– by Shenali D Waduge –
Sri Lanka’s Court of Appeal ruling delivered on August 29, 2013 has rightfully banned the slaughter of animals for religious purposes and ruled that the police had every right to prevent such animal slaughter from taking place indicating that freedom of religion cannot overrule or overturn existing country laws. The country owes its gratitude and heartfelt thanks to the Judges Sisira De Abrew, Deepali Wijesundera and Sunil Rajapaksa for their moral courage and judicial activist leadership and questions the lack of such moral leadership in other areas of polity given that Sri Lanka’s development must rest on ethical principles and morally defensible values as was the case in the pre-colonial past under our Buddhist Kings.
Need of the hour: Chakravarti leadership
When an unprecedented number of challenges are thrown in from all directions a nation is in dire need of a Chakravarti ruler, one who can overcome all through an ethical public policy, a model of life lived and based on righteousness and maintain moral law and order aligned to the indigenous culture that prevailed until it was usurped by foreign invaders.
Significant numbers in the West are today embracing Buddhism. It is the only world religion that places the reverence for life including even those of non – human sentient beings as a core concept. Yet, sadly, in the context of how Buddhism has been pushed into virtually a ceremonial status in Sri Lanka we can but wonder if Lord Buddha would also end up being called a racist, rabble rouser or anti-multicultural extremist and even end up facing prosecution for pleading the cause of an animal’s right to life and freedom and to refrain from animal sacrifice.
We must not forget that the Buddha walked from Devale to Devale in his time and fearlessly condemned the practice of animal sacrifice. Pleading the noble tenet of Ahimsa (non – injury to animals) the Buddha appealed to Brahmins engaged in such inhumane practices in the following words:
“ Ignorance only can make these men prepare festivals and hold vast meetings for sacrifices. Far better to revere the truth than try to appease the gods by shedding blood.
“ What love can a man possess who believes that the destruction of life alone will atone for evil deeds? Can a new wrong expiate old wrongs? And can the slaughter of an innocent victim blot out the evil deeds of mankind? This is practising religion by the neglect of moral conduct.
“ Purify your hearts and cease to kill; that is true religion.
“ Rituals have no efficacy; prayers are vain repetitions; and
incantations have no saving power. But to abandon covetousness and lust, to become free from evil passions, and to give up all hatred and ill will, that is the right sacrifice and the true worship. ”
See ‘ The Gospel of Buddha ’ compiled from ancient records by Paul Carus, (Senate, London, 1997 reprint, page 33).
Rejection of Petitions for an Animal Welfare Act
It was only after years of petitions and pleadings that the present verdict has come and questions how far the high morals and ethical standards that prevailed during the times of the Sinhala Buddhist kings have declined to accommodate killing of animals simply because it is part and parcel of the religious freedoms of others. This totally ignores the culture that prevailed and the religion of the majority citizens and calls to mind the manner in which the Russian President Putin having realized that Russia’s culture was also at risk declared in a very stern speech recently that anyone not desiring to follow Russian culture should seek other foreign options and that Russian values were not for bartering away.
Today Sri Lanka is facing a unique situation where Buddhist values are not held as sacrosanct in contrast to what existed during the times of the Sinhala Buddhist kings. It simply makes any to wonder where Sri Lanka as a country is heading if we are to totally ignore a rich cultural civilization based on a high ethical foundation that prevailed and like Ranil Wickremasinghe’s silly attempt to celebrate only the arrival of the Portuguese some 500 years ago overlooking the atrocities committed by them while also forgetting that the Christians and Catholics who presently owe allegiance to the Church were all once a upon a time Buddhists who had been converted to Christianity/Catholicism by various means during Portuguese, Dutch and British rule.
Nevertheless, what needs to be reiterated is that in a predominantly Buddhist country the ethos that prevailed before foreign western invasions must prevail and political leaders need to understand that they are not elected to adopt neo-colonial ideas and values. It is the lack of sensitivity to morals and values that prevails in society that has led to the present status quo even with the Animal Welfare Bill alongside objections to animal sacrifice where politicians are unwilling to follow their conscience of taking up the Animal Welfare Bill because their decision is heavily swayed by the monetary bargaining power of ethnic and religious minorities and the influence they have over them as well as the false belief that they will win the votes of ethnic and religious minorities who do not care or have much respect for Buddhist ethos and values. When leadership is bartered and bargained for it leaves the society in a pickle and that is one of the main reasons that people’s sacred moral values are falling apart at all levels.
Emperor Asoka – closest example to a Chakravarti King
We need today moral leadership by example like that of Emperor Asoka ( the closest example to a Chakravarti King) and not the type of behavior that we saw recently when a UNP MP from Kalutara intervened to stop Buddhist monks and laity from protesting against animal sacrifice and argued instead that it should be allowed to take place. His action speaks volumes as to why UNP remains distant from Buddhist ethos and values, and will never come into power by the way they behave and should provide key lessons to Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe should he ever want to elevate himself from his long standing position of Opposition Leader.
In ancient times our Buddhist Kings always led by example and it was good enough reason for the public to also not wish to challenge or overrule royal decrees – administration was made all the more easier as a result.
In an article written by Dr. Lorna Dewaraja under the title ‘ The Indigenisation of the Muslims in Sri Lanka’ and published in a Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka Commemorative Volume 1845 – 1995, she says as follows:
” …….it is certain that the Muslims abstained from the slaughter of cattle at least within the limits of the Kingdom. Ibn Batuta relates the story of Shaikh Usman of Shiraz, the Muslim Priest, who had his hands and feet cut off for slaughtering a cow. He escaped with this lenient treatment for an office which was normally punishable by death, because he was held in high esteem by the King. This event took place in the fourteenth century and it is almost certain that that the offence was never repeated because if it was, friction would certainly have followed between the Buddhists and Muslims”
See page 437 of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka Commemorative Volume 1845 – 1995
Ibn Batuta on his travels to Sri Lanka realized what punishment was for a Muslim who indulged in animal sacrifice but the piety of the king had made sure his death sentence was reduced. The lesson here was that rules were clear and those not adhering to the rules were punished just as South Indian King Elara showed that even family are not spared in the manner his own son was punished for running over a cow. This is moral leadership at its best in practice where rule and law and order prevailed for all without favour.
Sri Lanka, once known as the ‘ Dhammadeepa’ in Buddhist Asia, needs to decide whether it is going to deny its cultural heritage by going behind foreign cultures and values and in turn adapting to the cultures and religious rituals of other later cultures or whether it is going to clearly declare the immutability of the indigenous culture of the country and that the indigenous culture is not bartered or allowed to be challenged by other cultures because Buddhism as a religion does not over step on or intrude on any other religions nor does it deny the existence of other religions. Yet, in what manner do other religions reciprocate by respecting and accepting Buddhism on par with theirs – this is the question that remains never answered.