By W A Wijewardena –
Child’s guide to Ranilnomics: Part III
Aseni, whiz kid of economics, and her grandfather, Sarath Mahatthaya, are in conversation about economics of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, tagged Ranilnomics. In this episode, they talk about how the principles laid down by the Buddha as Lichchavi good governance principles can be incorporated in his economic policy.
Aseni: Grandpa, President Ranil Wickremesinghe is famous for quoting the Buddha whenever he makes a public address. In his address to Parliament in early August, he ended it with a quotation from the Buddha urging Parliamentarians to be a light to themselves. In a statement issued on the 2022 Vesak Day, he, as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister, called for using Buddha’s teachings practically to liberate the country of uncertainty.
Earlier in 2015, addressing the Japanese Parliament, National Diet, recalling how JR Jayewardene quoted from the Dhammapada in San Francisco Japan Peace Treaty that hatred does not end hatred, he ended his address with a quotation from the Buddha that even when thousands candles are lit with a single candle, its life does not get shortened. There are many more such instances. But has he taken the Buddha’s wisdom on governance and economy into his policies?
Sarath: Unfortunately, no. That is not a fault of Ranil because the economic policies pursued by modern governments do not reckon those prescribed by the Buddha. Hence, he may quote the Buddha, but when it comes to practical application of the Buddha’s teachings, his policymakers do not make Buddha’s economic prescriptions. But it does not mean that the Buddha has not spoken of the economy and economic policies.
Aseni: But Ranil has been making public statements that he will be emulating the governance principles followed by the Lichchavi Clan, a kingdom made up of individual republics. Doesn’t it mean that he could still implement those economic principles if he wants to do it?
Sarath: Yes, he is noted for making those statements. Lichchavi’s is just one of the eight republics of the confederation of the republics known as Vajji. Hence, it is more relevant to call the principles pronounced by Ranil as The Seven Principles of Non-decay practiced by Lichchavi Clan, called Sapta Aparihani Dhamma, practiced by Vajjis. These principles have been well explained by the Buddha to Elder Ananda in the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta.
As I told you, Vajjis are rulers of a system of republics and, therefore, in modern terminology, the head of the republic can be called the President. He just presided over the meetings of Vajjis and did not have powers which other members did not have. Therefore, he is one among equals. The Sapta Aparihani Dhamma which they practiced are in fact good principles of governance which Ranil can practice as he has pronounced many times. If all the people follow these principles, there is no need for a constitution to safeguard the rights of the people. Hence, it is in the interest of the country if he chooses to practice them upholding its spirit.
Aseni: What’re those principles, Grandpa?
Sarath: They can be called the great principles of governance practiced by the great rulers at the time of the Buddha.
The first principle is that the ruling clan should have frequent well-attended meetings to discuss and make decisions relating to the affairs of the state. The second one says that they assemble peacefully at those meetings and disperse also peacefully once the decisions have been made conducting their business of governance in concord or amicably. What this means is that there is no room for discord or fighting. But for people to behave in concord, the President of the Republic should recognise and appreciate what his critics will say and extend to them a hand of peace. If he tries to punish them, it will breed discord and lead to decay.
This was the common wisdom which people held in ancient India. For instance, as quoted by Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda drawing on Greek historian Plutarch, when Alexander, the Great, visited an Indian Sage called Dandamis in Taxila, he asked the Sage to resolve several riddles. One of these riddles was ‘how one can make oneself loved and respected’? The answer given by Dandamis was straight and well-revealing. He had said, that if you have enormous powers but if you do not inflict fear in others, then, you are loved and respected. It is said that this answer had changed the life of the young military campaigner.
He had questioned himself what he was attaining by inflicting fear in other people, not-loved and not-respected, but condemned outrightly. He had changed his military campaign and started his return journey to Greece after taking Dandamis as his advisor. On the way back, Dandamis had died followed by the death of Alexander. But this is a good example for any ruler who thinks that he can survive by inflicting fear in others. He will not only lose his kingdom but also love and respect of citizens. Not even the most brutal dictator can survive without love and respect.
