A sound piece of advice | Daily News


A sound piece of advice

With the election season on, the topic of “monks in politics” has surfaced again with a leading prelate, no less, enjoining the public not to vote for members of the Sangha who present themselves as candidates at the upcoming election.

Chief Incumbent of the Mihintale Rajamaha Viharaya Ven. Dr. Walawahengunawawe Dhammaratana Thera had made a firm request from voters to desist from voting for monks and any religious figures contesting the August 05 General Election.

This is not the first time that the Ven. Thera had admonished monks who take to politics. On an earlier occasion too the Ven. Thera asked voters to say no to Bhikkus who come canvassing seeking their votes. Even the Most Ven. Chief Sangha Nayake Theras had made a collective request to political parties not to give nominations to members of the Sangha to contest the General Election or accommodate them on the National List.

Perhaps heeding this request President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had left out Bhikkus from the nomination list of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and also the National List, with other parties too following suit.

This may be why a group of monks is contesting as a separate group at the upcoming election. The Ven. Dhammaratana in issuing his edict opined that the monks who hitherto entered Parliament had failed to present even a single Bill in furtherance of the Buddha Sasana.

Not just these reasons, there are other more compelling reasons why members of the Sangha should not go to Parliament or engage in politics at all. To begin with, politics - at least the variety being practiced in this country- is hardly the kind that is in consonance with the Buddhist faith that is epitomized by calm and serene bearing. Our Parliaments do not resemble this description. Monks, however good their intentions may be, can only emerge traumatized as we witnessed during their foray into Parliamentary politics some years ago.

All Buddhists would endorse the sentiments of the Ven. Dhammaratana Thera ,especially going by the passing scenario, where some members of the Sangha themselves have fallen woefully short of living up to the calm and serene composure expected of them.

No true Buddhist would endorse Buddhist monks mounting political stages and spewing abuse on others or using intemperate language against anyone else. They invariably will be compelled to swim with the tide and be one with the rest of the lot. Worse, monks who entered Parliament had also been at the receiving end of physical violence as witnessed for the first time in the new Parliament in 2004 when monks who were elected from the Sihala Urumaya were manhandled by fellow lay MPs with one monk suffering the ignominy of being hospitalized.

Such incidents no doubt would have made the Ven. Dhammaratna Thera to issue his edict, not wanting to see further humiliation and indignities visited upon the Bhikkus who enter Parliament.

Besides, as the Ven. Thera remarked, monks as Parliamentarians will be entitled to luxuries and privileges as their fellow MPs that would include subsidized meals, duty free vehicle permits to be disposed at their pleasures as is the case with all MPs, free foreign travel, a long list of allowances, and other goodies and facilities which ordinary folk could only dream about, which again is at variance with the primary calling of a Bhikku which is to shed all comforts and luxuries and lead a life of simplicity austerity and devotion in keeping with the teachings of the Noble One.

Besides, as they say, individuals are judged by the company they keep and one can say that Bhikkus who enter Parliament would hardly be in exactly exalted company going by what the public has been witnessing inside Parliament down the years. Even schoolchildren had to be removed from the Public Gallery lest they be exposed to the kind of profanity that has sometimes been heard in the August Assembly not to mention the free-for-alls that had been an integral part of proceedings all along.

Not just Parliament, it is time Bhikkus are kept off all public office or Government functions including leading trade union movements since all these form the antithesis to Buddhism. Monks should also not be allowed to take part in protest agitations and disobedience campaigns such as undertaking death fasts which yet again is diametrically opposed to the Dhamma and Vinaya rules.

Hopefully, the Ven. Dhammaratana’s advice to political leaders to leave the Members of the Sangha out from the electoral lists and political office would make the desired impact. The Buddhist clergy should preach and disseminate the Dhamma here and abroad which after all is what they have been ordained for. This should generally apply to priests from all religious denominations as politics and religion do not mix well at all.

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