By Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Finance and Media, supporting the report submitted by the Steering Committee on constitutional reform, called for a Constitution that ‘will help our nation put its past behind for good and move forward with renewed hope.’ Obviously he has meant that Sri Lankans must forget the past where majoritist politics created clashes among nationalities within the country. Hence, this is a positive statement. Mangala’s speech also alluded to the Sathara Brahma Viharana or the four humanist mental conditions that should be evoked when looking at another, Meththa, Karuna, Muditha, and Upekkha. These are not divine, but human attitudes developed within social communal living suppressing desire, hate and delusion.

Of course those who believe in God the creator, can believe these mindsets arrive with God’s blessing; no problem. According to Buddhist teachings Meththa means to defend the right of the other to live, Karuna means to give the share of the other, Muditha means the joy in others achievement, finally Upekkha means to pardon others’ mistakes in equanimity.

There have been a lot of allusions to the Buddha’s doctrine of late. M.A. Sumanthiran (TNA) has argued for the repealing of Article 9 of the Constitution which states “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).”

An indefensible position

He has rightfully stated that he, not being a Buddhist, just for that cannot be told that he is second class in this country. He argues further that support for Article 9 is ‘an indefensible position for the Buddhists to take.’ Clearly he is pointing to the fact that Buddhists following a teaching which so strongly emphasized the equality of all humans are in an embarrassing situation. If Article 9 is deleted all religions will be treated equally under Articles 10 and 14 (1) (e) whether Sumanthiran is silent or not about those Articles. The inconsistency with Buddhist philosophy would be eliminated. With that message of dharma given in the speech of Mangala will be valid. The sarcasm of Sumanthiran was evident when he said that he will not oppose if Buddhists’ demand that Article 9 should be included, could be neutralized. Thus Mangala started with the correct perspective and Sumanthiran made use of the avenue set by Mangala. All this of course is not innocent, but is it progressive. It is true that history whether one likes it or not, bears upon the present and future. Constitutions have not, do not and will not fall from the sky. Societies and cultures are changing and developing ever according to the rule of uthpathathithibanga. Hence, these are not cast in stone of course and are necessarily altered over time and space, with negation of the negation for better or worse. Negation or dumping history is a serious occurrence in spite of the need to remember the past; seen violent and bloody persecution which cannot and should not be forgotten. One notes that neither Samaraweera nor his political friends have clean histories; nobody has been, and neither are they ready to do the forgive-and-forget of past wrongs perpetrated by political opponents. That does not mean that they are right in the middle of a revenge game, as were their predecessors.

Less seriously, Sumanthiran is known as a Christian, and his religious community may have had it good for centuries at the expense of Buddhists and Hindus, before Panadura Vadaya and arrival of Colonel Olcott. Buddhist revival changed the picture even under British rule. Asking Buddhists to act as a rational enlightened community is a credit to the Buddhist revivalists. Many believe that Sri Lanka is the real centre of Theravada Buddhism and men such as Prof. Carlo Fonseka claim Buddhism is a source for rationalist thinking. Of course, to assume they have achieved one of the four levels of enlightenment, at least Sovan, is a bit much. However , Sumanthiran, by his sober yet compelling appeal made the eyes open for so many, while surely injured the pride of several racists in the Sinhala Buddhist camp. But it has not violated the Christian teaching, for example, you could read Matthew 5:39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also; if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Let us unitedly march towards democracy and modernism.