I was surprised to receive an invitation letter from Shri Bhavarlal Jain, the Founder of the Gandhi Research Foundation, for me to participate in the opening ceremony of the Gandhi Teerth as the Guest of Honour and also deliver the first Gandhi Research Foundation Lecture on 25th March 2012. Though my health and age, and my day to day engagements do not provide me with much time to prepare an academic lecture useful to researchers and scholars, I thought I should accept this invitation and share some of my experiences principally to pay my humble veneration to that great global figure Mahatma Gandhi in whose memory the single most consummate and the largest monument was built and is dedicated to humanity, in Jalgaon, under the gracious leadership of Her Excellency Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, then President of India.
I consider it as the fruition of a good Karma in my life that I am present here to witness this unique achievement made possible by the generosity of Sri Bhavarlal Jain, the Founder of GRF, and his colleagues and collaborators. This kind of beneficence is very rare in the present day world where most of humanity is dominated by greed. Wherever in the world I go what comes to my mind as the root cause of all global problems is man's ingenuity to organize greed incorporating in it all the scientific and technological innovations as well as religious and socio-economic institutions for the benefit of a few and to the detriment of the majority. On this historic occasion I wish that all of us resolve, taking the example of Sri Bhavarlal Jain to organize Dana or Beneficence in human beings to realize the Gandhian vision of a poverty free and peaceful world.
A Mercenary Visit
In 1927 November Gandhiji visited Sri Lanka (Ceylon) which he himself called a ‘mercenary visit.’ He appealed to one and all, the rich and the poor, students, teachers and parents, employers and labourers, to open out their purses and donate money to support teeming millions of the starving poor in India, to promote spinning, weaving, sale and wearing of Khadi to ensure a steady income for them. Wherever he went he was welcomed by large crowds ranging from national leaders to common people all of whom contributed to his cause of Daridranarayana.
He gave many speeches in all parts of Sri Lanka, the South, the Central Hills and the North. He addressed the Mahindra College prize giving (my alma mater), Nalanda College and Vidyodaya College where I was on the tutorial staff. Unfortunately this was several years before I was born. In all Buddhist institutions where he spoke he appealed to the Buddhists to strive towards a Buddhist revival. (More information is available in the publications With Gandhiji in Ceylon- A journal of the tour with an authorized version of all important speeches by Mahadev Desai which was published by S. Ganesan in Madras in 1928. A second edition was published by Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha in October 1998. Another important publication edited by Gopalkrishna Gandhi, GANDHI AND SRI LANKA was published by Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha in 2002.)
Call for Buddhist Revival
In all the speeches that Gandhiji gave in Sri Lanka in 1927 he was very outspoken. Unhesitatingly, he condemned the eating of meat he observed in some upper class Buddhists. He also criticized the drinking habits he saw generally among the people of Sri Lanka. He emphasized the fact that Buddha's loving kindness went beyond humans and was extended to all living beings including the smallest creatures. Non-violence preached by Buddha did not stop at non-killing, but also abstinence from eating flesh of animals that others slaughtered. He advocated that Sri Lankan Buddhists should take the lead to bring about a Buddhist revival. Perhaps, Gandhiji would not have been aware of the Buddhist awakening that had already started from the middle of the 19th century. The western civilization, over the previous four centuries, had influenced the Sri Lankan Buddhist way of life. Already, the upper and middle classes were keen on adherence to western customs. Yet, on account of their national pride they identified themselves as Buddhist thus supporting Col. Henry Steele Olcott, the American Theosophist who founded the Buddhist Theosophical Society and pioneered the establishment of Buddhist Higher Educational Institutions in Sri Lanka.
The very fact that everywhere that Gandhiji travelled in Sri Lanka, Buddhists educational institutions and the Buddhist communities welcomed him in massive numbers showed that the revival of Buddhism was already on and that they did not mind Gandhiji's inclusion of Buddha and His teachings within the broader Hindu religious context. Venerable monks of the three leading Buddhist colleges, Vidyodaya, Vidyalankara and Paramadhammachethiya encouraged and supported the laymen led by Deshabandhu F. R. Senanayake who started the Sri Lanka Temperance Movement which was a preparatory arm for the independence struggle that was yet to commence, similar to Gandhiji's Satyagraha Movement in South Africa and India. Meanwhile, Sri Anagarika Dharmapala with his Mahabodhi Society of India was waging two struggles, one was to take Buddha Gaya under the control of the Buddhists and the other was to support the Indian and Sri Lankan freedom struggle.
