Neo-colonialist Seneviratne posing as a Buddhist revolutionary

By  H.L.D. Mahindapala

Regurgitating the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist propaganda, first  injected into the political mainstream by G. G. Ponnambalam, in 1939 at Navalapitiya,  has been the forte of the one-eyed theoretician, H. L. Seneviratne. (HLS). He  has made a career out of his  “Sinhala-Buddhist World View”, to use his fanciful lingo, which is nothing  but another derogatory term for Ponnambalam’s “Mahavamsa mentality”. The primary task of an academic, in addition to teaching, is to conduct objective research in  order to shine a light on hidden / unknown  aspects for societies to find a way out of crises in which they are stuck. But there isn’t single bit of empirical evidence or insight in  his latest anti-Sinhala-Buddhist article, published in two parts in Colombo Telegraph, that throws any new light into the Sri Lankan past or the future. However, he comes  out with an idea which he considers to be revolutionary. He is telling the Sangha that the time  has come to stage a revolution to reverse the historical forces of “1956” and replace it with the pristine principles of pure Buddhism. Obviously, this Professori can’t be from this planet. Even a Bambalawatte school boy would dismiss another “Sangha Revolution” as a fiddle-faddle fantasy that could sprout only in a vacuous head floating in the Andromeda clouds.

He  is virtually asking the Sangha to take over and dismantle the society that Sinhala-Buddhist culture had built over the centuries and revitalise it with the Philosophical ethics of Buddhism. On the surface of  it there seems to be some merit in it. But how realistic is it? Not only Buddhists, all religionists in various parts of the world yearn to restore the pristine  purity of their religions. Various millenarian  movements have arisen in Europe and the East to take their societies back to the so-called “golden age” when everything was so pure and ethical, as imagined  by the reformists. So the available historical evidence, both at home and abroad, confirm that HLS’s theories are not only pie-in-the-sky shibboleth but also old as Sri Pada. He  has nothing new to say for anyone to find their way out from the current plight This is the fundamental flaw in HLS’s articles and books. He is either rehashing anti-Sinhala-Buddhist racism first launched by Ponnamabalam in the  thirties, or trying to create “Yellow Revolutions” and take the nation back to that lotus-eating land which never existed except in his pipe dreams.

He says : “In Sri Lanka, it is unfortunately the worldview of Sinhala Cultural Buddhism that has overwhelmingly taken hold over the society, to the near exclusion of Philosophical Buddhism. Our challenge therefore is to try and imbue the society with the universalist ethicality of Philosophical Buddhism, and its ethos of urbanity, civility and modernity; and, I am calling upon the more educated and dynamic sections of the saṅgha to accept that challenge, and give leadership to a social movement for meeting it.” I don’t think even  Buddha during his time managed to “imbue the society with the universalist ethicality of Philosophical Buddhism, and its ethos of urbanity, civility and modernity.” So HLS is just whistling in the wind when he calls on the dynamic wing  of the sangha to  reform the Sinhala-Buddhist  civilisation to  suit his fancies. If Buddha couldn’t do it how does he think that some modern day monks could do the impossible?

Take the example of Buddha himself. After he attained Enlightenment, Buddha, contrary to popular belief, did  not  retire  into the forests to meditate, cut off from society. He spent the better part of his life moving with  kings, courtiers, merchants, intellectuals  of the day, other religionists, ordinary folk and,  on one occasion,  he even auctioned  the corpse of a prostitute, doing a zen-type of demonstration to show the way out of worldly illusions and suffering. It is, indeed, fair to ask how much of the ethics of Buddhist philosophy was Buddha able to inculcate into his society? To “imbue the society with the universalist ethicality of Philosophical Buddhism” is a big ask which only a super human being  may be – I  repeat, “may be” – able to  achieve in some distant time, far, far away from  our time in  some  utopian  land. I don’t think even Christ can change society even if he comes the Second Time. If he couldn’t do it the first time, as the Son  of God – a divine force who sacrificed his life to save mankind — I can’t  see how he can  do it the second  time. And I say this not to belittle Him  but seriously, questioning  the ability of any worldly / divine force to change the everlasting and unalterable  clash of dialectics which are at the core of history, moving  across the open-ended time and space providing erratic history to  choose many options. Let alone the lay society driven by secular  forces, how many sangha societies have been “imbued with the universalist ethicality of Philosophical Buddhism”? So when HLS talks  of “imbue(ing) the society with the universalist ethicality of Philosophical Buddhism” he is talking  through  his hat.

