Photo courtesy The Economist, Truth and consequences

I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist.
I am willing to fight for peace.
Nothing will end war unless the people
themselves refuse to go to war.

This government inherited a very complex challenge with the LTTE so focused on the mission of creating Eelam using any means possible, with terror as its central strategy.

At the same time, I do not stand in judgment on Prabhakran for starting this movement as he probably had just cause at the time and I even do not judge the use of force and violence to make a point, like Mandela did to get the attention of the Apartheid government in South Africa of their unjust policies.   I do, however, abhor what Prabhakaran did as a ruthless leader who did not value any life in his quest to achieve his goal.

LTTE had clearly showed that they were not interested in talking for a settlement. It was all or nothing.  This government unlike any other before simply resolved on its own single vision – destroy the LTTE at any cost.

LTTE being a terrorist organization had no bounds in meeting its ends, but the government has to be accountable.  Therein lies the problem.  War is horrific and any war will have atrocities committed where even civilians are hurt.

Lessons from History

One does not have to look far in history to see this.  The very countries that accuse Sri Lanka of war crimes as allied forces during the Second World War performed air raids on civilian populations in Europe and Japan and many other atrocities on the ground. These have been defined crimes by some historians and yet not a single allied government official or a soldier was held accountable as they believed that they were conducting a just war against Hitler and his friends for defensive reasons.

Later, the USA was tainted forever by the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam war. US soldiers killed close to 500 unarmed citizens in South Vietnam, mostly women and children on March 16, 1968.  Some of the victims were sexually abused, beaten, tortured, maimed, and some of the bodies were found mutilated.  Of the 26 US soldiers initially charged with criminal offences or war-crimes for actions at My Lai, only one was convicted.  He served four and a half months of his two-year sentence.   This was a huge crime, but who knows what those young men who committed these crimes were going through on the ground in this horrific war?.

We are all seeing in graphic details the more recent collateral damage the western allies are committing in pursuing Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I am not saying Sri Lanka should be absolved from the allegations, but these are complex issues to debate and do not have black and white answers.   As such, Sri Lanka has to open up for a skillful discussion both internally and internationally and seek a fair hearing from the world.

Understanding the West

As such, the Sri Lankan government did not have to run for cover in meeting war crimes allegations with nations who know about collateral damage in war so well.

To do this with skill, Sri Lanka needs to understand the west better from a philosophical point of view to address its allegations, whether or not they are spurred on by the strong Diaspora.

The western worldview was formed over the last 400 years after Bacon, Descartes, Newton among many others took the power away from the church and the glorification of a transcendental god.   They linked knowledge to power and transformed study of nature empirically.  Things are black or white.

This created a very objective world with no room for subjectivity. The mind and physical reality are separate.  Only humans have the capacity for rational thought and action and giving meaning to the world.  We also know in reality that here there is a grading for this ‘human’  based on where they were born and live starting from the first to the third world.   So, the western construction of human identity, based on social and economic class (colours and races are now getting mixed) makes them patriarchal leading to the kind of finger wagging that goes on at the ‘lower class’ humans in the third world.

So, when the third world Sri Lanka wins a battle with the most ruthless of terrorists in the world, there is bewilderment – they need to know how and what was the cost of this victory.  They seek to know whether the rules were broken and if they were, they seek accountability for them.  The irony is that these rules are different for the first world as they deem the judge to be above the rules, hence the double standard.

Sri Lanka does not have to flinch in any way to face the world in this instance as it has got leverage from ending this war.  It was telling when last week the international agencies Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Services upgraded its rating on Sri Lanka’s debt to a B+.   Also the US 1 billion dollar bond issue of the Sri Lankan government has been oversubscribed 7.5 times to US 7.5 billion dollars.

As such, we have to put things in perspective and respect, for instance the US Congress threatening to cut of foreign aid to Sri Lanka, amounting to about $13 million and not harangue them about it.  That is their decision and more Sri Lanka becomes independent as the economy grows, better it is to be gracious and act in dignity.

Sri Lanka being so small, yet strategic, has value in who we are, value in its position and what we do and its potential and as such cannot afford to have enemies.  Sri Lanka has to learn to be skillful at the geopolitical game and that requires objectivity, expertise, experience and not emotional jingoism.

