GAUNTLET THROWING KNIGHTS AND BISHOPS
(1999 January 20)
Mr. D. S. Armstrong writing to the Midweek Review says that I have thrown a gauntlet at the non-Buddhists who make up nearly 31% of the people of the country. This is in reference to my article entitled "Pax Vobis Cum", where I analysed parts of the Christmas messages of the Archbishop of Kolomba and the Bishop of the Anglican (Lanka) church. At the outset I must say that I am not a gauntlet throwing medieval European Christian knight but only an unemployed humble Sinhala Buddhist, albeit with a degree from a Christian university.
It may be that 'throwing a gauntlet' is only a figure of speech, but it illustrates how much we are controlled by the Christian culture. English language cannot be dissociated from the European Christian civilisation and the figures of speech, idioms etc., of that language are naturally created by people belonging to the English Christian culture. A language in turn governs one's thinking, unless one is very conscious of that fact and takes precautions against such measures. The western Christian culture dominates the rest of the world not only by their military and economic power but also through their languages, knowledge created by the intellectuals in that culture and we have a long way to go before we are truly liberated. Until then, I am afraid, we will have to pick up those gauntlets thrown by the knights and the Bishops of the western culture.
The western Christian culture is so powerful and skilful that they have invented methods by which they accuse those who pick up gauntlets, as gauntlet throwers. Unfortunately for them, long before Derrida talked of deconstruction, the Buddha had taught us that even deconstruction is a construction (sanskara). So deconstruction should be only child's play to the Buddhists. People of the calibre of Rev. Acharya Nagarjuna of Bharat who developed Sunyata and Rev. Aryadeva of Heladiva belonging to the Buddhist tradition, have shown us the way to deal with the concepts whether they are created by the other cultures or produced by the Buddhist culture itself.
However, in spite of these traditions some ex -catholic priests, with nothing but the strength emanating from the credentials acquired at western Christian universities, are trying to teach the not so powerful Buddhist scholars in Sri Lanka how to compare Buddha with Derrida. We should remember that intellectual activities do not take place in a vacuum and are not devoid of power struggles.
For example, a previous vice chancellor, while I was in the university service wanted to know why I was teaching Jathika Chinthanaya to the students. My reply was that if the other lecturers could teach Vijathika (non-national) Chinthanaya I have a right to teach Jathika Chinthanaya. But these issues are not decided by so called rational argument, contrary to what is taught to us by the western civilisation. The Vijathika Chinthanaya and the associated culture are still very much powerful in this country that even after fifty years of "independence", the Jathika Chinthanaya cannot be taught in our universities.
Let us come back to the article by Mr. Armstrong. Let us start at the very beginning. Mr. Armstrong is of the view that " in Sri Lanka from a few years after independence attempts have been made by writers to throw abuse and admonish the Christians during Christmas time." He cannot be referring to me as I have not thrown abuse and admonished the Christians during Christmas or any other time. It is unfortunate that the Bishops have to issue their Christmas messages during Christmas time. I could have easily analysed the messages by the Bishops at some other time if they had issued their messages long before Christmas. I am sure that Mr. Armstrong would agree with me that messages of this nature have to be analysed at the time of issue while the contents are fresh in the minds of the people. In my article "Pax Vobis Cum" I had mentioned that Latin is the language of the Pope. Mr. Armstrong goes on to explain at length how Latin became the language of the Pope and Vatican and I have nothing against his elucidation. However, the fact remains that Latin is the language of the Pope.
The Bishop and the Archbishop in their Christmas messages, in seemingly innocent words, had said certain things with which they had thrown the gauntlet. I only analysed or, if one may say so, deconstructed these statements in their messages. The Bishops in their messages had tried to equate different cultures in the context of the history of this country. All I said was that different cultures are not equated in the other countries including the Christian countries whether it is the Anglican Britain or the Catholic Italy.
The Bishop of Kolomba had said "there is no other way of making Peace among human beings except by speaking, by dialogue and by negotiation". He had also stated that we cannot make peace if we demonise the enemy. In the context of Sri Lanka this means that the government should negotiate with the LTTE. We also know that this particular Bishop has been very active in the so-called peace movement. Knowing the interventions by Messrs. Fox and Fatchett in our affairs, I had to point out that the two powerful Christian countries United States of America and the United Kingdom do not pay heed to the words of the Bishop. I also stated that the western world have always demonised the enemy whether it is Sadam Hussein, Ho Chi Min or any body else. I added that this does not mean that the Bishop should advise the Christian world (in spite of Mr. Armstrong's assertion that the whole world is the mission field of the Bishops), before he preaches the others, but that it goes on to show that people go to war under certain conditions.
I was not talking of medieval Europe but of the twentieth century ( By the way the term twentieth century is in vogue because of the dominance of the Christian culture. According to the Buddhist way of reckoning we are in the twenty sixth century.) wars. Now what has Mr. Armstrong to say on this matter? He says: " History unfurls the truth that none of the religions were free of guilt of conflicts. Medieval Christians and the Muslims engaged in holy wars. So were the wars between other believers in the subcontinent of India. The conflicts in Sri Lanka mentioned in the Maha Wamsa are nothing but conflicts between the Buddhist rulers and the rest. Not very long ago our television stations showed some monks donating money for the present war. All these people had deviated from the teachers of their religious leaders."
First of all it is not a question of whether people follow their religious leaders or not. It is a question of cultures. Here, I must repeat what I have said in my previous article. People of different cultures go to war for different reasons. The Mahavansa kings have not fought wars to spread Buddhism, unlike the kings of some other cultures. Mr. Armstrong, if he has read the Mahavansa, would know that in the ancient times some monks have de-robed and joined the army while some others had marched with the other army. Starting with the king Dutugemunu, the Buddhists have gone into war in order to protect the Buddha Sasana and not to spread Buddhism.
