Bhikkhus always represent national interest - Ven. Athuraliye
At a time when the bhikkhus’ Parliamentary representation has become
a very controversial issue in the country, the Sunday Observer
interviewed JHU Parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera for his
Forthright and composed, but very much alive to the changing dynamics
of the situation Ven. Rathana Thera said since colonial era up to date,
Sri Lanka could be proud of the bhikkhus who had fearlessly raised their
voice and stood for national freedom, sovereignty and territorial
integrity. The JHU represents such bhikkhus.
Therefore, UNP Parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe through a mere
Parliamentary bill cannot deprive this historical and national heritage
jealously guarded by the bhikkhus. The bhikkhus under the JHU banner
contested at the 2004 General Election and ventured into active politics
in the national interest.
The Thera said that prominent bhikkhus such as Ven. Migettuwatte
Gunananda Thera sought no permission from the Mahanayakes to engage in
the five public religious debates while Ven. Wariyapola Sumangala Thera
pulled down and trampled the Union Jack without consulting Mahanayakes.
As bhikkhus they represented the national interest. Actually the JHU
also belongs to the bhikkhus of such disposition. It is a downright lie
that the JHU politics have promoted communalism. There is no communal
basis whatsoever for the JHU policies. It is only Buddhism that could
lay the foundation for a harmonious and peaceful co-existence for all
communities in Sri Lanka. The JHU is fully committed to unite all
Ven. Rathana Thera said that the JHU described the Budget 2007 as the
one meant to protect the country from terrorism. Even the media reported
the attempts by some foreign embassies to buy over both the Government
and the Opposition MPs. They also tried similar tactics to buy over the
Q: What are your views on the private members motion by UNP
Parliamentarian and BASL President Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe on banning the
clergy from representing the Parliament?
A: If one looks at history, one could see there were Bhikkus
who fought to protect the Buddha Sasana and safeguard the motherland
from the time of the advent of colonialism in the country. For example
prominent Bhikkus such as Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, Ven.
Wariyapola Sumangala Thera, Ven. Giranegama Chandrajothi Thera, Ven.
Udakendawala Saranankara Thera, Ven. Walpola Rahula Thera and Ven.
Yakkaduwe Pannarama Thera, were not Maha Nayakes. Ven. Chandrajothi
Thera gave leadership to the 1848 rebellion. None of these bhikkhus were
Mahanayakes. Therefore, since colonial era up to date, we have bhikkhus
who fearlessly raised their voice and stood up for national freedom,
sovereignty and territorial integrity. Today we represent that Bhikkhu
generation. Wijedasa Rajapaksha through a mere Parliamentary bill cannot
deprive us of our historical and national heritage. We contested the
election without the concurrence of Mahanayakes. Some of the Mahanayakes
invoked blessings on us while the other remained silent. That is why we
contested the election which was a national requirement.
If I am to comment on what made MP Rajapakshe move this motion, I
would say that he speaks about the JHU bhikkhus with much hatred. He has
said that we have built temples like palatial mansions. Now you are
doing this interview in my temple. Therefore you can see whether this is
a temple or palace as claimed by the MP. I hope you can witness our
simple lifestyle in the temple. As a parliamentarian, I used an old car
for over six years bought for Rs. 1.35 million.
Wijedasa Rajapaksa says he moved this motion with the objective of
safeguarding “Sambuddha Sasana”. If the JHU bhikkhus resign from their
Parliamentary seats, will the “Sambuddha Sasana” be safe? The country
was rescued from the clutches of the LTTE terrorism because of the JHU.
It is true that President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave the leadership to win
the war against terrorism. Had there been a deficit of 85,000 votes, the
President would not have been voted to power in 2005.
The JHU helped the President to come to power. It was the JHU which
gave the leadership to elect a dynamic leader needed by the country to
defeat terrorism. We described the budget 2007 as the one which rescued
the country from terrorism. Even the media reported the attempts by some
foreign embassies to buy over both the Government and the Opposition
MPs. They used similar tactics to buy over the JHU Parliamentarians as
If the JHU also did the same, this Government would have been toppled
in 2007. The budget was passed by a majority of mere one vote. However,
the newspapers during the month of the budget debate revealed a
conspiracy being hatched by some Western embassies here to topple the
Government. Today the people have forgotten these things. It was
Wijedasa Rajapaksha who gave leadership to that conspiracy.
Q: What is the advantages of having Bhikkhu MPs in Parliament?
