30 June 2012

Good Governance VIII: Non-violence

On incorporating non-violence into good governance

Few religions will advocate the taking of life.  On the other hand history is replete with innumerable examples where religious leaders have sanctioned war, often in the name of the religion itself.  And so we have Pope Nicholas V issuing the first Bull Dum Diversa in 1452 conferring genocidal-rights to King Alfonso of Portugal, i.e. to ‘invade and conquer, to reduce to slavery Saracens, Pagans, other unbelievers and enemies of Christ’ in the name of the divine and the exaltation of the faith no less, with appropriate forgiveness caveats embedded in license.

We had the Crusades. We have the term ‘Jihad’.  We know about ‘Ayodhya’, about periodic blood-letting in Hindu-Muslim clashes.  Skinheads.  Desecration of places of worship by so-called adherents and defenders of the (particular) faith.  All acts which the founders of faith would have abhorred and rebelled against. 

Human beings are frail and part of this frailty is a propensity to indulge in punditry, in assuming interpretive superiority and invariably in de-contextualizing philosophical edict to suit time-bound, self-justifying and political objective.  Articles of Faith, therefore, are pregnant with interpretive slant and political convenience.  There has been little ‘turning the other cheek’; indeed it has mostly been a case of slapping first he who would not slap back and returning the non-slapping favour by slapping the other cheek as well.

Religion is more an alibi therefore than anything else; something that has a corpus of edicts so voluminous that it is a readily available source of justification for any act, especially violence.  It is not some divine entity but a self-appointed interpreter of god-word, if you will, who weighs, decides, sanctions and thereby raises sword, pull trigger.  Not the fault of prophet but the will of follower (so-called). 

The eighth article of the Dasa Raja Dharma, the incomparable doctrine of good governance articulated by Siddhartha Gauthama clearly places non-violence at the heart of state-craft.  ‘Avihimsa’ or non-violence, is advocated as an integral element of the ruler’s handbook. 

Avihimsa, in Buddhism, is not limited to human-human engagement for Budun Wahanse went beyond that admirable rule of engagement proposed by Jesus Christ to the Pharisees , ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Matthew 22: 36-40); extending the virtue to engagement with all living things, ‘Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitatta’ (May all being be happy!).  One notes that a dead being cannot be happy (or sad), but more importantly causing harm does not confer joy to any creature, human or otherwise.  The relevant lesson is ‘desist from violence’ and violence, one notes, is many faceted and is not limited to things physical. 

A ruler must consider the greater good of the majority for invariably there will be situations where one person’s happiness directly causes unhappiness in another.  What is key in the matter is the employment of wisdom as a necessary complement of compassion. A ruler has to defend the citizenry and in situations where war is imposed from outside (as in the case of invasion or even insurrection), the driving force of response has to be the need to protect.  Budun Wahanse spoke of compassion, yes, but also dwelled at length on wisdom. 

It is natural (consequent to embedded frailties) for a ruler to err and be swayed by convictions and self-interest.  This is how infringement of rule comes to require justification and is duly justified, often with a liberal smattering of book-quote. 

Non-violence is about making a conscious effort not to hurt.  Hurting and revenge have no place in good governance.  This is not to say that infringement of law should go unpunished of course.  On the other hand, it strongly advocates the elimination of revenge-intent and anger from all action.  It implies also the negation of self-interest to the extent possible given frailty in dispensing judgment as well as formulation and implementation of policy, including legislative enactment and constitutional amendment. 

How does a ruler achieve the kind of detachment that feeds engagement of this order; i.e. cultivate the ability to balance compassion with wisdom, to resist and overcome self-promotion, political exclusion and quelling of opposition outside of the employment of reason?  How is ‘avihimsa’, the deliberate decision to desist from any act that can harm the citizenry (including the decision to look aside while enemies not beholden to the corpus of the law freely plunder, kill and desecrate) cultivated so that there a net wholesomeness accrues to the people? 

I believe that the doctrine of avihimsa, like all things that find residence in the Buddha-vachana (Word of the Buddha), was underwritten by a consistent reference to the worth of cultivating equanimity.  This more than anything else is the sobering referent that rulers ought to but do not often cite, incorporate and internalize.  Passion clouds reason.  Emotion gnaws away at compassion.  It stops us from seeing (forget loving) our neighbour as ourselves, as sharing the same will to live and same fear of death. 

A ruler, more than anyone else, given his/her responsibilities to entities larger than self, family, neighbourhood, village and province, is by definition conferred with a greater and more complex volume of factors to consider in decision-making than the ordinary citizen.  Confirming adherence to the eighth element of the Dasa Raja Dharma requires maturity, humility and practice.  It requires acknowledgment of error and correcting of flaw.  It requires constant allusion to the greater good, not by word alone but concrete and effective act. It requires the continuous cultivation of the sathara brahma viharana, compassion, kindness, the ability to rejoice in another’s happiness and equanimity.  When a leader is endowed with such qualities or has resolved to equip him/herself with these, then and then alone is it possible to practice and indeed embody the virtue of ‘ahimsa’.

Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitatta, may all beings be happy!

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



sajic said...

'articles of faith are pregnant with interpretive slant'. This is very true. When the Lord Jesus said'Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself', he, like the Lord Buddha went far beyond the words.He was not speaking only of violence. Moses had already made the authoritative statement 'Thou shall not kill'.
That remained rock-solid.When asked by his disciples 'who is my neighbour?' Jesus gave them the parable of the Good Samaritan.
He spoke of love,irrespective of race, caste or creed.