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Commemoration of 71 years of unattained Buddhist wisdom in governance

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As a nation we have, while fighting to regain the national label of Buddhism, squabbling over wanting to have the ‘foremost place’ for Buddhism in the Constitution, planting Buddha statues in every other street corner, including places in the island where Buddhism is not practiced, successfully for 70 years fully eliminated the very essence of introspective thought that is needed to govern our minds, if we are to be called Buddhists – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

By a Special Correspondent

After 70 years of Sri Lankans ruling this country, has the process of reclaiming our national identity become but a carcass, a dead thing without wisdom? The answer for this was provided publicly by none other than President Maithripala Sirisena at the Independence Day function held on Monday.

The President admitted that: “We did not successfully achieve solutions for the ethnic issue or achieved economic victory.”

Verily, Mr. President, is it a mystery to you that we have not, when Sinhalese leaders who crave to be called Buddhist patriots have governed this country breaking every Buddhist precept; their governance replete with greed and delusion. Is this a country that need to be in debt? Did the British leave a country in debt? Is not the debt a careless and wicked creation by the Sri Lankan rulers for their own glorified benefit, caring tuppence that the citizens of this country have to pay blood money to clear the debt they got us into? 

As a nation we have, while fighting to regain the national label of Buddhism, squabbling over wanting to have the ‘foremost place’ for Buddhism in the Constitution, planting Buddha statues in every other street corner, including places in the island where Buddhism is not practiced, successfully for 70 years fully eliminated the very essence of introspective thought that is needed to govern our minds, if we are to be called Buddhists. The Middle Path, and not falling prey to extremism, even if that extremism is religious fervour, is what the Buddha, the Enlightened One, having strived arduously to reach that state, taught. 

Let us examine how far we have meandered from the equality that the Buddha taught

The Buddha stood against any kind of caste system that made one man more equal than others. But it is a well-known fact that the Sri Lankan Buddhist Nikayas are based on caste system. The Malwatta and Asgiriya chapters are known only to recruit monks from the Govi upper caste. As humans, the moment we enter this temporary vessel called the body, an ocean of follies engulfs us. Befitting Karma, we are born, to different families, poor or rich, to different religions, to diverse castes segregated by humans and the very first folly we do is attach ourselves with magnetic intensity to these identities as if we have pre-ordered them before birth. 

Buddhism considers each cycle of human life as a great opportunity to for mindful striving. Human life is seen as a boon bestowed by Karma to carefully monitor one’s action, to be considerate of all living beings, and strive to quell the phantom of desire until one is released from the bondage of birth and death. But marking 71 years of gaining independence from the British, we have to ask ourselves whether this what the rulers from the Sinhalese Buddhist majority race have done? Have they been considerate of all living beings in this small island?

In the Buddhist tradition, the act of mindful introspection; truly knowing oneself, is seen as the most laudable of all efforts at knowledge gathering. But as a nation have we strived at that? No we have not. We who call ourselves Sinhalese Buddhists have fallen hook, line and sinker to a set of people who in their ruling of this country insult the Lord Buddha day in and day out by their actions. 

Perfecting the art of turning post-colonial Sri Lanka to a cemetery 

Have we not, after the colonial rulers returned to their own homeland, made ours a cemetery, consistently? Was not the wrong attachment to an elusive karmically inherited identity, cunningly used by the new brown sahib leaders who caused a multi-pronged socio-ethnic inequality, and thus sent the island into a spin of unrest and bloodshed in 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983, 1987 and thereafter plunged the country into a vicious cycle of hate and counter hate? Have we in the past 70 years understood the most basic teachings of the Buddha that violence cannot be eradicated with violence and that the origin of any malady has to be addressed by a proper cure addressing the root cause?

Following freedom from the colonists, can we say that the great virtues of compassion and contemplation essential to the philosophy of Buddhism has been part of our governance? Did not Sri Lankan rulers over the years oppress and discriminate Sinhalese and Tamils and others in a manner similar to the British? Did not the arrogance of the Sinhalese regimes over the years grow in leaps and bounds as they focused on the husk of the Buddhist identity (the flag, the statues, the mention of Buddhism in the Constitution, the recitations, donning white and going to the temple with flowers) and not its pure kernel which is the striving for correct action. In doing so have we not thereby gathered amply the fruits of akusala; loba, dosa and moha? 

How many of us who practice Buddhism have taken the time to think on these lines during our Poya day reflections? In essence, have we not for 70 years been a most visible example of doing the opposite of what was taught by the Buddha? What is Buddhist in being reactionary when emotive issues rise in a country? After 30 years of reaping the bloodied carnage of war as a result of unwise policies and actions is there any hope of truly Buddhist leaders governing this country?

