The marauding Buddhist monks, who appear to be tied to a long political leash, have run out of control. They need to be stopped. But it is equally necessary to take a cold look at the complexity of the phenomenon that groups such as Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) have come to represent. This is no freak show, and is hardly an aberration in post-war Sri Lanka; also because we know now that critics such as Ven. Dambara Amila (JVP) who predicted that the BBS was bound to dissipate in a matter of months were hopelessly wrong.
But the more fundamental reason for the emergence of Sinhala-Buddhism, as well as groups such as BBS, has to do with the inadequacy of the true Buddha-teaching for contemporary political engagement, especially in an identity-seeking, identity-promoting multi-ethnic and pluri-national political setting. In other words, the teachings of the Buddha woefully lack those elements with which you can zealously promote, protect, construct your own identities, your own political interests and prejudices, or engage in contesting those promoted by other ethnic and religious groups (more so, in the contemporary state-centric geopolitical framework). The Buddha-teaching is unhelpful in this political struggle: since that teaching is one which, inter alia, promotes as an ultimate goal the ceasing of greed, hatred and delusion, the realization of all identities as constructed identities; in other words, it is a teaching which helps you to expose the artificial and constructed character of all identities, for they are all without self, without an abiding and unchanging self or core. So from the Buddha, you don’t get a clear teaching on how to defend your state and its sovereignty, how to increase your own kind, how to protect Buddhism, how many times to pray during a day, etc. Even the very idea of ‘protecting Buddhism’ the way it is sought to be done today would be meaningless for the Buddha.