Samanthabadra assassinates Prince Siddhartha’s character
On October 31, Pitiduwe Siridhamma Thera stood before the Malwatte Mahanayake at the Sri Dalada Maligawa to beg forgiveness for assassinating Prince Siddhartha’s character on various social media platforms.
This was not, of course, the first time that Pitiduwe Siridhamma Thera, better known as Samanthabadra—who claimed nine years ago he had become an Arahant Buddha, and was on par with the Buddha—had stood before the Malwatte Mahanayake at the Sri Dalada Maligawa to beg and worship thrice and seek forgiveness from the Siam Nikaya’s supreme prelate for insulting the sacred Tooth Relic.
Six years ago, referring to the Sri Dalada in the most despicable terms, claiming it was a fake and nothing more than a pig’s tooth, he had deeply stabbed the sensitivities of Buddhists in Lanka. The wound cut deeper since it was said by one in saffron robes.
He was summoned before the Malwatte prelates and threatened with expulsion from the Order. Admitting guilt, and apologising for profanity, he worshipped and begged for pardon from the supreme prelates of the Siam Nikaya to escape the ultimate punishment. After he had solemnly affirmed he would never again blaspheme religious beliefs, he was let off with a rebuke and a warning.
If, as Samanthabadra claims, he has become a Buddha in this clime and time, it surely must be the first time in the Buddhist annals, an Arahant Buddha begged forgiveness and went down on all fours thrice and worshipped mere bhikkus still on the road to reach the non-returning stream, and to accept abjectly a stern rebuke from lesser peers.
In the Buddha’s teachings, once an arahant, always an arahant. Arahants do not lapse into error or revert to weakness once they are Arahants; and have no need to ask for forgiveness, since they conduct themselves at all times with ‘Samma Ditti’ or right view.
But even after going through this humiliating ordeal to retain his membership in the Malwatte sect, he hadn’t realised he was not what he claimed to be. Remorselessly he continued to stubbornly insist he was what he claimed to be: an Enlightened Perfect Being.
In 2013, he proclaimed that he was an Arahant. Two years ago on February 22, he told a YouTube astrologer Indika Totawatte that he had gained enlightenment while he was in America at an Atlanta meditation centre overlooking the Atlantic sea. On his return, he had informed a psychiatrist of his sudden transformation who had, at first, been sceptical and had dismissed it as a mere hallucination but later had agreed to suspend disbelief.
He had upgraded his name from Pitiduwe Siridhamma to Samanthabadra which in Mahayana Buddhism means ‘Universally Worthy’ to keep with his newly acquired status.
Speaking from his farming domain, Samanthabadra told YouTuber Totawatte that if the people should disregard his preaching, they would have to wait epochs for another Buddha to be born on earth again, thus revealing, despite his grovelling begging before the Malwatte high command four years earlier for forgiveness, that his bloated ego had taken fanciful flight to even loftier esoteric plains.
He holds court at his sprawling 72-acre land gifted to him by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa whose political patronage he thoroughly enjoys along with Gotabaya’s. He set up a farming project on the land which he named Umangdawa.
He employs a free labour force of Buddhist monks to toil the land and a bevy of unordained Dasa Sil Mathas to cook in the kitchens and serve his meals; and boasts of having turned his agricultural project into a most profitable money-spinning business venture, even selling a range of branded jams under the Umangdawa trademark.
He does all this against the Buddha’s Vinaya Code for monks but it doesn’t bother him the least. With heart and mind firmly set on playing the successful entrepreneurial business tycoon, such rules are blatantly ignored by him.
The Buddha’s Code of Discipline applicable only to ordained monks, lays down the rule that monks should not indulge in agricultural pursuits. Out of all the reasons that have been put forward to explain this prohibition, the simplest one is that one should only become a monk for no other reason than to attain enlightenment. If one wishes to do farming let him by all means do farming but he cannot do both. The search for truth is an exclusive endeavour, not a part-time job.
