What prompted me to write this short piece is a thought that crossed my mind on reading S.L. Gunasekera’s Lore of the Law and Other Memories, which I thought was worthy of being shared with its readers.
Before elaborating on it, I wish to express my appreciation of the noble task undertaken by S.L. Gunasekera in producing this work. It is a heroic attempt on the part of a sincere soul, who is overwhelmed by anguish and anger by the gradual collapse of the moral and ethical foundation of our society which most of us have come to accept without a whimper. He goes all out to expose those evil forces with the ferocity of a Knight in arms.
This reminds me of the command given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagwath Gita – ‘for the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked and for the establishment of righteousness, I come into being from age to age’. I see S.L. in that role.
S.L. Gunasekera is a self confessed agnostic. He appears to pride himself in announcing it. His conversation with the policeman which he has reported shows this too well. Little does he realize that the policeman is a true product of our culture. The poor policeman cannot think of a Sinhalese in this country without a religion.
What SL wants us to believe is that one could have moral and ethical values in spite of being an agnostic, that moral and ethical values need no religious foundation. The very vehemence with which S.L. pronounces his agnosticism I believe betrays him. He may be sincere in believing that he is a product of the Liberalism and Rationalism that was brought forth by the Enlightenment that laid the foundation of the secular society in the West.
His reading Bertrand Russell at a tender age may have strengthened his convictions. But I cannot believe that the moral zeal with which he acts can have any other foundation other than Christ’s message.
Liberalism and Rationalism are too shaky a foundation for such moral zeal.Even without going into the past the last few years have shown us that the moral and ethical values those Western countries profess are nothing but a thin veneer to cover their inherent amorality-the result of a pagan Godless society. It was the German philosopher Nietzsche who dismissed these Enlightenment values as hypocrisy, who saw through the Western man, his true nature driven by the thirst for power. The will to power was according to Nietzsche the power that propels the Western man. The recent years have proved Nietzsche right once again! Surely SL cannot be a member of that pagan society. As Romesh de Silva pointed out in his key-note address SL is a true Christian at heart in spite of his protestations.The dichotomy in the psyche of the individual as typified by SL, I believe has much relevance to us living in this part of the world. That dichotomy is very much there in our society though we have failed to recognize it.
The foreigner who ruled over us made us believe that they had created a ‘secular society’ for us. It was part of ‘the White man’s burden’. In this scheme of things religion was relegated to the position of individual preference. It had no societal dimension. Our elitist group that replaced the foreigner had immense faith in this dispensation and thought of it as a great blessing bestowed on us. The parliamentary system built on the Westminster model, the party system, the bourgeois democracy, which were needed to maintain a secular society were taken over by our leaders with great relish and devotion. Since then we have been trying our utmost to keep these institutions going in spite of the decay and degradation that was becoming obvious with every passing decade. Even today we have not given up and our erstwhile intellectuals are hell bent on redeeming them and getting them to work.
S.L. Gunasekera in the second part of the book has exposed in no uncertain terms the depth to which these institutions have fallen over the years.
In Part IV the author deals in eight chapters the tragic fate suffered by all the pillars- the parliamentary system, the party system and the democratic system on which the secular society rests. Going through these sordid details I could not help feeling that the whole system was beyond redemption; that it is already moribund and that no amount of effort would be able to resurrect it. To think of any possibility seems to be wishful thinking.
S.L. Gunasekera devotes the last part of the book to deal with the lore of the law. With these nine chapters he gives us a first hand, a ringside description of the degradation, the rule of the law has suffered in this secular society; how the judiciary, the custodian of the secular society has acted shamelessly without any moral scruples. Reading through these revelations one shudders to think what would be in store for us if this trend is to continue. When the legislature that formulates the law is full of power hungry elements, how could the judiciary that enacts these laws remain unsullied?
How judges who have carried out the wishes of powers to have been promoted, while those who refused to do so have been penalized have been well documented by the author with examples. Can we expect the average citizen who reads these revelations to have faith in our judiciary any longer? The judiciary too has become part of that moribund system, prompting the people to take the law into their hands.
All in all what this devastating exposure justifies is the cynical view the ordinary man has arrived at regarding these institutions that have been kept going in the name of a secular society.
From here where do we go? This was the question that was uppermost in my mind. S.L. Gunasekera does not come out with an answer. He has only posed the question. Do we have an alternative to replace this moribund system?
In that search I think the first step should be to disabuse our mind of this myth of a secular society. As pointed out it has been something alien that has been forced on us which has remained outside our being.
Ours was never a secular society; it was a religion-led society which was built on a religious foundation-on the Buddhist faith. It was there for centuries, right up to the time we came under British rule. Our moral and ethical values are derived from it; the governance was based on those moral values. What we had had throughout our history was a Buddhist state. Professor Trevor Ling in his masterly work Buddhist Civilization in India and Ceylon, has discussed the nature of this Buddhist state, the triangular relationship between the monarchy, the Sangha and the laity that made this Buddhist state function. He has shown how the prosperity of the country and the people depended on the smooth functioning of this triangular relationship. It is this relationship which has been with us for centuries, that was replaced by a fake counterfeit of a secular society. That counterfeit would have suited India which in itself is a counterfeit created by the British in the name of a nation.
If you are looking for an alternative to this moribund system, it is to this past we should look up to, not to replicate but to draw the necessary inspiration to formulate a model that is in keeping with our genius and present times.
With the threat of devolution hanging over us at the moment, I believe a unique opportunity has come in our way to make a start on these lines. Devolution is nothing but the disintegration of this country. Have no illusions about it. (Let the Colombians and the LLRC pundits harbour such illusions.) If we are to avert the disaster of devolution, empower the people, get democracy at grass root level, there is an institution for us to fall back. It is the institution of the gamsabhava which has been with us for centuries and was able to achieve these ends. A new model based on that institution to suit our present times and demands will do the needful and save this country.
An observation by a Thai intellectual which I happened to come across recently comes to my mind in this context. This Thai intellectual was a member of the Dharmic Socialist Movement initiated by Ajan Budhdhadasa. This is what he has to say-“There were three countries in South Asia that had the potential to go back to their inheritance for revival and resurgence after the withdrawal of the foreigner. They were Burma, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. U Nu in Burma was partially successful till he was deposed by a coup after a decade. Prince Sihanuk had no opportunity. People in Sri Lanka brought Bandaranaike into power in ’56 to achieve this goal. But Bandaranaike who was a thorough product of Western Liberalism failed to understand this’.
It is time we understand what Bandaranaike failed to understand.