Mahavamsa and Cardinal Malcolm debunk Jehan Perera’s bogus theories
The role of Buddhism with Sri Lankan characteristics (i.e., Sinhala-Buddhism) has been demonised in the post-1956 phase by the (1) pro-separatist lobby, (2) its allies in the NGOs and (3) left-wing academics to such an extent that it is now touted as the key factor that is obstructing democracy, liberalism and human rights of minorities. In the pronouncements of these agents Sinhala-Buddhism is invariably projected as an evil instrument used by the Sinhala-Buddhists (referred to as the majority” subversively) to bludgeon the minorities (i.e., the Tamils mainly). Demonising Sinhala-Buddhists is fashionable even among some dolled-up old girls of Vishaka Vidyalaya who were miffed because they were told not to wear short skirts. One of the leading Vishakiyan critics of Sinhala-Buddhism was pulled up for exposing too much of Thai-land” as she got off her father’s posh jeep!
In fairness to some of the critics, it must be conceded that like all institutionalized religions Buddhism too acquired considerable amount of unnecessary accretions as it meshed with the lay society. Serving the spiritual and the existential needs of the laity led the Sangha to interact closely with the secular world. The increasing roles of the Sangha in lay society lifted it incrementally into the highest levels of the feudal hierarchy which, in turn, led to the politicisation of religion. In time the state, the Sangha and the people merged into a consolidated and inseparable force that held the nation together. Despite the Sinhala-Buddhist state being a feudal and authoritarian product of a hydraulic society common to the Asiatic mode of production, the king / state aspired to fulfil the Asokan ideal”, as described by Michael Roberts. In the Buddhist ideal the state was established for the good of the people. In fact, before he got converted to S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s (his father-in-law) separatist agenda demonising the Sinhala south, Prof. A. J. Wilson in his thesis wrote that democracy took root because of Buddhist ideals which emphasised tolerance and accepted diversity as a primary norm.
Buddhism moved away from pristine, cave-dwelling asceticism into the mainstream society as a civilising force. The laity too became overly depended on the services of the Sangha, particularly in obtaining spiritual services which helped them to cope with the diurnal demands and pressures of life. Consequently, the Sangha acquired a power equivalent to that of revered guardianship over the lives of the populace struggling to face not only tumultuous political turmoil but also personal internal and external tensions. The symbiotic relationship developed into an immoveable force vested in the hand of the Sangha — a power which not even traditional kings dared to challenge. It prevailed as a formidable spiritual, moral and political force, all combined into one. It informed and influenced practically every aspect of what the Mahavamsa called the Sihalas”. It is the overarching power of this force that has come under fire from anti-Sinhala-Buddhist sources seeking to overthrow the entrenched traditional institutions and ideals to enthrone the forces of separatism disguised as federalism, pluralism, diversity and democracy.
Dismantling the democratically elected state has been promoted under various theories. Jehan Perera, the head of the foreign-funded National Peace Council, is one of these theorists. Nationally and internationally he touts the trumped-up accusation that Sri Lanka is run by a majoritarian state” which, by definition, is a mathematical monolith that denies the minority their rightful place. He goes along with the Tamil separatist lobby which claims that the Sinhala-Buddhist state” (he calls it the state of the majority) has denied pluralism, diversity and liberalism. In the name of pluralism, diversity and liberalism he is holding seminars (only for selected people who toes his line) to create plural states, diverse centers of power and liberalizing the powers of the centre until the minority becomes a majority. This is the underlying meaning of these terms he uses in demonising the Sinhala-Buddhist state”. In fact, he is pretty mad that despite the likes of him in NGOs helping to create their Yahapalanaya” the ministers are rushing to assure the public that they will not touch Article 9 which guarantees Buddhism the foremost place in the Constitution.
