A regrettable thing about aging is the desire of adults to make children and youth — not only in their family circle but of entire society — to act in accordance to their desires. Thus, the young and even those on the fringe of becoming adults — youth — are concerned, the popular thinking is [...]

Sunday Times 2

Compulsory military training or bhikku voluntary ordination?


Temporary ordination a better way to create a disciplined society

A regrettable thing about aging is the desire of adults to make children and youth — not only in their family circle but of entire society — to act in accordance to their desires. Thus, the young and even those on the fringe of becoming adults — youth — are concerned, the popular thinking is that they be ‘disciplined’.

Discipline and ‘the disciplined’ have various meanings and connotations, good and bad, but should not be used to kill the spirit of the individualism and independence , perhaps the most endearing quality of humans and turn them into half- human robots?

A proposal to give military training to youth over 18 years of age has been generating much controversy in recent weeks. Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Rtd) Sarath Weerasekera has announced his proposal for military training for youth over 18 years, with the objective of ‘building a disciplined society’.

This country has absolutely no discipline and needs to be disciplined, he has declared, citing the number of road accidents in the last days of December last year.

Military training will help build strong personalities with leadership skills. It will ensure we have law abiding and responsible citizens, he argues and proposes a six-month training programme for those over 18 years passing out of school.

The vital issue of whether it would be compulsory service or ‘other avenues of alternate service’ has not been clearly made in news reports.

Politicians, notably of the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SL PP) — the party of the Rajapaksas — had on the eve of elections dinned into the public mind that Sri Lanka was the ‘Dhammadeepa’ the country of the Buddha’s doctrine and its cultural norms— the legacy of Sinhala Buddhists that had to be protected. A basic precept of Buddhism is respect to all forms of life and loving kindness to all living beings. Militarism or even military training where violence or force is the ultimate determinant of disputes is obviously antithetical to the Buddhist doctrine.

Instead, the Buddhist way of discipline is through the Sangha — ordination as monks to the Buddhist clerical order. Ordination as a monk in Thailand does not mean being a monk throughout life but temporary voluntary ordination as a monk as is still very much in practice as well as those who have been accepted to higher orders and are committed to be monks for life.

A near 90 percent of Thai nationals are Buddhists and most of them ordain themselves as monks for limited periods. Thai university students ordain as monks for one month during break for semester. Most Thais believe that serving as a monk at least once in a lifetime to learn the precepts of the Buddha is the best way to gain merit for themselves and their parents. During their period of being ordained, they learn the Buddhist doctrine and practice, Buddhist discipline, chanting pirith at dawn and going out with their begging bowls to receive donations from devotees — a practice observed in this country even in the first few decades of the last Century but now no more.

There is much similarity of the practices of Buddhist monks in Thailand and Sri Lanka, since it was a Thai monk, Upali Thera, who came to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Kitsiri Rajasingha (1747-1782) and revived Buddhism, when historians say, was near the point of extinction. However, the practice of temporary ordination of Buddhist monks appears to be unique to Thailand.

Former Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka was reported to have said that Rs 750,000 would have to be spent for a single youth to be given six months of military training. Can the Government afford to invest millions or even billions to discipline tens of thousands young women and men passing out of school with the economy in a very perilous state and Sri Lankans threatened with a pandemic that could wipe them out? This is a fact that should be discussed openly not only by political leaders but think tanks such Viyath Maga advising President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Rear Admiral Weerasekera has been described as a leading light of the said think tank.

Of course, it could be said that not all Buddhist monks or even other monks of various religions the world over cannot be considered the paragons of virtue and discipline. Thai monkhood is no exception. But which profession or category, be it political leaders, benign dictators, vicious political leaders or even the learned professions, could fall into the category of the virtuous and disciplined?

True, indiscipline is rampant in this paradise island. But if the supposed enforcers of political discipline flout all laws and norms of political conduct on primetime TV and are not even admonished by the public or those in ultimate authority, then indiscipline flourishes. If so, discipline becomes a shibboleth, a brand name to be sold to the gullible voters. Revered religious personalities regularly bless well known corrupt officials and notorious politicians on public television quite frequently. Perhaps they cannot refuse any person, even criminals who seek their blessings. But why oh why do they do it before TV cameras knowing that they are white-washing the corrupt and criminals before the whole world in the process?

But all is not lost. Humanity still continues to produce, the young incorruptible, even resistant to lullabies of their mothers about the doughty deeds of their fathers and forefathers which they see in a different light. Different to them are the conformists, the ‘good boys and obedient girls’ who all believe in the tall stories of their ancestors. Others are the upstarts who call the ruling rogues, absolute rogues and want to throw them out.

It is they who matter and could cause chaos and upset the ‘political stability’ — the stability of the ruling class. One way of suppressing such upstarts is to ‘discipline’ them and many countries particularly in the West find compulsory military service as a way out.

The Thai Buddhist system of temporary ordination of Buddhist monks perhaps provided an opportunity for young Thais to gain a Buddhist perspective of life, politics and discipline without being brainwashed by terrific influences of the Vietnam War and Western influences. The growing protests on the streets of Bangkok against the ruling military junta and the new king reveals an expression of uncontaminated independent thought which the ruling military junta cannot obviously provide.

Shouldn’t Sri Lanka (75 per cent Buddhist) and having such close and identical historical traditions with Thai Buddhists try an experiment with temporary ordination of laymen for its 18 -year -olds instead of the Western practice of Compulsory Military Service?

(The writer is a former
editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and former
consultant editor of the Sunday Leader)


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