– by Shenali Waduge –
Open a Buddhist Desk at Sri Lanka External Affairs Ministry
Nations and nation systems did not emerge without a history. Nations like Sri Lanka have a rich cultural and historical heritage they should not feel shy about. The modern day liberal secularists would profane a different notion but against the heritage of the past what have these liberals given for history to remember? International diplomacy is much more than the gun boat diplomacy currently pursued. The softer approach is far more binding and reaps greater benefits. The cultural ties will secure diplomatic bonds that include people that are ideal in the current context of global hostility. Sri Lanka needs to return to the days where cultural ties brought rich dividends mutually. However, unpalatable it is for the current Minister of External affairs to utter the word “Buddhism” in public or speak a word on Article 9 of the Constitution the affairs of Sri Lanka does not rest on his creed and it is now opportune a time to set up a Buddhist Desk at the Ministry of External Affairs – a long overdue but necessary diplomatic initiative.
When the world’s 1.3billion Christian population are represented by the World Council of Churches, while the world’s 1.1billion Roman Catholics are represented by the Vatican, the only religion to be given the status of a sovereign nation with 100% Roman Catholics and while the Organization of Islamic Cooperation with 57 states is the collective voice of the Muslim world to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslims and even holds an annual Council of Foreign Ministers summit, do the world’s 400million Buddhists have such a global entity to represent the Buddhist world, to safeguard and protect the interests of the Buddhists and the Buddha Dhamma? Sadly there is no such protective banner for the Buddhists.
Asia holds the predominant Buddhist population with 41% of 33 nations accounting for Buddhists. 7 countries (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Bhutan, and Mongolia) have unambiguous Buddhist majorities. Buddhism is the state religion of Cambodia and Bhutan, while the Constitutions of Thailand and Sri Lanka gives special place to Buddhism separately. The numbers of non-Buddhists attracted to the calm and compassionate nature of Buddhism is increasing at phenomenal rates across America and Europe.
In international affairs – nations act on self-interest. If there are no eternal allies then there are no perpetual enemies. The way forward is a combination of Buddhist and Cultural diplomacy – the ideal tool of preventing conflicts.
This was resonated by President Rajapakse in 2007 when he visited China with a 3rd century BC replica of the famous Samadhi Buddha from Anuradhapura. There was much symbolism in the gift and the diplomacy of Buddhism was seen in his statement “In our history, we have never sent troops to intervene in another country. As a Buddhist nation, that would be unthinkable. In the past we sent monks to study from each other. This tradition should be revived” and with that President Rajapakse invited a Buddhist delegation to Sri Lanka.
We need to return to the rich history of diplomacy when exchange between nations was beneficial far before the capitalists emerged with their theories and doctrines. Aesthetic values and morality are today shoved into a corner but old bonds that existed far before colonials arrived are nothing that cannot be relinked. Was it not this dormant link that was resurrected by China to give Sri Lanka the backing to eliminate the LTTE that the West had helped teeth for decades? Unlike the West, China knows where to place priorities as is seen by the magnificent gift of a Buddhist-inspired Lotus Tower further cementing Chinese foreign policy strategy.
Let us also pay tribute to the service of Late Lakshman Kadiragamar though a Christian to have lobbied to make Vesak commemorated at the UN through General Assembly Resolution 54/115.
That international affairs has conveniently pushed Buddhism to ceremonial status is nothing that the External Affairs Ministry can deny or disagree. Why have we failed to make use of our past where Buddhism had spread via trade routes to distant lands such as Mongolia, Tibet, China, Bactria, Korea, Japan and even as far as Persia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and parts of Russia. Not many would know that Buddhism was incorporated into Russian lands in the early 17th century and is considered as one of Russia’s traditional religions and legally part of Russian historical heritage. These are ties that a Buddhist Desk at the External Affairs Ministry can further explore.
Not many know that unlike Abrahamic religions Buddhism was never propagated by using invading armies and its spread was totally on the ability of people to understand the tenets of Lord Buddha’s teachings. Even great emperors like Asoka of India turned non-violent because of the teachings of Buddha. Buddhist schools of learning were set up for pilgrims and scholars – these are all areas that need to be re-explored. The world is much in need of peace and we need people to spread that peace in its essential form.
However, the constitutional place of Buddhism upheld to a great extent during the time of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike has today diminished possibly on the ill-advice of those pushing for greater personal profits accrued from liberal godfathers. Buddhism is not fashionable enough to be spoken about at international forums, the tragedies that plague fellow Buddhist nations do not even get a national statement of solidarity and it is unfortunate that Sri Lanka has failed to even give a voice to another Theravada Buddhist country that is under tremendous global pressures in Myanmar (Burma) where the ground situation is manipulated by Western press and vested interests to project a totally different version to what is happening in a country that was 100% Buddhists and is today battling to preserve their Buddhist identity and the nation itself. Similar other Buddhist nations are also facing such fate and the same signals are tapping at Sri Lanka’s doors as well. Corrective actions are being shrewdly withdrawn by hyped projection of “anti” repeatedly articulated and given full global publicity to scare the Government into taking action.
The People of Sri Lanka placed faith in President Rajapakse. They did not vote for the Pieris Chintana or any of the other federal liberal secularist Chintana. What the people ask is that every clause of the Constitution of Sri Lanka has to be upheld. Private ideologies and fancies hold no place in public office and President is duty-bound to see that such personal whims and fancies do not end up the official view of the Government of Sri Lanka. There is an obligation by the State to uphold Article 9 – the Ministry of External Affairs has purposely sidelined this important facet and that is a violation by one who does not even come through the vote of the people. The place of Buddhism in Sri Lanka cannot be bartered and the clauses of all the detrimental agreements signed thus far of which the present External Affairs minister has played a key role shows the intention of shrewdly removing the place of Buddhism altogether from Sri Lanka’s Constitution – who gave him that authority to do so? Now that the authorities have been alerted what is going to be done to correct these wrongs?
China is returning to its Buddhist past, India is following with a “Look East” policy, Sri Lanka in the least should start off with a dedicated Buddhist Desk at the Ministry of External Affairs to tie up Buddhists of the world under one protective powerful diplomatic banner.