Monk takes law into his hands

By Easwaran Rutnam

A Buddhist monk seen on videos circulating on social media, slapping a man and also threatening another, accusing them of engaging in illegal conversions, said that he will not stop till the authorities and those concerned take appropriate action.

Batticaloa-based monk, Ven. Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thera was seen in multiple videos on social media last week slapping a man after accusing him of attempting to convert people in the Batticaloa area to Christianity, questioning and threatening a group of people in a van, and in another video, stopping and verbally abusing a man dressed in a robe of the Christian clergy who was riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

All three incidents occurred either in the presence of the Police or just before the Police were called to the scene.

The monk, who has been involved in similar incidents in the past and had also been accused of attempting to incite racial and religious hatred among communities, defended his actions.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church and the Methodist Church disassociated themselves from the man in a robe of the Christian clergy.

Methodist Church President Bishop Rev. Asiri P. Perera said that the man in a Christian robe was Nalaka Fonseka, a former member of the Methodist Church.

“Some years back, he served as an evangelistic worker of the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka but had to resign as he did not fall in line with the discipline of our church. During the time he served my church, he was never ordained as a priest. According to the information I have, this person in cassock, since leaving the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka, seems to have operated on his own as a freelance evangelist without being accountable to any church body for his ministry work,” Rev. Perera said in a statement.

Rev. Perera said that in the practice of the Christian Church, it is very important that those who are serving God be under the discipline of a church body that governs and oversees the ministry work carried out by its clergy and evangelists.

“When issues come up for church workers, both clergy and evangelists, such governing bodies or the respective leaders, are called upon to intervene to do the needful to settle the issue. But very sadly, up to now, no such body has come forward publicly to own this person in cassock and do the needful to settle the issue,” he said.

The Catholic Church also confirmed that Nalaka Fonseka was not a Catholic priest.

Spokesman for the Catholic Church Rev. Fr. Jude Krishantha said that Fonseka was found to be wearing a robe used by the Catholic Church but was not authorised to do so.

He said that the man was a married man, which is not permitted for Catholic priests.

Rev. Fr. Jude Krishantha also said that the Catholic Church does not believe in the process of unethical conversations.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Ven. Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thera said the man claiming to be a priest had been operating in Batticaloa for several years.

He said that there was a court order against him engaging in unethical conversations and yet he continued his work in violation of the court order.

Ven. Sumanarathana Thera said that it was his duty, not just to protect Buddhists but also Hindus and Catholics.

“If someone is going around claiming he is a Catholic priest but is not, we must stand up against it,” he said.

He said that the silence of the Catholic Church on these kinds of unethical and illegal activities had resulted in such elements continuing and at times had misled the Police.

“After the Easter attacks, we had a lot of respect for the Catholic Church and Catholic priests. But when people like this try to deceive the public, we cannot be silent. We have no issue with any religion or any community. Most of the people here in Batticaloa are Tamil Hindus. A lot of them have been converted by this fake priest,” he said.

However, a woman is seen in the same video questioning the actions of the monk.

The woman stands up to the monk saying she has no issue with someone trying to preach to her.

However, Ven. Sumanarathana Thera said that one cannot allow an individual to go from house to house and attempt to convert people when he does not belong to any Church in the country.

He demanded that the Police investigate the man and take appropriate action.

Ven. Sumanarathana Thera also admitted that he slapped a man who engaged in unethical conversions.

The video of the incident which went viral on social media showed the man trying to preach to the monk, resulting in the monk slapping his face.

When asked what right he had to slap the man, the monk said that he lost his temper when the man attempted to preach to him about death.

“I did not go and speak to him to try and preach. I tried to resolve an issue which arose from him trying to convert people in that area,” the monk said.

He said that the man had identified himself as being a Swiss passport holder and had a large sum of money in his possession at the time to distribute among people in the area.

“What I wanted to do is slap this man, not once but 10 times, if required, to draw attention to what was taking place here in our area. Only then will the responsible authorities act on it,” he said.

According to the Buddhist Society website, although Buddhists value virtues such as loving kindness, humanity, patience, and giving, perhaps they value wisdom and compassion most of all. The idea of ahimsa or harmlessness is very closely connected with compassion; the compassionate desire to cause no harm to all beings including animals, plants, and the world in general. In all things, Buddhism places great stress on self-reliance and the Buddha himself told his followers not to believe without questioning, but to test it for themselves. Buddhism is also a very practical religion and aims to help people live their lives peacefully.

Buddhists also try to practise the Buddhist virtues actively in their everyday lives. The final goal of all Buddhist practice is to bring about that same awakening that the Buddha himself achieved through an active transformation of the heart and passion.

“Your house is on fire, burns with the Three Fires; there is no dwelling in it.” Thus spoke the Buddha in his great Fire Sermon. The house he speaks of here is the human body, while the three fires that burn it are desire/thirst, anger, and delusion. They are all kinds of energy and are called “fires” because, untamed, they can rage through us, hurt us, and other people too. Properly calmed through spiritual training, however, they can be transformed into the genuine warmth of real humanity, the Buddhist Society said.

When asked if slapping a man went against Buddhist teachings and portrayed the wrong image of the monk, Ven. Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thera said that thinking about protecting their images is where most monks go wrong.

He said that monks think about their image and discipline and focus on preaching while extremists and others engaged in illegal conversations went about their work.

“I cannot be silent when these things happen. If the authorities and rulers remain silent when Buddhism is threatened, we will slap those posing a threat to Buddhism and protect it,” the monk said.

He also insisted that he was not attempting to incite hate among the communities in Batticaloa.

The monk also said that the man he slapped had not filed a complaint with the Police. (Courtesy The Sunday Morning)

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