Government Bill to Regulate Buddhist Monks in Sri Lanka Meets Opposition
Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka and many of their supporters are growing increasingly vocal in their opposition to the proposed “Theravada Bhikkhu Kathikawath Bill,” which was presented in parliament on 12 January and is aimed at introducing civil legislation to regulate the conduct of Sri Lanka’s monastic community.
The bill details activities that are considered punishable offences for monastic members of Sri Lanka’s three recognized Theravada traditions (Siam Nikaya, Amarapura Nikaya, and Ramanna Nikaya), such as involvement in occult practices, engaging in trade or commercial activities, obtaining a driving license and driving a vehicle, employment in the public or private sectors other than in the fields of education, social services, or religious affairs, and behaving in an unruly manner.
The general secretary of Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist organization, Venerable G. Aththe Gnanasara, who is one of the most vocal critics of the move, said the bill would only profit the activities of certain monks who support political leaders seeking advantage and would have an overall negative impact on the role of Buddhist monastics in Sri Lanka.
The convener of Ravana Balaya, a Buddhist organization in Sri Lanka comprised of Buddhist monks and laity, Venerable Iththekande Saddhatissa Thera, described the bill as an attempt to suppress the bhikkhu order. “This is a shrewd strategy adopted by the government to keep the Sangha from speaking against it. In fact, a majority of the Maha Sangha and over half of the MPs are against this Bill,” he told Weekend Nation, adding, “We will protest against this together.”
Academic figures also voiced opposition to the proposed legislation. “All those who value religious freedom should unconditionally oppose the proposed laws related to the conduct of Bhikkhus. It is the particular religious community that should decide on the affairs of that particular religious community, subject to the laws of the country,” Daily Mirror journalist Malinda Seneviratne quoted Colombo University’s Professor Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri as saying in a commentary titled “Bikkhu Vinaya; who should decide?”
Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe responded that critics had failed to understand the bill’s intent. He said the bill aimed to “provide for the formulation and registration of Kathikawath in relation to Nikaya or Chapters of Theravadi [sic] Bhikkhus in Sri Lanka; to provide for every Bhikkhu to act in compliance with the provisions of the Registered Kathikawath of the Nikaya or Chapter which relates to such Bhikku; to impose punishment on Bhikkus who act in violation of the provisions of any Registered Kathikawath and for matters connected therewith or incidental hitherto.” (Weekend Nation)
“Individual monks can afford to disapprove of this, but the bill was in the works for over four years and, in fact, was on request by the chief prelates,” he said. “It is the Sangha Sabha [monastic council] that takes action against those who violate the disciplinary rules of the Kathikawath, not the judiciary.”
BBS general secretary Ven. Gnanasara said that a sanghadikaranaya—a special court to hear cases of Buddhist monks—was needed, recommending that if the proposed bill was to be implemented, it should be done according to monastic regulations.
“We request all Buddhist monks to boycott the courts of this country,” Ven. Gnanasara declared. “If the government fails to call for a Sanghadikaranaya we will break the civil law. Then the government has to convert every coconut tree into a gallows and every school into a prison to suppress the Sinhala Buddhist people.” (Daily Mirror)
Laws to control Buddhist monks will fail: BBS (Daily Mirror)
Bikkhu Vinaya; who should decide? (Daily Mirror)
Dialogue on Kathikawath Registration Bill (Weekend Nation)
Theravadi Bhikkhu Kathikawath Bill presented in Parliament (NEWS.LK)