|„Sarvodaya“ means „Universal
Awakening“ and its Leader, Dr. Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne has been in
pursuit of this ideal for about half a century, The Sarvodaya Movement
guided by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi has become a huge Peace Movement
in the fields of consciousness building, human rights, development, health
care, ecological farming and education. It is present in more than 10.000
villages in Sri Lanka. On 29 August 1999, Sarvodaya mobilized a massive
show of support for immediate peace in Sri Lanka. The event joined together
participants across ethnic and religious lines in defiance of the polarization
that has been sought by those participating in the conflict, and received
prominence in the world press.
I am extremely happy that
once again I have been invited by Professor Doctor Johannes Laehnemann
to participate in the 7th Forum of Nuremberg. I remember the former Nuremberg
Consultations on religious education which I attended and I was intrigued
by the efforts which were put in by experts in a variety of fields like
Theology, Religion, Pedagogical Sciences and Humanities together with educators
for the Promotion of harmony between spiritual and ethical education. In
the 7th Nuremberg Forum you are concentrating on Spirituality and Ethical
Education: Heritage and Challenge of Religions. The theme on which I have
been asked to speak is the Application of Gandhian and Buddhist Principles
of Non-violence to Counteract Fanaticism.
It is from an unstable state
of mind that people take to extremist and non tolerant attitudes which
lead to a lot of harm to themselves and others. This kind of instability
of mind is brought about not due to one particular reason but a number
of causes interacting on the human personality. The Gandhian and Buddhist
approaches look at the totality of these causes and factors and try to
bring about a transformation at the very root level.
Gandhiji’s philosophy was
to work for the well being of all, to awaken the potentiality of all people.
Lord Buddha 2500 years before Gandhi taught us to extend our loving kindness
towards the entire living world. ‘Mere too, the approach was looking
at humanity and nature as a whole with a universal perspective without
getting ourselves trapped into all kinds of sectarian views based on our
political, religious or cultural diversities.
“Fanatical excess is a thing
always to be shunned. The middle path is the royal road. (Young India March.
21 1929.) It is good to die for religion, but for religious fanaticism
one must neither live nor die. (Bapu-ke-Ashirvad Sept. 13, 1948.) “ These
were the words of Mahatma Gandhi.
Lord Buddha attained Supreme
Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya. His first sermon was preached
to the five ascetics who were practising along with Him to discover the
path to enlightenment. The latter were still struggling to discover the
truth while ascetic Siddhartha left them for six years, practised on his
own, extreme forms of asceticism and realised that neither self-indulgence
nor self-mortification would lead him to discover Truth. He took
to the Middle Path and attained Supreme Enlightenment. He came back
to the five ascetics and preached His first sermon to them. He declared
that “He had discovered the Middle Position between eternalism and annihilationism.
This Middle Position He called Dependent Arising . “Whatever a human being
experiences has come to be dependent upon a large number of conditions.
This is the principle of dependence: This came to be because that existed.
On the arising of this that arises. When this does not exist that does
not come to be. On the cessation of this that ceases. When He rejected
the permanent and eternal self the Middle Position he discovered was Dependent
Arising or what is called Paticca Samuppada.
When we discuss fanaticism
it is important that we understand the Middle Position explained both by
Mahatma Gandhi and more in detail and in depth by Lord Buddha. Fanaticism
does not arise without a multiple of causes. When the causes are no more
there, there will be no fanaticism. It is not even one cause; but
several causes that lead to a certain condition such as the condition of
fanaticism. This too combined with other causes like economic deprivation,
political subjugation and religious or cultural intolerance can lead to
frustration, violence and even terrorism. These in turn combined
with other factors escalate into greater violence and instability in all
aspects of life and society.
Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement
of Sri Lanka from where I come attempts to follow this theory of Dependent
Origination and the Middle Path that Lord Buddha taught us. This is also
called the Noble Eight Fold Path. ‘Mere is suffering, there is a cause
to this suffering, the cause can be removed and there is a path we can
follow to get over suffering. What is the Noble Eight Fold Path ? This
is the path we are following in our everyday life and the work we are doing
to alleviate and totally eradicate suffering in the human being and the
Right Understanding, to
get over ignorance, is the first step in our path. To understand that when
a person is born to this world he has a body and consciousness. He has
sense organs. Through these he goes into contact with the outside world.
