Shelton A. Gunaratne
March 17, 2014
It’s time to use the 10 royal virtues to judge our ruling class irrespective of ethnicity and religion.
( March 17, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)
The dasa-raja-dharma or the ten royal virtues contains the Buddhist ideal of governance or kingship. These virtues are applicable to all leaders in society, but particularly to those whom we chose to govern us. The people in Asia have used them for more than 2,500 years to judge the performance of their rulers, who could reform themselves through public feedback after getting accustomed to the perks of power over time.
The dasa raja dhamma appears in Sutta, Kuddakanikāya, Jātaka, in the following form (Wikipedia):
Dānaŋ sīlaŋ pariccāgaŋ ājjavaŋ maddavaŋ tapaŋ
akkodaŋ avihimsañca khantiñca avirodhanaŋ
I have summarized Gunaseela Vithanage’s translation [including my explanations] as follows:
1. Dana (charity) means giving of alms to the needy. In modern terms, the ruler must alleviate the level of poverty of his subjects. [Exclude the lavish tamashas for cronies and contacts as part of this virtue.]
2. Sila (morality) means the adherence to and promotion of the ethical/moral dimension of the magga: Right action, right speech, and right livelihood. [Exclude luxury cars, promotion of gambling, redundant overseas travel, huge commissions from state contracts, etc., from this virtue.]
3. Pariccaga (munificence) means generosity toward those who loyally serve the ruler thereby spurring them to keep up their dedicated work. [Exclude the monetary and other perks offered to turncoats, including journalists, and their ilk from this virtue.]
4. Ajjavan (straightforwardness) means that the ruler must show consistency of his action with his word. He must never take recourse to any crooked or doubtful means to achieve his ends. [What is the reason behind the abolition of term limits for the executive president and for the disappearance of several journalists, among other things?]
5. Majjavan (gentleness) means that the ruler must temper his straightforwardness, which often requires firmness, with gentleness. He must develop a harmonious balance between firmness and gentleness. [What has the ruler done to establish that he doesn’t exceed his power to impose penalties incommensurate with someone’s wrong action?]
6. Tapan (restraint) means the ruler must keep his five senses under strict control, shunning indulgence in sensual pleasures. [People who cannot control their craving for sensual desires and clinging on to excessive indulgence should not aspire to be rulers or the Mahasammata.]
7. Akkodha (non-hatred) means that the ruler must not harbor grievances against those who injured him, but must act with forbearance and love. [Take into account the different treatments accorded to Sarath Fonseka and Shirani Bandaranaike vis-à-vis K. P. and Karuna.]
8. Avihimsa (non-violence) in the present context means that the ruler must adhere to the first precept—a pledge to refrain from harming living creatures. Unless his adversaries force him into war as a last resort, he ought to prefer negotiation and reconciliation rather than confrontation. [This virtue is common to both Hinduism and Buddhism. Yet both our Sinhala and Tamil leaders seem to pay scant attention to it because they can’t simply get over their lobha (lust), moha (ignorance) and dosa (aversion) and other mental defilements.]
9. Khanti (patience) means the ruler must conduct himself with patience, courage and fortitude on all occasions. He must conduct himself with calmness and dignity without giving in to emotions. [This virtue includes the ability to face abuse and criticism from all disgruntled constituencies and agents ranging from Western diplomats to unctuous hypocrites of the TNA who want to create a separate Eelam, which will merely fester Tamil-Sinhala acrimony for centuries to come.]
10. Avirodhata (non-enmity, friendship) means the ruler must cultivate the spirit of amity among his subjects, and convey that spirit by both word and deed. He should avoid resorting to bheda—the divide and rule policy in the Hindu statecraft. [This virtue includes the ability of the ruler to restore communal harmony in our nation despite all the seemingly insurmountable roadblocks placed by religionized Buddhists who have no clue about the meaning of anatta (no self).]
Shyamon Jayasinghe wrote an essay on the contemporary relevance of the dasa raja dharma that appeared in Sannasa (October 2011), a monthly magazine published in Melbourne by the Sri Lankan community. A self-proclaimed materialist atheist, Jayasinghe found two of the criteria to be inapplicable today—Dana and Pariccaga.
Jayasinghe de-emphasized the importance of Dana when he wrote: “Rulers are politicians today, and they don’t get into politics to give away what they have for the love of the country. Our rulers prefer to utilize public office for private gain and they wouldn’t have any guilt in having a go at taxpayer funds or in ensconcing their kith and kin to public offices or in interfering with tender procedure. This is why they are averse to checks on their power. The FR, AR, and Establishment Code are creations of Western imperialism.”
Commenting on Pariccaga, Jayasinghe wrote, “Not realistic as no saints take up politics. Gandhi may have adhered somewhat to this but Gandhi was no politician. Our politicians may describe him as a lunatic.”
All Buddhists are atheists in the sense that they don’t believe in a supreme God except for religionized Buddhists who worship the Hindu deity. Buddhism is a phenomenology based on the Four Noble Truths. Jayasinghe cannot pick and choose from the 10 virtues to suit his convenience because they are already embedded in the Four Noble Truths. Those who feel that Buddhism is “not pragmatic enough” could still perform a service by joining the so-called “engaged Buddhism” group.
One does not have to be a Buddhist to use the dasa raja dharma criteria as norms to judge the performance of our rulers. They should be acceptable to most human beings except for a scattering of various cultists and self-centered egotists.
[*Dr. Gunaratne, a professor of communication emeritus, currently lives in the United States. He is the author of The Dao of the Press: A Humanocentric Theory published in 2005.]