FORTIFYING THE BUDDHIST NATIONAL
IMPRINT OF OUR MOTHERLAND FROM BEING BLURRED BY GLOBALIZATION AND WESTERN
Buddhist principles form the foundation upon which our
nation was built. The uniqueness of our cultural heritage and the norms
and values that guide our peoples life, are clearly reflective
of the impact of Buddhism. What the country clearly projects is its
Buddhist imprint. Buddhist principles have shaped the wholesome lifestyle
of our people where non-violence, tolerance, compassion and peaceful
coexistence with others and with nature, are cornerstones. The outstanding
accomplishments of our people in many areas of life, during a period
of time that exceeds 2200 years, are largely attributable to Buddhist
principles that guided their lives. The qualities and skills that enabled
our people to evolve a culture where wisdom, creativity, compassion,
generosity and spirituality are emphasized came from Buddhism.
The greater part of the more than 2200 years of Buddhist cultural history
in our country, includes the classical Anuradhapura-Polonnaruwa era.
This was a time when the population of the country was exclusively Buddhist
and the country was ruled by Buddhist royalty. During this time, the
Buddhist Maha-Sangha was the provider of education both secular
and spiritual, and was the primary source of inspiration and assistance
in the evolution of the varied aspects of our culture. Wholesome Buddhist
values and norms that form the basis of the uniquely indigenous Hela
Buddhist culture were reinforced during this glorious classical period
of our countrys history.
The strength of this cultural foundation was tested at several times
in the past, during periods of foreign invasion, devastation and exploitation.
But the nation stayed intact, withstanding threats, perils and calamities,
largely owing to the power and potency of its Hela Buddhist cultural
foundation. It is the inspiration of this strong Buddhist foundation
that is reflected in the lives of people, where peace, tolerance, compassion
and generosity are the cornerstones.
The nature of development of the countrys natural, human and cultural
resources is reflective of our long-held traditional Buddhist principles
of peaceful coexistence and integrity, particularly on the part of those
who assumed leadership roles in the country. Promotion of virtuous and
spiritual lifestyles among its people was a fundamental goal of the
Buddhist nation, and our Bhikkhus and Buddhist leadership were in the
forefront in furthering these developments.
The outstanding imaginative and creative powers, talents, skills, and
foresight of our people are well evident in what still remains as marvels
in irrigation technology, architecture, sculpture, art, literature and
other forms of visual culture, displayed magnificently across the country
as living evidence of an outstanding cultural heritage. This is evident
in the north, south, east, west and centre of the island nation. The
world recognition of the greatness of this unique Buddhist culture is
reflected by the UNESCO designating our ancient royal sites as World
Heritage Sites - Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Mahanuwara (Kandy), Sigiriya
and Dambulla, all built upon and strongly reflecting inspiration drawn
from Buddhism. It is a fact that, if there is anything unequivocally
worthwhile that Heladiva, our country can offer to the world today,
it is the Buddha Dhamma and its outstanding culture and attitude towards
life and its natural habitat.
TOLERANCE, OPENNESS AND PERSUASIVE POWER
Buddhism arose out of the profound psychological and ethical experience
of an exceptional human being concerned about the fate of humanity,
someone who intently and successfully pursued a spiritual quest. Buddhism
is not a religion with a dogmatic canon. Buddhism functions not through
crusades, but through tolerance, openness and the persuasive power of
its philosophical foundation. Its insights into time and space have
found a good measure of corroboration in modern science. Truth and reality
have been questioned under Buddhism in ways that Western philosophy
has only approached recently under the influence of paradigm changes
in the natural sciences.
Tolerance and the enormous adaptability of Buddhism are qualities that
have remained unchanged throughout its remarkable history in many countries,
including western countries where its influence is growing rapidly.
With a very much down to earth philosophy of man in harmonious and cordial
relationship to man, at a very visible and conceivable level, Buddhists
have never stood up against any single man or groups of men in the name
of Buddhism, either to defend or propagate the religion. That is quite
a record for a faith with a history of more than two and a half millennia.
That was very much before the time of the appearance of most of today's
great world religions.
