Saving Buddhism and Buddhist culture

The Nation
Sunday, 06 July 2014 00:00


There’s a song by Mohideen Baig Master that goes like this: ‘Ninda prashansava minisaatamai – saadanne bindalanne daive thamai’ (Both praise and blame are the lot of man, and they are produced and destroyed by fate and fate alone). This song, written by Karunaratne Abeysekera ends this way: ‘sepa aththe nivane amaa—thun loke guru Buddha dharma thamaa’ (True happiness is nirvana and the great teacher, guru, of the three worlds is none other than the doctrine of the Buddha). Baig Master’s world of music was full of songs like this. Baig Master, let us not forget, is said to have prayed five times every day at the mosque.

Baig Master’s voice, which some might argue, has the compassionate power to quell all fires of religious extremism wafted over land and sea, through valley and over mountain and travelled towards the galaxies. It echoed around in the after-world mansion of D.S where he was sitting reminiscing with that other great grandfather D.M. It inspired D.M. to observe, ‘I am wondering how this song which subdues and subdues could not put out the fires of Alutgama. I remember even you, D.S., being imprisoned way back in 1915 after being caught in the thick of a similar fire.’

‘I know DM that you will not agree that after almost a century, there’s another Sinhala-Muslim altercation. From up here we both can see that there are no clashes as such between communities. We know however that there are always embers at the disposal of extremist elements. They do not understand that they themselves are eventually engulfed by the very fires they light which of course they believe they can control.’

‘Extremist embers are there, you are right, now as then. The fanning of ember into fire is no different. You were arrested, DS, but you didn’t light the fire nor did you encourage anyone to light it. Even today you are talked of as a leader who was somehow against the Sinhala Buddhist culture.’ ‘Back then the white man used a device called “Divide And Rule”. Therefore I was called a Sinhala extremist. I was accused of instigating riots and arrested. Since I told Ven Henpitagedara Gnanaseeha that the government should not take refuge in Buddhism, I was eventually labeled as a pawn of the colonial rulers. That’s what the Sinhala Buddhists did. But now you realized don’t you DM what happens to us each time we take to the streets to safeguard Buddhists, Sinhala-Buddhist culture etc?’

‘Yes, look at our temples. There aren’t as many people in temples as there were during our time. Although people scream and shout to safeguard Buddhism now and then, I sometimes wonder if this shouting itself will make people distance themselves from the doctrine. ‘ ‘From up here it is all too clear! There aren’t as many people in the temple these days. But you know, telephone conversations end these days with “budu saranai”. Not like it was those days. Today, there’s a phone in everyone’s hand. People don’t say “hello”, but they say “budu saranai”. Neither Buddhism nor Buddhist culture is protected by such demonstrations. There were such frills back then too, even though there weren’t telephones then. It reminded me of a folk song from Giruvaya.’

Nata nataa gaenu mulkirigal yanava
Rata kadaa noyek baranin serasenava
Vata sitala pirimi avidin res venava
Keta kara kiyami kala pin boru venava

[There are women who dance their way to Mulkirigala; they break and rob and adorn themselves with all kinds of jewelry; from all directions men are drawn there; all meritorious acts are canceled when the tills are broken, this must be said.] ‘That’s how people went to temple, even back then. Today people are going to Alutgama to safeguard Buddhism. That’s also a political gimmick. That’s how I see it.’

‘The path chosen is wrong, DM. During the white man’s time, there were villagers who knew the correct path. I learned a lot from those villagers. Let me tell you a story. Although there was a lot of talk about the Kandyan agreement, there were people in the country who had never set eyes on a white man. One day, there was a celebration in a village. It was a Sinhala Buddhist cultural event. A white officer who had lost his way happened to arrive at the village. That was the first white man those villagers had ever seen. He carried a gun across his back. The villagers were terrified. They stopped all activities. They didn’t show that they were afraid of the gun, though. They treated the officer well. The white man enjoyed their hospitality and started talking with the villagers. Then the chief protagonist of that senakeliya came up to him and said: ‘Now we know one another. We can continue from where we stopped. You can set things going with a bang, so why don’t you fire a shot from your gun?’

Lakshman Piyasena



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