By Sajeeva Samaranayake –
Ego is truth
Darkness is light; and
Others not self
For a people bathed in ignorance
Half baked concepts
The bread and butter
Of violators and their opponents
Will not feed our hunger
A moral death must be feared more
Than a physical one
Sri Lankans today must face up to a stark historical insight. Those past glories we see in abundance at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruva were founded on the self-organizing capacity of a free and autonomous people.
P.B. Rambukwelle (A study of Sinhala Kingship from Vijaya to Kalinga Magha) observed:
The Sinhala State was the sum and result of a slow but steady settlement of Aryan migrants blending their experiences among themselves and the earlier peoples, not the messianic adventure of a mighty conqueror, a law giver, superman or plain bandit.
Kingship emerged therefore as a seedling germinated in the bosom of the people, its upward thrust towards absolute power associated with kingship, a long drawn out process. Almost at the very beginnings the innate mystic arousing awe and obedience to kingship was diluted with the humanity of the Buddhist religion and village democracies.
However, when Parakramabahu the Great ascended the throne of Lanka as the 138th regent in a dynastic line that had already lasted 1500 years, a sea change was in store. This dynamic leader centralized all power in his person as a chakravarty monarch (following the emperor mode) and the hallowed principle of village centered freedom received a body blow. The people of Ruhuna opposed this constitutional change in three wars that left them devastated. Within 30 years of the death of Parakramabahu in 1186 CE Lankans faced the irreversible closure of their irrigation civilization. Rajarata fell to the hammer blows of Kalinga Magha, never to stand again.
The 600 years since then was a period of drift where survival was the paramount objective.
In 1815 we handed over our rights to self-governance to the British in the vain and foolish hope that they would solve our problems. We know now that they had their own agenda. Almost 200 years since that unthinkable capitulation we are still confronted with the same status quo and dynamics. We are trapped within a top down system of governance which was foisted on a conquered, subjugated people.
Ever since Polonnaruva the Lankans had become used to a reduced light, a state of semi-darkness or relative freedom that was disguised by the slavish imitation of rituals that assured them of being heirs to an ancient and proud identity. This culture of imitation was effortlessly transferred to the imitation of the white man’s way of life. Consequently, whether we are observing Buddhist rituals or democratic rituals those essential elements of genuineness and sincerity are absent.
The history of this country has thus been a march from authenticity to mediocrity. The difference between our past and present is simply that we inherited a tradition of freedom – only to choose slavery.
The reference to slavery will elicit objections. We have become so attached to the chains that bind us – that we fear freedom. The German monk Ven Nyanaponika who made full use of the tradition of Theravada Buddhism in this island once said:
True freedom places on us the uncomfortable burden of ever fresh responsible decisions, which have to be guided by mindfulness, wisdom and human sympathy. Few are willing to accept the full weight of such a burden. Instead they prefer to be led and bound by the rules given by others, and by habits mainly dominated by self interest and social conventions. With the habituation to a life of inner and outer bondage, there grows what Erich Fromm calls “a fear of freedom.”Such fear, if allowed to persist and take root, inevitably leads to a stagnation of our inner growth and creativeness as wee as to a stagnant society and culture. In a state of stagnation, toxic elements will endanger mankind’s healthy progress – physical and mental, social and spiritual. Then William Blake’s words will prove true: “Expect poison from stagnant water.” (Emphasis added)
Just as nirvana is not attainable except through the realization of suffering, freedom is not possible without the acknowledgement of slavery – past and present.
Today we have replaced an enlightened Buddhism of critical inquiry nurtured in the independent schools of Mahavihara, Abhayagiriya and Jethavanaramaya with blind imitation and unquestioning obedience. Political masters have changed from time to time – but the core mentality of insecurity, self interest and materialism have remained. These weaknesses have now robbed the Lankans of their autonomy – as individuals and as a collective. Most third world countries have experienced this ‘second loss of freedom’ after colonizers left.
British will was imposed on the inhabitants of this island through violence. Having established their sovereignty on a foundation of barbarism, particularly after the war of 1818, they super-imposed a more civilized system of governance to be operated by an English speaking elite, born and nurtured in the British way of thinking and living.
