Featured image courtesy AFP/Getty Images

An established morality is as necessary as good government to the welfare of society. Societies disintegrate from within more frequently than they are broken up by external pressures”- Judge Patrick Arthur Devlin

Given the manner in which this land is touted as the “Miracle of Asia” by some, living in a state of utopia, as well as branded and marketed as a Buddhist country; the cradle of Theravada Buddhism, first-time visitors to this land may be pardoned, if they expect to see, the majority of its citizenry claiming to be Buddhists, walking around with halos, over their heads.

The reality behind this facade of pious sobriety is, a much depraved society, manifesting all its ugly forms, making the stark absence of, an established morality in this country, obvious.

The seemingly ceaseless propensity towards moral degeneration is all around us today. Not a day goes by, without a murder, rape, child abuse, thuggery, drug abuse related offences, sexual harassment of women, antics of corrupt-to-the core politicians, journalists, the police and some in academia; medical, legal, education etc., being reported. Most even make it to the headlines.

Much like the clichéd ‘2500 year old culture’ of this land, which remains today as material ruins of ancient monuments and edifices; so is our moral culture; in ruins. Hence ‘culture’ as in refinement of the mind, morals and taste, is deafening in its absence.

In a society driven by greed for wealth and power at any cost, ‘culture’ in the moral sense, holds no water anymore. With once highly respected and revered professions, including medicine, legal, education, and the media today, infested with those, morally corrupt to the core, caught up in the trammels of materialism, where does one look to, for examples set by leaders, to be emulated?

The few of those who, still value and uphold all that is decent are, held hostage by a society of ceaseless depravity. Their voices are unheard and thus, are unable to turn the tide of the ever increasing permissive conditions, piling up all around us.

Is this what a Dhammadeepa (island of Buddhism) ought to be? Had the Noble One; the Buddha been buried, he may well be turning in his grave at what is going on in this supposedly “thrice blessed land”.

The once hallowed Fourth Estate

Take the example of the Fourth Estate. As one with 35 years’ experience, in this once hallowed institution, I feel for, and lament the death of what many of us Journalists prized the most; media ethics, the absence of which today is, a reminder day in and day out, of how things were.

I recall times, not too long ago, when only the refined and cultured, similar to politicians of yore, were drawn to the noble profession of Journalism, unlike today. Financial benefits and remuneration, through this honourable profession, were nowhere close to their thoughts.

Back then, unlike today, to be a member of the erudite Fourth Estate was, an honour and a privilege. Journalists were respected, looked up to, and almost revered by the reading public. For, they upheld democracy and the responsibility of fair, unbiased, honest, accurate and accountable reporting and writing, while abiding by the sacrosanct media ethics. They required no formal grounding in such ethics either, as it was ingrained in their upbringing, education and psyche.

Unlike today, in those good old days, a professional Journalist wouldn’t dream of selling his/her soul for the ‘right price’, by availing themselves, not only to expose, but also to tarnish the image of others, and even cover-up or shield, the ugly and corrupt. The very thought of reducing the noble Fourth Estate to a level, which would make the world’s oldest profession appear respectable, was anathema to them, and hence, never crossed their minds, unlike today.

And, back then, unlike today, the venerated title of ‘Editor’ was reserved only, for the crème de la crème of the Fourth Estate, who encompassed all that, was cultured and honourable, in the profession; refinement of the mind, morals and taste. They never used the media they headed, to buttress their overinflated egos, or even stoop to such lows, as to use it as a weapon to be wielded, for personal vendetta, or even blackmail.

Today, Journalism has become the ‘profession’ of any Tom, Dick and Harry, in search of a regular income, through good means or bad. Commitment to professionalism, maintaining ethics and standards are stark in their absence. And the handful of the few who continue to uphold ethics and morality of the profession of Journalism, are lost amidst a mélange of the other kind.

The free-for-all social media has today become the dumping ground for pieces of typing by outcast Journalists, rejected by the discerning mainstream media. Such websites and blogs operating with impunity, under the law of the jungle, promote racism and sexism ad nauseam.

It is incumbent upon the government, to take serious note of this brand of ‘cyber menace’, which goes against the very principles of good governance, and post-war peace ad reconciliation.

Immoral men of religion

There was a time, not too long ago, when Buddhist monks were mendicants and only seen in public, begging for alms, unlike today. As a manifestation of their humility and piety, they also had clean shaven heads and faces, unlike some monks of today, who have short-cropped heads, and even sport 5 o’clock shadows.

Buddhist monks back then, unlike today, were endowed with wisdom, and were regarded as exemplars of those who embodied all that were moral and ethical. Such Buddhist monks who had renounced life of the laity, and committed themselves to a life of asterism, to pursue the path of the Dhamma, and to whom many of us turned to for guidance through their wisdom, are all but lost today.

Back then, Buddhist monks confined themselves to their respective temples, in pursuit of Nirvana. Today, many of them are politicians, their aspirants, and racist thugs. One is, even the President of the Public Service United Nurses Union; a highly female dominated sphere, and is also, a minion of an ousted demagogue.

Many of these ‘men in robes’ are dime a dozen on Facebook, propositioning females, and aimlessly roaming the streets, with one hand clasping the latest version of mobile-phones to the ear, and the other, raising the robe to hasten their gait.

