20 June 2012

Good Governance III: Self Sacrifice

Pariccaga: the third element of the Dasa Raja Dharma

The third article of the rules for good governance proposed by Siddhartha Gauthama, the Samma Sambuddha, the All-Knowing, is called Pariccaga or self-sacrifice.  In the business of running a government or being custodian to a nation made of citizens, resources, a culture, a civilization and way of being, this refers to acts of renunciation to further the public interest. 

On the face of it this seems closely related to the first of the Dasa Raja Dharma, ‘daana’ which too is associated with ‘giving’ or ‘donation’.  Giving after all leaves one with less than one had prior to the act and involves a certain forgoing, a doing without. Let’s explore this difference by way of shedding light on this element of the Buddha’s discourse on governance. 

Daana, according to original formulation (referencing the work of Nalin Swaris here and indeed in a way amending my assertions in the article on the subject published in the Daily Mirror three weeks ago), meant something more radical than ‘liberality, generosity and charity’, and one which referred to equitable wealth distribution.  Swaris tells us that the Buddha expounds in the Cakkavatthi Sihanada Sutta that poverty is not a naturally arising calamity or a result of karma but in the aggregate expression of the phenomenon a direct outcome of the absence of righteous governance.   

Swaris tells us that in the Kutadanta Sutta, the wealthy, following the advice of the Buddha transforms themselves from dhanapathi (lord of wealth) to daanapathi (lord of giving), the discourse amounting to a charter for a planned, righteous economy.  The key element of this is, contrary to the misinterpretation or misreading of scriptures for political and personal convenience, not charity but justice. 

Caga is a giving of a different kind; it resonates with the act of relinquishing.  Whereas daana is material in the main and especially in the sense of designing a righteous economy, Caga is more abstract, even as it can have a material component.   

Literally, it is about self-sacrifice.  It is the converse of being selfish and self-centred.  One could, theoretically, say that this is about giving up privileges; for example, choosing not to take salary, to divert it to some worthy cause, not using all privileges such as security escorts, unlimited fuel and such.  There’s nothing wrong in not taking advantage of such privileges that go with the job.   Indeed such acts (which fall outside those described under the ‘Daana’ clause of the Dasa Raja Dharma, i.e. righteous economic planning) can and do have a positive impact on society as a whole.  The ruler, by such acts of sacrifice can spur the citizenry to do likewise, to focus on the common good as opposed to narrow self-seeking, to be more efficient and less slothful.  This is good.

In this sense what is key is to ‘give up’ without considering identity of receiver/beneficiary of that giving.  It cannot be giving in a trading sense, i.e. envisaging return at later date.  I am thinking of the tsunami right now, where the largesse of ‘givers’ was stamped with relevant brand. It was giving with advertising, brand-building. That’s not consistent with the sentiments associated with Caga.

Caga refers to a different kind of ‘giving’ as well.  It refers to a self-effacement that in act and thought adds value to the office, enhances legitimacy, spurs loyalty and by all these things inculcates in the citizenry a sense of wholesomeness in being part of the particular society. 

What is the reality, though? What we see in rulers at all levels is not self-sacrifice, but self-aggrandizement, self-promotion, self-seeking, conspicuous, in-your-face flaunting of wealth and power.  Not thrift, but wastage; not self-effacement but spectacle.  This is not consistent with Caga. 

If I remember right, it was Christopher Wren, architect, who said ‘if you are looking for my monument, look around you’.  That’s not how things are in our here and now of Sri Lanka.  People want to leave monument in statue and brag-stone.  They want to carve name and image wherever they go.  What we have is a Nissankamallization of politics. Our politicians are fixated less on representing the people than building themselves up as brands.  That’s antithetical to the values embedded in the notion of Caga.  

Who among our rulers and wannabe rulers can be considered examples of people who never thought what he/she would gain personally from this or that act or word?  Who among them gave up personal comfort, rejected privilege and convenience? Who among them did the right thing regardless of the consequence, even if it meant personal loss of whatever kind, including possible electoral reversal?  

This is a quality that cannot be legislated, cannot be thrust in a job description. It can be inserted in a manifesto (which are usually documents that embellish quality or make claims that are unreal) but impossible for a voter to cite and recall if and when the candidate personifies its opposite.

Our leaders were white.  They appear to be simple.  They lead extravagant lives.  They enjoy the trappings of power.  They make excuses for the extravagance.  There’s giving, yes, but not of what they own. There’s no ‘giving up’ and even if that claim is made there is nothing of substance once you scratch the surface of the claim. 

Caga is easily identified.  We can tell the humble from the egotistical.  We can say the self-effacing from the self-aggrandizing. We can distinguish he/she who sacrifices from he/she that accumulates.  Those who exemplify commitment to Caga will not need hoardings, posters, leaflets or website, not even in the 21st Century.  They stand out even when they sit, they speak even when they are silent, they are heard even when they are fast asleep.

Caga.  An important quality in a leader.  In a leadership. In those who govern and those who seek to govern, We are lacking. We are poor.

[Originally published in the Daily Mirror, September 18, 2010]

The following is the complete set of articles on the Dasa Raja Dharma

Dana: the virtue of giving

Sila: the moral component of the Dasa Raja Dharma]

Pariccaga: the third element of the Dasa Raja Dharma

Ajjava: the discourse on honesty and integrity in governance 

Majjava: the kinder, gentler elements of governance

Tapa: the virtues of austerity and restraint 

Akkodha: the need to eschew enmity

Avihimsa: incorporating non-violence into good governance

Khanti: the virtue of patience and tolerance

Avirodha: a must-cultivate for the effective and benevolent ruler