Launching report on unethical conversions

By Janaka Perera, Asian Tribune, Jan 6, 2009

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- The Commission Report on unethical conversions of Buddhists will be launched at the Kularatne Hall, Ananda College, Colombo, on Tuesday January 6. The All Ceylon Buddhist Congress appointed the commission to investigate the conversion of Buddhists into other religions by unethical means and ruses.

The commission commenced its inquiries at the historic sacred site of Mihintale, Anuradhapura on Poson full moon day (in June) 2006. Its report is based on facts gathered during a two-year investigation in different parts of Sri Lanka under the direction of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress.

According to a resource paper – An Overview of Unethical Conversions of Buddhists in the Asian Region – presented at the International Buddhist Conference on the Buddha Sasana in Theravada Buddhist Countries held in Colombo in January 2003, the introduction of the open economy in Sri Lanka led to a steady stream of foreign-funded Christian evangelical organizations infiltrating the island's Buddhist and Hindu communities.

Leading Sri Lankan Anthropologist and Sociologist Sasanka Perera says that modern evangelist groups have made this island one of their bases of operation in the "competitive vocation of soul saving over the past 15 years." (Living with Torturers)

In the eyes of non-Christians these evangelists appear as if they are trying to cure two 'mental illnesses' – Buddhism and Hinduism.

To quote Evangelist Dr. Alex G. Smith,

"Buddhism today influences about 1 billion people, primarily ranging from South Russia to Indonesia and from West to Japan. Thus the challenge of the Church of the 21st Century is to sacrifice through patience, perseverance, and purity of life in order to reach this large remaining Buddhist bloc. Here is a call to pray, to go, to send, to evangelize, and to plant churches among all Buddhist peoples of Asia…" (Finding, Defining and Minding the Buddhist World: East Asia's Millions, Buddhism, The Next Giant – OMF International, Spring 1999 Page 7)

Small wonder such attitudes have led to violent provocations and anti-Christian mob attacks in both Sri Lanka and India, affecting the guilty as well as the innocent. And then the evangelist culprits scream for the world to hear that they are the aggrieved party.

During the tsunami of 2004, these foreign-funded evangelists having arrived in droves in Sri Lanka in the guise of good Samaritans were busy distributing Bibles and other Christian literature among poor tsunami survivors – a case of fishing in troubled waters - whereas the Buddhist clergy in the tsunami-hit South who gave shelter to many a non-Buddhist in their temples did not try to distribute copies the Dhammapada among the displaced the people.

In initiating the probe on unethical conversions the ACBC has been inspired by the 1956 Buddhist Commission Report which accelerated the United National Party's ignominious defeat in that year's Parliamentary Elections, reducing the number of party's seats to eight.

The call to appoint such a commission was a reaction to the continuation in the post-independence era of injustices done to Buddhists under three European colonial regimes. The undertaking the British gave to maintain the Buddhist religion had been grossly betrayed before the ink was dry in the Kandyan Convention of 1815 signed 194 years ago. Buddhism in consequence of the terms of the convention enjoyed the same position as the Anglican Church in England. But even after 1948 not only was this fact ignored but attempts to marginalize Buddhists in the State sector, in the armed forces and elsewhere continued as before.

Leading Buddhist Activists like L.H. Mettananda noticed that the Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake's Government was neither prepared to give Government patronage to Buddhism as in the pre-colonial days nor was it keen to give to the Buddhists the same rights the Christians enjoyed in all spheres of society in the immediate post-independence era. Had the UNP rulers been far-sighted enough to enforce at least the latter policy this country would have been spared of the many upheavals that followed. UNP election manifestos have focused on neither of these but only on minority rights.
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.

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 since the Western colonial occupation right through the immediate post independence years, the report noted in 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…"