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A Postscript to ‘Political Crisis: A Way Out’

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By Chandra Jayaratne

The Island of Saturday 14th May 2022, published a proposal, submitted by the former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, to leaders of political parties and civil society organisations, wherein, admirably, the essential need for adequate representations, by youth and women in governance, are given recognition. Prior to that, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) had submitted a 13-point proposal to restore economic and political stability in Sri Lanka. The writer respectfully recognizes the aforesaid proposals are caring leadership initiatives of significant value in the current socio-political and economic crisis risking the stability and future of Sri Lanka and its people.

The writer agrees with the short-term focus as set by the BASL stating as its objective:

* To create political, economic and social stability in the country.

* To create an environment to address the fundamental problems that have brought about the current crisis (and imperil future reforms).

* To restructure external debt and enter into appropriate programmes with multi-lateral institutions, including the IMF, and for that purpose to appoint the financial and legal advisers and negotiate a debt standstill pending debt restructuring.

* To obtain bridging finance. The bridging finance together with the savings arising from the debt standstill to be used to procure uninterrupted supply of essentials to the People until such time the debt restructuring, and the IMF programme is in place. This will eliminate the shortages in power, fuel, gas, medicines, food, etc.

* To create an environment to combat corruption and to ensure accountability and strengthening independent institutions.

And towards an overarching requirement of a stable government with the ability to implement reforms, domestically, and the ability/credibility to negotiate with the IMF, other multilateral agencies, and friendly countries to help Sri Lanka get out of the economic crisis.

However, this proposal has failed to take account of the need to use this crisis as an opportunity to introduce critical systems changes demanded by the ‘Aragalaya’ and implement critical change management options for long term good governance with democratic rights, equity, equality, and the rule of law being strengthened.

The writer wishes to take this opportunity to add a postscript to the submission by the former President; which appears to have inadequately focused on the severe economic crisis, threatening Sri Lanka and its people; and disregarded some key demands of the stakeholders of the ‘Aragalaya’ relating to governance failures, rejection of the leaders of the present regime, control of corruption, recovery of proceeds of crime; as well as address important unresolved national questions and the need for strengthening fundamental rights, equity and the rule of law.

The highlights of the post scripts are briefly outlined hereinafter and sets out amendments required to the proposal by the former President, whist incorporating some of the excellent suggestions in the 13-point proposal of the BASL:

1. The Interim Government to be for a maximum period of 18 months, in order to re-establish a stable and solvent governance structure, at the end of which the interim administration stands dissolved, enabling a people’s choice-based new government to be elected

2. The governing party and the leading opposition party to get one nominated member from each of their parties to resign and make way for the nomination, with the concurrence of the Parliament, of (a) a retired Chief Justice with judicial integrity, independence, impartiality and track record of acceptance and (b) a mature politician with public acceptance, integrity, independence and track record of achievement and no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude

3. The incumbent President to resign immediately post 2 above and the nominated member of parliament elected under 2(a) above be elected as the President by the Parliament and such appointee to not engage in executive decision-making nor be a member of the Cabinet: whilst the nominated member elected under 2 (b) be appointed the Prime Minister and bound by a Code of Prime Ministerial Conduct and Ethics, having transparently established the capability (knowledge, skills, attitudes and values) and having duly declared publicly the appropriate declarations of assets/liabilities and all interests of the Prime Minister and his immediate family: with the vacancy in the nominated members created by election of the President being filled in by a economist with extensive experience in public finance and macroeconomic management, who in addition being a person with integrity, independence and track record of achievement and no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude; and such nominee be appointed as the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Management. These new appointments to take place at the earliest option.

4. An interim Cabinet be appointed charged with the responsibility and accountability regards the direction and control of the government, being collectively answerable to Parliament and be bound by a Code of Ministerial Conduct and Ethics; with appropriate amendments to article 52 (2) of the constitution where “the Secretary to the Ministry shall be the chief accounting officer of the Ministry and answerable to Parliament and bound by a Code of Conduct and Ethics, and to function in such capacity, subject to the policy direction and guidance of his Minister; and such Secretary shall exercise the control and supervision over the departments of Government or other institutions in the charge of his Minister and be accountable for professional good governance and effective decision-making and implementation, within the functions assigned”.

