Monastics & Politics

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Monastics & Politics

Postby BudSas » Fri Dec 04, 2009 7:16 am

News from The Buddhist Channel:
http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=43,8748,0,0,1,0

“... Making a record in Sri Lanka's election history, Buddhist monk Venerable Battaramulle Seelaratana Thera will run for the president in the polls scheduled to be held next January, party officials said on Saturday.

He will be the country's first Buddhist monk to contest presidency representing his own political party Janasetha Peramuna under the party symbol of tractor, officials from his party said. ...”


I’m wondering if it’s appropriate for a monk (or nun) -- a renunciant -- to be involved in politics, in the worldly affairs? What do you think?

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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby BlackBird » Fri Dec 04, 2009 7:54 am

In the Buddha's time there was in essence 5 levels of social strata. You had:
Warrior Caste
Priestly Caste (in some areas the Brahmins had already established themselves as the primary caste)
Merchant Caste
Servant Caste
Outcaste

The samanas or homeless philosophers we're not part of this strata. They were outside it. They were outside of conventional society. This is the group to which the ordained Sangha 'belonged' to. All of this is ala Maurice Walshe's intro to the Digha Nikaya. I digress.

Things are done rather differently these days, In Thailand Monks are effectively guilty of the very same things the Brahmins we're accused of in the Tipitaka, they're certainly right at the top of quite a rigid social structure. The Buddha never prescribed ecclesiastical titles, and I think there was a reason for that.

In Sri Lanka the Siam Nikaya only admits Sinhalese people of the highest caste, funnily enough it also controls most of the important Buddhist sites on the island, and has strong support from the Sri Lankan government.

In both examples what you've got is a rotten apple. The skin remains solid enough long after the insides have turned to goo.

Now in the case of this 'monk' who wishes to run for president. How much is he actually renouncing by becoming a renunciant monk? I'd like to know just how many precepts this monk is keeping.

It sort of reminds me of this other feller who is now looking at prison time. Are they really gonna let him go to prison in the robes? Actually fathom that for a second, a 'renunciant monk' going to prison, for a crime he is quite guilty of.

Prison, or parliament they're no place for someone who should be striving for nibbana, and there in lies part of the problem.

The other part of the problem is that despite the fact that there are many pretenders in the robes, who are certainly not worthy of respect, they're given the respect none the less. As lay people, we need to be more savvy with whom we give our support to.

Monks who:
- Do not meditate
- Do not observe the basic 10 precepts, let alone the 227
- Have no knowledge of the real Dhamma

Do not deserve support or reverence, they just deserve compassion, because they're among those who harm the Sasana.
Last edited by BlackBird on Fri Dec 04, 2009 8:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby pink_trike » Fri Dec 04, 2009 8:14 am

BlackBird wrote:
Monks who:
- Do not meditate
- Do not observe the basic 10 precepts, let alone the 227
- Have no knowledge of the real Dhamma

Do not deserve support or reverence, they just deserve compassion, because they're among those who harm the Sasana.

We have a bingo!

This thread should be interesting to watch. :popcorn:
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Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby BlackBird » Fri Dec 04, 2009 8:39 am

BlackBird wrote:In Thailand Monks are effectively guilty of the very same things the Brahmins we're accused of in the Tipitaka


To provide an explanation:

Then Venerable Mahakaccana came out from the hut and addressed the boys with verses in which he reminded them of the ancient brahmanical ideals, so badly neglected by the brahmins of that day:

"Those men of old who excelled in virtue,
Those brahmins who recalled the ancient rules,
Their sense doors guarded, well protected,
Dwelt having vanquished wrath within.
They took delight in Dhamma and meditation,
Those brahmins who recalled the ancient rules.

But these have fallen, claiming "We recite"
While puffed up on account of their descent.
They conduct themselves in unrighteous ways;
Overcome by anger, armed with various weapons,
They transgress against both frail and firm.

For one who does not guard the sense doors
(All the vows he undertakes) are vain
Just like the wealth a man gains in a dream:
Fasting and sleeping on the ground,
Bathing at dawn, (study of) the Triple Veda,
Rough hides, matted locks, and dirt;
Hymns, rules and vows, austerities,
Hypocrisy, crookedness, rinsing the mouth:
These are the emblems of the brahmins
Performed to increase their worldly gains.