A New Buddhist Awakening
Unlike what Gandhiji anticipated, the Khadi Movement did not catch up in most parts of Sri Lanka. The revival of Buddhism revival was also limited to educational, ritualistic and cultural fields after independence in 1948. There was no attempt made to adopt Buddhist philosophy and principles in the social, political and economic realities of post independent Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Perhaps, history will record that it was at this stage that students and teachers of Nalanda College pioneered a new Buddhism Reawakening movement which has today become internationally famed as Buddhist philosophy in development action.
It started in mid 1950s as a study service program where school children of higher grades camped in the most backward rural villages during weekends and vacations. They learned from these people their values, mode of livelihood, traditions, technologies and so on while contributing for the development of villages by gifting their labour, knowledge and other skills they had. This movement, which spread out into hundreds of educational institutions, thousands of students and tens of thousands of village people was popularly known at that stage as the Shramadana movement.
The gift of labour, skills, resources, land and even cash is called Dana in Buddhist terminology. When we organized Shramadana camps it was a kind of organized beneficence as this gift-of-labour camps helped to satisfy the basic needs of village communities such as access roads, drinking water wells, irrigation reservoirs and irrigation canals and land reclamation work, etc. These are meritorious deeds according to Buddha's teachings. As the principal participants were students and teachers a very high standard of self-discipline was maintained in the camps which were like itinerant universities. So, a daily code of conduct in detail was introduced to cover the period when the volunteers wake up at 6 am until they go to bed at 10 pm after engaging themselves in meditation, educational programs, cultural events, singing, music, dancing, and family gathering in addition to 7to 8 hours of physical labour.
In Buddhist terminology this kind of self-discipline is known as Sila. The third type of discipline that the participants cultivated in these Shramadana camps is developing right mindfulness through meditation programs. This is called Bhavana. So, Dana, Sila and Bhavana were promoted simultaneously on a mass scale among the village folk in the initial four years of the Movement thus creating what we used to call a psychological infrastructure while accomplishing the fulfillment of a basic need through gift of labour.
We re-named the Shramadana Movement as the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka in the early 1960s. From that time up to now, this Movement has received tremendous nourishment from the Gandhian Movement, particularly under the influence of Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Shri Jayaprakash Narayan, E. W. Ariyanayakam, Asha Devi Ariyanayakam, Prof. Sufathadas Gupta and several other Indian Gandhian leaders. It is for this reason I chose the topic Gandhian Inspiration Nourishes a Development Movement Based on Buddhist Philosophy for this lecture which is more informational and historical than scholarly.
Dharma Gunasinghe (our present Treasurer) and I, as young teachers of Nalanda College, Colombo, attended a conference called New Education Fellowship Conference in 1960 in New Delhi. An address by Prof. G. Ramachandran on the concept of Sarvodaya left a lasting impression on both us who were founding members of the Shramadana Movement. On our return we discussed with our colleagues about adopting the fascinating thought of ‘well-being of all - Sarvodaya’ to suit our Buddhist culture and to broaden the base of the movement so as to develop it into a national people’s force to transform the entire society. This change has to be brought about in an integrated way in spiritual, moral, cultural, social, economic and political sectors of the society. Truth, Non-violence and Self-denial should be the guiding principles of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.
The word Sarvodaya, which was coined by Mahatma Gandhi, happened to have in the Sinhala languages almost the same meaning very relevant to the Buddhist philosophy. So taking the Sarvodaya philosophy to the common man was not difficult. However, to conform more to the Buddhist ethos we defined Sarvodaya not only as working for the wellbeing of all but as “Total Awakening of All.”
Buddha's Universal Message
The Buddha’s admonition is:
Dukkappathacha Nikkudukkha to help those who physically suffer to overcome physical suffering; Bhayapaththacha Nibhaya To help those who are in fear to overcome fear; Sokappaththacha Nissoka To help those who are in mental pain to overcome mental pain; Honthu Sabbepipanino May all sentient being be well and happy.