Buddhism upholds everything worthy and meaningful. It promotes peace,
peaceful coexistence, and democratic principles in governance. It promotes
human rights, development of individual and community virtues and discipline
in accordance with the pancha seela". Respect for the natural
environment and sustainable and participatory development of resources
and upheld in Buddhism. In addition, Buddhism strongly promotes tolerance
of other faiths, religious and social harmony, and cordial relations
with other nations.
Buddhist culture led to the evolution of a peaceful community structure.
This provided order and stability to the respective communities in the
country. Lifestyle of people was simple and uncomplicated. It was a
quality of life that moved at a gentle pace where people enjoyed a high
degree of leisure and freedom. As part of a close-knit community, people
felt secure enough to be themselves. In this sense, they enjoyed a remarkably
high quality of life.
LIVING IN HARMONY WITH NATURE
Being an agricultural community, our people were grounded to their place
in the natural world at the time of the arrival of European colonial
powers, starting in the early 16th century. Peoples livelihood
and economy reflected their interdependence with their natural habitat,
with other people and other living beings. A striking feature was that,
on the whole, relations between people and between culture and nature
were compatible, in harmony and well adjusted and adapted. This is largely
owing to Buddhism - the foundation upon which the way of life, culture
and social values of the people evolved and established. Buddhist principles
were reflected in peoples attitude towards each other, other communities,
other living beings and their habitat - the environment. Peoples
livelihood and institutions were reflective of the impact of the teachings
of the Buddha.
Until the time of large scale land use grab and changes during the British
colonial period from the 19th century and thereafter, our people were
self-supporting farmers living harmoniously with their environment.
They enjoyed an abundance of natural resources by way of useable land,
fertile soil, clean and dependable water resources, healthy climatic
conditions, a rich and diverse biological resource base, an awe-inspiring
natural environment pleasing to the senses and spiritually inspiring,
and above all, a culture that valued harmonious relationship with each
other and the natural environment which provided the basis of their
Most farmers worked for part of the year. Poverty, unemployment and
environmental pollution were unknown to them. Productive farms including
luxuriant home gardens, clean water and air enabled a healthy life for
the large mass of people. Irrigation and water management technologies
of our people are considered as engineering marvels and are in use even
today. Their farming methods are known to be environmentally most compatible
COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP AND ORGANIZATION
Each village or community had a group of well-respected elders and families
who had earned the respect and recognition of the people, owing to their
benevolence, generosity, virtuous nature and adherence to a life-style
in-keeping with the long established indigenous culture and social values.
Invariably they held leadership positions in their respective communities
and were a source of positive influence and were role models to the
people. In Buddhist villages, they belonged to the dayaka sabhas
of temples and worked closely with Bhikkhus in Buddhist activities based
on temples. Often they were office bearers of community development
and social welfare organizations.
This system prevailed in a good part of the country even during the
first three decades following independence. The Bhikkhus were unofficial
leaders of these communities providing a wide range of services to their
communities besides their activities connected with the spiritual advancement
of the people.
Religious, literary and cultural pursuits flourished in these communities.
There were festivities and religious functions where the entire community
participated willingly. Among them were spectacular festivities such
as perahera with drumming, dancing, and music and traditional
rituals of varied types. Their cultural pursuits and creativity were
also reflected in the beautiful art, sculpture, architecture, pottery,
handicrafts and fine arts of varied forms.
BUDDHIST POLITICAL THOUGHT
Buddha's teachings include a theory of knowledge, an ethical system
and a system of law and inter-personal and inter-community relations.
The political philosophy of Buddhism is universal in that it directly
concerns with the totality of human life. Not only does it deal with
the social and economic aspects of life but also deals with man's spiritual
and ethical aspects too.
According to Buddhist political thought the state or the ruler is expected
to establish a just and selfless social order in which every individual
of a country is happy and contended. Buddha's ideas were primarily based
on the Noble Eightfold path and he advocated that all human problems
could be easily avoided by following this eight fold path, namely Right
Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood,
Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
The political thoughts of the Buddha revolutionized the political scene
in our nation. The Buddha went into the root cause of unhappiness, unrest
and inequality of the human society and pointed out the weaknesses in
the traditional and orthodox ways of ruling the society and controlling
The Buddhist monarchial organization in the form of the Sangha was an
innovation of the Buddha and even a slave or an individual of mean birth
was taken into the order of Bhikkus and he was honourably treated. This
shows the special place Buddha gave to the equality of human beings.
