Darshanie Ratnawalli courtesy of the Nation and the Colombo Telegraph, with the latter drawing a volatile discussion which readers may wish to view … SEE note below pertinent to that discussion
I am the legitimate issue of a woman who unabashedly claims to admire the Bodu Bala Sena. This affords me a critical perspective into the issue, without which everyone is floundering like headless chickens. There may be other people, whose mothers etc. harbor soft spots for the BBS. But because they are not me, they would either try to keep these mothers in the closet or, in contradistinction, empathize with these soft spots; whereas I…Well you shall see.
My mother represents the Sri Lankan equivalent of Middle America and, as such, the demographic bloc that makes or breaks any movement dependent on mass support for its success. In Middle America (SL), one becomes a Buddhist by being a stakeholder of the Buddha Sāsana (deliberately called henceforth, the Buddhist Church of Lanka) and by emotionally aligning oneself with the age-old mission of fostering this Sāsana on this soil for the allocated five thousand years. Once one has fulfilled this basic requirement adherence to Buddhism proper becomes peripheral and is largely left to personal discretion.
This is the context which empowers my mother to look pityingly at anyone who’d urge her to shift her alignment and allegiance from the Buddhist Church of Lanka, where the religion stands together with the State and the people forming the famous ‘Loka- Sāsana’ axis, to Buddhism (stand alone, nonaligned to any worldly axis). The pangs of allegiance towards the BBS felt by Middle America (SL) would be silenced only if and when voices genuinely identifying with the Buddhist Church and its Mission are raised against the BBS. Spokespersons for Buddhism not aligned with the Sāsana will not have the credibility and be dismissed as naive.
A very good example is Rev. Galkande Dhammananda, whose message of tolerance presented as two video clips on the web became an instant hit in certain circles, with monks of his ilk hailed as what this country needed in thousands. According to Prof. Sudarshan Senevitatna, “Rev. Dhammananda has been extremely concerned about the subversion of a doctrine of peace for destructive parochial ends and is committed to what he believes as re achievement of peace and understanding, a sentiment that comes from his heart”. Well and good. The only problem is Middle America (SL) will instantly spot the missing ingredient in his message. The missing ingredient is the Sāsana. Why is there an implicit as well as an explicit absence of this entity in his message? Why does an overwhelming concern for the Church (the Sāsana) fail to find expression in his message? Perhaps the Rev.Dhammananda thinks that all Churches are parochial institutions that subvert peaceful doctrines. But the Sāsana is not a dirty secret nor is Middle America (SL) going to disown it no matter how many protégés of Sudarshan Seneviratne do it.
Supposing another erudite monk came forward and put forth a parallel message; A) frankly acknowledging the challenges encountered in the present day by the Sāsana, with its inbuilt drives for maintaining a certain brand identity for the country (These drives are by no means criminal or unique to this Church, nor is this brand identity non inclusive- being merely asymmetrically inclusive or differentially incorporative); B) emphasizing the need to find modern and non-regressive ways of countering these challenges, drawing on this particular Church’s rich heritage of tolerance compared to all the other Churches; C) stressing the critical need for Bhikkhus with the intelligence, education and the exposure to the wider world to be at the helm of these counter moves; D) admitting that the degenerate, debased and degrading nature of the BBS movement reflects the overall deterioration of the entire Sāsana; E) reiterating nevertheless that live seeds of resurgence still exist.
If such a message could be put forth on behalf of the Buddhist Church of Lanka, it will be heard. At the moment, with everyone mouthing platitudes about Buddhism, BBS stands tall as the sole champion of the Sāsana, heir to its legacy, executor of its mission and the focal point by default, of Middle America (SL)’s allegiance.
Pics from the Nation – depicting “hate speech”
Another toxic ingredient is the absence of true redemptive intent in the current civil initiatives against the BBS. What The Hour demands of these initiatives are clinical, secular perspectives (in contrast to the wet schmaltz aspired to by the Candle People) that can spotlight and challenge all negative patterns in the fabric. Every Buddhist archeological site in the North and the East obliterated by a bulldozer, built upon or otherwise encroached into under the aegis of uncouth, unscrupulous and unethical Muslim and Tamil politicians, whose regional political clout earns them Government sanction, deserves a candle. We need to searchlight the literal excrement dumped into the Dīghavāpi site (the encroachment into this ancient archeological site also consisted of building toilet complexes on it as well as the metaphorical excrement dumped by the BBS upon the Lankan social fabric. Every ancient landmark such as Mātota (Manthai) and Kuragala targeted by agendas devoted to their obliteration should be co-candled with every Muslim enterprise threatened. The psychical darkness that begets all brands and hues of intolerance should be switched off equally.
