We must not forget that LTTE was formed five years before Hezbolla, ten years before Al Qaeda and Hamas and 15 years before the Taliban. We had also gone through two insurgencies in the South as well. Why did we so far fail to assess the shortcomings to plan the future course of action for the benefit of the citizens as one nation? Unfortunately, after having defeated the LTTE, why couldn’t we resolve many of the post war issues too?
Why did Ven. Sobitha Thera come forward uncompromisingly to defeat the former regime? What was the late prelate trying to achieve as a member of the Maha Sangha, a member of the spiritual community, of our beloved motherland? Did he try to establish an evolution of Dharmically - based political theory? No doubt, he fought for the establishment of an ethical government, - a Government based on moral principles based on the Dharma. Let me call it a dharmarajyaya in this article. In a Dharmarajya, everyone upholds moral order so that all are required to behave towards each other based on consideration and justice. Dharmarajya concept is found in Hinduism too. Rulers listen to subjects carefully to fulfil their wishes thus ensuring that all interests are taken in to account in determining the policy of the state. Such a State, would not involve power to serve a section of people. It does not permit elected representatives serving themselves - for the benefit of the rulers.
In Asia particularly, there had been a symbiotic relationship among the king, the monks and the lay people in the past, which no doubt was healthier for the benefit of the people. Ven. Sobitha, therefore, attempted to establish a good and just political system which guaranteed basic human rights that contained checks and balances to the use of power.
Do we have good committed representatives elected by us representing the citizens? Our representative democracy is very often poetically described as a government ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’ because there are periodic elections held to the Presidency, Parliament, Provincial Councils and the local bodies.
Nevertheless, what we see and experience both theoretically and in practice are far more complicated and confusing. These complexities the prelate had said were due to the actors and not due to the institutions. In fact, most of our leaders have been unexceptional.
We could also see large numbers of Buddhist monks on numerous political stages of various parties at present. There is evidence that Buddhist monks have engaged themselves in statecraft from the time of the ancient kings in providing guidance and advise to the rulers regarding the proper application of teachings of Lord Buddha in day to day governance. However, in the past few decades we also saw monks contesting elections and representing seats in Parliament. The Hela Urumaya contested parliamentary elections and won several seats. They argued that they would be able to improve the quality of the Parliament and the Parliamentarians in the interest of the citizens and the country. Did they succeed in their endeavour? Not at all.
Due to all these reasons, there came an era where politicians always had their say and neglected the country having pushed the masses to poverty and endless economic, social, cultural and other problems. In Chakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, Buddha shows how the loss of values could lead to economic instability and social turbulence – “Because of goods not being accrued to those who are destitute, poverty becomes rife. From poverty becoming rife; stealing, violence, murder, lying, evil speech, adultery, incest finally lack of respect for parents, filial love, religious piety, and lack of regard for ruler will result. Buddha had also preached – “when the higher officials are just and good, the rank and file become just and good; when the rank and file become just and good, people become just and good”. Our rulers in the past several decades had failed to govern the country in a manner that would benefit the people. Ven. Sobitha provided leadership at a crucial period to other religious leaders and the civil society to fight against bad governance including corruption.
There is evidence on various instances of how Buddhist monks came forward to protect the country and particularly the people from tyrannical rule. Ven. Sobitha campaigned with self-sacrifice that the rulers should follow the path that helped the well-being of the citizens.
Furthermore, there is good enough evidence that during the reign of King Dutugamunu Buddhist monks had played a prominent role in numerous national, political, cultural and social events. During the time of King Bhatiya the Judgeship had been given to a monk. There had therefore been instances when monks had taken an active role in activities of governance/national development decisions.
It may be relevant to mention that after the death of King Saddhatissa (77 – 59 B.C.) the Assembly of Monks had ruled that Prince Lajji-Tissa who should have become the king be not made the king and that Prince Thullanatha be appointed as the king instead. It is also on record that King Kashyapa assassinated his own father to become the king. The Maha Sangha thereafter unanimously had rejected to accept Kashyapa as the King and had decided to dethrone the king and enthroned his brother Moggallana instead.
Again in another instance, the monks had intervened to settle a dispute between King Gajabahu and King Parakramabahu and had restored peace in the country. The two kings had thereafter entered into a peace treaty and the inscriptions found at Mandalagiri and Samagamu Viharas prove the involvements of the Maha Sangha for this purpose. During the reign of King Dutugamunu there were numerous instances where monks had assumed a prominent role in the country.
Let me ask the question why did Ven. Sobitha Thera come out having formed the Movement to establish a Just Society. After colonisation and thereafter in the not so-distant past, the system of governance had changed drastically. These developments later alienated the Maha Sangha too from the role they played in politics, national issues for the benefit of the citizens.
Owing to these reasons, several decades ago, Peliyagoda Vidyalankara Pirivena being the leading Buddhist Monastery in Sri Lanka at the time had issued a Public declaration in 1946 entitled “Bhikkhus and Politics” which stated that it was nothing but fitting for Bhikkhus to involve themselves with activities conducive to the welfare of the people. It could now be seen that the Maha Sangha takes a lead role in shaping up the country’s destiny together with the support of other religious dignitaries in the country. The late Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda had stated that the Buddha Dhamma suggests the ways and means to approach the complications in society and to reform the individuals through which the society could be made to act more humanely with a view to provide equal opportunities to all the human beings without being discriminatory.
Ven. Sobitha pointed out that the politicians during the last several decades had destroyed the country economically, socially, culturally. Party leadership had paved the way to greedy power-hungry eccentrics to rule the country. Politicians now openly misuse political power. They also give protection to their political associates who are corrupt. They craftily organise political deals undemocratically to strengthen political power.
I was personally aware that Ven. Sobitha believed that there was an extra effort needed to improve the running of the State machinery to fulfil its duties and obligations towards the unfortunate masses. The State is currently controlled by a remarkably small body of dishonest people who ultimately wield enormous power. They do not have a sense of empathy and goodwill for the ultimate benefit of the poor masses. In this sense, our leaders are not patriots because they do not have any love for their own subjects. Don’t they only love themselves? Aren’t they a band of pickpockets in spotlessly white national costume?
This is basically the CHANGE that the prelate wanted to be done in the country for the benefit of all Nationalities. He emphasised the need to learn to love the country and its people with a view to widen that love towards all human-beings irrespective of the caste, creed or race.
He always meant that he had the power, ability and the tenacity to resolve the issues faced by the country owing to lack of good governance. He wanted to transform an ordinary Rajya in to, may I say a Dharmarajya. He had even consented once to contest presidency as politicians cannot be trusted.
What happened? He passed away after the dream government had been elected. As we know, the ‘Movement for a Just Society’ blossomed after a statement made by the Ven. Madoluwawe Sobitha at the BMICH.
He assured the country that he would dedicate his life to abolish Executive Presidency and restore clean, ethical and rule of law in the country. He said GOOD GOVERNANCE was a sine-qua non for achieving economic development and growth in the country.
On the occasion when we commemorate his first death anniversary, after his untimely passing away, time has come for all patriotic citizens to honour the Nayaka Thera by ensuring that we too should commit ourselves with firm determination, to achieve the dreams of the late Ven. Sobitha in this precious land which had been previously called ‘Paradise Island’ and destroyed by all successive governments.
Let us also extend our best wishes to Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya who took over the leadership of the Movement after the untimely death of the respected prelate.
May long live the ‘Movement for Just Society’ in our motherland.