By Sharmini Serasinghe
An established morality is as necessary as good government to the welfare of society. Societies disintegrate from within more frequently than they are broken up by external pressures – Judge Patrick Arthur Devlin
Given the manner in which this land is touted as the “Miracle of Asia” by some, living in a state of utopia, as well as branded and marketed as a Buddhist country, the cradle of Theravada Buddhism, first-time visitors to this land may be pardoned, if they expect to see, the majority of its citizenry claiming to be Buddhists, walking around with halos, over their heads.
The reality behind this facade of pious sobriety is, a much depraved society, manifesting all its ugly forms, making the stark absence of, an established morality in this country, obvious.
The seemingly ceaseless propensity towards moral degeneration is all around us today. Not a day goes by, without a murder, rape, child abuse, thuggery, drug abuse related offences, sexual harassment of women, antics of corrupt-to-the core politicians, journalists, the police and some in academia; medical, legal, education etc., being reported. Most even make it to the headlines.
Much like the clichéd ‘2,500-year-old culture’ of this land, which remains today as material ruins of ancient monuments and edifices; so is our moral culture; in ruins. Hence ‘culture’ as in refinement of the mind, morals and taste, is deafening in its absence.
In a society driven by greed for wealth and power at any cost, ‘culture’ in the moral sense, holds no water anymore. With once highly respected and revered professions, including medicine, legal, education, and the media today, infested with those, morally corrupt to the core, caught up in the trammels of materialism, where does one look to, for examples set by leaders, to be emulated?
The few of those who, still value and uphold all that is decent are, held hostage by a society of ceaseless depravity. Their voices are unheard and thus, are unable to turn the tide of the ever increasing permissive conditions, piling up all around us.
Is this what a Dhammadeepa (island of Buddhism) ought to be? Had the Noble One; the Buddha been buried, he may well be turning in his grave at what is going on in this supposedly “thrice blessed land”.
Take the example of the Fourth Estate. As one with 35 years’ experience in this once hallowed institution, I feel for, and lament the death of what many of us journalists prized the most; media ethics, the absence of which today is, a reminder day in and day out, of how things were.
I recall times, not too long ago, when only the refined and cultured, similar to politicians of yore, were drawn to the noble profession of journalism, unlike today. Financial benefits and remuneration, through this honourable profession, were nowhere close to their thoughts.
Back then, unlike today, to be a member of the erudite Fourth Estate was, an honour and a privilege. Journalists were respected, looked up to, and almost revered by the reading public. For, they upheld democracy and the responsibility of fair, unbiased, honest, accurate and accountable reporting and writing, while abiding by the sacrosanct media ethics. They required no formal grounding in such ethics either, as it was ingrained in their upbringing, education and psyche.
Unlike today, in those good old days, a professional Journalist wouldn’t dream of selling his/her soul for the ‘right price’, by availing themselves, not only to expose, but also to tarnish the image of others, and even cover-up or shield, the ugly and corrupt. The very thought of reducing the noble Fourth Estate to a level, which would make the world’s oldest profession appear respectable, was anathema to them, and hence, never crossed their minds, unlike today.
And, back then, unlike today, the venerated title of ‘Editor’ was reserved only, for the crème de la crème of the Fourth Estate, who encompassed all that, was cultured and honourable, in the profession; refinement of the mind, morals and taste. They never used the media they headed, to buttress their overinflated egos, or even stoop to such lows, as to use it as a weapon to be wielded, for personal vendetta, or even blackmail.
Today, journalism has become the ‘profession’ of any Tom, Dick and Harry, in search of a regular income, through good means or bad. Commitment to professionalism, maintaining ethics and standards are stark in their absence. And the handful of the few who continue to uphold ethics and morality of the profession of Journalism, are lost amidst a mélange of the other kind.
The free-for-all social media has today become the dumping ground for pieces of typing by outcast Journalists, rejected by the discerning mainstream media. Such websites and blogs operating with impunity, under the law of the jungle, promote racism and sexism ad nauseam.
It is incumbent upon the government, to take serious note of this brand of ‘cyber menace’, which goes against the very principles of good governance, and post-war peace and reconciliation.
Immoral men of religion
There was a time, not too long ago, when Buddhist monks were mendicants and only seen in public, begging for alms, unlike today. As a manifestation of their humility and piety, they also had clean shaven heads and faces, unlike some monks of today, who have short-cropped heads, and even sport 5 o’clock shadows.
Buddhist monks back then, unlike today, were endowed with wisdom, and were regarded as exemplars of those who embodied all that were moral and ethical. Such Buddhist monks who had renounced life of the laity, and committed themselves to a life of asterism, to pursue the path of the Dhamma, and to whom many of us turned to for guidance through their wisdom, are all but lost today.
Back then, Buddhist monks confined themselves to their respective temples, in pursuit of Nirvana. Today, many of them are politicians, their aspirants, and racist thugs. One is, even the President of the Public Service United Nurses Union; a highly female-dominated sphere, and is also, a minion of an ousted demagogue.
Many of these ‘men in robes’ are dime a dozen on Facebook, propositioning females, and aimlessly roaming the streets, with one hand clasping the latest version of mobile-phones to the ear, and the other, raising the robe to hasten their gait.
As to be expected, these ‘men in robes’ command no respect from the average man on the street and is hence, referred to as a ‘Sadhu Machang’ (holy/ascetic buddy). Of course all that is ‘holy’ or ‘ascetic’ about these Machangs is the ‘symbolic’ saffron robe they wear, and which they desecrate in the process.
If men of religion, fail to uphold ethics and morality, and live by example, who will? Alas, the voices of the good are drowned, by the raucous of the bad!
There are foreboding dark clouds hovering over Sri Lanka!