Courtesy of The Nation, 5 May 2013 …… http://www.nation.lk/edition/columns/painted-goose-dharshanie-ratnawalli/item/17638-the-bbs-that-my-mother-likes.html
I am @ http://ratnawalli.blogspot.com/ and rathnawalli@gmail.
Apropos of the confusion in the C’bo Telegraph circles, it may be useful for readers here to note that “Middle America” refers to what has been defined thus in Wikipedia:
Geographically, the label Middle America refers to the territory between the East Coast of the United States (particularly the northeast) and the West Coast. The term has been used in some cases to refer to the inland portions of coastal states, especially if they are rural. Much of the California Central Valley and inland Pennsylvania are typically considered to be Middle American. Alternately, the term is used to describe the central United States.
Middle America is generally used more as a cultural than geographical label, suggesting a small town or suburb where most people are middle class, Protestant, and white. It is often caricatured in the same way as the American 1950s decade. The idea of Middle America may exclude locations such as Chicago (the third largest city in the United Statesand one of the world’s ten alpha cities) and the very wealthy Aspen, Colorado. However, the coastal regions of the southern United States are often implicitly included.
Economy: The economy of “Middle America” is traditionally agricultural, though most “Middle Americans” now live in suburban locales. Compared to coastal America, home prices tend to be low and economic disparities are less pronounced. Housing prices tend to be significantly less volatile than those on the coasts, and houses tend to appreciate in value more slowly.
Politics: The phrase Middle American values is a political cliché; like family values, it refers to more traditional or conservative politics, although larger cities and major university towns such as Madison, Wisconsin and Lawrence, Kansas provide exceptions.
Many of the political battleground states are situated in “Middle America”.
 This titbit was revealed by Dr. Nimal Perera, Deputy Director General, Department of Archeology at a Royal Asiatic Society Sri Lanka lecture (24th September, 2012) on “New discoveries from Deeghavapi and Nilagiri sites”.
 Matota (Maha-Thittha) is an ancient port in Lanka and archeological landmark, which is currently being effaced through the over enthusiastic building activities conducted on behalf of the Tiruketiswaram temple.
 Note the staggering degrees of ignorance (that can truly be called illiterate and uncouth without prejudice) that characterize the two opposing poles generating the present climate of tension. One pole exemplified by Face Book hate speech groups hold fast to the belief that underwear sold in Muslim owned clothing stores are lined with chemicals that can cause sterility. The other pole includes journalists such as Dharishna Bastians and Latheef Farook who recently wrote articles propagating the belief that the Sinhalese Brahmi rock inscriptions(which are typical of garden variety cave donations to the Monastic Buddhist Church of the 2nd century BC Lanka, that are found all over the island except the northernmost extreme, where there are no caves.) of the now famous Kuragala are Arabic inscriptions. Farook actually went so as far to state that the only evidence that Kuragala was a Buddhist monastery of the 2nd century BC is a board placed by the Archaeological Department in 1972. Compare this ‘native ignorance’ with the presentation by British Civil Servant, C.H.Collins in Journal R.A.S (Ceylon) Vol. XXXII, No 85 of 1932
6 responses to “The BBS That My Mother Likes = An Emblem for the Sri Lankan Equivalent of Middle America”
“What The Hour demands of these initiatives are clinical, secular perspectives…”
Finally some common sense….
The way forward is a secular constitution for Sri Lanka and do away with state support for religion(s). The progressive reforms (albeit small) undertaken by the successive governments specifically in regards to gender and animal rights have been shot down by the fundamentalists.
One cannot counter religious fundamentalism by being religious and cherry picking good bits out of (un)holy books. It will always be my God against your God and you will never hear the end of it.
As Kant suggested, the greatest tool against evil is the moral autonomy, hence only a secular movement can counter religious fanaticism.
After all freedom FROM religion is a fundamental human right.
It is not necessarily a problem with the constitution, but more a problem with ensuring that the constitutional and legal rights are enforced . The problem arises in secular or `in God we trust’ nations, or those in between. As the writer has pointed out:
” archeological site in the North and the East obliterated by a bulldozer, built upon or otherwise encroached into under the aegis of uncouth, unscrupulous and unethical Muslim and Tamil politicians, whose regional political clout earns them Government sanction, deserves a candle. We need to searchlight the literal excrement dumped into the Dīghavāpi site (the encroachment into this ancient archeological site also consisted of building toilet complexes on it as well as the metaphorical excrement dumped by the BBS upon the Lankan social fabric. Every ancient landmark such as Mātota (Manthai) and Kuragala targeted by agendas devoted to their obliteration should be co-candled with every Muslim enterprise threatened. The psychical darkness that begets all brands and hues of intolerance should be switched off equally.”
