Monday, 20th October 2014

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What is ‘Bodu (Buddhist)’ in the ‘Bodu Bala Sena’?

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‘Buddhist’ is an identity tag as much as it denotes preference for a particular teaching   	                                                                              (Pic by Rukshan Abeywansha) ‘Buddhist’ is an identity tag as much as it denotes preference for a particular teaching (Pic by Rukshan Abeywansha)

Way back in the year 2004, when the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) was formed to contest the April elections, I objected on grounds that the political/historical role of the Bikkhu was advisory. The mayor, I wrote to the Sunday
Island (February 15, 2004) has to get the drains cleaned, but is not required to cover himself in muck.  For all this, the key figures of the JHU conducted themselves with decorum; they made their points lucidly and treated critic with respect, opting to deploy word to counter word.  That the JHU became something else later on is a different matter. The point here is that the JHU of April 2004 is a stark contrast to the BBS of April 2013.  

Their statements, at media conferences and public gatherings, as well as their actions describe them well.  It is apparent in tone and facial expression, in word and deed.  It is also apparent in the organization’s silence on or responses to actions done in its name.  If there is one thing absent in all of this it is equanimity.  Emotion has ruled reason.  Attachment overrides all else.  There is clear inciting to violence.  There is fear-mongering and playing to the baser instincts of a community, a tickling of human frailty.  

‘Buddhist’ is an identity tag as much as it denotes preference for a particular teaching.  But if teaching is important (and it certainly is), then any organization containing the word or a derivative must be guided by that doctrine, in both word and deed.  The BBS is at odds with the fundamental tenets of the Dhamma.  

The most recent example is how BBS representatives behaved in Thunmulla when confronting a set of individuals who had organized an event tagged ‘Buddhists Question Bodu Bala Sena’.  That particular event was either organized or hijacked by people whose political agendas are anything but innocent.  On the other hand, they were not violent.  They came to light a candle, recite some lines in Pali (printed for the benefit of those unfamiliar, Buddhists and non-Buddhists) and take a stand.  The BBS representatives present were abusive.  In word, gesture and tone, they were in clear violation of ways of conduct prescribed by the Buddha.  They could have, for example, spoken to those present cordially, even while recognizing pernicious intent and mischief-maker, and invited them to chant the thun-sutra together.  

That particular incident was rather mild, compared to the foul and violence-inciting language and rhetoric indulged in by the BBS leadership.  The BBS can claim they had no hand in the attack on Fashion Bug, for example, but they are certainly guilty of whipping anti-Muslim sentiment and ‘Muslimphobia’ among Buddhists.  The stone-thrower is guilty, so too are those who planted ‘stone-throwing’ in his mind, directly or otherwise.  The BBS has deliberately distorted statistics gathered by the Department of Census and Statistics to buttress arguments about ‘Muslim Expansion’.  If, as the BBS claims, Muslims are in ‘expansion-mode’ and if whatever they find objectionable is illegal, then the BBS must take to the courts.  
If there’s nothing illegal but it still offends, hurts and threatens, then the BBS (or anyone else) must seek answers in the Dhamma, which prescribes as fundamental engagement factors, pragna (wisdom) and maithree (compassion).  There’s a palpable absence of intelligence and absolutely no compassion in the way the BBS has conducted itself.  They could find answers in the Kalama Sutra (the Buddhist Charter on Free Inquiry), use the Sapta Aparihani Dharma (Seven principles of indestructability) etc.  They could find in the notion of sanvaraya (decorum) associated with the figure of the bikkhu a useful ally in conduct.  They have not.  

Buddhists are not Arahats and there is political dishonesty in demanding that kind of enlightenment from Buddhists in the face of aggression (real or perceived), but an organization that purports to uphold Buddhist doctrine, culture and values must consciously and actively strive to adhere to basic doctrinal tenets.  The BBS is so far away from that point to justify using ‘Bodu’ in its name.  If Buddhists find the BBS to be a slur on their identity and belief system, then they too should respond with the compassion, wisdom, moderation and other concepts that guide action embedded in the Buddha Vacana.  This would include circumspect in who to stand with of course.  

What non-BBS Buddhists and other non-Buddhists of whatever political persuasion do is their business. The BBS cannot play mirror-politics if they hope to achieve anything close to moral high ground.  As of now (and perhaps for all time, given the arrogance and invective that they’ve adorned themselves with), ‘Buddhist’ is not a tag they can wear without insulting all Buddhists and Buddhism.

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