Getting lost in the Nationalistic Buddhist-Panacea
Dr. Lankamithra Fernando
Lately, religions seem to play many roles, the least of which has not been the ones they were created for by the man in the first place. In the Muslim world some try to enforce-draconian laws in the name of Islam. The Taliban in Afghanistan has been in a fierce war to enforce their own repressive version of Islam. The branch of Islam-Wahhabism founded by Muhammad Ibn Abd-al_Wahhab and the Shariah law that he introduced has been the law in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. In some other parts of the Muslim world extreme Islamists die killing others in the name of Islam and martyrdom. Some nations call themselves Islam Republics and there are others who fight to make the whole world one big Islam Republic. In latest clashes in Pakistan, the military fights against the militant religious groups and the mullahs. In Sri Lanka the military has the blessings and the unreserved support of the Buddhist clergy to enforce a military solution to the ongoing ethnic war.
In the Western world while state leaders claim to be guided by their evangelical convictions market economy has made the evangelical preachers obscenely rich. Some evangelists run their own religious TV and radio stations, live in mansions and travel on their own private jets and limousines. Religion is their business-extremely profitable one at that.
We have today religions politicised and militarised to extreme, than ever before. Politicised religious leaders try to shape the society into the moulds of their own religious convictions and interpretations.
Recently Australian Cardinal George Pell publicly warned the Catholic Members of Parliament of the “consequences” the Church might impose on those who decide to vote in favour of therapeutic cloning. Few months earlier an Australian Muslim Mufti Sheik Hilali made controversy by comparing scantly dressed women to uncovered meat. The Gods must be amused!
In Sri Lanka Buddhist religion is represented in the parliament by a political party of Buddhist Monks-The Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Sinhala Heritage) or the JHU. Their priorities as monks have changed from religious education of the society to exerting control and influence on the government. Their values in politics have changed from compassion to hatred, form negotiations to military action. Their life styles have changed from simple humble skin headed monks to politicians with crew cut heads, living in fashion and luxury. Eight Buddhist monks of the JHU have recently used the maximum tax exemption offered to the politicians by the Sri Lankan government and purchased tax free luxury vehicles at 3.5 million Rupees each. Such luxuries are against one of the 227 monastic rules laid down by Buddha in the Vinaya Pitaka (the Code of Conduct) for Buddhist monks.
In the context of the ongoing ethnic war, Buddhist clergy has been one of the powerful advocates of a military solution. Recently, they found an important supporter for their hawkish policies-a visiting British Catholic “counterpart” -British Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams. The Archbishop was not only on their side but went as far as changing his Bishop’s mitre to a military advisor’s cap as well. The following words by the Archbishop need no further elaboration:
"It is undoubtedly inevitable that what you might call surgical military action against terrorism should take place".
One would wonder which psalm or testament had the Archbishop derived the above words from?
Obviously this “sacred” military advice was given “free of charge” and the arms required to carry out the “surgical military action” will probably come from the Archbishop’s country but would not be free. It will be not the Archbishop who will be pawning the future of Sri Lanka to pay the heavy price in hard currency and in invaluable Sri Lankan lives as well- but this did not seem to matter to the visiting son of God. He seemed to have no idea of the heavy price Sri Lanka has already paid-in terms of hard currency and in Sri Lankan lives-so far over 65,000.
According to Joan Ruddock the Labour Party MP for Lewisham Deptford in the British parliament, Sri Lanka will purchase £ 7 million worth military equipment from UK, this year. This money will not go to feed, shelter or dress the displaced hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans but it will definitely bring home the bacon to many in Britain.
With the reference to the precision in military action, the Archbishop of Canterbury has not only sanctified the hawkish policy of Sri Lankan government but also has indirectly blessed prospective sales of British “surgical military action” capability to Sri Lanka as well. Nothing seems to have changed since the era of British colonization -it is still the sweat and blood of the same old British “subjects” what seems to make the “British empire” rich and powerful. As usual the Church-knows who best deserves their holy blessings.
In fact it should not surprise anybody. As until just 200 years ago the British salve trading company- The Royal African Company -had the blessings of the Church to bring shiploads of people from Africa to sell as slaves in Europe. In today’s standards the slave trade was a multibillion pound a year industry for Britain. When the Salve Trade was abolished in 1833 compensations were paid not to the slaves but to their owners.
“In one case the Bishop of Exeter and three colleagues were paid nearly £13,000 in compensation for 665 slaves”
In February 2007, accepting the fact that the Church was at the heart of this global crime against humanity the same Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York John Sentamu extended official apology of the Church of England to the descendants of the victims of the slave trade.
