RELIGION AND MIGRATION OF SINHALA BUDDHISTS AND CHRISTIANS IN AND AROUND LONDON

The place of religion in the process of migration

 Sociologists have observed that the relationship between religion and migration is not random but integrally connected to many realities, which should be studied to gain a better understanding of the life and work of immigrants in the host countries. [1] For instance Warner clearly and directly has said,

Migration and religion are not mutually independent. [2]

In this it is necessary to look carefully into religions practised by the immigrants in their home countries and the religions followed by them after their migration to the host country in relation to the process of their integration within the host country. [3] Accordingly the content of this chapter examines the realities of both home and host countries in investigating the influences on Sinhala people in and around London. For this, apart from the research methods suggested in the methodology of research, the experiences of the researcher living with this group of people in Sri Lanka and also in and around London are recounted.

 Structured interviews revealed that, broadly speaking, the prominent and immediate reason for migration of Sinhala people (as for many other Asians, as mentioned by Warner) has been “in search of a better life”[4] with economic gain and the expectation of educational opportunities for their children in the UK. Apart from this the other reasons expressed by them were connected to unpleasant experiences faced in Sri Lanka due to tensions such as ethnic, religious and cultural, which are very common in Asia. [5] Also in general informal interviews it was found that some Sinhala people who came to the UK purely for studies or employment for a specific period of time decided to stay while there was civil unrest in Sri Lanka. For instance, the researcher was able to have discussions with three Sinhala families who have decided to stay on in this manner in 1989 due to a Sinhala youth uprising in the southern parts of Sri Lanka. However, generally all the immigrants have migrated with the expectation of living in peace and prosperity in the host country.

 It was clear that these immigrants, in the process of deciding the most suitable country for their migration and settlement, have taken their religions seriously. [6] Therefore they come within Warner’s generalisation that,

Religion is salient for immigrants. [7]

In structured and informal interviews both Sinhala Christians and Buddhists willingly indicated their awareness of the decisive functions played by their religions in the process of migration. [8] In this regard both Sinhala Christians and Buddhists expressed how and why they had to consider their religions important in the context of their primary objectives such as employment opportunities and better education opportunities for their children.

There were two cases of Sinhala Christian immigrants who felt that their religion was a primary factor directly connected to their migration. One lady (Ms. SC-2) said,

I have been brought up as an Anglican with Anglican values and attitudes in Sri Lanka. When I decided to migrate to give my children a better education, England became the first choice because we were Anglicans.

Where the choice of the country for migration was concerned this lady was certain that her migration with the family to the UK was very much determined by the fact that she and her family were born and bred as Anglicans in Sri Lanka. This was further confirmed by her intimate participation in the activities of the local Anglican Church, including playing the organ at her English parish church where she and her family are the only Asian or African immigrant members of the congregation. She often participates in these activities with her husband, who was the churchwarden in the parish two years ago. It was observed that the social life of this family is integrally connected to the local parish church. Before leaving their parents’ home for employment, their son and daughter, who are now in their late twenties, have also taken part in many activities of the church, such as the Youth Fellowship and Sunday School.

The other Sinhala Christian gentlemen Mr. SC-1, said,

My migration to the UK was directly connected to Christianity as my Amma (mother) came to this country on a scholarship from a Christian organisation. A few months after my mother’s arrival my father and I came to the UK and settled in this land. Today almost 30 years after of our arrival we are well settled in the UK. Very specially we take a leading role in Christian circles.

This was a clear case where religion was the primary factor in facilitating migration. Although cases if this kind are rare and do not show a strong pattern, they make an impact in the Christian church in the UK. These immigrants often function as bridges between Sri Lankan and English churches, enhancing better understanding between the communities. Therefore, in the analysis of religion and migration it is necessary to take such immigrants into account irrespective of their numerical strength. This fact could be supported by the participation of these immigrants in important church activities where they were the only church members other than the white British majority, making an effective contribution to the church’s work.

Two catholic immigrants respectively told the researcher how their religious leaders gave them support both before and after migration, giving them helpful information. This became special for them, as they believed it difficult to get this sort of information from ordinary people. Although they did not interpret this with a religious understanding such as that it was “God given” they gave the impression that it was something special in the context of their faith. They believe that their religion was important in supplying the encouragement and psychological support, which were decisive in making the arrangements for migration. Here it is necessary to note that both these respondents said that they don’t consider themselves as very religious people although they take active roles in religious activities. These were two clear cases where they said that they were more involved in religious activities in the host country than in the home country and had pleasant experiences of religion with migration. In this background they felt that they have become more “religious” in the host country than in the home country. Highlighting the importance of religion for migration in American society Helen Ebaugh has said,

When immigrants arrive here, the first place they go are the churches - that’s where fellow countrymen are and where their culture reproduces itself. [9]

This American observation gives the impression that the British results of this research are not random happenings but common with immigrants in the West.