5. The Cabinet comprising of 15 Ministers be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the new interim Prime Minister and endorsed by a majority of members of the Parliament, post such nominees having established their capability (knowledge, skills, attitudes and values), integrity, independence and track record of achievement with no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude and having duly declared publicly their declarations of assets and a interests of the ministers and their immediate family. The Interim Government, in consultation with all relevant independent groups, including the youth representatives currently leading protests and apolitical Professional/Trade/Civil Society organisations to appoint, with the concurrence of Parliament, an independent Advisory Council, consisting of 15 qualified professionals from disciplines corresponding to the 15 Ministries or relevant to the national economy priorities (as recommended by the BASL); and such Council to be formed in place of the Council of State for National Policy recommended in the former President’s proposal; and this Independent Council should act as advisors of the Cabinet and be consulted on all major policy decisions of the government; the interim government will seek every option to build consensus and support of all parties represented in Parliament and the Advisory Council and where possible key stakeholders of the economy; the interim government will endeavor to publish White Papers on all major policy changes and restructure options proposed and will use such publications to build awareness and debate amongst citizen groups; and take heed of any positive and value adding suggestions emerging from such consultations and public advocacy.

6. The interim government should take immediate steps in resolving to the best of its ability, the shortages of essential goods, medicines and fuel supplies and services experienced by citizens.

7. The currently functioning selected three overseas resident advisors charged with advisory on debt restructure, etc., together with two younger economists resident in Sri Lanka working outside the public services, be appointed as accredited ambassadors of Sri Lanka with Cabinet Ranking; and the five-member team will collectively with the Sri Lanka High Commissioner in India, the Governor of the Central Bank, Secretary to the Treasury and the newly appointed Minister of Finance be responsible to negotiate with the IMF, International Financial Organizations and Donor Countries; and also agree the essential fiscal consolidation measures, steps leading to stability of the financial and banking systems, bridging finance arrangements, agreeing a strategic plan to ensure debt sustainability by 2027, gaining acceptable sovereign ratings for the country and agreeing with creditors a programme of debt restructure; supported where necessary by external consultants and advisors with international expertise; and recommend such measures and action plans to be adopted by the new interim cabinet. The said team may appoint sub-committees made up of technocrats and persons with requisite expertise to support the development of reform agendas covering raising revenue to GDP to 12-15% over the next three years and enhance it to 18% by year six, where the ability to pay by those with capacity to contribute, bear the brunt of the enhanced taxes; and over time the ratio of indirect to direct taxes should move from 80/20 to 60/40;

State expenditure rationalisation, (with special focus on defence, administration and nonessential projects and capex), embedding strict austerity measures, national resource allocation prioritizations and justification assessments on economy, efficiency and effectiveness of approved spends seeking positive socio economic outcomes; and develop key long term budget assumptions, fiscal outcomes and fiscal responsibility key performance targets;

Develop plans to optimize value adding growth in GDP, gradually reaching 5-8% by 2027, with enhanced and diversified export incomes, promoting savings and local and foreign investments; to develop essential reform options, including policy and regulatory changes, digitization, fiscal adjustments and factor productivity enhancements along with other change management restructure options for long term growth and stability

designing an effectively administered ICT driven ‘Aadhaar’ type scheme for establishing a strong social “Safety Net” targeting to protect the interests of the elderly, poor, marginalized and vulnerable segments of society;

Identifying change management and restructure options for improved productivity, technological advancement, human resource development for the next generation of value optimization, quality and outcomes in the operations of ministries, departments, state establishments and state-owned enterprises.

8. The interim Government will be accountable for undernoted legal and regulatory reforms:

a. Promptly bring back the 19th Amendment to the constitution with appropriate amendments that remove well established weaknesses and operational lacunae for effective good governance; with democratic rights, rule of law and justice systems strengthened, whilst enhancing the operational scope and framework, financial independence, transparency, accountability with appropriate checks and balances of the Constitutional Council, Independent Commissions, the Central Bank and the Auditor General.

