Colonialism, Open Economy and Buddhist concept of Dasaraja Dharmaya
by Janaka Goonetilleke on 07 Sep 2009 1 Comment

Sri Lanka offers a student of history an opportunity to study and compare our ancient forms of governance with the present forms of governance borrowed from the west. Sri Lanka has been under colonialism for 600 years, but thanks to the resilience of Buddhist society, Christianity, the religion of the conquerors, failed to take hold.

Buddhist society was built around the paddy fields, the tank and the Buddhist temple. The temple catered to needs of society in terms of education, morality and spirituality. It also advised the king in maintaining the concepts of the Dasaraja Dharmaya.

Fortunately the colonialists disenfranchised the Sinhala Buddhists from governance. Isolated from day to day governance, the Sinhala Buddhist continued to look to the temple for moral guidance. Governance lay in the hands of a small Christian minority and the racial minorities. Even Sinhala Christian collaborators never lost contact with the temple. In most instances, females continued as Buddhists even though husbands became Christian for educational purposes and employment. At Independence in 1948, the moral leadership was still in the hands of the temple.

Post Independence

Sri Lanka became free on 4 February 1948. The ruling classes though post-Macauley, were still guided by Buddhist compassion and morality. This encouraged the rulers to look after the most vulnerable: they initiated Free Education, Free Health Care and even 2 Measures of Rice free for a short time. The social achievements of these measures despite a low GDP has been a source of national pride.

Sri Lanka’s achievements in health care are second to none. Life expectancy was above most Asian countries, infant mortality one of the lowest in Asia. This made the late Senator Kennedy state at an international conference that health care in Sri Lanka was better than in some areas in America. Free education from primary school to university helped in social mobility and obtaining equal rights for women. In 1977, Sri Lanka ranked 27 in the quality of life league. On the economic front, great efforts were made by Prime Ministers DS Senanayake and Dudley Senanayake to achieve self-sufficiency in food.

But after 1948, the rot set in with the Westminster style of Government. Politicisation of the clergy, first initiated by the Oxford educated convert Bandaranaike, took away the leadership of the temple. Corruption of the Buddhist clergy has now led to an impasse where society lacks moral leadership. Politicians continue to bribe priests to prevent them from re-offering moral and spiritual leadership to society. What 600 years of colonialism could not do, we have achieved in 30-50 years in destroying the moral leadership of the Buddhist temple.

Post 1977

In 1977, Junius Richard Jayawardene was elected with a landslide victory on a platform to establish a Dharmishta Society, the most ingenuous promise made by any Sri Lankan politician. Following his election, he established a Presidential style government through the 1978 constitution and started the open economic policy with the advice of the West, IMF and World Bank. 

Aristotle defined a good constitution as one that benefits the majority of the people. Jayawardena’s constitution was established to concentrate power in himself and the office of President. His ingenuity was further confirmed when he claimed the only thing he could not do was to change a man to a woman or vice versa. Tamil historian J Rutnam in his article “Legacy of Thombu Mudliyar”  describes JR Jayawardene thus:
Self has meant everything to this type of politician and the country nothing. Such men are Dangerous. God save our country.”

How true. This man whilst claiming to establish a Dharmishta Society went about destroying the fabric of Buddhist society of care and compassion to the less well off to one of open economy where the law of the jungle prevailed. Money became God. It is said that the greatest achievement of British colonialism was the servility to the White Races. You could not find anyone who fit the bill better than JR Jayawardene. No wonder he was called Yankee Dickie. The legacy of JRJ will be like a stone round the neck of Sri Lanka for a long time.

Under the instigation of the IMF and World Bank, in the name of development, the country borrowed huge sums and wasted on corruption and buying political power. Buddhist priests were weaned away from the people, those who objected attacked by Government goons. The subsidy on social programmes was gradually reduced. The detrimental affects were many, but worst legacy of JRJ has been the Predatory State.

Predatory State

The ideal state is where one or few or many govern for the common good. A benevolent dictator is better than a democratically elected government that does not work for the welfare of the whole community. According to the Lai-Mynt classification, a predatory state is where the rulers prey upon the wealth and resources of the country. Sri Lanka today unfortunately fits into this classification.

Parliament does not adequately watch over the country’s finances. Bribery and corruption is rampant and politicians are unaccountable. Government property is brazenly commandeered for various activities. Predatory activities are not confined to politicians; their stooges in the media, bureaucracy, military and any position of power acquire these tendencies.

Having tasted the trappings of power, politicians refuse to let go. They manipulate the democratic process by vote rigging, violence and bribery to maintain their position. Politics becomes the bastion of thugs and criminals. In this lucrative business, children take over from parents and anyone with a popular appeal, like film stars, joins the fray. Aristotle said man when perfected is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all.


A predatory society creates insecurity and gives little hope to the intelligentsia who emigrate. The brain drain from Sri Lanka, its biggest asset that could have made a difference to society, is lost forever. Once the intelligentsia is lost, predators have an open ticket to continue the mayhem. The country has gone from bad to worse. Others who can afford to have moved to the Middle East to slave or to the First World as illicit immigrants.