Even if he relies on his Western models of “philosopher-kings” (Plato) he will not be able to  find a  fitting example  to  justify his claim to take Sri Lanka back to his ideal state. In fact, Bertram Russell blamed Plato  for breeding fascist dictators with  his notion of “philosopher-kings” who assumed that they knew what was best for society. He condemned the Platonic concept  of “philosopher-king” for producing Hitlers and Mussolinis – the all-knowing “philosophers” with power to prescribe recipes for their ideals which turn out to  be nightmares for their  victims.

But why go that far when we can test  the theories of HLS with the living examples? Let’s take the case of Sobitha Thero, the ideal moral model that would be considered by him as a fit and  proper agent to lead his proposed “Sangha rebellion”. The Thero’s political agenda was, I  believe, to enthrone the best tenets of ethical Buddhism. The “venassa” (difference) that was proposed by the Thera was to return to the  pure Buddhistic principles. His ethical leadership, which was marketed as an alternative to the devalued Rajapakse regime, became the dynamic Buddhist force that invigorated the Yahapalanaya movement to reach its peak in January 8, 2015.  HLS also adds that Ranil wrote a book on Buddhism preaching “political bana” that would transform society and bring it in line with Buddhist  ideals. In the end, only Arjuna Mahendran and his  son-in-law, managed to attain the political nirvana promised in Ranil’s bana. In  his article HLS admits that the movement  led by Sobitha Thero has been a failure. So why is HLS floating the  idea of  another “Sangha revolution” which is most likely to  end  up in the lottery funds of the Foreign Ministry?

If he has any common sense he would  know that his  proposed “Yellow Revolution” is never going  to take off the ground. It is going  to be like the revolution that was promised by the local Marxist. It never came  in the  form they expected. What came out of their Marxist theories was a gang of fascist criminals dressed up in fake Marxist-Leninist clothes. To  this day the rag-tag remnants of the JVP “philosopher-kings”, some of  whom are  domiciled in bourgeois havens abroad, pose as defenders of human rights and champions of the oppressed working class and minorities, glossing over their criminal operations that violated the basic tenets in the UN Charter.

It was, of course, the most bizarre revolution in the history of Marxism. Marx predicted that the workers will be in the vanguard of the revolution. But the  lumpen  Marxists in the JVP led a bunch of schoolboys who were assigned to capture Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaiake, dead or alive. And, the climax of the JVP revolution came when the leaders abandoned the boys and fled, seeking refuge under a bed in a Buddhist temple in Panadura. Ain’t it hilarious that our misguided revolutionaries find  refuge ultimately in Buddhist temples which they had earlier condemned as evil obstructionists to progress and communal harmony? HLS too follows this line. He, of course, is  hoping for a direct Revolt in the Temple. He condemns  the Sinhala-Buddhists as the main  cause for  the failure of good  governance since “1956” and then, in the same breath, he urges the dynamic monks to lead a revolution against the rest of the Sinhala-Buddhists. There is, no doubt, an urgent  need for change, radical change. But are the Buddhist monks the vehicle for that change?

In  his proposed revolution HLS wants the Sangha to be  in the vanguard. And then what? Can he guarantee that it won’t end up like Champika Ranawake’s “Buddhist revolution” that is progressively going to  pieces? In any case, how many Buddhist revolutions does he want? Also how many Buddhist monks can  he corral to overturn the biggest Buddhist revolution of “1956”? In all this there isn’t a shred of  evidence to  prove that  our Professori is capable of producing  viable, rational, or even a moral proposal to save the day. As far as it is visible, HLS’s latest theoretical concoction is as inane as his plastic smile that spreads right across his face, from ear to ear, as if he is posing for an ad designed to sell  toothpaste.