That is exactly why the Sri Lankan government needs to create the spaces for a dialogue and discussion for these difficult conversations, first locally and then internationally.

Facing the Dilemmas

If I think about the war in context of my own beliefs and values, as a person brought up with Buddhist teachings, I faced a dilemma.  The first contradiction was, how can I cling to the ideal of peace, when the other party did not want peace?.

That dilemma led to the violation of the very precept that Buddhist teaching is founded on – killing another being.

On the other hand allowing my-self to entertain killing to attain peace was liberating, as I experienced the LTTE terror when bombs blew in Colombo.  Now that the war is over I know how palpable the LTTE terror was and feel that freedom from fear which pervaded my entire being weighing me down.  As such, this violation of the first precept has alleviated suffering for many, since the end of the war.

Yet, I do acknowledge and lament the innocent lives that were lost not only to the bombs that went off around the country but all those in the Wanni and the North in the process.

This is an extremely complex issue that needs to be addressed with compassion and empathy for everyone who is now deemed a perpetrator and also all the victims as the so called perpetrators are victims too.

Space for Dialogue

I reiterate the government then has to create wide spaces and a lot of room for dialogue on this topic, as we have to now begin shifting gears from the war to peace, violence to non violence and commence on a new era of development for Sri Lanka.

This is especially important as, violence has now become commonplace in the country, as it bore results whether it was the early victories for the LTTE, everything in between and now this victory for the government.   Jaques Ellul in his book Violence: Reflections from a Christian Perspective has written

“First law of violence is continuity.  Once you start violence you cannot get away from it.  Violence has brought clear visible results; how then to go back to a way of acting that certainly looks ineffectual and seems to promise very doubtful results? “

That is why hearing Groundviews was blocked tugged at my heart, even though I was not surprised as there has been a pattern of fear of people voicing their opinion, if they do not tow the official line.  This fear, as we all know, has even led to lives being taken from those who have asked questions and put forward a different point of view, confirming Ellul’s assertion.

Spaces like Groundviews allows for those multiple dissenting or assenting voices to be aired in the open and safely for many and give the government many insights into the ground situation whether it is within the country, with the Diaspora or the international community.   This is the only way we can end this cycle of violence that is in everyone’s hearts and minds.

Challenges for the Government

Governing Sri Lanka now must be most challenging at the moment.   I wonder how the leaders are dealing with the conflicting advice they must be getting or all the issues of running the country and also to work towards a national reconciliation and to rebuild.

This is the very time then to open up and listen skillfully to all kinds of views, and use conflict in these dialogues deliberately to protect decision making options and power.

Government also has a great opportunity to use these diverse and opposing views to structure the political environment to maximize the dissonance constructively paving the way for informed decision making.

Yet I empathize with the decision makers and wonder what suffering and paranoia dictates decisions to stop the dialogue and discussion.  I wonder what fearful extremist thoughts lead to these actions?.  These times require introspection from the leaders, reflection and contemplation and great skill in thoughtful action.

Inquiring through a Buddhist Perspective

Even though Groundviews was back on line a day later, I want to explore the mindsets that provoke these kinds of decisions from a Buddhist perspective.

First of all, we have to accept that an educated society is bound to have dissension.  To add to that, it is the age of knowledge and information with news flowing into every corner of this country and the world.  Locally, this is a good thing as now many more people are participating in the affairs of this country bringing in a certain creativity that fuels development in a sustainable manner both to society and nature around us.  Internationally, this confirms the interconnected and interlinked nature of the world.  What happens here impacts the entire world too.

Obviously, these kinds of decision to oppose dissenting views whether by shutting out Groundviews or attacking newspaper offices or TV stations or sadly killing journalist come from a place of deep fear and paranoia and mistrust.  How do we address this suffering of fears from a Buddhist point of view?

The Noble Truths

We also know conflict is a part of our human condition, as with suffering, the first noble truth of the Buddha. There is certainly suffering arising from differences in opinions and then we cause much more suffering in the way we handle these differences.  

