1 March, 2024


An Exemplary Leader & Global Icon 

By Ven. Horowpothane Sathindriya Thera

Ven. Horowpothane Sathindriya Thera

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Above mentioned words of President Abraham Lincoln distinctly inculcate us with the sense of true character of the leader.

“You can’t build a united nation on the basis of revenge”

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I did not leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

These impressive and astounding words of President Nelson Mandela still are resounding and resonating in this universe.

Late Mr. Nelson Mandela was a well-known human being, widely considered a charismatic, and a prominent political leader who, epitomized and embodied, as a right honourable people’s hero and saviour, not by words but by deeds, in our human history.


He was considered “the father of nation” and “the founding father of democracy” in South Africa. Outside of South Africa he was a “Global Icon,” one of the South African scholars, Rita Barnard describing him as “one of the most revered figures of our time”. Some says, “a universal symbol of social justice”.

Now multitudes of people respect him and very impressively admire his authentic character which graciously and impartially rendered to people in South Africa. He was the only leader respected by millions of  global citizens , not because of the president of South Africa but because of his inner qualities which current leaders horrendously lack.

Not by words or writings but by practice he genuinely disclosed his remarkable and honourable inner qualities such as kindness, compassion, equanimity, altruism, selflessness and  many more.

Even though he sacrificed and dedicated his life and energy for 27 years in prison with unbearable torture, bitterness, distress and tribulation he did not take revenge from anyone who inflicted upon him.

One of the following unimaginable stories mesmerizingly authenticates and corroborates his true inner disposition and genuine temperament that currently we are doubtful and distinctly dubious to find such a person in the domain of political leaders today.

“After I became president, I asked one day 

some members of my close protection to stroll with me in the city, have lunch at one of its restaurants. 

We sat in one of the downtown restaurants and all of us asked for some sort of food. 

After a while, the waiter brought us our requests, I noticed that there is someone sitting in front of my table waiting for food. 

I told then one of the soldiers: 

Go and ask that person to join us with his food and eat with us. The soldier went and asked the man, so the man brought up his food and sat by my side as I asked and began to eat. His hands were trembling constantly until everyone had finished their food and the man went.

The soldier said to me: the man was apparently quite sick. His hands trembled as he ate!!

“No, not at all,” said Mandela. “This man was the guard of the prison where I was jailed. Often, after the torture I was subjected to, I used to scream and ask for a little water. The very same man used to come every time and urinate on my head instead” ….

so, I found him scared, trembling, expecting me to reciprocate now, at least in the same way, either by torturing him or imprisoning him as I am now the President of the State of South Africa.

But this is not my character nor part of my ethics.

The mentality of retaliation destroys states while the mentality of tolerance builds Nations.”

He did not repeatedly contest for elections and stayed in power till his last breath. Even though our so-called political leaders boast about Mr. Nelson Mandela and dreaming of becoming a duplicate Mandela, unfortunately they disrespect and disparage his hardly earned reputation and worthy character.

As a man of principle and an honourable leader he handed over his executive power to his deputy  by giving a candle light at the prison cell where was incarcerated for nearly three decades and graciously he walked away as a ordinary citizen that our current leaders have failed to do.  Even though  our political leaders who deliver innumerable sermons and lectures of democracy, slogan of Nation Building and Paving the Way to Future Leadership for our future or young generation, they never leave the power, leadership and open the way for others except their family members till they depart from this world. 

It is very rare to find such a dignified and eminent leader in this planet today.

If any political leader could implant such qualities which Mr. Mandela pragmatically proved, that would be enough for global citizens rather building and  erecting Mr. Mandela’s statues in many lands in this world. I believe that even these so-called leaders have not read Mr. Mandela’s autobiographies and biographies to grasp his innermost qualities and leadership qualities before they utter a word about this honourable leader.

He was not a born Buddhist and was not born in a country where majority are Buddhists but pragmatically, he followed it. His behaviour, deportment and demeanour were appreciated and paraphrased by many world leaders and scholars in Western and European regions in the globe.

In terms of tolerance, patience, endurance, forbearance, forgiveness, giving up and many more spiritual qualities late Mr. Nelson Mandela was a Bodhisatta.

I would like to quote from one of his letters which has been written to his wife when he was in a prison cell. This letter discloses his true inner nature and legitimate evidence of his true character.

“. . . the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings. In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education. 

These are, of course, important in measuring one’s success in material matters and it is perfectly understandable if many people exert themselves mainly to achieve all these. 

But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.

 Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. At least, if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct, to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you. Regular meditation, say about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be very fruitful in this regard. You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative features in your life, but the 10th attempt may yield rich rewards. 

Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.”

His honest purpose and sincere motivation to be a leader and head of state was completely divergent to present-day so-called leaders, therefore it remains as unique and unexampled.