Mr. Armstrong then goes on to say: " But some of his (Jesus Christ's) messengers were drowned with the edicts of Moses taken together with the teachings of his own- interpreted 'if one should love his neighbour as himself and if one could save a soul from going to hell, the neighbour who is not a believer of the one true God must be converted'. Perhaps there is such a feeling in the followers of most religions, and they tend to propagate their beliefs and way of life. I would think that is a right anyone should have, so long he or she does not use penal methods". However there is a distinction between propagation of ideas and conversion and the Christian civilisation, taking a hue from Moses is more concerned with conversions. Also it has to be pointed out that penal methods are culture dependent. A penal method in one culture could be a perfectly legitimate method in another culture and hence the concept of conversion of a person from one culture to another culture without using penal methods, cannot be defined in a culture independent way.
Mr. Armstrong like some others talk of a mythical Ceylon fifty years ago, 'with several communities of people living in peace'. He says: " We as school children learnt and appreciated that all what was in Sri Lanka, the people the religions, physical remains of their handiwork and the intellectual work of the ancestors of this country and also all the developed and undeveloped natural resources were our heritage and we were proud of them". If that was the case how was it that within ten years everything was changed. Is it due to the fault of the Sinhala Buddhists as some of them would like to conclude? Only if Mr. Armstrong is aware of the racist policies followed by the Tamil leaders in the previous decades and the discriminations against the Buddhists, he would have realised that the people were not living happily ever before. I do not want to go into details, which I have described elsewhere on the evolution of Tamil racism from the last two decades of the previous century. I as a schoolboy in the fiftees, before and after fifty six, in two schools, have come across teachers who were not proud of the history, literature and culture of the country. In fact one of them made not very encouraging remarks of the Jathaka stories during the Sinhala period and as a twelve year old boy I was appalled by the opinion he had of some of the Buddhist schools.
The Buddhist Commission report, tells us how the Sinhala Buddhists were discriminated against during this period people were supposed to have lived happily. People who were students before the fifties in the so-called elite schools, would know the values imparted to them through the education. Prof. Sarachchandra in his "Valmath Vee Hasarak Nudutimi" and "Pin ethi Sarasavi Varamak Denne" vividly describes the education given during that period. The English Christian system of education, was interested only in producing a set of people who were brown in their skin colour but English and Christian in their thinking. Unfortunately we have still not been able to replace this system. All we have done during the fiftees is to change the medium of instruction from English to Sinhala and Tamil.
Mr. Armstrong says that I have to accept the stark fact that the non-Buddhists who make up nearly 31% of the population are different from the rest, meaning the Sinhala Buddhists. Of this 31% many would accept the fact that this country is a Sinhala Buddhist country and I do not see much of a difference between them and the vast majority of the Sinhala Buddhists who are also of the same view. Those non-Buddhists who accept that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country, just as much they acknowledge that England (Britain) is an English Christian country, know how to retain their cultural identities while living in a Buddhist country.
Mr. Armstrong wants the section 29 of the Soulbury constitution to be brought back. This section denied the rightful position given to the Sinhala Buddhist culture in this country. How about having something like the section 29 in the conventions of the British parliament, the so-called mother parliament? It is unfortunate that people like Mr. Armstrong forget that without these sections forced on us by the British the Sinhala Buddhist kings looked after the Catholics when they were threatened by the Dutch and that priests like Joseph Vaz were given all the encouragement to propagate their religion in this country. However, the European Christian rulers in our country were not that magnanimous.
Mr. Armstrong says that the English protected the Sacred Tooth Relic and handed it back on independence. This is far from the truth. The British who gave a pledge to protect Buddhism and to rule the country according to the Sinhala customs by the Udarata convention of 1815, breached all the promises. According to the convention they should have protected Buddhism and also the Sacred Tooth Relic. But by 1848 they had handed back the Sacred Tooth Relic to the Bhikkus and the Sinhala leaders . They did not protect Buddhism as the Christian priests were against that particular clause from the very beginning. The Christian priests did not want the English king, through the governor, to protect a heathen religion. The way that the British breached the 1815 convention is described by Prof. Tennekone Wimalanada and Mr. Durrand Appuhamy in their works.
Mr. Armstrong says that I have tried to drive a wedge into the Catholics and Christians to divide them into racial groups. All that I have said is that I believe that the overwhelming majority of the Sinhala Christians and Catholics are hundred percent loyal to Sri Lanka. It may be that most of the non Sinhala Christians are also loyal to the country. But unfortunately, judging by what is written by the English educated Tamils in general, I cannot come to that conclusion. Mr. Armstrong talks of Bhikkus who have given money to the so-called war fund. I have dealt with this earlier. What Mr. Armstrong does not mention is the involvement of the Tamil Catholic priests in the LTTE activities. Perhaps in the eyes of Mr. Armstrong the association of these priests with the LTTE is justified. He himself says that the JVP and the LTTE are campaigning for some liberation.
This is the crux of the problem. What is this liberation Mr. Armstrong is talking about? LTTE is campaigning for a separate state based on myths propagated by their elders. Mr. Armstrong is tying up the JVP with the LTTE only to mislead the readers. When the government was going all out to defeat the JVP using the armed forces, did Mr. Armstrong and the others campaign for negotiations between the government and the JVP? Where were all these Samaritans then?
LTTE is only the tip of the iceberg. I am only interested in finding out the political and cultural forces behind not only the LTTE but Tamil racism in general.