Tamil Buddhists is it a dream or a reality!

PaththiniLatest film “Pathini” by one of the top Sri Lanka’s artist Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne is based on a love affair between Kannagi and Kovalan from “Silappathikaram” one of the five great epics of Tamil Literature. Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne’s dream of future Tamil Buddhists is very genuine and apt to this period and would have happened if the Sinhala Buddhist rulers had practiced Ahimsa (non-violence), Karuna (compassion), Metta (affection), and Maithriya (loving-kindness) towards fellow humans (irrespective of race/religion); instead they choose to puff racism by spewing hatred from the days of independence to date, sadly will remain  a dream in the minds of true Buddhists, who were themselves responsible for sending the faulty Sinhala Buddhist rulers repeatedly to parliament.

Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka in the third century BCE and the Buddhist Monks renounced all worldly and material attachments and simply don the saffron robe to pursue their spiritual journey, took the vow as ordained monks to preach and live by the teachings of the Gautama Buddha. On the other hand Hinduism was practiced in many parts of Sri Lanka, before the period of Lord Buddha; Hinduism was the dominant religion in Sri Lanka before the arrival of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC and is evident from many Hindu Temples spread all round the island. There is no doubt the Teachings of Lord Buddha gave us a rich religion to follow and is practiced in several countries in the world including Sri Lanka. Many Tamils in North and East of Sri Lanka took to Buddhism long before it spread to the south, later the Tamils in Sri Lankan gave up Buddhism as the Tamils did in South India and accepted other faiths or returned to Hinduism.

With the arrival of Arab traders in the 7th century A.D., Islam began to flourish in Sri Lanka. The first people to profess the Islamic faith were Arab merchants and their native wives, whom they married after having them converted to Islam. All three western colonial powers namely the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British that governed Sri Lanka in varying degrees during the period 1505 – 1948, had as the cornerstone of their imperial policy the conversion of the Sinhala Buddhists and the Tamil Hindus into Christianity. By the 8th century A.D., Arab traders settled down on the island in large numbers, encouraging the spread of Islam. However, when the Portuguese arrived during the 16th century, many of their descendants now called the Sri Lankan Moors were mainly traders and merchants with spice trading networks spanning to the Middle East. The population of Sri Lankan Moors significantly declined during the Portuguese colonial rule due to the pogroms against the Moors, many of whom took refuge in the central highlands and Eastern Province of the country. During 18th and 19th centuries, Javanese and Malaysian Muslims bought over by the Dutch and British rulers contributed to the growing Muslim population in Sri Lanka. Their descendants, now the Sri Lankan Malays, adapted several Sri Lankan Moor Islamic traditions while also contributing their unique cultural Islamic practices to other Muslim groups on the Island. The arrival of Muslims from India during the same period also contributed to the growth of Islam in Sri Lanka. Most notably, Pakistani and South Indian Muslims introduced Shafi’i and the Hanafi school of thought, however most Muslims on the island still adhere to the traditional practices of Sunni Islam and Sufi order.

In Sri Lanka resurgence of Buddhism and Hinduism began under British rule following three centuries of suppression under colonial rule; with independence in 1948 Buddhism was restored to its place of pride and Buddhist Sinhalese dominated the state; both Sinhala Language and Buddhism were given prominence ahead of other languages and religions. In a true democracy Sinhala and Buddhism, the language and religion of the majority should have automatically surfaced to prominence and that did happen within years of gaining independence in 1948. As expected it was the other communities who needed protection and this was provided in the first constitution.

Hinduism has a long tradition in Sri Lanka, and is almost exclusively by Tamils apart from small immigrant communities from India and Pakistan. Hinduism is dominant in the North and East provinces, where there are a significant number of Tamil people. Hinduism is also practiced in the central regions where there are significant numbers of people of Indian Tamil descent as well as in the capital, Colombo. In the 1915 census they made up almost 25% of the population, which included the Indian Tamils the British had brought to work in their estates as labourers. Many thousands of the Indian Tamils were repatriated back to India by the Sinhala Buddhist rulers in concurrence with Indian rulers during the latter part of last century. Later with the relocation that occurred in the country due to the Bloody Civil War, over a million Sri Lankan Tamils fled in all eight directions to other countries in the world; a phenomenon never ever witnessed in the history; where the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora built many Hindu temples  to maintain their religion and culture. Many more lost their lives due by the pogroms against the Tamils during the last days of the Bloody Civil War, not fully accounted for as yet and where human right violations is said to have occurred. According to the government census of 2012, there are 2,554,606 Hindus making up for 12.60% of the population in Sri Lanka and today they are a dwindling minority, refer to posting in Northern Breeze “Betrayals Validate Federal Call”.

Today the obvious question is are the Buddhist practicing Ahimsa (non-violence), Karuna (compassion), Metta (affection), and Maithriya (loving-kindness) towards fellow humans (irrespective of race/religion)? No doubt there are many practicing Buddhists in the country; but unfortunately they have elected many Sinhala Buddhist to represent them in parliament, who has many a times misused their position for their personnel gains or to retain power under the pretext of protecting Buddhism and Sinhala Language. They who have over the years promoted ethno-religious chauvinism and hatred; and by doing so have embarrassed the true Buddhist voters.  They are not living by the teachings of Gautama Buddha, the great teacher who showed love and compassion to even non-living things; instead are spewing anti Tamil venom. The most recent of their act in peace time was as guardians of Sinhala-Buddhism placing permanent camps for Sinhala armed forces in North and East of the country to make ensure the historic habitat of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is rapidly filled with Sinhala Buddhist; while the real owners of the land the Tamils are still languishing in makeshift camps still, seven years after the war. The said Sinhala Buddhist rulers have no concern whatsoever about the sufferings of those Tamils and want all of the farm lands and paddy fields of the Tamils be given to the Sinhala armed forces to settle them permanently, thus fanning Sinhala racism by spewing anti Tamil hatred and fanaticism.

