Joseph Vaz was an Agent of the Portuguese Empire then in control of Goa

Joseph Vaz was serving the interests of the Catholic Church and the King and Govt. of Portugal which were ruling Goa, when he landed in Ceylon on a mission. Goa  was then i.e. 17th century, in the hands of the Portuguese who were then more or less engaged in a state of war with the Dutch then occupying the coastal areas of Ceylon. Christian missionary activity was a huge State enterprise charged to the Crown's revenues in Portugal. In many european countries national interests were closely identified with religious activity. Portugal was no exception. 

Joseph Vaz  was undoubtedly seen as an adversary and trouble maker by the Dutch in a manner similar to how both Portugal and the Catholic Church saw Buddhism and Buddhist monks as hostile elements who were not prepared to surrender Sri Lanka to Portugal or embrace Christianity which both Portugal and the Catholic Church wanted to spread even by force if necessary among the indigenous people.
 
Any one coming from Portuguese held territory was prima facie seen as a spy or agent serving the interests of the Portuguese by the Dutch who were well aware of the machinations of the Portuguese keen to retake Ceylon which they had lost to the Dutch in 1658. The Portuguese writer Queroz gives expression to the lament of the Portuguese in losing Ceylon to the Dutch and how desperate they were in re-capturing Ceylon from the Dutch.
 

Portuguese Inquisition

In Portuguese controlled areas of Sri Lanka the practice of indigenous religions was forbidden. Buddhist temples, Hindu Kovils and Muslim Mosques destroyed. Buddhist monks were forced to flee to the Kandyan Kingdom leaving behind only Ganinanses (Buddhists wearing white cloth and practising Buddhism in secret and catering to fellow Buddhists to keep the faith alive). The Portuguese Inquisition in Ceylon was no different to that of the Goa Inquisition except that it has so far not been defined as such. But all the elements that go to establish the existence of such an Inquisition are there. We need historians with a spine and moral backbone to make these assertions.  Why should Portuguese confine their Inquisition only to Goa and not extend it to Sri Lanka is a question that has yet to be raised let alone be answered?


Joseph Vaz who renounced his Indian Hindu roots to embrace the religion of the conquerors of Goa i.e. Portuguese,  who put large numbers of both innocent Hindus and Muslims to death and conducted the infamous Goa Inquisition being a crime against inhumanity is unlikely to gain acceptance as a saint or hero by the vast majority of people in Sri Lanka so long as Portugal, the Vatican and Catholic Church dodge the issue of Portuguese colonial crimes including the burning of the magnificent Buddhist Temples at Kelaniya, Devundera, Wijebaha Pirivena at Thotagamuwa etc. and fail to provide an apology and pay adequate reparations.

As Anagarika Dharmapala said the overall aim of Christian missionaries was to make Buddhists ashamed of everything traditional that they had inherited and demonise the Buddhist religion and paint the Buddhist heritage as worthless. They rejected peaceful co-existence with other religions. They had the mind set of the Catholic Inquisition - embrace our faith and values or risk death. The genocide of the indigenous races in North and South America e.g. Aztecs, Mayas and Incas by the Spanish and Portuguese with the blessings of the Vatican and the Catholic Church stand out as ample proof of mass murder and crimes against humanity.

Both the Catholic Church and Western colonialism worked together hand in glove as they had common objectives. It is a gross insult to our people including our freedom fighters and valiant Kings who saved Sri Lanka from the Portuguese, Dutch and British to honour a Christian Missionary who supported the domination of Asian people by Christian powers.

The Govt of Sri Lanka has made a huge mistake in inviting the Pope to canonize Joseph Vaz who is no hero to either the Sinhala Buddhists, Tamil Hindus and Muslims who can find common cause in opposing this event. If there is anything that can unite these three communities it is the collective memory of a shared past of being victims of discrimination and persecution on religious grounds under the jack boot of colonial rule. The colonial rulers never respected human rights nor the rule of law. Colonialism by its very nature tramples these humanistic ideals. The underlying aims of plunder and exploitation of both natural and human resources in non - christian countries coupled with racism and use of brute force without any level of accountability has made Western colonialism to be treated as nothing more than a large scale criminal enterprise.
 

Such crime lasting nearly 450 years in Sri Lanka from 1505 - 1948 is compounded by the fact that nobody is prepared to own up and say to the people of this country ' We are sorry' for what our forbears did to your forbears. That is the most decent thing to do if there is any decency left in such people who lose no opportunity to lecture to us day after day unceasingly on Human Rights and what not. It is so hypocritical and laughable to say the least.
 