He experiences pleasant, unpleasant and neutral sensations because of his
dispositions. While he gets attracted to the pleasant, rejects the
unpleasant and is indifferent to the neutral, his desire for more and more
does not get satisfied. When he cannot achieve his ever increasing desires,
deprivation, frustration and suffering set in. Finally he embraces fanaticism
leading to violence to himself and others.
This is the suffering brought
about by ignorance. This is due to the ignorance of the fact that lasting
satisfaction of desires can never be achieved. A wise person will always
attempt to eliminate his craving. He will not attach himself to the
false view of a permanent eternal self though he remains in the world.
But he is not defiled by greed, aversion and ignorance. This is Right Understanding.
A person who is striving
to understand the true nature of things will also develop Right Thoughts.
He will not harbour thoughts of ill will or harm to others. He will
always develop thoughts of compassion, goodwill and benevolence toward
s rest of the living world. Such a person who strives to develop Right
Understanding and Right Thoughts will follow that with Right Words and
Right Action. Instead of taking away life of sentient beings he will try
to help them to live. Instead of taking what does not belong to him or
thieving directly or indirectly he will be beneficent towards others and
help them to have their basic needs satisfied.
He will abstain from sexual
misconduct and try to bring his sensory desires under control. He will
abstain from using harmful, harsh language on others, but
always cultivate pleasant
and friendly relationships. He will never engage himself in a livelihood
which brings harm to others. A Right Livelihood is one where he does not
do or encourage killing, manufacture and trade in destructive weapons or
harmful drugs and intoxicants. He will earn a Right Livelihood. Having
thus taken to a path of purification in thought, word and deed such a person
could concentrate on Right Effort to further purify his thoughts.
Now he is psycho-physically
prepared for Right Mindfulness where every moment of his life is spent
with awareness. Such a mind can develop Right Concentration to understand
the true nature of human life and the nature of the society and the world
around him. This is what Lord Buddha called the Middle Path or the
Noble Eight Fold Path which is the only way that suffering can be overcome.
In the Sarvodaya Shramadana
Movement of Sri Lanka with this way of life in the background of our thoughts
we have developed practical programmes so that our mind, our society and
our environment can be healed from the myriad of serious ailments that
we are faced with today.
We begin with an educational
process for parents who bring into this world children. They have
to be educated as to how a being comes into this world and the conditions
that facilitate the conception and the development of such a being with
a consciousness in the mother’s womb. We believe that the arising of consciousness
also is related to dispositions in the past of a dying person who struggles
to continue his existence. Therefore, it is important to understand the
true facts about our entering this world at birth and leaving this world
at death so that we are prepared for both.
Without this knowledge the
parents cannot truly contribute to the development of a human being with
the combination of body and mind. Human personality awakening has
to be commenced while a human being is still in the mother’s womb.
We pay attention next to the newly born child. The parents, the members
of the family and the community have to provide the person born into this
world not only with right nutrition and health care, but also the psycho-social
environment for the normal unfolding of his personality.
Sarvodaya has developed
an extensive Early Childhood Development Programme cutting across all social,
cultural, economic and ethical barriers, in almost 15,000 villages of Sri
Lanka. Any tendency to discriminate against any human being has to be totally
discouraged and prevented during this early childhood period.
Next we pay our attention
to the adolescence where the child begins to develop his identity and even
his tendency to acquire false views which may bring about harm to himself
and others in adulthood. Sarvodaya youth programmes include a national
youth Peace Brigade called Shanti Sena. Participation in gift of labour
(shramadana) camps all over the country where various barriers are broken,
constructive participation in basic human needs satisfaction programmes
in communities, involvement in environmental protection and ecological
programmes, organising Vipassana Meditation and Meditation on Loving Kindness
and participation in
mass campaigns of peace
meditation where thousands participate with the objective of creating a
psychological and spiritual environment where the civil war in the north
and east of the country and Terrorist activities in the south of the country
Sarvodaya does not believe
without democratic participation of people in their economic life and political
governance can be achieved unless in each village area or community the
objective of self governance or direct self governance (Gram Swaraj of
Gandhian Tradition) is achieved. So, we have placed in our village and
urban community development programmes the ideal of direct participation
in matters pertaining to economic and political life. For this we have
developed social, economic and political programmes taking place within
village societies so that democratic participation is realised right at
the grass roots.
