Monk Discourse Bill to be made law | Sunday Observer

Monk Discourse Bill to be made law

4 December, 2022

The Parliament recently approved the proposal to amend the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance and the drafting of the Theravada Bhikkhu Discourse Bill. It is now set to be made into law following the considerations of the Attorney General’s Department and on the agreement of all parties. The proposal was put forward by the Minister of Buddhasasana, religious and cultural affairs Vidura Wickremanayake. While the Buddhist Temporalities Act was enacted 91 years ago, the first attempt to amend it failed.

Sri Lanka is home to many ancient temples and shrines. During the rule of the Kings, acres of land were bestowed to these places of worship for their maintenance. There have also been incidents where certain bhikkhus have attempted to obtain ownership of these lands in greed.

Some were even successful in doing so. Certain outsiders also enjoyed the benefits of these lands resulting in the Maha Sangha facing many difficulties in managing these lands and properties.

It was to resolve these issues that the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance in its current form was introduced in 1931 by the British rulers of the country.

The act states “Around the year 1905, since the Buddhist temples and shrines have not received sufficient protection from the provisions of the Buddhist Temporalities Act, after deciding that it is advisable to arrange a management organisation system for such Buddhist temples and shrines to receive sufficient protection, with the advice and approval of the Legislative Council, the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance No. 19 of 1931 was brought forward by the Governor of Ceylon on June 26, 1931.”

According to the Commissioner General of Buddhist Affairs, Sunanda Kariyapperuma two main tasks are scheduled to take place in relation to the amendments. “One is the Buddhist Temporalities Act, Ordinance No.19 of 1931. This was enacted prior to Sri Lanka obtaining its independence. It has been 91 years since and has not been amended to suit modern times. For example, only simple things such as the title of Commissioner being renamed as Commissioner General or seeking the opinion of the Basnayake Nilame in a vote has changed.

First time

This will be the first time that many changes are introduced to the law. One major change will be that a law will be introduced to stop the loss of temple land due to illegal possession and so on. It will allow the Commissioner General to take over any temple land that is being utilised by another. The person using the land can challenge this in court and if he can prove it belongs to him he can claim ownership. If not it will be taken over or he can continue to use it subject to a tax,” he said.

Kariyapperuma said certain fines under the act have also not been revised. “For example, a bhikku was only allowed to retain Rs. 500 as savings in the bank. This will be amended to suit today’s day and age. The fine of appearing as a bhikkhu or samanera without having his name in the ordination list was Rs. 50. This will be increased to Rs. 10, 000” he said.

He said that while S. 23 allows bhikkhus to acquire and maintain private property or land, provisions such as this along with many others are yet under discussion and will soon come into law.

“The Theravada Bhiikhu Discourse Bill will register the discourse under the Buddha Sasana Ministry giving legal powers to act according to the discourses of each Buddhist sect in the country.

Then, in the event that any problem arises, by pointing out in the court that the discourse was acted upon, the discourse itself will be accepted. Even though the law says so, the accused party has the possibility to seek the help of the court in the event that it is stated that the decision was not given impartially considering both parties equally.

However, if the discourse has adhered to the same decision will be given. This will allow action to be taken against those carrying out various wrongful acts while in the guise of being a bhikkhu. Legal power will be granted to take action against such persons according to the discourse of the sect helping to maintain the discipline of the Maha Sangha,” he said.

Currently, Sri Lanka has an estimated 13, 000 temples while at least 40, 000 have been registered as bhikkhus.

Commenting on the proposed reforms, Ven. Narampanawe Ananda Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter said the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance must be amended to suit today’s day and age.

“However, today it is not only the Buddha Sasana that is in a crisis. The country’s culture, economy and politics are also in a crisis. There is a sense of chaos that we have not witnessed before. Therefore, given the situation, we are not able to believe the crisis within the Sasana can be rectified. If we consider the past, when a country sees a political decline, its economy, society, culture and religion follow suit.

Therefore, we do not approve the sudden decision to bring laws for bhikkhus without an understanding of these happenings. We cannot agree to this. There are many issues within the existing bhikkhu discourses. Each sect and chapter has passed discourses of its own.


When these are legalised, who will resolve the issues that crop up due to inter-discourse issues? For example, one sect might say a bhikkhu can engage in politics while another might hold a different view. One sect might approve of providing driving licences to bhikkhus while another might disagree. Therefore, legalising these discourses will create issues that could have been avoided,” he said.

Meanwhile, the secretary of the Sri Kalyani Samagri Dharma Maha Sangha Sabha, Amandoluwe Dhammaratana Thera said, that the forms should have taken place in a timely manner.

“This is not something that took place on a whim. The Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance was read end to end for many days. A Sangha Sabha bench consisting of the Maha Sangha of the three sects created these amendments after much discussion.

All were party to these discussions and the amendments were agreed upon collectively. The issue with earlier attempts was that a vastly different bill to that which was discussed with us was presented to parliament.

Therefore, even bhikkhus who discussed these previously disagreed with it. We hope that no changes will be made according to the whims and fancies of others. There were weaknesses in taking action against bhikkhus who entered monkhood and then carried out wrongful activities.

Sangha Sabha

Some used these weaknesses to carry out corrupt and fraudulent acts. Some don the robes and commit wrongs. Others pretend to be both a lay person and a bhikkhu to carry out wrong acts.

The Sangha Sabha nor the Police take any action regarding these in fear of human rights. If a person is representing a particular institution then they must adhere to its discipline.

It needs a strong background. That is how this bill was created. But there is no use if it is passed but not put into action. For example despite having laws to support if property of drug smugglers are not confiscated in Sri Lanka. We will not get the result we seek if it is kept aside after it is passed,” the Thera said.