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Sri Lanka’s Buddhist prelates seek action against errant monk

Ven. Dhammalankara Thera accused of spreading false ideologies and misleading the island nation’s Buddhist people
Venerable Mewanapalane Siri Dhammalankara

Venerable Mewanapalane Siri Dhammalankara (Photo: Facebook)

Published: March 05, 2024 11:13 AM GMT
Updated: March 05, 2024 01:39 PM GMT

Sri Lanka’s chief prelates have urged the president to remove a Buddhist monk, accusing him of conspiring to distort Buddhist teachings, destroying the religion, and creating conflicts in society.

The monks' letter, released to the media on March 4, alleged that Venerable Mewanapalane Siri Dhammalankara Thera was misusing his position as a monk for “spreading false ideologies” and “misleading” Buddhists in the island nation.

It further alleged that Dhammalankara had engaged in a long-term conspiracy to destroy the religion, create conflicts in society, and destabilize the state.

The letter dated Feb. 29 was addressed to President Ranil Wickremesinghe with copies marked top officials.

The top Buddhist monks in the country -- such as Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera, Venerable Warakagoda Gnanarathana Thera, Venerable Makulewe Vimalabhidana Thera, and Venerable Karagoda Uyangoda Maithri Murthy -- have signed the letter.

“The monk presented mythical ideologies about the character of Lord Buddha and the Tripitaka,” the letter said. Tripitaka is the term used for the collections of Buddhist sacred scriptures.

The monks said the president's office and other responsible departments had been informed several times about the monk's illegal acts, which violated the Vihara Devalagam Ordinance, a law governing Buddhist places of worship and other religious affairs.

“It is surprising to see why the officials don’t act against him,” the prelates added.

They demanded immediate action, saying it was the government’s responsibility “to protect and nurture Buddhism.”

Nilu Niwanthi, an activist from Colombo who works for interreligious harmony, said such individuals can be found in all religions.

She said a special police unit has been established to investigate any reported religious offenses.

The unit was set up after last year’s arrest of a Buddhist monk and a Christian pastor, who were accused of insulting Buddhism and Lord Buddha.

Manju Sri, a 34-year-old monk declared himself "Vishwa Buddha" (Universal Buddha). He was arrested on Dec. 12 last year on charges of insulting Buddhism in a video he uploaded on social media.

In his posts on social media, Sri said that "a robe of a monk is nothing more than a simple garment" and often appeared in public in casual clothes.

Before him, Pastor Jerome Fernando was arrested on Dec. 1, 2023, for his remarks that the Buddha had been "looking for Jesus for advice and inspiration," which invited a backlash in the Buddhist-majority nation.

Fernando considers himself a prophet of God and enjoys a large following among celebrities, especially cricketers, in Sri Lanka.

Buddhists constitute 70.2 percent of Sri Lanka's 22.2 million people, with Muslims comprising 9.7 percent, Hindus accounting for 12.6 percent, and Christians making up 7.4 percent.

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