Community based power is
the answer to most of the social disturbances and violent upheavals that
are brought about by fanatical actions of power hungry rabble rousers in
our societies. Community based power is based on an awareness that
not only in the immediate present, but also in the long run non-violent
power is preferable to and more lasting than power based on fanatical threats
and Terrorist attacks.
Following on the teachings
of the Buddha and the leadership given by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Ambekkar of
India fought for the eradication of untouchability with great success.
He followed the Middle Path and so are his followers today. We in Sarvodaya
follow Gandhiji’s integrated approach to development, peace and education.
It is a holistic one. They are all interconnected. For example
let us look at Gandhiji’s tenets to develop peace and education: Swadeshi,
bread labour, Aparigraha or non-possession, trusteeship, non-exploitation,
equality, appropriate use of machinery, Satyagraha and basic education.
These are all interdependent and form a coherent system. So was Lord Buddha’s
teachings of Dependent Arising, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight
Diversity is a fact of life
in all living beings and things. This fact has to be accepted. Those
who pursue fanaticism do not accept the truth of this fact of life. They
try to achieve uniformity which is not the true nature of life. Instead
unity in diversity is a more sensible objective to pursue. Like any other
society in the world our small country is also full of diversities. But
we have succeeded in bringing about unity in this diversity. Sinhala, Tamil
and Muslim people all work together as members of one family in our Movement.
No fanaticism of any sort whatsoever arises and survives in urban or village
communities where Sarvodaya is active. Even if there be some they
get transformed. Those who cannot change do not succeed in spreading their
dangerous germ to others.
Of course everything in
a constructive non-violent movement of this nature is not smooth going.
Openly, or in a subtle way a lot of irresponsible media including the electronic
media are trying to plant the seeds of extremist and false views in the
minds of gullible people. This contributes in no small measure to foster
fanaticism. Media has to exercise more responsibility in their writings
and utterances. They should not glorify the deeds of fanatics or
Just to give,- one example
- On the 29th August 1999 Sarvodaya Movement gave a call to people of Sri
Lanka for them to come to Vihara Maha Devi Park in Central Colombo to spend
3 hours in silent meditation. We expected 100,000 people. Nearly
200,000 people all dressed in white came in 2,700 vehicles, silently marched
to the park and sat down and participated in the meditation. Silently they
got up and left to their vehicles and departed for their homes. This was
an excellent example of self-discipline and acceptance of oneness of humanity.
It is an affirmation that there is no problem in the world that cannot
be resolved without resorting to violence. Violence needs not be
Yet, our media which glorify
and give wide publicity to fanatical and Terrorist acts failed to give
the publicity this peace meditation deserved. This speaks a lot about the
sad state of communication media in my country. I would like to conclude
this speech with one salient fact we all have to remember. We study and
measure the extent of physical environmental pollution we have around us.
We measure even the damage to the ozone layer up above the skies. Yet,
we are ignorant and we pay little heed to the terrible pollution that is
increasingly taking place in our own mind and the collective consciousness.
This is an aspect to which we in Sarvodaya give highest attention.
For the last two years a
Sarvodaya Centre devoted to peace and spiritual renewal has been established
close to our Headquarters in two acres of land. This Centre is called Vishva
Niketan which means a Universal Home for Meditation and Peace. There are
regular Vipassana Meditation Programmes going on in Vishva Niketan. Groups
from all parts of the country , practice meditation and get back to their
areas and persuade others to have similar mental purification programmes
with hundreds of people participating. There are no religious or
other barriers for people to join. While writing this speech I took time
off to visit one of the largest prisons in my country called the Mahara
Prison and spent 3 hours there getting 1568 re-convicted prisoners to meditate
with me. The serious manner they paid attention to this unusual spiritual
exercise surprised even the officers who were looking after them under
normal prison rules and regulations.
They should realise that,
after all, “we are prisoners not because we are surrounded by stone walls
and iron gates but because we are slaves to our sensory desires.” The ultimate
solution to fanaticism and all extremist actions by any group in the world
is to get them to look into themselves, to mindfully observe their name
and form, mind and body, their consciousness, so that they can get a real
grasp of what they are and how they function and what the end-results will
be. Deeply looking into the five elements that go to form the body, the
sensations that arise from the six senses including the mind, the perceptions
and dispositions that we create, all the time in our mind and the laws
that govern the above processes, is the only way to get a true understanding
of our problems and their resolution.