A mind that is well concentrated
Purified and free from blemish,
Tender towards all sentient beings--
That is the path for reaching Brahma.

When they heard this the brahmin boys were angry and displeased. On returning to their teacher, the brahmin Lohicca, they reported that the recluse Mahakaccana was "denigrating and scorning the sacred brahmin hymns."

...


- SN 35:132

:anjali:
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby Chula » Fri Dec 04, 2009 5:29 pm

It's just sad to think about the state of Dhamma in Sri Lanka. I grew up there and it's not surprising at all.. there are already a couple of monks in the parliament representing a "Jāthika Hela Urumaya" (National Heritage Party), which basically takes the position that the Sinhalese should control the whole island and the Tamils should be "asked" to go back home to Tamil Nādu in India.

Anyway, about your question, I think it's completely inappropriate for monks to even talk about politics let alone dabble in it - this excerpt from the Sāmaññaphala Sutta should make it clear:

"Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

One thing to note, I vaguely remember a sutta where the Buddha asks to respect the robe - even when the person wearing it might not be practicing rightly. Can't recall where I read it though.

BlackBird wrote:In the Buddha's time there was in essence 5 levels of social strata. You had:
Monks who:
- Do not meditate
- Do not observe the basic 10 precepts, let alone the 227
- Have no knowledge of the real Dhamma

Do not deserve support or reverence, they just deserve compassion, because they're among those who harm the Sasana.
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby pink_trike » Fri Dec 04, 2009 10:28 pm

Chula wrote:
"Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these. This, too, is part of his virtue."

Somewhere on this bloated hard drive I have a photograph of a private reception held in "private quarters" at one of the most elite monastic centers in Thailand. It shows 4-5 senior monks in billowing robes of the finest dyed fabrics, lounging on antique rosewood overstuffed chairs and settees that are upholstered in the finest of thai silks, brocades, and leathers. The room has lavish and exquisite antique furnishings, gilt mirrors, etc... Standing at attention with eyes cast down next to each monk is a younger monk offering what appears to be a silver plate full of edible delicacies. Two of the monks are captured choosing delicacies from the plate with a look on their face that I've seen on the faces of wealthy people as they struggle to choose just the right gold-leafed truffle - that jaded, corrupt, bloated, disdainful look of well-trained discrimination and privilege. If I find it, I'll post.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby pilgrim » Sat Dec 05, 2009 2:15 am

I believe a significant number of Buddhists are followers of the ascetic Thai Forest tradition and hold the view that this must be the only form for Buddhism. It should be borne in mind that ascetism is allowed but not recommended by the Buddha as the only monastic model. The Buddha himself stayed in what must be a fairly lavish cell called the Perfumed Chamber in Savatthi. Jetavana monastery was built on the most prime real estate in Savatthi. His followers like Ambapali and Visakha offered him the choicest food.

It is unrealistic to expect all monks must retire to the forest to meditate. Some are also involved in social work, in teaching, in studying. All are noble activities. In an ideal world, politics as a profession for the betterment of citizens is also a noble choice. However, in reality it is probably one of the worst livelihoods. Monks involved in politics itself is not necessarily bad. It depends on how he conducts himself
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby Bankei » Sat Dec 05, 2009 3:05 am

Its a difficult question - after all what counts as politics? e.g. Were the monks protesting in Burma last year engaging in Politics?

I think the problems started around the 1950s in Sri Lanka with monks like Walpola Rahula who wrote the book 'Heritage of the Bhikkhu' where he argued that monks should play an active role in society for the 'welfare of the many'. Monks then got involved in development programs, health programs etc. I recall reading in Tambiah's book, 'buddhism betrayed', the the president of the nurses union was a Buddhist Monk. Monks are often paid teachers in Sri Lanka as well (many also invest in the stock market!). One monk 'helped' in country by assassinating the Sri Lankan prime minister in the 1950s too.

To a certain extent it is good for monks to be active in helping society, but I think it can get out of hand when monks run for parliament or engage in party politics.

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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby jcsuperstar » Sat Dec 05, 2009 3:44 am

it could prove to be beneficial to sri lanka, there is no doubt to that, but in contrast if certain mistakes are made it could prove to be very harmful to sri lankan buddhism. so one should ask does the bad outweigh the good? a secular candidate for the most part shouldnt be able to harm buddhism too much but at the same time could do just as good a job as this monk at being president, so there is no specific need for a monk in this role and as such the potential bad outweighs the potential good.
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby BlackBird » Sat Dec 05, 2009 4:42 am

jcsuperstar wrote:it could prove to be beneficial to sri lanka, there is no doubt to that


How so? If this man has good intentions then all he has to do is to disrobe.

