The Sangha in the political fray | Daily News


The Sangha in the political fray

In this year of parliamentary and provincial council elections, more voices are being added to the growing calls for members of the Buddhist clergy to shun politics and, for political party leaders of all hues to desist from nominating members of the Sangha to Parliament, among them influential sections of the Sangha hierarchy. The latest to comment on this important subject is the Ven. Medagama Dhammananda Thera, Registrar of the Asgiriya Chapter of the Siyam Nikaya.

The Ven. Thera has enjoined all leaders of political parties not to include any member of the Sangha in their nomination lists for the upcoming General Elections. The Thera says sending Bhikkus to Parliament as people’s representatives has resulted in much harm being caused to the Buddha Sasana.

He recalled the circumstances under which members of the Sangha contested elections and entered Parliament in an apparent bid to strengthen the country’s historic Buddhist ethos. However, while this has brought about some positive outcome, there was also much negative fallout to the detriment of the Buddha Sasana, the Ven. Thera recalled. The Ven. Thera was obviously referring to the ignominy and humiliation suffered by those Bhikku Parliamentarians during some episodes of fisticuffs and vociferous and even abusive rhetoric occurring in the House and outside. These episodes did, indeed, cast a slur on the Sasana.

Meanwhile, Mihintale Rajamahaviharaya Chief Incumbent Ven. Dr. Walawahengunawewe Dhammarathana Thera earlier this week enjoined all Buddhists in the country not to even entertain any members of the Sangha who approached them seeking their votes. The Sangha has no ‘Paksha’ (political parties), he has pointed out. Their only Pakshaya is the “Poojaka Pakshaya” (ecclesiastical community), he argued. The Ven. Thera was quoted as saying that Bhikkus should not engage in party politics as this was contradictory to the Buddha’s teachings.

He called on the Government to enforce laws and regulations to ban the Maha Sangha from entering party politics. The Bhikkus who have entered Parliament have still not been able to get any legislation passed for the nurturing of the Buddha Sasana, he was quoted as pointing out.

The Ven. Thera could not be far off the mark in this respect. As the Ven. Thera himself points out, those Buddhist monks who entered Parliament and became MPs have made little worthwhile contribution to foster and promote the Sasana. At least, not to the extent that the laity would expect from those who have fine-tuned their intellect in the purposes of the Dhamma and are therefore regarded as able to lead society toward the highest goals. Instead, some of the Bhikku politicians have engaged in relatively extraneous matters somewhat distant from their true calling, such as rival party politics and political manoeuvres.

No doubt, the views of these senior and authoritative Buddhist clergy would receive the ringing endorsement of all right thinking citizens of this country, particularly given the quagmire into which the country’s politics has fallen today and the dubious reputations of several lay politicians with whom the Bhikku politicians must associate.

Apart from the public furore that newly elected Bhikku parliamentarians found themselves in over the improper deals with vehicle import privileges entitled to MPs, one regrettably memorable moment was when Bhikku Parliamentarians were physically manhandled by their lay counterparts in the well of House during a stormy session to elect a Speaker. On this occasion, one of the Bhikku MPs had to be hospitalized due to injuries.

These Bhikkus would not have been subjected to such an ignominy had they shunned politics and devoted their attention to the task of nurturing the Dhamma, which is what they have been ordained to do in the first place.

The sight of the saffron-robed Theras in situations of such unseemly brawls and vituperative polemic inside the House is not something that helps retain the dignity and solemnity of the Maha Sangha. Sometimes, these situations inside the House have required visiting schoolchildren to be removed from the chamber in order to shield them from such improper behaviour by legislators.

In that sense the Bhikku community, should, let alone seeking entry to Parliament, actually give a wide berth to politicians and not allow themselves to be used in anyway by politicians or political parties. To do so runs the risk of association with politicians who are corrupt to the core and may be accused of various vices.

Besides, being Parliamentarians, these clerics are entitled to all perks and privileges of an MP including vehicle import permits, subsidized meals, a string of allowances in addition to their salaries including an attendance allowance, foreign trips and other joy rides at taxpayers’ expenses all of which have drawn the deep ire of the general public. After all, have not the Ven. Theras pledged to shun worldly comforts at the time of taking their holy vows?

Hence, it is time a serious view is taken by the country’s Sangha hierarchy on the question of Bhikkus taking to politics. It is more so, when this runs counter to the whole edifice of Buddhism and the Buddhist way of life. Importantly, such norms of propriety must apply to the clergy of all other religions as well.

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