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Sunday, 09 October 2016






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Government Gazette

Bills to better regulate Sangha, Nilame elections shelved :

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.

Nikayas must 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.

Sasana will be protected as long as the lay people have faith

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe

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 laws.

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 taken.

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 Court (SC).

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.

Pix: Siripala Halwala

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 proposed law.

“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 Affairs Minister.

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 article.

Common agreement must be reached with the Sangha

Dinesh Gunawardena

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

Prof.Asanga Thilakaratna

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 key stakeholders.

Whatever the amendments, they must either have the blessings of the Maha Sangha or be evolved by the Maha Sangha.

I felt that the process lacked widespread consultation, or perhaps, the vital stakeholders were not consulted.

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.



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