The man with the highest power does not reveal himself as a possessor of ‘power’.  Therefore, he keeps his ‘power’.  Tao Te Ching

I was wondering how Deepa Mehta would put to the screen Salman Rushdie’s Midnights Children and then heard from her at the Ottawa premier that he wrote the screen play.   The movie did not disappoint and was graphic in showing us how emotionally charged us South Asians can be and how deeply divided we can stay – it left me wondering whether we can get above all these racial, religious and cultural constructs that we swirl around in.   The story line depicts how intertwined the Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities are in the subcontinent and how political leaders create wedges between them causing so much pain and suffering.

It was even more alarming when Mehta said, in the post movie chat, how Iran had forced the Sri Lankan government to stop the production for 5 days.  The old fatwa on Rushdie is yet alive!.  When will these old men get over it?.

The movie brought out an unusually deep sadness as well as an elation reminding me of my 27 incredible years of calling Sri Lanka my home.  I had seen the best in people, the generosity, a graciousness I rarely see anywhere else and the worst in people, the beastly terror that the movie also depicted.  While it was fantasy, story-telling at its best to my Canadian friends, it was real and palpable to me.

Development with a Heart

Since leaving Sri Lanka, I hear of the new infrastructure, the expressway to Galle, clean and efficient Colombo, yet I ponder what good all this is, as I hear of continued injustices, the militarization of schools, which shows a lack of soul, spirit and humanity in the leadership.

Yes, the war took some of the humanity away as naturally it will change the culture and psyche, numbing people to violence as it became a part of life for many.   Yet, the Buddha nature of people embedded deep in the minds of people cannot be shaken.

That is why I was shocked when I saw Buddhist monks terrorizing people to protect Sinhala-Buddhist culture, in itself an oxymoron as Buddha’s noble truth says origin of suffering is attachment and desire.  When a Buddhist monk terrorizes in the name of protecting the Sinhala-Buddhist race, it reeks of fear, suffering, desire and I wonder about the foundation of the Dhamma, the very Dhamma which is Metta and Karuna that the Sangha has to propagate.  I also realize again it is a few politically motivated “monks” who give the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha a bad name, but much damage is done, especially to the young and impressionable.

Values and Nations

Most countries are founded on a set of sound values.  For instance, Canada’s values are freedom, respect for cultural differences, a commitment to social justice and peace.  Even though they may not fully live up to these values, especially when it comes to Canada’s own Aboriginal communities – in itself a complex matter related to land rights, resources and economics.

Yet, there is public debate around all this and every citizen has an opportunity to voice their opinion safely.  More so, the Canadian government promotes these values.

The Citizenship and Immigration Canada publishes the following in its website.

We have developed a unique federal style of government that is based on compromise and co-existence. We value our democracy, and every citizen is encouraged to do his or her share. Our laws are based on our democratic values.

Canadian values include:

Equality—We respect everyone’s rights. Everyone has the right to speak out and express ideas that others might disagree with. Governments must treat everyone with equal dignity and respect—two other fundamental Canadian values.

Respect for cultural differences—We try to understand and appreciate the cultures, customs and traditions of all Canadians, whether they were born in Canada or came here from another country.

Freedom—As Canadians, we enjoy basic freedoms, such as freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Peace—We are proud of our non-violent society and our international role as peacekeepers.

Law and order—We respect democratic decision making and the “rule of law.” We promote due process so that the courts and the police treat everyone fairly and reasonably. We ensure that our elected governments remain accountable to Canadians.

So, if Sri Lanka is truly Buddhist, its values promoted from the top should be loving kindness, compassion and tolerance of others.  Indeed, Sri Lanka is known for its tolerance and hospitality and it is yet well and alive for the most part in spite of the boorish behaviour of our political and some religious leaders.

Changing Times

Time will be the judge, as a confident new global generation emerges demanding more from government.  Political leaders continue to thrive in terror at their peril, going by the stories I heard from many young people from around the world, at a recent Canadian Forum on Youth in Ottawa.