Structured interviews revealed that one immigrant initially has migrated to a Middle Eastern country and subsequently has migrated to the UK. This Buddhist lady Ms. SB-1, who has worked in the Middle East, said,

Before I came to the UK I worked in one of the Middle Eastern countries and in that country I found it difficult to practise Buddhism. Therefore I did not want to settle there although I got a better salary in that country” “For me to have freedom to practise my religion and be accepted by others as a Buddhist is important. Although we need money to live, money is not everything.

According to her, she received a better salary in the Middle East than in the UK. Yet when the opportunity arose she decided to migrate to the UK to have better freedom to practise her religion - Buddhism. Later when asked about other reasons for her migration to the UK, she referred to the education of her son.

As this feature of migration appeared important, the snowball method was used to get more information about migrations of this kind, starting from this lady, to research this pattern of immigration. [10] This exercise revealed that the pattern of this lady’s migration was not an isolated happening: many others have followed this pattern. The researcher was able to have discussions with five of Sinhala Buddhist immigrants from Sri Lanka who have migrated following this pattern. It is important to note that these immigrants knew each other through an unstructured network strengthened by telephone calls, e-mails and occasional gatherings in a house of one of their members.

 All emphasised how their freedom was limited due to restrictions they had to face in Middle Eastern countries. They said that in some of these countries they were not allowed to possess an image of personal worship such as a statue or picture of the Lord Buddha. Further, they said that though the people in authority in Middle Eastern Countries at least make an effort to tolerate western Christianity, they hardly try to do the same for Buddhism or Hinduism. When the researcher requested them to give an example for this they said that for some western companies working in some Middle Eastern countries permission was given to have a Christian place of worship within the expatriate community but no facility of this nature is granted to Buddhists or Hindus. Through participant observation it was clear that this religious intolerance faced by them has become one of the main factors in bringing them together, to strengthen their faith and to gain solidarity among with others.

 Here, under the preview of this research, the most important factor to be noticed is the way in which religious freedom has become an integrated aspect of the total freedom expected by immigrants in the host country. This reveals that “the better way of life” of immigrants is not entirely determined by the best economic gain but that the aspects of religions are integrally associated with it as decisive factors.

 The researcher was able to meet Buddhists who were visited by Buddhist monks soon after their arrival in the UK. [11] This has mainly happened with information these monks got from their brother monks or other friends in Sri Lanka who were known to these immigrants. Here, usually before the arrival of the newcomers to the UK, three-way communication is carried out between a monk in Sri Lanka, a monk in the UK and the newcomers getting to know each other. On their arrival new immigrants in search of the society that they have left behind in the home country get a welcoming invitation from a monk resident in one of the temples in and around London to get involved in the activities of a temple. Naturally this gives the immigrants psychological support on their arrival in a religious atmosphere. This has created lasting impressions in the lives of these immigrants in the host country. As for many other Asian immigrants these kinds of activities have made Sinhala immigrants more religious or religiously involved in the host country. [12] Conforming to this pattern, when it was asked in a discussion how they got involved in their temple, one woman, SB-6, said,

 We were delighted by the way in which some monks in Sri Lanka and the UK arranged a temple for us to worship in the UK close to the area where we decided to settle. We were really overwhelmed by the surprise visit of the chief monk of the temple a few days after our arrival in the UK. This was particularly good for us to keep our children in the faith with the guidance of Buddhist monks. This first experience of Buddhism in the UK with the blessing of Sangha (Monk) made a lasting impression on Sri Lankan Buddhism practised in the UK.

 For immigrants from extended families, whose philosophy of the family is often tied up with religions, the religious philosophies of the extended family have become important in the process of migration. [13] This was visible in the Sinhala Christian and Buddhist immigrant community comprising the kith and kin of one extended family settled in East London. All the Christians of this community are Roman Catholics and come from a predominantly Sinhala Roman Catholic coastal area where 74.3% of the population are Roman Catholics. [14] Buddhists of this community come from various parts of Sri Lanka and are married to members of this Roman Catholic extended family. This extended family has been migrating to the UK during a period of about 20 years. As this family is comprised of both Buddhists and Christians they take part in the Sri Lankan Buddhist temple of the area and the British Roman Catholic church where they have chosen to worship. The first person to migrate from this community, who is a Christian, functions as the leader of this community and is supported by his wife who is a practising Buddhist in the UK. As there are number of mixed marriages in this community, they have taken both Christianity and Buddhism seriously as ways of life. When it was asked from the leader the way in which his extended family migrated, and the place of religion in their migration, he SC-3 said,

 After my arrival whenever there were opportunities such as employment for other members of the family to migrate, I made necessary arrangements for them to come. The fact that we are well settled in the local church and that we have Sri Lankan Buddhist temples in London helped their migration. The support and encouragement that we got from both temples and our church were very useful in handling many issues connected to the migration of my family. Here, where our cultural issues like language and practices are concerned the Sri Lankan temples support us. We don’t get this in the church where we worship in London. On the other hand our church helps us to handle UK practicalities such as getting introductions within the local community, to feel secure and become part and parcel of the local community.

