New Book on Buddhist Activism launched

The Buddhist Channel, April 15, 2005

Colombo, Sri Lanka - A Book entitled ' The Buddha Sasana Commission and the Duties and Responsibilities of Buddhist Organisations'  (in Sinhala) published by the German Dharmaduta Society was launched on April 11, 2005 at a public meeting here in Colombo.

<< Chief Guest, Hon. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, Minister of Buddha Sasana and Deputy Minster of Defence delivering his speech

Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, the Minister of Buddha Sasana and Deputy Minister of Defence was the chief guest at the function. In his speech, the Minister warned that certain elements were sending `feelers? on the possibility of resuming fighting in the North. Abducting soldiers, shooting at them and other ceasefire violations were an indication of this dangerous trend.

He said that as a government elected by the people, the UPFA regime had a right to keep the country?s armed forces on the alert to meet any eventuality in this context, while being fully committed to peace.

?We can neither allow the country to be bisected nor destroyed,? he emphasized. ?We cannot fight terrorism alone. We need the goodwill of the governments that assist us. We must protect our friends?

Wickremanayake identified terrorists and aggressive religious proselytizers as the main forces inimical to social stability and harmony. He pledged his full backing to Buddhists in the struggle to protect their interests against unscrupulous evangelists. He noted that the poor rural Buddhists were the most vulnerable religious community.

The Minister stressed that the anti-conversion bill?s objective was to protect the people?s right to believe any religion of their choice. Those engaged in unethical conversions were defining the Bill on their own terms to mislead the world, whereas the bill was meant to protect the interests of not only Buddhists but also those of all other religious faiths. He regretted that local Buddhists leaders were slow in taking action to prevent the wrong message on the proposed bill from reaching people in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Wickremanayake?s tone however indicated that he and other concerned Buddhists were struggling against overwhelming odds to get Parliamentary approval for the Bill. He said that the Bill envisaged in establishing an inter-religious council where all religions would be represented.

He added that in this organization, a Supreme Buddhist Sangha Council will represent the Buddhists.

Once the inter-religious body is set up no one will be permitted to set up new prayer houses or other religious centers without the council?s prior permission, according to the minister.

He said that he was visiting the provinces to study ways and means of building stronger ties between lay Buddhists and the Sangha on the religious, educational and economic levels.

One objective was for Buddhist temples to establish as many as possible nursery schools, which for past several decades had been virtually the sole monopoly of non-Buddhists, he declared.

The evangelist aim was to `catch them young,? the minister said. The Venerable Medagama Dhammananda Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter, Kandy said that the state-controlled press was giving hardly any assistance to publicize and promote Buddhist causes.

Many of those present at the book launch expressed concerns over possible attempts at the highest levels to sabotage moves to present the anti-conversion bill in Parliament, next month.

Buddha Sasana Presidential Commission Member Dr. Anula Wijesundere, Dr. Jayadeva Tilakasiri, Vice President, German Dharmaduta Society, Senaka Weeraratna, Secretary of the Society and Attorney Prasantha Lal De Alwis were among the others who spoke at the book launch.

The book comprises transcripts of speeches given at a public meeting held on June 26, 2002 to commemorate the Third Death Anniversary of the founder of the German Dharmaduta Society, Asoka Weeraratna ( later known as Ven. Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thera ).

The Book contains the speeches of :

  1. Ven. Bellana Gnanawimala Maha Nayake Thera ( Chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Buddha Sasana, 2001 )
  2. Ven. Rathmale Punnaratana Thera ( Chief Resident monk of the Berlin Vihara )
  3. Dr. Granville Dharmawardena ( President of the German Dharmaduta Society )
  4. Dr. Anula Wijesundere ( Member of the Presidential Commission on the Buddha Sasana, 2001). She delivered the keynote speech.
  5. Dr. H.B. Jayasinghe ( Vice - President of SUCCESS )
  6. Mr. Gamini Perera ( ( President, SUCCESS, Colombo Branch ) 
  7. Mr. D. Ananda de Silva ( Meditation Instructor and Committee Member of the GDS )
  8. Mrs. Saumya Kodagoda, and
  9. Dr. Manel Lakdivdas ( Vice- President of the GDS )

The book explores the scope of the work of the Buddha Sasana Commission, identifies the challenges confronting Buddhism particularly in the area of unethical conversions and the measures that should be adopted by Buddhist organisations to meet these challenges.

With new legislation prohibiting unethical conversion due to be introduced in Parliament in April, 2005 in accordance with the recommendations of the Buddha Sasana Commission, the meeting at the book lauch provided a platform for leading Buddhist monks and laity to discuss the issues relating to the need for such legislation and the wrongs intended to be remedied by the proposed Act.

The meeting was sponsored by the Colombo based German Dharmaduta Society.

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