Colombo, Religion and faith

Justice Everywhere?

This article is inspired by a programme called Justice Everywhere – an exhibition and events with Martin Luther King III, son of US Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. presiding held in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka in January 2010.

A young TV journalist asked me whether Martin Luther Kings’ philosophy of non-violence will work in bringing true peace to Sri Lanka ?

I cannot remember how I answered it facing the camera, but I hope I would have said something like this.

Martin Luther King Jr. paid the ultimate price violently driving a non violent campaign to win freedom for African American people who gained their official freedom 100 years earlier.   In my eyes, Martin Luther King Jr. was spiritually a fearless warrior.  He took on a system, a society and a people who were fearful of what he was asking for.  These fearful people though, had the power and guns to resist his dream of white and black people living in harmony.  He fell prey to one of those guns, but his dream is slowly being realized.

Sri Lanka too is ruled by a spiritually fearful people who need protection from their own.   In ruling fearfully, there is little justice everywhere.    Resistance by asking questions makes one a traitor, judged and condemned.   This judgment comes from a place of fear, the same kind that judged Jesus and nailed him to the stake, gave Aristotle the death sentence, oppressed Gandhi and Mandela as they fearlessly went about asking for justice for everyone.

Just like in those times, in taking on King’s Gandhian philosophy of ‘ahimsa’ to bring about justice has huge personal risks in Sri Lanka today.   So, how do we go about this?

I am sure there are many people within this system who’s conscience is tugged at every time a non-violent resistor, a questioner is attacked, abducted or killed.  After all we humans have an in built cosmic spirituality deeply rooted in us.  This spirituality is founded on the oneness of all beings, our interconnected natures so when we hurt another, we hurt ourselves too.  We have to reach out to them.

The difficulty is years of conditioning where spirituality is well hidden by the sensory defilements that excite through material gain, which derive them superficial power.  The challenge is how do we help them see this?

Turning to Religion ?

Religion is supposed to address these very issues, but the institutions have divided us as people more than uniting us in humanity.   These divisions are ingrained too.  The differences – mine is better than yours syndrome – when the original message of the prophets were essentially the same in terms of inward individual inquiry, finding peace within self and enlightenment.   This is happening here to Buddhism as it is externalized through a focus on rituals, loudspeakers and linking it to politics and Sinhala nationalism.

Islam for instance has been branded to be a violent religion for obvious reasons as followers have been misled by subsequent leaders who have shaped it that way to meet their needs for power.   Ms. Jezima Ismail, a panelist at the Interfaith Panel Discussion Session at the Martin Luther King Jr event spoke of the pacific nature of real Islam and went on to redefine Jihad to mean going back to the original book for guidance, meaning the Koran when facing a challenge and not holy war that even many Muslims believe it to be.  Koran has no place for violence in it.  So, it is clear that religious institutions over the years have used a doctrine of violence to seek and hold power over people to meet their leader’s selfish ends.

As we get older, many of us seek more meaning in life and become spiritual, but we see around us though a few stupid old men who are drunk with power not realizing life’s impermanence and the karma of it all.  In the meantime, many people around them suffer.   Yet, I live in hope that there is room for this philosophy of non-violence for us in Sri Lanka through a Dharma Asoka like transformation with our political leaders to create Justice Everywhere – or is it a pipe dream?

Focus on the Young

There may be hope for the future if we start with the young.  Another panelist at the Interfaith Discussion, Brahmacharya Darshan Chaitanya said, we have a great opportunity in Sri Lanka as religion is offered as a subject in the school system.  Yet we squander this opportunity by teaching religion the same way we teach science and geography – the external systems, the rituals, memorizing stanzas, stories and subjecting them to regurgitation at an exam at the end of the year – which has no link to personal spiritual development to bring meaning to their lives through inquiry and mindfulness.    Another panelist, Fr. Mervyn Fernando said that we are teaching religion but not teaching the young to be religious.  To be religious is the inward journey seeking the real truth.  This requires reflection, contemplation, prayer and meditation and we have to help develop these skills.

