“Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor.” ~Arnold J. Toynbee
Fundamentalism, whether it’s Christianity, Islam or any other religion has been the order of the day in modern society. Its attraction to the elements that dwell on the fringes of any religion is beyond doubt. Its perverse focus on appealing to the base instincts of the human mind and heart, its play on the most susceptible landscapes of human behavior and its provocations aimed at the helplessness of a hapless community could have shattering effects culminating in the most socially-devastating consequences. Such explosions could generate social divisions that would take centuries to heal and recover from, if any recovery is possible at all.
Patriotism and ‘our thing’
The toll that Muslim Fundamentalism has taken in the Middle-East, the then Soviet Union, Chechnya, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Afghanistan are too gruesome to pen on paper. The violent manifestations of such fundamentalist approach to religion has its inherent momentum which eventually drives any sane person mad, any intelligent one foolish and educated ones to most unwise acts. Nationalism that overwhelmed Europe in the last couple of centuries and the birth of freedom for the then colonies of the British, French and Dutch have combined together to create this most volatile concept of fundamentalism. Its outer veneer of ‘patriotism’ is lending itself as a ready and noble offering at the altars of violent uprisings and explosive outbursts of narrow thought. The noble has been desecrated and substituted for by a fierce sense of ‘our thing’.
In such a tragic set of circumstances and in a vast and empty landscape, barren of any nutritious seeds and plants, what grows invariably is wild vegetation and vultures and predators; parasites and cancerous tumors whose death occurs only with that of the body these cancers and tumors dwell in. If any society is to advance in the field of human dignity and decency, history has shown us time after time, the collective thinking of a generation of thinkers needs to drive the ordinary and mundane in a very robust way and in a very positive and constructive fashion along a very hard and hazardous path.
What is accumulated at the end of such an arduous journey is what is earned by each generation after disbursing an enormous amount of labor, time, energy and hope. The noble and lofty aims and purposes that were agreed upon for achievement and the discarding and dispelling of the ignoble and lowly actions, at the very beginning of the journey might have evaporated into thin air. But what remains at the end might be the monuments that stand as colossuses today, the ruins and relics of which speak volumes of greatness and largeness of mind that knew no boundaries, of a mind that was ever so inclusive and accommodating, ever so receptive, that was renewing itself each generation, each decade and each moment. “To be able to fill leisure”, historian Arnold Toynbee said, “intelligently is the last product of civilization.”
The ancients of all civilizations, commencing from the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa to the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Maurya and Guptha of India and the emperor-dynasties of China have left behind for generations to behold magnificent edifices, titanic monuments of stupendous achievements of the human mind and the human hand. From scriptures of the Vedas and Upanishads, the Bible, Quran, the Books of the Jews and enormous structures of marble and granite, all speak for and of the wonder of man and his indomitable spirit. The purest form of the great teachings of the major religions invented by man- Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam -have been preserved for the ordinary folks to read and comprehend and practice. Yet the institutions that were built round these noble teachings are acting in total discord with the very teachings of these unmatchable creations of ancient man. The Temples and Kovils, the Churches and Mosques, are all being used and abused, not for the propagation of the fundamental teachings of the religion, but for the preservation and perpetuation of the institutions that were built by the ‘Order of the Clergy’.
The gullible believer
And in their haste to buttress their positions and power, they chose not to teach the fundamentals but to invent myths and fantasies, marvels and miracles, legends and heroes that would ultimately destroy the teachings but create a ‘new messiahs’, draped in cassocks and gowns, robes and shawls and turbans. A gullible believer is held captive to the unceasing onslaught of the ‘priest’ or ‘monk’ or ‘imam’. It has happened to Hinduism, it happened to Christianity and Judaism, so did it happen to Islam and Buddhism too. The very guardians of the teachings began spreading a different ‘gospel’, a gospel more akin to an indoctrination of the mind, the fountain of all creation and regeneration.
It is happening in Sri Lanka; it is taking root in the volatile minds of Buddhists and Christians, among Muslims and Hindus and its manifestations are brutal in character and senseless in substance. What materialized as a protest against ‘Halal’, organized by an organization called Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) meaning ‘Soldiers of Buddhist Power’ is bound to reach another climax in time to come. All signs are manifestly present and the so-called leaders of the ‘soldiers’ are already planning and plotting to preserve and perpetuate, not the teachings of the ‘Dharma’, but to prolong the leash they hold on a gullible believer who in real fact, is a potential ‘voter’ in forthcoming elections.
Race and Faith
The propensity on the part of Buddhist monks to lead violent uprisings against innocent civilians is not a new phenomenon in Sri Lankan modern history. All acts of violence unleashed since Independence against our Tamil brethren had been led by Buddhist monks; the slogan of ‘save Buddhism from foreign influence’ has been a hackneyed phrase created and propagated by the unmerciful mercenaries of ‘the Land, the Race and the Faith’. It does not seem to have lost its usefulness as yet. If the latest compromise reached between the Muslim religious leaders and the some leaders of Buddhists on the issue of ‘Halal’ will be taken as capitulation, not only by Buddhists but if the same sentiment pervades among the Islamic community, their fringe elements might not stand idly by when the next challenge is thrown.
Well financed extremists
Both extremes are well financed and backed by their respective middle-class intelligentsia. The day that those who pose as seemingly ‘reasonable’ men and women would disrobe their ‘reasonableness’ garb and arm themselves with the “Mahawansa’ or ‘Quran’ on the one hand and an AK 47 on the other and take their troops to the streets might make ’83 riots look like a midsummer picnic. The potential for a repetition of such macabre demeanor and mayhem is so overwhelming and unambiguous.
Bodhu Bala Sena
The possibility of the Bodhu Bala Sena forces becoming something akin to the ’Taliban’ of Afghanistan must be stopped and it must be done now, not tomorrow or the day after. One must understand that the being that evolved to be a human species is inherently a violent being until he was tempered by civilization. Civilization was not there at the beginning of that long journey that the first human took in his long march through the dark and shady and winding path. It manifested at the end of his journey. The human being needed to be tempered, disciplined and ‘civilized’. That civilized man produced the great stupas, the great pyramids and the Ajanta paintings and Asoka’s edicts, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal, the great Athenian pillars and the ancient Roman coliseums and our own great Awukana and Samadhi statues.
Carry the burden with poise
It is the burden of our religious leaders as well as that of lay ones that we appeal to that element of our uniqueness and not to the base instinct of man that is inherently violent and cruel. The burden is heavy and far too great to ignore. Carry that burden with dignity and poise, with calm and serenity. Never utter a word of provocation, but always deflect anger and venom. We Buddhists are an overwhelming majority in this country; don’t live with a minority complex; our leaders have failed us, our clergy has failed us and our (mis)teachings have failed us. Let not the marauding forces of ‘the Land the Race and the Faith’ overwhelm the sane and simple.
Do our Buddhist leaders have the strength of the shoulders and the breadth of intellectual scope to deal with this novel situation? We say that we were blessed with the great teachings of the Great Teacher. Then let us be worthy of it.