The following article by Prof. N. A. de S. Amaratunga appeared on Lankaweb on July 27 2018.
Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, poet laureate, who has nothing but contempt for the politics and politicians of this country and who has been exploring our past civilization in an attempt to dig out a suitable remedy for our ills, as revealed in his many political analyses such as Ganadura Mediyama…”, has authored another book on the subject titled Sabyathva Rajya Kara” which means Towards Civilisation State”. He has in his previous works attempted to show that Sri Lanka cannot continue to have an alien political system. He has argued in his works that only a political system based on our civilizational consciousness would succeed in governing this country and bring dignity and freedom to its people. The present system has the pretense of freedom, equality, independence and human dignity but in practice the people are denied of all this basic human rights. Instead they are blind folded by a façade of democracy, franchise, human rights, constitutions, judicial independence, freedom of expression etc. Moreover, it has produced a set of politicians who are corrupt to the core with involvement in crime and vice. The divisive nature of party politics and the ensuing violence has destroyed the unity in the village. What is worse is the failure of intellectual discourse to bring forth any meaningful and effective solution. Nobody has seriously challenged this fraud and attempted to see whether there is any plausible alternative.
Amarasekera’s contention had always been that if Sri Lanka is to find a home grown arrangement of government it has to be rooted in our civilization. Amarasekera is not without likeminded intellectuals of international repute. For instance, Martin Jacques a scholar on modern China who in 2009 has published the book titled When China Rules the World” in which he has put forward the concept of Civilisation State as against the Nation State. Then there was Samuel Huntington who published his book titled Clash of Civilisations” in 1996 where he dwelt on the lasting strength of civilization consciousness and its impact on politics. Before all this Amarasekera had put forward his theory of Jathika Chinthanaya” in his Ganadura Mediyama…” published in 1989 where he describes the characteristic features of the Bauddha Rajya” that existed in this country from the time of King Devanampiyatissa until 1815. He clearly shows that those features were rooted in our civilization. Unfortunately neither Huntington nor Jacques had realized that apart from China there had been civilisation states in other countries like Burma,Cambodia and Sri Lanka. Martin Jacques’ conceptualization of the state in China as a Civilisation State has prompted Amarasekera to take his arguments further and show us that his ideas are not farfetched and are in fact already in practice and most successfully at that in China. He does this eminently well in his little book Sabyathwa Rajyak Kara”.
What is the nature of a Civilisation State as against a Nation State? The former, says Jacques, is well integrated with the people while the latter by its very nature is not, as it advocates less government control over affairs that eventually impact on everyday life. He distinguishes between civilization and civilization state. He says there have been many civilisations but what is remarkable about the Chinese case is that civilization” and state” largely coincide not just over a relatively brief period but over an extraordinarily long one. And he says it is difficult to think of another similar example. This is where Jacques is wrong says Amarasekera. He shows that Sri Lanka has a longer history of a Civilisation State than China. Further Sri Lanka’s system under the kings were more democratic than in China in the sense that the king did not have unlimited power. Perhaps ironically that ancient system may have been more democratic than the present presidential system! Trevor Ling had identified three pillars which supported that ancient state; the King, the people and the Sangha. If the king was not suitable to rule the country the people can get together with the Sangha and get rid of the king.
Definitions apart we could glean an idea about this matter by looking at the spectacular advances China has made in a comparatively short period in its history. In comparison India which had a similar history in relation to culture, science and technology has badly faltered. In the nineteen forties China was an under developed isolated country and today it is the second most powerful country in the world. India, on the other hand, which was ahead of China in the nineteen forties is still struggling with its poverty. Different systems account for the extraordinary contrast between China and India. China’s economic transformation is said to be the best in human history. Jacques says those who look at China through the Western prism may say that China’s state is its Achilles’ heel but in fact it is its strongest asset. There is wide spread belief that modernization implies Westernization which is not the case as seen in China.
It was Joseph Needham, scientist and historian, who first opened our eyes to the wonderful achievements of China. He spent several years in China in the nineteen forties studying its science and civilization. He published the first volume of his monumental work Science and Civilisation in China” in 1954 which catalogued the scientists and their work from early times. He has clearly shown that China was several centuries ahead of Europe in science and technology until the 15th Century. He asked the pertinent question; how did the West overtake China and India which were ahead of them in science and technology. This so called Great Needham Question” has been answered by several Sinologists and the reasons given by them varied from too much state control to flawed scientific method. Needham’s own answer had been that Buddhism and Taoism had a restraining effect on scientific advancement. This point of view may not be correct particularly in relation to India where Buddhism was the catalyst for scientific enquiry and where the golden era of science coincided with the golden era of Buddhism. Leaving all this aside the fact of the matter is that China from the twentieth century onwards has risen out of the ashes like a Phoenix and advanced in leaps and bounds and may soon be the most powerful country in the world. According to Martin Jacques the reason for this stupendous transformation is the effectiveness of the Civilisation State. And failure of India to keep pace is due to the lack of such a state.