International law has largely been euro centric and even Christian centric and had readily promoted the idea of the ' Doctrine of Different Rights' instead of Universal Rights.This is true even today. K.M. Panikkar's book ' Asia and Western Domination' (1953) examines this proposition quite adequately. History when it is discomforting cannot be simply white washed or wished away. It will continue to haunt the perpetrators of both holocausts and crimes of lesser magnitude whether committed in north and south America, Africa, India or even Australia. Germany to its credit has accepted responsibility for its Nazi past and apologised and paid reparations to all those who were victims of Nazi rule during the period 1933 - 1945. This has set the precedent for other countries that indulged in not too dissimilar practices elsewhere to do likewise - apologise and pay compensation.
 

Pope's Visit

Is this really necessary? What is there for the vast majority of the people of this country who are not Christians?

It is nice to promote the idea of a multi-cultural and multi - religious Sri Lanka despite it still being a predominantly Buddhist country and an undisputed heir to an unique Buddhist Civilization that has lasted for nearly 2300 years. While Sri Lanka is always being pressed to accommodate other religions as part of Multi -culturalism and far more than we see in other counties in both the West and Middle East, do we have the right to ask for reciprocal recognition of Buddhism?
 

While Sri Lanka has given official recognition to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity with a number of public holidays to mark special events specific to these religions, only a very few non - Buddhist countries have afforded such recognition to Buddhism. Only two countries in Europe i.e. Russia and Austria have officially recognised Buddhism so far and Buddhism is unable to make further progress in gaining official recognition for itself in other European countries because of the opposition from the Vatican, Catholic and Christian churches which want a monopoly of the official status reserved only for Christianity. In most of the Middle Eastern countries Buddhism is not even recognised as a religion because it rejects the concept of God as its fount head.
 

WFB (2014) Conference in Baoji, China

 

Given this imbalance in global recognition for Buddhism and lack of reciprocity, it has led to a sense of despair in International Buddhist circles resulting in calls for the establishment of an inter - governmental Buddhist organisation such as a League of Buddhist Nations to be placed on par with OIC ( Organisation of Islamic Co - operation). It has also led to calls for China to assume the leadership of the Buddhist world being the country having the largest Buddhist population in the world and a continuing historical association with Buddhism lasting for nearly 2000 years. The grand World Fellowship of Buddhists Conference held in Baoji, Shaanxi Province recently organised by China carried an unmistakeable strong message to the world. The Chinese were saying in a subtle way - Buddhism is dear to us; we have benefited from it immensely in the past and continue to do so; it is an integral part of Chinese Civilization and Culture; we will protect it and promote it internationally. This was sweet music to our ears and all Buddhists wherever they are. Buddhism is now mainstream in China and it is rapidly growing in numbers.    

The rise of Asia in the 21st century will no longer be associated with economic might but also be coupled with enlightened thinking, moral values and sense of caring for others including other living beings in a charitable way as taught in the wise teachings of the Buddha. This is the vision of the Chinese leaders. India's Prime Minister Narendra Mody shares that view. Both want to see a new Asia that can stand on its feet with pride resourcefully and culturally. It is only Buddhism that can provide the historical basis for the cultural unity of Asia that will envelope the three Asian Giants namely China, India, and Japan and major nations such as Vietnam, Korea, Chinese Taipeh ( Taiwan), Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Laos, Bhutan, Mongolia among others.  


In such a context Sri Lanka must now decide on its moorings. Our foreign policy must be shaped to be more a part of Asia and give voice to its utterances. The colonial thinking that influences foreign policy initiatives must be replaced by bold thinking and bold thinkers with spine. We have given leadership to the cause of Buddhism in the past taking pride in its historic Buddhist identity. We have the right to be different despite profitable economic ties with countries that march to the beat of a different religious drum. Let them go their way and we go our way. This is what our people want to hear from our leaders. Sri Lanka is very much a part of Buddhist Asia. Let us not allow others to define who we are. It is our failing; our default in this respect that has led to people having allegiances to foreign sovereigns to define us.

Pope's game plan for Sri Lanka is a legitimate question

The decision to invite the Pope was done without any public consultation. The Pope is on record expressing his glee at the inroads his religion is making into traditional Buddhist space. Koreans are being trained at the behest of the Pope to visit Mongolia to convert Mongolians to Christianity. Therefore, what is his game plan for Sri Lanka becomes a legitimate question? 

The repercussions and negative fall out of this huge lapse in going ahead with the visit of the Pope who wants to spread Christianity in Asia, as part of a re-colonising strategy will be badly felt electorally in the forthcoming elections.The proposed celebration of the work of Christian Missionaries e.g. Joseph Vaz, then under the control and direction of the Portuguese in Goa ( in occupation of 17th century Goa) is as bad a mistake as the stupid proposal of a previous Prime Minister to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese entry to Sri Lanka.

 

Only in Sri Lanka do we find people celebrating our enslavement to western christian powers.
 

Senaka  Weeraratna


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