Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why do Buddhists believe that an Anti-Conversion Bill is necessary ?

For Buddhists, being born into a Buddhist family is not a coincidence, it is the fruition of accumulated wholesome Kamma. Therefore, any one who tempts a Buddhist with money and gifts to reject Buddhism into which he was born, to accept another’s religion is in a way a “criminal offence”. In Sri Lanka there are the Buddhists , the Hindus and Muslims and none of them practice conversion. It is only the Christian Church and the Evangelists that practice this “criminal” offence of stealing faithfuls of another religion to their own.

National Christians Fellowship of Sri Lanka had organised a protest campaign against the Anti Conversion Bill at the Vihara Mahadevi Park in Colombo. It is they who thrive on conversion, and there is no reason why they should be given the freedom to continue their “criminal “ activity. The proposed Anti conversion Bill will put a stop to their continued damage to our Nation, its own religions and culture.

If these Christians and Evangelists are generous humanitarians who want to help the people to rise above their poverty and suffering they my certainly do so, without asking the poor people to change their religion in exchange for their generosity. If not that would be a commercialisation of religion.

The necessity for an Anti-Conversion Bill, arises from the fact that for number of years there had been an effort by certain Churches and Evangelists to infiltrate into rural areas in Sri Lanka, some in the guise of good Samaritans constructing roads and bridges, seeking at the same time poor people in villages to be converted to their Christian faith by allurement, or offer of incentives such as financial aid and gifts.

It is known in some of the villages in Sri Lanka, that these pseudo “Samaritans”, after converting a family to their Christian faith on promise of offers of gifts and aid, make them stand on the floors on which the images of the Buddha and Buddhist books had been laid and covered with mats, to conduct prayers to their new God. It marks their renouncement of their old religion, accepting the new divine faith.

The conversion of Buddhist, and also Hindus in Sri Lanka began with the advent of the conquerors and the establishment of colonial rule. The converts at the beginning were mainly from the urban maritime areas. The Catholic Missionaries carried out large scale conversion of the poor fisher folk from the maritime villages.

But the rural villages within the country remained Buddhist “uncontaminated” by the Missionary efforts of conversion. It is these villages that are being targeted now by the present day Christian Missionaries, and Evangelists. They convert poor villagers in developing countries, perhaps to outnumber the Christians from Western Countries giving up Christianity to accept Buddhism.

Buddhism had never employed conversion as a means to propagate its teachings. The Buddha himself was against conversion, and told his disciples to be an example. It was that example that attracted many persons of other faiths to Buddhism. Many Brahmin ascetics who came to defy the teachings of Buddha in dialogue, at the end of their questionings asked the Buddha to accept them as his disciples. The Buddha asked them on many occasions to go back and reflect on the decision, and accept it only if they are convinced of the truth of his teachings.

Therefore, the Buddhists believe that no body has the right to take away from any one, the religious faith into which one had been born and in which one remains. To do otherwise would therefore amount to a “stealing” of another’s birth right.

An individual may of course on his own change his religious faith, and that is his right which no one will contest. What the Anti-Conversion bill opposes is the inducement to change one’s own religious faith in to which one is born, to another religious faith. It could also apply to Christians as well. No body has the right to force or induce an Anglican to become a Catholic which would also amount to an unethical conversion. Or to convert a Christian to Buddhism by force or inducement would also become an unethical conversion.

Apart from the fact that no one has the right through force or inducement to change the religious faith into which one was born, and accept another faith, the Buddhists believe that it is a rare opportunity to be born a human being. It is only a being who has accumulated wholesome kamma that is born as a human being. And to be born a human being into a Buddhist family one should have accumulated still more wholesome kamma. Therefore, converting a Buddhist by all types of inducements to another faith, is to make him forfeit his karmic “gift” to find an end to a seemingly endless cycle of births and deaths in Samasara.

The Buddhists also believe that it is the:

( a) ignorance of the four noble truths: the truth of suffering (dukkha), the truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya ) which is the clinging attachment, the truth of the cessation of suffering (nirodha), and the truth of the path to cessation of suffering (magga), and

(b) not living according to the eight fold path: the right view( samma ditthi), the right thought ( samma sankappa), the right speech( samma vaca), the right bodily action (samma kammanta) , the right livelihood( samma ajiva), the right effort (samma vayama), the right mindfulness( samma sati), and the right concentration (samma Samadhi) are the causes of a being’s continued suffering in the endless cycle of deaths and births in Samsara.

Therefore, to the Buddhists , the believers of other religions have false views, and wrong understanding. The early Christian Missionaries by converting the Sinhala Buddhists to Christianity had taken away from them the essential kammic gift of acquiring right view and right understanding making them aimless wanderers suffering in Samsara.

The Buddhists do not interfere into the freedom of those who believe in other religions or other Gods, but they would like those of other religious faiths not to interfere into their and their children’s freedom to follow the teachings of the Buddha.

During the Colonial rule the children of Buddhist families had only Christian Missionary Schools for their education. In these schools the catechism classes were compulsory for all students which became a means of converting Buddhist Children to the Christian faith. The Sinhala Buddhists were an under privileged group under the Colonial Rule. Towards the end of the 19th century many thought the Buddhism will disappear from Sri Lanka.

It was when Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) was at its lowest ebb that the Great American benefactor Sir Henry Steel Olcott came to Sri Lanka on the 16 May,1880 along with Mme Helena Blavatski. They were the pioneers of the Theosophic Society and later declared themselves Buddhists. SirHenry Steel Olcott was disliked by the Colonial Rulers of the time, because of the welcome he had received from the Sinhala Buddhists.

When Sir Olcott and Blavatski were invited to give a lecture in Kalutara ,the Government Agent of the district had ordered that no government building or the veranda of a school or even its steps should be given to hold any lectures by Sir Olcott. Such was the colonial attitude towards the Sinhala Buddhists at the tim.

It was Sir Olcott who gave new life to Buddhism and Buddhist culture in the then Ceylon. It was thanks to him that separate Buddhist Schools were founded for the Sinhala Buddhists. We have come a long way since then . Sri Lanka is now an Independent Sovereign State and has to reorganise itself without leaving any one to plunder from our people their birthright. Therefore it has become necessary to the Sinhala Buddhists and the Hindu Tamils to safeguard their religions, and culture from being mutilated by intruders, by legal enactments.

There are unscrupulous, Christians who attempt to convert unbelievers by allurements, they are not of God’s choice and should be weeded out, as Mr. Charles Schokman says. For that purpose a Legal Instrument to dissuade such attempts of conversion is essential. There are no possible dialogue to stop conversions, there fore the availability of a legal prohibition would be a deterrent for those who attempt to convert persons from one faith to another.

Love and compassion are not the monopoly of one religion. Buddhism a religion or a philosophy discovered by a “man” and not a creator God, is a philosophy of love to
all beings. It teaches its followers to pervade universal love to all living beings. Buddhism is pragmatic with a philosophy based on what is perceptible and could be experienced to arrive at what is imperceptible.

Where as religions with a God head is based on unseen, imperceptible concept of a God’s love, to arrive at another unseen and imperceptible concept of a Paradise, Buddhism is based on suffering, to arrive at a state of non-suffering.

These are facts that should be left for people to realise on their own, by reading, listening and discussion, but not converting them to other faiths by allurements, incentives or use of force.

That is why an Ant-Conversion Bill is essential, for Sri Lanka that had gone through natural and human perils to reorganise itself into a nation un-interfered by any foreign NGOs, good Samaritans, or religious quirks.

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