Thus we are committed to serve not only human beings but all other living beings as well. Right from the inception of our movement we extended our services to include the preservation of the plant kingdom or nature in our development agenda. So the fact that we adopted the word Sarvodaya itself into our indigenous languages and culture illustrates the impact the Gandhian Movement had on us.
Buddha means the “Awakened One.” Any human being can attain this state of total enlightenment by cultivating the Ten Paramitas or perfections. These are Dana (giving or beneficence), Sila (morality), Nekhamma (Renunciation), Panna (Wisdom), Viriya (Effort), Khanthi (Patience), Sacca (Truth), Adittana (Determination), Metta (Loving Kindness), Upekkha (Equanimity). Of course The Bodhisatva went through millions of cycles of births and deaths, living in various forms of beings, to perfect these ten spiritual attainments. Yet He said we too can achieve this state if we strive diligently. Mahatma Gandhi’s life is certainly a bodhisattva model in the modern era. Under Truth and Non-violence one could find all the above ten qualities being cultivated in the Mahatma’s life and mission.
In a speech delivered at Vidyodaya College, Colombo, on 15th November 1927,Gandhijistated “And sometimes I feel even proud of being accused of being a follower of the Buddha and I have no hesitation in declaring in the presence of this audience that I owe a great deal to the inspiration that I have derived from the life of the Enlightened One.”
Sarvodaya - A Fivefold Awakening
As we started our movements with students and teachers as an educational experiment our first objective was Awakening of Human Personality (Purna Paurushodaya). As we worked with the poorest communities (Antyodaya) our second objective was Gramodaya (village community awakening). As we progressed into urban communities we started Nagaroday (urban community awakening)programs. When we discovered that not only education and development but also a total transformation of the social, economic and political structures of the country was necessary we started our Gram Swaraj (Village Self-government) and Deshodaya (National Awakening) program. When groups from various countries joined and worked with us in Sri Lanka and on their return started Sarvodaya chapters on their own, we named this process Vishvodaya or (World Awakening). To develop these objectives, formulate the principles, draw up the work plans and invent methods and techniques for their implementation we had to tax the brains of hundreds of grassroots leaders as well as well educated Sarvodaya volunteers over a period of five decades. However this is not yet over. Now we are experimenting with our Desodaya and Vishovodaya programmes.
Deshodaya and Vishvodaya programmes
In the nineteen fifties, in our country, I am sorry to say that our national leaders and planners only thought of development as an economic development process to increase the GDP and per capita income following the western patterns of the capitalist brand or communist type. The political systems were copied from the west. We were very much influenced by Gandhiji’s admonition in his Hind Swaraj that we should reject the western civilization that was imposed on us and revert to our values and create a new civilization to face the challenges of the 20th century now the 21st century. In a public speech he delivered in Badulla Sri Lanka on 19.11.1927 he said:
‘Do not, for the sake of your country ape the manners and customs of others which can only do harm to you and for heaven’s sake do not wish to be what every one of the people of Ceylon cannot be.’
Now we can proudly say that with the influence of Gandhian philosophy we have a complete theoretical framework and a practical agenda to rebuild a Buddhist Civilization in spiritual, moral and cultural, social, economic and political sectors in an integrated way. In that kind of social order every citizen of this country will enjoy equal status in every respect. While numerous welfare and development activities are being done in 15,000 villages, new economic and political structures are being tried out, especially entities we are researching on and experimenting in for building a new Buddhist civilization model which works for all, Buddhists as well as Non-Buddhists.
We are closely watching how Indian and other non-violent people's organizations the world over are responding to the most recent global challenges. First we formulated a comprehensive development Education Program both for leadership training at all levels and training in skills necessary for the Ten Basic Needs Satisfaction in rural and urban communities, namely, needs pertaining to Environment, Water, Clothing, Nutrition, Shelter, Health, Energy, Communication, Education, Spirituality and Culture. A priority in the Leadership Training was to remove the myths that people have been believing in for decades.
