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Moral justiceMay 13, 2001
This week saw the birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha and the Prime Minister reminded us of his great message. "The teachings of Lord Buddha which call for peace, religious tolerance and co-existence are just as relevant today when violence, murder and terror have seriously affected human norms and values", he told the media. I wondered whether our leader had suddenly achieved enlightenment in his old age. But the question was short lived. A few hours later Mr. Koirala was back at his desk organizing large scale Army mobilization to wage war against the rebels. It seems that peace, tolerance and co-existence were easily forgotten.
Clever speeches can never be the measure of true understanding. How we live our daily lives is a far greater test of wisdom than any words we might express. And those of us chosen by destiny to lead others have a special responsibility to act with that spirit of ancient wisdom. Our leaders are the embodiment of the people. Their sense of morality is the torchlight behind which others will follow. If we allow dishonest, selfish and greedy people to steer our nation, how can we later complain if general society has copied their actions?
The Prime Minister declared once that he would immediately resign from office if questioned by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) over the Lauda Air scandal. Plainly his words had no meaning. The questions came but old Girija did not go. He claimed that his 'oath of office and secrecy' to His Majesty under Article 40 of the Constitution protected him from revealing any details about cabinet discussions to anyone. He spoke as if the Prime Minister is above the Law. But Article 98 clearly states that the CIAA may investigate improper conduct or corruption by any person holding public office.
The Constitution could have specified that the Prime Minister is exempt from such investigation as it does for some other officials. But this is not the case. Of course cabinet discussions must be subject to scrutiny by the CIAA. For otherwise any team in government could steal millions of dollars from the Nation and nobody would ever know the truth. But this Prime Minister is doing something far worse than merely disregarding the Constitution. By breaking his word to keep in power against the will of almost everyone in the nation, Mr. Koirala has set a new depth of moral decay in Nepal that can never be forgotten.
Morality is not something that we can choose for ourselves. It is a fundamental principle that is the same for all mankind. That was the vital message of Gautama Buddha. That is why he is still regarded as a great teacher all over the world. Mohammed recognized his teachings and all Moslems consider him as one of the founding prophets of their faith. Jesus of Nazareth learnt from him and many Christian lessons reflect the Buddha's teachings. His example of pure selflessness and devotion to duty is the very essence of human achievement for millions of people in every continent. Consequently the land of his birth has a special responsibility to keep his message alive.
But sadly our current leaders seem to ignore that message in their own lives and service. Whilst the Buddha gave away his wealth to further his understanding, our leaders today live in luxurious homes surrounded by armies of servants. They are driven in 75 Lakh Mercedes cars past the poverty of millions of hungry citizens. They make false promises to the people and close their eyes to the suffering around them. Consequently Mr. Koirala's lecture the nation on Buddhist teachings is an insult to all those who have learnt from them.
The Prime Minister should know that fundamental honesty lies at the very heart of morality. It is not a complicated issue involving dozens of religious and social laws about everything from food to marriage. They are only the constructs of men to maintain peace and order. But absolute honesty is the very essence of decent human behavior. When a man breaks his word he destroys his own integrity. It is rather like a valued heirloom handed through the family for generations. Once broken, nothing on earth can replace it. Integrity cannot be repaired either. Once a promise is broken, nothing can restore the confidence of others that you will ever keep your word again.
This may be an unfortunate absolute for the Prime Minister but his effigies currently hanging from lamp posts around the streets of Kathmandu should remind him that the people of Nepal still hold moral values. A few may have sacrificed their integrity for the new wealth that came with democracy, but the vast majority of citizens are still faithful to the heritage of Buddha. They despise corruption and dishonesty. They may live in poverty and great hardship but their wealth of culture is far richer than anything money can buy.
It is that culture which originally drew millions of Western tourists to Nepal in search of Shangri-La. The motherland of Gautama Buddha was famous for the sincerity of its people and many travelers returned year after year simply because of that. I was once one of them and to witness the destruction of that culture through the blind greed and ambition of a powerful minority is one of the greatest tragedies I have ever seen.
But in the midst of this misfortune perhaps we should remember another teaching of the Lord Buddha. Nothing exists or occurs without a reason. Understanding may be achieved even from the greatest disasters and the current circumstances are no exception. Old Girija cannot last forever and eventually a new man will lead Nepal. He will have the opportunity to learn from everything that has happened. He has the chance to make peace with the rebels and agree to some of their grievances. He has the chance to end corruption through honest and open government. And he has the chance to restore not only the temple at Lumbini but also the true spirit of the great man who was born there.
With my best wishes to you all,