20 September, 2018

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The Secular State: Kumar David Is Right

By HL Seneviratne

Prof.H.L. Seneviratne

Commenting on Kumar David’s article Mr Kaputa stridently assets that there are no secular states. This statement deserves comment because it is a widespread belief, especially among expatriate communities, and especially after the “defeat of terrorism”. The secular state is not just a “fancy idea” as Mr Kaputa claims. It is real. It is true that some relics of the past survive in the political ritual of western democracies. But this is merely a civil religion that has neither religious emotion nor a tangible effect on the polity. It has no social significance other than a fleeting entertainment value. This civil religion does not confer on any particular religion a status that is not conferred on a given society’s other religions. In Sri Lanka, as in the many Islamic republics of the world, and in Israel, there is constitutional recognition of religion, which relegates other religions to a lower status.

Secularism is an aspect of development. Secular societies are more “developed” than religious societies, and by reason of their religious equality, are ethically and rationally superior to religious states. Secularism is therefore a measure of the extent to which a society is civilized. I do not mean “development” in the narrowly economic sense but on the criteria of the well being of citizens, the main ingredients of which are individual liberty, and equality of opportunity. These are possible only within the supremacy of the rule of law. On these criteria, Sri Lanka is a primitive state.

The irony is that no state could be more secular and rational than one that incorporates Buddhism if by that we mean the Buddha’s Buddhism with its universalist humanism and ethical perfection. But sadly, at no time in history did the Buddha’s Buddhism ever permeate the Sinhala state or society. Our Buddhism remained a ritualism that maintained and legitimized social inequalities, oppression and tyranny. After the consolidation of British rule, we had a brief interlude of secularism and potential for development into a civilized society. With the rise of a certain kind of nationalism that manifested itself in 1956 and that has reached its peak in today’s Motherlandism, our national heritage with its culture of tyranny has returned to the centre of society. The numerous forces – ethnic, moral, political, the youth, students, workers, FUTA, civil society, women and so forth — that clearly seem to be disenchanted with this alarming development can either work diligently and intelligently towards a united force for coordinated and coherent action, and assert the values of Buddhism and democracy, or brace themselves for more severe and more lasting enslavement. The impending blatancy of the threat to the judiciary is one more stream that can contribute to a deluge of protest.

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    A secular state supports neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion or nonreligion. States which confer a special status to any religon cannot claim to be secular.

    By nature the majority dominates the minority. In countries which have an ethnic or religous majority we find that minorities are often discriminated against. This is a human failing. Even in a so called secular state this is possible and does occur unless there are laws to prevent discrimination and human rights. When things are not explicitly spelled out there is room for abuse and misinterpretation.

    Human beings are prone to discrriminate. We are by nature selfish, greedy, competetive. No one is perfect. So when it comes to the push we discriminate against the ‘óther’. The cake is always divided so that ‘we’ get the lions share. To be altruistic and care for others requires much effort and strangely is preached by most religons but is hard to come by.

    So rather than being secular or religous what matters are the principles and values we live by and practice. Not the name tag we attach to ourselves. Names matter little when it comes to the final result.

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    Secular democracy State will come into being after Political party of TNA and other Tamil orginization should denied seperatism, secessionism and Terrorism of anti-democratic political ventures in Sri Lanka. Until Tamil politicians (not Tamil People)having mind of secularism ,is quite impossibale to achive such Dream state by Dr Kumar David.

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      No mate, get your head out of the sand. For Sri Lanka to become a secular state the JHU, NFF, JVP and other racist and religious parties should be prohibited from promoting racial and religious division. Most of all the JHU as the main racist Buddhist party should be prohibited from politics. The rot started with the Sinhala Buddhist racist SWRD and not with any Tamil political parties and continues to this day with Sinhala Buddhist racist parties.

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      The secularism in Sri Lanka went out of the window with Independence. The Tamils feared descrimination even at independence but Don Stephen Senanayake promised the minorities that they have nothing to fear in the hands of the majority and demonstrated it by the enactment of the Soulbury constitution in which was enshrined a secular and plural governance. However it did not take long for the proverbial snake to bear its fangs.
      First the disenfranchisement of the migrant Tamil workers in the estates. Then came the “Sinhala only” of 1956!
      This is how secularism was lost in Sri Lanka! Not because of TNA or prabaharan. They were only the repercussions of the domination by the Majoritarian Sinhala state! Please wake up from your slumber!

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    The British in their wisdom quite rightly kept the skin head terrorist under the rocks.
    IN Gautama’s own words Buddhism is a philosophy and not a religion (Gautama was born a Hindu and stayed that way) and that’s exactly how even the CPC (many members are Buddhist) sees it and respects it above other religions.
    You are contradicting yourself when you finally say “and assert the values of Buddhism and democracy” very smart next you will ask for Buddhist sharia law- rajapakistan by talking of demalas are your problem. you had a problem from your birth mate- decidely undecided.
    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.- T Jefferson

    Happily agnostic

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      Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

      In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty.

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    Another line of thinking which I would like to put forward is the herd instict. The tendency to act in groups is described by Sigmund Freud

    ‘We thus have an impression of a state in which an individual’s separate emotion and personal intellectual act are too weak to come to anything by themselves and are absolutely obliged to wait till they are reinforced through being repeated in a similar way in the other members of the group. We are reminded of how many of these phenomena of dependence are part of the normal constitution of human society, of how little originality and personal courage are to be found in it, of how much every individual is ruled by those attitudes of the group mind which exhibit themselves in such forms as racial characteristics, class prejudices, public opinion, etc.’