To take the robes into political office sets a bad precedent, and is quite unbecoming for someone who is supposed to be taking the 'autobahn' to enlightenment, while us lay people are stuck in traffic supporting him.

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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby zavk » Sat Dec 05, 2009 4:50 am

Hi friends

When the word 'politics' come up in discussion, it is often taken to refer to such things as party politics, the negotiation of power at state/national levels, etc. This is certainly how the word 'politics' is widely understood. And this is certainly how the OP is using the term. Politics in this sense often involve a great deal of unwholesomeness, and to this extent it is questionable if monastics (given that they are suppose to represent what it means to lead a life of wholesomeness) should be involved in politics or not.

There is a kind of romanticism to the idea that monasticism ought to be untainted by the dastardliness of politics--the very worldly processes that a monk should renounce. However, I do not thing that it is ever possible to fully divorce the monastic life from such worldly processes, because monastic life occurs in this very world.

As pilgrim mentions above, the Buddha received the patronage of royalty, and from what I recall he also gave advice to kings from time to time. Therefore, the earliest monastic community was, to a certain extent, enabled by political processes. And if we look at the more recent history of Buddhism, there is further evidence that the kind of 'modern Buddhism' that we have inherited was shaped by political processes. The Buddhism that we now practice emerged out of such worldly conditions. More on this later..... but you could read the quotations I've posted here viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2853 if you are interested.

To come back to my initial point about the meanings associated with the word 'politics'... I think there is another way to think about 'politics'--and hence, a more flexible way of thinking about what it means for an ordained or lay Buddhist to be involved in worldly matters. For me, the word 'politics' does not refer only to state/national issues. I take 'politics' to refer to any kind of struggle with relations of power, with inequality, and so forth. So this could involve more 'personal' issues such as the ethics of what we consume, the attitudes we have towards people who are 'different' (homosexuals/heterosexuals, the disabled, the elderly, the poor, and so forth), etc, etc.

I think someone like Sulak Sivaraksa exemplifies how a dedicated Buddhist could be involved in 'politics'--in worldly affairs--whilst nevertheless maintaining a commitment to attain 'release from this worldly life': http://www.theage.com.au/national/wise- ... -kb2s.html

SULAK Sivaraksa, who is in Melbourne for the Parliament of the World's Religions, says he is known by many labels in his home country of Thailand.

To some he is "the Siamese intellectual". "To the Thai Government," he says with some merriment, "I am the troublemaker."

Aged 77, Mr Sivaraksa faces three charges of defaming the Thai king, which carries a possible sentence of 45 years in prison. "I could spend my 120th birthday in jail," he says, again with some merriment.

Scottish Buddhist Stephen Bachelor has described Mr Sivaraksa as "an irrepressible campaigner for a sane and just society". Among those who have voiced support for his work are the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Burmese democracy movement.

According to Mr Bachelor, Mr Sivaraksa combines "the strength of a traditional Dharmic sensibility with the critical rigour of a Western-educated intellectual".

In 1953, Mr Sivaraksa went to London to study law and was admitted to the bar. ''Have you ever practised law?'' I asked. "Only to defend myself," he replied.

When he returned to Thailand, he lived for some time with "the poor". He was from a well-off family. If he wasn't well-off now, he says he would be in jail. He can afford to defend himself.

Mr Sivaraksa says "the poor" are made out to be stupid. The people he lived with had "great trust for one another and a knowledge of the natural world".

Around this time, Mr Sivaraksa said the king of Thailand was not a God-king. "How can he be?"

He is smiling again. "He is the one person in Thailand who must by law be a Buddhist. He is a man."

He says a lot of Westerners like Buddhism because there is no dogma and individuals can make their own inquiry. "They like it to meditate, to be calm, to be mindful. That is good - but not good enough." Beneath the mirth, Mr Sivaraksa has a hard edge to him.

To him, all questions of human behaviour start with the Buddha's first truth: Life is suffering. "It is not just personal suffering. There is social and environmental suffering.''

