By Neville Ladduwahetty
Following the resignation of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressed the Nation, during the course of which he is reported to have stated that “a new constitutional amendment containing provisions of the 19th Amendment would be brought in” and furthermore, “some people have asked for the abolition of the Executive Presidency. I will make room for that after discussing with all stakeholders” (The Island, May 12, 2022).What is intended herein is to caution the President that while there are provisions in the 19th Amendment that are noteworthy, certain provisions need to be deleted and others completely revised, and still others included as fresh provisions.
For instance, Article 33A, which requires the President to be responsible to Parliament, and Article 42 (2) should be deleted because they contradict the very core principles of the separation of power enshrined in Presidential Systems. The provision contained in Chapter VIIA establishing “the Constitutional Council”, responsible for appointments to high posts and Independent Commissions needs to be replaced with a fresh arrangement for setting up Independent Commissions because it failed to comply with the specified constitutional obligations. A fresh provision is the one that relates to Article 42 (1) which states, “There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers charged with the direction and control of the Government of the Republic”. However, there is no constitutional provision to ensure how this all-important provision works in practice.
Another issue addressed herein is the abolition of the Executive Presidency. The choices are between been referred to as semi-presidential. Each system has its merits and demerits. Therefore, it is critical that the choice between the two takes into serious consideration the context within which the system operates. For instance, the political structure in Sri Lanka is made up of a multiplicity of political parties representing a variety of interests, ideologies and communities. As such, it could be assured that the formation of any government is inevitably a coalition, which by its very nature is not known for stability. Therefore, in the particular context of Sri Lanka’s political formations, a presidential system should be the preferred option because the Executive and Parliament are elected separately by the people, thereby ensuring that at least, one branch – the Executive – is free of Parliamentary instability.
ARTICLES 33A and 42 (2)
Article 33A states: “The President shall be responsible to Parliament for the due exercise, performance and discharge of his powers, duties and functions under the Constitution ….” AND Article 42 (2) states, “The Cabinet of Ministers shall be collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament.”
Both Articles were first blindly incorporated into the 1978 Constitution that was drafted for a presidential system of government, and later into the 19th Amendment, notwithstanding the fact that they are provisions applicable to a parliamentary system of government. Such serious contradictions reflect poorly on the drafters of the 1978 Constitution and the 19th Amendment.A Supreme Court bench of seven judges unanimously stated in (SC FR 351- 3612/2018), that “the first rule when interpreting Constitutions is that words in a statute must be given their ordinary meaning.” Based on this rule, while Article 3 states, “Sovereignty includes powers of government ….” and Article 4 (b) states, “The executive power of the People including the defence of Sri Lanka shall be exercised by the President of the Republic elected by the People”, how could one organ of government be responsible to another organ of government – the Parliament, which is also separately elected, but by the same People?
Commenting on how the Cabinet of Ministers derives its power, the Supreme Court in (S.D. No. 04/2015) stated, “The Court in the Nineteenth Amendment Determination came to the conclusion that the transfer, relinquishment or removal of a power attributed to one organ of government to another organ or body would be inconsistent with Article 3 read with Article 4 of the Constitution. Though Article 4 provides for the form and manner of exercise of the sovereignty of the people, the ultimate act or decision of the executive functions must be retained by the President. So long as the President remains the Head of the Executive, the exercise of his powers remain (sic) supreme or sovereign in the executive field and others to whom such powers are given must derive the authority from the President or exercise the Executive power vested in the President as a delegate of the President.”
It is therefore crystal clear from the determination of the Supreme Court that the President or the Cabinet of Ministers cannot be responsible to Parliament, and that the Cabinet of Ministers derives its authority from the President and exercises its power as delegated power of the President. Therefore, if the intention is to incorporate provisions of 19 A, the above provisions should be deleted. The fact that they continue to exist despite the SC determination is because of flawed practices resorted to by Parliament.
CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCILS and INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONS
The Constitutional Council (CC) consists of 10 members with the Speaker as its Chairman. Of the 10 members in the CC, seven are members of Parliament and three are outsiders nominated by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.Article 41 B (1) states, “No person shall be appointed by the President as the Chairman or a member of any of the Commissions specified in the Schedule to this Article, except on the recommendation of the Council”.
Article 41C (1) states, “No person shall be appointed by the President to any of the Officers specified in the Schedule to this Article, unless such appointment has been approved by the Council upon a recommendation made to the Council by the President.” However, prior to the establishment of the Constitutional Council all appointments of public officers and the judiciary were made by the President in keeping with Articles 54, 55 and 107 of the 1978 Constitution.