A very important social and political principle amply supported by the
Buddha is the biological unity and equality of mankind.
Two important political principles introduced by the Buddha were the
elective principle of government and the acceptance of the peoples'
sovereignty. He introduced the voting procedures at the election of
leaders such as in the Sangha and showed the importance of the freedom
of expression to create public opinion in issues of public importance.
He also showed that there is a close link between politics and the economy
of a country. On various occasions the Buddha showed that economic welfare
is all important for social stability, peace and good governance. The
ultimate aim of Buddha's political theory was the creation of a selfless
society and today even enlightened modern societies try hard to achieve
this aim. There is no doubt that if any country could follow at least
some of these political ideologies enunciated in the noble teachings
of the Buddha, such a country would be peaceful, free of wars, free
of petty divisions and destructive evil thoughts and actions.
The Buddhist approach is to live in harmony with nature more than subduing
it, conquering it, and exploiting it. Buddhism emphasizes compassion
for all living beings. This Buddhist attitude to nature is enumerated
in several of the Buddhas discourses, such as the "Cakkavatti
Sihanada Sutta", "Samyutta Nikaya", "Vinaya Pitaka",
" Dhammapada", and Theri Gatha". The type of economic
system, which the Buddha proposed, was one where the individuals
needs would be provided but there would be no overemphasis on the purely
material aspects of life. Ones material needs, would be essentially
what one need to make one live happily and for ones physical sustenance.
Buddhism advocates the judicious use of resources, the elimination of
waste, and the most productive use of resources. In the suttas mentioned
above, the Buddhas advice to laypersons was to develop both their
material and spiritual welfare by fruitful use of natures resources.
Cooperative spirit among people, a simple way of life based on a simple
technology, a non-violent and gentle attitude towards nature, and all
living beings are essential components of the Buddhist approach to development.
Such a form of global development is bound to dismantle and eliminate
those conditions, which have nurtured and perpetuated the global problems
and related human dilemma of contemporary times.
A BROADER SELF
Life in the modern day urbanized world is made complex by the multitude
of distractions, competition to get ahead in life, and the need to adjust
to rapidly changing circumstances and environment. The system promotes
individuality and ego-boosting as opposed to companionship and a collaborative
spirit among people. Selfishness and exclusiveness of individuals is
so strong that close companionship has hardly any room to develop. The
my and your feelings are nurtured in a strong
In traditional Buddhist communities, the idea of self prevails, but
it is different. The development of this self is influenced
by the norms of living in that community. Its way of thinking, interacting
and lifestyles are different. These are characterized by a high degree
of restraint and simplicity. Relationships and attitudes towards members
of the community and to the natural surroundings are more accommodating
and less competitive. There are far greater and closer human interactions
leading to more companionship. There are more opportunities for direct
and closer interactions with nature and to be conversant with the diverse
environmental processes of the locality, and therefore to live in harmony
with nature. The attachments that one develops towards others and ones
local environment gives one strength and confidence and a greater degree
of inner peace and capacity for self discovery to be happy with life
and also to have a strong sense of self to experience solitude in a
Opportunities for solitude are necessary for inner growth. Traditional
community life and the rural environmental setting provided ample opportunities
for individuals to find solitude and to find creative benefits of being
alone. Modern science has established that if the brain is to function
at its best and individuals are to reach their highest creative potential,
they need to develop some capacity for solitude. Rural communities living
with less distractions and closer to nature have many opportunities
of being alone in nature which offers them most rewarding experiences.
In small Buddhist communities in rural Sri Lanka we still see very strong
communities where bonding and inter-relationships are very important.
If people have their upbringing close to nature, they will be close
to the source of great happiness.
People develop a broader self under these conditions. It
is also a deeper self. Ego and associated Selfishness
is not strong in this self. For most people, seIf is often
identified with or seeing something of themselves in others. This self
is joyful when others around are happy, and sorrowful when others are
sorrowful. Their feelings are somehow adapted to the others with whom
they identify with. For example, you identify yourself with the other.
This starts with your family members. You have identification with your
son or daughter or family members to such an extent that you help them
as you would help yourself. This identification can extend wider than
your family: for example, to your friends, your neighbors and your country.
