The Return of the Prodigal Monk
Asgiriya Chapter rushes in to back rebel bhikkhu’s nationalist call after Sirisena says anti Muslim action is to topple his government
Ah, just when one had wondered whether the absconding monk, that fugitive of justice, had renounced the pleasures of the world and sought refuge in some quiet corner of some dense thicket to meditate upon the wise counsel of the Buddha and seek alone his own path to redemption and not lead others down the garden path to incite racial hatred, Galagodaaththe Gnanasara emerged this Wednesday from his unknown kuti and surrendered to court and thus spared cops the blush of having being clueless as to his whereabouts.
Four police teams had been deployed to find him but for nearly a month his hideaway haven had kept the police baffled. Even a so called high tech definition sweep to round up similar fugitives had failed to reveal the secret den in which the runaway monk had meditated in.
It was indeed the return of the prodigal, the wastrel monk who had become the spendthrift of the Buddha’s doctrine which urges all to show tolerance to all faiths and creeds and to pay respect to another’s belief. Shrouded in saffron, in that designer robe of the mendicant, he had squandered the wealth of the Buddha’s teachings that had been poured to his bowl of alms ever since he was ordained. But he remained unrepentant; and by the smirk on his face when a tolerant court granted immediate bail to a man who had twice evaded warrant for his arrest, he almost seemed to show that it had given him some curious joy to cock a hoop and show his contempt to the majesty of the law and its enforcing arm.
All the police could say was: ‘Arresting a monk is not simple’. Apparently the saffron robe still gets some sort of unofficial immunity from police prosecution, Police spokesman Priyantha Jayakody on Wednesday not only admitted that the Police had failed to arrest Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary Galagodaaththe Gnanasara but excused police failure on the ground that arresting a Buddhist monk in a temple is not an easy task even though the charges he faced were for “remarks reportedly made to create racial tension.” Plus, of course, the warrant for his arrest issued by the Fort Magistrate twice to the police to bring the fugitive before the bar of court.
Do the police now hold themselves duty bound to first consider the political fallout such an arrest may give rise to and are even prepared to soft pedal the issue, tread the water rather than give effect to a magistrate’s order to arrest and produce a person in court?
After deploying four special police units to track down Gnanasara and failing to nab him until he chose his time and place to surrender to court, even the additional Fort Magistrate Lanka Jayaratne expressed surprise that the police did not object to bail being granted to the monk; and sorrow that her court was being tarnished in this manner in the eyes of the public by the vacillating nature of police behaviour.
She said: The Police had submitted in the their initial B report that the suspect monk had been obstructing the police in their duties, that he was responsible for inciting people to burn churches and murder Muslims and making such dangerous statements.”
She asked the police why, after waking her up at midnight and explaining to her the seriousness of the B report and obtaining from her the arrest warrant sought by the police, the police now do not object to granting the monk bail? She further said that she regrets the manner in which different people are treated by the police and admonished the police that due to instances like this, the public will get the wrong impression of the judiciary; and stated that in the absence of police objection to bail, she was compelled to grant the monk bail.
Five weeks ago, the monk had occupied a bench on the outskirts of the Sacred Dalada Maligawe and had declared that he will stage a sathyakriya against plans to arrest him. But it was apparent the guardian monks of the Temple of the Tooth were not prepared to let Gnanasara’s sathyakriya stunt take place on the doorstep of Lanka’s most hallowed temple; and turn it into a soapbox at London’s Hyde Park. Two hours later the Anunayaka of the Malwatte chapter emerged from his avasa to warn the rebel monk the consequences that would follow if he did not give up his sathyakriya and vacate the premises forthwith.
But whilst the Malwatte chapter had given him short shrift and shooed him away, the Asgiriya Chapter held his brash style at arm’s length but embraced his convictions this week with a statement issued by the chief prelate. On 19th June, Mahanayake Thera of Asgiriya Chapter of the Siam Mahanayake Warakagoda Sri Gnanaratana said ‘the Maha Sangha had always risen in defense of the country in times of crisis’.
