Date: Thu, 4 Jul 1996 14:15:35 -0700 (PDT)
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The Devolution Package and the Maha Sangha

By D. Amarasiri Weeraratne, Sunday Observer, 17 March 1996

It was with dismay that I read of the Maha Sangha meeting held at the BMICH on March 5 to denounce the Devolution Package offered by the Government. Very discreetly the Mahanayake Theras of the three Nikayas have kept away. The convenors of the meeting were the well-known Sinhala Only hardliners who oppose any form of devolution of powers to the minorities in areas where they predominate. These hardliners see any form of devolution as a stepping stone to separatism and the division of the country. They have gone paranoid with an Eelam phobia and they see the proposals as the writing on the wall for separatism.

It is well-known that all attempts in the past to resolve the ethnic problem by the B-C pact, Dudley-Chelvanayakam pact, and the All-Party Conference convened by President Jayewardene were scuttled by hardliners in the Maha Sangha who spearheaded the Sinhala Only chauvinists. Thus Ven. Baddegama Wimalawansa led Phalanx that forced Premier S. W. R. D. Bandaranike to abrogate the B-C pact. Ven. Madihe Pannasiha spearheaded the chauvinists who scuttled the D-C pact. This fact is admitted on page 140 of the history of the Amarapura Dharmarakshita sect. The book is titled "Dam Reki Naka''.

The attempts to settle the ethnic problem by the All-Party Conference convened by President Jayawardene was wrecked by Ven. Palipane Chandrananda in league with the Sinhala Only hardliners. The result of all these wreckings by the Sangha led to continued agitation and protests by the democratic Tamil parties.

When all attempts to settle the problem by democratic methods failed the Tamils were driven into the arms of the terrorists who posed as the saviours of the Tamil people. They said the only method of reducing their aspirations was by military means. From this point the LTTE terrorists took over the leadership of the Tamil agitation, for autonomy in their regions. Hence, the present war which is ruining our economy and taking a heavy toll of our military forces. Now the war has come to Colombo and the whole world has seen the carnage at the Central Bank through TV coverage of the incidents.

No ethnic problem

The Sangha leadership who spoke at the recent BMICH meeting have stated that there is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. Therefore, there is no need to ask for a solution to a non-existent problem. And also there is no need for the Government to evolve a plan to meet the aspirations of the Tamils for regional autonomy. The Sangha spokesman saw only a terrorist problem and they called for the subjugation of the LTTE by military means. Then according to them, in the absence of an ethnic problem or dispute there will be peace, law and order in the country.

But the fact remains that before the LTTE took to arms, there was agitation by the Tamil democratic parties that believed in a negotiated settlement by peaceful means. They found that the Maha Sangha spearheaded the agitation against all three agreements and wrecked them. So to deny the existence of any ethnic problem and say there is only a terrorist problem is a failure to understand the background and the cause for the resort to arms. No terrorist war will be possible unless people sympathise and support them.


The spokesmen who claimed to voice the opinion of the Maha Sangha are inveterate chauvinists who are not prepared for any form of devolution. They are not experts in political science and their knowledge of international political problems and constitutions is poor. Their opinions on the ethnic problem and democratic ways and means of settling it cannot be taken seriously. Only a plebiscite among the Sangha can indicate what is the opinion of the Maha Sangha on this issue. This probably is the last chance we have to settle this problem by peaceful means. If the government gives into the arm-twisting tactics of the jingoist Sangha our nation will be doomed to unending war, economic ruin, and a strangulation of our efforts to rise above third world poverty status, and general ruin.

The Government has to be run by the elected Members of Parliament. There is no room in the constitution to give into pressure tactics of reactionary monks. We have to respect the Sangha only when they teach us the Dhamma in which they are experts and authorities. Their advice can be sought by the rulers only on matters concerning how to rule in accordance with the Dhamma.

Beyond this they have no right or scope. In the whole Buddhist world it is the Sinhala Sangha who says that "politics is the bhikkus' heritage''. It is a heritage of apostasies coming down from the Anuradhapura period, and should be disallowed as recommended by the Buddhist Commission report which the first Bandaranike Government undertook to implement. Before it could be done the Premier was assassinated by a power-hungry Buddhist monk. And with that, Sasana reforms recommended have gone underground.

If the Sangha is properly organised and controlled by the Maha Nayakes as is done in the other Theravada countries such as Burma and Thailand they will not resort to the present corruptions and apostasies such as politics, business ventures, renting out temple rooms to laymen including LTTE agents, running garages, printing presses, tuition classes, karate classes, parking vehicles for a fee etc, etc. Therefore, the first duty of the Sangha is to set their house in order instead of trying to dictate to Parliament what it should do and not do.

The writer D.Amarasiri Weeraratne is a Sinhalese.

Maha Sangha means Association of Sinhalese Buddhist Priests.

Maha Nayakes = Chief Priests