If we examine Buddha’s parable of the two arrows found in the Samyutta-nikaya, xxxvi.6 (the Sallatha Sutta) it states

When afflicted with a feeling of pain those who lack inner awareness sorrow, grieve and lament, beating their breasts and becoming distraught. So they feel two pains, physical and mental. It is just like being shot with an arrow, and right afterwards being shot with a second one, so that they feel two arrows

Buddha explained the distinction between these two pains – an affliction – in this case a written opinion in Groundviews that aroused pain and fear in the mind on the one hand, and, on the other, the suffering that came from this pain and fear, — to frustrate and agonize them which led to the unskillful action of blocking the site.

It is important to make this distinction, as many first arrows are bound to keep coming at us and they are not within our control.  The second arrow is within our control. We become the victims first, if we allow the second arrow to manifest and then victimize others.

It is fear of losing power and position that manifests itself for the political leaders through the first arrow that drive the decisions that end up leading to conflict.

The Buddha said, they lead to the Akusalamulas (unhealthy roots of action) – Lobha (greed), Dosa (hate and resentment), Moha (delusion and self centered action) and these interact in the minds of the aggressor in turn leading to actions that lead to more fear and paranoia.  So, there is no end to this cycle.  It just escalates, ending with the mightier with the power of swords and guns winning for the short term, but it increases their fear further.  How sustainable is that ?.

If the Sri Lankan leaders can take some time to trace the origins of their fears testing the akusalamulas, they may be able to break this cycle and become much more skillful at governing a people that are intelligent and informed and Sri Lanka can lead the way in balancing the virtues of metta (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), muditha (sympathetic joy) and upekka (equanimity).

Buddha tied his Dhamma together through the concept of patticcasamuppada (dependent origination) which tells us everything is interconnected and interlinked.  So, if we trace far back enough, we may be able to link the chain of thoughts and feelings that brought us to this level of fear and paranoia.  This also means that every word we speak, action we take has some sort of an impact somewhere.

In this inquiry, our leaders may identify the suffering that leads to despair that leads to greed to stay in power leading to fear and resentment of people who question policies and decisions and that can arise from delusion that, their lives and positions are permanent and that nothing changes based on a self centered action.

Buddha’s second noble truth states there is no need to despair as nothing is permanent.  Whether it’s anger in our hearts,  guns blazing in a battle, the wrath of the west or an article in Groundviews espousing an opinion contradictory to the government’s, all these will lose energy and change with the next minute, a new day and the next, people will forget and move onto new things.

End of suffering can arise then from the cessation of clinging forming the third noble truth.  Buddha tells us that clinging to power and position can lead to more suffering and conflict so let go, detach as the other way is a losing battle.

As such, an article that may seem defamatory, it may be wiser to read it for what it is, as those opinions themselves are impermanent, learn from it, inquire deeper into why such an opinion is coming forth, reflect, respond skillfully, take action to address the issue, let go and move on as there will be another opinion that is lobbed that needs thoughtful action again.

Handling differences unskillfully because of clinging causes suffering for so many, in fact an entire nation and imagine the bad karma of killing for a difference in opinion.

The fourth noble truth provides a middle path to live by through the noble eightfold pathway which is divided into wisdom (right understanding and thought), morality (right speech, action and livelihood) and meditation (right effort, mindfulness and concentration).  Yet, this is not a dogma, nor an ideology, just a way of life that will bring peace and harmony to self and others.

Putting a Mirror on Self

This then is about putting a mirror on self first, as my thought will lead to a feeling then to a thought that will lead to action.  The contemplative action will have a tremendous impact on my-self first, people around me, the world and the universe.

Leaders have even a larger moral responsibility as every word, every little action has tremendous energy to impact so many.  So, should they not be mindful of what they say and do, as it could mean happiness for so many or much suffering if it comes from a place of the akusalamulas ?.

Sri Lanka can Show the Way

A nation that is called Dhammadveepa should lead the way to transform this complex and competitive world clinging to an ideology of materialisms and consumerism through the mantra “growth is great” as all this is bringing out the worst in us humans leading to war and the akusalamulas in the process. This then leads to a slow destruction of the world, way before its time.

Sri Lanka has such a wonderful opportunity to be much more skillful and show its true Buddhist colours as a secular nation after winning a brutal war.  As a martial artist I also believe in defense and defeating the enemy, when non-violence is impracticable or had failed after many peace talks with the LTTE and even a greater violence would have continued if the war was not ended.