It can extend to the whole of humanity. It does not stop there either.
You can identify yourself with pets, with other animals, with plants
and other natural elements. Through identification with others you find
self-realization. The term includes personal and community self-realization.
According to Buddhist philosophy the self does not have absolute boundaries.
We are not separate or disconnected entities. Everything in the universe
exists in relationship. Everything has a living, flowing connection
with everything else. Of course, that does not mean that there is no
self in a relative sense. Buddhism is not a nihilistic philosophy. It
emphasizes the inter-relatedness of everything. We are not isolated
Many Western philosophers have thought of non-Western cultures as lacking
a sense of individualism which they think is necessary for progress
and higher consciousness. But Buddhist societies have developed a very
high level of consciousness and yet they have retained a deep sense
of community and connectedness, which has helped them to be fulfilled
THE DISRUPTIVE COLONIAL PERIOD
With the intrusion and expansion of plantation agriculture in the country
from about the nineteenth century and thereafter, and the ill-advised
development policies of various post-independence era governments
during the past five and half decades, the stable agricultural livelihood
of the people, founded on the Buddhist way of life was disrupted to
a great extent.
The social and environmental consequences of the transformation of the
country into an export-import based, outer-oriented commercialized economic
system were drastic. With the introduction of so-called modern technologies
and social institutions to facilitate this commercialized economy, what
suffered most was the close interrelationship and integration that prevailed
between the indigenous people, their livelihood activities and their
environment. In other words, it led to a sharp disintegration and fundamental
separation and between people, as well as between people and the living
During the colonial period of occupation and large scale exploitation
of the countrys resources, the impact of Western ways of life
and Christian norms became rampant, and was spreading to interior rural
areas. With the export-import based monoculture, urban areas assumed
importance, job opportunities were centralized in these places, and
so was political power. This intensified the economic pull of urban
areas. Farmers were pushed off their land and the urban influx began
to increase. Rural life was beginning to collapse and people who once
relied on nearby resources became tied to the export market and related
economy. The gap between the rich and poor widened and anger, resentment
and conflict increased. In this process, our people lost something essential
their self-sustaining society.
With the establishment of the foreign imposed export-import economic
system with its associated urbanization and centralization, daily lives
of the people began to depend more on a human created world characterized
by its associated complex of systems such as transportation, energy,
western education and medical services, to name a few.
In the conglomeration of operations of these varied systems, it became
increasingly difficult to know the effects of peoples actions
on nature or on other people. Overlooking the negative impacts of disturbing
the inherent interrelationship that exists between humans and their
environment, these new or modern tendencies associated with
large-scale commercial plantation monoculture, were based on the wrong
premise that humans are able to control the natural world.
DEMORALIZING URBAN INFLUENCE
People from different ethnic and social backgrounds were pulled to Colombo
and other urban areas, where they were cut off from their communities
and cultural settings. They faced ruthless competition for jobs and
basic necessities of life. Individual and cultural self-esteem were
eroded by the pressure to live up to media and advertising stereotypes,
whose images are based on an urban, western, English speaking consumer
model, alien to the stable indigenous lifestyle. The villager or farmer
was soon made to feel primitive the gamaya or godaya,
backward, and inferior. Hostility among young people in particular became
strong owing to the intensely demoralizing and competitive situation
they were compelled to face. Differences of any kind become increasingly
significant and ethnic and racial violence is the all but inevitable
Historically, the erosion of cultural integrity was a conscious goal
of colonial developers. With political independence, the system of government
and economic system thrust upon our people, along with the alien political
party concept resulted in further divisiveness and animosity among people.
In recent years, this trend was further accentuated by economic globalization
and its socio-economic and religious ramifications in the country.
IMPACT OF THE DIVIDE AND RULE POLICY
Prior to the arrival of European colonialists the Sinhela Buddhist majority
and the minorities who made the country their home, lived together for
centuries without conflict. European introduced Christianity led to
serious divisions within the Sinhela community. The divide and rule
policy of the British with preferential treatment accorded to the minority
Tamil community and Christians, led to divisive feelings and polarization
of the Sinhela-Tamil and the Buddhist- Christian peoples. With independence,
the well-established, Western educated and economically well-off Tamil
and Christian elite began to feel the erosion of their power, influence
and identity. They felt threatened in the absence of the preferential
treatment that they enjoyed under the British. This was the beginning
of ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka.