b. Introduce a new Constitution that abolishes the Executive Presidency replaced with a head of state; strengthens the system of governance with appropriate checks and balances and enhancing accountability of the executive; with no immunity for any actions of governance violating democratic rights, equity and equality of citizens, rule of law, mismanagement and failing to place the interests of the nation and its people first, in all executive decision-making; promoting equitable resource allocations, protection of the environment and recognizing the interests of the poor and vulnerable segments of society; introducing a bill of rights expanding and updating the Fundamental Rights chapter (including Socio Economic Rights): Resolving the National Question and facilitating the devolution of power going beyond the 13th Amendment; equating the rights of all citizens irrespective of race, religion or status and making way for a truly harmonious and peaceful plural society, with equity and equality in all respects enabling the establishment of a truly Sri Lankan identity, that celebrates unity in diversity; and change the electoral system to a mix of first past the post and proportional representation.

c. Introduce required law/regulatory reforms connected with combating corruption and recovery of proceeds of crime, by enacting a Proceeds of Crime Act (including powers of Civil and Criminal Forfeiture and Asset Management); Serious Financial & Organized Crime Agency Act; Company Law Reforms-(Expanding the Provisions of Part XXI- Offences of the Companies Act No. 7 of 2007) and incorporate changes and update bribery and money laundering laws and the criminal procedures code (including incorporating new offences identified in the United Nations Convention on Anti-corruption, e. g. Trading influence; Abuse of functions; Illicit enrichment; Embezzlement of property; Concealment (both private and public sector); Bribery in private sector; Bribery of foreign public officials): Networking the Inland Revenue, Customs, Excise, BOI, SEC, Central Bank and Financial Intelligence Units with a newly established Directorate of Revenue Enforcement and an Independent Office for Serious Financial Crimes prosecution, for collective initiatives in the Recovery of Proceeds of Crime and Illicit Financial Flows;

d. Enact and enforce Codes of Conduct and Ethics governing elected representatives and regulations governing conduct of election campaigns and campaign finances; and introduce necessary amendments to the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law enabling the publication of the declarations of Assets and Liabilities of elected officials; and a system of recall where any such elected member with established charges of engaging in any acts of corruption and/or acts of moral turpitude;

e. Enact necessary amendments to the Monetary Law or promulgate new legislation to strengthen the independence of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and amend the Audit Act to empower the Auditor General to direct law enforcement units to investigate and take action against any acts of Corruption or mismanagement in the state and state-owned enterprises.

f. Set up a Parliamentary Budget Office and strengthen the powers of the Committee on Public Finance, COPE and COPA, empowering them to make recommendations to the law enforcement authorities for action or for the Auditor General to impose surcharge under the Audit Act (duly amended to include the Ministry Secretaries as well). Proceedings of above Committees as well as Consultative Committees of Parliament and Sectoral Oversight Committees be open to the public;

g. Introduce Codes of Conduct and Ethics binding high post holders and senior management in state services and state-owned enterprises and make all public servants and legislators bound by compulsory reporting of noncompliance with Laws and Regulations (NOCLAR)

h. Update the Right to Information Act and Victims and Witness Protection Act avoiding the present shortcomings;

i. enact necessary amendments to the Monetary Law or promulgate new legislation to strengthen the independence of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka

9. All persons appointed to the Constitutional Council, Advisory Council and by the Constitutional Council and other High Post holders be persons with public acceptance, integrity, independence and track record of achievement and no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude:

10. Enact law/regulatory reforms and undertake change management leadership initiatives which improve factor productivity including labour, educational, technological and administrative reforms which enhances opportunities for export of goods and services led growth, foreign direct investments, diversify export basket, improve labour productivity and quality improvements, transparent and cost effective procurement systems and tender awards ( including rationalization of public holidays and lay off commitments)

11. Adopt a foreign policy which supports the long-term national interests;

12. Appoint a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate into and report on the persons directly and indirectly responsible for the present state of the economy and purported bankruptcy of the nation, causing so much suffering, losses, mental trauma with disrupted the lives and livelihoods of the stakeholders of the society; and recommend what action should be taken against them in terms of the law and regulations; and what damages can be recovered from them.

Former President’s “Political Crisis: A Way Out” proposal amended as above, read together with the BASL proposal can be taken up by the ‘Aragalaya Group’ in developing the proposed “Galle Face Declaration” to be endorsed by the new interim government as a precondition to the protestors ending this youth led struggle for a system change, combined with a regime change and a new option to select the post struggle a new governance structure and peoples chosen representatives.



