Pancha Seela-bedrock of good governance

Teachings of the Buddha as requisites for the practice of moral goodness or ‘Sila’ for both clergy and laymen

By Indrani Iriyagolle

Throughout the past 2550 years and more Buddhist ‘Pancha Seela’ precepts have guided religious leaders philosophers, statesmen, moralists, politicians, social scientists and others. In these principles moral warnings are embedded against injustice to one’s own self and to others. These Buddhist stanzas in Pali though not composed buy the Buddha are the principles that evolved from the teachings of the Buddha as requisites for the practice of moral goodness or ‘Sila’ for both clergy and laymen. In this article the writer treats both concepts only from a political science perspective.

Stated in order, the first precept meant in Buddhist practice ‘I shall not take the life of another’. It is the source for all other rights. The 2nd precept ‘adinna dana veramani’ vis ‘I shall not rob or disposses others of their rightfully or harmlessly acquired possessions’. This ethical principle warns against theft of property, possessions, persons, etc. In modern times the right to life brings alive the contents of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights 1948. It expresses that mankind the world over has the right to life.

It is the foundation to all other human rights. A vast range of UN Covenants evolving from this principle, objects to torture, violence, capital punishment, trafficking, violence against women, violation of child rights, domestic violence and a host of other social evils that result in abuse of rights. Over 600 UN Resolutions have received approval on issues and concerns related to women all over the world.

The 2nd precept relates to other rights that encompasses a spectrum of Human Rights. In addition to dispossession of material acquisitions, the individual shall not be robbed of his dignity. Be it during peacetime or war, this ethical precept warns against injustice I theft or causing pain of mind. Pancha Seela precepts are not injunctions. These are social pre-requisites and guiding principles to help synthesize members of society.

A mechanism historically evolved to help the smooth functioning of society. Do not the objects of modern International Covenants of the UN relay similar concepts and principles? The International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Convention on Torture on Migrant Workers, Child Rights, Trafficking, etc., all these warn against social injustices and indignities caused to individuals.

The 4th precept of ‘musavada veramani’ taken with ‘kamesu michachara veramani’ are clearly sustainable principles that are beneficial to mankind and good governance, universally. Accountability, transparency, responsibility, true participation and response to people’s needs are clearly circumscribed in these precepts. Truthfulness is mandatory.

The 3rd precept of ‘surameraya majjapama datana veramani’ are also of considerable importance.

The third though often misinterpreted to mean sexual over indulgence or sexual aberrations, is incorrect. Emphasis in this precept lies in the propriety of sexual relationships, chastity and conjugal fidelity. It relates also to premarital sex, extra marital promiscuity and intimacies sought by force or mutual consent. The conventions for the rights of HIV/AIDS infected persons are necessitated due to free and permissible gratification of sexual desires. The results of such is seen by the 16 million or more sufferers of the disease the world over.

The same applies to the 5th precept of ‘surameraya’, millions of women, children and elders are victims of violence and suffering due to behavioral problems of others who have not adhered to sane thinking and discipline. Over 45% of persons who fill up the prison cells are drug addicts and alcoholics. Indiscipline living, irresponsible behaviour, disregard for religion and moral values, and many other f actors too numerous and complex to be dealt with here are social problems. Often the break up of the Soviet Communist regime its last President had to say – “the greatest mistake we made was to throw religion out of our country”. Denouncing God and religion was admitted to be a serious mistake.

In Sri Lankan politics several politicians have hither to expressed quoted or used Buddhist concepts and principles to either give weightage or clarity to public policies and programmes. Former Prime Minister the late S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike introduced and published the concept of his Socialist oriented political party in the 1950’s. It helped him to champion the political campaign and move further on to interpret these precepts as justice based socio religious historically valued and so constituted the solid base of successful governance.

At the Non-Aligned Conference sponsored by Asian Nations (during the regime of Prime Minister the lat e Sirimavo Bandaranaike) the conference not only chose to abide by the universal precept “right to life” it even expressed reprehension publicity against the policies and activities of war-mongering nations.. The conference members followed the path of moral goodness and accepted “right to life” and its universal applicability to all mankind, including even war mongering nations.

In Tokyo, Japan at the signing of the post war treaty the former President the late J.R. Jayewardene was honoured and is remembered even today for his Buddhist Quote “not by hatred but by love alone” one wins over the enemy. (Nahi Vera Verani, Later on becoming President after the 1st Republic of Sri Lanka he often expressed the need to uphold the 10 Buddhist precepts of Righteousness, also called the concept of Dasa Raja Dharma”.

Great King Dharmasoka and other Chakravarthi kings of India and kings of Lanka believed that these 10 precepts were adequate for the successful governance of a State. Although terminology could vary, the 10 were known as generosity, morality, sacrifice, righteousness, kindness¸ austerity¸ earnestness, empathy, inoffensiveness and conciliation.

The term “anthropocentric” meaning to regard humankind as the centre of existence. In this sense Buddhism is a philosophy religion primarily focused on the welfare of humankind. This Buddha’s doctrine places responsibly on efforts of in dividable and potential of this individual. No divine intervention being necessary. Disciplined individuals especially politicians who handle power and money could make terrific impact on governance and also greater a consolatory environment to citizens, benefit of stress violence. Buddhism as a living philosophy could make a tremendous impact on good governance.

In Sri Lanka, at all Buddhist programmes such as “bana” sermons poya day practices, other religious and non – religious events Viz. dana, house warming, foundation laying and political events, school functions etc Thisarana and Pansil are customarily recited, (though not all).

One therefore expects from the individual wholehearted sincerity, if one is sincere to such precepts especially the 1st and 4th precepts – truth fullness and commitment to the ideals of good governance could heighten awareness of the recites of precepts. Politicians as well as a large body o person could make at effective to promote a balanced social change for the better.

In this article the writes has no intention of sermonizing other or enforcing public duty. Cast a glance around at public functions and see for yourself how many ignore retiling a Thisarana “or “Pansil” some do not know the stanzas by memory. Others think it too small or humiliating to recite the stanzas in public. Politicians, NGO leaders, Principals and teachers of schools are invaluable agents of social change in the public sphere. Similarly the National Anthem of the country should be recited by all. example and precept go together.

Let us hope that after the singing of the MOU by the two major parties their joint leadership would help them a page in favour of drawing the public interest to meaningful people’s sovereignty.

Transparency, Responsibility, Accountability, Responsiveness to the people are vital concepts that must be re-examined, publicized and to promote good governance. The future two years should provide ample time for the 2 MOU parties to set up fact gathering mechanisms such as commissions and more flexible procedures to bring the suffering people under closer patronage of the government.

The writer is the President of the Sinhala Women’s organization for the Welfare and Advancement of Women; and several other bodies. Formerly Vice President of the International Alliance of Women; Chairperson Political and Civil Rights Commission, (IAW); Chairperson, National Commission on Women, Member and Co- Chair of the NGO Co-ordinating Committee for the North and East; Member, University Council, Colombo


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page