By Rohana R. Wasala
(Continued from yesterday May 24, 2023)
Some well-meaning, erudite, but very naive and innocent, young bhikkhus are challenging Paster Jerome Fernando to a debate over his deprecatory remarks about Buddhism; that, I think, is ridiculously ingenuous and unnecessary, because that is giving that man a measure of dignity that he doesn’t deserve, and also because he cannot be credited with a decent understanding even of Christianity, let alone anything additional outside that domain. These young monks are being eclipsed in their calm but determined attempt to react to Jerome’s disinformation and deception without any ill will. By whom? They are getting overshadowed by a few yellow-robed imposters who are themselves Buddhist versions of pastor Jerome Fernando. Actually, those few false monks and the fake prophet are birds of a feather probably fed by the same hands, as some say.
It has also been observed that certain discredited politicians are exploiting the opportunity that came their way through this obviously well-rehearsed Jerome Fernando episode to take a dig at each other for the heck of it, without utilising it to repair the damage it is causing to reconciliation. Last but not least, where are the Ven Mahanayake theras? Their silence in crisis situations has often aggravated issues affecting the Buddha Sasana. The online media I normally consult have nothing in this regard. However, one can’t blame the Ven Mahanayakes because they avoid politics, as they have done down the centuries. They used to advise the monarch only in spiritual matters, and the monarch took responsibility for looking after the Shashanaya. The most senior monk or monks, close to the royalty, offered their opinion in succession matters on rare occasions, and also when the ruler failed in his duties or when there were foreign threats to the nation. The Sangha never took part in ruling, but remained above the ruler. The Buddhist Sangha is a very democratic community, where one monk has no control over another. Times have changed. It is urgent that the Mahanayakes do more to save the Buddha Shasanaya including the Fourfold Assembly of Followers (Sivvanak Pirisa) of male and female lay Buddhists and bhikkhus and bhikshunis.
Back to the topic. Meanwhile, a complaint was lodged with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) by the propaganda secretary of the political party, Pivituru Hela Urumaya (PHU), Iranga Vidvath Mendis, in connection with the relevant offensive statements made by Jerome Fernando who calls himself a prophet, which are derogatory to the Buddha, Buddhism, and other religions. This is the only meaningful reaction I have seen so far to Jerome Fernando’s outrage (up to the time of writing). The complainant demands that the law be applied to the (suspect) offender in this case in terms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007.
The aforementioned petition to the CID was published in a news report in the online lanka c news. It quoted the following fromJerome Fernando’s importunate harangue:
“This is what separates Christianity from Buddhism. Because for a Buddhist in their mind, it’s like, okay, අනුන්ට කලදේ තමන්ට පලදේ in a sense, it’s true, especially if you do something to a prophet. Anyways. Now, but in the Buddhist mind, they never hear the love of Buddha. Are you hearing this? Their focus is enlightenment. But to be enlightened, you need light. The Buddha himself, the name Buddha means enlightened one. Ladies and gentlemen, what is greater, light or enlightened? Jesus said, I’m the light of the world. so i tell you now, jesus didn’t said I’m the enlightened one, No, no, no, no. Jesus came from a different wavelength. Jesus said I’m the light. So, I submit to you, the Buddha was looking for light. He was actually looking for Jesus. This is why every Buddhist needs Jesus.”
I came across a YouTube video clip of the relevant part of Jerome Fernando’s coercive religious rant against the Buddha, Buddhism and Buddhists that contained more. There was a singing part to it too, that ridicules such traditional curative and protective magical remedies as tying charmed threads, anointing charmed oil, etc., usually found among rural folk, as superstitious practices based on Buddhist teachings. Those are cultural things and should not be confused with Buddhism. Buddha did not advocate such things. He himself visited a physician called Jeevaka when he fell ill, according to the known life of the Buddha. He preached no religion, and never prescribed blind-faith based devotional practices or mindless rituals. Even the most ignorant Buddhists know that magical cures like charmed threads, oils, and chants are not part of the doctrine they actually follow. Instead, those ritual performances are part and parcel of the established holistic native healing culture which maintains the vital balance between the physical and mental aspects of the patients’ health. These ancient healing arts have survived, particularly among villagers, into modern times. Jerome also staged some faith healing episodes, not different from them. Such magical fake cures are daily performed in many hundreds of devales dedicated to local deities found across the country which are patronised not only by gullible villagers, but by superstitious city dwellers including politicians and businessmen among others of the same ilk seeking divine assistance with their nefarious projects. Why should a ‘prophet’ demean his god by descending to the level of a village kapurala unless he was a genuine fake?
