Venerable Galkande Dammananda thera, the Priest-in-Charge of Walpola Rahula Institute and lecturer of the University of Kelaniya, in an interview with the Dailymirror ‘’ said that religious leaders must first respect public opinion. Dhammananda Thera affirmed that Buddhist religious leaders must focus on ensuring the betterment of the entire society and empower people to think right. “Changing the current constitution and replacing it with a new one that attempts to rectify all the previous faults is one of the steps towards establishing a peaceful and harmonious society,” he said. Here are excerpts.
QThe Chief Prelates of the three main Buddhist chapters opposed the establishing of a new constitution speculating that it will create further conflict in the country. Another group of leading Buddhist priests, responding to the above, stated that the Government must continue with the drafting of the new constitution considering the suggestions proposed by the citizens. What is your view on this?
In this argument we have missed the most important point. That is strengthening and awakening the citizens to make a wise logical choice. Many policies and amendments were made during the past, but they become less effective if the people at the grassroots level aren’t matured enough to grasp the gravity of the concept. We must understand that we are living in a society where the majority of the people are battered by a three decade long war. Buddhism never accepts war as the solution to problems. A verse from the Dhammapada states ‘Jayam veram pasavati, dukkham seti parajito, upasanto sukham seti, hitva jayaparajayam.’ It means, ‘A conquest begets enmity; the conquered live in misery and the peaceful live having renounced conquest and defeat.’ Therefore a war at the end would create a group of grieving and lamenting people and on the other side a group of people nursing hatred. We need to heal and strengthen this war affected society to create peaceful minds. This would support the people to make a right choice regrading their futures.
QDo you think that, at present, the country needs a new constitution?
A change in the constitution was anticipated for nearly two decades. This has always been a prominent pledge by the majority of the political parties during elections. On numerous occasions people have supported this concept.
A constitution belongs to the citizens. Taking the current effort into consideration, citizens were given the opportunity to submit suggestions. According to the final report of the Pubic Representation Committee on Constitutional Reforms, over 4000 individuals/organisations, from all over the country, have forwarded proposals as oral and written representations. This they have done appearing before the Committee, via email, fax and by post. Even the Maha Nayaka Theras had the opportunity to forward suggestions on how the constitution should be, if they wanted to. If one special segment of the society urges the Government not to proceed with the formulation of a new constitution, it is a gesture of ignoring the submissions forwarded by the public. It’s not a sign of a healthy society. It’s a disgrace to democracy. No one has the right to reject a carefully drafted collective document that has extensively obtained public opinion.
- No one has the right to reject a carefully drafted collective document that has extensively obtained public opinion
- The Sinhala only Act and Black July are tragedies that should never be repeated
- We need to heal and strengthen this war affected society to create peaceful minds
- There is a political motive behind the allegation that there is a threat to Buddhism
- When there are divisions among the communities it’s easy for the rulers to manage.
- Buddhism never accepts war as the solution to problems
A constitution that promotes equality, justice and democracy is important in making the citizens feel inclusive. Numerous infrastructure developments alone wouldn’t help heal the shattered mentalities of the people. Replacing the current constitution with a new one that has potential to address all the previous faults is one of the steps towards establishing a peaceful and harmonious society.
QThe issue was prominently discussed where the argument was made by certain groups in the society which assumed that Buddhism won’t be sponsored by the state under the new constitution-which actually was still an incomplete document that hasn’t yet been revealed to the public. How do you see this reaction?
First and foremost the said new constitution is still an incomplete document. It’s not necessary to make predictions regarding a statement that hasn’t been finalized yet. And the new draft constitution has to be subject to a referendum before getting established as the country’s new constitution. This fear psychosis is created against a concept that isn’t yet formulated.
Buddhism has been given a prominent place in the existing constitution. Before making any remarks, we must analyse what benefits Buddhism has received as a result of being placed prominently in the constitution. What would Buddhism lose if this prominence is removed? There is no harm in extracting the ideology from ‘Dharma and Vinaya’ philosophies of Buddhism in forming a Constitution. We also need to clearly identify what is meant by placing Buddhism in a prominent place and receiving state sponsorship. Taking the Buddhist philosophy in to consideration to formulate a Constitution can be clearly understood. But, we need to clearly define what’s meant by giving a prominent place to Buddhism.