The unrepentant self-proclaimed infallible, ‘enlightened’ Samanthabadra was soon to confess his ignorance and become a penitent monk again, and compelled to seek forgiveness and worship unabashedly.
On October 31, he was back before the Malwatte Mahanayake and the Karaka Maha Sangha Sabha to beg forgiveness again for an even more heinous sacrilege far worse than the one line he had used to disparage the Tooth Relic. This time it was directed at the very moral character of Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama.
But to understand the full extent of this heinous sacrilege, first a brief sketch of Siddhartha’s arduous search for truth.
In the Buddhist scriptures, 29-year-old Siddhartha renounces his material wealth and palace pleasures, forsakes his rights to his father’s kingdom and leaves his wife and newborn son to start on an unknown journey on an unknown path to an unknown destination to find an unknown treasure. But an unseen compelling force inexorably drives him on.
Wandering through unfurrowed forest glades, he meets five young men on a similar quest to discover the elusive truth and, united by a singular purpose, together they seek the ashrams of wise sages who train and supervise their steady mental development.
After nearly six years of meditation and developing his mind, he makes a last-ditch attempt to discover the truth that still eludes him by undergoing seven weeks of extreme penance. But Siddhartha realises he is nowhere near the truth than when he first began his self-mortifications and shuns the extreme path as one that will not lead him to his final goal. Though the experience leaves him wracked in body, his mental spirit and determined will remain resolutely committed to his quest.
He returns to the ashram and meets the disdain of his friends who mock and scorn him for giving up his quest so easily. With mind unshaken to his friends’ reproach, he wanders alone into the forest, resolved, henceforth to tread the middle path to attain his goal wherever it lay.
His wanderings finally bring him to the banks of the River Neranjana. He is immediately entranced by the tranquillity of the scene. A nearby bo tree’s rustling leaves blown by a cooling breeze, exude an air of serenity that serves to make the scene replete. He decides to seek the shelter of the beckoning tree for what he hopes, will be the final lap of his elusive quest to gain enlightenment.
In the distance, a woman peering out of her window sees the presence of a noble figure near the tree, the site of which she daily tasked her retinue of maids to sweep and keep spotlessly clean in anticipation of the day on which a noble ascetic will arrive to enable her to fulfil a long-standing vow she had made for her barren womb to bear fruit. With her prayer answered and her boon granted, her heart fills with ecstatic joy that she can finally redeem the vow.
Siddhartha sees a woman approaching him with a retinue of maidens. She pays respectful reverence and worship and, offering him the alms she had brought—an assortment of delicacies and milk rice—says, ‘I am Sujatha of the noble clan that reigns in this province. For years I had been childless and was unable to bear a son and heir to my husband. A year ago, I made a vow to the deities of this tree that if I should ever conceive, I will offer alms to the first ascetic who appears within my sight at this same spot.’
She continues: ‘I am now blessed with a newborn son. Some unseen force has brought you here and I offer these alms to redeem the vow I made. Please accept my humble offering. Even as my wish was realised, may what you wish to gain be also realised’. And after presenting the gold-plated bowl of milk rice, Sujatha and her retinue depart.
That evening, in the last watch of the night, Siddhartha attains enlightenment. A Buddha had dawned again on earth and all exult in His advent.
Sujatha’s act of serving the last meal to Siddhartha before he attained Buddhahood, has been extolled in Buddhist texts as one that earned her the highest merit.
Pitiduwe Siridhamma alias Samanthabadra was summoned before the Malwatte Mahanayake and the Sect’s High Council to give an explanation as to why he had imputed an improper relationship between Sujatha and Siddhartha. Samanthabadra readily admitted his guilt and as his feeble defence confessed to the Mahanayake that he had cribbed it off a Sinhala translation of an old Mahayana author’s work of fiction titled ‘Old Paths, White Clouds’, where the Buddha’s life—loosely based on various unnamed Chinese sources—is retold by the author through the eyes of a buffalo herding boy. But that cut no ice with the Malwatte high priests.