Aseni: That’s wonderful. What Dandamis had told Alexander, the Great are applicable to any ruler or even the head of a family. They’re universal and valid for all times. Then, what’re the other principles, Grandpa
Sarath: The third principle relates to laws. The Vajjis had never abolished old laws and enacted new laws arbitrarily. They had always followed the old customs. In the present day, laws are arbitrarily enacted abolishing existing ones leading to much chaos in society. Just look at Sri Lanka’s constitution. How many times has it been amended arbitrarily? Still there is no solution because it has been done without thinking just to suit the people in power. That has been the main source of the present economic and political calamity in Sri Lanka.
The fourth principle is different from the above and it talks about the respect which one should have for elders. The Vajjis had been showing respect, honour, esteem, and veneration toward their elders and also considered it worthwhile to listen to them. An elder in ancient India meant not elderly by age but by a lot of experience, maturity and wisdom. Good governance requires people to make decisions in consultation with others, especially those who are wise and erudite. The Indian Guru Kautilya who wrote The Arthashastra 300 years after the Buddha had advised the king that he should seek the opinions of advisors together and individually because each person may have a different opinion. He also laid down the condition that advisors should not give advice that only pleases the king; even if the king does not like a particular piece of advice but giving that advice will be in the interest of the king or the country, he should give that advice to the king.
But to make this effective, the king should have humility to listen to others who may give wise advice though it may not please his ego.
Aseni: What it means is that it is in the interest of a king to be associated with people who will speak the truth even when the king does not like it. That is a good principle of governance. What are the other principles which Lichchavi had been following?
Sarath: The fifth one is about the use of the powers of the rulers to harm others. This has been presented as the need for refraining from causing harm to women, the defenceless in Indian society during the Buddha’s time. The principle says that the Vajjis had refrained themselves from abducting women and maidens of good families and from detaining them. Though women are specifically mentioned here because of the specific conditions in ancient India, it should be made applicable to all citizens in a republic. As the Buddha had preached, Vajjis had been progressing and not decaying because they refrained themselves from unlawful detentions.
Kautilya further elaborated this in the case of a monarch in The Arthashastra. He said that, I quote, a king who observes his duty of protecting his people justly, according to law, goes to heaven, unlike one who does not protect his people or inflicts unjust punishments, the quote ends. Here, the reference to ‘his people’ mean all the people in the kingdom and not a select group. Kautilya further says that the king who flouts this requirement will ruin his kingdom by his own injustice. This is a principle which many rulers tend to forget once they are in power. But its consequences are catastrophic to the whole country.
Aseni: I see that these ancient laws of justice are equally valid for today. What are the other principles that were followed by Vajjis?
Sarath: The sixth one is concerned with the need for respecting different faiths and places of worship. The Vajjis had been showing respect, honour, esteem, and veneration toward their shrines and should continue to make the offerings to them as had been practices in the past. The seventh one is about the need for protecting the religious leaders whether they have been living in the state or not. The observation of these seven principles of good governance helps a ruler to inculcate discipline in himself as well as in those who are around him. It is a must for the progress of a nation.
Aseni: True. What this means is that President Ranil Wickremesinghe should incorporate these seven principles in his good governance code. But it is also important that all his ministers, state ministers, parliamentarians and senior officials should be made aware of them.
Sarath: True. Not only should they learn of them. They should also practice them not as a duty but in the true spirit of good disciples. This is because it is easy to preach about good practices, but it is difficult to make it a part of one’s life. This is the more difficult challenge faced by him. If he fails in this venture, his policies will also fail.
Aseni: I agree. He is like an acrobat walking on a tightrope. The economic crisis in the country is so acute today that it is like a time bomb ticking every second. Time is running out for him. But still, he cannot ignore the establishment of a good governance regime in the country. That is because good governance and acting in concord with all those in society, whether they are friends or foes, is the foundation for a sustained growth in the country. I think if we fail today, we will fail forever, Grandpa.
