Paticca Samuppada as a Universally Applicable Theory (Part 3)-THREE MODEST PROPOSALS FOR NEW LANKA
Posted on May 18th, 2010

By Shelton A. Gunaratne, Ph.D. Professor emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ I have the hunch that Lanka (note the omission of Sri) as a dissipative structureƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚a thermodynamic system open to its environment for managing its energy-entropy flow at far from equilibriumƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚is in the process of moving from one long-term (Kondratieff) cycle to another after a major bifurcation within the bhavacakra (wheel of becoming/samsara) in the paticca samuppada sense.

I sense that a new Lanka is in the offing. We are witnessing the self-organization of the namarupa of yesteryearƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Sri Lanka to ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-a more differentiated, higher level of order.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ I hypothesize that the combined impact of all the feedback loops in the cluster of 12 nidanas forced the namarupa of old Sri Lanka to change through the transformative action of becoming (bhava), birth (jati), and jaramarana (decay and death). (N.B.: The individual is inextricably bound to the bhavacakra network; so, it is meaningless to argue that the two are separate.)

I derived the foregoing interpretation of the current status of Lanka by hybridizing the Kondratieff cycles theory, complexity science and the doctrine of paticca samuppada. From the chaos theory (a variation of complexity science) perspective, Lanka may well be on a phase-space far from equilibrium, where an arbitrarily small perturbation of the current trajectory may lead to significantly different future behaviorƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  (demonstrating the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-butterfly effectƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚).ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  This is only an intuitive guess.

My dukkha arises from observing the arrogance of Western scholarship, both mainstream and dissident, to acknowledge the axial South Asian concept of paticca samuppada as a major intellectual contribution that explained the universe in terms very similar to those of modern physics and the various systems approaches, including network theory.

South Asians and their governments should not fall victim to the Trojan horse of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-globalizationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ and let the West dominate the rest. They must demonstrate their own worth and project their intellectual image through the adoption of institutions and practices that have evolved locally.

The people of Lanka and their elected representatives could adopt the following modest proposals as starters.

Paticca Samuppada as Guiding Philosophy

  • My first modest proposal is for new Lanka to adopt paticca samuppada as its guiding philosophy by secularizing it to suit the context of the countryƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s ethnic and religious composition.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

The emerging Lanka and its elected leaders must not be misled by the Trojan horse of sovereignty, rights and globalization. The application of the paticca samuppada mechanism forces the rulers to comprehend that people elect their leaders to alleviate theirƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  (peopleƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s) everyday problems (dukkha). Adopting paticca samuppada means adherence to the norms of democracy that we have inherited from our cultural past and approved by our environment. It means the recognition of the need to study a multiplicity of factors in trying to solve ongoing problems. It means avoiding treating any factor as an independent variable. It means not doing to others what we donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t like to experience ourselves. It means embracing our own axial model of interdependence, interconnectedness and interaction so that we donƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t turn into a lifeless closed system. It means understanding that humans are inseparable from their environment.

DroppingƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-SriƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ from Lanka

  • My second modest proposal is to drop the exalted ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-SriƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ from our countryƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s name thereby acknowledging what is implicit in paticca samuppada: that nothing can be sovereign/supreme.

In contemporary secular usage, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-SriƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ has lost its original Sanskrit meaning of radiance or diffusing light. The term has become a masculine honorific that elevates atta (self) over anatta (no-self).ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  There is no added value in retaining this honorific as part of the countryƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s name. Lanka is simpler and L promotes us from the end of the alphabetical line to the middle.

Create Office of Mahasammata

  • My third modest proposal is to create the constitutional office of Mahasammata to celebrate the first expression of Indian political thought of a theory of social contract so that the world can remember that the origins of democracy are not confined to the genius of Greece and Rome.

The title of Mahasammata (Elected by People) will remind the ruler that he/she cannot retain his office if s/he were to turn authoritarian whereas the tile of Janadhipathi (Supreme Chief of People) creates a false sense of grandeur.

The Irish call their prime minister Taoiseach and deputy prime minister TƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚¡naiste, terms of ancient origin from the Irish language.

