By Kyaw Myaing
Truth has power like no other. In relations with family members, with friends, with colleagues or with members of the local community, honesty is always the best policy. In Myanmar, the term “nga bar thila” is a very well-known term. As Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, the monks who are the “sons of the Buddha” teach all Buddhists who come to their monasteries to keep “the Five Precepts”. In Myanmar, this is the basis for morality and good conduct for all good Buddhists. In the Burmese language “nga” means “five” and “thila” means “precepts”.
In Pali this term is called “pyinsa sila” which means the Five Precepts. It may be interesting to note that this same term is called “Pancha Sila” in Indonesia.
The Buddha has taught us to abstain from killing, telling lies, stealing, taking intoxicating drinks or drugs, and committing adultery. In Buddhism these are not commandments but guidance from the Buddha for his followers. Not telling lies means telling the truth. Telling the truth means being sincere in your dealings with others.
The Sayadaws or Abbots who are head of the village monasteries or any monastery in the towns and cities teach their followers to keep the five precepts on a continuous basis. To give an example, the sayadaws tell us “you should keep the precepts in the same way as you would wear your longyi.” In the Burmese language the longyi is also called a “pasoe”. So the actual phrase means that men should keep the five precepts in the same way that they would wear their “pasoes”. Here, it should be obvious that both men and women should keep the five precepts.
Cetana is a Burmese word which does not have an equivalent in English. According to Myanmar Buddhist tradition “cetana” means the first thoughts that occur in a person’s mind when this person is about to do a good deed or a bad deed. In the case of a good deed it is called “kutho kan cetana”. Here the word “kutho” means good deed. The word “kan” means action. So it may be remembered that “cetana” is the thought that occurs in a person’s mind before he or she takes an action good or bad.
In the opinion of this writer, “truth and cetana” are very important in diplomacy as well as in peace negotiations. For successful negotiations, it is always a good policy to be honest and sincere. Another important ingredient for conducting successful negotiations is of course having “cetana”.
In English, the Burmese word “cetana” may be roughly translated as “good will” or “good intentions”. A person who is honest, sincere and has good “cetana” shows his good will and good intentions on his face. He shows it in his calm manners and pleasant demeanor. He can look across the negotiating table straight into the eyes of the leader of the delegation which whom he is negotiating. On the other hand a person who does not understand the value of “truth” and “cetana” would try to use unscrupulous means to get what he wants.
However in the west the following quotation became quite well known among diplomats “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”(Sir Henry Wotton). To take this sentence in a good sense, we may understand that this is a pun on the word “lie”. To lie abroad also means to stay in a foreign country.
At a time when Myanmar is preparing for peace negotiations with the ethnic armed groups who live in the various states, a winning strategy to get all ethnic armed groups to sign the NCA – Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement is for both sides to go to the negotiating table with good will and good intentions by putting aside petty differences and negotiate with “truth and cetana” for the good of our country. Having frank, open and sincere discussions can go a long way to create the right conditions for gaining trust and confidence. Let us give Peace a chance.
By Kyaw Myaing