Then the defeat of the LTTE was for all peace loving people, be it Thamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher, Sinhala and others in this country and for the world. Then there has to be magnanimity in victory and most of all to acknowledge that every person living in this country has a say, has an opinion as they are here by choice, as they too love this country as much as anyone else.  This is the true middle path.

May all beings be well and happy!

  • Ravana

    “On the other hand allowing my-self to entertain killing to attain peace was liberating, as I experienced the LTTE terror when bombs blew in Colombo.”

    The above sentence simply does not make sense in the context of the author calling himself Buddhist. Given that the “Buddhist” religion implacably denounces killing one cannot call oneself a member of that religion by breaking the percept. OTOH if one is a practitioner of Dhamma and believe in the principle of Kamma, without being party to religious (blind) faith or dogma. There is no point in pretending to be pious when talking about killing. The principle of Kamma if applied with scientific insights would be best illustrated by the Brahamjala principle or Pattaiccasamuppada which proposes a model of balance/symmentry in the Universe/existence. This principle would then demand that all things (whether from a fundamental perspective or at mid-level evolutionary or at a more superficial human perspective) must be balanced. As symmetry at fundamental level is well established I will not waste space on it. But few people understand that Evolutionary principle is also conservative and symmetric. An example is that when the Dinosaurs dies out the Mammals that emerged were initially emerged were huge. The huge predator of an equally huge prey both gave rise to descendants. Ten million years later the descendent of the predator was now prey (vice versa for the descendent of the prey). This illustration can be seen in the DVD series “Walking with Beasts”.

    Coming to more superficial human history, if Kamma is going to perform its inevitable balancing act, then a force to oppose the LTTE was bound to emerge to vanquish it. A so-called Buddhist could not be an instrument of it. However, a practitioner of Dhamma would not be bound by such constraints.

    Exploring the principle of Kamma further, the author should consider (before asking for Christian forgiveness towards perpetrators of War Crimes) the manner of dealing with the LTTE. If the instrument of Kamma was indeed applied with some constraints and indeed with the principles International Law of War, then a siege would have been caries out and the LTTE leadership forced to surrender and brought to justice. In this context those who had prosecuted the war would have merely performed their duty, not beyond its call. Thus they or their descendants would not be subject to invariably ruthless march of Kamma more than mild adjustment of symmetry. Instead if there was concerted effort in the last two weeks, specifically with Indian compulsion, to take revenge on this leadership, then the kamma will inevitably follow the perpetrators.

    Those who were persecuted unjustly both during and after the war will also have symmetry bestowed upon them or their descendants. This is a simple law of nature as discovered by practitioners of Dhamma. According to this principle, one cannot avoid kamma through forgiveness or asking for it; you may merely ameliorate its effects. Symmetry and balance will be maintained by the natural law.

    In this context, the writer who is probably a member of the majority of the majority, who would not have any relative who was a victim of State Terror of the 1987-89 period, and therefore has along with this majority, entirely denied or forgotten those victims and their families, are bound to live a modern nightmare of truth being pushed in their faces whether they like it or not. The descendants/relatives of the 87-89 victims will ensure that this happens. Furthermore there is a force multiplier here (to use a military term). The number of Tamil victims of crimes during the recent war might be small compared to the 87-89 conflagration, but the crimes against them (justifiably) will be seen as race-crimes as well. Thus these victims not only have a few tens of thousand relatives who are incensed, but also a 3million strong Sri Lankan Tamils spread throughout the World and another 70 million to support them.

    Try and Bake that cake in your oven!

    • Vignarajah



      I found the Lalith Gunaratne’s sentence ” On the other hand allowing my-self to entertain killing to attain peace was liberating”….. alarming too !

      Seems to me, that the impunity for murdering Tamils for 62 years become entrenched in the Sinhala mindset.

      As we notece here.. this is sort of normal for the author to kill Tamil people and “liberating “ for him too.

      The Lalith Gunaratne’s slogan: “ middle-path in post-war Sri Lanka” and other Pseudo Reconciliation Flashy Slogans are “We are All Sri Lankans “, “We are One in One country”. “In Sri Lanka there are only Patriots or Traitors”, “ There is no Minority in Sri Lanka” etc, etc, etc.. are deceptive.