Sarath: Yes, good governance is the foundation of sustained and quality growth of a country. It enables a country to make all the citizens owners of economic policy, just like those in the republics run by Lichchavi. When they become policy owners, they also become equal sharers of the output that is being made by adopting those policies. But there are three other governance requirements that should be adopted. Without them, just following Vajji principles won’t do.
Aseni: What are they, Grandpa?
Sarath: They have been the focus of attention by the international community today. You might say that the international community does not matter because we are a sovereign country. But true sovereignty can be enjoyed by Sri Lankans if and only if Sri Lanka is doing well in economic terms. Since Sri Lanka is bankrupt in every respect, we have been driven to the state of beggars and everyone knows that beggars are not choosers. Hence, those scriptures passed by the international community cannot be ignored anymore.
One such scripture is that Sri Lanka should honour human rights when dealing with citizens. Another is that Sri Lanka should observe the rule of law, that is, it should apply laws equally to all the citizens. The third is that Sri Lanka should establish an effective mechanism for the eradication of waste, bribery, and corruption. These three pillars are essential pillars of any good governance regime. We can ask the international community to mind their own business. We do not have that luxury anymore because we are dependent on the handouts to be passed by them. If these handouts dry out, Sri Lanka will be a nation of the dead. Hence, these are serious matters that should be a part and parcel of Ranilnomics.
Aseni: Thanks, Grandpa. I have a good learning outcome today. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been pronouncing again and again that he is following the Lichchavi principles of good governance. But they should more appropriately be called Vajji principles. It is a good strategy because if he can follow them, Sri Lanka will be able to build a nation of concord, appreciating and respecting each other. But that should not be limited only to a pronouncement. It should be acted on by incorporating them to his policy and then getting all those ministers, state ministers, parliamentarians, and senior officers supporting him on board. Though it is difficult, it is not impossible if he first sets an example by practicing them. But without them, Sri Lanka cannot think of attaining a sustainable and quality economic growth.
*The writer, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
old codger / September 19, 2022
I do hope Dr.WAW isn’t insinuating that RW is the latest incarnation of the Buddha. That might cause severe depression among some of our CT fraternity.
SJ / September 19, 2022
That is naughty.
You are using unfair suggestions to persuade people read the whole text.
old codger / September 24, 2022
“You are using unfair suggestions to persuade people read the whole text.”
The suggestion obviously hasn’t worked, as you can see from CTs second most voluble commenter’s ramble.
Mallaiyuran / September 20, 2022
Dr.WAW, unlike some other times he does when he gets kicks to sell Buddhisnomics, attacks the LTTE, this time he stayed exclusively in Evil Ranil’s Satanomics. Only difference is in this essay he upgraded the child Aseni from High School finalist to 8th grade starter. These days even the Bald Heads might have some useful business deals to be engaged in, but the central bank assistance governor Dr. WAW lost the course. Absolutely a good propaganda to get some foolish mothers to have their children’s heads shaved and lock them-in in the bell-shaped prison dungeons. Last week alone, love triangle shooting, kidnapping, and seizing multi million rupees propertiesfello monk, embezzlement of temple properties, sex tortures on children on their back side……….. Surprise is these bawdy house equivalents are not paying the electricity bills, water bills for the government. Parliament Speaker wants to introduce a special bill to exempt these criminal houses from bill payment. So, burn the free light the entire night and play “Keechu Machu Thambalam, Keya Maya Thambalam; Machchu Machchu Thamblam Maya Maya Thambalam”; the kids’ game! This is how the Ceylon Communists were fooling the Modaya crews with Marx Religion. Communists’ hooliganism stopped only when history hit on Pakkaya, the Communist Vasu. Buddha, please save the smart child Aseni from these Buddhisnomics brainwashes. Did Buddha teach austerity or stinky rich liberal economics?
RBH59 / September 20, 2022
Budhaha has is with light always, but ranil has place light to mind and give light to his heart and to show light to people.and the blessing of Buddha.