Besides, reading through his text one finds an irreconcilable  contradiction. HLS who is seeking a Sangha  revolution to restore Buddhist ethics is, in the same breath, harking back to the colonial past as the idyllic haven which was destroyed by the Sinhala-Buddhist Revolution of “1956”. He  is indeed horrified that “1956” had occurred, overthrowing the English-speaking elite left behind  by the colonial masters. They were the entrenched elite in the private, public and social sectors protecting, preserving  and perpetuating the colonial legacy to the last hole in golf. Apparently, the task he sets in his proposed revolution now is for the Sangha to take  the nation back  to  the pre-“1956” era.

The task of all Afro-Asian nationalist leaders in the post-colonial period was to adjust the historical imbalances that deprived the oppressed indigenes their rightful place in history. But this inevitable historical trend has put HLS into a catatonic state. Why? Because he believes that the old colonial order had served the nation better than anything that came after “1956” – his bete noir. According to his judgement, anything tainted with Sinhala-Buddhism has ruined the nation. His alternative is to return  to neo-colonialism which would take us back  to “the good old days” of the British when everything was to his colonial taste. In  essence, his argument  boils down to simply this : the English-speaking minority (6%), who wielded power through the English medium (the kaduwa), had done a good job of work and their rule should have been perpetuated even though such a rule would have forced the vast mass of the people who had lost their heritage and their  bearings to endure the indignities of colonialism and its alien culture for a lengthy period in the  post-independent era governed  by pukka brown  sahibs.

He is shedding buckets  of tears,  crying  that post-1956 forces had removed the  right  of appeal to the Privy Council, not  kept English as the third language as in Singapore, removed Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, not  adhered to colonial  type  of law and  order which  would have continued to serve the colonial  interest at all costs  etc. All this  is music  to  the ears of those who continue  to believe that there would have been salvation if we continued to live in the British colonial hot house, without releasing the grass root forces that were moving  subterraneously from the 19th century and surfaced ineluctably in “1956”.  The seismic movement of “1956” threw the English-speaking brown sahibs off balance. It was a period of transition. The old world was dying and  the new world was struggling  to be born.

The primary task in this period  of transition was to restore the just claims of the people whose rightful place in history was robbed by the colonial  masters. The inequities and injustices of imperialism had to be adjusted. The victims  of  colonial history had a right to regain their lost heritage and place. Though late, voices are raised now in the ex-colonies by the victims of colonialism demanding  compensation. But HLS, who came from the village, is hailing  the colonial masters who burnt their homes, destroyed their crops, massacred all those  above 18, denied their basic dignities and whipped  his ancestors into line as white  messiahs sent to save the native Sri Lankans. HLS refuses  to accept that the  villagers who had to bear the burden of imperialism for nearly five centuries, had a right to reclaim their history, their language and their  religion.

The task of managing  the  period of transition between two worlds fell on the shoulders of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. The entire Westernised elite  in all communities, together with the English-speaking Vellala elite  in the  public service and professions ganged up against Bandaranaike. It  is  the power of the Westernised English-speaking elite that resisted the historic forces led by Bandaranaike. They demonised  him. HLS continues to blame the  post-Bandaranaike period as if all history began with  Bandaranaike. He argues that everything went wrong after the advent of Bandaranaike.  Condemning the  post-Bandaranaike period he  yearns for the pre-Bandaranaike norms maintained by the colonial masters. His cultural  cringe to be a white man makes him another “coconut” – brown outside white inside. The post-Bandaranaike period is  so repugnant  to  him that if he had H. G. Well’s Time Machine he would not hesitate to take a quick ride, back in time, to the pre-Bandaranaike period and lock himself inside it to live in it forever.

He is  disappointed that history has failed to fulfil his wishes. He is against open-ended history advancing on its own terms, leaving the ideological weirdos to stew in  their own theoretical juices. His mission on earth is to root out “Sinhala-Buddhist World View”, through a revolution  led by the  Sangha, Then – Hey Presto! – Sri Lanka could solve all its problems, including Bond scandal, corruption, inefficiencies, ethnic issues, constitutional problems, foreign exchange, unemployment, floods, droughts, mountains of garbage, you name it. Pah!

Theorising without taking  into consideration the ground realities only makes him a hollow man with his headpiece filled with straw which even the mad cows won’t eat.

(To be continued)

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