Success: A life pursuit:-Everyone wants success in life. In today’s globalizing and thrill seeking culture life-success is defined in terms of increasing wealth, higher status and limitless opportunities for indulging in physical pleasures. Pursuit of these has brought the whole world to a crisis point. Globally, increasing population has outpaced the available natural resources: land for agricultural expansion and clean water for basic human needs are getting scarce. Currently, air pollution, earth quakes, tsunami, wild fires and crop failures are more rampant, and mutating disease-causing bacteria, terrorism, war and debt-ridden economy have become major global challenges. We are even unsure of what kind of world our posterity will inherit from us. What we, as humans, have been able to do so far is to legitimize greed, put trust on financial gains, build confidence and security on possessions and sanctify governments that lords over us.
The key to success is in the understanding of what life is all about and how much one can do to make a change in the life of the fellow beings through upholding values that we are prepared to embrace, teach, encourage, and legislate. So that, every human being can be respected and enabled to maximize his or her potential, without discrimination, and in an atmosphere of freedom of thought, expression and movement. Value development must draw upon spiritual guidelines and reasoning, and lead to justice and fairness for the well-being of every human being and espouse cooperation and peaceful living by rejecting the use of violence for settling problems. Spirituality does not mean religiosity but it is the recognition that, every living forms came from the same source and is therefore interconnected.
Societal connectivity and generosity: - Domination, violence and war cannot achieve societal safety and security. Over the years, we have witnessed in this country and also globally that, when faced with prospects of marginalization, people withdraw to become just out for themselves or they are drawn to paranoid groups that offer to them alternatives through extremes of nationalism or religious fanatism. What we need is a strategy of generosity to reflect and act coherently, and to stop the insanity of those in power from continuing a self charted destructive path. Such a strategy needs to be built on the premise that everyone is a sacred embodiment and, therefore, fundamentally valuable for whom they are and not treated only as instrumentally valuable for what they can do when required if they are made to associate with me or my group. Thus, a reconnection between people must become central to any reconciliation and peace in this country. A strategy of caring generosity cannot be found outside an ethical and spiritual framework. Certainly, caring generosity is not lavish spending of borrowed millions on mega infrastructural projects.
Individualism, obsessive materialism and consumption are the hallmarks of the globalizing world in which relationship of a nation with another is determined on potential benefits to advance self interest. Advancing technological frontiers or acquiring latest technologies from wherever they are available has become the preoccupation of globalizing nations. Therefore, generally, governments are insensitive to establishing meaningful and satisfying interconnections that common people desire to have with the rest of humanity and, jointly, make up a world that truly belongs to all.
A common code to discipline life: – In our spiritually deadening society people have no time or interest to understand life, the purpose being on earth and what is the ultimate destiny. What happens to us after we die? Do we simply cease to exist? Is life a revolving door of departing and returning to earth in order to eventually achieve personal greatness? Does everyone go to the same place, or do we go to different places? We only find explanations to these questions and also answer in the respective religious teachings, and all of them seem to suggest that whatever course one’s afterlife takes it is dependent on how the person conducts now and during the lifespan in this world. These precepts stand condemned to be mythical and unscientific and certainly discounted from what people are coached into for accumulation of wealth, prestige, power and self glory through any means including theft, murder, deceit etc as they are reckoned success indicators. On the contrary, all sources of faith teachings seem clear that such means, adopted by people for attaining worldly success, are barriers against a successful afterlife and they may even be condemned to a rocky, rugged and painful abode. Unfortunately, these teachings are not in the cooking pot of the policy makers of any nation, and Sri Lanka is not an exception even though people of this country are followers of one of the major religions namely: Buddhism. Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.
Looking inwards: – Most Sri Lankans, in normal life, are conscious of an afterlife. However, when someone is made a people’s representative to a body like the parliament this individual evolves to take a position that life does not end at anytime, and even if it does, nothing can escape from his well-fed physical body as it is secured by the security cordon of gun-carrying cronies around him. As his performance in the parliament had been like someone without a soul he becomes self confident that no part of the soul is left in the body to escape and then return in any other form or to take a different abode after death.