      Also the flashy quick-fixes – “Let’s move on..go ahead as a nation, let’s to remind Sri Lanka people of gruesome Sri Lanka past when they try to forget it ” is not going to heal the nation’s deep wounds.

      On the contrary it will encourage impunity for vicious cycle of violence against minority.

      No, we should not forget and we should say never again.

      The healing of the nation ,after the Black July , May Massacre 2009 atrocities, starts only after a grieving process, unearthing truth, and accounting for misdeed, naming the perpetrators, compensating the victims or their kith and kin, apologizing for the atrocities

      • Abhijit

        That means you haven’t read Mahavamsa. Dushta Gramini aka Dutta Gemunu was congratulated by Theras for killing a Tamil Elara.

        The only fault of Elara was that he was not a buddhist. Though he was accepted as a just king by all, Mahavamsa glorifies his treacherous murder as some sort of sacred duty which was carried out by dutta gamini.

        This is embedded in the psyche of sinhalese and hence such justifications crop up often.

  • wijayapala

    Lalith, the only area where I disagree is how you put all the emphasis on the leaders to develop a Buddhist mindset. In a democracy the burden for having enlightened thinking falls on the people who elect the leaders and the society from whom leaders emerge. The paranoia and mistrust that the leaders have reflect the paranoia and mistrust experienced by their electorate.

  • Vino Gamage

    Phew! Mind-boggling to some who must be thankful that the ”theory” in the article is distilled into UN Charter which is much easier to follow.

    Mhhh… This high-flown stuff is about LTTE era and post-LTTE era in the South of the country:
    i.pre-LTTE Sri Lanka is left out Northeast Sri Lanka is left out

    The gaping hole distorts the reality.

    • Vino Gamage

      The government will be happy to see that distorted history comes through at the same time as exaltation of Buddhism.

      • Vino Gamage

        Non-Buddhists are taking up Buddhism all over the world. What Sri Lanka needs is the down-to-earth application of ”live and let live”.

      • Ward

        How urgent and useful is for Groundviews to educate the future generation of undistorted post-independence history.

        In the name of free speech we shouldn’t peddle out distorted history when we accuse the government of intolerance of dissent – the society must be intolerant of distorted history. Reconciliation will be fast in this age of social media if the young generation is told the truth.

        Tamil politics has been driven one full circle in 55years back to 1956.
        Teaching/learning distorted history shouldn’t pave way for a second circle.

  • Surendran Sivasubramaniam

    This call for showing off “its true Buddhist colours as a secular nation” is a non sequitur. It stems from the popular belief that Buddhism is a philosophy and not a religion. Indeed, all religions are philosophies. This can be concluded by the popular definition of philosophy as a theory or attitue held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior.

    And please stop boasting about your prowess in martial arts and nuclear physics. All your articles carry this boast. Boasting is against the principles of Buddhism.

  • Punithavathi

    With regards to the term “terrorist organisation”, when it comes to Sri Lanka you cannot lay this label upon the LTTE without similarly laying it upon the GoSL. A government undoubtedly has the sovereign right to defend itself. Post-independence governments consistently undermined minority safety and equality, paving the way for a violent uprising and for this notion of sovereignty to be called into question by the island’s minority youths. It is worth remembering that prior to 1983, Tamil militant movements were sparsely supported by the population they claimed to protect. Following the riots however, support for the LTTE overwhelmed the nation. The question of Sri Lankan sovereignty was not an issue created by this “terrorist organisation”; it was a direct result of the GoSL’s unwillingness to accept and protect its minority populations.

    You state that your abhorrence for Prabhakaran comes from his identity as a “ruthless leader who did not value any life in his quest to achieve his goal.” You go on to say that the GoSL was therefore put in a spot to destroy him and his organisation at all costs. You claim however, that unlike a “terrorist organisation, a government has to be accountable for its actions and therein lies the problem. Lalith, the problem is not that there were civilian casualties; the problem lies in the GoSL’s claim that there were no civilian casualties. It lies in the GoSL’s consistent claims that all is well in Sri Lanka. It lies in the GoSL’s thuggish disregard for members of the press and all who care to raise a dissenting voice. The problem is not that war is horrific and atrocities are inevitable; the problem is that this government can equally be defined as a “terrorist organisation” – not against the now vanquished LTTE, but against Sri Lankans as a whole.