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Opinion

Ohe Innava ; ban on Russian tennis players; greed leads via deceptive satisfaction to disaster

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Sins of the leaders suffered by innocents

This beautiful island seems to be at a standstill and its people rather dazed, confined to homes or queues for days on end (no longer hours). Maybe, Jaffna and its southern neighbouring Vanni are better equipped mentally and stoically to withstand these vagaries of fortune and carry on their lives as they know well, through experience (1983 to 2009 and even thereafter), with inbuilt mental and physical resistance. The government that should be so very occupied looking after its people, and MPs and their bosses mandated to do so, only continue emanating hot air and cruise around in their gas guzzlers, of course, in protected areas. They feel the anger of the people: righteous, justified and ready to burst forth in flames of anarchy at the first ignition. One VIP speaks to the public of imminent arrival of ships laden full with fuel and cooking gas; and another VVIP on further necessity to tighten belts and suffer. All of us are near suffocation because of the mistakes, corruption, extravagance and bl… idiocy of those who ruled us.

The biggest man, almost daily, gathers sundry officers to his vast meeting hall and while they gaze at him, some mindlessly but none interrupting, pontificates mostly on how they should be alleviating the hardships of the population. He singlehandedly caused farmers and now us immense deprivation. He thought his mea culpa would exonerate him. The ex-PM and doing-just-as-they bid ex-Gov of CB sit out in comfort on the look out to escape. The dethroned VIP heir is creeping back to meetings where he is not justified being in. Dreams of a glorious return? Shatter them to bits, you people are NOT coming back ever to power. 20 million people, including kids, know you all too well now and the bung screwed on tight on criticism popped off, released mostly by the peaceful protesters of Mynagama and GotaGoGama. Thank goodness for them!

Cass listened to the articulation of peaceful protesters in Havelock Town carrying succinct boards and good sense and intelligence in their heads as relayed by 8.30 pm Newsline of MTV TV One on Tuesday 28 late evening. What emerged was most forceful censure of the powers that were and are. ‘Go home Gota’ they said in unison and decently. What sort of a skin does one need to enable one to stay on when disliked so intensely and shown the exit explicitly by millions here and overseas. The protective skin of the armed forces is not available, one presumes. As is said, the soldiers’ old mothers can barely make ends meet with soaring prices and fathers are in queues, so how expect them to turn against their own suffering people even though commanded to do so?

Wimbledon

The cricket matches between the Aussie team and a revived, zestful Sri Lankan team have been giving solace to a major section of our people. That is fine, since one needs to divert one’s mind and also grab whatever respite one can from the ongoing disaster that is our beloved country.

Cassandra is a tennis buff deriving not only sporty enthusiasm but also aesthetic satisfaction by watching good players on court. How so the latter, one may query. Just watch a good player and witness his/her playing is ballet like in postures and grace; a fine synchronization of muscle and limb. And for Cassandra the best is to watch the Wimbledon matches, the players and linesman and ball pickers all in white. Maybe Cass is conservative, a throw back on her upbringing, but discipline even in what the players wear is pleasing to her. Wimbledon times are not so inconvenient to us as matches start there at 3.30 (it was said) and so by 8.00 pm one can watch them over sports channels. It’s when the US Open is on that one has to watch into all hours of our night.

Wimbledon has banned Russian players and so men’s world number 1 Daniil Medvedev is out – banned; so also number 8 Andrey Rublev and women’s numbers 6 and 13 – never mind names, difficult to even spell. Great pity, especially regards Medvedev – almost humble on court – but again proof that sins of the leaders fall on ordinary heads. The organisers of Wimbledon decided in April to ban players from Russia and Belarus in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So, ex KGB Putin’s fear of European Union’s expansion of influence and protection, or greed for expansion of Russian controlled territory or even a desire to re-establish a sort of USSR have impacted on innocent sportsmen and women.

