Election times are always interesting. It is then that politicians disport themselves in slanging matches much to the amusement of the public. United they feather their nests at the expense of the public purse and divided they contest elections. They leave no stone unturned in a bid to destroy one another politically in the run up to an election. They dig into one another`s past and retrieve obnoxious stuff which makes one`s gorge rise. Accusations they trade are many and varied.
Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has fired a broadside at President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as we reported yesterday. The President, the UNP leader says, is not a Buddhist as he has, among other things, failed to look after the citizenry. This remark is not a mere potshot. It smacks of a calculated move to ram one of the pillars of the Rajapaksa regime. If it could be drilled into the heads of Buddhists who predominantly constitute President Rajapaksa`s support base that he is not a practising Buddhist, the UNP may be able to cause some disillusionment among his followers. The UNP also seems to be attempting to remould its image with a tinge of militarism so as to eat into the government`s vote bank, as evident from the fielding of a retired general at the NCP polls and the novel feature of sabre- wielding model warriors standing guard at UNP protests.
What one politician says about another is none of our business. Answering the question whether President Rajapaksa is a true Buddhist is best left to the government propagandists who are looking for an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with their political bosses. However, the UNP leader`s remark is of interest, as it makes one wonder if a practising Buddhist could ever take to politics in this country and continue to abide by the Buddha`s teachings. Finding an answer to this question does not require an advanced discourse like the one the Buddha had with Mathu on the secrets of the universe. Here is a simple way.
Observing pancha sila or the Five Precepts is the basic qualification one should acquire to call oneself a Buddhist. The first precept is, `I undertake to abstain from taking life.` How many politicians can claim he or she has not destroyed life or at least aided and abetted destruction of life or shielded killers or hushed up investigations into killings? One may confidently say those who have not done so can be counted on one`s fingers! Most politicians lay bare their true faces during elections which result in the destruction of life and property. The second precept is, `I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given.` Where to find a politician who has not violated this precept? We have parliamentarians and other so-called people`s representatives showering public funds on themselves in breach of their fiduciary duties. They line their pockets at the expense of the poor people struggling to make ends meet. How politicians fraudulently dispose of public assets and pocket kickbacks is only too well known to merit elaboration. Unauthorised structures put up by the ordinary people are pulled down in record time at the behest of politicians who not only abuse their privileged positions to help themselves to public land but also help their cronies acquire it for a song. The third precept is, `I undertake to abstain from sexual misconduct.` Who is the politician who can say with confidence that he or she practises this precept? The answer is known to their spouses. The fourth precept is, `I undertake to abstain from false speech.` If politicians were to practise this by any chance, they would have to remain mum forever and do away with their election manifestoes replete with lies and false promises. The fifth precept is, `I undertake to abstain from drinks and drugs that cause heedlessness.` Politicians not only imbibe oftentimes on the sly but also issue liquor licences to their near and dear ones and protect drug and rotgut dealers, when they get into trouble. Even those who avoid alcoholic brews get intoxicated with power upon being elected!
This discussion may be lifted to a higher plane with the help of Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne`s argument in his well researched article, Connectivity, heritage and Conflict Resolution: A South Asian Perspective, carried in this newspaper today. Refreshing our memories of the Buddhist zeitgeist of yore, he points out that `Chakkavatti Sihanada sutta and Mahasudassana sutta credit the universal king as the person responsible for duties and obligations not only towards his subjects but also for the total environment of his domain assuring his responsibility to maintain quality of life`. The Buddhist code of conduct prescribed for the king is dasa raja dhamma.
Our problem today is not that we are without rulers guided by dasa raja dhamma. It is that the present-day rulers, regardless of the parties they represent, at least don`t abide by the basic law of the land! The inculcation of dasa raja dhamma in political leaders was the avowed goal that a group of Buddhist monks sought to achieve by taking to active politics and entering Parliament a few years ago. But their experiment with cleansing dirty politics has backfired on them and they have cut very pathetic figures. They must be ruing the day they made that unwise decision. The Buddha never tried to guide kings by being a king himself, did he? He never involved himself in mundane affairs that caused the defilement of the mind.
Never mind the five precepts and dasa raja dhamma. Can any political leader being consumed with greed for power and wealth call himself or herself a Buddhist? What passes for politics in this country today is the very antithesis of Buddhism. So, finding a true Buddhist in politics is as likely a happening as snow in hell!