Go with a smile!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kill the Buddha

There is an old Zen parable which says, “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”.

Since this comes from a religion which does not advocate violence, let alone killing, I suppose this does grab your attention a bit. But it’s a caution against idolatry: you don’t fixate on the Buddha. You concentrate on his teachings. The Buddha is just a symbol. Once you get caught up in who he is, rather than what he represents, you will be lost.

For many years, this man has been our PM. And for many years he has been at the center of the government, which has been at the center of our nation. And after he gave up his seat, he continued to operate behind the scenes, all this time allowing people to speculate how much influence he has on the cabinet. This is due to the fact – that nobody will really dispute – that he is a more forceful personality than any of his successors.

Recently he’s been in hospital, in spite of appearing in public next to Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong at a recent dinner. There was this piece of bravado, where he once said that he will rise up from the coffin if he sees that something is wrong, that he wants to fix it. I think that to a large extent, the shadow he has cast over his successors has been stage managed. The idea is neither to confirm or deny the notion that he has a great influence on the cabinet, and let people think that things are being run the way the used to run.

A lot of speculations have risen up with respect to the guy being in hospital, and that reminded me of the “kill the Buddha” parable. So when I say “kill the buddha” am I wishing him a quick demise? I suppose if you have to ask that you aren’t reading the above, or you’ve not understood it. The cult of LKY has to die. We know, from the remarks that he made immediately following the last general election, that he does not really live in our era, nor do we live in his. We have been speculating on the post-LKY era for years – and over the last 20 years since he officially stopped being the PM, his influence has ebbed away. We can now think of these 20 years as a continuum which started off as him being a back seat driver in 1990, to a figure in the history books in 2011. A slow but inexorable transition. For most other people, you’d stop being the PM right away. But for LKY it takes a long time to fade out. And he’s finally faded out. And his eventual successor – not the immediate one – that’s Goh Chok Tong. His eventual successor is in place. Which means that we will live and die with Lee II, not Lee I.

And when I say that I am against idolatry, this is a message for both the hardline PAP supporters and the hardline opposition. To the first group, the PAP is a symbol of all that is good in Singapore, a shepard without which we will all be lost. To the second group, the PAP are a bunch of morally corrupt sycophants who will stop at nothing, and are not above doing any form of evil to further their selfish interests at the expense of everybody else in Singapore. These two approaches are probably going to be rejected. Now is the time to look at the real substance of the policies, rather than just a crude black and white caricature where the PAP is the ultimate evil. But yes, I know, the population paper is pretty fucked up - well I guess that's another story for another time.

The fact is that he is a non-entity. He doesn’t matter. Maybe he’s hospitalized, maybe he’s not. He’s done enough for Singapore, he should get a nice quiet rest of his life, regardless of whether he wants it or not. He’s just an ordinary member of parliament now, a backbencher. That’s all. A backbencher is in hospital now. That’s all. Like the rest of us, he wants Singapore to carry on after he's gone. So be it.


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