Based on the SC Determination cited above, the establishment of a CC is a clear and deliberate attempt to remove and transfer power from one organ of government – the President – to another organ that is predominantly from Parliament. Therefore, the establishment of the CC should have warranted a referendum. However, the SC determined otherwise, based on a determination made by a previous Court in connection with the 17th Amendment.Notwithstanding such contradictions, the fact remains that at the end of the day, appointments to high posts and Independent Commissions are made either by the Executive or by Parliament. If the intention is to foster an independent Public and Judicial Services that is free of political influence, ALL appointments to Administrative and Judicial institutions should be made either by a Public Service Commission or a Judicial Service Commission, as was the practice prior to the politicisation of these institutions.
The need to politicise Administrative and Judicial institutions arose in order to politically control the manner in which these institutions functioned, because those who manned them became a law unto themselves. To overcome such possibilities, instead of attempting to exercise control by directly getting involved in their appointments and how they function, a more effective proposition would be to make the appointments to high posts by independent Public Service and Judicial Service Commissions, and monitor and review regularly their performance through Constitutionally strengthened Parliamentary Oversight and Sectoral Committees.The recommendation therefore is to delete Chapter VIIA that contain provisions for the establishment of a CC incorporated in the 19th Amendment. What is recommended instead is that a Constitutionally empowered Public Service and Judicial Service Commissions recommend for appointment by the President, ALL appointments to high posts stating with Secretaries to Ministries and Heads of Departments. Such a Public Service and a Judicial Service Commission should be vested with executive powers to promote, transfer, exercise disciplinary control and dismissal of public officers, including addressing grievances of the public. An arrangement close to what is recommended already exists with the Police Commission that handles only public grievances. All other functions of the Police Department have already been transferred to the Public Service Commission.
PARLIAMENTARY OVERSIGHT and SECTORAL COMMITTEES
At present, Parliamentary Oversight and Sectoral Committees function under provisions set up under Standing Orders. What is recommended is to make provisions for these Committees to function under provisions of the Constitution, thereby empowering them to fulfil the primary function of reviewing the performance of the policies of the Cabinet of Ministers in respect of the direction and control of the government and the administrative performance of the administrators implementing the policies. Such an arrangement permits Parliament through these Committees to review executive action since the Presidential system does not permit the Cabinet of Ministers to be responsible and answerable to Parliament as stated above. Furthermore, such empowered Committees should have the authority to review the performance of the administrators, notwithstanding the fact that they are appointed by independent Public Service and Judicial Service Commissions.
A significant fact overlooked is that it is the Separation of Power between Parliament responsible for Legislation and the Executive responsible for executive action, that permits the review of executive action by Parliament. However, it must be noted that the review of executive action by these Committees does not mean that the Cabinet of Ministers are collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament. Such a feature where executive action is reviewed by Parliament does not exist under a parliamentary system, because the latter does not recognize separation of power between Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers.
ABOLITION of the EXECUTIVE PRESIDENCY
Does the slogan of the protesters calling “Gota-go-home” mean for the incumbent President to be replaced by another, or the abolition of the Presidential System? On the other hand, the Executive Committee of the Bar Association is very specific. They want the Executive Presidential System abolished. Having so stated, the President of the Bar Association during the course of an interview stated, “I think the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the reinstatement of the 19th Amendment are the key constitutional changes that should be dealt with” (The Sunday Morning, May 15, 2022).There is a contradiction in the above statement. Since the 19thA is an Amendment to the 1978 Constitution, which for all intents and purposes is a presidential system, how could its “reinstatement” exist if the Executive Presidency is abolished? If 19A is perceived as a weakened Executive Presidency, as some do, the fact remains that 19A has to function within a presidential system, weakened or not.