The opium of a predatory state is greed, the concept that westernisation is modernity and consumerism.  This is aided and abetted by the open economy which has given the necessary instruments of privatisation, foreign investments and foreign aid to embezzle national wealth, destruction of the environment and consumerism.

Open economy advocated by Friedman based on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations ignores Smith’s other works, the theory of “Moral Sentiment.” N Chomsky in Understanding Power argues that several works of Smith have been misrepresented and falsified by contemporary ideology. The plan has been deliberate; President Castro said globalisation is the sauce with which they will consume the rest of the world. The present plight of the world economic system can be attributed to this deception. The price has been paid by the poor of the world, including Sri Lanka.

A predatory state encourages foreign countries to have a stake in society, as they benefit from it. Foreigners have influence to maintain the status quo using NGOs, directly pressurising the ruling class, and Christianisation. The ruling class is obliged to these countries as they give them Aid (loans) to sell the wealth of the nation. Surreptitious support to terrorism to destabilise society is another modus operandi. A destabilised society cannot fight injustice. It is not surprising that the base of Tamil Tigers moved to the west thousands of miles away from Sri Lanka.

Safe havens for embezzled wealth

The western banking system gives safe havens to embezzled wealth. Mobuto of Congo and Abacha of Nigeria transferred billions of dollars into the western banking system. It is interesting that the west-backed President of Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, had assets worth 25 billion dollars in the west, and the whole external debt of The Philippines was 25 billion.

The west graciously accepts this embezzled wealth whilst moralising and condemning bribery and corruption in the third world. In a recent survey in the Financial Times, Sweden was found to be the biggest bribe-giver. The Indians after Bofors will not be surprised.

The western Banking System had in the recent world economic crisis lent 40 times its asset value, creating a virtual economy. In this immoral game of monopoly, they have even sold non-viable loans or Toxic Assets to savers, mostly in Asia. This is daylight robbery. The biggest debtor, America, has the greatest asset, the printing press for Dollars.

Unfortunately the predators don’t understand that the corrupt money they earn is virtual, and they are transferring resources of their country for nothing. The Chinese realised it; they are using the virtual money to invest in poor countries. The west is up in arms against it, be it the Hambantota port project or investment in Africa. The poor ultimately are lumbered.

The natural reaction to this is the revolt by the poor. The violence seen in the world at the moment can be attributed to this system. In a world where the poor have increased aspirations, terror and violence will grow.

In Sri Lanka, the 1989 revolt against the unjust system was violently suppressed; 70,000 Sinhala youth were killed. Not one single word was heard from the west which moralises about human rights. The reason was simple - they were beneficiaries of the system.
Recently, the Tamil insurrection was suppressed, but the west continues to moralise about Human Rights violations and demands accountability because the geopolitical interests of the international community was not served by this suppression. What is the ulterior motive behind instigating separatist activity in Tamil Nadu?

Development is the Trojan Horse of the corrupt. The IMF, World Bank and Foreign countries are part and parcel of this system. A previous President of the country brazenly admitted that 40% of Aid was lost in administration/commissions before the project even began. This does not take into account the hyped up invoice and poor workmanship. These projects are unsustainable and environmentally damaging. The landslips/floods are part and parcel of this unsustainable development. The country is been ruined; the money embezzled.

Naomi Chomsky in Shock Doctrine talks of the agreement Regaining Sri Lanka under the patronage of USAID, World Bank and ADB. She claims Regaining Sri Lanka demanded many sacrifices in the name of rapid economic growth. Millions of people would have to leave traditional villages to free up the beaches for tourists and the land for resorts and highways, a reason for the generous agreement with the Tamil Tigers with International Guarantees! An attempt to resurrect it after the tsunami failed. The Sri Lanka government owns 80% of the land in the country. This is another area on the agenda. An environmental disaster awaits us.


To Regain Sri Lanka, it is time the moral authority of the religious organisations are re-imposed on society. For this, the priests must be depoliticised. Development must meet the needs of the majority of the community, not destroy the environment.

The country needs to be saved from the Predatory State. The temple must reassert itself and demand that the politicians observe the tenets of Dasaraja Dharma which is Buddha’s advice to Kingship and Government.


1) Be Liberal and avoid selfishness
2) Maintain High Moral Character
3) Be Prepared to sacrifice once own pleasure for the well being of the subjects
4) Be honest and maintain absolute integrity
5) Be kind and Gentle
6) Lead a Simple Life for subjects to Emulate
7) Be free from Hatred of any Kind
8) Exercise Non Violence
9) Practice Patience
10) Respect Public Opinion to Promote Peace and Harmony.

What is happening in Sri Lanka is a microcosm of what is happening elsewhere, be it India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Nepal. It is time the world awakes to this threat.

The author is a consulting physician

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