Editorial | Sunday Observer

Editorial

Reviving the Sangha

A case of ‘contempt of court’ caused by loudmouthed behaviour in court does not always receive a high degree of national and even international attention. But when it involves a member of the clergy, and that cleric has had a record of being seen publicly behaving in a similar or more disruptive manner in other state institutions and towards public officers, then, public attention is firmly fixed. Factor in this cleric’s inflammatory posturings of inter-ethnic confrontation, and the attention is international.

At the very least, such public attention to the prosecution and conviction of a venerable monk is a fitting counterpoint to the original social impact of the highly publicised actions by that monk, the Venerable Galaboda-Atthe Gnanasara Thera. Indeed, it is the very nature of this deliberately public, highly publicised, disruptive and, physically intimidatory behaviour, on the basis of a legitimised moral-ecclesiastic authority, that calls for the greatest possible public attention to this conviction.

The fact that this public misbehaviour has often targeted offices of the state, from the courts to government departments and even law and order establishments, adds to the need for attention, especially by all citizens’ groups actively concerned for the democracy that underpins our national well-being.

Too often have we seen on national television and on online internet services the saffron-robed figures forcing their way forward into national institutions, brushing aside – often with near-abuse – high officials to get their way completely circumventing normal (civilised) procedure.

To their credit, most officials – high and low – have attempted to stand up to these robed agitators, Indeed, the latest court conviction may not have been feasible if the officials who witnessed the misbehaviour had not bravely given evidence. Despite the agitating Theras’ onslaught on their own Vinaya, institutional discipline has stood firm.

Too often, in recent years, has such behaviour been the regular modus operandi of a select set of activist groups led by Theras. It bears the hallmarks of a deliberately adopted agitational method of politics. And such publicly disruptive and intimidatory behaviour has too often been done in the full view of the television and video cameras with the full knowledge of instant and massive public broadcast.

The demands, accusations and social-political threats made by these robed agitators and their followers indicate that their agitation is for the purpose of coercion to bend the will of the state either in terms of administrative authority or of state policy.

This country’s bureaucracy, if not all its political leaders, have withstood numerous attempts to challenge their institutional and administrative authority and integrity. Many have paid with their lives for resisting the diktat of insurgents north and south and even of rogue politicians.

It is notable that this new phenomenon of intimidation of the bureaucracy and the law and order establishment by a few small bands of Buddhist clergy has emerged during the previous regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Indeed, it with the success in such Thera misbehaviour – by simply getting away scot free – during the Rajapaksa government, that this has mushroomed into a small social movement on the basis of the social legitimacy earned through such impunity.

The agitational propaganda of these Theras must be noted by all those concerned with the flowering of the Buddha Sasana for which this island is most renowned. Sadly, due to the very misbehaviour of these Theras, the national constitution itself is being abused. Too often do these robed agitators evoke their ecclesiastical authority and, worse, justify their public exercises of coercion and intimidation on the basis of special status given to ‘their’ religion in the national constitution.

The challenge is for the Sangha and all the Buddhist faithful to come together to recognise the malignant phenomenon of such so-called Theras leading agitational campaigns that routinely resort to such extreme public misbehaviour. The sheer deliberate, public, dimension of this religio-cultural phenomenon is alarming evidence of the severity of erosion of the Vinaya before the eyes of the world.

It is time that the Sangha awakes to its modern societal reality – the context of its Mission to the world - and builds a modern system of internal governance that will enable the Sasana to more effectively strengthen the practice the Dhamma. Political leaderships, even those that once opportunistically encouraged such clerical misbehaviour, must acknowledge the dangerous impact of this misbehaviour on society as a whole.

The Government must fulfil its responsibility to uphold the special constitutional provisions for the nurturing the Sasana by facilitating serious introspection by the Sangha. Political leaders should support initiatives by the Buddhist public in also engaging in deep Dharmic and intellectual deliberations, including research that would result in ideas for the modernist revival of the Sangha.

Other Buddhist Theravada societies can help. Thailand, the most prosperous of Theravada Buddhist majority societies, benefitted from 19th century modernist reform of the Sangha by an energetic monarchy. While hoping that these groups of clerical agitators will learn from last week’s judicial stricture, we urge all patriotic Sri Lankans to support the Buddhist community as it grapples with this challenge to their cherished Dhamma and its many genuine mendicant devotees. 

Comments

All individuals must be subjected to same laws justice. Irespective eho they are in the country. It make judgement punishment holy and according to the law of the land