Lankan monk rejects Dalai Lama as spiritual leader

COLOMBO – Sri Lanka’s firebrand Buddhist monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara on Tuesday criticised the Dalai Lama for urging the island's Buddhists to halt violence against minority Muslims and rejected him as a global spiritual leader.

Gnanasara said the Dalai Lama was ignorant of the true situation in Sri Lanka and accused the Nobel Peace Prize winner of being a victim of extremist propaganda. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader earlier this month asked Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka to imagine an image of Buddha before committing any crimes against Muslims, in a plea to halt the violence.

"We don't accept the Dalai Lama as a world leader of Buddhists," Gnanasara told reporters. "He is a creation of the West. For them, he is to Buddhists what the Pope is to Catholics, but not for us." In Sri Lanka, hardline Buddhists have attacked dozens of shops, homes and mosques in violence against Muslims, whom they accuse of trying to divide the Buddhist-majority country.

The religious violence, the worst in decades, has left four people dead. It has been blamed on Gnanasara and his hardline group of monks called the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or Buddhist Force. Rights groups have compared Sri Lanka's Gnanasara to Myanmar's hardline monk Wirathu, who has been accused of fanning religious tensions in that country.

Some 250 people have died in Myanmar since fighting broke out in the state of Rakhine in 2012. Gnanasara said he had met Wirathu and described both of them as peaceful monks with “no blood on our hands.” He said his BBS had initially wanted to visit the Dalai Lama at his headquarters in northern India to encourage him to correct his perception of Sri Lanka's Buddhists, but later changed their mind.

"We felt there was no point," Gnanasara said. "We feel that he is already a victim of extremism." Sri Lanka's mostly moderate Buddhists hold the Dali Lama in high esteem. But successive Colombo governments have denied him a visa to visit pilgrimage sites in the island. Sri Lankan Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem warned last week that his government's failure to restrain militant monks would foment extremism and threaten national security.

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