Saturday, January 30, 2010

Understanding the change of value systems

By Prasad Mapatuna

I've been hearing these post election speeches by Buddhist clergy in TV and it is apparent that they need a value system upgrade!

The starting point of the new wisdom should be the realization we are not governed by a monarch anymore. We should stop living in the past and look forward for positive changes fitting to the new governance model of parliamentary democracy. Even after living more than half a century in a parliamentary democracy with universal suffrage, most of our self-proclaimed moral leaders and self-styled guardians of the heritage seem to think that we are still ruled by a king and are fond of dolling out governance advices fitting only to a medieval kingdom.

However, if you are one of those individuals who believe that moving from current democratic setup to 13th century Sri Lankan Monarchy is actually an upgrade, then of course I will be surprised you got this far in to the this post. There are many pundits and politicians in Sri Lanka that promote this ideology. Some of them have named this ideology as “Maha sammatha Wadaya”. This however is commonly knows as “Feudal System” (“Weda wasam kramaya”)

One of the key issues that I see in Sri Lankan Buddhist institutions is that the traditions around those institutions are still aligned with a non-existent feudal system. The head of state is still assumed to be a “King” by the clergy who were trained within these institutions. The advices of the clergy to the lay followers are mostly based on a 13th centenary value system designed to keep the peasantry in their place. We often hear clergy and other conservative scholars bringing examples from the time of ancient kings to draw parallels between contemporary situations. Their basic assumption is that something ‘good’ from that era is unquestionably good and fitting in current times as well. This is very wrong! The value systems changed drastically. The value system the majority of Sri Lankans subscribe today is very different from value systems prevailed at the times of Devanampiyatissa or Dutugemunu or Prarakramabahu. For example, if we are to go by those ancient value systems, we will not see anything wrong with nepotism or use of government property for image building purposes of the ruler. However, these days those deeds are viewed as crimes.

Buddhist clergy often refers to ‘Dhasaraja Dharma’ as a set of timeless advices for governance. The ‘Dhasaraja Dharma’ could well be timeless due to the abstract nature of it. Those abstract concepts should be mapped to concrete concepts using contemporary value system to make any use of it. The problem with the clergy is that they go by some book written hundreds of years ago which actually documents the interpretation of ‘Dhasaraja Dharma’ as applicable to a kingdom that existed thousands of years ago.

To better understand abstract nature of Buddhist values and the need to map them to contemporary value system is aptly demonstrated in the third precept “Kāmesu micchācāra veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi” (I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.). The term “sexual misconduct” is such an abstract concept, any interpretation could be given, starting from one of the basic sexual ethics “Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal” (Satanism) to “I refrain from having any other forms of sex other than sex in missionary position with my legally wedded wife/husband” (Conservative Catholic).

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