Should A Country Be Governed By As Sangha Says? By Upali Gajanayake


A group of countries governed by religious principles can be seen on the world map even in this 21st century. Ignoring human rights is common in such states dominated by religious leaders. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan is an example of suppression of human rights by religious fundamentalism. Not just under the Afghan mullahs or Iran’s Ayatollahs, there is information released every day in our world about the suppression of civil liberties in all states controlled by religious fundamentalism. Such governments are especially dangerous for ethnic and religious minorities.

Some historians provide evidence that Buddhism has had a massive influence on the state in Sri Lanka since ancient times. They present ancient works including the Mahavamsa as evidence of the decisive influence of Buddhist monks on governance the country. Ven Dr. Walpola Rahula Thero has compiled the book entitled “Bhikshuwage Urumaya” based on those historical evidence. Ven Dr. Rahula argued that even today the Buddhist monks own that historical heritage.

Vidyalankara Manifesto

Ven Rahula not only prepared the theoretical background for the monks to engage in politics, but also, he was an active political monk. Once he was physically attacked by his political opponents for addressing election campaign meetings against UNP. Even some of UNP supporters had said that behind that attack on the group including Ven Dr. Rahula, were the henchmen of the DS Senanayake and JR Jayewardene who represented Kelaniya constituency at that time. The famous Vidyalankara Manifesto was published with the intervention of Dr. Rahula Thero and it was a modern publication that justified the politics of monks.

With the opening of the door by Ven Rahula, a huge number of Buddhist monks were politically baptized during the general elections of 1956. The general election of 1956 was held in an environment with a great enthusiasm among the Buddhist community of the country because of the Buddha Jayanti (2500th anniversary of the Gauthama Buddah’s parinibbāna). In the general election, it was not difficult for the monks with a history of acting as guides of the Buddhist people in terms of taking the voters to the place they wanted. After the collapse of the Sinhalese monarchy, the marginalized Buddhist monks once again took the political license to control the state. It is an open secret that Mapitigama Buddharakkitha had an influence on the Prime Minister even in the case of appointment of the cabinet ministers. The United Monks Front (Eksath Bhikshu Peremuna) which supported the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) in the 1956 general election, was operated under the leadership of Buddharakkhita.

The fate of Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam agreement

The political support of the Buddhist monks came as a boomerang to Prime Minister Bandaranaike when he had to tear up the Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam agreement when a group of monks surrounded his Rosemead residence. A group of Buddhist monks who pioneered his rise to power were forced to tear up the agreement. The Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam agreement advocated to create regional councils(Rata Sabha) in Ceylon for giving a certain level of powers to the Tamil people, and was intended to solve the communal disagreements that were occurring in the country at the time. The monks who forced the Prime Minister to tear up the Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam agreement, also took a hostile approach to the Tamil Language Special Provisions Bill, 1958.

The story of this religious influence in 1950s was ended when the Prime Minister was killed by a monk whom by the Prime Minister called a ‘Cheewaradhariya’ or a robe wearer.

A Monk shot to dead

The behaviour of most of the Buddhist monks shows their reluctance to accept that Sri Lanka is a multinational, multicultural society. The main ambitions of such monks who never understand the gap between religion and the state, is to keep Sinhala language and Buddhism at the forefront of the state. But they are unable to understand the damage done not only to the state but also to their own religious teachings. Meanwhile, their narrow vision is cunningly used to their advantage by many politicians who are greedy for power in Sri Lanka.

1958 was not the only time when Buddhist monks protested efforts to transfer the right to use their language to the Tamil people. It is an objection that has been reported continuously in recent history. The same objection was raised to the Tamil Language Special Provisions Bill, 1966. On 8th of January 1966, in an anti-Tamil demonstration, one Buddhist monk was shot dead by the police. An indelible stain in Sri Lanka’s left-wing political history is the joining of the main left-wing parties in mentioned anti-Tamil campaign on the day 08 January 1966.

Since the Indo-Lanka Agreement of 1987 and the establishment of provincial councils, these monks are taking to the streets against any rights of the Tamil people. Even the false voice of devolving police and land powers to the provincial councils has again provoked them. Other ethnic groups are also vulnerable to the opposition of the above-mentioned groups of monks. For example, recently such protest campaigns were launched targeting the Sri Lankan Muslim community. This is a behaviour that completely betrays the basic teachings of the Buddha. In the Vasetta Sutta, the Buddha preached that although there are differences between different animal groups such as reptiles and birds, all humans are within the same group. The broad picture of common human rights is being distorted by some monks who are driven by communal and religious fanaticism.