This is the gist of Jehan Perera’s latest preaching (The Island, Pluralist ethos is more relevant to national identity — 12/2/2019) which he is regurgitated as if he is propounding a profound political revelation. He spearheads the denigration of the democratically elected state of the south in triplicate (one copy to his funding masters in the West, one copy to the Tamil separatists and one copy to manufacture consensus among his local hurrah-boys and girls) accusing it of majoritarianism”, meaning that the minorities have been denied their fair share of the national cake. Perera and his cohorts in politicised NGOs are in the lucrative business of manufacturing consensus for separatism disguised under various liberal theories of the West.
In historical times, the first waves of attacks came from the invading alien forces – the Dravidians, Portuguese, Dutch and the British. Now the attacks are coming from the locals financed and directed by the aliens. They are trying to make out that Buddhism, as a living force in shaping overall ethos of the nation, has not been a force for the good, particularly to the minorities. This is not surprising because the contemporary anti-national local agents receive funds from their Western God Fathers to undermine the traditional roots of the nation which are based, essentially, on Sinhala-Buddhism.
The Buddhist ideals that influenced the building of a new civilisation with a new culture and a new language – the three great pillars of Sinhala-Buddhist history — were delineated clearly in the Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle written by historian Ven. Mahanama in the 5th century. He said that the mission of the king/state (in this instance it was Dutugemunu) was ’’ to make our island a fit dwelling-place for men”. (MV – 1:44). Though this statement is short and sweet it summarizes the overall purpose and meaning of the state. In other words, all the laws of all states are to achieve this noble ideal. Taking it further, it can also be argued that this simple statement encapsulates the principles encoded in the UN Charter: making our planet a fit-dwelling place for men.
Historian Mahanama also declared emphatically that “the king/state is appointed mindful of the good of all” (MV – IV:7). King Elara earns his respected place in the Mahavamsa for ”ruling with even justice toward friend or foe, on occasions of disputes at law.” (MV – XX1:14). One noteworthy instance highlights the role of a minister who acts according to the rule of law, defying even the authority of the king. The Mahavamsa says:: “The high minister, known to be just, who decided (the matter) excluded him (i.e., the offending monk found guilty), according to right and law, from the order, albeit against the king’s wishes.” (MV – XXXVII: 39).
When put together , the basic principles of “making our island a fit-dwelling place for men”, “mindful of the good of all” with “even justice toward friend and foe”, “according to right and law, albeit against the wishes of the king/state”, add up to a comprehensive political philosophy on which benevolent democracies are established in contemporary times. Each one of these principles taken separately could be considered as the foundational principles / theories of liberal democracies that emerged in the post-French Revolution period of Enlightenment.
The principles outlined in the Mahavamsa were meant to be the governing principles of the Sinhala-Buddhist state. In broad outline, the Mahavamsa rated these principles as the highest noble values that accords with the ideals of a Buddhist state. These are principles that were laid down in the 5th century – long before modern political thinkers elaborated these fundamentals into sophisticated theories. The concept of universality embracing all of humanity and the compassion that runs through its pages with a sense of justice to all is an outstanding feature of the Mahavamsa. Our academics, hired to deride the Mahavamsa in the air-conditioned NGO seminars, have yet to discover the ennobling guiding principles in the Mahavamsa.
Dismissing the evidence found in the Mahavamsa, they continue to denigrate the Great Chronicle as a toxic source that inculcated “the Mahavamsa mentality” into the psyche of the Sinhala-Buddhists. But nowhere in the Mahavamsa is it stated that the king/state is for the good of the Sinhala-Buddhists ONLY. (Emphasis is mine). It is a historical document that recognised, respected and honoured diversity, plurality and humanity of all dwellers in our island. In the central and pivotal event of the Mahavamsa historian Mahanama pays glowing tribute to Elara. There isn’t a better example of plurality, diversity, and humanity in the annals of the Sinhala-Buddhist states than Dutugemunu, the hero who crushed the Dravidian invaders, erecting a monument to the defeated Tamil king. He goes further and commands that all drums be silenced as a mark of respect for the just king. This is the exemplary essence of Sinhala-Buddhism contained in the Mahavamsa. Jehan Perera conveniently ignores this inherent benign forces in the Sinhala-Buddhist culture and plugs, in his devious ways, the slogan of “Mahavamsa mentality” which, in his political vocabulary means denying of plurality, diversity and humanity. He conducts seminars and passes resolutions on the basis that Sri Lanka has been one big hell-hole for racial and religious minorities .