CONTRARY TO BUDDHIST PRINCIPLES
The new structures and institutions on which people were made to depend
upon were often not in-keeping with Buddhist principles which formed
the basis of life of the indigenous people. They were a denial of the
interdependence and impermanence taught in Buddhism. They were reflections
of ignorance and greed. They were not promoting a way of life that is
consistent with Buddhist economics but based on a narrow perspective
on human needs and motivations.
Concerned primarily on monetary transactions and largely overlooking
such non-material aspects of life such as family and community, meaningful
work, or spiritual values, the focus of this so-called modern system
of social relations was based on the belief that people are motivated
primarily by self-interest and endless material and worldly desires.
This is in total contradiction to Buddhist principles and values known
to our people.
Greed was nurtured by the consumer culture that was introduced by the
foreigner. Profit motive, competition, self interests, individualism
and material values generated by this foreign culture resulted in increased
social problems and cultural degeneration. The privileged urban and
underprivileged rural lifestyle differences became marked.
The complexities that this economy created led to disconnected society
with psychological deprivation and environmental breakdown. The first
signs of disintegration of the integration that existed between people
and their local environment and the cooperative spirit that existed
in rural communities were evident during the colonial period.
PLIGHT OF THE ORDINARY PEOPLE
From the time our country was occupied by European colonial powers,
the development models that were applied in our country were focused
on serving the interests of the foreigner and local interests. This
approach continued even after the country attained the so-called political
independence. The countrys leadership and our development planners
continued with the outer-oriented foreign approaches to development,
the latest being the globalization process which began emerging in late
1970s. These foreign approaches have failed to bring about improvement
to living conditions of the large mass of indigenous people, mainly
Buddhists. Instead, they have led to untold problems and misery to them.
The large mass of the Sinhela Buddhist people in particular, suffer
owing to the lack of basic necessities in life, including safety and
security. They are forced to function in a socio-political system marked
by the lack of virtue and moral character, being corrupt, selfish and
small minded. The countrys resources and environment are being
misused, mismanaged and indiscriminately exploited and are in a state
of depletion and degradation. The glorious cultural heritage of the
nation is being destroyed. Its traditional long-standing social institutions
are being undermined and treated with disrespect. Children and youth
are being corrupted and misled by superficial and unwholesome aspects
of foreign cultures and blind beliefs. Human relationships are strained
to an extent never seen in our country in the past.
We have lived through and experimented for too long with western and
irrelevant systems which have clearly failed to improve the quality
of life of the overwhelming majority of our people. Blind adoption of
foreign and culturally incompatible systems, has led to the total disarray
of our governance, ethnic relations, religious tolerance, economic system,
social values and cohesion. It is time that the indigenous people of
the country realized that actions and influences of the so-called developed
world that have created most of the problems faced by our people, most
importantly, the widespread poverty and cultural degeneration to which
the country is subject.
ILLS OF GLOBALIZATION
What is clearly evident in our country is that globalization virtually
tears people apart from their own ecosystem and their own resources.
It has directed and deviated most of our people into an urban lifestyle
far removed from their own resources and culture. The global monoculture
is a dealer in illusions: while promising a glittering, wealthy lifestyle
it can never provide for the majority, it is destroying the sustainable
ways of living that traditions and local economies provided. For what
it destroys, it provides no replacement but a fractured, isolated, competitive
and unhappy society.
A good part of people in our country, especially the indigenous Buddhists
live below poverty-line with its concomitant hunger, malnutrition, disease,
ignorance, unemployment, economic uncertainty, cultural disintegration,
crime, violence and political conflicts. To make matters worse, there
is a steady depletion and degradation of their environment and the natural
resources forming the basis of survival for most of these people.
Rapid urbanization as it is happening today in our country is destructive.
The psychological, social and environmental costs of this type of urbanization
and development are cruel and frightening. It cannot be sustained, neither
can the biological systems. Inherent in this process is the destruction
of biological diversity. Species are literally disappearing. We cannot
live without that biodiversity. It's not so much a question of preference
as of survival. It in actual fact, robs people of self-esteem.