Obviously the most venerable monk would not have been referring to the Sangha Rathanaya as described by the Buddha in the Rathane Sutra as the Third Gem of Buddhism the Noble Order of the Arahants in whom all Buddhist seek refuge, along with the Buddha and his Dhamma but to the Bhikku Sasuna, where disciples of the Buddha having gained membership, strive to follow the Buddha’s path.
Defense of the realm was never held by the Buddha – who never condoned war – as the proper function of a monk. Never has it been suggested that even in crisis the bhikkus should regard themselves as the fifth fighting force, next to the Army, Navy, the Air Force and the Police. If any monk wishes to fight for his motherland, then he should shed the robe and don military fatigues. A person cannot be a Buddhist monk of peace and a soldier of war at the same time.
What perhaps have given rise to this myth that the Sangha are defenders of Lanka is perhaps due to a reference in the Mahawamsa written by the monk Mahanama of a band of monks walking with Dutugamunu from Ruhuna to Anuradhapura to oust Elara from the nation’s then capital. If in the annals of Lanka’s history there are found a few isolated cases where monks have answered a call to arms, then such cases only serve to record instances where they have strayed beyond their true calling.
Secondly, is there a crisis? One that threatens the very existence of Buddhism in Lanka? Is this great religion which is so embedded in almost every Sinhala breast under attack from other faiths? A religion that survived five hundred years of foreign domination and which still remain Buddhist to the core under siege?
According to President Sirisena who said on Monday at the Ifthar ceremony at the Presidents House in Colombo, “mob attacks on Muslim places of religious worship and Business establishments are not just against one community; they are part of a well planned political conspiracy aimed at capturing power.”
And finally, one more thing needs to be said with all due respect.
The Asgiriya Chapter’s statement declared that “Although we do not condone the aggressive behaviour of Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera we do not reject his convictions. Politicians must not insult the Maha Sangha. Some politicians even refer to Gnanasara Thera by his name and do not give due respect as a member of the Maha Sangha. The government does not take any action against them.”
The reverence, the veneration, the worship that the people of Lanka pay to the Maha Sangha is not in question and is beyond doubt. But it is not an absolute privilege accorded to all who don the saffron robe but one qualified. And it rests upon the actions of its wearer.
Consider the following exposition contained in the Vasala Sutta on what makes a wretch and what makes a Brahmin.
One morning when the Buddha was residing at Jetavana he entered the city of Savatthi on his daily alms round and came across the house of a Brahmin. Seeing the Buddha’s approach from afar, the Brahmin came out of his house and shouted “Stay there, you shaveling, stay there you wretched monk, stay there you outcast.”
Quietly the Buddha asked him: “Do you know, Brahman, who an outcast is and what the conditions are that make an outcast?”
When the Brahmin said he did not, the Buddha asked him whether he could explain the difference and, at the Brahmin’s request to do so, the Buddha proceeded to tell him. The Blessed One then expounded, relating the 26 differences. Amongst these 26, the following will serve for present edification.
- “Whosoever is angry, harbors hatred, and is reluctant to speak well of others and discredits the good of others, perverted in views, deceitful — know him as an outcast.
- “Whosoever in this world kills living beings, in whom there is no sympathy for living beings — know him as an outcast.
- “Whosoever destroys and besieges villages and hamlets and becomes notorious as an oppressor — know him as an outcast.
- “Whosoever in this world, shrouded in ignorance, speaks harsh words or falsehood expecting to gain something — know him as an outcast.
- ”Whosoever is given to anger, is miserly, has base desires, and is selfish, deceitful, shameless and fearless in doing evil — know him as an outcast.
- “Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a Brahman. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a Brahman.”
Thus even as the Buddha said, “One is not born a Brahmin, only deeds make him so”, one does not become a Buddhist monk and earn respect and veneration merely because one dons the saffron robe but only one’s words and deeds make one worthy of the laity’s reverence and worship.