An Appeal to the Buddhist Clergy


Dr. E.W. Adikaram

(Extracted from the sixth volume of ‘Sitivili’ (furg fn!oaO NslaIQka jykafia,dg flfrk whdpkhls pages 90-93). First published in 1978. English translation by Ravi Palihawadana. )

Reverend Sirs, It is with much concern that I make this appeal to you.

You may be aware of the grave danger that humankind is facing today. At least you would have heard of it. The only way out of this crisis would be if there was a moral resurrection among the people. It may be difficult to focus our attention on the whole world. Hence, it is imperative that attention is paid at least to what is happening in this country and immediate action taken. Of the very few groups who are in a position to take meaningful action, it is not erroneous to consider you as the foremost. But can we expect the needful to be done by you, Reverend Sirs?

Of the causes for destruction of this country today, alcohol, tobacco and the rapid proliferation of violence are the foremost.

Sri Lanka is soaked in alcohol today. There is not a single village that is free from the use of alcohol now. It has been calculated that if the caps of bottles of arrack, produced in the course of one year by the largest manufacturer of that spirit in Sri Lanka, are laid one next to the other, the line created will be long enough to reach from the southernmost to the northernmost and from the easternmost to the westernmost points of Sri Lanka twice over. Your temples, stupas, image houses and living quarters are located in a land thus soaked in alcohol. It is strange that you are not discomfited by its reek. How many of your devotees are liquor addicts? Are you maintaining a deafening silence because you are not at all aware of this? Are you waiting for the development of moral rectitude among the people to happen miraculously by administering the five precepts? Is it a secret that you are keeping silent out of fear of the inebriated? As yet, as long as there is a morsel of food to be found in this country, you wouldn’t have to die of hunger. As such, why do you need to be frightened of the inebriated? Are you not aware that of late, some priests too are getting addicted to alcohol?

It is estimated that the Buddhist clergy, in Sri Lanka, is 20,000 strong. If we leave aside half of them for being either too young or for being too old, we are still left with 10,000 able-bodied, among the Buddhist clergy. If they engage in a house- to- house campaign against alcohol in the villages where their temples are located, surely, this country can be rid of alcohol in one year. When you have the power to do so, isn’t it an unspeakable crime that you remain inactive?

The second cause for destruction of people of this country is smoking. It is not necessary to enumerate here the great harm caused by smoking to the human body. Because the ill effects of smoking take a long time to show, it is even more difficult to dissuade people from smoking than it is to dissuade them from imbibing alcohol...

Due to being ill-informed or due to the greed for smoking, a few times we have heard some of you trying to justify smoking by expounding a Vinaya niti (a rule from the code of discipline for Buddhist monks). The phrase that is put forward is "anujanami bhikkhave dhumavattam" (I permit smoking). The Buddha lived 2,500 years ago. Till about 400 years back, the tobacco plant was confined to a small area in South America. Tobacco was introduced to other areas of the world only after the Europeans discovered America. It is patently obvious that the cigarette mentioned in the above code of conduct, was made out of some medicinal herb and not from tobacco...

Reverend Sirs, aren’t you, too ,to blame for the cruelty and violence that is rapidly spreading in this country?

If you administer the five precepts to lay men with love and kindness, won’t the same [noble] feelings compel you to make sure that they abide by those precepts too. If only one percent of the people who take the five vows from you abide by the first precept, wouldn’t the rapidly spreading cruelty and violence in this country be abated to a considerable extent?

To how many farmers ,who use insecticides in their fields have you administered the five precepts? Do you remind them of the killing involved in the use of insecticides? Although the use of insecticides results in temporary monetary gains, I haven’t heard a single priest publicly proclaim how the use of insecticides makes people gradually become callous, cruel and prone to violence. Buddha is the only religious leader who did not justify the killing of any animal for any reason whatsoever. How unfortunate is it that you, who represent him, either fail to see this seemingly endless destruction of life or having seen it, remain silent?

"May all beings be free from suffering", is a familiar refrain that you often chant. Is it because the teachings are in an unfamiliar language that you fail to comprehend that ‘all beings’ include insects too?

As far as violence is concerned, don’t you often engage in an even more cruel and hypocritical activity?

You often chant "Sabbe satta bhavantu sukhitatta" (May all beings be well and happy). With the exception of a very few, don’t most of you consume afterwards the flesh of the selfsame beings that you wished to be well and happy? Having wished that all living beings including pigs, chicken, goats and fish to be well and happy one day, don’t you yourself consume the flesh of the same pigs, chicken, goats and fish subsequently? What is the example you set by this duplicitous conduct? When you behave so, is it surprising that violence and cruelty in this country keeps increasing?

I have made these criticisms in sadness and not with any malice towards you. As mentioned previously, the Buddhist clergy is the group that can still work towards the moral upliftment of this country. The decline of such a group is a great loss for mankind.

According to what appears in the oldest texts [of the Buddhist Canon] such as the ‘Sutta Nipata’ the truth that the Buddha taught is a definitive pure light devoid of any dogma or beliefs. But the Buddhist clergy of this country — who boasts that pristine Buddhism exists only in this country and that it was they who protected it from being destroyed — is bogged down with beliefs and opinions. You do not like to be free of those beliefs. This is not a criticism but statement of a fact.

The learned and the unschooled elderly among you cling on to various beliefs and are tied down by them. The young among you have gone astray seeking only material gains. Only a very few are free of such fetters. We are appealing to them. If they come forward and work — setting aside the divisions of creed, nationality, political ideologies, etc — we still can retain some hope.

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