Sally from Egypt spoke of the youth led Arab Spring – “This force is driven by hope and not by fear, for freedom, justice and dignity” – bringing the Mubarak government down.  Daniel from Burkina Faso said “We want to establish a society which reflects our values”.  He spoke of the  adult world operating on values based on market economics, business and political reign of terror – “We do not want a reign of terror, we refuse to bow down to terrorizing as that is out of date and out of touch with people”.  Their passion and commitment for a better world in Burkina Faso eventually brought down its corrupt and violent government.

The new generation asserting for human values of respect, integrity, empathy and compassion that will give them dignity.

That is why this emotional photo tweeted by President Obama embracing wife Michelle became the most re-tweeted picture in history.  The Guardian blog posted by Jonathan Jones the day after the US election speaks of how the mainstream media run by old men got it all wrong when they predicted a Romney victory.

Photo courtesy Huffington Post

“The old white men of the US were caught totally by surprise when women, younger folk, gay voters, black people and Latin Americans voting for Barak Obama” wrote Jones in the article.  They rejected a fear mongering right wing politics of the republicans led by old men who are not with the times.

It essentially echoed Daniel from Burkina Faso that terrorizing people is out of date and voted for humanity, sincerity and emotional intelligence.

Jones goes on to say, “the enthusiastic re-tweeting of this photograph indicates how deeply most television and newspaper reports and commentaries got the 2012 presidential election wrong. They became blind to the authenticity of Obama, and the faith such a quality can still inspire.  It’s an intimate picture: in sharing it with the world, he expressed a trust in people.”

An Authentic Buddhist Sri Lanka

We in Sri Lanka are indeed blessed with a teaching that is practical and rational.

The breath is the cornerstone of this practice with meditation and mindfulness bringing awareness to self and its defilements.  The Four Noble Truths simply and logically reveal to us of the samsara of suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path encompassing Behavioural (Ethical Foundation), Meditative (Mental Discipline) and Wisdom (Conceptual Foundation or Right View) gives us a simple guide to deal with life’s challenges and live skilfully.

By and large every Sri Lankan has metta and karuna embedded in their cultural DNA.  Just that when there is little justice and fairness from the system and the leaders, lends to a collective low social esteem and people become reptilian, as survival is imperative.

If our politicians and the Sangha have the will and courage to change and truly live this teaching, we may see a balance between the spirit, the soul and material prosperity.  They can indeed live hand in glove which is Sri Lanka’s opportunity to be an example of harmony where rational intelligence balances with emotional and spiritual intelligence as a nation.

If not, we may see new leaders  emerge from the new generation who embrace these human values and have the courage like the rest of the world, whether it is Arab Spring, Occupied Movement, to begin a transformation.

Show me a violent man who has come to a good end and I will make him my teacher – Tao Te Ching 

  • Vinod Moonesinghe

    Among the values Canada embodies, according to this article, are ‘Equality…
    Respect for cultural differences…
    Law and order…’
    These values were conspicuously absent when Canadian troops formed the spearhead of the invasion of Haiti, which resulted in the removal and deportation of the democratically elected President Bertrand Aristide and his replacement by the TonTon Macoutes terrorists, in practical terms a coup d’etat by Canada! Aristide’s Lavalas Party, which has the support of most Haitians, continues to be excluded from the electoral process.
    Canada’s ‘international role as peacekeepers’ includes its covert participation in the illegal invasion of Iraq (it was the third largest contributor of personnel and warships.

  • Kusuma Wattawa

    Thank you thank you thank you …………….
    I’m so relieved ……. true Buddhists should start speaking up…….

