Temples of Sri Lanka


By Dr. Damenda Porage

Below are the excerpts of the interview “Sthipattana” had with Venerable Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thero, the Chief Prelate for the Sothern Province of Ramagngna Chapter. The Thero expressed his views on why we should live in accordance with the principles of Buddhism.

Q. The Covid 19 Pandemic has crippled the world. The pandemic is spreading fast. Our neighboring country India is badly affected by the pandemic and the plight of Sri Lanka is pathetic too. Can you tell us how we can adopt the teachings of Buddha to avert the disaster that this pandemic can cause? 

A. At a pandemic situation like this, our prime concern and duty should be to stop the spread of the virus and to save the public. That is a need of the hour. The Buddha had preached on how the people should face a pandemic situation. The Buddha said ‘Aththanan Gaveseyyatha’ the meaning of which is mindfulness and understanding of self.  ‘Aththanamaya Pataman Pasupena Nimesha’ this means living in correct manner and being a role model for other to live a correct life.  It is equally important not to lose once protection while working for others which is mentioned in Pali as ‘Aththadassan paraththena Bahu Na Widina Winasaye’. The protection of ourselves and our country should be our prime concern.  Religious observances are not as important as once one’s safety. In our religion, there are two types of observances, Amisa and Prathipaththi Pooja. While engaging in all these religious observances, it is of utmost importance to concern about the environment and the self. Buddhist never act as religious extremists. It is not mandatory for the Buddhists to make their religion number 1 in their life and somehow fulfill religious observances. I have heard some religious leaders say that they fear their creator god more than corona virus. This is a wrong belief. Some people say ‘who is afraid of corona? who cares corona? god is the one who looks after us’ etc and carelessly continue their religious observances.

We can clearly see what happened to India when they wanted to fulfill religious obligations. We can see the results of such foolish religious activities which were performed by millions of devotees despite warnings by health authorities.  That is extremism and blind faith. Even in our country some people engage in religious observances in a very extremist manner. They don’t follow the guidelines issued by the government. They don’t respect the social rules. They are blindly following their religion. They only see the religious aspect of everything. There is an Arabic folklore “ there is god, but you have to protect your camel”. That is a very practical teaching. What it teaches is that you have to practice your religion but it is mandatory for you to protect yourself. That is a very intelligent saying. But what will an extremist do? He will open his doors, and let the camel free by saying “I believe in god, he will protect my camel”. What will happen if camel will be stolen and slaughtered. A similar incident happened in India. We saw that during Kumbhamela festival. People thronged a funeral of a religious leader in thousands very recently. The reason for that is religious extremism. 

Religious extremism has caused the greatest destructions to the world. Religious extremists are opinionated and irresponsible. They break civil rules and gather. That is the reason for the fast spread of corona virus. The other reason is the unnecessary freedom for human rights and  religious extremism. This is what happened to countries like America. They say “ we can’t be locked down. We want to be free”. What happened eventually? Countless people died of corona. Not following the religion in a wise manner resulted in increasing the number of people succumbing to corona. We as Buddhists should understand this reality that “Winayo Nama Sasanassa Ayu” . Winaya is the lifespan of the Sasana. The Sasana here include Bhikku, Bhikkuni and lay people. Buddhism does not mean merely the scriptures. The protection of the Bhikkus and the lay people is assured by the discipline. The religious discipline, state discipline and social discipline are not the same. We should adhere to all of them. 

That is why the Buddha had preached “Anujanami  Bhikkawe Rajanam Anuwaddhithun”. What is important at this time is to obey the rules put forward by the government as well as the health authorities. That is a prime responsibility of a Buddhist. That is the discipline of the Buddhists. This is how we should protect ourselves from corona virus. We should give up all extremist religious practices. We should abide by the Dhamma preached by the Buddha. We should have good understanding of how to protect ourselves and then to assure the safety of the society. That is how we can protect ourselves from corona virus.

Q. What is the advantage of chanting powerful Buddhist Suttas like Ratana Sutta across the country during a pandemic like this. 

A. It is true that it will infuse some spiritual power in us. At the inception people had some understanding of this spiritual power and obeyed the rules and regulations put forward by the authorities. Therefore, we did not face problems. Later on the concern of that spiritual power by people began to decline. People did not obey the rules and regulations. They lost control and patience. That is the reason for the intensity of the second wave of corona. And is also the reason for the onslaught of the third wave of corona. I reiterate that we should incline towards spiritual development again. It is important to chant Pirith such as Ratana sutta by adhering to the health guideline which is also equally important. 