On October 31, Malwatte Secretary Ven. Sri Sumangala Thera, reading out the findings of the disciplinary committee, said, ‘We have received many complaints by people deeply disturbed and outraged by various statements Pitiduwe Siridhamma has made through the media distorting the Buddha Dhamma and the Buddha character’.
The Secretary said: ‘As a result, he was summoned before the Malwatte Mahanayake and the Karaka Maha Sangha Sabha, on October 31, where he accepted all the allegations made against him. He said he made them unintentionally out of ignorance of the Theravada doctrine and traditions. He said the statement he had made regarding Sujatha and Bodhisathwa Siddhartha was based on a reference he had found in a book ‘Parani Ahase Aluth Sadhak’. He had sought to expand on it and had presented a false distorted version. If he had hurt Buddhist sensitivities and especially if he has caused great inconvenience to the Malwatte Mahanayake, the Karaka Maha Sangha Sabha and the Maha Sangha, he worships their feet seeking forgiveness.
The Secretary concluded: ‘Accordingly he was forgiven for the second time with a final warning.’
Samanthabadra may have wrung a pardon from the Malwatte high priests for the sleazy distortion he had made to the Buddha’s character but does that let him off the hook from having to obey the secular laws of the land which do not recognise ecclesiastical courts for penal offences? Especially when the anti-blasphemy laws are strictly enforced against the laity and even against monks who, bereft of political patronage, occupy a less exalted status?
Does the constitution or the penal code contain an immunity clause for monks who have obtained pardons from their Nikaya chiefs that render them free from arrest, free from prosecution? Is the State, which has a constitutional duty to protect the Buddha Sasana, debarred from acting against monks—even those claiming to be living Buddhas—who distort the Buddha character?
In May, born-again Catholic Pastor Jerome Fernando evangelised to his flock of sheep that the Buddha was searching for Jesus. In a controversial video released on April 30 on his YouTube channel, he had not spared the other three main religions either. Islam, Hinduism and even his ancestral faith, Catholicism.
The backlash caused him to flee the country a few hours before the courts issued a warrant for his arrest. While absconding abroad, he filed a Writ Application in the Appeal Court seeking a non-arrest order but hastily withdrew inexplicably. He re-filed the same writ on the same grounds and on November 17, and despite strong objections from the Attorney General, was granted the order sought by the President of the Appeal Court Justice Nissanka Bandula Karunaratna.
Last year in December YouTuber Sepal Amersinghe described the sacred Tooth Relic by a single degrading word on his channel. He was arrested on January 6, charged under the universal ICCPR Act and remanded for nearly seven weeks. Only after he had tendered a public apology through his lawyer to court, did the magistrate free him on February 21st.
On April 1, stand-up comedian Natasha Edirisooriya made a pathetic joke in reference to the extraordinary abilities of Suddhodana’s son to a private audience in an April Fool’s Day contest at the Bishop’s College auditorium. It went viral in May after it was shown on another YouTuber’s channel, and even though she had publicly apologised on the same channel, she was arrested on May 28 at the Katunayake Airport while waiting to fly to Singapore. She was remanded for six weeks and was released on bail on July 4 only after she appealed to the High Court.
In all these cases the police had been swift to arrest and the Attorney General’s Department prompt to prosecute. But even after four weeks of Samanthabadra admitting his guilt to distorting the Buddha Dhamma and the Buddha character, the same anti-blasphemy laws used this year to arrest and remand others who had dared to trespass the curated religious lawn, remain unused.
It makes us ponder if there are three strata of law in Lanka.
One for the masses. One for government MPs and governmental sacred cows. And one for the politically patronised Samanthabadra who claims to have attained enlightenment, and distorts the Buddha’s character without fear of legal reprisals.