27 June 2012

Good Governance VII: Eschewing of Enmity

Akkodha: the need to eschew enmity

The seventh virtue that a good ruler is advised to cultivate is akkodha or absence of enmity.  The word choice is extremely pertinent. There is nothing in this about not having political opponents or not being competitive.  The focus is on the approach to engagement, I believe. In other words, the Samma Sambuddha, Siddhartha Gauthama the Enlightened One, in his incomparable discourse on Good Governance advises rulers and would-be rulers to desist from enmity, from ill-feeling in their political engagement, as always in thought, word and deed.

Rulers are not like this in general.  Politics of power is an unforgiving exercise, with no quarters asked and none given. It is a pound-of-flesh kind of engagement or even worse, a pound of flesh extracted in lieu of an ounce that had been taken before.  Politics and revenge have become such close companions that they are not just inseparable but are hard to distinguish from one another. 

Our Budun Wahanse was of the view that this kind of behaviour and culture would obstruct the ability to govern well. The ideal ruler or a ruler striving for the ideal would eschew revenge and all acts of ill-will and hatred, even if it were permissible within a given regime of legality.  In other words, such a leader would not do something even if it were legal if he/she felt that it would amount to pandering to desires of revenge, punishment and ill will. 

Ruling is not easy.  Getting to the point of ruling is hard.  In unforgiving political circumstances one makes many friends. One makes enemies too, even without intending to and even if one’s intentions in all engagements are wholesome, innocent and absolutely lacking in ill will.  Politics is a game where arrows are shot, poisons administered; there is cut and gash, blood-letting and raucous laughter, insult and humiliation, needling and litigation.  It is made of proxy-attacks; one is liable to be left alone and instead attacks are focused on near and dear as in loved ones or ideas, ideologies or religious faiths. The smart and vindictive have a million ways of hurting, of getting under someone’s skin and rest assured politics is a game where every trick in the book is tried out if one is aware of it. 

In politics there are therefore a million reasons to bear a grudge.  There are a hundred and one grievances that ache heart and mind.  One comes into contact with despicable people and one is required not to react with aggression.  Many politicians grin and bear because this is the politically expedient way of handling insult.  They do this for the sake of keeping certain appearances current.  

Most politicians, however, rarely forget a grudge, a wrong done; they may appear unperturbed but would be seeking other ways of punishing perceived wrongs, ways in which they are not implicated in any way. Some politicians, of course, are cruder than others, let us not forget.

Budun Wahanse does not assume or expect us to assume that politics is a flat-land engagement; there are ups and downs in terms of fortune (ref the ata lo damaha) in life and therefore in politics too.  Politics is a game played by pruthagjanas, i.e. the unenlightened or those who yet to set metaphorical foot on a path of no-return to Enlightenment.  Budun Wahanse knew this and expected people to be people, to do what those who have a long way to go in the slaying of ill-humours accumulated over lifetimes of unreflective living and consequent generation of sansara-prolonging karmic ‘credit’.  This is why the politician was advised to act with forbearance and love without harbouring grievance or ill feeling. 

One can be aggrieved. The trick is not to bite dog when dog bites; no not even to propose and administer mercy-death or kick-in-the-butt or slap or chide.  The trick would be to treat all with equanimity the vicissitudes that life throws at you, including insult, humiliation or violent harm such as assault or acts of arson that destroys all.

If this cardinal principle of good governance is spurned, then more hatred and ill will is naturally engendered. Where forgiving and embrace would have healed and consolidated, there is revenge and violence, insult and counter-insult, the seeking out of despicable allies, the employment of passion over reason, the feeding of ego and a footnoting of the common good. 

The principle of Akkoda is by definition a condition in which there is no room for jealousy, fear or resentment. Instead it calls upon rulers and ruler-aspirants to develop the four divine abidings, namely, kindness, compassion joy at other’s well being, equanimity and non-harm.   

There are leaders who cling to things with such passion and devotion long after their shelf-lives have aspired.  That kind of upadan or clinging/greed inhibits eye and mind, stops you from seeing and imagining. A ruler cannot let him/herself be distracted by the pursuance of personal agendas and the settling of debts.  One cannot totally ignore those who want to harm oneself and the regime one heads or is a part of, but there are ways of dealing with the opposition without compromising the edifice of the law to extents that render it ineffective or set precedence that could cause long term harm.   

There are leaders who know how to embrace and who to embrace.  There are leaders who cannot embrace. They cannot rule.  They should not rule, in fact. 

There are no perfect rulers. There are those who try and fail and those who never try.  Let us not be harsh. Let us not rush to judgment. Let us see with equanimity and distance, divorced from political preferences and differences, let us consider the minimum of what’s possible. Let us consider the maximum and strive to get there.   Together.

We have lots of bags to unpack.  Unnecessary grudges and tools set aside for rainy days of power slippage.  The ruler has to rule.  Let us hope that he/she does so with full fidelity to the sathara brahma viharana, which, I am convinced, are virtues whose cultivation would in no way compromise one’s faith or one’s  journey towards the ultimate residency in one’s chosen ethical and religious cosmology. 

[First published in the Daily Mirror, November 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