Bills to better regulate Sangha, Nilame elections
Buddhist establishment simmers over new laws
Mahanayake of the Asgiri Chapter, Most Venerable Warakagoda
Sri Gnanarathana Thera
Mahanayake of the Malwathu Chapter, Most
VenerableTibbotuwawe Sri Sumangala Thera.
Once more two important pieces of draft legislation for the proper
administration of Buddhist institutions and the priesthood have been
postponed indefinitely even though they were to have been debated and
passed by Parliament last week.
The two draft bills, the amendment to the Buddhist Temporalities
Ordinance and, the much awaited Theravada Bhikku Kathikawatha (a code
for the monkhood) were postponed indefinitely last Monday. It was the
second time within a year that these two Bills were stayed.
Despite a defiant effort initially, the government was compelled to
apply the brakes, just as all its predecessors did, in getting the draft
laws passed in Parliament, for fear of misunderstandings among the
Buddhist community that this initiative would cause dissension in the
Sangha. As political circles pointed out, the subject is too sensitive
to be rushed through.
The key contention was the electoral college of the Diyawadana Nilame
of the ‘Dalada Maligawa’. All three major Nikayas (sects), namely, Siyam,
Amarapura and Ramanna, as well as the six breakaway factions of the
Siyam Nikaya – Kotte, Rohana, Dambulla, Uva, Wanawasa and Kelani - found
common ground regarding most of the provisions of the Buddhist
Temporalities Amendment Bill.
be empowered to take disciplinary action
Registrar, SL Amarapura Sanga
Sabha, Ven Dr.Brahmanwatte
Seevali Anunayaka Thera
The Amarapura and Ramanna Nikayas, and the
breakaway chapters of the Siyam Nikaya have contributed
immensely to the protection of Buddhism in this country. If
not for Migettuwatte Gunananada thera, there would not have
been Buddhist schools or Buddhist education in the country.
If not for our great contribution, the
Buddhist population of this country would have dropped to a
mere 20%. These are things that need to be considered when
amendments are proposed to Buddhist laws.
The election to appoint the Diyawadana
Nilame for the Temple of the Tooth is one of the most
corrupt exercises. We have proposed that it should be
decided by the Heads of the three Nikayas instead of holding
an election where the deciding factor by and large is money.
We are not asking for the ownership of the
Tooth relic, we want to retain the rights enjoyed by our
temples. We want to be part of this exercise.
The President did not know about the Bill.
It has been drafted after consulting only
the Asgiriya and Malwathu Chapters of the Siyam sect. That
is not proper. We would have taken to the streets if the
Bill was passed in Parliament.
be protected as long as the lay people have faith
No Government will enact laws at its free
will over matters concerning religions. But, when there are
requests from leaders of respective religions, then the
government as a matter of duty, will take steps to bring in
In this instance also, there was a
longstanding request from the Maha Sanga to empower Sangha
Sabhas and amend the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance. Such
amendments were sought after by the Buddhasasana Commission
for the advancement of the Sasana. The Sasana will be
protected as long as the lay people have faith in the Sasana.
To this end there had been so many
discussions since 1956. In 1999 President Chandrika
Bandaranaike appointed a commission and a report was
produced in 2002. The commission has reiterated the
importance of the enactment of these two laws. The amendment
of the Temporalities Ordiannce of 1931 and give legal effect
to the ‘Kathikawatha’ (Theravada Bhikku Kathikawatha Act).
The present dialogue on these two laws
have commenced in 1974, with the participation of the then
Prime Minister Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike. This dialogue has
continued for 42 years without any viable action being
Then there had been two Bills drafted
during the last regime. In January 2014 the Bills were
approved by the Cabinet. But, the Maha Sangha pointed out,
there were too many loopholes and adverse provisions, such
as, the powers on Buddhist Affairs Commissioner to take over
the control of the temple when there was a dispute.
When Karu Jayasuriya became the
Buddhasasana Minister we held another series of discussions.
During his tenure, these two Bills were approved by the
Cabinet. When I became the Minister in charge of this
subject last year (2015), another series of discussions were
held. These amendments were agreed upon, and the Bill
gazetted. Subsequently, it was challenged in the Supreme
The SC ruled, the proposed law was
consistent with the constitution, except for a few
variations. After that too, some priests were making
representations on the electoral college of the Diyawadana
Nilame. So, I urged them not to embarrass me or the
government. I appealed to them to discuss this issue among
themselves and the Chief Prelates of Malwathu and Asgiriya
Chapters. If they reach a consensus, the government was
ready to incorporate their decision.
I presented the two Bills in Parliament
subject to that agreement, and asked them to resolve
differences through discussion. They promised to do that.
Subsequently, I heard that the Maha Nayakas did not go to
Kandy to meet the Chief Prelates, only ordinary monks had
undertaken that mission. Hence, there was no result. The
initial plan was to remove voting rights of all the temples
that had traditional rights and retain only the Malwathu and
Asgiriya Sangha Sabhas.
Then Amarapura and Ramanna Nikayas pointed
out that a few temples belonging to their Nikayas will lose
voting rights as a result. I discussed with the Chief
Prelates about this inconsistency, and they, very reasonably
agreed to retain voting rights of those temples.
