Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Passion and Sri Lankan Buddhism

by Charles Sarvan, February 6, 2012

Of course, the fault is not with religion; not with the “compassionate Buddha” (nor with “gentle Jesus”), but with those human beings who use religion for earthly, material, goals. To realize these ends, they bring in religion to sanction, justify and even sanctify the visiting of “passion” on others.

Buddhist monks breaking up a peace rally (attended by other monks) Colombo, August 17, 2006

The word “passion” is now associated mostly with sex but, as you know, the original meaning of “passion” was “suffering”: see, for example, the “passion” of Jesus Christ, and “Passion Sunday” (the fifth Sunday in Lent) which marks the beginning of “Passiontide”.

Monks protesting UN Panel of Experts' report, Colombo, May 2011

Allied to “passion” is “compassion”, made up of com (with) and passion, together meaning “to suffer with”, that is, to feel for the suffering of others. The Buddha is described as “the Soul of Great Compassion” (Maha Karunikka). A prince, healthy and happy, he lacked nothing in his private and personal life but felt “passion” when he saw the inevitable, inescapable, suffering of humanity. Compassion is of the essence of the Buddha’s teaching.

Often, if not invariably, the “compassionate” feel quite alright in their life:  their “passion” is because they see that some others are suffering. In the words of Keats (‘The Fall of Hyperion’, Canto 1), they are “those to whom the miseries of the world / Are misery, and will not let them rest”, that is, remain indifferent and inactive.

Buddhist monks blessing soldier at war front Sri Lanka 1998
Monks blessing soldier at war front 1998

Unfortunately, given the “racist” and political (“politics” standing for “power”) nature of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the Buddha and Buddhism are utilised not to inspire compassion for others but to justify the exclusion and subordination of others through violence. Sri Lankan Buddhism has not manifested, and does not exemplify, com + passion. Ironically, Buddhism is perverted and utilised not to remove or alleviate, but to impose, “passion” (suffering). As Lucretius wrote over two thousand years ago (in his poem, ‘On the Nature of Things’), religion, rather than leading human beings to piety, has excited them to cruelty and the most “foul impieties”.

Of course, the fault is not with religion; not with the “compassionate Buddha” (nor with “gentle Jesus”), but with those human beings who use religion for earthly, material, goals. To realize these ends, they bring in religion to sanction, justify and even sanctify the visiting of “passion” on others.