In the letter to the CID referred to above, Mendis has left out (probably, as irrelevant to the point of his plaint) Fernando’s disparaging references to Hinduism and Islam and relevant sacred figures, which are equally outrageous, such as that Hindus venerate animals. A common allegation he raised against the leaders of all three non-Christian religions did not preach Love! But this fake prophet’s real target is the Buddha, his teaching and the Buddhists, his followers, whom he demeans, by implication, as a spiritually misguided lot. Though it is evident that Jerome is proficient enough in Sinhala for preaching to them, he speaks only in English and has himself interpreted in Sinhala. That, I think, is just an act he puts on to further impress his apparently mesmerised audience, whose awed gazes were fixed on his constantly beaming beatific smile.
What is Jerome Fernando saying in the snatch of speech quoted above? Simply, nonsense. He appears to be ignorant of his own religion of Christianity and its truly great founder Jesus Christ. Christianity came five or six hundred years after Buddhism. The latter is definitely beyond pastor Fernando’s power of understanding. What did Buddhists do to him (if he means himself by ‘prophet’) for him to say “anunta kala de tamanta pala de” (which would be equivalent to the English proverb ‘Curses come home to roost’)? (When he said this, though, he seemed to be mocking his own ‘prophet’ act!) This idea of ‘retaliatory justice’ is not part of the Buddhist concept of karmic causation. People from different cultural backgrounds accept the idea that bad deeds earn you bad results and that good deeds bring you good results, as a self-evident truth. The Karma concept taught in Buddhism is much more profound and complex than ‘Curses come home to roost’.
A word about the idea of love that Jerome finds missing in Buddhism. Buddhism is nothing if it is not about wisdom and compassion. The Buddha does uphold love as a positive emotion, but says that it is ultimately based on selfishness/the illusion of ‘self’. The Buddha’s teaching recognises a difference between love (that you feel for a person) and unconditional universal compassion or loving-kindness (maitri, friendliness) towards all sentient beings, something that is completely selfless. I think Christian love is also very close to or identical with the Buddhist concept of loving-kindness. To me it looks like the highly intelligent Jerome Fernando has not so far cared to grasp at least a faint idea of the Buddha’s profound dhamma. He has no sense of history, for he doesn’t know that the Buddha lived five to six centuries before Jesus was born. Otherwise, if he is in his right senses at least temporarily, how can he say that the Buddha was looking for Jesus? What do you know about the Enlightenment concept taught in Buddhism, Jerome? Obviously, NOTHING! You equate enlightenment to lighting up or illuminating something. That is stupid. An Australian YouTuber of Sri Lankan origin says that he had some slight acquaintance with Jerome as a young Burgher with a different name doing modelling work for commercial firms about twenty years back. It’s plausible information. He uses both Sinhala and English equally fluently. Oops! I almost forgot. At the end or thereabouts of his Buddha bashing, quite paradoxically, like a true Christian preacher or a genuine Buddhist monk for that matter, he admonishes his congregation: “Never persecute anybody, never shame another person’s faith”.
I will wind up with a reference to the Buddha’s famous Kalama Sutta discourse. The Buddha advised his disciples to question and examine even the Tathagata (Buddha) himself to find the trustworthiness, the authenticity, of the teacher they chose to follow. A group of young men called the Kalamas came to the Buddha with a question. They wanted to learn from him how they could separate truths from falsehoods uttered by the various venerable recluses and brahmanas who visited their village of Kesaputta from time to time and preached their different doctrines that disagreed with each other. Obviously, the young men had heard of the fame of the Buddha who himself had studied under the most famous teachers of the time and exhaustively analysed their teachings, and dissatisfied, had embarked on his own long and assiduous search for the Truth and eventually attained Enlightenment. The Buddha’s advice to them was: “Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic and inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But…when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up… and when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them”. (I am quoting here from Ven Walpola Rahula thera’s classic dhamma compendium ‘What the Buddha Taught’ first published in London in 1959, and reprinted many times since, which Jerome Fernando may profitably read and still remain, or learn to be, a pious and virtuous Christian, which, I am afraid, he is not at present.)
I can easily answer your criticisms of Hinduism and Islam, but it is better for you to learn by yourself their moral essence that is as noble and as ennobling as Christianity.