Senior Buddhist Monk:
‘Having An Alternative Opinion In Sri Lanka Is Dangerous’
After years of war, how can Sri Lankans even begin to reconcile with one another? University lecturer and monk, Galkande Dhammananda Thero, has some ideas.
The problem is in every Sri Lankan head, says Galkande Dhammananda Thero, a Sri Lankan monk, who also lectures at Kelaniya University and who heads the Walpola Rahula Institute for Buddhist Studies. Both sides in the conflict, whether Sinhalese or Tamil, are guilty of prejudiced thoughts and not being able to understand the other person’s perspective. The country has been divided into winners and losers and this must be changed, Thero argues, before noting that it will take a long time and that Sri Lanka’s best hope is in the younger generation.
The Catamaran: There is racism and prejudice on both sides of the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka. Sinhalese and Tamil people are equally guilty. And Sri Lankan politicians use this for their own ends. But what will happen if this continues?
Galkande Dhammananda Thero: The problems of the common people in Sri Lanka are similar, whether they are Tamil or Sinhalese. The problems of people working in the paddy fields in the south are the same as those working in the north. There are no good schools. The young people can’t find jobs.
Inside one country, two communities live in separate realities. If there is racism again, it’s nothing new.
We must also remember that every Tamil person in the north has also suffered because of the civil war and that they have had a different experience from that of southerners. One needs to approach the problem correctly. You cannot solve this problem by holding onto simple ideas.
Meanwhile in the south, they have continued with the mindset of victors. Various groups have encouraged that mindset. They worked to keep it, not change it.
And this is a serious issue. Inside one country, two communities live in separate realities. If there is racism again, it’s nothing new. It’s just an extension of the current path.
The Catamaran: So what can be done about this?
Thero: There is no point in keeping alive hopes that politicians will do something about this. Religious leaders or social organisations or an active society could change this. But politicians only care about power. They can use social divisions to get votes.
The Catamaran: Should religious leaders do more?
Thero: Yes, that is one of my ideas too. Buddhism speaks about compassion and Christianity speaks about loving your neighbour. That is a good start.
I do not want to use the word reconciliation for this. I like to use the phrase: Be well. When a person goes to worship, he is told afterwards to “be well”. That’s not to say get well from a physical sickness. This is about mental well-being.
Even if the doctor suffers from a serious disease, patients could still be cured from the medicine he gives. Religious leaders are like this too. They also have serious injuries. But if something can be done, it is important.
The Catamaran: You lecture at university. Is the intellectual community too silent on these subjects?
Thero: The silence of the intellectual community is dangerous, the silence of those who shape opinion is dangerous. Today our society is seriously militarized. Having an alternative opinion these days is dangerous. In the past, universities would host debates but that has not happened for some time now. There is nobody who wants to take part in these debates.
Students are numb and lecturers are scared to speak out. That is why I say that everyone has been injured by war. Those wounds must be healed.
The young generation is very important to this. Let us take an example from Buddhism. There is discoloured water in a bowl. Pour clean water into it continuously and gradually the polluted water will be removed. The water becomes clean. But this is no easy task. But somehow we must do it.