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Wednesday 29 January 2014

Sinhala Buddhist extremism and Chinthana Parshadaya

Mr. Rajan Philips in his article on “The fall of the Tiger, the rise of the Sinhala Roar (Ravaya), and Geneva anxieties” in  “The Sunday Island” of 26th January states:“A much broader broadside came in last week’s Sunday Island Political Column under the headline: "The Mad Monk Phenomenon." Curiously, the Minister of Education and the Sunday Island (SI) columnist are shy of naming names. The Minister laments about the "activities of some Buddhist monks", and the SI columnist lambastes the "The Mad Monk Phenomenon". Neither of them refers by name to any one group in the long list of "Buddhist extremist" organizations that includes besides Sihala Ravaya and Hela Bodu Pawra, the Ravana Balaya, Bodu Bala Sena, Sinhala Weera Vidahana, Chinthana Parshadaya and Jayagrahanaya. There might be a rhyme to their names, but is there a rhyme or reason for their being?”

Mr. Philips refers to Chinthana Parshadaya, among other organizations as a Buddhist extremist organization. I have been the Secretary of the Chinthana Parshadaya for the last twenty seven years or so, and as such I consider it as my duty to respond to the article by Mr. Philips as otherwise the readers could come to wrong conclusions. Incidentally in Chinthana Parshadaya there are non Buddhist “members”, and I can give more than one reason to justify the existence of the Chinthana Parshadaya.

The easiest for most of the political analysts, sociologists, and various experts to do is to blame Sinhala Buddhist extremism, without defining what is meant by that expression. There may be excesses by some organizations that are Sinhala Buddhist but that does not qualify them to be called Buddhist extremist organizations. Some of these analysts would only make a passing remark to LTTE terrorism without identifying it as an extremist organization. It is fashionable for some of them to refer to the LTTE terrorists as militants thus giving the latter respectability in the eyes of at least some of the readers.   

When I was at school, a teacher once said all “isms” are extreme ideologies or words to that effect. Of course Buddhism, Marxism, Hinduism end with “ism” and I wondered whether they were extreme ideologies. The teacher who would have heard it from somebody else most probably would have missed Islam as it does not end with an ism.  Only later I realized that the teachers themselves are victims of their education, and some of them pass on to their students what they learnt unconsciously while some others do so purposely. The “ism” story is a creation of the Judaic Christian culture with more weight on Christianity than on Judaism that also ends with ism. Incidentally it is not the Sinhala Buddhists or any other Buddhists that coined the word “Buddhism” for the Dhamma or Buddha Dhamma. The Sinhala Buddhists would have used words such as Dhamma or Susanna but not Buddhavadaya. The Buddhists world over use terms Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and not even Buddhagama. It is the Judaic Christian culture that coined the word Buddhism and hence words such as Buddhist though we use them now very frequently. The Judaic Christian culture having coined the word Buddhism for Dhamma then identifies it as an extreme ideology using their own terminology and catch phrases. Can there be a cultural domination worse than that?       

Sri Lanka was a Sinhala Buddhist country with or without that concept expressed in so many words at least for 1800 years before the Portuguese arrived in 1506. Though the Muslims had come to Sri Lanka before the Portuguese the two communities had lived peacefully and amicably without anyone group trying to convert the members of the other to their religion or culture. However, “natural conversions” would have occurred in the form of marriages and also assimilation of cultures but not of “forced conversions” that include not only torture but giving privileges and bribes in various forms. It is to the credit of Sinhala Buddhists that they had not tried to convert Vedda community to Buddhism though they had lived for centuries together. However, as said before “natural conversions” had taken place as can be seen from the cultures of both communities. Even the word “gac” in Pali of Buddhism is related to “gachchanava” in Vedi language.

Perhaps the term Sinhala Bauddhaya is a translation of “Sinhalese Buddhist”, and came into vogue after the English came to this country, if not earlier after the Portuguese or the Dutch. However, that does not mean that there were no Sinhala Buddhists in the country as they would have identified themselves as Sinhala people who were members of the Buddha Sasana as upasaka and upasika. The Bauddha Upasaka and Upasika comprised the vast majority of the country and the country was ruled (rata karaweema) according to the Sinhala tradition, which was nothing but Bauddha tradition. Though the Sinhala Upasaka and Upasika continued to remain the majority the political, cultural and economic base began to shift to the Judaic Christian sphere with the arrival of the Portuguese who were members of the emerging Judaic Christian culture though Catholic in religion. At present even the Pope is for all purposes in day to day work is a Judaic Christian in culture except in activities directly connected with religion.

The gradual shifting of the base came to an end with defeat for Sinhala Buddhists with the English occupying the entire country breaching the Sinhala English Pact that came to be known as the Kandyan convention. Though the Pact clearly states without any room for any interpretation by western historians or other social scientists that the country would be ruled according to the Sinhala customs, the English who taught us that they were gentlemen (has anybody else called them gentlemen?) breached it in no time resulting in the Uva Wellassa independence struggle in 1817-18. If any military operation in this country can be called “genocide” it was the operations carried out by the English in Uva Wellassa against the Sinhala people, beside the Magha invasion and the attacks by the Chola Chola.

However, the Sinhalas survived all these attacks but were not able to gain complete independence in 1948 or even in 1972 with the “Republican constitution”. The struggle against the English that began in 1817 after the Pact of 1815 continues to date and Chinthana Parshadaya was established after the JRJ constitution of 1978 and the threats of India against the sovereignty of the country in the second half of the eighties. The English continues to use non Sinhala Buddhists against the Sinhala Buddhists  and it was under these circumstances that leaders such as Anagarika Dharmapala appeared in the latter part of the nineteenth century. If they appeared to be anti non Sinhala Buddhists it is because the English used these communities against the Sinhala Buddhists. Even today many Sinhala Buddhist organizations appear to be anti non Sinhala Buddhist but what is at the bottom of their agitation is winning complete independence for the Sinhala Buddhists from the colonial powers that use other communities to maintain their hegemony. The Chinthana Parshadaya agitated against Tamil racism and was responsible for campaigning for defeating the LTTE when most of the others under the influence of western ideology were advocating so called peace talks. The Chinthana Parshadaya claimed that the LTTE could and should be defeated when the so called expert opinion was vehemently opposed to it. We are proud that our view triumphed at the end, but it is unfortunate that we have to go on campaigning against Tamil racism as it is still being used by the England led western countries, Geneva being only the tip of the iceberg.

The Chinthana Parshadaya is of the view that the knowledge is not neutral but is based on a Chinthanaya and is created relative to a culture. As it is the western knowledge that is the hegemonic knowledge of the world we have no alternative but to learn what the west teaches us. The Chinthana Parshadaya struggles against this hegemony as well and if somebody thinks that Chinthana Parshadaya that wants different knowledge systems to flourish is an extremist organization we can understand that he/she is influenced by the western Chinthanaya, which is at present the Greek Judaic Christian Chinthanaya that pretends to be multi cultural while not allowing any other system of knowledge to be considered as valid. Who is having an extremist view of the world maintaining their hegemony of the world through their knowledge? 

Nalin De Silva