Often Sri Lanka has taken an isolated position when it appears in terms of building a society. This country and its whole political mechanism in recent days have taken a very narrow-minded path in thinking of a nation and its developing structure. It is absolutely an ideological crisis. “Society” in its whole phenomenon is a wide notion while “nation” becomes a very restricted and obstructive concept. What our focus must be on the transformation of the society but not on building a nation since. When we focus on the world as a system, it is apt to focus as system-philosophers. This idea is directly helpful in society-building, especially in contemporary Sri Lankan society.
An Asian paradigm
Rabindranath Tagore, as a thinker and a philosopher, never insisted and was promoted in building a nation; instead, he dealt in building a cultured society. He has thoroughly criticized the concept of building a nation. Accordingly, Tagore’s ideology was welcome by even Western culture because the Western culture had never thought in that regard. He always aimed at a noble society. What Tagore insisted on was a collective consciousness in the society that emerges through knowledge, values, and attitudes. When it is applied to our Sri Lankan context, we have failed to understand and work toward the development of society, instead, our communal effort has been restricted for mere nation-building. Such an effort is nothing but a mechanism geared in entire isolation. Dr. Sunil drew my attention toward an essential fact, in which he spoke of social behavior, cultural dimension, and structural dimension. In this concept what is visible is social behavior while cultural and structural dimensions are quite invisible.
We have failed to realize that the notion of caste never exists outside for any reason; it is a man-made concept and it completely exists within and among men and women. Caste division as such or rather caste struggle does not exist outside as a force to mislead people. I guess, words of Jesus are perfectly relevant to read in between the lines: “do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine. But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles.” All types of caste struggles are nothing, but our behavior that is being acted willingly, consciously, voluntarily.
Dr. Sunil brought another excellent idea connecting the efforts of North and South in the Sri Lankan context. In Jaffna, there had been Youth Jaffna Congress which attempted to create a better Sri Lankan society. Since it was a left-wing ideological effort, the whole mechanism was demolished in 1934 by the Southern majority. However, this Jaffna congress was in contact with Southern youths for their primary mission. In South, Munidasa Kumaratunga, as a veteran Sinhala scholar had expressed his deep sense of ideology in criticizing caste and its divisions primarily promoting social systems or the development of a society. Hence, he was also thoroughly critical of the feudal Buddhist type of behavior. Unfortunately, Kumarathunga’s balanced ideology was vehemently rejected by some nationalists and never allowed his articles to be published in national forums. Whereas, people in this country ran after Anagarika Dharmapala whose Buddhist-revival idea caused nationalism or the wrong turn of this country toward the ideology “nation-building.” What Anagarika Dharmapala brought is nothing but the face of nationalism. Later in 1956, the Sinhala-only-bill was a result of this nation-building ideology, and it has offered us several damages.
If Sri Lanka had followed or rather fixed in the philosophical path of Tagore and contextual writings of Munidasa Kumaratunga, this land would have taken a better turn toward a building of society. In this country, many other thinkers were blocked due to their caste, or their genuine and scholarly efforts were not given the right place.
To get rid national crisis in this country, my immediate suggestion is to change the lion symbol from the national flag. Munidasa Kumaratunga had given the image of the sun for the national flag since it is very common in any religious ground as well as culture. If we had taken the sun as a symbol, we would have surely taken a different and good direction. In choosing a lion symbol for the national flag, we have created unending structural errors in this country. In other words, most of the citizens in this country have been given the wrong dose to heal the problem of nationalism.
Many say that there is no way to change the destructive set up in this country, especially in the case of nationalism. My whole argument here is that what is the use of working hard to build a nation? Isn’t it similar to the building of a powerful mechanism to promote Buddhism? Buddha never wanted such type of mechanism for Buddhism. What exists as a nation outside the world does not require any type of effort of building or a renewal. However, a wrong mechanism has been set up due to power, prestige, authority, superiority, and so forth. Sri Lanka and its cultural atmosphere does not fall in line with a lion symbol or image of a lion since it does not provide a true cultural outlook. A sun-symbol promoted by Kumaratunga is more religiously and culturally relevant, and even meaningful to use as an image for collective consciousness. Since Sinhalese used lion-symbol for nation-building, the LTTE movement turned toward tiger-symbol for their counter-terrorism. What happened afterward is not a necessary discussion anymore I suppose.
Dr. Sunil firmly believes that education, art, religion, and media are the four pillars that build a better society, especially the primary guiding force in this country. Those who have or who can significantly rely on these pillars can create a beautiful space for society-building. It, therefore, automatically becomes a collective consciousness. In other words, it requires a new paradigm or a conscientization. This is a good world system, in which we could think and turn the old into a new with genuine efforts: within which a better world system emerges. The prevailing system has left malnutrition, violence, militarization, illiteracy, political prisoners, poor health condition, economic domination, gender crisis, and so forth. This implies a new world order, an order in which equality exists toward an equal society with justice and peace. Sri Lanka, therefore, must be a part of building this new order within the premises of society-building. Attitudes of nation-building and its wrong structural errors are to be immediately eliminated.
 Mark: 7: 18-20.
 Tissa Balasuriya, Planetary Theology (New York: Orbis Books, 1984), p. 80-95.
*This article is a development with some of my ideas of a short lecture delivered by Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena, Organized by Agiamondo [a German organization]
**Rehan Fernando is a Ph.D. student, doing his research on inter-religious dialogue with a case study of Dr. Michael Rodrigo OMI. He is also the author of 4 Sinhala books and 3 English books. He is also the editor of a journal called “Paadhai.”