The anti-Mahavamsa (and, therefore, anti-Sinhala-Buddhist) propagandists are quick to hone in on Dutugemunu -Elara episode as the starting point of the Sinhala-Tamil divide. It is true that the war raged for 15 years, according Prof. K. M. de Silva. And the enormity of blood spilt would have been repulsive to those who witnessed it. But this event does not end in hatred and bitterness. King Dutugemunu who is sensitive to the ravages and the crimes of war is not rejoicing over his victory. The conscience-stricken Sinhala King is not only grieving for the dead but honours the dead by paying the highest respects King Elara. The monument he erected to Elara was also for the Tamil dead. It was an act that denoted both respect and reconciliation. Dutugemunu was signaling the Tamil community of his time that, though defeated, they too deserve his respect and will receive full honours and rights if they agree to co-exist in peacet, sharing the land in common with the rest. By erecting a monument for a Tamil invader on Sri Lankan soil he expressed unequivocally that the land was not ONLY for the Sinhalese but for the Tamils also. True, the war was fought on ethnic lines. But it was essentially, like all other wars against imperialist invaders, a war to regain it for the Sinhala-Buddhists their historic legacies. In driving the Dravidian invaders out he was not excluding the domiciled Tamils. As historian Mahanama wrote, the King was going to make “our island a fit-dwelling place for men.” Nowhere does Mahanama state that Dutugemunu was bent on making the island a fit dwelling-place for the Sinhalese ONLY.
The available historical evidence says it all. It is against this evidence that the organised anti-Sinhala-Buddhist forces manufactured theories to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists as a force of the majority determined to annihilate the other” / the minority. The enlightened thinkers (as will be shown later) had a different view of the Sinhala-Buddhists.
Fortunately some of the most brilliant minds of our times have grasped the dynamic zeitgeist of the nation born out of Sinhala-Buddhism. One of them is Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, whose humanity rising above the limited confines of the Catholic dogma lifts him to be the equivalent of Karl Rahner, the pre-eminent Catholic theologian who influenced the Second Vatican Council in the 20th century.
Rahner’s theological contribution to Christianity is astounding. If Jesus Christ plucked God out of the exclusive possession of the Jews (the Chosen People) and gave Him to the non-Jews, Karl Rahner plucked God out of the exclusive claims of Christians and handed Him over to the non-Christians as their God too. Rahner said that God will not reject what he called the anonymous Christians”. He developed the revolutionary concept of anonymous Christians” in his treatise titled Thirteen Investigations -– a classic in modern Christian theology. The conventional definition of a Christian is one who is baptised, belongs to a denomination and accepts the Bible as the word of God. Christians generally claim that they alone are saved because they have accepted Jesus as their saviour. Rahner went beyond this narrow concept and baptised a new breed of Christians whom God would not reject because they were not baptised, or because they do not belong to a denomination, or accept the Bible. He baptised them as anonymous Christians”. Rahner argued that non-Christians doing the same kind of good as the Christians would not be rejected by God. God, in His mercy, would accept them as anonymous Christians”. With his revolutionary thinking Rahner brought Christianity into the 20th century, abandoning the medieval theories of God being the sole property of Church-going, Bible-bashing, proselytizing do-gooders.
Cardinal Ranjith too is a revolutionary Catholic who has revealed a magnificent capacity to think out of the box. The spiritual affinities with that of Rahner’s theology are obvious in his approach to co-existing in multi-religious, multi-cultural Sri Lanka. He is the kind of healing spirit that is needed in times like ours where mediocrities like Jehan (Pacha) Perera is singing for his supper by demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists. The Cardinal’s intellectual and spiritual capacity to embrace the other” with understanding and compassion has been expressed in several of his public statements, breaking away with the divisive politics of some of the Northern Churchmen allied fanatically to Prabhakaran, the Tamil Pol Pot who killed more Tamils than all the others put together. (Source: S. Chandrahasan, son of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and S. Anandasangaree.)