The above-mentioned behaviour of many monk groups is not limited to the cultural aspects. Some intervene in subjects they do not know, including economics and agriculture sectors without any quantitative knowledge of those specialist areas. A good example of this is the intervention of Athuraliye Rathana Thero MP in the agriculture sector. Rathana Thero is a person who has not studied the relevant subject has intervened to ban the use of fertilizers and chemicals without any scientific research. His intervention ended with the country suffering a severe food crisis.

Buddhism is a teaching that embodies a philosophy that provides a solid start to an important disciplined existence. Buddha’s Bhikshu community is also an organization established on such a disciplined basis. But today many monks in Sri Lanka work without taking that religious discipline into consideration. Some monks who put pressure on political institutions are now inclined to influence even the judiciary. Former President Maithripala Sirisena has said that it was Athuraliye Ratana Thero who asked him to release a prisoner convicted of murder. And Galagoda Atte Gnanasara Thero was convicted of contempt of court and imprisoned.

A pressure group

Buddhist monks are clearly an influential group in Sri Lankan politics who has their own distinct social and religious aspirations. But today, in a country with multinational and multicultural potential, if the desire of one such group is understood as the general desire of the state, it will cause a great prejudice to the entire society. On the other hand, their slogans are based on a limitation that does not understand the matter at all. They once led people against the federal system, today they are even engaged in an attempt to besiege the parliament even with the false statement of transferring police and land powers to the provincial councils, without proper understanding.

Educated only in greedy so-called political schools where racism is political opportunism, these monks have little understanding of world trends. The Tripitaka and even Buddhist literature make many references to caste, race and the nature of political power. But today’s popular Buddhism has suppressed that valuable Buddhist teachings. Who do they get political advice from? From which political forces? To find an answer for that question, I invite you to look at the main trends of monks’ politics in the last two decades.

(1) Soma force; There is no doubt that Sri Lankan Sinhala–Buddhist society still remembers the late Ven Soma Thero. He gained popularity in the Sinhala society through his sermons. That popularity was more rooted in Sinhala society with his controversial statements made about a Muslim expansion eastern province the country. The Soma-Ashraf TV debate, which was given more publicity by the media, attracted the attention of many people. With the false idea that Soma’s sudden death that happened in Russia was a Christian-influenced murder, the political result was taken advantage of by the Jathika Hela Urumaya lead by Patali Champika Ranawaka. A group of Bhikkhus, including Athuraliye Rathana, entered the Parliament with a racist political agenda, with the slogan of Soma’s death certificate. Patali Champika Ranawaka played a major role in forming the ‘Jathika Sangha Sabhawa’ and providing the necessary theory for it. The late Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha was its founding chairman. The entire monk organization led by Sobhitha directly opposed the decentralization of power.

(2) ‘Kudapola Force’; I will also recall a fact from the 20th century that cannot be forgotten. That is, during the 1985-87 the way the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna used monks to protest the Provincial Council. During 1987-89, JVP had formed an organization called ‘Kudapola Force’ including a number of young Buddhist monks to target monks who supported to the Indo-Lanka accord and provincial councils. The ‘Kudapola Force’ came under suspicion for several murders of monks in 1987-89. (The organization was named as a respect to Ven Kudapola Rahula, an anti-imperialist Buddhist monk who was killed during the British colonial period)

(3) Wirathu warship; Most of the Buddhist monks involved in politics in Sri Lanka today have been ideologically trained by such political organizations. They are internationally similar to groups such as Wirathu Bhikshu, a prominent Muslim dissident in Burma. Ven Galagoda Atte Gnanasara who fostered the anti-Muslim public opinion in Sri Lanka, invited to Bhikkhu Wirathu, to Sri Lanka and organized a warm welcome.

Who is today’s main theorist of anti-decentralization monks? He is Wimal Weerawansa MP, the leader of the National Freedom Front, who publicly challenges decentralization of the power. The analysis of Weerawansa on federal system has become the handbook of anti-provincial council’s monks. Who can challenge Wimal Weerawansa’s so-called comparative studies regarding the various federal systems in the world?


Even today we see such narrow-minded monks’ political interference on roads and in public places. Political participation is a right of all citizens in a democratic society. We don’t challenge it, but should the entire state obey the will of any influence group that has only put forward its ethnic or religious ambition without a national vision? Indeed, the serious issue in the country is that one religion has taken over the state. In many countries, this kind of influence has been removed by separating religion from the state.

Disclaimer :

Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect World Forum for Sri Lankan Muslims ( point-of-view.

About wfslm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *