26 September 2012

For the agitating, with loving kindness….

‘It is best you drop this issue now; to win this fight we need the backing of giants!’ That was the advice given me by Shantha K Herrath, senior journalist and friend when I ran into a spot of bother with the management of Upali Newspaper Ltd sometime in late 2003.  He added, ‘We don’t have giants among us’. 

‘And we will never have either, if we all chose to be silent,’ I responded. 

That response is attributable to one of the greatest lessons I learnt at the University of Peradeniya, courtesy Prof Ashley Halpe.  Prof Halpe scripted a one-act version of Bertold Brecht’s ‘Galileo’.  It was a brilliant condensation which enhanced the political message.  Back then, as a first year student, I didn’t think about the exercise much and didn’t appreciate enough Prof Halpe’s ability to work radical politics into script.  He got the Pope to amend and amend again his position on the use of torture on Galileo to elicit a recanting, marking each step backwards with a converse addition of papal garment in line with the Brechtian tradition.  That’s what ‘office’ does to the human being and political conviction, he taught thereby.  That’s how complicity is subtly obtained, we learnt.

The pertinent line is something I’ve quoted before.  Andrea Sarti, Galileo’s student laments, ‘Unhappy is the land that has no hero’ and Galileo responds, ‘No Andrea, unhappy is the land that needs a hero’.

There were no giants at Upali.  I fought and lost.  I decided to quit.  My father told me that I should stick it out ‘in the national interest’.  This was in those mindless days of the Ceasefire Agreement and total submission by the Government to Anton Balasingham’s agenda. 

‘My dignity is part of the national interest and it is time the nation understood that!’

I was angry and arrogant. 

There were no giants, to get back to my story.  I remembered ‘giants’ when I received a wonderfully warm email from someone I consider an elder brother.  It was in response to an editorial I wrote titled ‘The gravity of the law’

I am no physicist, but I thought the Einstein's General Relativity gives a better explanation of the cosmos. In fact, I thought Newtonian physics had reached its limit, when trying to explain the cosmos. Something to do with that Space/Time concept of the genius! ( I am only pulling your leg!!!!).

I think that neither solves the puzzle better than the Buddha. When asked to explain the heavenly bodies, he replied "Is that explanation necessary for your salvation?" The only laws necessary for one’s salvation are the Four Nobel Truths. I would say they are the eternal and unchanging laws that apply to all beings!’

He then proposed rather tongue-in-cheek, the following application of some key terms.

Despots come and despots go - Impermanence
Despots cause misery to the masses - Dukkha
Despots die, are voted or are booted out - Nibbana

He says that when one takes on goons, one needs to know that ‘people at the top’ are watching one’s back.  And he cautioned, ‘support is not permanent!’

There are no giants.  There are no saviors.  There is no one watching your back.  ‘Atta hi attano nato’ one is indeed one’s own refuge.  And the giants then must be one’s knowledge, discipline and integrity.  The full verse (No. 380) is as follows:
Atta hi attano natho
(ko hi natho paro siya)

atta hi attano gati
tasma samyamamattanam
assam bhadramva vanijo.

One indeed is one's own refuge, (how could anyone else be one's refuge?). One indeed is one's own heaven; therefore, look after yourself as a horse dealer looks after a thoroughbred

Part of that ‘knowledge’ is something that my friend said: ‘Remember, you can't antagonize and influence people at the same time!’  He shared with me something his Surgery Professor had told him, ‘A good man knows his worth, but he also knows his limitations’.

Knowledge givers, cautioners, those who with a nod or shake of head acknowledge and/or warn are who turn dwarf into giant, idea into ideology, objection into movement.  My thrust was minor, back in 2003.  My objections these days are certainly don’t anticipate earth-shattering changes.  But I know many who say ‘no’, who take a principled stand.  I know too that they often feel helpless and alone, small and impotent, unacknowledged and even vilified. 

My friend says ‘Think of me as your guardian angel; be cautious of those who may egg you on for their own ends’.  And he qualifies all this words with the simple, ‘With metta’, i.e with loving kindness. 

We all have such friends, such guardian angels.  They don’t appear tall and their shadows are hardly seen, leave alone instilling fear on our detractors.  They are a part of us.  They are taller than the ‘eggers-on’.  We don’t see them all the time, but they have a way of turning up at the barricades, if not in body then in the spirit and word with which they’ve empowered. 

It is better to imagine we are alone.  When we are convinced of our solitude, every word, every nod of head, every hand that materializes to push barricade or pin flower on bayonet amounts to the work of giants.  That’s how wars are won, I’ve learned to believe. 


sajic said...

'when one takes on goons one needs to know that those at the top are watching one's back. Support is not permanent'.
Very true and very pertinent, Malinda.

Ramzeen said...

Of course there was a (lone) giant who by preserving his dignity and self-esteem for himself and the nation; stood tall. How did you miss seeing him?