Feature Article

Buddhism among Tamils is quenched from two sides: Peter Schalk

[TamilNet, Thursday, 02 July 2009, 06:09 GMT]
“To say that Tamil tradition has always been all-inclusive of religions is modern Tamil national ideology projected into an invented past. It is not history of the Tamils”, writes Professor Peter Schalk, challenging the perspectives of looking at Tamil identity from the point of the use of Tamil language that simultaneously accommodated various religions in its history, despite of them contradicting one another or coming and going. Responding to an article on Buddhism appeared in TamilNet, Tuesday, Prof. Schalk said that Buddhism among Tamils he objectifies is different from what the Sinhala-Buddhists are envisaging.

Response from Peter Schalk to a TamilNet article ‘Ploy of Buddhism to nullify Tamil nationalism’:

Peter Schalk
Professor Peter Schalk
Martial Sinhala Buddhism today having left its ties to the Buddha is both exclusive and excluding. It is Sinhala, not Tamil. Therefore Buddhism among Tamils appears like an anomaly to it. What to do about an anomaly? Its existence in the past and present is denied or its importance is reduced to a triviality by Sinhala mercenary scholars.

What happens today is that the former programme by Cyril Mathews from the early 1980s to identify all Buddhist places, mainly 16, in the North as Sinhala, is completed, this time with the full support of scholar mercenaries, the Government and of the Armed Forces.

These places are in the forefront of Sinhala colonisation in areas of Tamil speakers. In this polarised situation it is a riddle to me how Buddhism among Tamil speakers can be said to neutralise Tamil nationalism. Tamil-speaking Buddhists are strongly Tamil oriented. They claim even that Buddhist Kantarotai was Tamil, not Sinhala.

We have to distinguish between Buddhism among Tamils and Buddhism in Tamil speaking areas implanted by modern martial Sinhala-Buddhists for the benefit of the Sinhala army personal, traders and colonisers who are fed with Sinhala-Buddhist pamphlets in English or Sinhala. They live as a separate entitity but they have administrative power. They deny of course that Kantarotai was Tamil.

A recent trend among them is to deny the concept of the Mahavamsa 25 that only Buddhists are humans. It does not fit into the official evaluation of what a human is imposed by the UN. Now they think that Tamils are humans and therefore qualified for Buddhism, which however is Sinhala Buddhism. It is sometimes put into English and sometimes even into Tamil.

In this case it is evident that an attempt is made to neutralise Tamil nationalism of Tamil speakers, but that has nothing to do with the kind of Buddhism among Tamils that I objectify. It is indeed important that this kind of humanised martial Sinhala Buddhism is highlighted and revealed as a political program of neutralising Tamil nationalism.

What I say about Saivism was that from the time of Campantar exists a strong trend that is even canonized within Tamil Saivism in the Tevaram that Tamil is an expression of Saivism and Saivism of Tamil. That does not imply that all Saivas think in that way or that Saivism per se thinks so. I mention this about Saivism to show that Buddhism among Tamils is classified as an anomaly by some Saivas also. Buddhism among Tamils is quenched from two sides.

To say that Tamil tradition has always been all-inclusive of religions is modern Tamil national ideology projected into an invented past. It is not history of the Tamils.

My writing on Buddhism among Tamils are available in two volumes from 2002 entitled "Buddhism among Tamils" issued by Uppsala University.


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