The nation celebrates 64 years of independence today. That’s a long time compared with the life expectancy of a citizen, but still quite short when viewed against almost 5 centuries of colonial rule. It is but a ‘moment’ compared with over 2500 years of written history and more than double this length if one takes into account narrative of event embedded in folk literature.
‘Independence’ though, was never new, but in fact was a renewal of and reverting to a condition enjoyed in one form or another by our ancestors for millennia subject of course to the limitations of the particular system of government prevalent at the particular time.
That’s history and it would be folly to treat it as buried and done with, for present is founded on past and only an understanding of what came before allows for an appreciation of what is. This is what makes for sensible charting of futures.
We are not less or more independent today than we were yesterday and it is unlikely that the degree of freedom will change significantly in either direction tomorrow. On the other hand, landmark days such as ‘Independency Day’ make for reflection on how things are, how things could be and what we could do to get from here to a better place.
Sri Lanka was held back by a 30 year war. We have had close to 3 years of ‘picking ourselves up’. That’s ‘short’ compared to the ‘long’ of terrorism and yet pretty long given human tendency to be impatient. We have admittedly turned the proverbial corner and in some respects pushed forward quite a distance. Where there was fear and foreboding there is now hope and initiative. That’s a big leap indeed.
Post-war is naturally euphoric. Euphoria is followed by sobriety and also the inevitable surfacing of things swept under the political carpet by conflict. Sri Lanka’s post-war is further complicated by the dogged determination of elements to fan doubts, insecurities and suspicions to an inferno that could very well obliterate goodwill, reconciliation, reconstruction and nation-rebuilding. This is how we get to ‘trying times’ and that’s where we find ourselves today.
Meeting challenges requires wisdom, compassion and vision. In terms of strategy, what served us during the struggle to eliminate the terrorist threat can be depended on to see us through other obstacles as well: unity, sense of purpose, sacrifice, cogent strategy and the ability to separate friend from enemy. In all things, though, the principles which made a civilization and empowered it to take numerous hits, fall at times and yet stand up, fight and overcome, will prove to be the difference between surrender and triumph.
We must therefore return to the principles of equity, co-existence, the aparihani dharma (the principles of invincibility), the dasa raja dharma (the ten principles of governance) and reflect long on the fact that priority should not be given to artillery power but to civil power by deferring to wisdom and the dhamma.
It is all there in the Grade 9 text book for Buddhism (pages 79-81). If politicians, officials, professionals, business persons and others tested their lives against these principles, error would not only be discovered but acknowledged and corrected. Relevant elements of the considerable canon of Hindu, Islamic and Christian discourse would no doubt articulate similar recommendations.
We have a fairly good idea where we came from, although we don’t really know enough of our past. We live our present and therefore know something about it. Our tomorrow calls for a return to foundational principles that make for more wholesome being and mutually profitable engagement with our fellow creatures.
One hopes that our leaders would have the required maturity. The citizens, however, cannot afford to wait on leaders; they must themselves empower themselves with necessary skills, discipline, a decent work ethic, critical faculties and humility.
The future is always ours, but its shape will be determined by our action and inaction. We can make it shine. We can make it dull. That’s something to think about on this ‘Independence Day’.