Under globalization, the destruction of cultural integrity is far more
subtle than before. The computer and telecommunications revolutions
have helped to speed up and strengthen the forces behind the march of
a global monoculture, which is now able to disrupt traditional cultures
with a shocking speed and finality which surpasses anything the world
has witnessed before. Mass media and advertising agents are being used
effectively to play upon human weaknesses such as the innate greed for
sensual pleasures and social prestige, in order to convince people of
the virtues of increasing consumption. Extreme forms of social problems
have been the outcome of these modern trends.
SPREAD OF WESTERN CONSUMER CONFORMITY
In the past three decades, in both urban and most rural areas of Sri
Lanka, western consumer conformity has been descending on a massive
scale. This so called development involves tourism, western
films and products and television to the remotest parts of the country.
All provide overwhelming images of luxury and power. Action films and
advertisements give the impression that everyone in the West is rich,
beautiful and brave, and leads a life filled with excitement and glamour.
Advertisers continue to propagate the illusion that the use of westernized
fashion accessories, fast food and adoption of western lifestyles are
reflective of an advanced culture and quality of life. It is common
knowledge that in our country, people are induced to meet their needs
not through their community or local economy, but by trying to buy
in to the global market. People are made to believe that, everything
imported is good and local things are crap.
With passage to time, advertising and media images exerted powerful
psychological pressure to seek a more westernized life one based
on increased consumption. Since jobs are scarce overseas employment
became popular. This led to further erosion of family and cultural values.
Despite the disastrous consequences, it has been the policy of every
government to promote these trends through the support for globalization.
In our motherland, the breaking up of local cultural, economic and political
ties isolates people from their locality and from each other. Life speeds
up and mobility increases making even familial relationships
more superficial and brief. At the same time, competition for scarce
jobs and for political representation within the new centralized structures
increasingly divides people.
Ethnic and religious differences have begun to take on a political dimension,
causing bitterness and enmity on a scale hitherto unknown. With a desperate
irony, this globalization monoculture instead of bringing people together
- creates divisions that previously did not exist. As the fabric of
local interdependence frays, so do traditional levels of tolerance and
cooperation. Disputes and acrimony within previously close-knit communities,
and even within families, are increasing. The rise in this kind of new
rivalry is one of the most painful divisions that are seen in rural
NEED FOR OVERALL TRANSFORMATION
When we adopt a Buddhist perspective on the problems of our country
today, we see that something is fundamentally wrong with the way we
lead our lives. The transformations we need have to be more than merely
personal. It must embrace aspects of our existence - the internal and
external, the personal and social. Both of these are inseparably intertwined
and mutually conditioning. Our values reflect our social and economic
realities, while our social and economic realities are shaped by our
values. Thus, while it is in our personal lives that we have the greatest
power to instigate direct change, any alterations in our personal lifestyles
must also reach outwards and exercise an impact on our interpersonal
relations, our social order, our political agenda, and our relationship
to the natural environment. There has to be a far-reaching change in
our collective views, attitudes and lifestyles.
IGNORANCE AND DELUSION
The social order brought about by globalization is founded upon ignorance
("avijja) and delusion ("moha"), namely the supposition
that material wealth and consumption are the criteria of good life.
According to the Buddhist texts, when ignorance infiltrates our cognitive
systems, it issues in a series of distortions (vipallasa),
which infect our perception (sanna), thinking (citta)
and views (ditthi). The Buddha mentions four such distortions
the notions that the insubstantial is a self, and that the unbeautiful
is beautiful. At the most basic impermanent is permanent, that the painful
or suffering is pleasant, that the level, we perceive things in terms
of these distortions. When these distorted perceptions are taken up
by the thought, we start thinking in terms of them. Finally, under the
combined influence of distorted perception and thought, we accept views,
beliefs, doctrines, and ideologies that affirm the mistaken notions
of permanence, pleasure, selfhood and beauty.
In modern commercial culture, these distortions or conceptual manifestations
of ignorance dominate the thinking, attitudes, principles and policy
of both producers and consumers alike. The illusions of permanence,
pleasure, self, and beauty are sustained by the images that have become
such an intimate part of our lives.
