- Government trying to promote Buddhism through Sri Lankan Missions
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Buddha statues for Sri Lankan Missions
Sri Lankan diplomats are nonplussed about the government’s move to
send Buddha statues to overseas missions despite the massive tamasha
organized by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) and the
Presidential Secretariat last week.
Buddha statues similar to the Samadhi statue were brought to the
Independence Square from the Matara Bodhi with religious events being
organized in Galle and Kalutara en route to Colombo and the Maha Sangha
chanting pirith all the way. The SLBFE even organized Bhakthi Gee in
The Buddha statues were brought to the Independence Square on Wednesday
(8). The statues were taken to Temple Trees the following day, on the
9th where the President handed them over to External Affairs Minister
Prof. G.L. Peiris. Diplomats observe that the government’s whole
exercise to distribute Buddha statues to Sri Lankan missions overseas
would hamper the country’s image as being a secular state, Foreign
Service officials observe. The propagation of religion they have said is
a matter for civil society and not for a State through its foreign
Following a concept of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the government has
taken to propagating Buddhism in foreign countries by sending 26 Buddha
statues to Sri Lankan missions overseas to commemorate the 2,600th
A large number of governing party members worshiped the statues that were to be sent overseas.
Foreign Employment Promotions Minister Dilan Perera, who played a key
role in organizing the event, was quoted in the international media as
saying that the statues will be handed over to Sri Lankan foreign
missions overseas to mark the 2600th Sambuddhathva Jayanthi.
He has told the media after the statues were brought to Colombo, that
people in many countries worship Buddha statues. The Buddha statues to
be handed over to Sri Lankan embassies are similar to the Samadhi Buddha
“These Buddha statues will help promote Theravada Buddhism in the world
and also promote characteristics of Sri Lankan Buddha statues. Sri
Lankans abroad will get the chance to worship these Buddha statues,”
Perera has said.
Attempts by The Sunday Leader to contact Perera for a comment on the programme failed.
The External Affairs Ministry when contacted on Friday (10) was not
aware of the Sri Lankan missions that would receive the statues. The
Ministry said the statues would be sent to missions that do not already
have Buddha statues.
Nevertheless, the decision to send Buddha statues to Sri Lankan missions
would instill a feeling of religious bias in the minds of Sri Lankan
expatriates including the Tamil Diaspora, with whom the government is
trying to build relations.
The External Affairs Ministry has in its official website under the
heading of “Protecting Sri Lankans abroad” states that it seeks to
ensure the welfare of expatriate Sri Lankans through its network of
Missions, Consulates and Honorary Consulates abroad. Sri Lanka’s
Ambassador to France, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka when asked about the
government’s decision to send Buddha statues to Sri Lankan mission
overseas, said that he was unaware of any such proposition.
“No such instruction to “propagate religious doctrine” has been given to
our Missions overseas, and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri
Lanka not being a theocratic state, I cannot see how it can,” he claimed
in an e-mail to The Sunday Leader.
“Thus, I rather doubt that such an instruction would be given,” he added.
According to Jayatilleka, although foreign missions promote culture and
civilisational heritage of a country, the propagation of religion is a
matter for social or socio-cultural organizations.
“The promotion of Sri Lankan culture and civilisational heritage is
another matter altogether, and Sri Lankan missions overseas do promote
and protect those, as do the Missions of all countries with respect to
their own cultural and civilisational heritages. The propagation of
religion is a matter for civil society, or to put it differently, social
and socio-cultural organizations,” Jayatilleka said.
Meanwhile, a Foreign Service official who spoke on conditions of
anonymity told The Sunday Leader that considering the path of
reconciliation chosen by the government, it should acknowledge the fact
that Sri Lanka is a multi-cultural, multi-religious state.
“Aren’t we trying to portrait an image of a secular state to the international community?” the official queried.
He explained that although the government may be bound by the
Constitution to safeguard Buddhism in the country, the state needs to be
identified as a being secular, especially since it is a multi ethnic
The clause on safeguarding Buddhism was included in the Constitution due
to the discrimination of the majority Buddhists in the country during
the periods of Portuguese, Dutch and British.
According to the External Affairs Ministry, it is paying attention to
strengthening the “public diplomacy” capabilities of Missions abroad and
with the support of expatriate Sri Lankan communities seeks to change
the negative perceptions about Sri Lanka that had hitherto prevailed.
However, as pointed out by the Foreign Service official, the government
needs to pay special attention to building an image of a secular society
and the whole exercise of sending Buddha statues overseas would only
hinder the process.
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