Sri Lankans are facing their worst economic crisis since 1948. The country’s prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned on 10 May. His brother, president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is under renewed pressure to quit as well. The country is in talks with India, China, and the IMF for debt relief and further loans. And it has been less than a week since we published our house view (Buddhistdoor View) supporting the Sri Lankan Buddhist sangha’s calls for an interim government to be formed.
The mass suffering, impoverishment, and despairing rage of average citizens living on this predominantly Sinhalese Theravada Buddhist island is perhaps sufficient testament to the crisis. Eight people have died and over 200 have been injured in various violent encounters with the police.
In all the shared misery, it is perhaps fair to say that everyone desperately wants the cost of living to be affordable once more, and for the costs of basics like energy, medicines, and food to come down. Over the long term, we all hope that tourism, one of Sri Lanka’s main sources of revenue (which has been diminished since 2019, even before COVID), will bounce back, and remittances from Sri Lankan nationals working overseas will resume.
For now, however, there are much more immediate priorities, which our friends at the The Buddha-Dharma Centre of Hong Kong have brought to urgent attention.
In an appeal published on their website, BDC, led by Ven. Prof. KL Dhammajoti (the founder of BDC and a prominent Buddhist Studies scholar), is asking for the public’s empathy and help in assisting the daily needs of Sri Lankan families. Funds are being collected for daily essentials like food and petrol, as well as for educational institutions facing financial collapse due to abrupt pauses of payments from the Sri Lankan government or reductions of pledged grants.
Ven. Dr. Dhammajoti, a senior Buddhist leader in the Hong Kong community (and who has also been involved in the Buddhist Studies development of Sri Lanka for decades), asks potential donors to consider giving as a way of expressing gratitude for the country’s ancient preservation and dissemination of the Buddha’s Dhamma. There remain many nations that are Buddhist-majority, but Sri Lanka is one of only a few contemporary countries that can be called “Buddhist” (alongside Thailand and Bhutan). With over 80 per cent of the population registered as Buddhist, it has, with significant justification, upheld itself as a steward of Theravada Buddhism in South Asia, with nikayas (monastic fraternities) that have endured for centuries (the Siam, Amarapura, and Ramanna Nikayas). The Buddha’s dispensation is protected in the country’s constitution, and despite economic catastrophe, it remains a critical node in the Buddhist world and Asia.
In the name of solidarity and compassion, Buddhist communities around the world should not avert their eyes from the ongoing crisis of the economy and living standards.
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