 This statement shows that this extended family have used both Buddhism and Christianity in Sri Lanka and the UK to keep migration smoother for immigrants from their extended family. It appears that, in the process of migration, they have been keeping their Sri Lankan local realities alive through Buddhism while using Christianity to face the new realities on their arrival in the UK. When the researcher inquired whether they don’t feel any contradiction in taking part in both Buddhists and Christian activities the leaders of the community SC-3 said.

 Here there is no contradiction. Our Christians practise their faith in the Church and take part in the Buddhist temple for Sinhala cultural activities. On the other hand our Buddhists practise their faith in the Buddhist temple and are exposed to British culture by taking part in the activities of the local church. Also we believe we get blessings from both Buddhism and Christianity.

 Hence this shows that the main expectation of these immigrants “in search of a better life” is integrally connected to the religions they bring from the home country. Therefore in the process of migration the religions of these immigrants have functioned as a vehicle to carry their emotions and feelings from the home to host country, with facilitating effects on their migration. In this community it was important to notice that no one was directly or indirectly influenced to change their religions from Buddhism to Christianity or vice versa.

Migration and 19th century Buddhists revival in Sri Lanka

Williams and Warner show that with regard to the religions of immigrants, the Christian percentage is often higher in the host country than the home country. [15] Through this research it became evident that not only that the Christian percentage but also the percentage of immigrants with Western and Christian influence is higher than Sri Lankan traditional Buddhists. It was estimated that at least 90% of Sinhala Buddhist immigrants do not practise the rural Buddhism of traditional Sri Lankan villages, which is very little touched by western and Christian influences. Buddhists who are not of the traditional faith are those who have been living in the urban areas of Sri Lanka.

 Through structured interviews with six Sinhala Buddhists it became evident that the 19th century Buddhist revival was significant for all without any exception. They expressed their awareness of the effects and influences of this revival in home and host countries towards their migration to the UK. The result of the interviews clearly reveals that these Sinhala Buddhists have gained psychological strength through the Buddhist revival, helping them to adjust to western conditions. In this regard a Buddhist respondent, SB-3, made the following statement,

 I was fascinated to learn how some intellectual British people such as Rhys Davids were attracted to Buddhism and promoted Buddhism in the UK. I have realised that the knowledge of all those things affected my migration to the UK. Or in other words those things made the decision to migrate to the UK easier.

 The response of this Sinhala immigrant should be understood in the context of the contribution of the Buddhist revival towards the elimination of Anglophobia among traditional Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Prior to this revival, Buddhists associated the English language with false religion or mithya drsi with the interpretation that Christianity as a false religion. [16] The removal of this barrier between Buddhism and the English language was done mainly to counteract the British Christian missionary enterprise in Sri Lanka, which categorised Buddhism as a pagan religion that should be abolished. This Buddhist revival, instead of rejecting English language, adopted it to promote Buddhism both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

 To analyse this phenomena on the process of migration, farther discussions were held with Mr. SB-3 and like-minded Sinhala immigrants who are educated professionals such as medical doctors and engineers. Their responses along with the literature review on this subject give a clear picture on the influence of this feature on their migration. In another interview SB-6 commented,

 The contribution of the leaders of the 19th century Buddhist revival towards a better understanding of Buddhism in the western world has been remarkable. Along with the other western people interested in Buddhism, they were able to show the effectiveness of Buddhism in the modern world. With the rise of Darwinism in the western world some western academics realised the parallels between Darwinism and Buddhism. They were able to show that Buddhist philosophy is free from a creator God and that it is the most rational religion in the world. With these happenings in the west the leaders of the Buddhist revival in Sri Lanka worked tirelessly to popularise Buddhist thoughts in the West. The outcome of their efforts made Buddhism more acceptable and popular in the West, which in turn created a healthy background for the migration of Buddhists.

 This shows how the activities of the Buddhist revivalists became a factor of facilitation for the migration of Sinhala Buddhists to the UK. This was further strengthened by comments of the following nature by some Christian leaders.

