A long overdue remedy | Daily News

A long overdue remedy

The Maha Sangha hierarchy, led by the Malwatte and Asgiriya prelates, have called on President Maithripala Sirisena to take measures to expel from the Sasana persons with criminal backgrounds who function under the guise of Buddhist monks, according to a report in an English daily yesterday. The Mahanayakes, in a letter to the President, has brought to his notice that persons with court warrants issued against them seek refuge in the robe and a proper identity card should be issued to all monks as a preliminary measure (to identify the criminal elements).

Perhaps, the chief prelates would have been prompted by the growing trend of persons in robes being arrested over various acts of lawlessness. Buddhist monks, or those disguised as members of the Sangha, were also seen prominently on television footage capturing the recent incidents in Kandy, conducting themselves in a manner unbecoming of the saffron robe, though it must be added that many members of Buddhist clergy rushed to the protection of the victims at risk to themselves. This is why it is important that all members of the Sangha be issued with ID cards. The Police could then expose the pretenders and remedy the damage caused to the religion by the actions of a few.

It is a well known fact that even in the past those bent on mischief masqueraded as Buddhist monks. They even went to great lengths shaving their locks and making the necessary changes to their facial appearances to make them look the genuine article, all the time harbouring evil intent in their hearts. This phenomenon was mostly seen in the two bloody uprisings of the JVP in 1971 and the late eighties and especially at the time the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed where those disguised as monks went on the rampage causing mayhem and destruction.

There is good reason for this. The Law enforcement would naturally be reticent to mete out harsh treatment to members of Sangha, whom they identify by their outward appearance. They are also placed strategically in the vanguard of the protests and agitations by the masterminds of anarchy and more often used as a cushion for the latter to let loose their mayhem behind the lines, while the police negotiate with the so called Buddhist monks. This was seen even during the recent anti-SAITM campaign where monks, or, those masquerading as members of the Sangha, played a prominent part.

Like the prelates contend, there is very good reason to suspect that criminal elements are increasingly seeking cover under the robe to commit acts of felony and thus desecrating the religion. It is obvious that not all the monks we see in the middle of protests are really monks but hired hands or even undesirable elements made to don the saffron robe by the organisers to give legitimacy to such protests.

The identity cards, as a means of identifying the true members of the Sangha, as suggested by the prelates, would help the police sift the chaff from the grain and expose the charlatans bent on mischief. This would also minimize the prevailing trend to enlist Buddhist monks in all forms of protests, who in most instances act violently, which to say the least, is unbecoming conduct for those entrusted with disseminating a religion which has at its core teaching the virtue of compassion and serene living.

True, the members of the Sangha are well within their rights, or, even bound by obligation to stand up against injustice, oppressive, or, anti-social policies of the government in power. Nobody will fault them for leading protest campaigns against the opening of meat stalls or liquor shops close to temples or schools. But a line has to be drawn at a certain point so that they don't overstep their bounds and be drawn into what are seen as political projects, or allow themselves to be exploited by crafty politicians. Regrettable though, this is more the case than the exception today. Leading Buddhist priests are not only seen spewing venom to the extent of inciting communal passions, on political platforms, but are also lending their temple abodes to be used for political work. While the Maha Sangha's determination to identify the rogue elements in the Sasana should be commended this aspect of some of the genuine Buddhist clergy too should engage their attention. There are plenty of monks going around today causing much damage to a pristine and noble religion. Monks misbehaving in the courts and running amok breaking into government ministries and threatening officials, is indeed a novel phenomenon to all Sri Lankans. Most Buddhists also look down on the practice of members of the Sangha holding political office, quite at variance with a life frugality that was enunciated by the Noble One to all members of the Sangha.

Today it needs not be stressed that the respect and regard for the saffron robe among the Buddhist public has taken a heavy beating, due to the unbecoming conduct of a few. While the Mahanayakes’ objective of identifying the bad eggs is praiseworthy, discipline within the Sangha Order too is an aspect they should address in all earnestness.


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