If there is one thing i believe about religion in general, its that people should have the freedom to practice it to the satisfaction of their conscience. This makes sense as long as one group’s practice of religion does not interfere with another group’s right of freedom. When religious freedom gets curtailed, I get real panicky about the state of a country. All religions have aspects and principles of righteousness, justice, and kindness in them, but sometimes people grab it and twist it and pervert it to cater to their own mixed values and malice.
I have admired the philosophy that is Buddhism for some time. The concept of temperance, of a middle path, of kindness and tolerance are all things i admire and try to follow myself in some form. I don’t kill, I don’t eat meat, I don’t drink; and yet these very traits are found strange in a country that should be upholding the principles of their ‘State’ religion. Instead, the ones who should be leading and guiding the people in their way of life are instead dirtying their hands in secular politics, playing power games, and of course beating up practitioners of other religions.
Tamils get the brunt of the bad feelings here in Sri Lanka, the Muslims their share, but the Christians are not far behind. Preachers have been beaten, churches damaged, worshipers abused, and threats tossed around for many years now. I personally know Sinhalese Christians who have been beaten up by gangs lead by monks solely for the crime of having worship in their homes, I know of buildings that have been burned for the same reason. On the 6th of this month, the Calvary Church at Thalahena was the latest victim of Buddhist violence. Four Buddhist monks led a mob into the church, vandalizing it and beating up the preachers and elders and threatening to burn the church down with the members in it. I wonder how much merit a dead preacher would get them? Normally I would try to write neutrally about religious issues, and try not to focus too much on the religion but rather on the issue. In this case however, the mob was LED by monks and there is no hiding the fact that this attack is religiously motivated. The violence here was premeditated and unworthy of what is principally a peaceful way of life. (Needless to say to say the police were reluctant to keep the peace in this situation)
What is as disturbing is the blatant display of hate by certain monks with no thought as to how they portray Buddhism to the world. At the Thalahena incident, the monks boasted of having attacked some 23 churches already and also stated that
..it was they who made the laws in the land and it would be they who would break the laws
One of the monks even admitted to having underworld connections.
Consider the words of the Ven. Thero of Bhodirajaramaya (during an interview regarding the Middeniya rally) when asked if the mob burned a picture of the Virgin Mary he said:
If The Sunday Leader wants a news story I could set fire to a cross with Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary’s photos and send it to your newspaper.
If religious leaders like the ones mentioned have no peace and tolerance in their heart how can we expect the public to learn proper precepts from them? They should either reanalyze their beliefs or start a whole new religion of violence altogether because at present there is not even a pretense of piety in the violence they commit.