The Sangha and its relation to the peace process in Sri Lanka

Mar 2004 – Feb 2005

In Sri Lanka approximately 70 per cent of the population are Buddhist, and Buddhism with its teachings and institutions plays a major role in the social, cultural and political life of the country. Since the outbreak of the military conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan State, Buddhist monks have actively participated in public debates about the conflict and its possible solutions. In the local and in international media some monks have expressed their strong opposition to the negotiations because they fear a separation of Sri Lanka into two separate states. In the opinion of these monks any division of Sri Lanka (even along federal lines) would contradict two basic tenets of the Buddhist tradition in Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka as sacred land and of the Sinhala people as the protectors of Buddhism.

However, the Sangha (the Buddhist monastic order) represents a wide range of different political opinions. While some Buddhist monks have raised their voices against the peace process, others have worked in its favour. Little attention has been paid this latter group. Understanding their position vis-à-vis the nationalist interpretation of classical Buddhist concepts would provide new insight into the dynamics of contemporary Buddhist political debate.

Therefore, the main objective of this research project is two-fold:

  1. To map out and understand the different arguments that have been voiced by members of the Sangha for and against the peace process (and a federal solution in Sri Lanka).

  2. To identify the main actors that have been involved in Buddhist debates about the political future of Sri Lanka. Particular attention will be paid to those Buddhist monks who have expressed support for the peace process.

The project's output is a written report, which is due in November 2004.

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