Reports of two groups of second graders brawling, taking for example the recent fisticuff in our esteemed parliament was a wakeup call to the Sri Lankan public, if not the parliamentarians. Nation thought it apt to take up the topic of good governance according to Buddha’s teachings with Ven.Mawarale Baddhiya Thera, Chief Incumbent of Arya Nikethanaya, Athurugiriya.

Ample guidelines have been laid down in Buddhism for both imperial and republic governance. “In his governance, a king should wield dhamma like a flag (Dhamma Daja),” explained Baddhiya Thera. The Buddha provided spiritual guidance for both imperial and republic governance in Suttas such as Cakkavatti Seehanada Sutta and in Dasa Raja Dhamma (Ten Royal Qualities), said Mawarale Baddhiya Thera.

The Buddha saw that a weak government is in peril of being suppressed by other political forces and therefore emphasized the importance of refraining from Sathara Agathi (four biases): Chandha – bias due to liking, Dosa – bias due to anger, Moha – bias due to ignorance and Bhaya – bias due to fear. Due to these negative attributes rulers often make biased decisions.

“For example rulers or leaders may misuse common resources due to Chanda or liking, it would hinder democracy and equality and would lead to dictatorship,” said the Thera. He pointed out that this undesirable Agathi was explicit in dictators such as Hitler and Mussolini.

Ven.Mawarale Baddhiya Thera
Ven.Mawarale Baddhiya Thera

The Buddha has rejected Bhaya as a characteristic unbecoming of a king, ruler or leader. “A king should respect others’ powers, yet never fear it,” explained Baddhiya Thera. “Decisions made under fear lack personality. And foreign relations formed under fear borders on slavery.” Likewise a king should not instill fear in his people and should reject unlawfulness, injustice and irreligiousness.

A true leader should seek expert advice to overcome Moha or bias due to ignorance and cultivate knowledge, intelligence and wisdom. Baddhiya Thera pointed out that great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Marshal Tito displayed flexibility borne by intelligence and knowledge. “If leaders are ignorant of a subject, the decisions made regarding this subject tend to be rigid and often detrimental to his or her people,” said Baddhiya Thera.

The Buddha laid down four ways in which a leader could treat his community. Referred to as Sathara Sangraha Wasthu they are: Dana – giving, Priya Vachana – pleasant words; Artha Charya – working for the benefit of the public and Samanathmatha – equality. Baddhiya Thera pointed out that Dana is still in practice in South Asian countries that are still welfare nations. “Education and health is free,” the Thera pointed out that these are forms of Dana. “Nature of giving and sacrifice are great royal qualities.”

The quality of pleasant word is somewhat lacking in our leaders, as exemplified by the recent brawl in the parliament. “A true leader should respect others and not look down upon others.”

Reflecting on the Buddha’s teachings on equality, Baddhiya Thera said that many nations are multi racial and religious and it is up to the leader to lead by example by practising equality. “The leader may have his or her personal beliefs and principles, but should nonetheless respect those of others. He should look to both this life and afterworld of not only him or herself but also his subjects.”

Baddhiya Thera reiterated that even economic policy should be transparent and based on Dhamma. “Mere physical development is fast, but also short lived. But development based on Dhamma is sustainable. Leaders have to be wary of corrupt business tycoons that come in the guise of investors,” warned Baddhiya Thera, reiterating that gambling, abuse of alcohol and illicit sex cause not only the downfall of a country’s economy, but individual economy. “A leader should not depend on money made through such illicit methods and any ruler who claims that he or she cannot do without such money is a weak leader.”

“It is the Buddha’s teaching that made the Lichchavi’s invincible against the threat of King Ajasatta,” said Baddhiya Thera, referring to Saptha Aparihani Dhamma (Seven Conditions of Welfare), preached by the Buddha for the benefit of the Lichchavis. The Seven Conditions of Welfare are: Holding regular meetings to discuss state matters; Meeting, working and dispersing as a team, Strictly following rule of law; Being submissive to elders; Respecting women-folk and condemning oppression of women; Following religious customs and protecting them and respecting the clergy and holding them in veneration.

Holding regular meetings bring to the attention of the central government problems of the periphery districts of the state and vice versa. “This facilitates communication, reduces cause for suspicion and encourages trust,” explained the Thera. “But they should meet, discuss and part peacefully. Lack of mutual respect (Garawocha); arrogance (Niwathocha); lack of humility (Anathimani), contentment (Santhutticha) and thankfulness (Kathangnutha) is cause for political downfall.

” The Thera reiterated that political leaders should be thankful to the common man for voting representatives to the parliament. The second of the Seven Conditions of Welfare, ‘Meeting, working and dispersing as a team’, is one characteristic that our parliamentarians lack.

The Buddha has advised against enforcing new laws and repealing the old in the second Seven Conditions of Welfare: Strictly following rule of law. Such drastic legal reforms undertaken without consultation of general public could lead to dissent and bloodshed. Referring to the proposed Sangha Kathikawath Bill, Baddhiya Thera said that formulating such new laws without the consultation of the Maha Shangha as a collective, decided on by a few members of the Sangha and the lay is cause for division of Maha Sangha.

“Kathikawath only deals with temporary issues. But the Buddha has laid out 227 precepts for the Maha Sangha, which is sufficient enough to attain Nibbana.”

The third Saptha Aparihani Dhamma: Being submissive to elders would mean tending to elders, respecting and honouring. “This is particularly relevant today as our population is ageing.” Respect for women is an integral part of a healthy state as women will bear the next generation. “Consequently if they are downtrodden their offspring will be mentally and physically unhealthy.”

In conclusion Baddhiya Thera maintained that equality is the foundation of good governance and judiciary is the vessel through which justice is meted out to wrongdoers. “Judiciary divided along religious or racial lines is cause for chaos. Equality in law is vital to the prosperity of a nation. Civil law should be equal to monks and lay alike,” said Baddhiya Thera.