The need for Buddhist ideals in drafting Constitutions | Daily News

The need for Buddhist ideals in drafting Constitutions

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at Velanwita village in Haldummulla, Badulla under Gama Samaga Pilisandarak (Conversation with the Village) programme.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at Velanwita village in Haldummulla, Badulla under Gama Samaga Pilisandarak (Conversation with the Village) programme.

While certain segments oppose Constitutional changes, its architects are keen on introducing them whatever be their intentions. In the final count as this writer revealed sometime back, it is not the device that matters but the qualitative character, elegance, mental refinement, finesse and emotional brilliance of those who draft Constitutions that go a long way in proving to the world how selfless if at all they have been when engaged in such exercise proving to the world either their political or statesmanlike qualities – the former being the much favoured category in Sri Lanka.

Colvin R. de Silva, the mastermind of the 1972 Constitution, well established in his profession, displayed none of the statesman-like qualities in this legal masterpiece for if he did, the fear of his effort in wrong hands would certainly have tormented his mind. However, to reiterate the mismatch is best left to a matter of conscience when studying the mind of de Silva, for, his professional brilliance is distant from moral eminence. In common parlance, Colvin’s highly centralized ’72 Constitution on which President J.R. Jayewardene improved, further consolidated that centralization.

Constitutional drafting and amendments demands all inclusiveness without which human dignity is only wishful thinking. No longer does the majority rule hold in the modern world for its notoriety in breeding minority frustration. A 2/3rds majority will license legislative enactment but a lacuna persists in minority satisfaction - be it ethnic or religious. Legal licensing does not meet moral demands. After all minorities also consist of this country’s citizenry. Not surprising then that equality is a key ingredient of Buddhism, devoid of which we can no longer call this a Buddhist state. Needless to speak of other states that seemingly are entrenched in their much misinterpreted respective faiths.

So it is far better to act sensibly backed by conscience rather than be driven by compulsion when tinkering with Constitutions. All inclusiveness is a hallmark of mature, magnanimous minds that considers the larger picture and not short term self motivated gain and fame. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Gama Samaga Pilisandarak (Conversation with the Village) is an excellent idea that should include all communities throughout the country. All are Sri Lanka’s citizens who deserve to be treated equally.

The conscience of those that draft and amend Constitutions must necessarily and solely be guided by the high principles articulated in the Dasarajadharmaya - (10 Noble Rules of Governance) all of which embrace the natural laws of justice. Buddhism is far removed from a rigid, centralized stand in all areas of human activities. It is a noble philosophy based on an all encompassing, universal truth. The more the centralization, the greater the chances of frustration from sidelined quarters that could become a threat to territorial integrity. Sovereignty includes the well-being of all people – all beings in fact - and an effective way into this includes the preservation of even animals, birds, hills, waterfalls, mountains, fauna and flora all of which comprise life.

We should work towards the spiritual and emotional well-being of the people. The life of a fish is as sacred as that of a cow, which is essentially what Siyalu Sathvayo Niduk Wethwa Nirogi Wethwa (May all Beings Be Well and Healthy) means. While wishing for well-being of all animals, and not eating beef, titillating one’s taste buds by eating the flesh of fish is mind boggling.

The sanctity of Constitutions when maintained by the ideals enshrined in Buddhism is a divine exercise that disallows the fortification of personal ambitions. If such narrow thinking is aimed at and the people’s sovereignty is at stake, then what follows is emotional governance which will not be people-friendly. Constitutional tragedies could be avoided if it entails a moral philosophy which is what Buddhism is all about. A Constitution should be eternally conscious of people’s rights and not the ‘right’ to political ambition. It necessarily demands sensible thought. The conscience and political ambition are two highly polarized states that negate the lofty ideals ingrained in Buddhism.

In maintaining positive emotions of Governance, the independence of institutions that oversee the work of the tripod of Government, namely the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary should not be undermined. Any amendment and constitutional drafting need alignment with checks and balances resulting from Viganana (Wisdom) without which the people’s sovereignty cannot be guaranteed. Constitutional drafting is no easy task for it uncovers both a frozen mind and a liberal one. It also reflects an attempt to rise above externalities, physicalities and identities and become a document that ensures prosperity for all people. It includes sovereignty for all citizenry and the preservation of fauna and flora.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s proposed ban on cow slaughter is an excellent move but not without the inclusion of fish, goat, fowl, lobster, prawns and all other living beings. Every living being has a right to its life and to deprive that right is to ignore the noble ideals of Buddhism and all the Great Religions.

Democracy and democratic institutions, pluralism, secularism and the like cease to exist when self-motivation comes to the fore. They will remain only concepts and will die in the anguish of affected minds. Only in being conscious of Buddhist ideals even in the act of drafting constitutions and amending them we could claim to be true Buddhists. We also have to contend with societal ignorance of the word ‘Constitution’ leave alone its Amendments. After all, it was the Buddha who pronounced Bahujana Sukaya Bahujana Hithaaya (for the happiness of the many, for the welfare of the many).

It is therefore imperative that we take the many lessons that are available from Buddhism when drafting the all-new Constitution for which consultations are already underway under the direction of an eminent panel of legal and academic scholars in the country.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])