In Sri Lanka today there are two types of Buddhists- the
Buddhist Moderates who identify themselves as Sri Lankans and those who
identify themselves as Sinhala-Buddhists which they regard as their
As a Sri Lankan (a Sinhalese and a Buddhist by faith) I have
lived and worked amidst the strange practices of Sinhala-Buddhists in Sri
Lanka. As such I have observed closely what a Sinhala-Buddhist is as opposed to
a Buddhist Moderate.
The following are my observations.
Buddhist Moderates (Sri
group identifies themselves by their nationality- Sri Lankan. Their ethnicity
and faith are on a need-to-know basis, usually for official purposes. Moderates
understand and respect Buddhism as a philosophy and quietly practice their
faith in daily life to the best of their ability. Therefore they respect the
religious beliefs and ethnicity of the ‘other’ (Hindus, Christians, Muslims
etc) and treat them all as equals.
This group carries a double-barreled
identity; ethnicity first followed by the faith- Sinhala-Buddhist. As such they
wear their identity on their sleeve with unfounded pride. This group has heard
about the Buddha’s teachings- the Dhamma but don’t practice it. But they do
practice a ‘religion’ which they call Buddhism that is diametrically opposed to
the Dhamma. To these Sinhala-Buddhists the noble teachings of the Buddha are
akin to casting pearls before swine!
The Sinhala-Buddhist regards Buddhism as a ‘religion’ and not
as a philosophy and a way of life, as advised by the Buddha. Therefore they
regard the Buddha as a God and practice their ‘religion’ by worshiping and
venerating Buddhist symbols and objects; totally against the Buddha’s
Unlike Sinhala-Buddhists, Buddhist Moderates regard the Buddha
as their noble teacher and Buddhism as a way of life. They don’t worship
Buddhist symbols like Sinhala-Buddhists do, as for them Buddhism is not a
religion. The Buddhist Moderate has the highest regard for the Buddha and
respects his teachings by striving to live according to those noble teachings
unlike the Sinhala-Buddhist label bearer.
Therefore these two groups- the Buddhist Moderates and
Sinhala-Buddhists practice Buddhism in two extremely different ways. In today’s
context the latter reeks of bigotry, hypocrisy and chauvinism in the extreme.
To the Moderate Sri Lankan Buddhist, what the Sinhala-Buddhist practices as
‘Buddhism’ is a type of heresy of the Dhamma!
The Good Buddhist
The Sinhala-Buddhist’s idea of being a ‘Good Buddhist’ is
confined only to one day of the calendar month- Full Moon (Poya) day. This day
is dedicated to worshiping symbols and objects. As the ‘done’ thing they visit
the temple, worship and heap flowers opposite the perceived image of the
Buddha, light oil lamps and drench the roots of an over hydrated Bo tree within
the temple premises. Then they parrot off the five-precepts with no intention
of abiding by them. Most don’t even understand the meaning of them.
All this is done because it is the ‘done’ thing or with the foolish
and selfish motive of gaining perceived ‘pin’
(merit) to counteract the ill-effects (or so they believe) of the crimes they
commit. It never crosses their minds to question how a tree, clay, concrete or
stone object could pardon them or grant them merit. But it is the ‘done’ thing
so they do it, though they do not know why they do it. For them this is
Also on Poya Day, the usually carnivorous Sinhala-Buddhists
refrain from eating fish, meat and eggs. This is another ‘done’ thing which has
nothing to do with the Dhamma. However some of these ‘Buddhists’ believe that
refraining from consuming animal flesh is the ‘Buddhist’ thing to do, therefore
bestowing more merit on themselves.
It must be said that all these acts are harmless in
themselves if not for the hypocrisy involved!
There is a popular misconception that the Dhamma prohibits
followers from consuming animal flesh. In fact, the Buddha did not ‘prohibit’
his followers from doing so, if it is offered by a person in good faith. But he
did advise his followers against seeking it and destroying life for it.
Buddhist Moderates who refrain from consuming animal flesh do so either for
health or ethical reasons.
So in typical Sinhala-Buddhist style, commercial
establishments are banned by the State from selling meat on Poya Days. This
applies to the sale of alcohol as well. But on the days preceding this ‘sacred’
Day, one may store as much animal flesh in their refrigerators as required and
sufficient alcoholto see them through
the days of prohibition.
Most often Sinhala-Buddhists are the first customers at meat
stalls and taverns before the day of ‘prohibition’ dawns. So, for whose benefit
and for what purpose are such prohibitions imposed? Who is trying to fool whom?
This is Sinhala-Buddhist state-sponsored hypocrisy!