Then and only then will we create a generation of fearless warriors who will not need big egos and guns to protect them.   They will have the power and the confidence to change this world of contradiction, a world where everyone of us contribute to violence in the form of the oil and arms industry (every time we switch on a light or get on vehicle to travel) which rule us by controlling small nations like ours too through their corrupt practices.  At least the younger generation may make these linkages and work to make this world less violent and less polluted in every way by seeking alternatives to oil and arms, for instance.

Our challenge then is find Justice Everywhere through non-violence against these huge odds and there will be a price to pay.   Then again, if we become fearless warriors we will not fear death.

Personally, there is yet a long way for me for that…. So I keep working on myself towards mindfulness……towards that goal……to end Samsara, the cycle of life, as life is suffering, as another panelist Ven Bellanvila Wimalaratana said and then in the meantime, we may just realize our dream of Justice Everywhere.

May all beings be well and happy!

  • Concerned

    Dear Mr. Rajapakse. Looks like you have lost your head and direction and you cannot seem to fathom the fact that the majority of the country decided that you are unfit to lead Sri Lanka. It is unfortunate that after all the good work you did with the war, Sarath’s leadership out-shined you. The noble and the best thing you could have done for the country was to show your honesty, accept defeat and accept Sarath as the new leader of our motherland. You could have negotiated with him to still play a role in the next decade of our motherland. Like the opportunity you had to continue the war against LTTE, this was the moment for you to restore democracy to SL. It is quite clear you and the rest of your buddies do not understand democracy. Before the end of the war, only Jaffna was considered a lawless land. Now you have successfully turned the whole country into a lawless land. Congratulations! [Edited out].

  • Alfred F Seaneviratne

    “I had a dream!” Sadly Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ philosophy of non-violence, died as he woke up; from a bullet of a Gun. Americans believe its their “Right to bear Arms!” Americans did wake up from this dream, when a Black man who thinks like a human being and Not as a Black man. People of third world countries even call America as “Obama Country.”

    Violent clearly refers in Bible itself. “One who has no sins aim the first stone”, Christ uttered to a crowd aiming stones to kill a harmless female. Same traitors, repeated this very Act on another Innocent and harmless one who moved, spreading a word of kindness expressing his love and affection to all beings including a tiny sheep. This person is none other than Jesus Christ who was spreading Justice.

    With respect to Martin Luther King Jr. III, Sri need not import Gandhian philosophy of ‘Ahimsa’. Mahatma Gandhi, referred to what another Indian known as Gautama Buddha; finding peace within self and enlightenment. — “Buddhism as it is externalized through a focus on rituals, loudspeakers and linking it to politics and Sinhala nationalism.” This is another man-made Pathetic expression screaming on to “loudspeakers, linking to politics and Sinhala nationalism. A doctrine of violence to seek and hold power over people to meet their leader’s selfish ends.”

    These are pipes smokers inhaling drugs and certainly not a pipe dream.

    Endless Birth and Death of Samsara – ‘cycle of life, is suffering’ is well explained by Buddha. Quoting such phrases can easily be ‘Misinterpreted.’ Before accepting such; one must carefully realize whether it is ‘benefit worthy to Self and the Other. Not otherwise. A solid reply Buddha Gave to an Intellectual Clang called Kalama over a question that had been forced on the by many religions leaders who had been practicing in India at the time of Buddha. Noble Clang of Kalamas understood what Buddha Said and wanted to become Buddhists. Promptly Buddha turned it down and stated, “Never be hasty even if Kalamas think Buddhism is the religion for them. Asked Kalamas to go back to their Clang and “think it over before making a firm Decision.”

    This is Justice Society!