A: Bhikkhus in large numbers entered politics in 2004 as it
had been a national requirement due to the situation in the country at
that time. Today we have forgotten it. Terrorism was completely defeated
on May 19, 2009. We could witness the number of bombs exploded
countrywide and other atrocities committed by LTTE terrorists causing
the loss of lives of thousands of innocent civilians and many
intellectuals and politicians during the initial stages of operation
against terrorists. It looked like as if we were enacting a horror drama
during those years.
Everybody had been affected by the Tamil communalist opinion which
promoted the concepts such as Tamil homeland in the North and the East,
self-determination and the federal structure. Even former President
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and former Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe had also agreed to certain conditions.
This was also a time during which attempts had been made to convert
the Buddhists to other religions. Specially Buddhist monks were forced
to enter politics by the LTTE terrorism. As a result, we had to enter
politics. Some people question as to what we have done in politics? In
our efforts to defeat terrorism, we had to face many hardships and
obstacles. As bhikkhus we played a leading role in overcoming such
Q: Has the JHU been able to guide or influence the Government
when it took certain steps that could have been perhaps detrimental to
the society or our social values?
A:During the period from 2005 to 2009, we had become a key
force which could even guide the Government. It is however questionable
whether the JHU has the same strength to today. As in the case of many
national movements, this can be explained as a transitory stage.
However, we have been able to influence the Government. We think we
should exert more influence on Government. Instead of toppling the
Government, the public opinion could guide it on the proper direction.
Q: One Minister had said recently that taverns should be
opened in every village. What is your view on this and such other
A: If a Cabinet Minister had said so his statement has its
impact not only to his own electorate but also to the whole country.
Therefore, he has spoken against the Government’s policy. This may not
be a problem for him alone at the level of national politics. But this
is a very damaging statement which affects the Government policies and
its national interest.
Q: Several prominent bhikkhus have stressed the need for a
Sangayana to safeguard the future of the Theravada Buddhism. Your
A: This is high time to herald a religious renaissance in the
country rather than conduct only a Sangayana. The word, Sangayana
implies a different meaning covering a series of issues pertaining to
Buddhism. Sambuddha Sasana should be converted into one Sangha Sabha for
the future survival of Buddha Sasana by meeting the current challenges.
At present there are more than 30 nikayas and some nikayas have been
formed on various castes. This is an absurd situation and time is
opportune to change this.
As bhikkhus it should be our responsibility to address this issue
within the next 10 years or so. I think my age may not be still mature
enough to fulfil such a task. We are all Buddha’s disciples without
going by nikaya traditions. It is true that the nikaya tradition has a
It is time to rectify these shortcomings. I am ashamed to call as one
belonging to Siyam or Ramanna or Amarapura nikaya. It should be called,
Sri Lanka Sangha Sabha. Unfortunately there is no proper Bhikkhu
leadership for the Sasana. Initiatives have to be taken to create such
leadership within the next 10 years or so.
Q: Dharma Rajjaya, was the main political objective of the JHU
when it ventured into politics. How far you have progressed in this
A: This was our motto when we ventured into politics. Nobody
ever asked the JVP or LSSP whether they were able to form their
socialist State? At the outset, they said that they would form a
Government of socialist outlook.
However, good social reforms have been introduced to the country due
to certain progressive policies of these political parties in the past.
The country’s leftist movement had played a prominent role in education
and health sectors.
But if we ask them whether they had been able to form a socialist
state, it is clear that it has not happened. Forming Dharma Rajjaya is
also like that.
Over one billion of the world population is suffering from
starvation. What is perhaps at issue is whether the globe will survive
for another 50 years. The Rio conference will be held in Brazil in few
days time. Dharma Rajjaya should be first promoted in Asian Buddhist
countries and throughout the world later. Therefore the validity of our
concept has become much more important today. It is time to change the
society based on the doctrine of Buddha.
Q: Some sections of the JHU have been accused of being behind
certain incidents of religious disharmony such as threatening mosques
etc. Is the JHU involved in or does it in any way condone these
A: I categorically deny it. The JHU set up a Hindu- Buddhist
Association two years ago. During this post conflict scenario, attempts
should be made to promote mutual co-existence and inter-cultural
relationship between Sinhala and Tamil communities. We alone have made
that attempt. As a political party, the JHU has done its job towards
achieving this goal.
The JHU was never involved in creating religious disharmony. Actually
this type of incidents could have been prevented due to the existence of
a movement such as JHU which consists of a social segment of
intellectual Sinhala Buddhists. For example, if we too had become
emotional such as those in India, what would have happened when Sri
Dalada Maligawa was attacked by the terrorists? That did not happen as
our national movement was spearheaded by an intellectual social segment.