During our life time we witnessed how materialist world views crumbled, first the Marxist view and next the capitalist view. Both of these dominant world views shared some common characteristics between them. I would call them myths that people were made to believe in by conditioning their minds using all kinds of advertising techniques and propaganda in the media, sometimes misnamed as education, perpetrated by those who benefited from such false views.
Some of these myths are: economic prosperity can grant us security and happiness. Economic growth should be the primary objective of any national economic development plan. All available natural resources should be exploited to satisfy not only our real as well as perceived needs but also our endless desires. The more one consumes the greater will be one’s happiness. Large scale, sophisticated and energy consuming technology can give a better and more satisfying life to the people. These energy sources are inexhaustible and their bad effects such as environmental pollution and ecological imbalances can be overcome by human ingenuity. While talking of democracy governments should retain centralized authority keeping people as far away as possible from centres or seats of power. For national security the most modern armed forces should be developed and maintained even if you don’t have enemies or threats to your freedom (of course, to protect ‘legitimate’ governments in case of dissident elements within nations who create insurgencies, these security forces are developed to control them). When it comes to the safe guarding of vested interests at the centre and their cohorts in the regions, in the name of national sovereignty, social and economic stability, it is quite in order to invest public finances for military expenditure even at the cost of resources needed for poverty reduction, food security, education, health of the people and housings needs. The sovereignty of the people should be interpreted as sovereignty of the state or government for consumption. It is quite in order to arouse racist, religious, nationalist sentiments in people and even to curb the fundamental freedom of people to protect this so called sovereignty of a coercive government.
In perpetrating these myths, what have these two systems and other forms of governance in between, left as their heritage for humanity? Very simplistically it has left humanity more impoverished than ever before in its 100000 year old journey towards civilized life. Generally speaking they have created a human society that is spiritually, morally, culturally, socially, economically and politically poorer than before these economic and political systems took over the world. They have left more degenerate human beings, human families, urban and rural communities, nations and a world community. In this present context what should be the role of the Teachings of the Buddha and what are the ways in which we can translate Dharma into building a more equitable, tolerant and peaceful society, where there is plenty of scope for spiritual awakening, contented and happy family lives and communities who can live in peace with optimum satisfaction of basic human needs?
An Acceptance Common Agenda
We cannot prescribe a standard Buddhist - Gandhian agenda which will work for all communities or countries with a wide difference in their ethnic, religious, cultural and geographical variations. But we can learn from each other’s experiences, where we share commonalities in Buddhist - Gandhian value systems and with certain adjustments to suit different climes we can easily draw up a commonly agreed agenda to work on.
Sarvodaya has established an independent legal entity to try out an alternative economic approach. It is founded on Buddha’s Teachings pertaining to economic matters as found in various texts. For example Buddha’s teaching about spending what one earns by rightful means or following Right Livelihood is:
Ekena Bhoge Bujeyya: use one fourth of your earnings for consumption,
Dvihi Kammam Payojaya: invest two fourths in economic pursuit,
Chatunccanca Nidappeyya Apadasu Bhavissti: save one fourth to use in emergency (Reference: From Singalovada Sutta)
Our Sarvodaya Economic Enterprises Development Services SEEDS was established with this mission. The first step was to train communities to save and manage their money in the correct way and provide credit to those who need it for specific purposes, which excludes any enterprise that kills animals, destroys environment, threatens life support systems and promotes production of intoxicants and other activities considered wrong livelihoods or sinful deeds in Buddhism. We advocate the creation of a ‘no-poverty no affluence society.’ As Mahatma Gandhi said we should work to satisfy our needs and not get tempted by greed.
SEEDS has been successful in 5000 villages so far and it is expanding its base to cover more villages. This is the largest people’s savings, credit, micro enterprises and community banking program in Sri Lanka. One of the main causes of conflicts and war is poverty and lack of economic opportunities to all to improve their status in life. There is a lesser tendency to engage in crimes, robberies, bribery corruption and violence (including, civil disturbances and war) if all have equal economic opportunity. Under this program, we now have several hundred communities, which are legal entities under our current law and have considerable financial assets of their own.