  • Janaka

    WHY Fonseka Arrested? “I am definitely going to reveal what I know, what I was told and what I heard. Any one who has committed war crimes should definitely be brought into courts,” Gen. Fonseka said. to BBC Today. I think only this reason is enough for arrest him. Gov finally done the job , but late,

  • John Brown

    WHY Fonseka Arrested? (1) To neutralise people’s voice and divert attention of people from Election Vote Rigging issue. (2) Govt may think that they can aeasily win General Election if General Fonseka is not in the seen.

    However we now have Dictatorship, Killings by Ruling party supporters are everywhere. Election result is not a true representation. Time has come for International Communities to Intervene because Srilankan’s opposition cannot raise concerns or talk because they will get death threats.

  • jayathilaka


  • Sunil

    There is right now a divine teacher living and teaching in India,who teaches everything you advert to in your article as good and appropriate and more.There are many Sri Lankans who heed his teachings and are finding the peace within themselves that you refer to.This divine personage is Sri Sathya Sai Baba who lives in Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh.His message is simple and encompasses all humanity and Human values sans all the things that divide us.Sai Baba says:
    “There is only one Nation,the Nation of Humanity;
    There is only one Religion,the Religion of Love;
    There is only oneLanguage,the Language of the Heart;
    There is only one God,he is omnipresent”
    What I understand by “omnipresent” is that all divinity resides within us and we need to find it ourselves through a diligent and arduous search.For Sri Lankans to be Reawakened with this common humanity we must start teaching our children Human values now.Over the last 30-35 years Sri Lanka has fallen to the very depths of moral turpitude through primarily the vulgarity of those who have called themselves the leaders of our nation and I think we have forgotten the very values that permitted us to call our country the “Dhammadweepa”at some long forgotten time in our history. There is no time to be lost we must start now.

  • SC

    They dont need to have proper reasons to arrest any citizen in sl. This goverment is the most brutal becoming in the asia in the months to come. How they treat oppositions leaders alone can be seen as, there is no democracy in thecountry today. Gotabaya Rajapakshe´s actions are not second to Sadam hussein or any other leaders we heard in the recent past. The message that the MR and thugs pass to the world is disgusting.

    But the truth in terms of poll results and war crimes come to light very soon. The situation in sl today is beyond that we had in the past in the end of eighties. Premadasa was not this much abusing than MR has been. MR can be the worst leader that the country has ever produced sofar.

  • Flo

    When a high ranking military officer (or ‘ex’) decides to ‘rat’ on his leader it portends a serious lack of military discipline & standards. It would not be tolerated in any country
    as it threatens national security & integrity. I knew that patriotism is sorely lacking in Sri Lanka but this beats everything.
    Everyone seems to be focused on the injustice done to Sarath Fonseka but what about the injustice done to Sri Lanka when he gave that interview to the Sunday Leader & recently to BBC Today? What about protecting our sovereign rights – doesn’t that matter to anyone?
    There is a word in the english language for a person who resorts to this kind of thing & it is not “polecat” but traitor! What does that make those who support this kind of rhetoric?

  • ItWillNeverEnd

    Sri Lankans should not be surprised at all about what is going on right now.
    If Mahinda was powerful enough to destroy the LTTE, destroying anyone else in the island is a simple matter for him.
    He does not bend to international pressure. He is a bad ass.
    We all loved him when he screwed our common enemy LTTE. So lets continue to love him when he screws his ‘other’ enemies.
    Don’t be surprised. Just expect more [stuff] to go down.

  • Lalith, thank you for the article.

  • Sony

    Please give some credit to the government the way they have handled the situation.

    The government knew that General broke the law during the Presidential election campaign. Why didn’t the government arrest him then? What would have happened if the government arrested him as soon as they had evidence against him? The Colombians would have said that he was arrested because he was winning the election. (They totally believed the “close race” propaganda they themselves created. I have received bogus analysis with numbers predicting a Fonseka win more than once.) In addition, the arrest could have generated a “sympathy vote” for him. The west and the NGOs would have denounced MR and the government. It could have been a political disaster.