  • Lakshaman Heenatigala

    Thank you Lalith for a well written essay. The flow of thoughts about Sri Lanka therein, remind me of the Mahaweli river’s flow around Katugastota. I am sure you remember how it was, when the waters were calm and then how dangerous it was when it ran following the storms.
    As a former Buddhist, who still practices the five precepts on a daily basis as a Christian, I am saddened by what has happened to the practice of the Buddhist lifestyle in general in Sri Lanka. The calmness has given way to a violent stormy nature.
    Yes, Sri Lanka needs the “authentic Buddhists” to arise and reveal themselves, keeping in mind that Sri Lanka is a multi-racial and multi religious nation. Just like Canada, where we enjoy freedom irrespective of race and religion.

  • Truth

    “Yes, the war took some of the humanity away as naturally it will change the culture and psyche, numbing people to violence as it became a part of life for many. Yet, the Buddha nature of people embedded deep in the minds of people cannot be shaken”

    Re: the above paragraph by the author:

    It is not a secret that violence was first started by the Sinhala Budhist long long before the “war” started!!!

    In fact Tamil uprising to defend themselves against several STATE SPONSORED pogroms is the evaluation of the armed resistance!!

    He is trying to put the blame for the violence to the war (ie. indirectly to the Tamils)

    Until Sinhalese own up to their part for the ugly situation in SRi Lanka, things will not improve. Truth must be told to the younger generation!!

    I am not saying that all sinhalese or all Budhists are violent or bad. There are good people in all linguistic groups and all religious groups.
    I feel as far as Sri Lanka is concerned Budhism seems to be having little influence on the people to be peaceful or compassionate!!!
    This applies to other Budhist countries in the South Asian region also!!!

    I agree completely that politicians, and their greed has every thing to do with the present ugly situation in Sri Lanka. Those monks who encourage the politicians and common man to do violence in the name of Budhism are only thugs in saffron robes.

  • Jayalath

    Authentic Buddhist and true believers , true buddhist , what these all about ? These confessions wind me up big time ! Hello people , if you have a brain at least to the size of a peanut , I’m sure you will seek to discuss a much better and wider Concerned subject than this primitive subject .First place the religion is a refusal Process of 21st century and why we are still speaking about is , as our people’s brain is still not developed into the size of peanut . But our people’s brains are well developed to practise the stealing , murdering , raping , lying , grudging ,adultery, beating , malpractice , are these true ? This is what literally we have been brought up by these religions last 2600 years .

    So, what we need then ? Mister , the law , the law and better governance . People of a country will fear for the fine and punishment. Therefore , the restoration of legitimacy is most important than any thing else . We cannot achieve a better governance without training people to respect the law ,make them law abiding citizens which is far important . it has to flow down without a different of states or person .this is the fact , we have law in Sri Lanka , but does it work fairly ? No , therefore , first thing is the politicians should learn to respect the law . Secondly keep the people under the law .

    There are no respect for the Deepa Mehta or religions now . The world has been changing constantly , and people are changing accordingly , but no body can change the law , but the law can be changed according to the scale of problem is perceived .

    I do not need to teach you about what is happening in this pearl of ocean , every thing is happening one way or other , we only can do is thinking and doing things for a better tomorrow . we can learn lot from Singapore .

  • BigQuestion

    My humble opinion is, Buddhism cannot sustain in Sri Lanka without going after other religions. Even though this is a well written article reality is different. Buddha preached among the Hindus and other religious sects, in short he lived among other religious sect but today some thugs that live in yellow robe do not look in to growing pubs, political corruption and sexual indecencies in the country. All they want to protect their religion only by attacking other religious freedom. It simply reveals to the international community that Buddhism cannot sustain with its own teaching hence need to undermine others to sustain in the country. Is there any problem in Buddha’s teaching then?

  • Just a thought

    Came across an interesting news about SL Budhist monks.

    I just could not help thinking an easy solution for this. My solution is as follows:

    Better to let them do some work for their upkeep!! They have all the “luxuries”, which they were supposed to renounce when they become monks. Since they have come a “long way” they need not beg anymore!!

    In any case they promote hatred, not peace or compassion as they were supposed to be doing!!!