To savour the flavour Cardinal Ranjith’s thinking it is necessary to quote him as extensively as possible. But for the sake of brevity I shall pick only the following quote from Daily Mirror ( 28/ 9/2018). It reported: Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith yesterday said that people who had been shaped by Buddhist civilization do not violate human rights and added a society which attempts to make human rights a religion, could safeguard human rights effectively through Buddhist teaching.
Cardinal Ranjith expressed these views at the prize giving of Kanduboda Shri Saranankara Daham Pasala in Delgoda organized by the Ven. Parakaduwe Sri Saranankara Thera recently. Chancellor of the Kelaniya University Ven. Dr. Walamitiyawe Kusaladhamma Thera presided over the event.
He said there were threats posed on religions at present and added that Buddhism was the backbone of this country and it was a religion which had been followed by the people in this land for a long time.
Rights of all people in this country are safeguarded when Buddhist culture is safeguarded. Anti religious ideologies are being filtered into the society today. We have to put them aside and safeguard religions,” he said.
Since we have inherited a great culture over the years, there is no need to think about human rights in a special way. Religions are not followed in some countries. Human rights are safeguard in our country much more than what is prescribed by the UN in Sri Lanka because of the Buddhist environment,” he added.
He also said the efforts made by the Buddhist clergy to bring up children according to Buddhist principals were commendable.”
This learned insight into Sinhala-Buddhist culture is the antithesis of the early missionaries who came to civilise the natives like those in contemporary NGOs. Assuming that we were primitives those missionaries began to preach to the indigenous natives their superior doctrines / theories. But Cardinal Ranjith has abandoned that superior and dismissive approach to the Sinhala-Buddhist culture. He accepts the Mahavamsa ideal which states unequivocally that the role of the king / state was “to make our island a fit-dwelling place for men” (including majorities and minorities). He argues that giving the foremost place to Buddhism guarantees the rights and freedoms of the other religions. He says that there is no need to think about human rights in a special way” because we had inherited a great culture over the years” which has not imposed Buddhism as the doctrine that must be obeyed, denying all other faiths. And the culture he is referring to is the Buddhist culture. His religious philosophy is summed up neatly when he goes further and says: “Rights of all people in this country are safeguarded when Buddhist culture is safeguarded.” He is the witness to the truth. Not lies. These are lines that should be engraved on the arch overhanging the entrance to each temple.
The rich profundity of these statements is reinforced by the historical events that protected the minorities. Cardinal Ranjith’s evaluations capture the overall Buddhist ethos that had governed the political culture of the state. It is the Buddhist culture that safeguarded the Muslims driven out by Sankili in Jaffna. It is the also the same Buddhist culture that safeguarded the Muslims driven out by Prabhakaran within 24 hours. Cardinal Malcolm is also aware that Sankilli went down to Mannar on the eve of the Christmas of 1544 and massacred 600 Tamil Catholics without any distinction of age of sex.” (p.33 – Yalpana Vaipava Malai). Tamil historian Mylvakanam, author of Yalpana Vaipava Malai, adds: His insane fury longed for more victims and he fell upon the Buddhists. The followers of Buddhism were all Singhalese, and of them there were many in this kingdom.” (p. 33 – Ibid).
When the Catholics were persecuted by the Protestant Dutch it was the Kings of Kandy who gave refuge to them in Wahakotte – now a Catholic island surrounded by a sea of Buddhists. Any visitor coming down from the Airport to Colombo via the old road passing the coastal Catholic belt will be excused for thinking that Sri Lanka is another little Rome”, seeing the numerous Catholic saints lining both sides of route. If one has to find evidence for plurality, diversity, liberality etc., all what is the needed is to take quick run down this road to the Airport. Obviously, Jehan Perera who is castigating the majority” (meaning Sinhala-Buddhists) hasn’t gone down this path. He only sees Article 9 of the Constitution which gives “foremost place” to Buddhism. To Jehan Perera this clause is like a red rag to a bull.
