Sinhala Buddhists and Christians

In Sri Lanka, there are 72% of Sinhala people who speak Sinhala language and live in the predominant “Sinhala” culture. Among them, about 69% profess Buddhism as their religion while others belonged to the Christian faith. In the recent past, due to many reasons, there were many incidents in Sri Lanka where there were tensions between Sinhala Christians and Buddhists.

There are some Buddhists who think that Christians are henchmen of the past colonial era and consider them enemies. Some others consider them betrayers of the Sinhala ethnic group. Perhaps another important contributory phenomenon to this is the fact that Sinhala Christians share their ethnicity with Sinhala Buddhists while having their common religion with Tamil Christians. Over and above all these, the main reason for the tension is related to so call unethical conversions from Buddhism to Christianity. In this present situation, how can these two religious groups, who belonged to the same Sinhala ethnic group live in peace and harmony?

Sinhala Christians should realise that although they profess the Christian faith they belonged to Sri Lankan Sinhala culture and that it is also their duty to protect and preserve this unique culture. In this context, it is their responsibility to search for a common Sri Lanka Christian identity not on Western values but on the gospel proclaimed by Jesus Christ. As Sinhala people, it is necessary for them to have a sound understanding of Buddhism, which has contributed immensely to the development of Sinhala culture in Sri Lanka. It is important for Sinhala Christians to learn that Sinhala Christians have not gotten rooted in Sinhala agricultural areas where the majority of Sinhala Buddhists live.

On the other hand, it is important for Sinhala Buddhists to realise that Sinhala Christians are an integral part of the Sinhala ethnic group although they profess a different faith. The majority of Christians are part and parcel of Sri Lankan society and they are proud of their Sinhala identity. It is helpful for Sinhala Buddhists to be aware that Sinhala Christians have created a predominant Sinhala fisher culture and a subculture in the urban areas in Sri Lanka.

In the context of the development of religious “fundamentalism” both Sinhala Christians and Buddhists should take care not to come to the conclusion that “My” faith is the only true faith and therefore “I” should despise all the other faiths. It is a visible reality of the growth of these groups in both Christianity and Buddhism who use arrogant methods to condemn other religions. It is the responsibility of Sinhala people whether Christian or Buddhist to take every possible step to avoid these extreme, unhealthy positions often promoted by tiny minorities.

As universal religions, Buddhism and Christianity have been able to get rooted in many cultures and societies. Therefore it is useful for Sinhala Christians and Buddhists to learn from other Buddhists and Christians of other cultures and societies where they live in peace and harmony respecting and helping each other.