MANIPULATION OF HUMAN DESIRES
The inevitable outcome is the exaltation of craving and greed as the
fuel of social and economic activity. Production is geared towards the
enhancement of commercial profit which means that human desires must
be subtly manipulated and expanded in a bid to enhance profits. As a
consequence the elementary need for material sustenance, for the basic
necessities of life, becomes blown up in an insatiable urge for status,
power, and luxury.
The masters of commerce strive to create in people a perpetual sense
of discontent, to induce feelings of inadequacy, to stir up the need
to purchase more. As a result, envy and resentment replace contentment
and satisfaction. For the corporate based economy to flourish there
must never be enough but always a thirst for more, for the bigger, faster,
and better, for novelty and variety. In a newly affluent society, perhaps
the segment of the society most vulnerable to the tactics of commercial
advertising is the youth. The promoters of consumerism know this very
well. They know how to capitalize on the tender psychological needs
of the young, for example their rebelliousness and audacity, their compulsions
and anxieties, and on this basis, they attempt to create a specific
culture of youth in which prestige and prominence are attached to the
appropriate commodities that are produced. They know how to control
fashions and styles to make acquisition of replacements a recurring
In summary, the glorification of the profit motive gives rise to a social
order in which the underlying springs of social activity are the twin
defilements of ignorance and craving. The experts, who defend this system,
the advocates of free trade and globalization, tell us that the unrestrained
functioning of the economy is the precondition for general human happiness.
What the Buddha teaches is just the opposite. In a society governed
by ignorance and craving, in which greed, reckless growth and consumption
are the spurs to mass scale human activity, the inevitable outcome has
to be suffering and conflict. In the formula of the Four Noble Truths,
we find this expressed in psychological terms craving is the origin
of suffering. In the " Mahanidana Sutta", the Buddha
has made the same point with specific references to the breakdown of
social cohesion From craving comes the search for profit, from
seeking comes the gain of profit, from gain comes discrimination, thence
come desire and lust, thence attachment, thence possessiveness, thence
selfishness, thence hoarding, and from hoarding comes many evil, unwholesome
things such as crime, quarrels, conflicts, disputes, recrimination,
slander, and falsehood.
DEVALUATION OF THE INDIVIDUAL
The ultimate effect of corporate culture is to reduce the person to
a mere consumer whose whole being centers on the intensity and variety
of private experience. In subtle ways, this operates below the threshold
of perception. The consumerist conception of the good life cuts away
at the bonds of community that unite the members of a social order into
a unified whole. By appealing to those values that inflame egotism and
self-interest, it replaces social cohesion with a social atomism that
locks each individual into a self-enclosed world of ones private
concerns. Each person is obsessed with maximizing his or her own status,
wealth, position and power or the outward signs of material success.
If one is puzzled why social discipline and responsibility have become
so rare today, reflection of the above should provide the answer.
Greed, hatred, and delusion lead to inner disharmony and social conflict.
Greed is a state of lack, need, and wants and always seeks fulfillment.
Hatred in all its degrees is also a state of dissatisfaction often associated
with frustrated desires and wounded pride. Delusion, taking the form
of ignorance, is a state of confusion, bewilderment and helplessness.
Both greed and hatred are closely linked with delusion. The coarsest
forms of these three unwholesome defilement have to be abandoned through
sila (virtue), while in the advanced stages the aid of samadhi
(meditation) and panna (wisdom) have to be applied. Any
philosophy, or way of life, which establishes the ego as the focus of
motivation and activity will inevitably perpetuate all those factors
of conflict, ill-will, hatred, greed, and exploitation, which causes
the human race continuous unnecessary suffering. According to Buddhism,
the excessive domination of the personality by greed of any kind is
detrimental to the development of a healthy society.
Economic development must be placed against the wider background of
the need to develop a well-rounded personality, and a happy human being.
In the "Mangala Sutta" and the "Sigalovada Sutta",
the Buddha has said that the happiness of the average person depends
on their economic security, the enjoyment of wealth, freedom from debt,
and a blameless moral and spiritual life. In a number on contexts, the
economic factor is linked to a wider relationship to the dhamma.
Schumacher outlines most convincingly, a Buddhist Economics
which has much relevance to the modern world (Schumacher, E.F. (1973),
Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered.