India from about the 5th Century BC till about the 6th Century AD was leading the world in science and technology. This was the Indian Buddhist era. The decline of Buddhism and the resurgence of Brahmanism heralded the end of science. Brahmanism was based on Vedic texts which exalted the virtues of sacrificial ritual, yaga homa”, super natural power and discouraged scientific enquiry. There was no scientism in the men who practiced Brahmanism. Whereas most of the scientists in India during this period were Buddhists. Indian science made radical, significant and lasting contributions to world science mainly in the fields of mathematics, medicine and astronomy. Kings who supported science and education were Buddhists. Indian mathematics is considered as the mother of all mathematics and its greatest mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Aryabhatha born in 476 AD was a Buddhist who lived in the centre of Buddhist heartland, capital of Magadha Empire, Pataliputhra. According to leading Indian scientist Dr.Neelantha Dhar progress of science in India was obstructed by the decline of Buddhism and nothing significant happened in science after the 6th Century AD. Thus India perhaps had a Civilisation State during the Buddhist era from 5th Century BC until 6th Century AD and lost it thereafter. Kings of this period were enamoured by Buddhism and based their policies on the principles of Buddhism. Civilisation and State coincided. Brahmanism and later foreign invasions caused the collapse of this State. If one were to compare the present India with China one could understand what has happened for the two countries had a similar past. Today China exports six times more than India and is the number one exporter in the world. Its GDP is 3rd in the world and is five times larger than that of India. There are only 13.4% below poverty line in China whereas the figure for India is 29.8%. Martin Jacques says comparing the economies of China and India is chalk and cheese and he says India must learn from China. With regard to poverty alleviation and employment China is doing better than USA.
In Sri Lanka too during the period of Buddhist influence science, medicine, agriculture, building of tanks, stupas and irrigation canals, architecture, metalogy etc. developed in pace with India. The first hospital in the world was built in Mihinthala in the 4th Century BCE. Buddhism which encouraged scientific enquiry was the life blood of this civilization. Thus developed the civilizational consciousness which is entrenched in the minds of people, which attaches them to their language, religion and country and make them strive for its advancement and protection. The Civilasation State, if it is to survive and succeed, must have this binding consciousness. It had been the case in China which enabled it to bounce back after every fall. And it was not so in India which seems to have lost its civilization consciousness and not found it yet. Thus as Amarasekera cogently points out in his book Sri Lanka has the potential to find its consciousness and develop its Civilisation State.
In Amarasekera’s opinion Sri Lanka is caught up in the trap of democracy” designed by our colonial masters whose aim was to continue their hegemonic grip on the country. The slavish attitude of our leaders towards the Western powers and their life style no doubt had helped the imperialists to keep hold of that grip. This was evident soon after independence which made national leaders like Anagarika Dharmapala leave the country in disgust. It is evident at present also when our leaders seem to collude with the Western powers to subvert the independence and sovereignty of the country. The colonialists have left behind their legacy and their servants to ensure their hold on the country and pursue their agenda. It is a sad commentary on the intelligentsia of the country that we have failed to escape from this colonial yoke. Amarasekera attempts to address the intelligent people of this country and to make them understand the damage that has been done to the country due to the divisive nature of party politics which is an inherent feature of the Westminister system of parliamentary democracy. This system of democracy is divisive by design and a divided nation is an open field for the marauding imperialist.
Amarasekera asserts that we must find our own political system based on our civilization consciousness. Prof.Weiwei Zhang of Fudan University, China in his book titled The China Wave – Rise of a Civilisation State” says the story of China is not about the rise of an ordinary country but a different type of country. Therefore, we cannot emulate China just as much as we should not ape the West. But we could adopt the concept of Civilisation State. Our aspirations, believes, values, religion, morals, desires and attitudes are different. These are the factors that had moulded our consciousness over thousands of years. These factors provide the basis for the civilization the Sinhalese built in their history of more than 2500 years. The consciousness we harbour of these factors is our civilization consciousness. It is the guiding light and the driving force of our lives without which we are lost. Amarasekera shows us why the ruins in Anuradhapura are not ruins for us as they are etched in our consciousness. Amarasekera describes how we have lost our way and how we have arrived at our pathetic state and the peril the country faces today.
A governing State which is closely integrated with the civilization consciousness of its people and is designed to function on the basis of those factors and deliver on them could be termed a Civilisation State. Therefore, we have to develop our own system. According to Amarasekera we had ventured into such a project in 1956 when we elected the SLFP Government, not by accident but because we were driven by the civilization consciousness. That phenomenon was a political manifestation of that consciousness. Mr.S.W.R.D.Bandaranayaka succeeded in tapping this consciousness so to speak but he could not develop a civilization state. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranayaka perhaps did better in that regard. In this respect the most successful leader was Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. Hence Amarasekera at the end of his monograph suggests that Mahinda Rajapaksa must jettison the SLFP which has seized to be the political arm of the civilization consciousness of the people and find a new party to fill this void and continue the effort to build a Civilisation State. The task of course is not easy given the complexities both inside and outside the country but to remain silent is to court disaster.
Prof. N. A. de S. Amaratunga