Also on Poya Day a few even try to refrain from consuming
alcohol, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct or murder/killing- the five
precepts. But this is all confined only to Poya Days. Convinced and content
that they have accumulated sufficient ‘pin
(merit)’ to see them through all their misdeeds in the future, life returns to
normal the rest of the month!
The average Sinhala-Buddhist suffers from an acute
inferiority complex which is often mistaken for a superiority complex. This
could be attributed to a lack of substance in the superficial ‘religion’ they
practice by worshiping objects and symbols and a lack of knowledge of the
Besides wearing their identity on their sleeve, a relatively
recent ‘fashion’ adopted by Sinhala-Buddhists is the way in which they wear the
‘Pirith Noola’ (Pirith blessed thread) on the right wrist. Instead of the
customary three folds of white cotton thread, we now see them ‘exhibiting’ on
their right wrist what looks more like ‘Pirith bandages’. This is usually
observed amongst Sinhala-Buddhist political VIPs.
This new phenomenon could either be to draw attention to
their Sinhala-Buddhist identity and superiority over the ‘other’ or to ensure
foolishly imagined ‘divine protection’ as they carry on accumulating negative
‘karma’ through their hypocrisy. In some cases it also could be a combination
Sinhala-Buddhists live in constant fear of their
‘concrete/clay/stone made’ religion which they call ‘Buddhism’ being destroyed.
As is obvious to any right thinking individual, all material objects, including
Buddhist symbols are vulnerable to natural phenomena and destructive humans.
To the Buddhist Moderate, such fear is unfounded as their
faith is strong. It lives and grows within them therefore it can never be
destroyed either by destructive humans or natural phenomena. Buddhist symbols
don’t carry any weight with the Buddhist Moderate except for the archeological
value of some.
Insecurity harbored by Sinhala-Buddhists is nothing new to
Lanka. It goes back to ancient times of the Cholas and more recently to
pre-independent Ceylon when the British introduced Christianity to the island.
The likes of Anagarika Dhammapala (a Sinhala-Buddhist personified) claimed that
Buddhism was being destroyed by the British and Sinhala-Buddhists were being
forced to convert to Christianity!
The question arises here if anyone could be ‘forced’ to
change their faith/religious belief for whatever reason if the person is strong
in her/his belief? But that is another subject altogether.
Usually Sinhala-Buddhists practice their ‘hypocrisy’ amongst
themselves without causing too many problems for the rest of society. They
denigrate those of other ethnic groups and religions behind their backs, but
are sweet as honey to their faces. This is only until a Sinhala-Buddhist
political regime takes over and starts whipping up ethno-religious emotions for
their own political gain. It happened with the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and
it is happening now!
Today, in place of Anagarika Dhammapala and S.W.R.D.
Bandaranaike we have Sinhala-Buddhist Warlords to carry on the tradition!
This malaise has now brimmed over to extreme proportions. We
now have Sinhala-Buddhist saffron-robed thugs masquerading as Buddhist monks
denigrating the Buddha and his noble teachings in every possible way.
Sinhala-Buddhist parents and teachers are encouraged to teach their young how
to denigrate those of other religious faith from an early age. These saffron
robed groups appear to be paramilitaries of the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinistic
State who use the sacred Saffron robe as a weapon over the ‘other’- those of other
Strangely this phenomenon burst forth post 2009 and today
Sinhala-Buddhists see ‘demons’ everywhere threatening Buddhism in Sri Lanka!
This could be attributed to the political environment we live
in today which is besieged by insecurities of various forms. After the
successful elimination of LTTE terrorism, our warlords seem to find it
necessary to create another ‘monster’.
This could be to keep the voter on edge and in constant fear
and, therefore,to keep them reminded
that only ‘they’ and ‘they’ alone have the ability to keep the country safe
from the likes of Prabhakaran and other such ‘monsters’. This they believe is
the surest way of keeping the Sinhala-Buddhist voter terrified and forever
grateful to the Warlords for keeping them safe.
So today we find new concrete ‘Buddhist symbols’ sprouting
like mushrooms throughout the country, especially in areas populated by the
‘other’ (Hindus, Christians and Muslims). This is the Sinhala-Buddhist
chauvinistic way of claiming superiority over the ‘other’. Not stopping there,
they go on to destroy places of religious worship of the ‘other’.
The Buddhist Moderate looks on in horror and revulsion as
these acts go totally against the Buddha’s teaching of sympathetic
understanding and respect for other religions!
So today while overtly paying lip-service extolling the
virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and religious harmony, the
Sinhala-Buddhist Warlords covertly give full reign to terrorizing the ‘other’.
All this ugliness takes place in this so called
thrice-blessed Buddhist country Sri Lanka!