The Buddha's second truth is that suffering is caused by greed, hatred and illusions. "Greed manifests in capitalism and trans-national corporations. Hatred comes from militarism and imperialism."

He agrees that one of the problems with global warming is that many people's view of nature now comes from computer screens and television - not from nature. "We have to think globally - about general humanity, about Mother Earth, about nature.''

In 1966, he wrote a book. No one would publish it, so he became a publisher. There was no one to sell the book, so he opened a bookshop. There was no one to distribute the book, so he became a book distributor. His 43-year-old company has now published "over 100" of his books.

Last year, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, there was interest in his new book from countries around the world. This is the source of his optimism.
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby jcsuperstar » Sat Dec 05, 2009 6:49 am

BlackBird wrote:
jcsuperstar wrote:it could prove to be beneficial to sri lanka, there is no doubt to that


How so? If this man has good intentions then all he has to do is to disrobe.

To take the robes into political office sets a bad precedent, and is quite unbecoming for someone who is supposed to be taking the 'autobahn' to enlightenment, while us lay people are stuck in traffic supporting him.

metta
Jack


by that statement i meant he could do a good job, just as anyone can.

though if you think about it, someone not interested in the greed side of politics (which a monk could be) would make for a very interesting first in politics
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby suanck » Sat Dec 05, 2009 8:00 am

I think Buddhists are free to participate in any political process if they so wishes.

However, for the monastics, perhaps the best they should do is acting in an advisory role. If I remember correctly, the Buddha and his monastics gave advices to various kings/country leaders but not directly involved in the political process.

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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby BlackBird » Sat Dec 05, 2009 8:37 am

jcsuperstar wrote:
BlackBird wrote:
jcsuperstar wrote:it could prove to be beneficial to sri lanka, there is no doubt to that


How so? If this man has good intentions then all he has to do is to disrobe.

To take the robes into political office sets a bad precedent, and is quite unbecoming for someone who is supposed to be taking the 'autobahn' to enlightenment, while us lay people are stuck in traffic supporting him.

metta
Jack


by that statement i meant he could do a good job, just as anyone can.

though if you think about it, someone not interested in the greed side of politics (which a monk could be) would make for a very interesting first in politics


Hi JC

I guess my emphasis is that I don't think robes unto themselves are a great indicator of motives or potential these days, especially when one is realistic about the reasons many people ordain in the native Buddhist countries.

Running a country and striving for realisation are pretty much oil and water, and if you want to put on robes, then it should be for earnest practice of the Dhamma. Running a country requires pretty much 24/7 dedication I imagine - That doesn't leave much time to be meditatin' does it?

On an aside, one of the best things a government in a native Buddhist country could do would be to institute a Dhamma-comprehension test for all those who wish to join the ordained Sangha, and all those who are already in the Sangha. Then by attrition, things might start to improve a bit.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby pilgrim » Sat Dec 05, 2009 9:19 am

The Dalai Lama is a good example of a monk who is totally immersed in politics. He has said that under different circumstances, he would rather just be a monk. Yet I think many of us here would feel he has done a wonderful job as a politician. Would the Tibetan people be better served if the DL was not the head of the Tibetan govt in exile?
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Dec 05, 2009 9:39 am

it is next to impossible not to engage in politics in some way shape or form.
Maha-Boowa engages in politics but not as a politician, so do a couple of other monks, some are more directly involved, like Ashin Sopaka with the Burmese campaign or HHDL, and in some cases like the first two I think it is ok, not necesarily ideal for them as monks to engage in it. HHDL is a different case, certainly his political activity has pushed tibet into wider knowledge around the world, but if the situation was different, and china didn't invade, would the opinion be different?
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby Chula » Sat Dec 05, 2009 11:27 am

I think the Dalai Lama is a good example of a bad monastic. Everywhere I've read the Buddha asks monks to let go of their own greed, hatred and delusion - never to solve social human rights issues. That is a praiseworthy thing to do but not the domain of a true monastic. I agree that giving advice to rulers without getting directly involved (as the Buddha did) is the best way to go.

pilgrim wrote:The Dalai Lama is a good example of a monk who is totally immersed in politics. He has said that under different circumstances, he would rather just be a monk. Yet I think many of us here would feel he has done a wonderful job as a politician. Would the Tibetan people be better served if the DL was not the head of the Tibetan govt in exile?
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Dec 05, 2009 11:39 am