Thoughts of afterlife may cross everyone’s mind at one point or the other but, they seem to have no relevance or effect today even on common people at the level of moral decay in this country. Conscious remembrance of death (therefore impermanence of life) is a counter force to help one to live a life within established norms and values while respecting the rights of others. Unfortunately, the fantasy of permanence in the contemporary world has led to a crisis between the privileged and the rest. This has culminated today demanding change, manifested through Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street etc. to restore justice of conscience and put a break to the inevitable disaster the humanity has been heading to while pursuing a course of unsustainable development for too long.
Treading a sanitized path: – Sri Lanka too needs a way out after going through a prolonged and bloody war. How do we bring the change? Why our efforts so far for a healthy transformation to an era of peace, tolerance, generosity, mutual respect, social justice, and ecological sanity deceived us? Why the people are unable to celebrate our country’s inherent beauty, diversity and natural endowments while affirming equal worth of all human beings and that we came from the same source? In our search for a new path those who are addicted to obsessive self satisfying materialism, disregarding the oneness of all beings and devaluing the heritage of interconnectedness among the various communities and cause divisions and hatred among these communities for a momentary glitter of power and glory have no place.
The North East Interfaith Forum for Reconciliation (NEIFR) has been engaged in using emancipatory spirituality to introduce a new environment for reconciliation and social responsibility towards rebuilding this country. Some leaders of all the religions in the war affected Northern and Eastern regions have come together in spiritual solidarity constituting NEIFR and to transcend the narrow boundaries of ethnicity and rekindle spiritual consciousness. NEIFR activities are now helping to heal the wounds of war, and infuse some sanity into the development agenda and functioning of public institutions with no accountability and impunity.
In a spiritually impoverished environment acquiring more things provides an illusion of fulfillment. Today, the growing generation is programmed at home, school, by peers and the society for quick fixes to join the race and be rated successful using criteria given above. Increasingly, the youth is forced to focus on acquiring new things for life-comforts and to devalue the past. As a result, it is difficult for the upcoming generation to comprehend and to make commitments to cultivate values required for a societal transformation through periods of adversity and prosperity. A paradigm shift towards an ethical mindset and work culture to moderate the unrestrained global technological push is now desired.
NEIFR plea:- A group representing NEIFR appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) submitted that country’s development decisions be made on the basis of need and not greed, and all people should be taken into confidence in every decision making that affect their life in such a way that it will lead to:-
- Building intercommunity trust by eliminating political patronage and administrative barriers and prejudices in deciding constitutional rights to enable free movement and social interactions
- Holistic policies by internalizing importance of both material and spiritual facets, and developing them side by side
- Accountability by making everyone accountable for his/her actions wherever they are in the public or private sector
- Strengthening traditional precepts by respecting family and human values and heritage as safety net for caring of the under privileged
NEIFR strongly feels that religious leaders have an important role to keep reconciliation and rebuilding of the country in focus. As religious are intimately involved with the people it will be easier to anticipate potential breach of social harmony and diffuse before it takes dangerous proportions. Therefore, NEIFR recommended to LLRC constituting independent Committee of Conscience, rooted in spiritual guidelines, at all levels of governance to advise on human rights, resource access and allocation, ethical harnessing of natural resources and also function as advocates for safety of endowments passed down to the next generation. NEIFR has been honest in admitting that, at the moment, there could only be a few in the country qualified to be on this committee. Therefore it also accepted that the religious leaders should become, in first instance, role models and focal points for being non-partisan and upright in judgement to win the confidence of the entire people of this country.
Sanitized development: - What NEIFR advocates is an indication that Sri Lanka needs new path that will transcend individual and political egos and relate to one another in friendship and respect. In this process rekindling spirituality will be helpful. Let us not continue to evaluate development purely on economic GDP/GNP indicators and stock markets. Let us make our development human and nature centered and use concept like Gross National Happiness (GNH like Bhutan) which includes, in addition to the normal economic indicators ecological security, cultural promotion, spiritual values and good governance as additional parameters to measure whether development enhances human happiness or increases human misery. In their own way, the religious leaders constituting NEIFR have started on a ‘sanitizing’ path and NEIFR needs encouragement.
Dr Mohamed Saleem