There was a time when Uduwe Dhammaloka thera was a respected household name. He was a much sought after preacher and thousands flocked to his sermons, enthralled not only by what he said but also by his style of preaching and his pleasing personality.
However, as his popularity grew, there were whispers that certain pre requisites need to be met, in order for him to deliver sermons: The type of vehicle that needed to be sent to fetch him, the type of robe that he wore and the type of offerings he took.
That such demands were at odds with the teachings of Buddhism which advocated a renunciation of material pleasures did not matter to the ‘posh’ echelon of Colombo’s society and Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera remained popular in the Buddhist sermon ‘circuit’. Recently, the priest has been in the news for two reasons. Firstly, he has been implicated in the alleged theft of a baby elephant. His explanation for retaining a baby elephant at his temple beggars belief: He claims that someone casually ‘abandoned’ the elephant at his temple- in much the same way that people ‘dump’ unwanted cats and dogs at temples- and he was simply a caretaker for the animal!
Just imagine the scenario: Someone arrives at the temple with an elephant that he or she wants to abandon in tow, drops it off at the temple and wanders off, leaving the hapless animal homeless and the kind-hearted monk takes over its care. It is a moving story indeed!
Just after proceedings are initiated against the monk for harbouring the elephant, he goes on the offensive with a startling revelation claiming that the death of Maduluwave Sobhitha Thera was the result of a conspiracy by those in the ‘yahapaalanaya’ government.
We are familiar with the background to this claim: Sobhitha Thera was architect of the silent revolution which ousted the Rajapaksa regime and installed the current government in power. It was he who moved civil society to take up cudgels against the Rajapaksa government and stirred it into action at a time when many cowered under the shadow of dictatorship and authoritarianism.
It is also a fact that in the last days of his life, Sobhitha Thera was unhappy with certain actions of the present government. He was particularly disappointed at the appointment of defeated candidates as parliamentarians through the National List and the slow progress in the investigations into corruption and abuse of power.
Without prejudging any issues we can still state the facts: Sobhitha Thera died after a prolonged illness. He had the best medical attention both in this country and in Singapore. So, if there was a conspiracy, it would also have to involve the best medical professionals in Sri Lanka and Singapore.
When Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera makes his ‘conspiracy’ claims, the likes of Udaya Gammanpila who will try to use absolutely any issue to his political advantage quickly joins the bandwagon and calls for an inquiry. Of course, it is this same Gammanpila that opposed Sobhitha Thera’s campaign while he was alive.
The government now finds itself in a difficult situation. Although knowing that it might be a futile exercise, it must be seen to be doing the ‘correct’ thing, if only to silence its detractors. So, it would have to yield to the demands to probe Sobhitha Thera’s death, much in the same manner that the death of Gangodawila Soma Thera’s death was investigated.
We have no problem with that because justice must not only be done but it must also appear to be done. But by the same token, we hope that justice will be done to the baby elephant kept at Dhammaloka Thera’s temple. The robes of the Buddhist monk, however, expensive they may be- should not be a deterrent to the law taking its course.
Those dispensing justice can take a cue from their colleagues who dealt with Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera, another rabble-rouser who used the robe of the Buddhist monk to openly incite racism. At long last, he has been dealt with according to the law, and will think twice before he raises his voice again.
After all, everyone is equal before the law—even monks wearing the most expensive of robes and travelling only in luxury vehicles!