03 July 2012

Good Governance X: non-opposition and non-enmity

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

I began this series seeking to elaborate on and contextualize what to me is the most succinct and yet comprehensive document on the issue of good governance, the Dasa Raja Dharma, the ten-point guideline that Budun Wahanse advocated for rulers.  It was not a straight, ‘From No.1 to No. 10’ series, strictly speaking.  There were pieces that focused on what I believed were important political moments that I believed warranted immediate comment. This is the last, however, of the series, a note on Avirodha, the 10th article in that magnificent treatise of the Samma Sambuddha.   

Avirodha refers to non-opposition and non-enmity and could be read as a recommendation to ruler to submit to the will of the people and cultivating the spirit of amity among the citizenry.  The harmony implied, however, seems to be the principal lack in most cases and therefore this particular tenet might be one of the hardest for a ruler to uphold.

Polities are not flat.  They are made of multiple ideologies and people who entertain different ideas of Utopia.  They are not necessarily made of people who have banished ill-will from their respective armories.  Indeed, some are armed with weapons far more potent that ill-will.  It is not easy for a ruler to engage in arms-raised ‘non-opposition’ when there’s a bomb-throwing, trigger-happy adventurer clamouring for an audience.  This is where the ruler has to be absolutely on-the-ball when it comes to public opinion.  He/she has to be conscious of majority opinion. There is of course a need to listen to and address the grievances of others, but always in a spirit of accommodation, respect and a total rejection of enmity. 

How can a ruler ascertain the will of the people?  In days gone by rulers would disguise themselves as commoners and mingle with the people.  Today they employ other (in their eyes ‘reliable’) eyes and ears. They employ pollsters. They read election results.  They assess the weight of protests and try to separate frill from fact and thereby obtain the true magnitude of objection. They are hampered by vanity, false sense of security, ego, lack of human resources (not every ‘advisor’ is competent and often ‘confidant’ is assumed to be ‘objective’ at great cost) and an unfortunate but necessary cocooning from the public.  

A leader cannot do justice to the will of the people if he/she has no fail-safe mechanism to ascertain that ‘will’.  People have things to say, about leaders and leadership, governments and governance, things as they were, as they are and as they believe they ought to be.  Leaders must ensure that there are avenues for the free expression of all these views.  They should have the wisdom to look past the invective and malice that often get tagged to criticism.  They should exercise compassion in dealing with the insolent and ill-willed.  These are the preconditions, I believe, for showing fidelity to the Avirodha principle.

When a leader is unshaken by hosannas, is able to separate criticism from the malice it is intertwined with, has cultivated the humility to acknowledge error and the wisdom to promote criticism, he/she disarms the ill-willed and is strengthened by a greater degree of trust.  When a leader betrays the opposite character-strains, he/she sharpens the weapons of the opponent, loses the trust of the citizenry and slips to a point where idea is abandoned in favour of the hardware relevant to maintaining political authority. 

No ruler in history had it easy.  Enemies there always will be. Those who are remembered in history not just for the great conquests or driving back invaders are those who fought the enemy but without enmity.  Meeting weapon with weapon is perhaps inevitable but those who are not burdened by hatred but instead empowered by a sense of equanimity have a greater chance of emerging victor in the clash of swords. 

The same can be said for ‘soft’ battles.  There is a way in which coercion of a non-weapon kind can be employed to win a battle over ideas, to quell criticism, but that’s the way of the coward and the weak, not of the statesman or a leader of, for and with the people. Such leaders would be very lonely creatures for even friend is not friendly, but inevitably a sycophant and self-seeker. 

Avirodha is a virtue that can produce social harmony.  It is not enough to appear benign, but that quality should find expression in word and deed, in law-making and the execution of articles in the constitution, in spirit and in articulation.  Only a leader that is able to obtain the true pulse of a people, able to differentiate relevant nuance and get a sense of the tone and temper of heartbeats can see himself in citizen, incomplete, flawed, armed with conviction as well as doubt, and perforce acquire the humility to rule and be ruled by their will. 

This ends this series on the Dasa Raja Dharma.  The entire set is intended to be ‘note’; conclusion and response lie with reader.  This will be followed by another series, again drawn from the incomparable wisdom of my teacher, Siddhartha Gauthama, our Budun Wahanse, this time on his insightful and pithy discourse on free inquiry, the Kalama Sutra, which, to me, is a must-read for the would-be radical. 

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