Macy (1991) asserts that the systems view of mutual causality illustrated in the Aggappa Sutta has been recognized as the first expression of Indian political thought of a theory of social contract. The story presents self, society, and world as evolving by interaction and progressive differentiation. Buddha traced the origin of kingship to Mahasammata, the great elected one, whom the people chose to act on their behalf. The Buddhist order of the Sangha followed BuddhaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s advocacy of government by open assembly and consensus. The vinaya rules act as the constitutional law connecting the Sangha with the laity.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

In the social contract, individual shares with or relinquishes to society his/her natural rights to bring order out of chaos. A state of nature where every individual is supreme would trigger the law of the fish (Mathsya Nyaya), where the strong would devour the weak (as exemplified in unbridled capitalism solely focusing on ceaseless accumulation of profits). In other words, the individual realizes that existence is anatta (no-self), not atta (self/ego/soul). The transfer of rights by the individual to society, and the subsequent election of peopleƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s representatives (as society became too unwieldy) to administer the collective rights and alleviate dukkha, explains the genesis of democratic government.

Other Explanations

A Kondratieff cycle, averaging 50 and ranging from about 40 to 60 years in length, is an economic cycle alternating between high sectoral growth (Phase A) and relatively slow growth (Phase B). The mid-2009 restoration of order out of the chaos created by large fluctuations in the flow of energy and matter resulting from terrorism probably marked the beginning of a new Kondratieff in Lanka. In terms of conventional reality, Tamil Tiger terrorism reached a point of intransigence at the dawn of this century and collapsed itself into the ultimate reality of emptiness (sunyata) before the first decade ended.

Applying the analytical tools of the strand of systems theory called complexity science, I surmise that Lanka, as a dissipative system, is currently going through a process of self-organization following a major bifurcation, which occurred last year when three decades of horror and terror could not be resolved through the normal dukkha-alleviation apparatus. The old system was unable to handle the fluctuations caused by the uneven energy-entropy flows thereby forcing the system into a bifurcation point giving it one of two choices: complete disintegration or self-organizing itself into a new, more differentiated higher level of order.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Ilya Prigogine says that, at the most sophisticated level, life itself is an example of a dissipative system/ structure. Other examples include cyclones, hurricanes and lasers.

Prigogine based his theory of dissipative structures on the second law of thermodynamicsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚the law of entropy. The law asserts that in closed systems entropy (spent energy/disorder) increases relentlessly until the system reaches the energy-entropy equilibrium point (heat-death) because in thermodynamics (in contrast to Newtonian physics) time is irreversible. However, he asserted, that such heat-death was not applicable to open systems

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Fluctuations occur in open systems when a systemƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s energy flows become too complex for the system to absorb. When a single such fluctuation or a combination musters enough power through positive feedback, a singular moment or bifurcation point arises that forces the system to reorganize or disintegrate. In paticca samuppada terms, the combined positive feedback of the nidanas force three crucial nidanasƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚bhava (becoming), jati (birth) and jaramarana (decay and death)ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚to produce a bifurcation point when the prevailing system is unable to handle its flows of energy and entropy.

Lanka currently appears to be far from the equilibrium point of energy and entropy.

The influence of Buddhist philosophical thinking on PrigogineƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s theory is obvious.

I do realize that a skilled dialectician like Nagarjuna, the second-century Buddhist philosopher who founded the Madhyamika School, could convincingly reduce the paticca samuppada philosophical standpoint to an explosive set of contradictions. But because every philosophical proposition can be reduced to the ultimate/ absolute truth of emptiness (sunyata), affirming or denying propositions would not be conducive to problem resolution in the realm of conventional/ relative reality.

Nor is science immune from the Nagarjuna dialectics. As Karl Popper points out, every scientific law is subject to challenge.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Science was known as natural philosophy until the Enlightenment.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Nagarjuna did not exclude natural philosophy from his dialectical reduction to sunyata.

Buddhist philosophy has the capacity to challenge Western scientific theory and methodology (based on atomism and individualism) for the qualitative analysis of complex problems. Over the long durƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚©e of colonialism and neo-colonialism, the West has subtly used the putative scientific method (the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm) to dominate global scholarship.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The framework of paticca samuppada provides an alternative to the Newtonian paradigm. If Eastern scholars were to promote the Buddhist model, it will completely revolutionize the way we do research, particularly by discarding the veracity of independent variables. For Buddhists must concede that nothing is independent.

One Response to “Paticca Samuppada as a Universally Applicable Theory (Part 3)-THREE MODEST PROPOSALS FOR NEW LANKA”

  1. gunarat Says:

    Priyantha Abeywickrema:

    Thank you for your constructive critique of my previous essay. You must have spent at least a good part of a day mustering facts to build up your argument.

    I get the feeling that many patriotic Buddhist Sinhala intellectuals prefer to be in the “silent majority” when the concept of sovereignty is challenged by using the crux of Buddhist philosophy.

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