Colombo, Identity, Politics and Governance, Religion and faith

Political Opposition in a Nihilistic Sinhala Society: Responses and clarifications

[Editors note: This response by Kusal is to the intense and interesting debate generated by Political Opposition in a Nihilistic Sinhala Society published on Groundviews recently.]

To all who read and commented and did not comment, “Thank you”.

Comments by and large, have the same mindset, though with trivial variations, except for ‘Heshan’. The gist of all other comments is that, questioning the impact of caste influenced “Heenayana” Buddhism on society, is “treacherous” and arguments are “garbage”. Questioning the negative aspect of this “Buddhism”, is blaming it, as Raghavan understands it. For others, its dumping on us an alien “Western” democracy and theory.

For all of them, again except Heshan, discussing Sinhala Buddhist politics is taboo. That has to be taken as “natural” and “justified” in this country and needs no discussion, they feel. Why can’t politics be discussed “without touching upon Sinhala Buddhist influence” or impact, is their angry question. What they don’t want to accept is that, as in Rwanda where “Hutu” racial extremism can not be avoided when discussing politics, as in Israel where “Judaism” can not be forgotten, as in Iran where Shi’ite Islamic hegemony can not be ignored, in Sri Lanka, even in modern politics Sinhala Buddhist politics with its caste influence can not be avoided, starting with Anagarika Dharmapala’s intervention at least, from the colonial period.

Instead they drag the discussion into their own fancied playgrounds and have failed to positively contribute in understanding the religious influence on this “socio political culture” that allows this society to fester and nauseate with murder, abductions, corruption, waste, poverty, racism and all things negative in governance that is anything but decent and civilised, even on “Dharmasokian ethics and values”.

The approach in dividing this world into a noble East and a vicious West and the attitude of those who wish to feel “pure” in their Heenayana Sinhala dressing, negates the fact that “knowledge and technology” in this world grew and evolved to what it is today and what it would be tomorrow, with different societies across the globe from East to West, contributing, acquiring and assimilating knowledge and technology, and developing them to new levels of knowledge and technology. Thus it would be apt to ask, to whom does “printing” technology belong to ? To Chinese wooden block makers who initially developed the technology of carving out Chinese characters or to Gutenberg in Germany who used that in developing interchangeable metal characters ?

So is “democracy” and modern political philosophy. Democracy that is identified as “Western” is a long process of capital formation, growth of nation States, exploitation of colonies and how they themselves could be governed. Grown and developed over centuries, through many debacles and struggles of mostly oppressed people. That also includes the break away of the “Lutheran” Clergy from the Roman Catholic church, in progressively interpreting the Bible. Such knowledge accumulation and technological advancements took off in the West, with the development of printing, that for the first time allowed knowledge and philosophical discourse to be shared socially.

All societies that does not understand such growth and advancement of “knowledge, science and technology” as borderless “human achievement” and close themselves up to outside influence and growth, had been failures. China’s fall during the ‘Ming dynasty’ is a classic example. The strength of the West lies in its culture that was ever an open process.

What is instead proposed by those who shy away from modern “democratic” concepts and governing structures as “Western” dumps on us, has nothing for us to lean on, as a solution. If not the globally accepted human and democratic rights, what choice ? If not the internationally accepted concepts of representative and participatory democracy, what choice ?

The choice is that of a tyranny, that I don’t concede to, or accept as a choice, under any socio political context. Therefore, this attempt at understanding why this Sinhala Buddhist society, does not allow a change for a better, for a decent and a modern society, with equality across religio- ethnic divisions. Therefore this attempt at understanding why this Sinhala Buddhist society, that is fundamentally a “Heenayana” (The term ‘Theravada’ was adopted later) thinking society, accepts violations of all decency to live a subdued, grumbling and a “nihilistic” life. Often a contradiction of its religious beliefs and its secular, personal cravings.

That can not come about after 1978, with the neo liberal “free economy” alone. That can not be the influence of JVP and JHU politics. That is also not what Rajapaksa created by himself through his “Mahinda Chinthanaya”. Its historical social thinking, all of them fell upon, to mobilise the society. But it is only the Sinhala Buddhist society that can be mobilised by calling for a “Unitary” State and a “motherland”. Why ? Because that call has to be qualified by Buddhist presence, which is not “Mahayana” but “Heenayana”.

No comment has provided any counter argument on that and to accept that Heenayana is positive and socialising, in its social impact. It is what I defined as and is precisely why, we don’t have a strong aesthetic culture. The 2,560 year history does not show any growth of aesthetics for a lay life. Not even a palace culture rich in music and dance, as in India. If Hindu and Moghul (Muslim) empires in both North and South India could provide space for their very rich and varied traditions of dance and music, art and sculpture, costumes and cuisines, why could not “Lanka”?  All dances, art, music and song that we talk of as Sri Lankan, are borrowed traditions. How will that be explained?

There is therefore a necessity to break off from this rusty ideological shackle of living in the past and being introvert in approaching life, in working towards a future. We got to leave this baggage and move forward. Change is often painful and disadvantageous for the coward and the opportunist.