If we are religious leaders, we must be sensitive to the failures of our history that caused a blood bath. We must feel concerned about the lost lives of men, women and children, rather than merely paying attention to their grievances and giving funds and assets for a religious place. Consider the number of lost lives of Buddhist priests killed due to LTTE attacks as well as those who were killed during the 1980’s. As religious leaders we must be concerned about correcting the faults of the current social political situation that led to historical tragedies. We need to strengthen people as intellectuals, so that they can think right. As religious leaders, our concern should be about the well-being of the public.
QHow do you see Buddhist priests being involved in politics?
This came in to discussion in the 1940’s. Politics of Bhikkhus and a political Bhikkhu are two different ideologies. My teacher, Walpola Rahula Thera was prominent in bringing this debate in the 1940’s. At that time there was a notion that the simple life of monkhood and principles of socialism shared similarities. On the verge of gaining independence, this group of Bhikkhus, led by Venerable Yakkaduwe Pragnarama Mahathera, Walpola Rahula Thera, Kalalelle Ananda Sagara and many others, presented an ideology based on Buddhist philosophy and leftist political thoughts. They tried to give prominence to the voice of the rural Sri Lankans. Their idea was that Bhikkhus must get involved in politics to empower the public. Walpola Rahula Thera always emphasized that Bhikkhus can’t demand for their rights, but can only demand more space and be empowered to serve the people better. He insisted that these are duties of a Bhikkhu. At that time, one achievement of this group was promoting and ensuring the establishment of free education. In the 1950s this concept was lost totally. An era started to emerge where Buddhist priests were used in politics to gain power. The life of a Buddhist priest never returned to the vision that existed back in the 1940’s.
In the present context, where certain factions of the society state that there is a threat to Buddhism, there is a political motive that’s present. The concept is projected through Buddhist priests. This is done to maintain a fear psychosis in the public using Buddhist priests. And when a crucial moment arrives, such as an election, those behind the political motive can come forward and claim to be the savior. The attempt to create a division among the public is one step in a long term plan. But where Buddhist priests our concerned, they should serve the people irrespective of any division or political vision.
QWhile there is opposition towards creating a new constitution, another group of the community has emphasized that if we don’t press for changes using a new constitution, Sri Lanka will face another dead end, similar to the incidents that followed after establishing the 1956 Sinhala only Act. How do you see this?
There are many lessons from the past. We shouldn’t let history repeat. The Sinhala only Act and Black July are tragedies that should never repeat. Therefore, if the Government initiates the formulating of a new constitution after seeking public opinion, then it needs to be respected. If there were failures in seeking public opinion, that needs to be highlighted. No one has the right to disregard a solution that is offered through the suggestions of the citizens. On the other hand, how qualified are our religious leaders to comment on a specialized subject like the constitution? Criticism should be raised by experts in the field.
QWhat is your view on the spate of attacks on minority religions and the involvement of Buddhist priests in these?
It’s very easy to create fear in the public. Two factors highlighted in this issue are lands being grabbed by people belonging to other religions and Buddhist archeological sites being destroyed as a result. As a fact this is true. But is it done only by Muslim people or those belonging to minority religions? Many Buddhists are living on Buddhist archeological sites
in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa areas. The core issue is lack of available land for people to live in as the population is growing. That need has to be addressed rather than it being used it to create fear in communities. When there is a division among the communities it is easy for the rulers to manage.
QIn a society where religions and religious leaders are heavily politicized, do you think the change you aspire to will be a reality?
It’s a challenge. Yet, however difficult that may be, we need to empower people to think wisely. While communicating with different communities for years, I have observed a gradual change. I have met many young Buddhist priests who wish to live in a peaceful harmonious society devoid of ethnic, racial or social divisions. One point raised by young Buddhist priests hailing from different parts of the country and studying at the University of Kelaniya struck my mind. While discussing the challenges they face in the modern society, many of them stressed that they don’t see a mentoring figure in the Sangha society. As religious leaders, we have failed to offer mentorship to our young priests. It remains as a serious concern in my mind. Our religious leaders better pay more attention to this.
Courtesy – dailymirror