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Sunday, 31 January 2016

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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 bull-fighting.

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 Religion is, today, not merely out-of-date "superstition" that thrives on the fear of the unknown, but a recognised social-spiritual force for the human good inspired by the knowledge of what is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 'followers'.

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