Sri Lankan government urged to study 1956 Buddhist Committee Report

By Janaka Perera , Asian Tribune, Oct 9, 2006

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Buddhist organizations are urging the government to implement five proposals to arrest the decline of Buddhist values and culture in Sri Lanka. The Venerable Medagama Dhammananda of the Asgiriya Chapter, Kandy read out these proposals at a meeting held at Ananda College, Colombo on October 3.

The event was in connection with the republication of the Report of the Buddhist Committee of Inquiry that helped the SLFP victory of 1956.

The report was reprinted to mark the 2550th Buddha Jayanthi and 50 years since the document was first published. All Buddhist organizations in the country were represented at the ceremony.

The Ven. Dhammananda, who is also Project Director, `Jayagrahanaya Sri Lanka,' called upon the government to

  1. Stop television programs that corrupt young minds and lower the level of language standards
  2. Enforce the Sanghadirakarana Act to punish so-called monks who tarnish the image of the Buddhist clergy
  3. Safeguard the country's unity and territorial integrity while continuing to give prominence to Buddhism
  4. Establish a Supreme Advisory Council to correctly present to society the views of the Buddhist clergy and
  5. Implement the recommendations of the Buddha Sasana Commission.

The Ven.Dhammananda expressed regret that the Freedom of Religion (anti-conversion) Bill had not yet been enforced although it was presented in Parliament. Such laws have been a long felt need in the country in the context of issues that the Buddhist Committee Report raised five decades ago, he noted.

Speaker of the House W.J.M. Lokubandara called upon the UNP to have a fresh look at the 50-year-old Buddhist Committee report that accelerated the party's ignominious defeat in 1958, reducing the number of its seats in Parliament to eight. There are lessons to be learnt from it, he said. Many of the points raised in the report are valid now as then according to the Speaker, who called himself a person above party politics.

He also stressed that those who want to implement the President's Mahinda Chinthanaya (Thoughts of Mahinda) should read the report. Lokubandara said that a copy of it should be in every Buddhist temple.

The Venerable Dr. Bellanwila Wimalarathana who delivered the keynote address, said that unlike today, Sri Lanka in the 1950s had a strong lay Buddhist leadership that campaigned relentlessly against the powerful brown sahibs, who relegated the island's traditional religious values and Sinhala language virtually to the dustbin. In 1956 while Sir John Kotalawala's UNP government was dawdling over the proposals that were made in the Buddhist Committee Report, the MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna) comprising the SLFP and several other Opposition parties endorsed the report's recommendations, thus paving the way S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's electoral victory that became a watershed in the country's history, he recalled.

Some of the recommendations however still remain to be implemented, the Ven. Dr. Wimalarathana noted. He also told the audience that vested interests are making allegations of Buddhist `fundamentalism' meaning dogmatism, which the Buddha Dhamma had nothing to do with.

The Buddhist Committee of Inquiry was set up on April 2, 1954 in accordance with the resolution adopted at the 33rd annual conference of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress held at Kegalle on December 27, 1953 . The `Buddhist Commission' as it came to be popularly known, held its sitting throughout the length and breadth of the country beginning at Ratnapura on June 26, 1954 and concluding at Anuradhapura on May 22, 1955. It heard evidence from organizations and individuals representing all sections of Buddhist society.

The Committee comprised among others, the Venerable Abanwelle Siddhartha, Ven. Haliyale Sumanatissa,Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya, Ven. Palonnaruwe Vimaladhamma, Dr.G.P. Malalasekera, S. Kularatne, Dr.Tennekoon Wimalananda, L.H. Mettananda and D.C. Wijayawardena.

An abridged English version of the report was published under the title, The Betrayal of Buddhism. After recording in detail the injustices done to Buddhists laity and clergy from the days of Western colonial occupation to the post-independence years, the report made the following observation its concluding chapter titled `Tolerance' :

“Almost every page of this Report bears witness to the extent and duration of Buddhist tolerance (in the colonial era). And yet fully eight years after this country is alleged to have gained independence, when Buddhists ask for some of that justice which has been denied to them for centuries, they are characterized as a truculent majority and asked to show tolerance. By a flagrant disregard of historical fact and contemporary reality, the Buddhists are made to appear in the light of domineering tyrants…''

Gevindu Kumaratunga, proprietor of Visidunu Publications and kinsman of the well-known Sinhala linguist and writer, Munidasa Kumaratunga, undertook the task of reprinting the Committee Report.

Among the others who spoke were Minister of Indigenous Medicine and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Tissa Karaliyadde, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, Ven. Bellana Gnanawimala and the Ven. Weweldeniye Medhalankara.