Blond and Briggs.) He proposes production based on a middle-ranged technology,
yielding on the one hand an adequate range of material goods, and on
the other, a harmony with the natural environment and its resources.
LACK OF CONNECTION WITH OTHERS
In today's mass society, young people are growing up fearful of expanding
their deeper and broader selves. The tragedy of the modern age is that
in the name of individualism, what's being promoted is, in fact, a mass
culture where people are fearful of developing their unique characteristics.
The insecurity that many children now feel is due to a lack of connection
with other people. This generates an emotional insecurity and a fear
of being themselves.
Before the intrusion of globalization, in the small rural Buddhist communities
that we talked about before, people are really in charge of their lives,
responsible for their own natural resources and not at the mercy of
urban or further-removed elite. They feel secure, peaceful and free.
With the spread of the globalization process, progressively, rural communities
have been marginalized. People may be living rurally, may know each
other and have these internalized relationships, but because they have
been made to feel insecure, they lose power and self-respect. Individuals
become intolerant and out of that intolerance grows a rejection of your
own self- realization and that of others.
What we can do is to sabotage this globalization structure individually
and locally and try to establish local communities that are more or
less independent. We must protect what is left of local culture against
the onslaught which is there all the time. Our development process needs
to be a transition to a more locally-based culture.
PROTECTING INDIGENOUS CULTURAL INHERITANCE
We should not let our wholesome Buddhist cultural inheritance be undermined
and eroded away by economic, social and cultural trends that are incompatible
with our enviable social values that took some 2300 years to develop
and form the basis of life of our nation. We are duty-bound to work
towards transforming and changing whatever harmful trends evident in
The painful and disastrous effects of the three mental poisons
hatred, greed and delusion that are fast overtaking our nation have
to be controlled and managed for the welfare of our nation. Private
spirituality and morality alone cannot address and contain overall suffering
or dukkha of our people. Suffering and its relief have a
social dimension that has to be addressed in an organized manner. Merely
feeling sorry for those who suffer or meditatively channeling compassion
to them and performing intercessory rituals on their behalf are of little
value today. We need to find more direct and tangible ways to serve
the suffering and to relieve their misery. We need to institutionalize
our efforts and attempt vigorously to find out the institutional and
political ramifications of ignorance and attachment the Second
Noble Truth in Buddhism that is on collective greed, hatred and
delusion, and on new organizational strategies for addressing social
evils such as injustice, war, poverty, exploitation, intolerance, and
to venture into prospects for outer and inner peace in our nation. The
approach involves engaging in the lives of others through compassion,
sacrifice and service.
SOCIALLY ENGAGED BUDDHISM
Buddhism has always been engaged in various socio-political contexts.
The idea of interdependence is widely associated with Buddhism. Buddhism
is the religion of Human Ecology. Engaging in the lives of others through
compassion, sacrifice and service is the worthy spiritual path that
we need to observe in the contemporary world. We need to expand our
approach or shift somewhat away from those traditional customs that
excessively promote monasticism and individual salvation, and become
more socially engaged and be more concerned about service to the community,
the human habitat and the environment in general. We need to broaden
our spiritual practices to include both family and community and the
social and environmental concerns of the broader world. We need to approach
meditation not as a way of escaping from society or getting out of society,
but to prepare us for a re-entry into society so that we will be better
able to identify and understand social hardships, misery and perils,
and be able to do something tangible to relieve them. It is time that
we as Buddhists involve ourselves in an organized manner, become socially
engaged and apply Buddhism to matters of everyday life, individual work,
family, politics and the community. It needs to be a direct application
of Buddhist principles and concepts to social and political issues and
The development path of our country need to be built from the grassroots,
based on its Buddhist cultural foundation. It should involve the development
of strong local economies in which producer-consumer links are shortened
and cultural values are respected and peaceful coexistence in harmony
with the environment and all diverse people are assured. Moving in this
direction appears to be the appropriate way to solve the whole range
of serious social, economic and environmental problems faced by the
country today. Ultimately, we are talking about a spiritual awakening
that comes from making a connection to others and to nature. This requires
us to see the world within us, to experience more consciously the great
interdependent web of life, of which we ourselves are among the strands.