Subduing of senses is required. That means to control the emotions and to be content of what we have. I am of the view that  the government should take actions to shut down liquor shops. But the government failed to do so. We can see that the liquor shops are open even today. Smoking should be completely prohibited. Smoking aggravates covid 19 complexities. Smoking, weakens lungs. 

Moreover liquor is a great enemy of human body. Government continues to keep the liquor shops open in the name of deriving profits while spending many millions for the control of corona virus. One of the main actions to stop the spread of corona virus is to prohibit the use of liquor and cigarettes. That action should be taken immediately. If someone opposes that, Let them do.  We don’t mind them being worried. There, one person become worried, and hundred can save their lives. Government should not fulfill the whims and fancies of those who crave for liquor. The government should work for the benefit of the majority. Government should not work for the betterment of a selfish and jovial minority. It is the responsibility of the government to fulfill the requirements of the majority of people who struggles in their day to day life for their individual development as well as the development of the country. Therefore, it is equally important to stay away from destructive life style while improving the spiritual aspect of life.

Q. What is your opinion about the Thripitaka Protection Board which is being highly spoken of today?

A. A Draft Bill has been presented for the Thripitaka Protection Board that has been proposed by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana. Some are criticizing this saying that it is not appropriate to lay down rules and regulations to protect Buddhism. Thripitaka Protection Bill is brought in the intention of protecting the Buddhist tradition, culture and heritage. The request for this bill did not come all of a sudden. This has been the request of Buddhist monks especially Mahanayaka Theros and lay people for decades.

 They demanded laws to be introduced to avert violence and atrocities against Buddhists. In fact Mahanayaka Theros do not have proper understanding of that. And I doubt whether they have got any understanding of that even today. The proposal to establish Tripitaka protection board was brought by many Buddhist organizations belonging to lay people and Buddhist monks who work for the uplift of Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. This is an important step forward in protecting Buddhism. 

One thing is that Buddhism had been protected over the centuries under the patronage of kings throughout the history. Since the time of the Buddha Buddhism received state patronage. The Buddhist Councils which were conducted following the great demise of the Buddha  had received patronage of kings. The advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka took place as a result of state patronage. Buddhism is not like other religions. Other religions make use of violence and physical strength for their spread as well as continuance. 

They employed techniques such as killing assaulting and bombing. Such religions are the cause for destruction and the war in Gaza strip. Buddhists are not violent. They are innocent. The deer in the jungle need protection, if not it will be devoured by carnivorous animals. This entire society is a jungle. In this jungle there are wolves, tigers, panthers and deer too. Deer is akin to Buddhism.Deer will fall prey to other animals if there is no protection for the deer. Likewise, there should be rules and regulations to protect Buddhism. No other religion requires the protection of law. Because, their religion itself teaches them to employ violent methods to fulfill their requirements in the name of their religion. 

Some religions preach that conversion people of other faiths to their religion is mandatory. If not, the religion itself preaches that those who do not obey should be killed. The followers of such religions are brainwashed that they can attain the supreme bliss of heaven by unleashing violence against the followers of other faiths. We are living in such a society. Because of the ordinary law, we have been able to get on well with the followers of other religions if there is no law in the country the followers of such religions would have killed us for not obeying their religion.  By killing us they attain the bliss of heaven. That is what they teach. That is exactly what Saharan did. I am of the view that there should be provisions in the law to protect Buddhism from terrorist religions . it is mentioned in the ninth paragraph of the Constitution that Buddhism should be protected. That is the responsibility of the government.  But the government has failed to do so. 

Thripitaka is the central part of the Therawada Buddhism.  It is very difficult to protect Thripitaka because some people who work for an agenda attempt to disfigure the facts in Buddhist scriptures. Buddha has preached that “ Dhamman Adhammena Dhippathi Adhamman Dhammena Dheepe” the meaning of which is People wrongly perceive Dhamma as non Dhamma and Non dhamma is regarded as Dhamma.  

Today, Arhantship is very cheap. That means there are so many people in the society who claim to be Arhanths. As per Therawadai Buddhism, Arhanthship is second only to the Buddha. Pachchekha Buddha were a few in this world. Such a revered Arhathship has gone down to a plight of Vagabonds because the Vagabonds clad in the sacred Chivara.  They claim that they have attained Arhathship. 

