The fourth and final part of this series by Dr. Sharif Abdullah.
Religion can be a beautiful thing. I have had the privilege and the honor to participate in spiritual ceremonies from virtually every major wisdom tradition on Earth – from Eastern Orthodox Christian ceremonies in the far North to Maori ceremonies in the far South. And everything in between – including Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim ceremonies in Sri Lanka .
The thing that makes a religion beautiful, the thing that creates MEANING within the religion, is that the ceremonies each REPRESENT something. The actions and rituals represent something in this world and also represent something in the Transcendent realm. The wisdom teachers (of all faiths) left us a set of moral principles to guide our lives and our societies.
However: when you take the meaning out of the religion, when you scrub away the moral principles, then you are left with a handful of rituals that have no MEANING attached to them. This is what I call “bad religion.” Bad religion is full of rituals but devoid of meaning. It’s like a hungry man sitting down to a dinner of plastic food. He can put it in his mouth, chew and swallow, but he’s still empty. Your Spirit cannot be fed by a religion that is almost exactly OPPOSITE to the principles taught by the Buddha.
The philosophy of the Buddha has been feeding the world for over 2,500 years. The culturally arrogant “anti-Buddha” philosophy has been spiritually starving Sri Lanka for awhile – long enough for Sri Lanka to have one of the world’s highest suicide rates AND one of the world’s highest alcoholism rates. This is what happens from spiritual stomachs full of plastic.
Those with the guns, planes, cluster bombs and “patriotic” billboards say that they act to “preserve Buddhism.” What those gripped by cultural arrogance and the blood-lust cannot understand is this: NOTHING CAN DESTROY BUDDHISM, EXCEPT THOSE WHO BELIEVE IT CAN BE PRESERVED BY VIOLATING ITS PRINCIPLES.
The Way of the Buddha is the way of loving-kindness, compassion and nonviolence. In its essence, it is the exact opposite of what the current Sri Lankan government is practicing in the Vanni right now. You can either be a peace-loving Buddhist, or you can be a war-loving chauvinist, BUT YOU CAN’T BE BOTH.
Or, maybe you can. Maybe, in this crazy, upside-down world, the Buddha of the 21st Century condones, supports and blesses the guys with the biggest guns, the guys who wage the best battles. Instead of sitting in meditation, maybe this new Buddha will be seen carrying an assault rifle – and a bottle of Arrack (why not? If you violate one principle, why not violate them all?)
There Is Hope. The “good Sinhalese” are out there. The people who are offended by the war posters are in hiding on the island. While writing this article, I received an email from a Sinhalese friend.
“I am happy you are away from this blood bath and craziness. Most of us are trapped in this hell. I feel shame to be a so called Sinhalese and live in this world. But, a little bit of remaining Faith and Hope helps me to bear this heavy burden of shame.”
Even in the midst of this insanity, I still have hope. This is not just a stubborn refusal to face facts. This is my way of looking at facts through a long lens. The one thing that the past 100 years of organized evil has taught us is this – BLOOD-LUST ONLY WORKS IN THE SHORT TERM. People eventually come to their senses. In my country, it took us 8 years to wake up from our most recent trance, to retrieve our democracy and our Spirit from the hands of those who wanted to rule the world and were willing to trample underfoot both our Constitution and the lessons of Jesus to achieve their goal. It took about that long for the “good Germans” to realize the horrors that the Nazi government was perpetuating in their name.
Right now, it is very dangerous for people in Sri Lanka to stand up and speak out. The blood-lust is high. The war drums beat. Political disappearances are at an all-time high. In Sri Lanka , dissent is dangerous.
But, people will eventually wake up. Even as the statues of the Buddha are desecrated with the images of war, it is important for us to remember that a statue is a statue… the place the true Buddha resides is in our hearts. And that’s the place we need to keep clean and clear, as we wait for the blood-lust to spend itself.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be secure.
May all beings be happy.