Gus / September 22, 2022
Them sinhala saffron rogued criminals, racists and leaders of atrocities against minorities, live in the lap of luxury with cars, facilities provided by the bankrupt beggar thieving sinhala governments. while them sinhala are now having difficulty in one meal a day!
Mallaiyuran / September 22, 2022
Sinhala Intellectual creating imaginary smart students and creative writing in economics and Buddhism. The reality is, there was a girl, a student monitor, who went to school packing coconut chips- slices for lunch. The Sinhala Intellectuals do not write dialogues with that type of reality. That is not all that is happening in Langkang currently. That is just one I picked randomly and appeared in the Colombo Media. Immediately, Evil Emperor’s office denied that news piece as it is only Zero casualty and nothing like ever happened. Appe Aanduwa who argued that during the war that only Zero Casualty took place is insisting that they are about to carry out a local inquiry for the 150,000 missing Tamils and UNHRC should stay out of it. If it is only then why a local inquiry? China, America & India have given free food for school children. This child’s case is above all that. But the rice imported by the government is of mediocre quality, allocated to animal food. The produce imported to make thriposha, a nutritional supplement food for mothers and pregnant women contain cancerous poison. The Evil Emperor’s food ministry said that there is only zero casualty. How many ways are the Sinhala Intellectuals designing to force conversion to Buddhism. !
Mallaiyuran / September 22, 2022
Which idiots other than Sinhala Intellectuals would follow Buddhism when all the rich democracies are Christian Countries. Is that saying that Christ talked about real economics, but Buddha bluffed some rubbish as economics? Come on guys, at least after seeing what is happening in Langkang, the Wildlife Sanctuary, start to use what you all read in Western Universities as economics, instead rob and loot the foolish people with the name of Buddhism. Bring a law that anybody who talks about Buddhism will be punished under 6th A, then watch how the Langkang economy shoots to the sky.
Sinhala_Man / September 23, 2022
Why should I stay very formal when you and I have met, by you taking the trouble to come to my home, and give me a number of your books including “Economics for Dumbos”. That sort of Economics, I understand.
But I don’t fully understand how cleverer men than you and I have ruined our economy. Actually, it is worse. They have ruined our country.
“old codger” is a clever man; very clever, but we don’t know who he is. He’s propping up Ranil Wickremasinghe, that much is certain. I don’t, and he once had the audacity to say that there are some commenters who have acknowledged that they don’t understand economics. Therefore they should not comment on any subject here. Something like that. Let oc find the place and guide other readers there.
At this point, I have scrolled up your article. My eyes lighted on one word in ten perhaps. Has Aseni made a mistake in saying that RW is obsessed with “Lichchavi principles”. I’m sure that the kid must have made the mistake, not you! The entire country has heard about the “Latimer House Principles”, even if almost none understand.
Sinhala_Man / September 23, 2022
“……….. “Latimer House Principles”, even if almost none understand. more famous than Gramasci!
I’ve not tried to read this article of yours, Wije. But I have read many, and I know that you always talk sense, and in such a down-to-earth way that many get your messages. Few of them, although they red what you say – I know that my neighbor
Sinhala_Man / September 23, 2022
I know that my neighbour, who knows more Economics than I – reads.
Why is that earlier comment incomplete? Electricity is now cut for only 80 minutes. A big improvement. oc will note that acknowledgement for future use against something that I say later!
Because, there was a 30-second interruption, and I was working on-line. So, I submitted even with the misspelling of “neighbour”. I had typed it in correctly, but some Yankee system must have auto-corrected. I’m not “blaming” anybody. English is not our language, and the British spelling that we learnt is also inconsistent.
So Noah Webster “improved” it, and now America rules the waves. It may be time for me to waive the rules that my British Headmasters imposed on us.
Sinhala spelling has much closer correspondence between orthography and pronunciation because of this guy:
I could have been more transparent there, but that doesn’t appear to be the intentions of the guys pretending to be our legitimate governors. They’re only legal.
Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela