19 April, 2019

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On National Consciousness (Jathika Chinthanaya) And Democracy

By Veedeya Bandara –

Gunadasa Amarasekara

Former US President Ronald Reagan liked to call United States“A City on a Hill”, a righteous force, “the last best hope of man on earth” battling the “Evil Empire” of Soviet Union. In those days of apple pie patriotism many Americans, and not all of them conservatives, believed this caricature, probably not knowing enough about or just myopic about US support for right wing death squads in El Salvador, illegal bombings and arming drug dealing Contras in the name of anti Communism to heckle the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, etc. etc.. The euphoria that some people have for system of governance based on Jathika Chinthanaya (National Consciousness) is not so far removed from attitudes of those Americans.

Democracy as Christianization

Jathika Chinthanaya was more a response to neo colonialism and the cultural erosion that followed the introduction of free market economic policies in 1977 by the then government of Mr. JR Jayewardene. It called for emancipation both physical and mental from West oriented thought process. This however is nothing new. Frantz Fanon, Steve Biko through Black Consciousness Movement, Malcolm X, and even Huey P Newton and his Black Panther Party for Self Defense, RSS of India were all beholden to this idea. Indeed its crudest forms were practiced in the post the colonial Congo by those inspired by  the slain nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba during Simba rebellion, and during Boxer rebellion in the early 20th century China. While it was Dr Gunadasa Amarasekara who was the progenitor Jathika Chinthnaya it was Professor Nalin de Silva who laid the ideological foundation through his magnum opus “Mage Lokaya” (My World) in 1986. Accordingly people who subscribe to Jathika Chinthanaya viewed the concept of Modernity which gave rise to western democracy as an extension of Greaco Judeo Christian thought and therefore alien to or incompatible with Sinhalese Buddhists culture ofSri Lanka as is the party system that is the bedrock of this system. And this was why democracy has failed in this country. Further Professor Nalin and those who subscribe to Jathika Chinthanaya is of the view that spread of western democracy is another form of Christianization where West seeks to deluge Asian and African people with Greaco Judeo Christian Thought. Getting rid of “incompatible” “Western” democracy is therefore a part and parcel of mental emancipation anticipated through Jathika Chinthanaya.

Sovereignty of a Grave Yard

One cannot be blamed for harboring such misgivings about democratizing project of Western nations especially considering their actions in the recent past. The Bush Doctrine and the oft-ill used “Regime Change”. United States and its allies often used lofty ideals such as democracy, human rights to further their own agenda notably installing puppet governments, resource extraction, finding strategic locations for their military bases etc and the use of NGO s and INGO s that champion human rights as part of such efforts. Further the global economic crisis that began in its earnest towards the latter part of 2007. The liberal democracies of the West were the ones most embroiled while non-democratic states like China that uses nationalism as the dominant political ideology despite paying lip service to Communism were not only unscathed but were recording high growth rates. This in a way a roll back of the triumphalism that drove Fukuyama to write “End of History and the Last Man” in that golden age of neo liberalism. Hence that the “sun is setting on the dominant development paradigm” justified in a way a government led by national consciousness, one which makes nationalism to take precedence over western style democracy. But what these people overlook however is such gains are short termist and sooner or later the effects of deep structural flaws sets in, with China being nothing more than a large factory for Western consumers and its ruling class, mainly those high in the politburo and fat cat businessman related to them drive the system while ordinary Chinese are mere slaves who are doused in the opiate of xenophobic nationalism. Also while undemocratic governments ofSingaporeandMalaysiamade their respective countries flourish, it took visionary, pragmatist leaders to achieve the task.

There are those states like North Korea that practices an extreme form of  National Consciousness based on Juche concept that left many thousands dead and millions starving while, unknown thousand “dissidents” are put away to spend lives of incarceration and  torture. Then there’sBurma and its Junta who again used anti-West nationalism to justify their rule despite their actions leaving scores of people dead including Buddhist monks. While Burmese people were demonstrating at a great threat to their lives, against the Junta, there were enough nationalists of theJathikaChinthanayaSchool who perceived pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as an agent of the West seeking to ChristianizeBurma and demolish its traditional Buddhist values and subjugate its sovereignty. Out go the crony capitalism, extreme repression and tyranny that characterized Junta rule. What these people are calling for is nothing more than a sovereignty of a grave yard.

Poverty of an Ideologe

What system then Nalin de Silva, Gunadasa Amarasekara et al propose as a compatible alternative? It is called Mahasammathawadaya. But what would this Maha Sammathawadaya entail? This is a system that puts so-called sovereignty above all else while rights of the individual become a poor second. This is a system that puts faith on a single or a set of powerful entities tasked with governing the country in accordance with the Sinhalese Buddhist values as the Jathika Chinthanaya ideologues sees it fit. However as shown above without a visionary leader and required attitudes such a system can easily degenerate in to tyranny a la “HermitKingdom” style. It’s a system that is open to abuse by unscrupulous leaders. This system flavored with nostalgia for those far off days of theSinhaleseKingdom hardly do justice to present realities. Incidentally it was a because of a tyrant that we lost our sovereignty to British in 1815.  True, Parliamentary Democratic system of governance is not perfect, it has so many defects, but it has shown to be the best form that ensures individual rights, while providing a strong framework for sustainable development and has proven to be resilient in face of challenges. The successful implementation of various forms of parliamentary democracy in non-Western nations like India, Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Argentina, Columbia has shown its practicability as opposed to decent into anarchy manifested as the simmering irregularities force themselves into the surface as in Libya, Syria and even Iran. Hence the system of governance based on Jathika Chinthanaya if put in to practice would do irreparable damage to the democracy in Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

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    Mahasammathawadaya

    Is it some sort of Leviathan sea monster cited in bible?

    Or is it Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, rule by an absolute sovereign?

    In both cases the creature and the idea are foreign.

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    Hypocritical and baseless arguments based on patriotism continues to work for all types of leaderships throughout the world. Even in societies that are ‘relatively’ more educated than that of Sri Lanka. So one has to question what chance we have in Sri Lanka to break away from this cancer.

    If you think about it though, the answer should be ‘a high chance’. Why? Because we are said to be a majority Buddhist nation, which should therefore understand the importance of detachment, compassion and wisdom. Sri Lanka should be the last place on Earth where there is patriotism, division, or war! Yet, that is nowhere near the truth is it?

    The level of ignorance in our country make it ripe for the opportunistic and greedy to pick from. Yet the Buddha taught the importance and therefore the path to wisdom! While claiming to be ‘majority Buddhist’, thus unique, and ‘better than the rest of the countries on Earth’, history shows us to be no different in ignorance, behavior and ‘track-record’ to any other nation.

    If only we took the time to understand the teachings in Buddhism (or the Buddhist establishment and leadership of the country took the time to educate the population of Buddha’s actual teachings; as opposed to joining Nationalistic protests and politics, and encouraging religious traditions and rituals that the Buddha never taught nor encouraged). Then we may in fact realise that not only democracy, but human rights, equality and harmony do not represent ‘evil foreign ideas’, as our political and religious leaders keep trying to tell us, rather the spirit of the actual teachings of the Buddha himself!

    But then, if we apply that theory to any of the other country in this world, and their relevant religions, the outcome should be the same. After all, just like the bloody history of Sri Lanka is no representation of the Buddha’s teachings, neither are those of the rest of the world representative of Jesus’, Mohammad’s, or Moses’….

    No Buddhist, no Christian, no Muslim, no Hindu, no Jew, no Atheist, no Democrat, can justify war, division or inequality in the name of their ‘religion’ if the true spirit and principles of any of those teachings are considered. Yet history shows that all these ideas and teachings have been used to justify all these ungodly things… If that alone doesn’t show us that we are actually no different from one another, what will?

    Yet we keep using patriotism, to land and religion, to claim to be ‘better’, when in reality, history clearly shows us to be no different to anyone else. Patriotism is blissful ignorance. And blissful ignorance is what all corrupt leaders, both past and present, religious and political, have thrived from. It is also what the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad etc all taught against… Funny isn’t it?

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    Navin Weeraratne

    Sorry to bother you, though I am bit thick I too have my favourite quotes on Patriotism.

    Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel -Samuel Johnson

    Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. – Howard Zinn

    Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them! -Albert Einstein

    I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world. – Eugene V. Debs

    I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. –
    James A. Baldwin

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    Native Vedda

    I may have to steal some of those for my future rants ;) Thank you!

  • 0
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    If only buddhists were to read the teachings and live accordingly there won’t be most of the corruption and greed that is well exibited by the politicians who are raping the national wealth for their personal gains.Transparency is absolutely absent and no one ever asks as to how they live in palaces with their known income other than by dishonest means and then when the time comes for voting get rid of the thieves.

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    Navin Weeraratne

    Only the wise understand these quotes.

    I won’t be disappointed if Tamils and Sinhalese don’t get the gist of the message, since both people unarguably stupid.

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    Native Vedda

    That is because both peoples follow leaders who have a vested interest in them remaining stupid. As Jay has correctly raised, no one seems to question the contradiction that is our leaders. That is because our populations are blissfully ignorant. I can only hope that our younger generations will grow up to be less gullible.

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      Navin Weeraratne says:

      ” I can only hope that our younger generations will grow up to be less gullible.”

      No chance, your older generation will make sure that these youngsters are dragged into the same pit and buried forever.

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    JC was made to order for a collective with a limited consciousness to help it find an ideological pretence to cover the absence of a genuine and mature ideology suited to these times.

    What Frantz Fanon referred to in wretched of the earth as the empty shell of nationalism is what we are left with today – and this is more appropriately described as the freedom of the wild ass for a selected few.

    The sinhalese never recovered after the kalinga magha invasion in 1215 or thereabouts – the buddhist chakra or cycle ended and we faced the challenge of re-creating a new moral order. We failed the buddhist test of letting go of what has died and held on to a set of forms as the substance disappeared gradually but inexorably. The Buddha sasana was replaced by the deva sasana – and Lord Vishnu (the preserver) became the guardian deity to guarantee the stability of the nation.

    Today even Lord Vishnu is ignored as the sinhalese flock to Kataragama – huniyam deiyo and kali amma – because they only have faith in might – not right

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