Alanmathiniyaramaya Temple had a ceremony last night which blasted ear-splitting chanting through loudspeakers all down the street. There was literally a loudspeaker 15 feet from our bedroom window, playing at full volume. They were also loading a poor, terrified young elephant onto a truck under our window, with clanking of chains and slamming of metal. I’m a Buddhist and for the past few days I’ve been unable to meditate because they’re making so much noise. There are two things I really object to in Sri Lankan practice. Loudspeakers, and the use (frankly, abuse) of elephants.
Archive for the 'Religion' Category
There’s been a lot of talk about violence and hate speech towards Muslims, but it’s going on against Christians too. A lot. According to RSQ, “A mob led by three Buddhist monks attacked a prayer meeting in Colombo last week, beating the pastor unconscious.. On the same day, Praise Prayer Lanka Church cancelled their service after police warned of threats against them. A week earlier, a pastor in Hambantota had a narrow escape when arsonists tried to set his house on fire.”
I heard this quote yesterday and I couldn’t place it, I actually thought it might be sensible. In context, it’s not. Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is essentially saying that minorities are drawing majority ire by being insular, that the minorities are to blame for the extremism directed at them. The extremist BBS, of course, welcomes this statement. Logic doesn’t.
The Global Mail has a good piece on rising BBS bile. Here’s the money quote: “Gnanasara turns very angry at the mere mention of Muslims and Islam, which is hardly the demeanour one expects of a pious Buddhist monk. Withanage’s previous, more moderate explanations of BBS activism now pale before a bilious Gnanasara who seems to rail at the notion of anyone who isn’t a Buddhist. “Don’t talk with us,” Gnanasara yells. “Any Muslims, they are very bad people here. They are creating all problems here.””
I was thinking about it. If you go to any temple it’s primarily full of women, aunties mainly. That’s who’s upholding the Sinhala Buddhist faith, really. And yet I don’t see many aunties in the BBS. Any, really. It seems to be a bunch of men, including monks with drunk driving violations, practicing aggression under the guise of a religion that’s actually far more chill. At least as shown by the people that actually practice it. Which would be the white-clad aunties. The day they lead a protest movement I’ll take it seriously as representing mainstream Sinhala Buddhism.
Mohsin Hamid, author of How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, has a nice op-ed in the Guardian. Money quote for me was ‘Individuals are undeniably real. Groups, on the other hand, are assertions of opinion’. If you go buy news reports Muslims or Jews or Sri Lankans or any number of groups can appear monolithic and uniform. When you meet people, however, you find that they’re not. If you meet enough people you hopefully become aware of that tendency and judge people less by group identity in advance. Muslims, however, are quite publicly tarred with the same brush these days, and it really isn’t fair. Or accurate.
Buddhist mindfulness meditation has changed my life in many good ways. Basically if I don’t meditate in the morning I’m a grumpy and depressive ass. If I do, I’m less so. I’m also aware that this isn’t the point, that it’s not meant to be a crutch for this life but rather a way out, but I do use it to live this life as best I can. And it does work for me, and many other people, as brain scans and a lot of solid research shows. Sitting down for 10 minutes to an hour and just breathing does reduce stress and generally chill you out.
The Bodu Bala Sena (racist Sinhalese force) is headquartered, under the protection of a powerful monk, in the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi building at Thumulla Junction. While they go around threatening violence and harm to Muslims and other minorities in a very un-Buddhist way, no one has coherently protested against them. Until now. The Group Buddhist Questioning Bodu Bala Sena is organizing a candlit vigil against their hate speech and corruption of the dhamma this Friday at 7 PM. They’ll gather at the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Mawatha building near Thumulla Junction.
Bodu Bala Sena is scary because it’s a racist force with a fair amount of support. But purely dismissing them as racist and dumb in unhelpful. The BBS is as much a movement within Sinhala Buddhism as much as it is against minorities. As such it involves caste, class, and actually addresses some important underlying issues.
Recently a hotel in Beruwala was raided by Bodu Bala Sena for hosting a Buddha Bar themed party. This organization is actually more of a Sinhala nationalist group, using the colors but none of the teachings of the Buddha (who was, incidentally, not Sinhalese). I don’t support the defamation of any religion, but as a Buddhist the greater lesson is that there is no self and that attachments to this sort of identity just lead to suffering. And yes, that includes attachment to Sinhalese and even Buddhist identity. The lessons of Buddhism are much deeper than that and to invoke it’s power for such petty causes is just wrong.