    As for it being the government’s responsibility to create wide spaces and room for dialogue, frankly this responsibility lies with the people – the majority of whom are Sinhalese. Few governments, in either the Western or Eastern worlds, will be wont to create space for their policies to be truly questioned. This is even more so the case in Sri Lanka, were said policies are run by ethnically chauvanistic politicians. In this way, I am grateful for your article. I myself am unfamiliar with Buddhism outside of its basic tenets. It is my hope that your ideology will resonate with those who identify themselves as Buddhists and that this will help develop a way forward.

    I will be honest when I say that I do not understand some of your statements in your final conclusion. You say “there has to be magnanimity in victory”. Who are the victors? And for whom is this magnanimity?

  • Velu Balendran

    The Sinhala centric view of the author is understandable. This link is a view from the other side of the divide.

    Though I wasn’t inclined to read the full article, if Buddhism can be cited to justify the war strategy followed that will be a sad exposition of how Buddha’s preaching can be misappropriated.

    • Velu Balendran

      Editor: an extra inverted comma has crept in at the very end of the link (after 329). Could you pls correct this? Thanks

    • Ravana

      Can you provide a translation for those who cannot read Tamil. Are the photographs of victims of LTTE or SLA fire? Can proof be provided that this is a “war crime”?

      • Velu Balendran

        Essentially it is about prohibited phosphorous bombs dropped by SLAF on a hamlet in Puthumaathalan; how people suffocated and collapsed due to lack of oxygen. The implication is that these are ordinary civilians. As for proof, you as well as I know that the area is out of bounds for public. So the proof can come from some of the 330K IDPs who could bear witness to this, who I am sure will testify under the right conditions (of impartiality, witness protection etc). That’s why a strongly constituted war crimes investigation is required, which is out of the question by any Sinhala regime in binary SL. Thanks for your interest (and the balanced comment at the lead).

  • Quite enlightening Lalith!!!
    …and excellent choice of title too! I for one would have been eternally undecided between;

    “Treading the middle path in Sri Lanka: Killing terrorists with loving kindness”


    “Sticking it out to the Christian West: How Buddhists should learn patronise themselves”

    @Groundviews: shouldn’t the “Banyan News” banner supposed to be on this article?!?

  • Shiva

    The Rajapakse regime has alleged to have committed worse attrocities on the innocent Tamils than the LTTE terrorists committed on the Sinhala.

    LTTE never had a real censorship on media, journalists, diplomats, NGOs and Human Rights groups but the Rajapakse regime has denied access to all these independent bodies to the Tamil areas and meeting Tamil politicians as the Rajapakse regime has been committing unspeakable crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing of Tamils with the collaboration of the Congress Indian regime.

    The Buddhism in Sri Lanka is different and full of hate, crimes, sex scandals, chauvinism, racial bias than the real Dalai Lama Buddhism.

    Now the Tamil struggle for freedom and independence has moved to global capitals and Tamil Nadu and one has to wait and see how the accountability for the war crimes and justice to the victims are delivered.

    Tamil Diaspora young, vibrant, powerful, gaining momentum and even may take on the Congress regime of India that has made a mockery and historical blunder in supporting an alleged war criminal Rajapakse regime and undemocratically voted against the UN war crimes and human rights investigation in Geneva.

    • “LTTE never had a real censorship on media, journalists, diplomats, NGOs and Human Rights groups”

      Your entire comment is a gem, but that one sentence really does take the cake.

      • wijayapala

        “LTTE never had a real censorship on media, journalists, diplomats, NGOs and Human Rights groups”

        I think Shiva was trying to say that the LTTE made sure to kill anyone who disagreed with Prabakaran before they could talk to the media, diplomats, and human rights groups.

    • Surendran Sivasubramaniam


      one of the first blows for human rights activists came from the LTTE. I am referring to Rajani Thiranagama.

      The LTTE started taxing ngos long before the government of MR did. The LTTE taught a leeson or two to the MR government on taxation.