When the world’s fierce dictators such as Pinochet of Chile were welcomed to live in London he too had the blessing of the Church. Why should it surprise us now to see the British Arms trade getting the blessing from the Church, especially if the Archbishop had felt the importance of Arms trade to British economy?
The following excerpt from a book review by British Air Marshall Sir Timothy Garden, will explain the Archbisop’s “theological logic” of promoting the idea of “surgical military action”:
“Many British manufacturing industries have declined or disappeared over the past half century. Yet one, the manufacture of weapons, maintains an extraordinary prominence. Since the end of the Cold War, the worldwide arms market has declined as the international competition has increased; and yet Britain is second only to the United States as an arms exporter. The defence industries employ about 400,000 people of whom over a third are directly dependent on export contracts. The total value of these exports is of the order of £5 billion per year. These are the statistics which politicians and industrialists will quote whenever the morality of arms sales policy is questioned.”
Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden served in the Ministry of Defence from 1987-1994. He is Visiting Professor at the Centre for Defence Studies , King’s College London. Sir Garden wrote the above comment in reviewing the book “The Politics of British Arms Sales since 1964 by Dr. Mark Pythian of the Wolverhampton University, UK.
Religious advocators engaged in political power play and geo-politics often tend to interpret or rewrite religious teachings to sanctify not only some acts of adultery, deceit and infidelity committed by the richest and most powerful patrons of the Church but also whole barrage of inhuman policies of their governments as well. Their God given role has now been reduced to sanctifying military policies of governments designed to deliver redefined new style of “Morality and Social Justice” through “surgical military action”. During the dark era of Slave Trade the Church did the same thing-they interpreted the Gospel to condone the crime.
All religions are nothing but creations of man and it is the man who keeps on interpreting the scriptures to fit the circumstances.
There were no Buddhists before Buddha, no Catholics before Jesus, no Muslims before Prophet Mohammad. The purpose of religion should be only one- to help their followers achieve spiritual emancipation. A head of one religion cannot and should not talk for all others in the society. In the case of Archbishop of Canterbury, he has not spoken for his own Master … but for a government having the most abysmal Human Rights violation records. But what his Master Jesus Christ said in his Sermon on the Mount as written in the Gospel of Matthew was:
“You have heard that it was said, 'An eye to eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:38-42, NIV)
Let us now rewrite a new Gospel -the sacred military Gospel of Archbishop Rowan Williams:
“You have heard that there is this “war on terror”. But I tell you, do not resist attacking and evil person and when you do make sure you do it with surgical accuracy. If someone strikes you on the right cheek trun around and hit him back with surgical accuracy, for we are here to provide you with all the tools and expertise you need”
The Sanga Nayakas (Chief Buddhist Monks) who enjoyed what the Archbishop had to say could now follow his footsteps and rewrite the Tripitaka as well. Being a philosophy rather than a religion, Buddhism has been more susceptible to additions, twists, turns and spins than any other religion.
In reality in the form it is practiced in Sri Lanka, Buddhism has no difference to any other religion it has rotten beyond recognition.
Buddhism cannot be both a Philosophy and a religion at the same time.
Religious Buddhism appears in many shapes and forms, such as:
- Mahayana , Theravada/Hinayana, Zen, Taoism(Daoism), Tibetan, the Japanese schools of religious Buddhism of Amida Buddha and the associated belief of the existence of heaven “the pure land”, Nichiren Buddhism based on the “Lotus Sutra” , and the associated belief that this sutra contains the “Ultimate Truth” which can be compressed to a “Sacred Mantra– namo myoho renge kyo” – meaning homage to the Lotus of wonderful law and the Buddhism founded by a Chinese monk Hui Yuan in 334AD-416AD and the associated belief in Amitabha Buddha and the notion of “pure land” and some other schools of less known but modern forms of Buddhism associated with “sexual emancipation” and “tantric rituals and beliefs”.
Ironically it was the philosophical base of the original Buddhism that had made it relatively easy for various additions to be “attached” to the original Buddhism. These are the additions which posed either little contradictions or no contradictions to the main teachings.