People wonder whether this is the Arhathship by observing the behavior of Vagabonds. Some claim that they have attained Buddhahood. And some are attempting to portray that they are the ones who have discovered Buddhism after the Buddha. 

The Buddha himself said that Buddhism will decline due to the activities of the followers of Buddhism. As per the Maha Kashyapa Sanyuktha of Sanyuktha Nikaya, Buddhism will be destroyed by the interior forces rather than the exterior ones. The Pali text reads “Patawi  Dhathu  Samasaman  Anthrena antharadhapi  Patawi  Apo Thejo  Wayo  Dhathu  sathwiman  sathdhamman  antharadhana  antharadhapi”. This scenario is conspicuous at present. We can see how those who claim to be Buddhist monks are attempting to destroy Buddhism. Some monks spread hostility. Some monks behave as criminals and the Dhamma preached by some of them promotes violence. 

We need law to control such situations.  The Draft Bill has been presented to bring law related to that. We all should stand up for that. We urged the government to implement the law after passing the Draft Bill. This should be done for the continuance of Buddha Sasana. 

We can emend the shortcomings of the Draft Bill and move forward. If there are serious amendments to be done that should be dealt with immediately. One such shortcoming is that there is no provision to punish for the crimes in the past. There should be provisions to duly punish those who have blasphemed Buddhism. We urge the president to implement the bill regardless of those who oppose. We also urge the Mahanayaka Theros to exercise the power of their position to achieve this. Sometimes, the Mahanayaka Theros hesitate to stand up for this when the opposition is strong. They think that it is not appropriate to provoke the public. So we urge the Mahanayaka Theros to voice for this Draft Bill. 

Q. Clause 9 of the constitution is substantial to protect the buddhasasana in Sri Lanka. Although the media reported that clause is violated by the Port City project. What is your opinion on that?

A. The Constitution of Sri Lanka provides a legal framework for the affairs of the country. The Constitution applies to all the citizens of the country. The country should be governed by the Constitution. If people of the country do not work according to the constitution, there is no use of the Constitution. This should equally apply to 25,000 square kilometers of the land of this country. But unfortunately there are many issues related to the Port City. Our topic is to discuss how this Port City project affects the Buddhism in Sri Lanka. 

The main problem is that Sri Lankan Constitution is invalid in the Port City premises. The clause 9 of the constitution does not mean to protect Buddhism by worshiping and venerating Buddhist scriptures. The true meaning of that clause is to implement Buddhist tradition in Sri Lanka. There are laws in the country to protect the culture and the tradition. Unlawful and unethical activities are regarded as punishable offences. One such law is Casino Business Regulatory Bill, Customs Protection Bill, Foreign Exchange Regulatory Bill, Entertainment Bill, Excise Bill etc. are brought to protect the culture of the country. 

These types of bills promote morality of the citizens while discouraging immorality. That helps the economy, culture, education, health and all the aspects of people’s lives. Some leaders of this country are of the view that it is a human right to allow people to consume liquor and other intoxicated items. But it should be regulated. No one has a right to smoke in public if it disturbs the other people. 

As per so called human rights, there should be freedom for casino and betting etc. But such activities should be brought under control. In our country the Constitution helps control such immoral behavior and activity. We do not have the right to engage in amusement if it disturbs the other people. Such bills indirectly support the implementations of the clause 9 of the constitution. But, these bills are not valid in the Port City premises. 

That is clearly stated in the Port City Bill. If any piece of land is ruled by anything other than Constitution of Sri Lanka that land cannot be considered as a part of Sri Lanka. That piece of land has a different culture and a tradition. It has a complete different administration. That is a grave issue. That is why we clamor that the Constitution of Sri Lanka is not valid in Port City. 

We are not saying that people living in Port City should follow Pancha sheela and to chant Pirith every time. But the Buddhist culture and the civilization should prevail in the country. Other religions that exist in sri Lanka do not oppose that. 

Port City project is dangerous because the Sri Lankan Law does not apply there. What we highlight is that Port City should be govern by the Sri Lankan law. If the Constitution in Sri Lanka is not valid in Port City, that part of the land does not belong to Sri Lanka  and the consequences will be grave.

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