Greed may be satisfied temporarily but degraded shame is permanent result

‘Bollywood actress of Sri Lankan origin’ as Jacqueline Fernandez is named by S Venkat Narayan and other media persons, has again been questioned by the Indian Enforcement Directorate (ED) on the gifts of dollars and expensive items given her and her family members by billionaire conmen Sukesh Chandrashekhar. Cass is not flogging a dead horse (or much alive, lovely mare here) but quoting this tidbit from Tuesday June 28 press, wishing to impress on herself and her readers that avarice and boundless greed lead to retribution and perhaps heart searing regret. It is obvious Jackie entertained the conman, and very intimately we suppose, to be worth all those millions gifted to her. It surely cannot be love. That explanation for the close liaison is good for the fairies to narrate. She was motivated by desire for quick immense wealth. And she has landed flat on her face: passport impounded, reputation gone, and with it admirers and Salman Khan too perhaps, and sure shot no offers of further stardom. She was catapulted to be top of the beauts on par with now exclusive Aishwaria Rai Bachchan. And what has avarice brought her to?

Cass in her age earned wisdom warns young beauties not to gamble on good looks. Many are the girls who did so and surely are cast aside and also fearful now since tables have been turned on their benefactors mostly by the sensible young ones of GotaGoGama. Where’s that beauty queen whose crown was snatched as placed on her by political influence, who accompanied Lohan R to Welikada prison in short shorts to view the gallows? We heard many a chick was given jobs, sometimes double at Sri Lankan, with no English ability, etc. No wonder our airline nose-dived and is still on that perilous down swing but sustained by government monetary life lines. Many were the discards given employment in Sri Lankan.

Another point: definitely a too flogged horse: are those who plundered government money and assets by the millions, nay billions happy and leading fine lives. Nay, No and Nein! They may be safe and their stolen wealth intact and in no danger of being confiscated, but their minds? Wellbeing? They cannot have such thick hides that satisfying the five senses brings them peace of mind? Again, a thundering NO. Reputations ground to dust; friends disappeared; and the door to a return to political power shut bang. Jolly good for those damned thieves who sent our country down to the depths. We will rise, that’s for sure. We have good people in the majority.

On that rousing note of determination to rise from the depths, Cassandra wishes you bye, for now. May its enforced curtailment of normal routines; immense difficulties and future bleakness not depress you too much. We as a country can only now go upwards, hit rock bottom as we are.

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Opinion

Buddha’s ambivalence?

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

We, Buddhists, are very fortunate in that we are able question even the actions of the Buddha. After all, the Buddha encouraged questioning as exemplified in Kalama Sutta, dubbed ‘The Buddha’s charter for free inquiry’. Buddha was not an intermediary conveying the messages of a Supreme Being, His teachings being based entirely on what was discovered by the exploration of His mind and hence becomes unique among religious leaders. One can say that the Buddha did just the opposite of what scientists do; they turn the searchlight outwards whereas the Buddha turned the searchlight inwards. He completely changed our way of thinking by placing conviction over blind belief or faith and could therefore be credited for having laid the foundation for scientific thinking.

In the Satmag article titled “More than a doctrinal problem: The Buddha and his stepmother” (The Island, 25 June), Uditha Devapriya questions whether the Buddha was ambivalent on some issues like ordination of women, consent for ordination and caste system. What he explores extensively is ordination of women and concludes his piece with the following:

“For the first and probably only time in his life, the Buddha is admitting to a theoretical lapse without really admitting to it. Perhaps to make up for his shortfall, the Buddha justifies his earlier position by attributing the decline of Buddhism – from a millennium to half a millennium – to the very gender he admits to the order. Even if that is not, according Narada Thera, a “wholesale condemnation of women”, we must admit that between the Buddha’s rejection of Gotami’s request, his acceptance after Ananda’s intervention, and his sober prognosis following his acceptance, there was an intellectual leap. I believe this issue needs to be investigated, more deeply”.

I am in total agreement that a deep investigation is fully warranted but wish to point out that in investigating this issue, as well as other instances of probable ambivalence, we need to take into consideration three main factors. The first, of course, is the accuracy of the descriptions. Though some consider the written word to be superior to the ‘oral-tradition’, we are well aware of the problem of writers’ bias. It is not that writers distort purposely but human nature dictates that it is nigh impossible for a writer to be non-judgemental. We convey ‘facts’ according to our perceptions. In fact, the best example is the analysis of this issue by the much-respected Buddhist scholar, Venerable Narada whose comment, which follows, would be considered very sexist indeed from today’s perspective:

“In making these comments, which may not generally be very palatable to womankind, the Buddha was not in any way making a wholesale condemnation of women but was only reckoning with the weaknesses of their sex.” (Venerable Narada Thera, “The Buddha and His Teachings”, Fourth Edition, 1988, Chapter 9, Page 156).