Religious rituals such as “Seth Kai ( benevolent poems), Bodi Pooja (worshipping of the sacred Bo or Pipal tree), Pirith Nool ( holy threads), all sorts of poojas(offerings), Katina pinkamas(the ceremony of offering robes to monks), Pirith chanting( chanting of Buddhist scrptures), cast based Sectors and Chapters of Buddhist clergy (Asgiriyai, Malwatte, Amarapura etc..), worshipping of statues, hallows, relics,symbols, paintings and buildings etc… are additions that were grafted to Buddhism which have now become inseparable parts of Buddhism as practiced in Sri Lanka. The artificial glorification of Buddhism, the belief in Gods(whole 33 million of them), the belief that Sri Lanka was the island chosen and sanctified by Buddha to preserve Buddhism and the associated belief that the Sinhala Race was the chosen custodians of this sacred mission-are nothing but additions fabricated and grafted to Sri Lankan version of the Theravada Buddhism.
Such perversions of an ancient Philosophy have not been benevolent to the progress of the Sri Lankan society. Consistently politicised nationalistic religious Buddhism has left the society threadbare, corrupt and lawless. It is now being given a militarised footing by the Buddhist clergy with their support for a military solution to the ongoing ethnic bloodbath.
On one hand the Nationalistic Buddhist politicians along with the ill informed clergy of secluded mentality try to make Buddhist a panacea-containing Code of ethics, the Panel Code and anything and everything while on the other hand attempts are being made to exaggerate the value of Buddhism as a philosophy amongst the other contemporary schools of philosophies.
If Buddhism, as claimed contains knowledge and guidance for state leaders in governance, scientists and academics in research, teaching and everything related to human life, activities, nature, the world and the galaxy-then the world population should not be wasting time (and money!) learning and researching in conventional schools and universities, they should only study Buddhist scriptures to find answers to anything and everything.
Buddhism was created by a human named Siddhartha. Buddhism was the way Siddhartha saw the world. He saw the world within the limits of the knowledge available to him at that time, which was 2550 years poorer. For this reason it has its flaws, its entrapment within the knowledge- limited to the era.
The stories of miracles in the Buddhist scriptures were just that -stories fabricated and inserted later to glorify his teachings, to make it attractive amongst other philosophies and religions. Buddha was not divine he was born a human, remained a human and died a human. His life was cut short as he died aged 80 of food poisoning- although the average life span in India then was longer. (According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the “Sukara Madhava” the pork curry offered to him by his neighbour the blacksmith Chunda was Buddha’s last meal)
Buddha lived from 563 BC to 483 BC, mainly in India. This was the time of a number of enlightening philosophical schools in Greece. They were the Milesian school with philosophers Thales(624-546BC) , Anaximander(610-546BC) and Anaximenes (585-525) and the Pythagorean School with philosophers Pythagoras(582-496BC) Philolaus (470-380BC) and Archytas (428-347B).
Thales, who was born 61 years before Buddha-is known as “the father of science”. He was the first philosopher of the Greek tradition. Thales is famous for his theorems of Geometry, which are still taught in its original form as Thales Theorems. Compared to Gauthama Buddha, Thales’s knowledge in mathematics, nature, cosmology, ethics, politics and business were far superior. Before Thales, the Greeks resorted to mythology and anthropomorphic gods to explain nature. For an example natural phenomena such as lightning and rain were explained as acts of God. But Thales changed this by explaining the nature based on naturalistic reasons without attributing it to the supernatural or mythology.
Another contemporary Greek philosopher of the time of Buddha was Pythagoras. He is famous for the Pythagorean Theorem which continues to be an important part of Geometry even today.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535-475BC) another Greek contemporary of Buddha is considered as one of the first dialectical philosophers. He was one of the first Greek philosophers to express the changing nature of everything in the world. This is one of the main teachings in Buddhist philosophy and ancient Chinese philosophy Taoism(or Daoism) as well. Taoism also contains Chinese Alchemy, Astrology, Cuisine, Martial Arts, Traditional Medicine, Fengshui, qigong-Chinese breath training disciplines-which are much advanced than the Buddhist Aanapana Sathi Bhavana (the Buddhist breathing meditation technique).
Explaining the changing nature of the world, Heraclitus, in his famous poem- “Panta Rhei” wrote:
“All things are in motion nothing remains still”
Heraclitus had also expressed the same meaning in the following impressive analogy:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river for he is not the same man”.
There were also other Greek Philosophers such as Xenophanes(570-470BC); Parmenides(510-440BC) and Zeno(490-430) who are considered as pre-Socrates philosophers who were Buddha’s contemporaries, but their knowledge of nature and mankind were much greater and scientific. Their teachings are useful even today in understanding the world.
Then of course the teachings of Aristocle or Plato-(428BC-348BC) the founder of the world’s first institution of higher learning the Academy of Athens and Socrates(470BC-399BC) the teacher of Plato in epistemology (theory of knowledge) and ethics played a significant role in the process of Enlightenment of the mankind.
