A cowardly act | Daily News


A cowardly act

The physical attack on a priest of the Methodist Church last week, no doubt, will be unreservedly condemned by all right thinking citizens of this country across the religious spectrum. What is worse, the assault was carried out by a few Buddhist monks in full view of the church congregation. According to our weekend publication the Sunday Observer, on August 4, a Methodist priest in Weraganthota in Mahiyanganaya was brutally attacked by several Buddhist monks after the Sunday service.

“These monks had beaten him in the face, back of the head, spine and stomach. He and the church congregation were helpless, as a group of villagers had accompanied the monks. The young priest is now in a safe place but he is unable to hear properly. He will be referred to a psychiatrist,” President of the Methodist church of Sri Lanka Bishop Asiri Perera told the newspaper.

Bishop Perera himself was the victim of a similar assault, instigated by a Pohottuwa politician, in Anuradhapura some time ago. Like in that instance, on this occasion too no action has been taken by the law although complaints had been lodged.

This indeed is a serious situation that should engage the attention of the rulers. Freedom of worship and the right to practice one’s own religion without hindrance has been guaranteed in the Constitution. Besides, State patronage is given to all religions and there is a minister in charge of religious affairs. Bishops and other dignitaries of all Christian churches grace important State functions and calls are made by political leaders on church leaders which are given full publicity in the media. The President and the Prime Minister are sometimes seen at church events such as jubilee celebrations and render assistance towards church activities.

It is in this context that the inaction of law enforcement to attacks carried out on Christian churches, prayer centres and bodily harm caused to priests, has to be called into question. The establishment of the Methodist Church in this country goes back centuries and it is a mainstream church unlike some of the Christian sects that have come into vogue and are accused by some of religious conversion. Even Catholic churches have been subjected to violence in recent times.

It is astounding to note that those who are supposed to preach and practice tolerance and compassion, as taught in Buddhism, are the very ones who are in the vanguard of these attacks on practitioners of another religion. Or is it any surprise given the tone and tense of the current political scene where a xenophobic attitude is displayed towards religions outside Buddhism with politically-oriented Bhikkus leading the way. The involvement of a member of the Joint Opposition in the attack on the Methodist Bishop therefore cannot be accidental. The recent anti-Muslim sentiments generated following the Easter Sunday carnage obviously has fuelled a backlash not only against Muslims but also Christians, it appears.

In this context one may not be faulted for questioning the sentiments often expressed by His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith that Christians should always remain under the shade of Buddhism taking into consideration that it is the element of tolerance, which is a core teaching in Buddhism, which allows them (Christians) to practice their faith without let or hindrance. It appears this virtue of tolerance had been glaringly absent in the very individuals tasked with disseminating this great quality to their disciples.

Hopefully, this incident will not mar the close rapport forged by the Buddhist clergy with the Christians leaders in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday tragedy (some Bhikkus even went to the extent of cleaning up the debris and attending to repair work of the bombed churches). Protection should be given to denominational churches that are in isolated areas, which have been vulnerable to mob attacks. A full investigation should be launched by the police to apprehend the suspects, whoever they may be. The President, who is in charge of law and order, should intervene in the matter to assure justice and ensure there would not be a repetition of such cowardly attacks on churches and Christian priests.

The yellow robe does not give cover to anyone to take the law into their hands. It appears the genie released by the Ven. Galagoda-Aththe Gnanasara Thera is taking its toll, with his acolytes following suit. Besides, violence is quite the antithesis of Buddhism which underlines the concept of maithri (compassion) and tolerance.

Unfortunately, the conduct of some among the Bhikku community in the present day defies these noble qualities. The serene demeanour and deportment usually associated with a member of the Maha Sangha is singularly absent in some of them. Being in the vanguard of protest demonstrations, using intemperate langue, hurling missiles, getting tear gassed and generally going berserk are not the stuff one usually associates with a member of the Sangha. The Most Ven. Mahanayakes ought to take note and drastic action taken to stem the rot, lest Buddhism gets a bad name in the outside world to whom these antics are regularly on show via international satellite television. 

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