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Buddhist Monk sets himself on fire in Sri Lanka

A few days ago, Buddhist monk Bowatte Indararatna set himself on fire in a protest outside of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Footage of the staged event was captured by various media organisations, and is the first case of self immolation by a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka. Video footage shows …

Buddhist Monk sets himself on fire in Sri Lanka

A few days ago, Buddhist monk Bowatte Indararatna set himself on fire in a protest outside of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Footage of the staged event was captured by various media organisations, and is the first case of self immolation by a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka.

Video footage shows Bowatte Indararatna dousing himself with petrol, before using a lighter to set himself alight. The monk then stumbles around burning, while shocked onlookers attempt to put out the flames with liquids and cloths.

Despite rushing the Buddhist monk to the local Kandy hospital, and then transporting him by helicopter to Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo, Bowatte Indararatna later died from the extensive burns he received from the fire.



Prior to the self immolation incident in Kandy, Bowatte Indararatna was interviewed and appeared on the State Media. He outlined his demands in these televised interviews, which were a cessation to the slaughtering of cows for beef in Sri Lanka, as well as a crackdown on Christian groups actively involved in converting Buddhists away from Buddhism. He informed them of his intention to stage the incident at Kandy, and seemingly received assistance from the State Media to carry out this protest.

The cameramen and photographers were out in force at Kandy that day, with countless video clips and photographs of the incident available to the general public. The vast amounts of footage show multiple professional cameramen waiting for the monk to stage the protest, and he was even supplied with the canister of petrol to pour over himself. It is an absolute disgrace that the state media not only withheld the information that he was planning this from the Sri Lanka police, but assisted him in promoting it.



Bowatte Indararatna was a former member of the extreme Buddhist political party JHU, before being dismissed on disciplinary grounds. He wasted no time in joining an even greater extremist group, becoming a member of the Sinhala Ravaya, of whom many liken to Sri Lanka’s version of the Ku Klux Klan. Both of these groups have used his death to promote their hateful campaigns against minorities in Sri Lanka, with the Sinhala Ravaya in particular declaring that they will soon launch a national campaign demanding the ban of cattle slaughter.

The attack on Muslim, Christian and Hindu minorities has been ongoing for many years, but has intensified since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka. With no large and obvious opponent, these racist Buddhist groups of Sri Lanka have launched numerous attacks against all minority groups, and in particular have focussed on the Muslims, who although are small in numbers, possess a sizeable portion of the wealth in Sri Lanka.

Hardline Sinhala Buddhist national groups, including the extreme racist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), as well as the Sinhala Ravaya, have been responsible for nationwide attacks against Muslim businesses, places of worship, and the general population. A few of the notable incidents in the past year include a successful campaign to remove Halal food certifications from Sri Lanka food products, the burning and destruction of a popular Muslim clothing store, numerous physical attacks against Muslim women wearing headscarves in public, and the forceable occupation of a meat distribution factory in Colombo.



It is important to note that the actions of Bowatte Indararatna, his group Sinhala Ravaya, and their partner in racism, Bodu Bala Sena, are not condoned by the majority of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, or by the general public. In fact, many other Buddhist organisations and factions have publicly spoken out against the religious and racial hatred they are preaching, and condemned them for acting in direct contrast to the teachings of Buddha himself.

On the issue of the slaughtering of cows, there is no prohibition against the slaughter of cows to be found anywhere in the Buddhist scriptures. The predominant view is that Buddha encouraged his followers to eat meat, and even allowed his monks to fill their stomachs with a wide variety of animals and meats, as long as the animal wasn’t specifically killed to provide food for the monks themselves. Interestingly, Buddha prohibited the consumption of certain animals, which just so happen to fall in line with the prohibited animals of Islam.

These views come from the Theravada school of Buddhism, which is by far the most commonly followed form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Other schools have similar views. In fact, Buddha’s cousin Devadatta attempted to introduce 5 new practices into Buddhism. Buddha allowed the first 4, but rejected the 5th, which was vegetarianism.



One of the strange facets of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, is that due to the close proximity to India and their Hinduism, Sri Lanka has developed a strange form of Buddhism which intermingles the teachings found in both Buddhism and Hinduism. The result is places of worship where statues of Buddha sit side by side with statues of Hindu Gods, with both receiving their share of the worship.

Unfortunately this has also meant that many Sri Lankan Buddhists also worship cows and consider them sacred; allowing the eating of flesh of all other animals except cows. The promotion of these unconventional beliefs is undoubtedly one of the motives behind this Buddhist monk setting himself on fire. It is plain to see that the cow slaughtering was the intended campaign target, and not the slaughtering or consumption of any of the other meat products produced in Sri Lanka.

The second issue of religious conversions has been an ongoing one over a number of years. These groups who wield strong political influence have in the past been responsible for the illegal detainment, torture, physical abuse, or even outright murder of people from other religions propagating an alternative religion to Buddhism in Sri Lanka. This latest call for new legislation against conversions is just another in a long line of vicious and spiteful attacks against religious minorities, of which the international community is already condemning the Sri Lankan President over his unwillingness to prevent further occurrences.


Check out this Buddhist Monks in Sri Lanka video

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Aisha Sabeer

Aisha Sabeer

Aisha Sabeer is a budding writer from Canada. She has a keen interest in science and comparative religion, and loves travelling the world and meeting other Muslims.
Aisha Sabeer
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