It was a Catholic historian, Dr. G. C. Mendis who pointed out that none of the Portuguese, Dutch and British historians ever mentioned anti-minority San-kill-ian acts by the Sinhala-Buddhist state or communal riots until G. G. Ponnambalam inflamed communal passion with his unwarranted attack on the Mahavamsa and Sri Lankan history in Navalapitiya in June 1939. The first communal riots did not begin with S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike in 1956. It began with Ponnambalam in 1939.
When Tamil historian Mylvakanam wrote his Yalpana Vaipava Malai – “a historical garland” which in the eyes of the Tamil is, more or less, the equivalent of Mahavamsa — at the request of the Dutch Governor Jan Maccara (1739) he never imagined that in the 20th century another Sankilli would rise and repeat the massacres of Mannar. Velupillai Prabhakaran, stands out as the reincarnation of Sankilli. Prabhakaran represented mono-ethnic extremism of the San—kill –ian Tamil culture that refused to tolerate pluralism, diversity, liberalism or even humanism. Oddly enough, the only group he did not target was the Catholic Church. The Tamil wing of the Catholic Church actively supported him, with threats of breaking away from the Southern wing. The enormity of the crimes of Prabhakaran, against his own people, is well known to Jehan Perera. Did Jehan Perera ever run seminars and campaigns demanding an end to violations of basic human rights? Did he go to Geneva demanding diversity, pluralism and liberty in the Tamil gulag run by Prabhakaran? Once I participated briefly in a seminar he held in Geneva where he exhibited handpicked yes-men and women who were eager like him to demonise “the Sinhala-Buddhist state”.. It was a part of his global political programme in which he argued that Prabhakaran should be empowered with greater power to restore Tamil dignity and fulfill Tamil aspirations. He was going all out to legitimise and reinforce fascist Prabhakaran’s quasi-state which persecuted, oppressed and suppressed all dissent, pluralism, diversity and liberalism..
This is only a miniscule part of the abominable history of the great champion of freedom, democracy, plurality, diversity and liberalism. He rationalised and justified the crimes of Prabhakaran by blaming the Sinhala-Buddhist state for the rise of Tamil fascism. He was scared to criticise Prabhakaran for two main reasons: 1. he was scared of getting bumped off like Neelan Tiruchelvam and, more importantly, 2. he was scared also of losing the funding from abroad which fattened his bank account for demonising the Sinhala-Buddhist state in the guise of promoting diversity, pluralism, liberalism and democracy. There was no cash for opposing Tamil fascism that was killing more Tamils than all other forces put together. Demonising Sinhala-Buddhism is big business for him. He maintains his life-style by denigrating Sinhala-Buddhism.
So when the ground realities, leading intellectuals, historical evidence and an unimpeachable and iconic representative of the minorities, Cardinal Ranjith, a Prince of the Catholic Church, present Sinhala-Buddhism as a benign force for all men how did Jehan Perera come to the conclusion that it is against diversity, pluralism and humanity? If the loved and respected Tamil intellectual like Lakshman Kadiragamar told his London audience that his foreign credentials are merely the icing on the cake that was baked in Sri Lanka does it mean that the Sinhala-Buddhist state had denied the minorities their rights and their privileges to blossom? If the path was paved for the Tamils to succeed in their chosen fields (example: Murali) how did Jehan Perera come to the conclusion that the minorities were denied their due? Incidentally, when the Australian umpires were no-balling him, with the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, (a fellow-member of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s International Democratic Union) branding him as a “chucker”, was it Prabhakaran and Jehan Perera who stood up for Murali and saved his career? If Murali was with Prabhakaran he would have had the choice of throwing only hand-grenades, and possibly losing his hand in the process. It was because there was pluralism, diversity, liberality, and humanity in the Sinhala-Buddhist culture that Murali attained the great heights which he richly deserves.
To be continued
H. L. D. Mahindapala