The perception that 19A weakened the executive powers of the President could be challenged because although the President “shall” act on the advice of the Prime Minister (Article 43 (2), Article 43 (3) states that the President “may at any time change the assignment of subjects and functions and the composition of the Cabinet of Ministers”. This means the President “may at any time” undermine the “advice” of the Prime Minister. As for appointment of State Ministers and Deputy Ministers, 19A states that the President “may” on the advice of the Prime Minister make such appointments. Such discretionary provisions cannot amount to a weakening of Executive Power. On the other hand, the establishment of The Constitutional Council is a clear instance of transfer and removal of the executive power that should have required a referendum. Under the circumstances, the perception that reinstating 19A amounts to abolishing the executive presidency is seriously flawed.If the attempt is to abolish the executive presidency, what is it to be replaced with? If it is to reinstate a parliamentary system, it is absolutely critical that hard realities that currently exist in Parliament be recognized. For instance, the present Parliament is made up of 15 political parties. This means that the formation of any government must necessarily be a coalition representing a variety of interests, ideologies, and communities. The stability of such a conglomerate is tenuous, and since the executive and the legislature are represented by a coalition under a parliamentary system, the inevitable outcome would be the instability of the whole government. For instance, between the years 1948 to 1972, only one out of eight governments successfully completed the five-year term (Daily FT, January 30, 2018).
Such instability is not inherent under presidential systems because the sovereignty of the people is exercised separately by a President responsible for exercising the executive power of the People and a Parliament elected separately to exercise the legislative power of the People. Therefore, even if Parliament is made up of coalition governments that inherently are unstable, at least the Executive would continue, thus ensuring the stability of at least one branch of the government. Therefore, the Executive Presidential System should be retained. Furthermore, the attempt should not be a towards a weakened Presidency or one that is responsible to Parliament, but one that functions well under constitutional checks and balances exercised by Parliament.
The President during the course of his address to the nation following the resignation of former Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers, stated that a new Amendment would be presented “containing the provisions of the 19th Amendment”. Furthermore, he stated that he would consider abolishing the Executive Presidency.The need to contain provisions of 19A in a new Constitutional Amendment is because of the popular belief that 19A diluted the executive power the President enjoyed under the original 1978 Constitution. How realistic is this belief? The claim that the executive power of the President was diluted under 19A is because Article 43 (2) states the Cabinet “shall” be appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, whereas the original 1978 Constitution stated that the President would appoint the Cabinet “in consultation with the Prime Minister where he considers such consultation to be necessary”, which indeed is less obligatory than the wording in 19A. However, the 1978 Constitution as well as 19A contains the provision that the President “may, at any time change the assignment of subjects and functions and the composition of the Cabinet of Ministers….” Since this provision overrides the intended compulsion to dilute executive power, there is in fact no removal or transfer of power from one authority to another. If the interpretation is that power was in fact transferred, relinquished or removed, it would have required a referendum since it would be inconsistent with Article 3 read with Article 4, as determined by the Supreme Court cited above.
Other provisions that should be deleted from 19A are Article 33A, which states that the President is responsible to Parliament, and Article 42 (2), which states that the Cabinet of Ministers “are collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament” because they are inconsistent with Article 3 read with Article 4, that separate legislative and executive powers into two organs of government that are separately elected by the People. Therefore, one organ cannot be responsible to another of equal standing. Furthermore, since the Cabinet of Ministers operates on the delegated power of the President, it cannot be responsible to Parliament either. How such misreading of separation of power could have survived from 1978 and continue to exist in 19A reflects poorly on the framers of the Constitutions.A key provision that should be deleted is Chapter VIIA in 19A, which establishes the Constitutional Council. Prior to 19A, the Executive headed by the President was responsible for ALL appointments to high posts. In order to dilute the power of the President, 19A transferred the responsibility of recommending officers to high posts and Independent Commissions to the Constitutional Council, seven of whose 10 members are from Parliament. It is therefore apparent that appointments are subject to the influence of either the Executive or the Parliament.
Since such arrangements are not conducive to the independence of administration, what is recommended herein is to scrap the concept of the Constitutional Council making recommendations for appointment to high posts and Independent Commissions, and pass on such responsibilities to the Independent Public Service and the Judicial Service Commissions. The performance of personnel so recommended and appointed by the President would be subject to the review of Constitutionally empowered Parliamentary Oversight and Sectoral Committees. Furthermore, the reviews would also enable such Committees to oversee executive action. Thus, since such Committees would be fulfilling two functions, it is absolutely vital that the provision is constitutionally empowered so that these Committees are incorporated into the new amendment to the Constitution.As for abolishing the executive presidency and reinstating 19A, it is a contradiction because 19A cannot exist after abolishing the Executive Presidency; 19A exists within the framework of a Presidential System, weakened or not.What is intended herein are recommendations that should be given serious consideration if the intention of a new Amendment is to introduce a new and improved 19th Amendment.
Ohe Innava ; ban on Russian tennis players; greed leads via deceptive satisfaction to disaster
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?
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.
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.
‘Democratic’ impasse and the need for secular action
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.
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