As a result, the Sinhala community was not misled despite the communal
pressure exerted by certain minority groups. We say with a sense of
responsibility that the attempts by some extremists failed as we gave
leadership to defeat such conspiracies.
Q: For certain parties with vested interest, both local and
international, LLRC recommendations have become a stalking horse. Does
the JHU support these recommendations wholesale or on selective basis?
A: When the LLRC report was released, the JHU categorically
said that the report had gone beyond its mandate. They have no right to
speak about a political solution. They have the right only to say that
there is a need for a political solution. Another grave mistake in the
LLRC report is that it has not properly analysed the atrocities
committed by the LTTE during the past 30 years and the international
pressure exerted on us.
When the LLRC report was being prepared this issue had not been
highlighted at the national level and the information disseminated
properly. For example, the impact of the Indo-Lanka agreementand the
intervention whether by India up to the period of 1987 have not been
highlighted in the LLRC report. It has recommended a political solution
by exceeding its mandate.
Therefore, the JHU has already made its recommendations on the LLRC
report. Since the West has alleged that war crimes have been committed,
we wanted to prepare a report refuting those allegations. That is why
the LLRC was set up. At present the LLRC report is used as a wrong
Q: Some foreign elements justified LTTE terrorism as a
response to the so-called Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. Is there any
truth in this?
A: Is there any country in the world where its natives have no
sense of patriotism? Any person in any country has a sense of
patriotism. Minorities in any country also have their own problems and
issues. In most of the countries, minorities respect the main culture in
that country. If somebody lives in US, he should speak in English and
respect its culture.
The situation in Sri Lanka is same. The most important thing is that
patriotism should not be used in a manner to harm any community. My
patriotism or religious ideology should not cause fear to any other
religious community. Therefore, patriotism and indigenous feelings are
essential components. This is the common aspiration. We should have a
sense of patriotism for our country.
Q: There is an allegation that the JHU politics are
communal-minded. How do you explain this?
A: Sri Lanka is a democratic country. It is a downright lie
that the JHU politics have promoted communalism. There is no communal
basis whatsoever for the JHU policies. It is only Buddhism that could
lay the foundation for harmonious and peaceful co-existence of all
communities in Sri Lanka. We are fully committed to unite all
Q: What is JHU’s stand on devolution of power? Should not it
be the decentralisation of economic powers to strengthen the periphery?
A: Who needs power? It is really the people who need power. If
something is to be done in a particular village, the views of the people
in that village are obtained. Actually it is necessary to implement the
people’s power by way of formulating a structure which could enable the
people to make political decisions up to Pradeshiya Sabha level.
Although it is obvious that the orders given from the top are
implemented at the bottom, no methodology has been created to channel
the decisions reached at the bottom to the top. Our position is that
there should be a mechanism to devolve the administrative powers down to
the Pradeshiya Sabhas at village level.
Power should in fact be given to the people, not to the communities.
The devolution of power based on communities is a wrong concept.
When we talk about the decentralisation of economic powers, farmers
should have independence to engage in cultivation. Do they have such
independence today? At present several companies have asked farmers to
use various pesticides. Poverty continue as a result of not managing the
economy properly. Finally poverty turns into racism. It is our
responsibility to present a comprehensive economic program to the
country, based on decentralising power down to the grass roots level.
Q: Always people are asked to make sacrifices in the interest
of the country. How about politicians taking the lead?
A: Definitely politicians should make sacrifices. We should
formulate a plan to rebuild the country. The people should be educated
on the targets to be achieved by the Government within a period of five
years. Then the people will get ready for those targets.
They should save the local reserves. We should study the manner how
the national wealth goes out to foreign countries. For example we spend
Rs.300 billion for food imports. If we want to save this, we should
encourage the people in that direction. Before increasing the price of a
packet of milk powder, we should have told the people of the true
purpose behind such increases. The people should be encouraged to get
fresh milk. If we can set this example to the people, there will be no
need to import milk powder. The Government has not been able to properly
educate the people on its objectives. At present dairy farmers have been
subjected to the monopoly of the multinational companies.
We don’t need companies to supply fresh milk. At present the people
find it difficult to purchase fresh milk in their respective areas.
The people who buy powdered milk may think that an unnecessary burden
has been put on them due to increased prices of imported milk powder.
We should educate the people on similar lines to save electricity as
well. If electricity rates are increased without educating the people,
they would view it as an unnecessary burden on them. The Government
should educate the people by setting targets.