In the early part of this century following the end of war in 2009 the state has commenced a new, Sinhalicised capital for the North too at Kilinochchi, and is being prepared for that with an extensive military presence along with airstrip, new Buddhist temples, and other provisions by not allowing the local population to their lands. When resettled, the local Tamils will be herded into pockets and there will be a new population, considerably Sinhalicised. A similar act of Sinhalicisation of Trincomalee, the capital of the East commenced after 1983 riots and was completed towards the latter part of last century. The object is not to have a city or administrative center existing for Tamils, if this trend continues over a period there will be no Tamil city in Sri Lanka. It was for this purpose the establishment of permanent camps for security forces in the `liberated North and East` were pursued immediately after the war by the State under the patronage of previous regime and maximum facilities were provided for forces and police personnel in occupation in the North and East. This has caused many Buddhist Temples swelling out in this war torn areas, mostly patronized by the armed forces.

In the years that followed the end of bloody war in 2009, a massive development began taking place in the war torn areas of North-East to meet the above objectives. The whole world was deceived to think the war torn areas are being developed for the people of North-East; in reality every stage of the progress was marked by greed, prejudice, brutality and cruelty comparable only to what took place in the country during early years of colonial rule. While this act was in progress the past regime divided the merged North-East province by influencing the judiciary that had lost its independence; it was done in utter indifference to the suffering Tamils. Thereafter both the divided provinces were brought under direct Governor Rule; incidentally both provinces had ex-serviceman and not a civilian as its Governor. To terrify their subjects and bring home to them the might of the conquest, many atrocities were committed in the region that went unchecked by the authorities. None of the grievances of the Tamils were resolved by the state in this period. The farms and land which were under the control of the rebels were now taken over by the government and were made use of for development projects, utilizing the manpower of the security forces. As the result there are permanent houses, cultivated lands and seeking women to have descendants, will create a new kind of `ethnicised colonisation’ in the land previously held by Tamils.

The questions still remain, why are the Sri Lankans ignorant of their past or rather, why is the Sri Lanka’s past hidden from its own people? Why do the Sri Lankans believe that the ancient Buddhist sites found in North and East provinces belong to the Sinhalese and not to the Tamils? Why are the Sri Lankans ignorant about the early Tamil Buddhists in these two provinces? Why do the Sri Lankans think, in Sri Lanka a Buddhist should be a Sinhalese and a Hindu should be a Tamil while the Sinhalese worship most of the Hindu Gods? Why do most Sinhala-Buddhists believe that they are blood relatives of Lord Buddha? Why the Tamils are shy to admit there were Tamil-Buddhists in the country?

Has 2500 years of Buddhism in Sri Lanka influenced any major changes in the Sinhala society in terms of attitude, character, behavior, morality for them to go back to Buddhism? In fact it has failed miserably; as per the 2012 Sri Lanka Census there is a small Buddhist population, including monks, amongst the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. This would have been considerably more, if not for the ethnic conflict in the country, brought about by for the short sightedness of a few greed Sinhala-Buddhist politicians, remnants of whom are still in parliament.

There was a misconception that all Buddhists in Sri Lanka are Sinhalese, but it does not take long to realize how the concept of “Buddhists are all Sinhalese” has made politicians of all colour and shade to take advantage. It has resulted in divergence of thought among various religious communities, which has caused many manmade disasters in the country since independence and dented the unity of the country.

This week the New Governor of Central Bank on assuming duties has said “Ever since this country gained Independence, economy of this country has been mixed up with politics” and stressed “that good economic policies result in good politics”. It should apply equally well for Buddhist Clergy in Sri Lanka, where from the days of Independence it is mixed up with politics; Many leading Buddhist Monks have retained their dignity and full filled their role well in the past. As posted in Northern Breeze “Remembering a true Buddhist Monk” it was Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, who led the civil society against the past regime and exposed their misdeeds to the people. It caused a change of wind to blow across the country and the true Buddhists joined hands with all the minorities to vote out the past regime, that was a blessing for this country. It demonstrated to the nation the value of being guided by those who follow the noble teachings of Lord Buddha. Sadly most of the Buddhist-Sinhala legislators do not understand this basic concept and from time to time by their action have dragged Buddhist monks into petty politics. The actions of these monks have promoted ethno-religious hatred and brought disrepute to their noble profession. In general, after independence the divine monks are openly undervalued by the politicians for their advantage and it has contributed to tarnish the image of the Buddhist monks and in general Buddhism.

To create the togetherness and the common bond that once existed between the Sinhalese and Tamils, Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne’s dream of future Tamil Buddhists is very genuine and very pertinent for the period; a dream in the minds of a few true Buddhists, could be a reality only if every Sri Lankan in and out of the country participate in the process without dirtying their personality in petty politics.