As a leader, South African President Nelson Mandela demonstrated remarkable leadership qualities, including advocacy for peace, powerful presence that disarmed enemies with his smile, high level of forgiveness, positive thinking, ability to see the big picture, focus on goals and missions beyond himself.

Our so- called leaders and their henchmen are in battle and struggling to grab citizen’s votes by cheating, assassinating reputable individuals’ characters, making unimaginable promises and telling lies, while they are characterizing and describing them as Buddhists.

Numerous promises and assurances are overwhelmingly inundated and overflowed everywhere in the country now. Unfortunately, most citizens are innocents and gullible to trust these scoundrels and rogues.

“Scholars and well-educated people should be in the assembly of the legislature” is the most popular and frequently roaming phrase and expression in our atmosphere and surroundings during this period in Sri Lanka, but when you concentrate on some candidates, it is disgraceful and despicable.

Once Mark Twain said thus:

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” 

Well known political activist and writer, Emma Goldman has said thus: “Politicians promise you heaven before election and give you hell after.”

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Latest comments

  • 12

    Ven. Horowpothane Sathindriya Thera, Hon. Sir, Even with you in our midst if we don’t get to have a decent country, when will we.

  • 9

    Dear Honourable Ven. Horowpothane Sathindriya Thera,

    I appreciate your thoughts and writings. I don’t think any of our Magasangha relegious leadership or political leadership is capable of understanding those characteristics of the Nelson Mandela. That is why this beautiful island is now filled with blood in every cornor of this island since the Buddhism brought into politics.

    • 7

      The Venerable Thera heaps praise on Nelson Mandela , deservedly.
      But the Thera has adroitly or otherwise avoided mentioning the core issue that Mandela was fighting – racism. This is the core of the problem in the Thera’s own country.
      Dear Sathindriya Thera, why not become the first Sinhala Buddhist monk to condemn racism in Sri Lanka? It would give you that much more credibility.

  • 11

    Sri Lankan politicians are different.
    They will be nice and sweet until they get the votes.
    Once in power they will urinate all over the voters

  • 10

    Did we ever think: Why we “DON’T HAVE A NELSON MANDELA:? That Nelson Mandela was NEVER a “Corrupt Leader” during his political career. He had only a “MISSION” to accomplish and that was to END “Apartheid”. Towards sailing that goal, he never got engaged in collecting the wealth of any sort for him, his family, or team. In contrast, all such “Political Leaders” and their “Followers” in Sri Lanka were directed in collecting wealth by any means for themselves, families, and cohorts. As a result, all of our “Politicians” were compelled to be in power to “Protect” themselves and their “Gangs”. This is the very reason why we continue to have the same old faces, even at ripe old age, fighting to capture “Power” mostly be misleading the gullible voters, with promises of heaven and earth. As long as this “CULTURE” continues, we will NEVER have or in the least even THINK of a “Nelson Mandela” been born in this country.

  • 9

    Ven. Horowpothane Sathindriya Thera – Nelson Mandela? Abraham Lincoln?
    who said Sri Lanka need a Hitler. ? for more blood letting?
    Sri Lanka is described as tear drop of the Indian ocean.
    more like blood drop of the Indian Ocean

  • 5

    Dear Venerable Thero,
    An extremely appropriate message as we reach ‘Nelson Mandela International Day’, this Saturday, July the 18th. Thank you.

    No matter how small one’s action, ‘Mandela Day’ is about changing the world for the better, just as Nelson Mandela did every day. This year UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivers the 18th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at 9:00 a.m. EDT on 18 July, on the topic – Tackling Inequality: A New Social Contract for a New Era. Great if you could listen to.

    I would also like readers to listen to this song ‘Mandela The Madiba’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwLiQdY0428), which was done five years ago, to mark the 13th ‘Mandela Day’ in Melbourne and the birth of Amayah, our first grandchild.

  • 6

    Ajith, why Mahasangha , when allowed , even learned people here in CT have come up with negative aspects of such great people. In the current world , I doubt we will ever see a leader of such calibre. There may be so much of positiveness and few issues such people may have, and it depends on people , to pick what they want and learn from such great personalities.

  • 4

    Hon Sir, every word you stated including quotations from Nelson Mandela is a gem,

    Wisdom indeed!

    What we need, Whether scholars or not whether educated or not are leaders with wisdom !

  • 8

    In a most captivating note, Ven. Horowpothane Sathindriya Thera describes Nelson Mandela in words that are very appropriate, “Exemplary Leader and Global Icon”. The Thera himself seems a personage, transfigured adequately to use such language. Not merely has he brought out the best in the subject but drawn on the finest values and sentiments expressed by a great leader. At this juncture the principles are needed by this country.

    Not citing anything from the thoughts of his religious persuasion, he has engaged in ethics and morals which are needed at an election. With no condemnation of men in public life he calls for their transformation. Sure the readership will appreciate.

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