    Why arrest Fonseka now? This is the ideal time to do so. The government has only a narrow window. If you wait any longer, i.e., after dissolving the parliament and letting Fonseka declare his candidacy for a seat, then the government will be in the same quandary as described above.

    Fonseka must be punished for what he did. That is what Democratic countries like USA, UK, France, and Germany would do to a general who has done what Fonseka had done in their countries.

    You can protest all you want. But it is not going to be an honest protest. You could not fool the people before January 26th. Why do you think that you can fool the people now?

  • Sam

    when reading a few of these comments, I realy feel that these guys seem to have no idea about what is really going on in sl under the current rule. Not only SF´s abduction, but there are all forms of killings, abductions and physical harrasements that have become daily agenda in the country today. This is not comparable to any other previous regimes we had in the post independece history. Winning a war was a collective work to any right thinking person´s eye. But right at the moment the nation is divided within majority volks. Leaving all the political differences aside, if one would ask himself whether the life is secured today, the answer is no.
    If it should be the legal manner that a retired high ranking officer who earned the highest respect from the nation, had been treated day before yesterday, even 10 year old would ask, what is the real law in action srilanka today. Of course,even if governing president violated any laws or made crimes, he should equally be punished, but it is nnot the matter here, the manner he was abducted in front of two other senior politicians, as eye witnesses, he was brutally assualted. But the country´s media minister denied it openly regardelss of the availablity of evidences. Even if you have got all the evidences to prove your case, you have been made helpless according to the prevailing system in the country today- most alarming situation as NEVER BEFORE. This can BECOME daily routine for them in the days, weeks, months to come. When looking at the way that theprotesters were hit by cans and other sticks yesterday was shown to the world giving a sign, that only thuggery is in place under current rule in sl.

    Since law in function is well known to me in the west, and having lived in sl for such a long time, I know what rights we had then than today. We ddi not have harrasments of this degree even during Premadasa regime. At that time, Premadas was THEN critcised by almost everyone and people prayed not to have a leader of his sorta to be born again in sl. But when considering all the abuses, law violations, harrasements and human rights mal practices, today we are having a regime not second to that of Premadasa´s.

  • Belle

    “Of course,even if governing president violated any laws or made crimes, he should equally be punished, but it is nnot the matter here, the manner he was abducted in front of two other senior politicians, as eye witnesses, he was brutally assualted. But the country´s media minister denied it openly regardelss of the availablity of evidences.”

    Exactly, Sam! This is why I don’t understand why the threat MR posed to citizen rights was not understood by the majority who voted for him. He did not threaten their rights in secret–he did it well in the open. People don’t seem to understand that this is the end point of the spectrum of tyranny. He has been doing it since 2005. The abduction of Fonseka was not the first time.

  • Belle

    “Fonseka must be punished for what he did.”

    Wow, Sony–you seem to have decided on his guilt even before seeing any evidence. May I conclude that your politics determines what and how you see things?

  • Sony

    Dear Belle

    You may not. You are making an assumption here.
    “Sony–you seem to have decided on his guilt even before seeing any evidence.”

    How do you know that I have not seen evidence?

  • belle

    Yes, I suppose I did make an assumption here–certainly the wrong assumption. Apologies, my mistake. Considering that evidence hasn’t been publicly revealed, then I must presume that you work for the government or the military, and are in a sufficiently senior position as to have access to such an important case. That of course severely compromises your ability to be objective.

  • Sony

    When commanders design a war plan and when the troops implement the plan every individual is given a task to complete. (Sometimes the same task is given to a group of individuals.) Everyone is supposed to carryout his or her assigned task. When someone neglects to do his/her part or vacates the assigned position then (s)he is putting everyone in danger and the whole plan could collapse. Many solders made the supreme sacrifice caring out the assigned duties so that the army as a whole can claim the victory. Therefore, deserting the army is a serious offense second only to being a spy. Fonseka as the commander of the army was fully aware of these military crimes. In fact, going forward and meeting the “jonny” (LTTE land mines) was better than retreating and meeting the “Fonny” (Fonseka), was a saying among officers according to a news report.

