Independent…but not yet Free

 When our opposition party made headlines by saying Sri Lanka has sold everything to the “Chinese mafia,” were they thinking about the ramifications in India from such an incendiary statement? 

by Ven. Walpola Piyananda, Chief Sangha Nayake of America

Sri Lanka received its independence from Britain on February 4, 1948, but our country is still not liberated or truly free.  We may have a constitution and enjoy the status of a sovereign state, but as a nation and a people we have not yet won our freedom from egotistical self-centeredness, collective irresponsibility, pettiness, arrogance, and an unbridled lack of discipline.  I’m not sure if this is because our independence was without bloodshed and immense personal sacrifice, which was experienced by our neighbor India when they were finally freed from British rule.  Perhaps our independence came too easily, which prevents us from fully appreciating it.  I sometimes think we take our freedoms for granted instead of living in total gratitude for the blessings of independence.  The Buddha had much to say about liberation from the mental defilements and fetters that keep us bound in shackles while we live in the illusion of freedom.

A good example of this phenomenon is observing our political parties in action.  Party members typically put the good of the party over the well-being of the nation.  Facts are spun to suit the advancement of the party, and libelous bickering takes the place of constructive consensus building.  Right View is ignored at the expense of self-interest and personal and group aggrandizement.  Where is freedom when arrogance trumps unity? 

When our opposition party made headlines by saying Sri Lanka has sold everything to the “Chinese mafia,” were they thinking about the ramifications in India from such an incendiary statement?  Sri Lanka has to tread very carefully between China and India in order to keep the peace, and balance the tenuous friendship with both countries.  Right Speech is ignored as unnecessary new problems are created.  Does freedom mean that we can say what we like – regardless of the consequences?  

Not a day passes without the exposure of another corrupt government official.  Bribery, extortion, obstacles to progress removed or kept in place by greasing palms – all have become common in our society.  Right Livelihood is ignored as greed trumps integrity.  Can these self-centered practices exist in a truly free society where selfless government officials work for the benefit of all the people?

Our university students, the lucky 20% that make it in, protest the establishment of private universities because they’re concerned their chances in the job market will be hurt with more graduates to compete with.  Right Action is ignored as our students’ greed trumps their gratitude for free education.  Are these self-concerned protestors thinking about plugging the leak of brain power and finances that result from sending the other 80% overseas to be educated?    

Some of the media wastes no time in slandering and attacking those parties or individuals it doesn’t like.  It doesn’t matter if what is reported is true or false.  Is this abuse of the freedom of speech and ignoring Right Speech conducive to a healthy, harmonious country?  Is the media, by glorifying its own biased views at the expense of all else, think Sri Lankans are better off being duped and lied to?  Is the media really supposed to have its own selfish agenda?

Government employees take to the streets when they feel they’ve been slighted or think they’re underpaid.  In the Sigalovada Sutta we are instructed about the responsibilities of the employee as well as the employer.  It’s a two way street, and one cannot exist or survive without the other.  Our civil employees often forget the dynamics of this relationship, and they neglect to hold up their end of the bargain.  

Sri Lanka is on the brink of realizing many opportunities that were unavailable during the years of LTTE terrorism.  We’ve been through a hard time, yes, but now it’s time we stopped complaining.  We have a wealth of natural resources and a population of educated and warm-hearted people.  It’s like the story of the beggar who had been sitting by the side of the road for thirty years.  One day a stranger walked by.

“Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap.

“I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger.  Then he asked, “What is that you’re sitting on?”

“Nothing,” replied the beggar.  “Just an old box.  I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.”

“Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger.

“No,” said the beggar.  “What’s the point?  There’s nothing in there.”

“Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger.

The beggar managed to pry open the lid.  With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.  

As a country, let’s open up our box of gold and start using our resources responsibly.

Freedom implies having the will to discipline ones’ self and one’s group, and put the good of the all before the benefit of the few.  It also implies tolerance and respect for all, as well as living with integrity and truth.  If this be the case, Sri Lanka may have won its independence, but we’re still not free.  If we truly want to be free, then we need to practice mutual respect for one another, put aside the past and dwell in the present, and begin to look at our country with fresh eyes, appreciating what we have.