AWARDS OF PRAIRIE ROSES AND LEAFY SPURGE — 3 In the Light of Crux of Buddhism
Posted on September 11th, 2015

By Shelton A. Gunaratne

(11 September 2015)

Professor of communication emeritus, MSUM, and lead author of Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (New York: Routledge, 2015)

MOORHEAD, MN — Considering the rapid flux of political imponderables in Sri Lanka over the last few weeks, I shall strictly follow Buddha’s insight on the three marks of cyclic existence (samsara) — dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anatta (no-selfness), and anicca (inconstancy) — implicit in his Four Noble Truths to assess the positives and negatives of the current situation to see whether the country is following the Buddhist Middle Path (magga).

The magga is consistent with the Confucian doctrine of the mean centered on cultivating human-heartedness judged in terms of a cluster of related moral terms including the Five Relationships, the principle of reciprocity (the Golden Rule), and various forms of virtue;

 and also with the Aristotelian golden mean or the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.

The power of Buddhist phenomenology lies in a person’s ability to verify the Four Noble Truths through his/her own psychophysical mechanism of concentration (samadhi) — a subjective approach in contrast to objective methods required by science. People who understand the nitty-gritty of Buddhism use samadhi to ascertain the truth of the three marks of cyclic existence, which form the vicious circle of feeding on one another to make samsara the equivalent of dukkha.

The most recent political events in Sri Lanka reinforce my suspicion that most politicians do not understand the crux of Buddhism though they claim to preserve it from the threats of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. They do not appear to practice the principles of Buddhism. They use Buddhism as a convenient platform because of their craving and attachment for political power and material benefits. Such politicians invariably violate even the basic five precepts — not harming others, not lying, not stealing, non-adultery, and non-intoxication — let alone the other principles of the Middle Path. These are ethical/moral principles that Buddhism shares with other major world religions.

Buddhists believe that all sentient beings are composites of the Five Aggregates — physical form (kaya), feelings (vedana), perception (sanna), dispositions (sankhara), and consciousness (vinnana). The dependent co-origination (paticca samuppada) paradigm explains the dynamics of how these interdependent and interconnected aggregates continuously interact with one another to condition the level of dukkha as reflected in one’s becoming (bhava), birth (jati), decay and death (jaramarana) during each rotation of his/her bhavacakra  (wheel of becoming).  

Thus Buddhist phenomenology has convincingly proved that cyclic existence and unsatisfactoriness are one and the same — a truth that science is incapable of proving or disproving through its empirical methods. Both Buddhism and Hinduism agree that one has to extricate oneself from samsara to free oneself from unsatisfactoriness by attaining nibbana (the state of non-existence or non-becoming for Buddhists) or moksha (the state of one’s self/soul wit0h the Brahman’s). Both religions trace unsatisfactoriness to craving, attachment and related factors associated with ignorance.

However, most politicians in Sri Lanka apparently want to save Buddhism with no semblance of decreasing their craving and attachment. I have taken the trouble to acquaint the reader, as well as our politicians, on the crux of  Buddhism, which requires people to adopt its eightfold magga to discard the inevitable  state of unsatisfactoriness                                                              in cyclic existence until  they attain the supreme happiness of non-existence. In my view,                        Pope Francis, who wrote the 2015 encyclical on climate change, is a better practitioner of Buddhism than many monks and politicians in  Sri Lanka. In the light of the foregoing analysis, I have selected the following newsmakers in Sri Lanka for this week’s Prairie awards:
PRAIRIE ROSES: To President Sirisena for his inaugural address to parliament in which he reiterated his government’s  commitment to good governance, national reconciliation, eradication of corruption, a compassionate and egalitarian society and environment protection” (Sunday Times, 6    Sept. 2015).

The president has clarified that he is preparing the agenda of his government of consensus based on the foundation of his presidential election manifesto, ‘A compassionate governance, a stable country’ already approved by the people. Moreover, he has said that he will use that foundation to build on the plans and programs envisaged in the UNP’s manifesto ‘A New Country in 60 Months: Five Point Plan’; UPFA’s manifesto ‘A Certificate guaranteed for the future’; JVP’s manifesto ‘Accord of Conscientiousness’; and TNA’s election manifesto (Sri Lanka Guardian, 2 Sept. 2015). The president has promised to release the policy document of the government of consensus after finalizing comparative studies on those manifestos.

The placement of national integration and reconciliation as a high priority item is justified in terms of the moral/ethical codes of Buddhism and all other religions —  Hinduism, Christianity and Islam — practiced in the country. Perhaps the government should first appoint a ministerial committee comprising the following to draw up a plan, both short-term and long-term, to engender ethnic and religious amity and understanding through education and the mass media:

John Amaratunga – Minister of Tourism Development & Christian Affairs

Wijedasa Rajapakshe – Minister of Buddha Sasana

Gayantha Karunathilake – Minister of Parliamentary Reforms & Media

D.M. Swaminathan – Minister of Resettlement & Hindu Affairs

Mano Ganesan – Minister of National Dialog

Mohamed Hashim Abdul Haleem – Minister of Postal Service & Muslim Affairs  

This committee could pay special attention to implement an educational program emphasizing the similarities between religions and ethnic groups. An example would be a school textbook comparing the Dhammapada with the Bhagavad Gita.

 LEAFY SPURGE: To the National” Government of Sri Lanka headed by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe for placing political expedience before good governance” by creating a bloated and unwieldy cabinet of 48 ministers. This is going to cost a tidy sum of public money rivaling the monster cabinet syndrome initiated by former President Rajapakse. The leadership of both UPFA and UNCGG violated Right Speech by lying to the electorate by promising  to limit the size of the Cabinet to 30. They violated the 19th Amendment to accommodate defeated candidates to re-enter parliament by manipulating their National Lists, and rewarding former minsters known for wrong doing” with Cabinet portfolios. Instead of releasing dukkha, they have increased suffering by allowing these suspected culprits another opportunity to test their  tanha and upadana because they are ignorant of the operational dynamics of the three marks of cyclic existence.

Venerable Sobhita and associated civic groups should not allow the National” Government to get away with such blatant violations of the promised yahapalanaya. Other questions to ask:

  • What size of entourage will accompany the president for his 30-minute speech to the United Nations?
  • Will the president keep the promise of limiting his term to five years?

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