Let us look at the post-colonial language policy brought about by our Sinhala leaders 

What was wise in shifting to a language policy that trod over Tamil, the language of a segment of our fellow citizens? What was wise in not recognising that such a sudden elimination of English would create social chaos and force English educated Sri Lankans to leave their motherland, causing the brain drain in the country when it was really needed. Was not that policy brought about by a few who rose to elite positions by the very fact that they were educated in foreign universities in the English language, an universal language in the modern world that they were depriving those in rural areas from mastering in the same manner that they did? Was this done with the pure intention of elevating the status of Sinhalese? Or with the idea of preventing those especially in rural areas of getting similar global educational chances of the then brown Sahibs and thereby with this prevention, lay the foundation of having an easily malleable and gullible populace? And did the children of these new rulers who brought about these new policies study in Sinhalese, in Sri Lanka, in Sri Lankan universities? Going by the perennial wisdom of the Buddha, would not such short sighted non compassionate policies create tension in a country inhabited by Tamils, Muslims and Burghers whose mother tongue is not Sinhalese lived? 

Did the early rulers of the country or even the later ones install large scale actively productive translation centres, where world literature is translated to Sinhalese so that the minds of the Sinhalese would be stimulated with rich philosophies, thoughts, ideas and creativity flourishing in the rest of the world and thus eliminate narrow thinking (which is currently greatly benefitting the purpose of keeping a few people in power). To date there are brilliant Sinhala and Tamil creative writers who struggle incredibly to publish their work, with no proactive and consistent mechanism to encourage the proliferation of Sinhala or Tamil literature. If one turns on the radio or television one will find the Sinhala language is daily crucified by a generation who think it fashionable to speak broken Sinhala in strange accents. So much for the grand delusion of respecting Sinhala!

In contrast the short-sighted language policy we began post-colonial rule with has only helped English language-based elitism and English based class divide to thrive and this has created all kinds of warped thinking that is manifest in the ragging menace in Sri Lankan universities where student unions forbid rural students speaking in the ‘kadda’. A complete analysis of ragging in Sri Lanka will show whether we have instilled in our younger generation a Buddhist mindset or not. 

The shackling and fooling the mind 

To reiterate, Buddhism is a scientific and rational philosophy that liberates the minds. It liberates the mind from false beliefs, limitation, attachments and fear. It does not give power to people to shackle and fool the mind. In Sri Lanka, from 1948 to now, the Sinhalese leaders have been shackling and fooling their minds and those of their voters, by fighting to hold on to a ‘national identity that is ‘Buddhist’ and living out completely and absolutely non-Buddhist actions. What is Buddhist about a few human beings out of a population of twenty million holding on to centralised power and indulging in mind boggling corruption while at the same time offering flowers to statues of the Buddha for election campaign photographs? 

Unable to agree for 70 years over giving regional autonomy to the people of Sri Lanka have we ever looked at this problem of devolving power to the provinces of this country from the lens of true wisdom? Is this because we have become namesake Buddhists without any self-introspection passed onto us by our parents who are also part of this vicious cycle of non-contemplation. Let us think. Currently there is furore over a new constitution and ‘dividing the country.’ Have we as Sri Lankans properly thought this matter over. Without delusion. Without wrong attachments. Without fear. With the intention of loving kindness to all of the people of Sri Lanka? 

Have we noticed how poor the Sinhala majority provinces are and what terrible condition its schools are in? Why is this so? Is it not because of centralised power being in the hands of a few? Would this not change if autonomy of governance is given in actuality of practice and stronger intent to the provinces and improve the power of the people to handle their own affairs in a manner befitting the unique culture of each of these provinces, without allowing any ‘king’ or ‘queen’ born out of the so called democratic structure to lord it over the country and treat it as his or her personal property and its people as his or her serfs.

Akusala of post-colonial governance lacking in mindfulness

Even after three major Sinhalese and Tamil insurgencies in the country have we pondered about our enslavement to a few human beings, the politicians of Sri Lanka? Have not these politicians in this lifetime of theirs, endangered their karma (and ours) by not using correct action when needed in times of crisis but turned it to their own political advantage, causing fear and maya in the minds of the majority community? Was this not done so that they can get a majority of the votes by permanently keeping the fires of racism and false patriotism burning?

Greed is one of the biggest evils as seen by the Buddha. Where greed flourishes there can be no freedom. Greed is tied to akusala and dukkha and this is exactly what Sri Lanka has achieved with its non-Buddhism practicing leaders who in their grand delusion think of themselves as Buddhists. By its unwise governance the southern Sinhalese leaders have displayed absolute greed for power and have passed it on as patriotism. Southern leaders do not want to strengthen the hands of the southern provinces because thereby they lose their own centralised power. Because we are not a contemplating public we have allowed Sinhala leaders to foolishly make us believe that they oppose heightened provincial autonomy because it will create a separate state in the north and ‘divide the country.’ This is because we the Sinhalese, unlike the Tamils have been complacent not having our own regional autonomy. 

As for fears of separatism in the north, we have failed to recognise that the country was ‘divided’ anyway by way of ideology in early post-independent Ceylon because the then Sinhalese rulers intoxicated by the maya of newly-bestowed power wanted a ‘Sinhala’ country as opposed to a ‘humane’ country. 