The second factor is that instead of putting into perspective the prevailing conditions when the problems arose, we make judgements based on our present standards. The powerful tool ‘Retrospectscope’ is useless without context. Perhaps, had he been alive today, Ven. Narada would have rephrased his comments, as he would have realised that ‘weakness of women’ is an outmoded concept in our world of equality!

The third, and the most important, consideration is our concept of who the Buddha was, which seems to vary a lot depending on one’s faith and beliefs. Unfortunately, based on many stories built around the Buddha we have ‘falsely elevated’ an extraordinary human being to that of a superhuman. The birth of Prince Siddhartha itself is an unbelievable story. There is no recorded human being who walked at birth even though many animals do so. Most biographies of the Buddha repeat the hardly believable, traditional embellishments which make most of us imagine a Buddha far removed from reality.

My concept of the Buddha is an exceptionally intelligent and compassionate human being who, noticing the all-pervasive sense of dissatisfaction around (Dukkha), pondered over to find the root causes as well as a solution to this problem. After a prolonged journey of experimentation and thought, the Buddha found the way for ultimate detachment (Nibbana). As He worked this out all this by himself, the Buddha was deemed to be Sarvajna; all-knowing or omniscient. Rather than considering this to mean that the Buddha knew all that needed to be known, we tend to go on the literal meaning, which implies that the Buddha should have the final word in everything. He lived a relatively simple life and walked, very likely barefoot, around large parts of India passing on his message.

Rather than acting as an all-knowing dictator, the Buddha was a problem solver who made decisions and found solutions as problems arose, often taking other’s views too into consideration. Among the many examples, one that stands out is what happened after the ordination of Rahula, His son who came behind seeking inheritance at the behest of the mother. When King Suddhodana pointed out that the ordination took place without informing the mother, the Buddha did not say “Oh! King, you may be my father but I am the Sarvajna Buddha and know what is right”. Instead, He agreed and laid down the rules for parental consent for ordination. The entire Vinaya Pitaka is based on rules formulated following incidents of inappropriate behaviour by Bhikkhus; they were applied henceforth, the Buddha demonstrating that rules should not be applied retrospectively, long before lawyers adopted the concept of retro-active legislation.

The Buddha’s world was a male-dominated one where discrimination on the basis of caste was the norm. I cannot find any ambivalence in Buddha’s attitude to caste as he categorically stated that it is not birth but actions that determine whether one is a Brahmin or an untouchable. His Sasana was open to all though, regrettably and paradoxically, Sri Lanka which claims to be the protector of Theravada Buddhism still has a caste-based Nikaya system! Therefore, I find the following statement by Uditha Devapriya puzzling:

“Even on the thorny issue of caste, he didn’t adopt a straightforward position: while he did condemn Brahmin caste structures, he also added that “by deed is one born a Brahmin”, thereby distancing himself from the kind of political critique of caste pioneered by, inter alia, Ambedkar.” He seems to have misinterpreted ‘Kammana hoti Brahmano’ which means “by deed one becomes a Brahmin”.

I have grave doubts regarding the accuracy of what is written about the ordination of women. Considering that a monk of this era like Venerable Narada was sexist in his comments, it is no surprise if male chroniclers of yesteryear wrote their own interpretations of the story with their ‘women are inferior’ attitude! However, it is very likely that the Buddha may have initially had some reluctance considering the social milieu of the day. In any case, ordination of women by the Buddha has to be considered a revolutionary act, considering that the Catholic Church still does not ordinate women as priests and the Anglican Church allowed only two millennia later! It was a great surprise that some prominent women too objected to the Church of England ordaining women and when this happened in 1994, a prominent lady politician and a duchess, married to a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, left the Church of England to become Catholic!

However, to state that Venerable Ananda had to remind the Buddha that Mahaprajapati Gothami suckled Him is a great insult to the Buddha. What happened to the Buddha being Sarvajna? It is said that the Buddha stipulated eight conditions, the first being that a Bhikkhuni with even hundred years of higher ordination should worship and serve a Bhikkhu who had just got higher ordination. Does this not reflect male chauvinism? It is very likely the Buddha stipulated conditions, as protection needed to be afforded to women, but it is more likely that the conditions mentioned are what the Bhikkhus chroniclers wished than what the Buddha stipulated.