Hi Chula,
I am about 70% in agreement with you, I don't think there is a specific teaching, but I do think there is a reference to it, which the Burmese monks used to 'justify' (not keen on using that word here but can't think of a better one at the moment) their protest
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby BlackBird » Sun Dec 06, 2009 8:00 am

Looks like I've been overcome by passion.
Maybe there's a lesson for me here.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Monastics & Politics

Postby zavk » Sun Dec 06, 2009 1:15 pm

Chula wrote:It's just sad to think about the state of Dhamma in Sri Lanka. I grew up there and it's not surprising at all.. there are already a couple of monks in the parliament representing a "Jāthika Hela Urumaya" (National Heritage Party), which basically takes the position that the Sinhalese should control the whole island and the Tamils should be "asked" to go back home to Tamil Nādu in India.


This caught my eye. If I may make an aside. I suspect that those monks in the party could be drawing on ideas that developed in the late nineteenth century as Buddhism--in its encounter with western modernity--was reconfigured in Sri Lanka. This is the same process of reconfiguration that has eventually shaped the contours of the Buddhism with have today. So whilst it is deplorable that they take that kind of attitude towards the Tamils, I suspect that these monks in the parliament might be thinking that they are in a accord with the 'Buddhist' principles that have been articulated in Sri Lanka some hundred years ago by figures like Anagarika Dharmapala--whom, I should add, was merely reacting to the historical circumstances back then, rather than intentionally setting the precedent for such objectionable behaviour today. That is to say, I'm sure Dharmapala had good intentions, but we are seeing the unforeseen (unskilful) consequences that have emerged today.

I posted some relevant info in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2853&p=41934#p41933

Here's the most relevant bit:

Lopez writes:

Thus, by the last half of the nineteenth century the inhabitants of the colony of Ceylon, long divided into the Sinhalese and the Tamils, had been identified as Aryans and Dravidians (Buddhism and Science, p. 95).


Dharmapala... was also aware of how the Aryan language (and hence nobility) was linked to the Sinhales. So he was able to adopt Victorian race science to Sinhalese myth to counter those Orientalist attitudes towards South Asians. So he traced SInhalese origin to the myth of Vijaya (also spelled Wijaya), an Aryan king of North India. Dharmapala wrote in 1902:

Two thousand four hundred and forty—six years ago a colony of Aryans from the city of Sinhapura, in Bengal, leaving their Indian home, sailed in a vessel in search of fresh pastures, and they discovered the island which they named Tambapanni, on account of its copper coloured soil.
The leader of the band was an Aryan prince by the name of Wijaya, and he fought with the aboriginal tribes and got possession of the land. The descendants of the Aryan colonists were called Sinhala, after their city, Sinhapura, which was founded by Sinhabahu, the lion-armed king. Ethnologically the Sinhalese are a unique race, inasmuch as they can boast that they have no slave blood in them, and never were conquered by either pagan Tamils or European vandals who for three centuries devastated the land, destroyed ancient temples, burnt valuable libraries, and nearly annihilated the historic race (quoted in Buddhism and Science, pp. 95-96).


Lopez thus suggests that:

For Dharmapala, then, Sri Lanka was triply Aryan, ennobled by its language, its race, and its religion. It was as if the Indian Subcontinent were a funnel, with the Aryan language, the Aryan blood, and the Buddhist dharma of the north trickling south to be concentrated and preserved in their purest form in the island at the funnel’s tip. The subsequent inhabitants of the island, the Tamil Hindus and the Muslims (“Moors” as he called them), were not true Sinhalese because they were (not Aryan in language, in race, in religion. He wrote in 1915, “What the German is to the Britisher that the Muhammedan is to the Sinhalese. He is an alien to the Sinhalese by religion, race and language. He traces his origin to Arabia, whilst the Sinhalese traces his origin to India and to Aryan sources.”" Elsewhere, he informs the “young men of Ceylon” that “by religion, by race, by traditions, by our literature we are allied to the Aryan races of the Gangetic Valley (Buddhism and Science, pp. 97).


By doing so, Dharmapala adopted Orientalist negative attitudes about South Asians and used it against them--against not only the European colonizers but also Christianity which he sees as the force that had imbued in Europe the 'persecuting spirit'.
With metta,
zavk
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