Sarvodaya has always striven for peace and ethnic harmony. It has made no distinctions in its work in communities. It works with all ethnic, religious groups in Sri Lanka and also works in all parts of the country. The civil war which has been going on in this country for nearly 3 decades has shown how Sarvodaya enhances harmony. It works for Peace without forgetting Development. The Movement has a Shanthisena (Peace Brigade) with over 140,000 trained youths. Over the last few years, Sarvodaya has evolved the following model which enables it to continue with its earlier development work while focusing on three critical domains of activity.
Our approach to Peace Building is an integrated approach. We strive to transform the Consciousness of people, their Economy and Political Power structure through a number of interconnected and interdependent programs.
Wars begin in the minds of men. So the way to peace also has to begin in the minds of men. Thus, Sarvodaya Movement has launched a threefold program to build lasting peace. Firstly, the transformation of human consciousness. Secondly, the improvement of the economy. Thirdly, bringing about a change in the political power structure.
People's Sovereignty Foremost
The transformation of consciousness, economy and power structure has to take place simultaneously with full participation of all people, in both, the rural and urban communities. The Sarvodaya movement is now implementing this program with all the resources at its disposal. Our determination is to build up the spiritual, moral, cultural, social, economic and political processes and programs in villages according to the guiding principles we find in Buddha's teachings. I have already described in an earlier part of this talk how we implement some of these principles in the community development work we do. Taking the village community as a whole there are certain economic and political principles enunciated by the Buddha which could be implemented.
Spiritual Awakening as the Foundation
For taking our work in the sphere of Consciousness to a deeper level, we have created a new institution, Vishva Niketan, to specialize in this area. While other units of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya such as the Shanthisena continue to engage in peace marches, peace meditations and organize amity camps where different ethnic and religious groups live and work together for a short time learning about each other, caring for each other and valuing each other’s culture), Vishva Niketan has developed many new programs which are being conducted at the community level and also in such institutions as prisons. The foundation of these programs is Training in meditation. Our approach in these activities is indicated by the general name under which they are grouped and generally referred to, namely, “Meth Sith Sabandiyo” (Association of Minds of Loving Kindness). Selected community youth leaders are trained as Meth Sith Sabandiyo thus extending their reach to all parts of the country. Hence, a set of activities in the sphere of Consciousness along with Economic and Self-governance initiatives are taking place for peace building on Buddhist values.
Buddhist-Gandhian Approach is the Way
For 50 years through the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, we have attempted to practice within ourselves the teachings of the Buddha, and to extend those teachings to all in need on our island of Sri Lanka. However, as all of you can recognize, the challenges facing humanity right now are mirrored in Sri Lanka, but are not exclusive to our island. With the ongoing economic crisis in the West, the teachings of the Buddha, as we have attempted to practice in Sri Lanka, are relevant and necessary to a global audience. People are now searching for solutions as they witness their economic houses of cards crumbling. For many, Buddha's teachings are the comprehensive solutions they seek.
Before I conclude, I would like to draw your attention specifically to one of the roles the Gandhi Research Foundation can play with regard to present global problems. There are many research institutions including the highly funded World Bank and United Nations' ones, which publish numerous reports about global problems ranging from climate change, economic crisis to poverty and disease. However in my opinion they do not offer solutions and do not probe in to the root causes of the present global dilemma. It is here that Gandhian and Buddhist approaches, both, in the origins of the global crises and possible solutions have to be found.
We should not confine our search only to our own Gandhian or Buddhist institutions, but gather all possible information with regards to indigenous solutions that various communities the world over are offering. Gandhi Teerth can be the global focal point from which a contribution to a new sustainable civilization can be effectively made. I am sure Shri Bhavarlal Jain and his team will undertake this responsibility. May I thank all of you and wish all of you every success, good health and long life. May all beings be well and happy.
* A. T. Ariyatne (b. November 5, 1913) is the founder of the Sarvodaya Movement of Sri Lanka. A former high school teacher at Nalanda College, he conducted the first shramadana work camp in 1958, eventually leading the largest non-government organization in the country. He has led tens of thousands of “family gatherings” and meditations with millions of people throughout Sri Lanka and other parts of the world. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org