As to be expected, these ‘men in robes’ command no respect from the average man on the street and is hence, referred to as a ‘Sadhu Machang’ (holy/ascetic buddy). Of course all that is ‘holy’ or ‘ascetic’ about these Machangs is the ‘symbolic’ saffron robe they wear, and which they desecrate in the process.

If men of religion, fail to uphold ethics and morality, and live by example, who will? Alas, the voices of the good are drowned, by the raucous of the bad!

There are foreboding dark clouds hovering over Sri Lanka!

  • Raja Mahendran

    A brilliant analysis by Sharmini Serasinghe on the real crisis facing the nation. Yes we are facing a bankruptcy of morals and ethics. Indeed clouds are over the nation when both the religious and the 4th estate turn a blind eye and or even be the cause of darkness. Yes morals and ethics sadly lacking. People are silenced by money from speaking out what they really feel. Thats sad! So good on Sharmini Serasinghe for being that bright light in this dark nation

  • Sunil

    What Sharmini says about the current state of the countries morals is spot on.Although there is an element of fascination with nostalgia when assessing the standards of morality or the lack of it in the days gone by there is no doubt that the standards nevertheless were far far above what we see today.As a matter of fact there is nothing now that justifies such a comparison.In fact we can only draw parallels of the legacies of the Rajapakse era with the likes of Pol Pots Cambodia,Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and more pertinently the Philippines of the Marcos Couple of yore.The decline of basic human values and morality we witnessed pre 8th Jan,2015 is mind boggling.Morality had collapsed lock,stock and barrel unfortunately with some Bhikkus like Gnassara leading the charge.If we fail to take serious note of what Sharmini is trying to point out and take immediate steps to reverse this trend the next calamity similar to the Rajapakse era is just around the corner. As a most venerated religious leader of our times points out
    “Politics without Principles; Education without Character; Science without Humanity; and Commerce without Morality Are not only useless,But also positively Dangerous.”

  • Renu

    An excellent expose and analysis once again Sharmini. Morals, ethics, common decency are sadly things of the past. Politics in Sri Lanka reached the ugliest, dirtiest and the worse ever under the last regime akin to Cauldron of the baser instincts of humanity. It is not just man and his brothers self-mythologizing each other but extended family, relations and loyalists too. They all took advantage of the country’s wealth and we will never know the extent. The politicians, Buddhist monks, their loyalists only saw rupee signs and how fast they can get rich & powerful. As a result, sadly even respect for journalism and journalists eroded & evaporated. They did not want to hear the truth instead it was easier to pay for cover ups and disappearing acts. Thankfully, under the present regime the journalists are gradually abandoning the fear factor that consumed them for so many years and reporting the truth as they know how because brave journalism should not be something of the past. It should be alive & kicking. As such, we need journalists like Sharmini Serasinghe to report the truth and also an unbiased version of the truth. Being a “Sinhala Buddhist” it is indeed very impressive of Mrs. Serasinghe to write this expose since Buddhist monks has no business in politics. Our leaders should not involve and integrate these monks in matters of governance. Instead they should be encouraged to be on the side of the common man protecting his rights and freedoms especially from rogue politicians no matter the race or religion. The Buddhist Temples should be safe havens to take refuge – a place of peace, quiet and meditation not evil and violence. They use Buddhism not as a way of life spreading Buddha’s teachings but rather to propagate racial violence when none should exist. In conclusion, I hope the government of Sri Lanka uses such exposes such as this not as a means to an end but rather to do right by the masses who elected them to office no matter their caste, creed, color, religion, orientation, ideology and political affiliation. The inevitability that they must bear in mind is that there will always be yet another election around the corner and they will need their vote to stay in power. Invariably, a point they tend to forget very easily. Therefore I do hope they do the right thing by the masses. Once you are an elected public official, all your decisions & actions must be based on the good of the citizenry and the country not on personal gain. Sadly, most of our politicians forget this basic element the very day they are elected.

    Congratulations once again Sharmini and as a fellow Bridgetian, I am extremely proud. I also take this opportunity to wish you “good luck” in all your professional & personal endeavors.

    • Raja Mahendran

      Renu yes indeed Sharmini has identified the real issues facing the nation. Bankruptcy of morals because of the monks and ethics because of the journalists. So now what can be done?

      How can we get monks to live Buddhist lives and uphold morals? Can this be enforced? If so by whom and how? Or this requires an internal cleansing and moral revolution by the monks themselves? But again how?

      What about our journalists? Sure, they were living in fear in the past. But what is the hold up now? Why are they not openly questioning the government or the opposition? Why are they still frightened or shy to ask direct pointed questions from Mahinda Rajapakse? The former President is daily featured on TV and newspapers; more so than any Sri Lankan politician. Not even the PM or President is given that much publicity on a daily basis.

      Why then our journalists when they have the golden opportune moment in the presence of the former President who talks now as the beacon of democracy and freedom of the press that these journalists are unable to open their mouths and remind the former President of life in Sri Lanka previously? Credit must be given to the former President who admits on TV and in newspapers that he made mistakes. This he does voluntarily and no thanks to our ethically bankrupt journalists. So what can be done to get journalists to be once again be the beacon of ethics? Or has this been lost forever?

  • puniselva

    Sharmini,
    Thanks.
    Groundviews,
    Tthe picture complements the writing very well.

  • Angela

    beautiful article

  • Jeyam

    Hats off to Sharmini Serasinghe A true depiction of our society.