Constitutional Reform and the Protection of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Attorney – at – Law
In the light of the proposed changes to the Constitution of Sri Lanka now under consideration and growing accusations of contrived attempts via the proposed new Article 33 to neutralize the applicability of Article 9 in the Constitution that imposes a mandatory duty on the State to give to Buddhism the foremost place and protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e), an important question has arisen “ What is the relationship between the State and Buddhism that should exist in the present day? ”
It is an incontrovertible fact that Buddhism, more than other ideology or religion, has played a singular role in creating an unique civilization and shaping the destinies of this country. Sri Lanka is the oldest Buddhist nation in the world. If not for the continuance of the Dhamma, through the study and practice of it in this country, it is unlikely that there would even be a semblance of pure Sasana in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, or Cambodia. It is in Sri Lanka that the Wheel of the Buddha’s law was truly set in motion with the arrival of Arahant Mahinda with the blessings of that great universal monarch, Emperor Asoka. If this event did not take place in Sri Lanka, the Pali Canon may not have got recorded and the noble doctrine of the Buddha, recited and accepted by the Arahats, at Rajagaha, Vesali and Pataliputta, i.e. three Great Councils of the Arya Sangha, would have vanished into thin air long ago.
Arahant Mahinda not only introduced the Dhamma but he also taught it in such a manner that it soon became the overriding element in all the activities of our people in the past, enthused them to develop an altogether new culture, which has become basis of the social outlook of the vast majority of our people even to this day. Such is the hold of the Dhamma so ingrained in almost every facet of this country that the Buddhist public very rightly feel that it is something they cannot do without as it is now representative of their life blood, more or less. The day the Buddha Dhamma is abandoned or allowed to fade or wither away with the removal of patronage of our rulers and the protection afforded by the Constitution which was also explicitly set out in Article 5 of the Kandyan Convention of 1815, that is the day this country would have truly lost its very soul.
In the pre-colonial period the Sinhala Monarch protected the Buddha Sasana and maintained its purity as one of his primary duties. He exercised his power and authority over the religion to prevent schisms and heretical interpretations of the Dhamma. He invoked the “dasa raja dhamma” as a basis of governance. He developed an Animal Friendly Cultural Heritage which is unique to Sri Lanka. The tenet ‘compassion to all living beings’ based on the Buddha’s words in the Karaniya Metta Sutra was heavily influential in the choice of both vocation and diet.
When the foreigners came to this country beginning in 1505 they found the Buddhists united and strong. To weaken this unity they adopted every means to divide them. The post – independent Sri Lanka has a fundamental obligation to strengthen the status of Buddhism.
It is our historical track record of service to the cause of Buddhism that has shaped our national identity and brought universal recognition to this country and still continues to do so.
It therefore falls on the current and future generations to ensure that Buddhism continues to flourish in Sri Lanka and that the State performs its historic public duty, as enshrined in the National Constitution, to extend patronage, protection and foster Buddhism both within and outside the country. Any attempt directly or indirectly through tampering with the Constitution to stalemate the applicability of Article 9 which gives foremost place to Buddhism is fraught with grave danger to peaceful co – existence between various communities in Sri Lanka.
By Senaka Weeraratna