Heladiva civilization. Those who bristle at this, please listen to the advice of the Buddha in the Kalama Sutta, and independently find out  their hollowness by studying samples of their preachings.) 

Ariyamagga Thera who is the main motivator of the ‘We Rectify Our History’ project as well as  the leader of the so-called Ariya Kammattahna Organization may belong to the same group of rogues in robes. (I googled the name Ariyamagga Thero, but failed to find any monk by that name or an organization he heads, except the name in Sinhala characters ‘Pujya K. Ariyamagga’.) The theme ‘We Rectify Our History’ probably comes from Ariyaratne’s book, p. 116, where the author writes “Let’s rectify mistakes in our history by ourselves”. Isn’t it possible that some eccentric uneducated zealots have also been recruited or are simply being used as ownerless donkeys by the prime movers of a global conspiracy against the Sinhalese and their Buddhist culture? 

It is true that the British stole many archaeological treasures including ola leaf manuscripts of inestimable value from Sri Lanka. At least some of them are being preserved in British libraries and museums. They are waiting to be reclaimed by us through proper channels. This is not the time to get them, as we can understand, given the debilitating economic and political difficulties Sri Lanka is experiencing. This task should actually be left to present and future young generations. Ariyamagga’s silly move could be a preemptive strike meant to foil such an attempt being made by young Sri Lankans even before it is initiated.

Harindra’s video ends with a glowing eulogy to Ariyamagga: “The intrepid step that this monk has taken, daring Britain’s ‘White Crown’ is a courageous and heroic move made against the British Empire by a citizen of Sihale ever since the defeat of the (armed) liberation struggle of Uva Wellassa of 1818”. I hear the chuckle of the conspirators behind this mock tribute to Pujya K. Ariyamagga. (END)