The Colour of Fear
Fear can be represented
by shapes or odours or colours or any other form depending on direct
human experience arising out of concrete situations and contingencies.
In some West Asian societies, the black flags of the Da-esh, or Islamic
State (so-called), incite sheer terror. Indeed, when a small Leftist
party recently raised black flags in their protest campaign in central
Colombo, some wags joked that the Da-esh had come to town. Some colours
go on to incite anger and aggression as with bulls trained for
In this country, white vans moving about secretively were, at one time -
in an earlier regime and then in the immediate past - associated with
repressive State terror.
In this country and, in most of South Asia, the colour saffron had, for
millennia, represented the gentle ethos of spiritual renunciation and,
the awesome possibility of enlightenment and attainment of műksha. This
colour tinged the lives of countless millions over the generations as a
marker of civilised refinement, intellectual endeavour and spiritual
journeying. It embodied a great human goal and a stage in human
existence that, itself, was a step towards transcendence.
Tragically, in this, our (much-vaunted) 'dharma dveepa', the colour of
saffron is, today, associated also with the terror of marauding gangs
using this same colour as an assertion of power, dominance,
intimidation, humiliation, and exclusion. The saffron robe today clothes
not only the gentle mendicant and pedagogue, the renouncer and social
server. It is also the convenient uniform for those with other intent.
Some Buddhist monks, perhaps in their intellectual mediocrity, have
thought fit to cloak their struggle for ethnic and religious community
dominance with a religious garb.
Sections of ancient religious texts may preach the use of violence and
force as a means of spreading 'religion'. But much of the textual
interpretation, exegesis, in the established faiths today guides us away
from such primitive human understandings of the divine message. Today,
modern exegesis leads us to the more refined understanding of spiritual
attainment be it conversion from one to another faith or the convergence
of faiths in fulfilling synergy. Religion is, today, not merely
out-of-date "superstition" that thrives on the fear of the unknown, but
a recognised social-spiritual force for the human good inspired by the
knowledge of what is possible.
The fact that those gangs of saffron-clad pseudo-mendicants were able to
wreak the destruction and weave the ambience of terror to the degree
that they have today is due to those in governmental power who
protected, if not, nurtured their depredations. The tragic result of
this brutality and impunity is the outright fear with which the ethnic
and religious minorities of the country view the saffron robe.
In neighbouring India, the mainstream news media has had the
self-confidence describe such saffron-clad gangs as the "saffron
brigade". Not so the Sri Lankan news media notwithstanding the local
pretensions towards liberalism. For years, saffron-clad activists have
not just advocated religio-ethnic exclusivity and dominance, but worked
to suppress attempts at inter-ethnic and inter-religious equality. The
news media in the country, however, have failed to decisively report
this destructive religious extremism as what it is.
The entirety of Sri Lankan society must unite in a common effort to end
all this resort to dressing up social hegemonism and exclusivism in
religious clothing whether of saffron or any other colour.
The ecclesiastical establishments of all religions in the country face
the challenge of doing systematic theology and philosophy to interpret
and teach the scriptures that enlighten and liberate. The modern age of
technology has the power to spread spiritual disaster if our spiritual
leaders do not act fast enough to rescue humanity from avijj„ or Satan.
Politicians must now learn from the blunders of past governments that
thought nothing of abusing religion and faiths as a means of communal
mobilisation for political gain by hoodwinking the masses with
simplistic mumbo-jumbo. In the age of the internet, such mumbo-jumbo
spreads infinitely faster that any biological virus.
The fact that a magistrate has been forced to contemplate withdrawal
from handling a case due to the violent agitation by monks speaks
volumes about the state of democracy and justice in our 'dharma dveepa'.
The monks who, in breaking laws, violate the most basic tenets of their
own religion must be treated first and foremost as law-breakers and
dealt with accordingly. If convicted, then their religious orders too
must take the next step of disciplining them according to the Vinaya.
Certainly all wrong-doers must be treated equally before the law
whatever their religion or ethnicity or ecclesiastical status. Those who
claim to preach with authority and then break the law, especially wreak
violence, must be dealt with even more severely than those who are