In this regard Prof. Saunders (Literary secretary YMCA India, Burma and Ceylon) has observed,

 Lord Buddha could be very easily singled out as the one person known to man who received homage from the greatest number of mankind. [17]

 On the Biblical understanding of Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Bishop Milman has observed,

 I feel more and more that Sakyamuni is the nearest in character and effect to Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. [18]

 Literature review, participation observation and the structured and informal discussions with Sinhala immigrants have disclosed that the Buddhist revival of the 19th century began as a reaction to the Western Christian Missionary movements in Sri Lanka and resulted in a better understanding of Buddhism in the west, which gradually became a “pull” factor in the migration of Sinhala Buddhists to the UK.

 Western association of Christians and migration

 Structured interviews with six Sinhala Christians clearly indicate that the western association of their churches in Sri Lanka has played a significant role in their migration, making their migration smooth and pleasant. For example expressing the importance of the western association of her denomination for the migration, Ms. SC-2 said,

 As we arrived, the letter of introduction we brought from the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka was very helpful to introduce ourselves to the Anglican Church in the local area.

Mr. SC-3 and Mr SC-4 came out with the following statements respectively showing the support that they received from the local churches in Sri Lanka.

 Mr. SC-3 : Before I migrated, I got a lot of advice and information from a Roman Catholic priest known to me. This advice was very helpful.

 Mr. SC-4: When I wanted to migrate, priests and sisters supported me a lot. They gave me all the information they had. You can’t expect this from ordinary people. When one tries to migrate usually others are jealous and won’t give information. In this manner my religion really helped me to migrate by supplying necessary information. Also these religious leaders introduced me to Roman Catholic leaders in England, which was very useful when I arrived in the UK.

 The Sinhala Christian girl, Ms. SC-5, born in the UK, showing her knowledge of the assistance received by her parents for their migration, said,

 I have observed how religions have helped my parents to migrate to this country. In a way that was their only international link before arrival in the UK. For instance, the links that my parents church in Sri Lanka had with a church in the UK have helped them to get information about the UK.

It was apparent that some Christian immigrants from Sri Lanka treasure their association with western Christianity. In the process of migration these treasured associations have become useful for Sinhala Buddhists and Christians from Sri Lanka. In the following manner, one Christian lady (SC-2) expressed how her Anglican upbringing became one of the decisive factors of her migration to a predominantly white British area,

 Even before our arrival our main intention was to migrate to a white British area and to worship with British people in a British Anglican church. We wanted to bring up our children with Anglican values and to give them an Anglican education in the country where the Anglican Church originated.

Statements of this kind by some Christians from Sri Lanka show that the western association through Christianity enabled them to make a prominent impact in the host country and made other home country realities, such as the Sinhala language they brought with them, less important.

 Discussions with Sinhala Christian immigrants aged over 60 years made it evident that certain moves implemented by Sri Lankan governments after 1956 caused them to migrate to the UK, as observed by Saram,

 Although anti-Catholic sentiments have been expressed by Buddhist militants since the early 1950s, it was not until 1960 that these sentiments were translated by the SLFP[19] into official policy, largely for political reasons. Buddhist activists had long resented what they considered to be the unfair privileges enjoyed by Sri Lanka’s Catholics. [20]

 In this background Christians generally and urban Christians particularly have been affected by three events after independence in 1948. These events have become “pull factors” in migration for many urban Christians in Sri Lanka. The three events were the take-over of schools managed by Christian denominations by the government in 1961, tea estates taken over by the government in 1972 and the “Sinhala only act” of 1956, which made the lives of Christians in Sri Lanka uneasy and unpleasant. [21] With these changes many urban Christians were forced to give up their positions in society with the denial of the English language, which was their first language for generations under British rule. It was natural for them to look up to the UK with its Christian associations so they could regain the place in society that had been denied to them. Regarding this issue, in an interview a Sinhala Christian (SC-2) aged over 60 said, 

 When they (the Sri Lankan government) took over most of our (Church) schools we did not have enough schools to educate our children in the language (English) we were used to with our Christian background. When they forced us to do all the work in Sinhala, it became impossible as we were not at all used to working in Sinhala. Above all they simply forgot our contributions towards the development of our country. (Sri Lanka) People began to look at us, as though we were their enemies. In this condition, before we migrated, the only consolation we had was our church which gave us a glimpse of all the things taken away from us.

 This shows how through Christianity they were attracted to the western way of life, which in turn became a place of consolation when the “western colonial life” was taken away from them in Sri Lankan society. When they had to look for ways and means to reclaim their lost honour, migration to another country became one of the options. Commenting on this option SC-2 said,

 Since we were Christians and were familiar with British realities we decided that we should migrate to the UK. Also the fact that our generation had been serving the British Empire made our decision to migrate to the UK easier.

 This reveals how post-independent socio-cultural and political changes in Sri Lanka which had made everyday life difficult for the Christians brought them closer to their religion. Christianity and the western attitudes they were familiar with made their migration smoother to the UK. [22] This has increased the importance of their religion for these immigrants in the host country.