False interpretation of secularism to deny freedom of religion to Buddhist students at Royal College

By Senaka Weeraratna, Daily FT, 21 February 2024

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- An old boy who has expressed opposition in an article in the Daily FT recently, to the chanting of pirith in a Buddhist religious ceremony at Royal College on grounds that it is ‘anti secular’, has given a false interpretation of secularism.

Moreover, he has made false allegations against the school authorities that:

1) The authorities were forcibly collecting funds from non-Buddhist children

2) The giving of Atapirikara to 100 monks is being done based by forcing parents of children to contribute

3) Converting Royal College to an ultra-Buddhist institute

4) Placing of Buddha statues within the school environment increasingly is intimidating to non-Buddhist students

The author of the article admitted in another correspondence last year that he is a “devout Christian, and an Elder of the St. Andrews Scots Kirk Galle Face where he has also been the Treasurer”.

The Royal College Principal has responded to these wild allegations as follows:

1) “It is important to note that the annual multi-religious program and alms-giving have been longstanding traditions at Royal College, spanning numerous years. These events are deeply rooted in our school’s ethos of secularism and fostering harmony and understanding among students of diverse backgrounds.

2) Contrary to the claims made in the article, it should be noted that while there are indeed 186 classes in the school, money is not collected from every class. Such assertions misrepresent the financial practices associated with these events (this means that money is not collected from non–Buddhists.

3) The distribution of Atapirikara to 100 Bhikkus is conducted voluntarily, by parents willing to contribute to this meaningful gesture. No coercion or force is involved in this process, and parents are free to participate or refrain, according to their discretion.

4) The sponsorship of food for grades one to four students is also voluntary. It is inaccurate to insinuate that only financially capable parents have assumed responsibility for this initiative.

5) The comparison drawn between Royal College and Buddhist colleges, such as Ananda College and Nalanda College, regarding participation in religious processions is misleading.

6) Royal College is a secular school and takes pride in conducting multi-religious ceremonies with the participation of students and parents from all faiths. This is a testament to our commitment to secularism, inclusivity, and cultural diversity.

7) It is disheartening to see baseless allegations made by an individual purportedly associated with our esteemed institution.”

The Royal College Principal has politely and firmly replied to an old boy prejudiced vehemently against Buddhism and full of hate speech directed against the Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka.

Royal College today – demographic realities

Unlike in the past and the colonial era the vast majority of students at Royal College today are Buddhists and Sinhala. This is a demographic fact. Accordingly, these students have every right to expect the school to instil in them Buddhist religious values. The pretext of ‘secularism’ (mostly ‘psuedo secularism’) should not be a reason for depriving Buddhist children of the school of valuable moral and ethical lessons based on Buddhist insights

In the pre-colonial era, this country was known as ‘Sinhale’ or ‘Thun Sinhale’. The Kingdom of Kandy was also known as ‘Sinhale’ and the so-called Kandyan Convention of 1815 in Sinhala is still called ‘Sinhale – Ingrisy Givisuma’. Before 1505, this land had a Buddhist civilisation built by the Sinhala people. There were no other religions except Hinduism. A Buddhist social order prevailed for over two millennia.

The connotation that Royal College was a secular school in the colonial era is simply false propaganda of the missionaries. Governor North and Governor Horton were ardent Christians supporting Christian missionaries with State funds. (See Ceylon Almanac 1837). There were Buddhist students in the school but facilities to learn Buddhism were simply not made available. Consequently, the products of both missionary schools and also Royal College if they had not been already converted to Christianity turned out to be weak Buddhists.

Buddhist wisdom is one of the great traits of a true Buddhist. It can be acquired in a Buddhist educational environment but not elsewhere. Multiculturalism and diversity were promoted as the solution to racial conflict. But the reality today is that they are collapsing in England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands because the cultural values of the various tribes comprising the society are incompatible and have led to unceasing clashes.

Secularism which promotes the equality of the communities despite lack of equality of contribution by the various groups has a sinister agenda to deny the majority (Bhumiputras or Sons of the Soil) their rightful place. It is anti-majoritarian in outlook.

It is a smokescreen like the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ which was used by the Church to bless the plunder of colonies by the foreign invaders. The ‘Doctrine of Manifest Destiny’ another false gospel to trick people in the colonies into accepting their unfortunate fate also served rapacious colonialism. Japan disproved the validity of the ‘Doctrine of Manifest Destiny’ with its attack on Pearl Harbour and the Japanese Blitzkrieg in South East Asia and South Asia finally leading to the liberation of Asia.

Buddhism at Royal College

A Buddhist Society was first established in 1908 but was disbanded in 1916 after the Muslim- Sinhala riots in 1916. The ban on Buddhist activities at Royal College remained until 1955 when the Buddhist Brotherhood was established.

It is now a thriving society. What the Buddhist Brotherhood wants to do to instil Buddhist values in its members is a matter for the Buddhist Brotherhood and not for outsiders.

The Buddhist Brotherhood is responsible for organising the annual pirith ceremony. It also designs the Vesak postcard and holds Vesak competitions which include lantern competitions and class decoration competitions. Poya Dhamma sermons and meditation programs are organised every month given the full moon Poya Day. The Society also holds the annual Bhakthi Gee program and organises the annual Dalada Poojawa.

Its motto “Nothing equals wisdom” enshrines the objectives of the projects that are being conducted and intends to instill them in the students. These projects are considered by many, as a way of assisting the Buddhist students to remain close to their faith. The four main projects of the Buddha Brotherhood annually are:
  • The Annual Dalada Muluthenge Poojawa
  • The Daily Buddha Poojawa
  • Sadaham Sisilasa Poya Day Dhamma Sermon (for Pera Poya and Pasu Poya Dhamma Sermon) and the
  • Rajakeeya Abhiwandhana Vesak celebrations
May peace and harmony prevail among students of Royal College with the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem.

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