While I was making arrangements to meet
the heads of Nikayas, Bhikkus from other sects were making
scathing remarks at the Chief Prelates. It was uncalled for
and I gave up my mission, knowing it to be a futile effort.
There is nothing the government can do any further unless
there is consensus.
But the Amarapura and Ramanna Nikayas allege the new law has
downsized the Diyawadana Nilame electoral college to 55, taking away
their traditional voting rights.
They alleged,that according to the existing law, the Amarapura and
Ramanna Nikayas are allocated six and two votes respectively in the
election of the Diyawadana Nilame.
Along with the Amarapura and Ramanna Nikayas, the six breakaway
factions of the Siyam Nikaya have also asked for one vote each in the
election, setting off a heated debate among the Maha Sangha leading to
the political party leaders deciding last Monday against taking up the
two Bills in Parliament.
Thus, President Sirisena announced in Peradeniya at a ceremony graced
by the Mahanayaka of Asgiriya Chapter that the Bills will stay until
there is consensus on the amendments.
Among the proposals, the new Temporalities Bill also calls for the
reduction of the electoral college, of Diyawadana Nilame. It is alleged
that the election of the Diyawadana Nilame is an exercise marred by
bribery and corruption.
Thumping amounts in cash and favours are reportedly passed on to the
authorized voters in exchange of votes.
A former Diyawadana Nilame of Ambekke Devalaya, Sudantha Senanayake,
said, the new Bill would slash the respective Assistant Government
Agents’ rights as well as the regional Basnayake Nilames’ rights to
vote. Only the votes of the four Basnayake Nilames of the main Devalayas
in Kandy – Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and Pattini – have been retained.
The AGAs are reportedly discussing prospects of going to courts
against the new Bill.
At present, 290 odd people in 16 districts – selected AGAs, lay
temple trustees and Basnayake Nilames- enjoy voting rights during the
Diyawadana Nilame election.
These 16 districts are those belonging to the 1815 Kandyan Kingdom at
the time the last King surrendered his throne to the British. Vavuniya
district too is part of this college.
A Sinhala Buddhist division in Vavuniya has voting rights, since it
was part of the Kingdom at the time and supplied bee honey to the King.
According to the new Bill, the Basnayake Nilames of the four main
devalayas in Kandy, the acting Diyawadana Nilame, two Sangha Sabhas of
the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters (21 votes each) and certain District
Secretaries (GAs) will be granted voting rights.
President of the Basnayake Nilames’ Association, Gemunutilleke
Bandara Walisundera said, none of their members have set eyes on the
“We must see the Bill, the law concerns us more than anyone else, so
we should see it before it goes through Parliament.”
He said, discussions continued with the Maha Nayakas, but those
affected by this law have been kept in the dark. “We asked for a copy of
the Bill from the Buddhist Affairs Minister, Ministry of Justice and
Buddhist Affairs Commissioner, still there is no response.”
As a result of these contentious issues, the Theravada Bhikku
Dialogue which calls for empowering the Sangha Sabhas to act on
disciplinary issues involving Bhikkus, will also be held up.
The two Bills were presented together in Parliament by the Buddhist
The amendments to the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance of 1931, were
proposed way back in 1956 and again in 2002 during President Chandrika
Kumaratunga’s time. None of the successive governments were able to
implement recommendations in these respective commission reports due to
a lack of consensus among the different Nikayas.
The Malwathu and Asgiriya Chapters have voiced that they welcome the
two Bills and if there were contentious issues involving the Diyawadana
Nilame election, to leave that particular section untouched, but the
other Nikayas have not consented to this proposal.
Asela Kuruluwansa of Lake House Kandy office also contributed to the
agreement must be reached with the Sangha
Joint Opposition Leader MP Dinesh
Gunawardena said, the Maha Sanga of different Nayakas and
Heads of different Nikayas jointly requested that there
should be further discussions on the relevant clauses of the
Buddhist Temporalities (Amendment) Bill and Theravadi Bhikku
Kathikawath (Registration) Bill.
They had made a written request, and we
also requested that moving these Bills should be postponed,
because there has to be unanimity, rather than difference of
opinion, in passing such important legislations in relation
to Buddha Sasana. The Government wanted to present and
pursue the two Bills, but the Maha Sangha requested that
their views be heard properly. The Joint Opposition (JO)
also requested the same. Hence, the matter was taken up and
discussed and party leaders unanimously decided not to go
ahead with it until a common agreement is reached with the
Maha Sangha of the leading Nikayas.
The JO didn’t propose any amendments, but
said, that the matter should be discussed properly, without
adopting a one sided approach.
|Consensus of the
Maha Sangha essential
Maha Sanga is the main stakeholder of this
whole exercise. The best of proposals by a government to
amend Buddhist laws would fail without the consensus of the
Whatever the amendments, they must either
have the blessings of the Maha Sangha or be evolved by the
I felt that the process lacked widespread
consultation, or perhaps, the vital stakeholders were not
I don’t believe that it is an impossible
mission. There should be some sort of mechanism to realize
this goal. There is a long felt need to implement the
Theravada Bhikku Kathikawatha and bring amendments to the
Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance. Since this government has
shown keenness to give leadership to resolve a sensitive
issue, the Buddhists must also make use of the opportunity.