    (1) Fonseka harbored and employed military deserters.

    (2) Fonseka threatened to reveal military secrets to enemies. (I.e., he threatened to become a spy.)

    Hence, he is guilty of the two most serious crimes according to the military law.

    If a General has done the above-mentioned crimes in the United States he would be striped of all military honors and will be court marshaled. No one will be protesting to save his ass.

  • Belle

    For a moment there, I thought you really had evidence! This is rumour, government propaganda.

    “In fact, going forward and meeting the “jonny” (LTTE land mines) was better than retreating and meeting the “Fonny” (Fonseka), was a saying among officers according to a news report.”

    Obviously, a pussy cat wasn’t going to kill the Tigers, no? So now you know how the war was won–with monstrosity, tyranny, fear, treachery.

    “2) Fonseka threatened to reveal military secrets to enemies. (I.e., he threatened to become a spy.)”

    Under military law, is a THREAT to reveal military secrets the same as actually revealing military secrets to enemies? Is threatening one of the most serious crimes under military law?

    “If a General has done the above-mentioned crimes in the United States he would be striped of all military honors and will be court marshaled. No one will be protesting to save his ass.”

    In the US, court martials are for officers and enlisted personnel. Somebody who has already left the service cannot be court martialed. So, if he is, there would be plenty of protests just on that aspect alone. If the person involved had been poised to reveal war crimes committed by the military, there would be a lot of popular support of him in the US. There are a lot of liberals in US–that’s how Obama got elected. Also, in the US, if someone is placed under military arrest while he is deeply involved in opposition politics, the people would cry “political motivation” and they would protest on that count too.

  • Sony

    Bear Belle

    How do you know it is rumor? How do you know it is government propaganda? Do you think BBC publish Sri Lankan government propaganda? “May I conclude that your politics determines what and how you see things?”

    No general or ex-general (There are no ex-generals in US. They are called generals even after they retire.) in US can get away by threatening to reveal military secrets. Contrary to your believes, US is a pretty conservative country. The so called liberals are just a shade to the left of far right and compare to the liberals of Sri Lanka they are way to the right.

    I standby my earlier statement.

    If a General has done what Fonseka had done in the United States he would be striped of all military honors and will be court marshaled. No one will be protesting to save him [Edited out].

  • Belle

    Yes, you’re right–my mistake. It seems that as long as a person is still on the military payroll, even as a retired officer, he can be court-martialed in the US. He can only avoid being court-martialed if he resigned from service.

    But then in US, they won’t wait for a retired general to get into an election campaign before they nab him for court-martial because that would look like an act of political expedience. Nor will they talk about vague plans to court-martial him before they have completed investigations and have actually laid the charges on him.

    I know it is rumour because nobody has presented evidence yet. When I say it is “rumour”, I mean that the truth or falsity has not been established yet—not that it is false.

    But I’ll assume you’re joking about Sri Lanka being more liberal in its liberalness than US. Sri Lanka has never had a minority president or prime minister, has it? The latest scholarship on liberal policies and philosophy isn’t coming out of Sri Lanka, is it? Obama’s popularity rates have been dropping because they don’t think he is sufficiently liberal. But one thing I’ll give Sri Lanka—its liberals are certainly very courageous in their willingness to take on a tyrannical regime.

    As for the BBC publishing SL government propaganda, it together with many other leading media do publish Sri Lanka propaganda all the time for the simple reason that most often, no alternative avenues of views are available. Many media will not publish an alternative claim unless the source is willing to reveal his/her name. You may also not be familiar with how SL diplomats handle the media in the countries they are posted to—they threaten to sue and pull all sorts of political heavyweight if the local press wants to feature any news that presents their government in an adverse light. Unlike other foreign diplomats who will merely tell you their side of the story, the SL diplomats will go all out to prevent the story from being published. In SL itself, aren’t foreign journalists refused entry if they won’t play ball?