    He goes on to identify the role of the leader

    ‘Do not let us forget, however, that the demand for equality in a group applies only to its members and not to the leader. All the members must be equal to one another, but they all want to be ruled by one person. Many equals, who can identify themselves with one another, and a single person superior to them all—that is the situation that we find realised in groups which are capable of subsisting. Let us venture, then, to correct Trotter’s pronouncement that man is a herd animal and assert that he is rather a horde animal, an individual creature in a horde led by a chief.’

    People find solace and security in identifying themselves with tribes or communities. As a community people defend and work towards their common interest. The common interest of the community is defined by their leader. Thus a nation would be secular and united if the leader is secular in his thinking and actions. If the leader is an extremist and of the tendency to be biased towards a particular segment of the population then the effect is to divide.

    This leads to an egg and chicken situation, who comes first the leader or the community. Obviously the leader is of the community. Except in rare cases of statesman like Mahatma Gandhi we do not have leaders who can rise above race and religon. There too his life was snuffed out by the bullet of an extremist.

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    The Buddhist state in lanka was founded by a great secularist – Emperor Asoka – and Nehru walked in his foot steps.

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    No State calling itself Secular will then court hypocracy and constitutionally lay down one religion should enjoy Special Positions over all others. That was enough for the flood-gates to be opened – and that is where we remain.

    Senguttuvan

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    “After the consolidation of British rule, we had a brief interlude of secularism and potential for development into a civilized society.” No wonder that Seneviratne has such a glowing attitude towards British rule. He himself a Kandyn, who cannot remember how the British actually promoted ethnic and racial divisions among the high ranking Sri Lankans. Seneviratna, I am a Sociologist and I despised Anthropologists who follow the imperialist agenda of the colonial masters. For your information, I suggest you to read some documents available at the Colonial Office in London to uncover about the manner in which the British promoted Christianity with direct states patronage, while promoting the ethnic divide between Tamil and Sinhalese. I am surprised that you do not even understand the distinction between the BUddhism of the masses and the Buddhism of the intellectuals, and thus you recommends to apply that world renouncing doctrinal buddhism to state practices, so that you can accuse, as you and your friend Obeysekara have done, the Sinhalese Buddhism is a primitive religion. Your problem is, you are an anthropologist, an academic discipline that justifies colonial expansion as a “civilizing mission” and even in your retirement, you have not fully detached from that hegemonic thinking.

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    Pihrana…why TNA is Tamil chavinst party?
    TULF also Tamil rasist party,What about LTTE- Racist and Terror outfit.
    TAMILS ONLY WANT LAND POWER AND POLICE POWER NORTH-EAST FOR TAMILS NATION.
    THERE IS NOT NATIONL TAMIL PARTY,ALL TAMILS POLITICAL PARTIES IN LEFT-WING AND RIGHT MAJORITY OF TAMIL RACSIST.
    Why you call only Sinhalese are RACISIST?
    TAMIL RACSISM ARE SPERAD THROUHT-OUT GOLBLLY.
    1 WORLD TAMIL CONGRESS
    2 GLOBLE TAMIL FORUM
    3 TAMIL-DISAPORA
    4 EXCIL-TAMIL EELAN STATE FOUNDED IN USA-UK.
    5 TAMIL NADU IS HOMELENAD OF TAMILS IN WORLD.DMK/ADMK ALL TAMIL RACIST POLITICAL PARTIES.

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    Why bother reading the documents at Colonial Office as Kaputa requests,when Sinhala Buddhism mirors the same tactics of building huge images of what is said to be a likeness of the Buddha in every nook and corner of the island without any idea if he ever resembled that likeness to promote Buddhism with direct state patronage just as the British did to promote Christianity with a book.
    Will Kaputa be able to throw any light on the distinction between the Buddhism of the masses and Buddhism of the intelluectuals?
    I thought both were humans just as the Buddha himself was.

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    what I intend jotting down here is just a few ideas that came into my mind reading the above viewpoints. I select just one statement that that makes me uneasy in my mind to agree with….the idea of a ” Buddha’s Buddhism with its humanism and ethical perfection. ” I cannot agree with the possibility of a Buddha’s Buddhism, for we have not yet found any archaeological or rationally valid arguments based on historical data, that defines a lived and preached reality of a Buddha’s Buddhism. Much of the prevailing thought systems ennunciated as Buddhism in the World, particularly of Asia are assumptions and their interpretations. These carry a logic of monastic control on one side and elitist doctrinairism on the other. The related monastics in the traditions of brahaminic graded monasticism created and fostered a buddha-hood, which was an belief in Hindu Brahaminism. We do not have a rationally valid argument to even conjecture on a life-like image of a Gautama Buddha, rather than a ‘concept’ of a Buddha who is arrayed in an imagined chronology of gradation….historically inconceivable twenty eight of them. Nor was there a ” Universalistic humanism or ethical perfection. Unless and until human reason and empirical evidence convinces me of the validity of the above mentioned social constructions, I do not agree with, to any secularist parrotting prevailing social beliefs that were created for the survival of interest groups or individuals. We would not know for sure, for there are not any positive evidences to state beyond conjecture, that a Buddha with a distinct human form, thought and deed ever went through a lived reality, under the nomen of Gautama the Buddha.

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