Buddha and Sinhalese Buddhists

by Sabesan, Melbourne

This article is a summary translation of the analysis broadcast on Melbourne's 3CR Tamil Voice on the 20th June 2005. The full Tamil version is published in www.tamilnathaam.com.  The translation is by Arvalan.

"If Jayewardene was a true Buddhist, I would not be carrying a gun" – Tamil Eelam National Leader Mr. V. Pirapaharan

The political situation in Sri Lanka is in chaos at present and the situation is worsening by the day.  Sinhalese Buddhist supremacists have declared war against the Joint Mechanism (JM).   The JVP has left the coalition government of Chandrika Kumaratunga.  The Buddhist clergy has come forward to fast unto death in protest over the JM.  Hunger strikes are usually held for great causes and to bring goodness to a community all over the world.  However, in this instance, the Buddhist clergy has come forward to fast unto death to drive the Tamils to death by starvation.  This will be a world first whereby a person hunger strikes to make thousands starve.

Dambulla

This analysis is not about Sinhalese Buddhist supremacist politics.  It is intended to analyse the so-called followers of Buddha and their behavior in the current context.  In other words, I intend to analyse whether the behavior of the Buddhist clergy, Buddhist hierarchy (e.g. the Asgiriya Chapter), Buddhist political parties (e.g. the JHU) and the Government of Sri Lanka is in accordance with the preaching of Buddha.  This article intends to answer questions on "What are Buddha’s preaching?," and "What did he actually do?" with anecdotal evidence from the history.

We need to understand the Dravidians’ Indus Valley civilization and the impact of subsequent wars and changes, before we delve into Buddha.  In the ancient world, the human race was scattered in different geographic areas as groups and underwent changes and advancements, subject to the climatic and geographical conditions of the area.

Approximately twelve thousand years ago one of these groups came out of the Stone Age and started to hunt, farm and breed cattle.  According to historians and archeologists, this human advancement occurred in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, some parts of Africa, Egypt, and South India. 

The Indus Valley civilization pioneered cotton farming.  The Indus Valley community, along with Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Egypt enjoyed an urbanized life around five thousand years ago.   The Chinese followed this trend about one thousand years later.

Historians say that the Indus Valley civilization was destroyed by the conquering Aryans.  Even though there are disagreements about the timing of the Aryan occupation, we could agree that it occurred in 1700 BC.

The above is part of history.  So what is the connection between this piece of history and Buddha, [who lived around 500 BC]?  The connection is that Buddha lived in this long era of occupation and suppression [in which the Aryans pushed the Indus Valley inhabitants and similar peoples further and further south.]

Unlike today, Buddha was not a doll in the hands of Sinhalese.  He was one of the first warriors to wage a war for equal rights.  In fact, he was the first person to raise objections to the Aryans chasing away the Dravidians.

According to ancient religious books, the Aryans were furious with Buddha.  For example, Vanmeeki Ramayanam describes Buddha as a thief.

So, what was Buddha’s preaching?  What was he advocating?

Buddha’s preaching denounced the caste system.  He emphasized kindness, discipline and sharing in social relationships.  He separated religion from politics.  This is an important point.  Buddha wanted religion separated from politics.  However, what is happening in Sri Lanka?  Buddhism belongs to the state and the state belongs to Buddhism.  The same concept applies to Hindutva in India.

A combination of a social engineering philosophy and an organization to channel popular support eradicated support for the caste system in the latter years.  Buddha was the pioneer of this revolution.  Buddha’s philosophy and the accommodation of all castes in the sangha diminished the dominance of the Brahmins.  Buddha’s denied the Brahmins from enjoying political superiority, whilst proposing a common state and law for everyone.

We should also note another important aspect about Buddha’s linguistic policy.  He believed that the regional languages should be protected and used.  This is quite in contrast to the linguistic policy of the Sri Lankan government.  Buddha wanted to oppose the domination of the samaskrit language.

In those days, the Brahmins advocated that God and Spirit are permanent.  They practiced offerings and pooja’s in Samaskrit.  Knowledge about God and Spirit was the domain of the Brahmins.  Buddha changed all of these things.  He said nothing is permanent.  As Karl Max said, the only thing certain about life is uncertainty.

However, things changed after Buddha.  Self-denying Buddha was preferred over self-indulging Indran for worshipping.  Buddhism, as a religion, was born out of these religious-like beliefs.  Buddha’s socially responsible concepts were articulated by Jesus Christ and Nabi [Mohammed], who fought for the rights of the oppressed people as well.

Therefore it is quite evident how the Sri Lankan government and the Buddhist hierarchy have manipulated the Buddha, who epitomized kindness, fought for equal rights, had a clear linguistic policy, supported the Dravidians against the Aryans and rebelled against injustices, to serve their own needs and ends.

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Posted July 6, 2005