Maha Sangha has crucial role in path to peace

Daily Mirror, Feb 2, 2009

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- US Ambassador in Colombo Robert O. Blake said yesterday that preserving Sri Lanka’s long standing traditions will only succeed if the country’s political leaders, its civil society, and its religious leaders stand and reaffirm their commitment to a just, pluralistic and multi-ethnic society built on the principles of tolerance, peace and mutual respect.

Speaking at a ceremony to launch the website of the Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha at the Sri Naga Vihara Colombo, Mr. Blake said he believes religious leaders of Sri Lanka will help forge the way forward in helping the country and the people of Sri Lanka heal after decades of war by helping to create an environment that promotes and facilitates reconciliation. “Rebuilding a society based on peace, tolerance, and mutual respect is not just something that is the purview of politicians. As religious leaders, you play a tremendous role in helping people at the grassroots level understand and support the principles of peace. You have a moral authority no other leaders have. The Maha Sangha’s role is particularly important today, since influential nationalistic voices are voicing their opposition to a wide dialogue on ways that power can be shared.

“You, as religious leaders, together with leaders from other religious communities, can play a critical role in helping to define the path forward and shape the future of a united Sri Lanka. “Religion is a powerful force because of the unique moral and spiritual respect you command. You are proving that it can unite a nation, rather than divide it,” he said. “I’ve learned the importance of Buddhist values and traditions in Sri Lankas history and in the fabric of Sri Lankas social and political life. “In my own country, Buddhism is one of our fastest growing religions. Recent surveys suggest Buddhism has climbed to be the third most practiced religion in America below Christianity and Judaism. The majority of Buddhists in America are between the ages of 30 – 49, and Buddhists are among the best educated of all Americans.

“You live in a country united by tradition, united by a strong sense of values, harmony and a belief in a spiritual being and purpose. However, you also live in a country that is divided. A 25-year old war has ravaged your country, your people and your traditions. Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have had their lives disrupted because of the conflict.

“Some Sri Lankans say Sri Lankas long tradition as a moderate, pluralist, multi-ethnic society may also be at risk. We all hope that will not be the case. Even as the Government and countries like the U.S. work to assist hundreds of thousands of your fellow citizens facing extraordinarily difficult challenges in the north, there is light at the end of the tunnel that suggests new opportunities for peace in the future. The Government has seized control of nearly all the territory taken over by the LTTE, a terrorist organization that has thrived by sowing the seeds of hatred, division and terror.

“But a lasting peace in Sri Lanka will not occur when the last kilometer of territory is occupied in the north. A true peace---a sustainable end to the bitter conflict—will only occur through a political solution. And by a political solution, I mean an agreement that respects, protects and promotes the rights of all Sri Lankans, whether they be Sinhalese or Tamil; Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim.

“One unique characteristic about Sri Lanka is your tradition for religious tolerance. For centuries, Buddhists and Hindus have lived alongside Muslims and Christians. When I first arrived here I was intrigued by the number of Hindu temples located within or near Buddhist temples. This is something I didn’t see while living in India, for example.

“As religious leaders of the country, you can help forge the path forward in helping the country and the people of Sri Lanka heal after decades of war by helping to create an environment that promotes and facilitates reconciliation.