In the current context where the debate over the new constitution gives ample opportunity for politicians to draw the veils of delusion thickly over a non-contemplative people, we do not, as encouraged by the Buddha, question. Buddhism is a philosophy that urges people to question, to search, re-search, and accept something only after complete objective analysis. Buddhism does not encourage herd mentality and blind faith in something just because a few politicians say it. To date, not a single Sinhala politician has encouraged the studying of the draft of the new constitution from the southern lens of empowerment of the south. 

Have politicians directed the search light towards themselves to realise how the existing constitution is violated openly especially with regard to language rights? When the current Constitution recognises Sinhala and Tamil as official languages, Government departments do not give importance to recruiting Tamil translators or sufficient officials who function in Tamil. A good example is that press releases by the Prime Minister’s Office are in Sinhala and sometimes rarely in English, with no Tamil version. An even better example is that currently Sinhala Police operates in the Tamil-majority north in Sinhalese. 

Commemorating 71 years of carefully-nurtured poverty 

President Sirisena bemoaned at the Independence Day celebrations that the country has failed for 70 years to find a solution to poverty. President Sirisena would agree that truly practicing Buddhists will strive to use only resources they need for a wholesome life and will realise that if they take more than they need, others will be deprived and thereby would not want to do so. 

President Sirisena would agree that poverty is not accidental. Poverty exists explicitly because of the greed of a few. Why is the State of Sri Lanka represented by a few politicians, hanging on to acres and acres of land (State-owned land in the country is said to be around 70%) while so many live in shanties and are illegal squatters? Can even a middle class person in Sri Lanka afford to easily buy land in a backdrop where bulk of their income goes to pay taxes?

To reiterate, poverty in Sri Lanka is not accidental. It is carefully nurtured. Because Sri Lankan politicians in their cunning have long realised that they can easily lure, coerce and brainwash a people when they are spiritually and monetarily poor. This is why schemes such as Samurdhi, meant to alleviate poverty, have become schemes of nurturing this poverty and nurturing the use of the poor by politicians for their election campaigns. There is no poverty alleviation scheme in Sri Lanka that has a clear way for people to get out of poverty and thereby not be enslaved to politicians. 

It would be recalled that when free education was introduced to Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan elite at that time objected, alarmed as to who will pluck the coconuts in their estates. It is this mentality that still reigns among the Lankan polity. To date politicians are alarmed at the rise of a truly educated, truly wise, truly compassionate people. Because of this our education system breeds many human memorising machines. These human machines mug some theories and pass out with flying colours but their minds are full of conceit, rhetoric, envy, hypocrisy and totally lacking in wisdom, empathy and humility, the qualities of a truly educated person as explained by the Buddha. We thereby have a population that is totally devoid of a spiritually-bent intellect that combines wisdom with knowledge for the purpose of putting this combination into practice.

If the Sinhalese politicians become a truly wise, thinking, compassionate set of humans, keen on educating themselves in practicing Buddhism in everyday thought and action, then there will be no poverty. Because they will not misuse their custodianship of State land (distribute among themselves and their henchman) and plunder, loot and heap taxation on people to cover a debt trap they got the people into, through thoughtless projects that do nothing for human development. 

Of death and living out a living death 

President Sirisena’s confession on Independence Day that Sri Lankan governments have failed to find a solution to poverty and a solution to the ethnic issue, comes on the heels of him openly expressing the bizarre wish to replicate in Sri Lanka, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s barbaric methods of controlling the drug menace. It is a known fact that Duterte’s methods have failed to eliminate the drug menace in the Philippines though the harsh anti-drug campaign has been on for more than two and a half years and around 5,000 to 12,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed. Many of those killed are thought to be innocent or small time users and dealers while the real bigwigs of the drug mafia not apprehended. Like in Sri Lanka Philippines is a country which have failed to battle poverty and there lies the crux of the drug issue.

It is best that President Sirisena meditates on the fact of WHY someone would use intoxicants of any nature. At a basic psychological level it is to escape reality. The rich need not escape reality. Those who have hope that they will be able to achieve their life’s purpose and lead a meaningful life need not escape reality. In a country where people feel that they are governed by a just and compassionate government there is no need to resort to escape reality. In such a country, land would be distributed to its populace so that every human being will have a decent home to live in. In such a country there will be an education system which teaches human beings to respect natural resources of this earth, to respect each other and to eschew envy and competition that is the hallmark of the current education system and instead to approach knowledge at its highest dimension where the spiritual and the intellectual co-exist in harmony in each mind. In such a country there will be no place for drug dealers or drug users. 

It is advisable that President Sirisena spends a couple of months visiting and living in the shanty areas of Sri Lanka and talks to families of those who use drugs and then ruminates on the origin of the problem. It will be far better than shooting off sporadic statements from his office or airplane. 

In its 71st year of post-colonial rule, may the majority Sinhalese strive to make Sri Lanka a country for all its inhabitants and cultivate the virtue of empathy. 

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