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Fielding criticism levelled at the Theravadi Bhikku Kathikawath (Registration) Bill, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe told Nation that such critics have little understanding of the BillAnunayake of Malwatte Chapter Dr. Niyangoda Sri Vijithasiri Thera referred to it as ‘an unwarranted move by the government’. Senior Member of the Supreme Council of Sangha (Karaka Maha Sangha Sabha) of Asgiriya Chapter Ven. Dr. Medagama Dhammananda Thera said that passing such legislation in Parliament is a highly dangerous step that could lead to harmful amendments.

Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe said that such critics should gain more understanding of the Bill. “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,” as the name suggests this is a Kathikawath Registration Bill, he explained. “Kathikawath submitted by the Nikayas are registered under the Ministry of Buddha Sasana. It is the Sangha Sabha that takes action against those who violate the disciplinary rules of the Kathikawath, not the judiciary,” asserted Rajapakshe.

The Bill seeks to “provide for the formulation and registration of Kathikawath in relation to Nikaya or Chapters of Theravadi 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.”

Under the Bill, engaging in occult practices or similar activities and giving publicity to such activities; getting involved in trade or business activities; obtaining driving licenses and driving vehicles, engaging in any employment in the public or private sector other than in the fields of education, social services and religious affairs and engaging in activities unbecoming of a Bhikku in a manner that reflects adversely on the Bhikkuvinaya in public is a punishable offence.

Convener of the Ravana Balaya Venerable Iththekande Saddhatissa Thera emphasized that the Bill was an attempt to suppress the Maha Sangha. “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,” Saddhatissa Thera said. “We will protest against this together.”

Saddhatissa Thera maintained that a government had no right to create laws to control the Maha Sangha. In fact even the Sangha cannot, he opined adding that only the disciplinary rules put down by Buddha applies to the Sangha.

When asked why Ravana Balaya should oppose a Bill that would only give legal power to Kathikawath, Saddhatissa Thera said that such a Bill was not a collective request of the Maha Sangha and it was the request of a few that coveted power.

Even if the Mahanayaka Theras agree to this, if the majority of the Sangha is against this Bill, we will now allow this Bill to be passed,” stressed Saddhatissa Thera. “Is Buddhism the only religion in Sri Lanka? Perhaps the government should focus on formulating a Bill on Islamic fundamentalism first,” he stated.

Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thera pointed out that there are other more pressing matters that require the attention of the government. “We have been trying to get a few very important Bills passed, to no avail,” Gnanasara Thera said. He pointed out that, Buddhism related Publications Regulatory Bill, which could effectively put a stop to religious distortions, have not been presented as yet. He rebuked the government for failing to gazette archeological sites of the North and East that are under threat of destruction ‘at the hands of religious extremists’.

When asked why the BBS would oppose a Bill that could facilitate legal action against conduct unbecoming of Sangha, such as driving vehicles or engaging in occult activities, Gnanasara Thera said the entire Sangha society should not suffer due to bad deeds of a few corrupt individuals.

“We have had a rich culture where the Sangha did more than to guide the public towards Nibbhana. It was a relationship where the Sangha was involved in mundane activities such as giving blessings or chanting Pirith,” opined Gnanasara Thera. “This Bill will jeopardize the relationship that the Maha Sangha has had with the people from time immemorial,” he noted.

Gnanasara Thera said this was a case of history repeating itself. “Colonialists could not conquer so long as the relationship between the people and the Maha Sangha was strong. Hence they put up liquor bars at every turn,” Gnanasara Thera explained. This time INGOs are attempting to create a rift between the Maha Sangha and the people by putting conditions for funding certain projects, he opined.

“When engaging in business is made illegal and legally punishable, monks such as the one in Galgamuwa, who sustained several pupils by making and selling bricks can also be punished.” He explained, adding it was an impoverished village and the inhabitants could not sustain the village temple.

“What the government should do is pass the Anti-Conversion Bill,” upheld Gnanasara Thera. “There are over 430 organizations working to convert Buddhists,” he added. He said the Theravadi Bhikku Kathikawath (Registration) Bill was an attempt to distract the general public from what was really at heppening.

General Secretary of the National Sangha Council Venerable Pahiyangala Ananda Sagara Thera said that they had no faith in Sangha Sabha. “Going by the Bill, the Sangha Sabha has the right to expel a monk from a temple. How such power could be bestowed on Sangha Sabha, on which reasons,” he queried. He pointed out that disciplinary laws should be enforced in consultation with the Maha Sangha instead of a few individuals of the Maha Sangha. “If they are so concerned about Buddhism, then they should combine all three Nikayas together as one,” proposed Ananda Sagara Thera.

Theravadi Bhikku Kathikawath (Registration) Bill is just that and it looks to register Kathikawath of the different Nikayas, explained Ananda Sagara Thera. “These Kathikawath are archaic and requires amendments. For example, people of low caste cannot be ordained in the Siyam Nikaya. Ananda Sagara Thera opined adding that under Theravadi Bhikku Kathikawath (Registration) bill, such issues should be resolved through a Sanghadhikarana.

However, judging the Bill, the powers of the judiciary are clearly defined and the authority clearly lies with the Sangha Sabha. Minister Rajapaksa explained that even Mahanayaka Thera’s do not have the power to hold accountable those who violate the Bhikku Code of Conduct laid down by the Buddha. “What the Bill does is to give the Maha Sangha the necessary legal authority. The Bill does not dilute the powers of the Maha Sangha, but, in fact, strengthens it,” the Minister added.