The most absurd is the supposed to be declaration by the Buddha that by this action the duration of His Sasana would be halved; from a thousand to five hundred years. As the Sasana has lasted over two thousand five hundred years already, in spite of distortions by many well-meaning followers, one has to ask the question ‘Why did the Buddha get it so wrong?’

Poor Venerable Ananda! After having served his cousin, neglecting his own spiritual advancement, all he was got was blame during the first Sangayana. He was blamed for not requesting the Buddha to live much longer when the opportunity arose which, again, seems to be an attempt to make the Buddha superhuman. Though Venerable Ananda was accused of shortening the lifespan of the Sasana by facilitating the ordination of women, perhaps, it worked the other way as the Sasana has lasted far beyond the Buddha’s expectations! That is, if these stories are believed to be rue. Anyway, looking at the attendances in Viharas, meditation sessions and other religious activities, it is pretty obvious that Upsikas contribute far more to the continuation of Buddha Sasana.

It is very likely that the apparent ambivalence of the Buddha on some issues is more apparent, than real, due to the many factors outlined.

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Opinion

‘Democratic’ impasse and the need for secular action

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Today, our democracy is showing its feeblest self from the point of view of the masses. The whole society writhes under the jackboot of oppression, but our democracy, which has been twisted beyond recognition by the rulers to further their own interests, has no easy way out; at least, it doesn’t seem to have any, which is why a whole nation is made to tolerate appalling grief.

It is clear that our democracy is a system that has been manipulated to favour the corrupt and the vulgar, not to favour the masses that need it most. Or, is it that democracy has nothing to do with maintaining social justice and that it is just a concept to be discussed by students of politics? Incidentally, how about religion? What’s its role? To moralise or help get rid of colossal injustice in society? If it is for moralizing, it has pathetically failed in that it hasn’t and will never moralise those who need it most: the power-hungry few, who have brought misery to the entire nation misusing the power vested in them by an ingenuous and devout people.

What moralising do the battered majority need? Perhaps, they don’t need any, because they are not the ones who have been greedy and unscrupulous beyond belief; they are not the ones who have robbed the country for wallowing in unearned luxury, which is not recommended by any religion. They are not the ones who have denied the due share of the country’s assets to its people. It’s the uncouth few at the top – to borrow a line from Joseph Stiglitz, written about political czars of another territory in 1970s – who, “snapped up expensive property and went on grand shopping sprees provide one of the more ostentatious examples of what not to do with one’s newfound wealth”, that need religious tuition urgently.

This is perhaps why, today, the clerics of every conviction, who used to vainly lecture politicians on good governance and shower blessings on them, have now decided to stand with people to help oust them to rid the country of prolonged injustice. We don’t know whether the good priests are still engaged in their respective rituals in the hope of salvaging the country from ruin, but some of them are certainly relying on secular action and joining the crowds to save those who are deprived, humiliated and insulted. Today, there is a noticeable absence of religious rituals publicly organised at times of distress. The Corona epidemic has sufficiently shown that natural or manufactured disasters do not respect supernatural powers, no matter how long people have believed in them. The present calamity has removed all sorts of ‘spiritual’ scales from the eyes of the masses and the priests seem to be willing to join them in their march.

By the way, this is not to say that commoners are lily-white angels descended from heaven. The masses are not all that innocent and sinless, but their wrongs don’t have the potential of bringing down the entire edifice of society. In fact, the common people, and also, the so-called leaders, are trapped in a sinister system that has for long brought about the worst in people. And, there are no prizes for guessing whose ‘sins’ have been more destructive and more easily swept under the carpet. Yet, it is the ‘criminals’ among the hoi polloi that are regularly branded and disparaged by society and punished by the law every so often. The sharks are quite versatile in manipulation and know how to escape the net and even drape themselves in religious flags and earn encomiums from the leading priests.

Today, the slow strangulation of life has made it clear to everybody the grand ride our leaders have taken us for. We see them bearing their teeth behind their religious covers. It is heartening that at least some of our priests have come out of their customary role of moralising and showing carrots in afterlife; instead they are helping the people to wield the remaining democratic sticks to win their rights and dignity in ‘this’ life we all have to live and cannot get away till the end.

Susantha Hewa

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