Socrates, Plato and many schools of Greek Philosophers before them had given more insight, more understanding more guidance to the humankind than Buddhist philosophy has ever had.
Buddhist philosophy is only a drop in the ocean when compared to the enormous arsenal of knowledge given to the mankind by hundreds of other schools of Western, Asian and Middle Eastern philosophies through out the development of humankind since the time and before the time of Buddha.
Many parts of the teachings and wisdom of all these Schools of objective materialistic philosophies have been proven to be correct and continue to be useful to the mankind over and over again. Many of the teachings of these philosophers in epistemology, dialectics, ethics mathematics, cosmology, medicine and science continue to serve as the basis of teaching and learning of all generations across the world. As shown above many such scientific theories carry the name of the founders of the corresponding Philosophies but none carries the name of Gauthama Buddha.
In spite of the glorified belief- scientifically credible Buddhist, Islamic, Catholic or any other religious theory of Knowledge, Governance, Science, Nature, Nuclear Energy, Medicine, Psychology or other known fields of human life and activity do not exist, except in the form of theological studies in seminaries and monasteries.
Buddhist scriptures contain no evidence of Gauthama Buddha’s knowledge of the existence of the world's first democratic republics, The Maha Janapadas in India(in today's Bihar). These first democratic republics had been established in 600BC before Buddha’s birth. The very first of those world's first democratic republics was Vaishali.
In fact Gauthama Buddha spent his last days in Vaishali and died there in Kusinara. But he had not cognised the concept of democracy otherwise he would have learnt and included it in his doctrine of "Dasa Raja Dharma" (The Buddhist theory of Governance). Buddha had no qualms about the status quo- the existing monarchies, dictatorships and undemocratic ways of life because; he had not seen or imagine any other forms of governance.
The second world's democracy was born in the city-state of Athens-the Athens state assembly.
Indian Philosopher, Hindu sage Kanada or Kanad lived in 600BC. He was the founder of the Vaisheshika School of Philosophy and is considered as the father of Atom theory. In his teachings he talked about Dvyanuka ( two-atomic ) and Thryanuka (three-atomic)molecules. In his teachings known as Vaisheshika Dharshan , Kanad had explained atomic theory, almost a century before Democritus, and obviously before Gauthama Buddha.
Buddhism as a philosophy is contradictory and illogical within itself.
On one hand according to Buddhism this life is nothing but suffering. The reason for the suffering is “Vana” or craving. Get rid of the craving and you will arrive at “Nirvana” the utmost stage in Buddhism the enlightenment and your cycle of reincarnation will stop. The contradiction is-without craving, desires to interact with the world, the mankind will cease to exist. If our ancestors followed real Buddhism, any one of us would not have been here. The world would have ended long back.
Buddhism is a philosophy and its place as a philosophy as a school of knowledge and a method of understanding the human species, its role and its progress, its destiny –has been insignificant. Many other philosophies which continued to remain as philosophies without been transformed to glorified religions, have served the mankind as rich source of substantial guidance ,knowledge and deep insight into the realities of the human species and the world.
Buddhist philosophy has not and cannot play an enriching role in this sense.
No serious scientist has ever turned to Buddhist Philosophy or other religious scriptures to explain human, social and world phenomena. No genuine government has turned to Buddhism or other religion to provide advice in governance, judiciary or to manage finances or economy.
Yet the politicised Buddhist clergy in government and many other Buddhists in politics wish to enforce Buddhist principles in all political and socio-economical life of Sri Lanka. As the Ayatollahs in Muslim nations trying to run state affairs under Islamic law in Sri Lanka Buddhist clergy is trying to dictate the terms and to give advice on how to run the country.
When religion, nationalism and state power are mixed together –the resultant mixture is venom. This venom continues to poison people into ethno-religious enslavement.
The consequence of long-term ethno-religious enslavement is a detrimental brain cancer -myopic mentality.
A free mind is a mind -free of venom, hereditary nationalistic religious enslavement.
In the name of mankind we must gather courage to free ourselves and our next generation from this enslavement. Separation of religious influence from governance is the first step and the only key to success in Sri Lanka. The present Rajapaksha government has locked itself in and thrown the key away!.
1. Anthropomorphism is giving human characteristics and forms to nonhuman beings, animating objects, natural, supernatural or mythological phenomena.
Dr. Mithra Fernando is the General Manager of Science & Technology Workshop Services in the University of Sydney. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Technical Sciences and have a number of patents registered with Intellectual Property Australia.
- Asian Tribune -