When the law is not enforced, distraught Muslims or distraught Buddhists or angry secular Lokayathas would get organized to take the law into the hands.
Chandre is spot on in pinpointing the failures of our policing and judicial processes. This has got worse over time – beginning with the political encroachments directed at the “kachcheri system” by the both Leftist and nativist strands in politics from the 1950s. Note, however, that however, that even during the marakkala kolahālaya of 1915 policemen in some localities seem to have been partial to those set on assailing the Moors, while headmen in many localities were instigators or participants. That policemen under the strict discipline of the British colonial authorities revealed such sympathies highlights the strength of affinity towards the Sinhala Buddhist cause in a situation where the Moors were seen to be “insulting our nationality and religion” when they deployed British cultural premises vested in legislation and opposed the sabda pūjā of Buddhist processions as they passed places of worship (mosques in this instance). I note here that on several occasions the crowds that assembled before venturing forth on missions of arson and plunder directed against Moor boutiques and mosques shouted “sādhu! sādhu!” as they marched off or even as they burnt goods gathered from Moorish stores.
While applauding Happy Heathen’s affirmation of every individual’s right to be an aetheist and his comprehension of the Ratnawalli article, his insistence on hundred per cent secularism is a questionable imposition of European Enlightenment philosophy on an Asian situation. In this enthusiasm he misses the import of one of Ratnawalli’s major contenitons. From her experiential reading of her mother’s way of seeing and being, Ratnawalli argues that the criticism of BBS in the ways pressed by Galkande Dhammananda thera, Sudharshan Seneviratne and those on Candlelit Vigils are not going to be effective among those segments of Sri Lanka she typifies as equivalent to Middle America (a major constituency that I will re-name “Middling Sinhala Buddhist Lanka” or ML in short).
From a position outside Buddhism I was impressed by the power of Galkande Dhammananda thera’s message. But Ratnawalli has indicated that this type of discourse is part of bookish Buddhism – text-grounded, erudite and philosophical. This characteristic is shared by the criticisms presented by the others railing at BBS, including here the more qualified comments of Malinda Seneviratne. It is a form of Buddhism that SJ Tambiah called “the Pali Text Society” view of Buddhism (though himself, in my reading, pursuing a question in his Buddhism Betrayed that embodied this pitfall).
While agreeing that the BBS programme is debased and dangerous (a sharp criticism on her part missed by some readers), Ratnawalli’s argument is that the Buddhism valued by the ML constituency in Sri Lanka is not of this Pali Text Society kind. Rather the attachment is emblematic in a deeply meaningful way. It is a feeling for the Sāsana linked to place and people, to heritage. Person YZ may visit Huniyam to invoke an assassination job on someone who has harmed him without seeing this as inconsistent with his/her being a Buddhist – because it is a righteous act of retribution in his/her thinking (read Obeyesekere on sorcery acts, in his 1975 article in Ethnology vol. 14, 1975). And the same (murderous) person YZ will side with those who step forth, like the BBS, to defend the honour of the Sāsana. Quoting segments of the Dhamma will not deter their loyalty to the Sāsana in situations where threats are IMAGINED and FELT. Neither, of course, will they be ‘converted’ by high-flown principles rooted in European philosophy.
Ratnawalli has marked the importance of evolving intelligent strategies to win over the ML constituency. It is in this manner that one can displace BBS. One must seek to render them irrelevant. That will not be an easy task. But the first step is to recognise the type of audience and the type of Buddhism one is trying to win over. That constituency is not the Buddhism of the Book favoured by many elements of the literate educated urban middle class in Lanka – good souls no doubt, but not the strategic ‘majority’ in Lanka whom one must convert to one’s good cause: the restraining of the BBS.
I beg to differ on one point….
“…….a questionable imposition of European Enlightenment philosophy on an Asian situation”
As per my humble understanding of eastern/Indian philosophy, neither atheism nor secularism is an exclusive tenet of European Enlightenment.
My interpretation of concepts such as Cārvāka /Lokāyata through the writing of Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya tells a different story, which got lost due to overbearing power of religions in this region.
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