An observer of Sri Lankan politics would notice that many if not all nationalist and racist elements of the Sinhalese community are Buddhists. This was mainly due to the centuries old Buddhist tradition in the country. Some politicians used to claim that they were fighting for the Sinhalese community because the majority Sinhalese were sidelined by pro-Western governments. These claims sometimes reached the proportions of outright racism.
The presence of Buddhist monks in nationalist and even racist organisations and political parties raises a question about the contradiction of theory and practice of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Does Buddhism condone such practices for the sake of the protection of religion or are these people just misusing Buddhism as a tool to achieve their own ends?
A close study of Buddhism reveals that it is a teaching geared towards liberating oneself of thanha (craving, desire, greed). All creatures including you who are reading this and I who is writing are in a continuous cycle of life and death called sansara. Our desire for worldly things create a cause for the sansara to perpetuate until we are unable to find a way to dispense with this desire. Buddhism shows the path to overcome desire and attain Nirvana.
A racist is a person who loves his race and thinks of it as superior to other races. A nationalist will promote his nation over all others. All these are forms of desire, a craving to see the betterment of one’s own race or nation against those of others. So, they are trying to protect worldly things rather than trying to attain Nirvana.
Sadly, this applies to all the monks and laymen who declare themselves to be nationalist and patriotic while being Buddhist. What is more alarming is that openly racist elements (by deeds if not by words) are claiming to be hard-line Buddhists. But this contradicts the very basic teaching of Buddhism about overcoming desire. Therefore it is obvious that the so called ‘hard-line’ Buddhists are actually misguided Buddhists who are distorting a great teaching to attain their own worldly goals.
A Buddhist can never be a racist, a nationalist or a promoter of any petty political doctrine।
By Chamara Sumanapala