This reality of domination and oppression at the deepest levels of our society was partially addressed and partially ignored during the first 40 years of liberal democratic governance in the island from 1931 to 1971. Unfortunately the elite feudal pretenders who monopolized political and economic power in the country did not permit this liberal and peaceful trend to continue. A flawed foundation kept cracking and exploding in different places throughout the next 40 years from 1971 to 2011 as Sri Lankans assumed full control of a new republic after more than 2000 years of monarchical government.
What we have succeeded in doing after the historic success in eliminating the first terrorist organization to spring from this soil is to strengthen that original foundation of violence laid by the British. In this process we have disowned and dismantled all vestiges of civilized power in this country.
The famous 17th century dictum of chief Justice Coke that “the king is subject to no man but is subject to God and law” was introduced to many colonies including Ceylon by the British. We can now see this bedrock fundamental being overturned in favour of absolute and untrammeled power.
Such absolutism is unprecedented here. Alan Strathern who has written on the turbulent Kotte period has observed that even during the reigns of Sitwaka Rajasinha and Wimaladharmasuriya – two warrior kings, the Lankans remained a free people. As such we are now moving into unchartered waters without any safeguard for the rights and liberties of our citizens.
The re-creation of an ethical foundation demands personal sacrifices that very few Sri Lankans seem prepared to make. What cannot be done within cannot be supplied from outside.
In fact the international community has done more harm than good to Sri Lanka, especially at the political and diplomatic levels. Most mediators, starting with Rajiv Gandhi failed to appreciate the true character of the LTTE. It is in fact the moral confusion at the highest levels of international organizations that ensured the final radicalization of the Sri Lankan regime. Extremism when encouraged in any form helps its replication by others. What is evil is evil – irrespective of the form in which it is couched. Whether governments or rebel groups all sides are groups of human beings. The inability to discern the substance from form led diplomats on a futile quest where signatures on paper by immoral men became more important than morality itself. When no one stands up for truth – violence prevails.
Both sides to the war understood the weak spots of the international community and manipulated affairs to ensure that political or military objectives would be pursued with ruthlessness. The sovereign people of this country remain vulnerable in the middle today as those wielding power, both here and abroad whiz around like misguided missiles uttering their hackneyed top down rhetoric.
Given this prognosis it is now left to intelligence and non violence to undertake that work which institutions have failed to even understand. There is a need to move in a totally open, pro human and anti structural way to establish and nurture new connections and links to meet the challenges of violence – both physical and structural. It is time for the citizenry to step out of their boxes and recognize the humanity of each other. Destiny and political adulthood beckons, and it is not for the faint hearted or those lacking clarity and resolution. The time for vacillation is over.
There are enemies of freedom within our self and without – both here and abroad. We must pray for wisdom and clarity to see through the motives of those who seek our recruitment and slavery in the guise of democracy and human rights, free enterprise, socialism, patriotism or religion. Instead of seeking the causes of our enslavement in a totally dispassionate and detached way we have simply ended up fighting each other. Since mankind is one there are no victors after any war – much less after a civil war. The choices are simple: we can either swim or sink together. Unless we wake up in this struggling and traumatic present we shall remain where we have been for the last 800 years – a nation of divided, squabbling non starters.
The Sinhala Buddhists in particular must realize the well springs of undefiled pure energy that lie deep within themselves. The more they can do this – the less they will be enslaved to external symbols and monuments of the past and more grounded in the living present. A Buddha is born every moment – if only we can bring ourselves to relate to our birthright – the pure and awakened mind. This was the true source of power of our impressive ancestors. Becoming enslaved to the idea of an abstract and fixed identity puts us in the same mode as Prabakharan’s LTTE. To such a group their very ‘success’ becomes the measure of their failure. Nature has never tolerated such groups for any length of time. This fixed identity is simply a creation of the anxious mind and it runs counter to the truths of anicca, dukkha and anatta.
The other citizens must also work harder than ever before to re-assert the common ground we all share, transcending the private space of separate religiosity. This personal space is simply another fact of life as much as your own spouse, family, relations and workplace. Respecting each other’s personal space is a pre-condition of public life. I apologize because this is not a time for any more words. It is a time to demonstrate by example that we as a society still retain values of moderation, humility and kindness and that we recognize these essential human qualities over and above other insignificant details.