Full Title: *Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement: Towards a Global Perspective from a Rural Experience*
_Talk delivered at the International Conference on Sarvodaya and World Development held at Damsak Mandira, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka – April 1978_
‘What I am trying to stress is that in this highly evolved state of a living being called ‘human’, there is a potential to free the mind from narrow barriers of family, race, colour, religion, national borders and fragmented ideologies. But although it may be easy to think in terms of the one-ness of humanity, it is very difficult to transform this thought into an egalitarian socio-economic world system where world resources are shared in such a manner that nobody is left in want of basic human needs’
Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is now in its Twenty First year. As a person who was deeply involved with the Movement from its inception, or may be even before that when the whole concept was only germinating in our minds, it is extremely difficult to look back dispassionately and see how a village-based experience gradually took shape, developing itself into a Movement worthy of discussion by an eminent international group like you who are present here. It is even more difficult to project this experience into the future and formulate hypothesis, such as how for example, the basic tenets of Sarvodaya would stand up to the test of a fast industrializing world where even the literal meaning of words that denote spiritual and cultural experiences have become unintelligible to most people, or how the Movement can bridge an ever-widening psychological and intellectual gap between a minority of post-industrial communities and a vast majority of more or less below subsistence level communities in our world. When one thinks of the myriads of social theories political ideologies, economic alternatives and cultural diversities, the problem of placing Sarvodaya in a pragmatic perspective becomes still more difficult. So my contribution to our deliberations on this important subject of ‘Sarvodaya and World Development’ had to be made within these limitations.
Let me first deal with some conceptional elements of the subject of Sarvodaya as developed by us in Sri Lanka. We aimed at the achievement of four objectives. Firstly, that every individual participating as a subject or object in the Sarvodaya Movement should benefit by being positively influenced to strive to awaken his or her own personality to the fullest.
Secondly, a process of group awakening in as many places as possible in our country whether they are at family level, village level, institutional level or city level should take place. Thirdly, the impact of the awakening processes of the individuals and groups should find concrete form at national levels so that a process of thinking in terms of the well-being of the whole world could be liberated among the people in general. Fourthly, these forces should generate forms of thinking and action processes at the world level. These objectives we named Purna Paurushodaya, Gramodaya, Deshodaya and Vishvodaya respectively.
These four objectives do not develop separately, though superficially it may appear that there is a great distance created by time and space in integrating them into one total process. In actual fact each of the four objectives has a direct relevance to the achievement of the three other objectives. For example a Sarvodaya worker made to think and act in terms of the well-being of all is at the same time a person promoting not only Paurushodaya, that is his own personality awakening, but also Gramodaya Village or Group Awakening, Deshodaya – National Awakening and Vishvodaya – World Awakening. The advancement of communication systems in the modern world is such that two individuals embracing this thought on opposite sides of our planet cannot but come to know each other in spite of man made ideological barriers. This is exactly what was taking place today at this meeting where we too who did not know one another two decades ago, have come together at a common forum. But if we look back into our own lives all of us, long before we came to know Sarvodaya or any other universal welfare movement, we have had the germ of oneness of humanity in our minds for a long, long time. What Sarvodaya offered us was only an opportunity for that thought that was germinating in our minds to take a concrete form of meaningful action. What I am trying to stress is in that highly evolved state of a living being called ‘human’, there is a potential to free the mind from narrow barriers of family, race, colour, religion, national borders and fragmented ideologies. But although it may be easy to think in terms of the oneness of humanity, it is very difficult to transform this thought into an egalitarian socio-economic world system where world resources are shared in such a manner that nobody is left in want of basic human needs. The hope for the world lies not in building a rationale which is purely materialistic but in finding a middle way where both material and mental factors are given equal weight and in this there is a possibility of narrowing the gap – both material and psychological – between the people of the world.
When in remote villages of Sri Lanka people get together for a family gathering they spend a few minutes in silent meditation. The central core of this meditation is a striving for the realisation of the oneness of all lives. This is in contradiction to the psychological tendency that is generally found in commercial civilizations where self-assertion is upper-most in the minds of those who are influenced by them. Is this attitude of self-denial practised in Sarvodaya villages a deterrent to self-development, socially and economically, or can it be developed in such a way that this same attitude could be a positive factor in bringing about group self-development without the evils of competitive materialism which has brought about so much unhappiness in the industrial societies of the world?
It is proven beyond doubt that the world resources are not sufficient to give every family in the world a standard of living comparable to an average family living in a rich country. So the question is whether the standards accepted as necessary by the rich societies are compatible with what poorer societies may consider as necessary standards for total fulfillment of life. Anyway what is total fulfillment? Is it only the accumulation and utilization of a never ending list of material objects, the search for immediate gratification of wants and desires, or is there something more to life than all this gadgetry produced by a commercial civilization? It is in this context that in the Buddhist philosophy, personality awakening of an individual is consummated in the final attainment of Arahanthood which is an unconditioned state of being which will not cause the arising of craving that brings about birth, decay and death. Socioeconomic and spirituo-cultural needs have to be met only with a view to finally attaining the goal of deathlessness.
In a non – Buddhistic culture can we find a similar motivational force which can liberate the human being from the forces of materialism? This is a question to which those societies have to find an answer sooner or later.
All standards on every issue affecting human welfare and progress have been laid down by the dominant materialistic cultures – be it the individualistic variety of the capitalist societies or the collective variety of the socialist societies. The effective force that gives them power to set standards on the rest of the peoples of the world is the supremacy that they have achieved by mastering the science of controlling matter and the art of controlling the mind. The tragedy is that the human being is no longer the master of these sciences and arts, but a sad victim of their self-perpetuating structures and organisations. The polarization between rich countries and poor countries, or between rich societies and poor societies within the same countries, is primarily a crisis of the human mind itself, which is subjected to a hopeless enslavement to the same structures.
The ineffective results achieved by UNCTAD so far are a pointer to this fact. However, good the intentions, man’s propositions can be thwarted by the god of materialistic dominance, The equalization of the riches of the world among the entire human family will always remain a dream unless a re-awakening of the inner man, irrespective of the society to which he belongs, takes place. While violent and non-violent attempts at structural re-arrangements in the societies of the world will continue to be tried out by various groups, in my opinion, there is a crying need in the unexplored field of directly reaching the individual and the small group, which Sarvodaya should venture into.
This should not hastily take us into the other extreme of spirituo-cultural liberation, out of context with socioeconomic realities. Strategies have to be discovered and tried out to find how both elements could be integrated into a silent revolution motivated by great compassion towards all life-man, beast and plant.
It may appear that it is a hopeless task and a wasteful effort to appeal, in our complex societies, directly to the individuals and small groups but Sarvodaya experience during the last ten years has demonstrated that a consistent effort on our part to liberate ourselves from our greed, hatred and ignorance through a social action programme whose usefulness goes beyond self-interest can generate a hopeful force in the right direction. Further we have to have the conviction that all societies rich or poor have become in the modern context of the world, fertile ground for a liberating force of this nature.
We have no general prescription to give to other societies of which we have hardly an experience or insight. On the other hand the communities with which we do have personal involvement have responded to such an approach. Does this mean that we are on the verge of a major breakthrough into a new strategy in world development, by – passing the super-structures over which no single human being has control today? Does this bring us back to the Buddhist teaching ‘What is the use of conquering the whole world if one cannot conquer oneself? Can the Sarvodaya Movement be a loose collection of individuals and small groups who are not conquerors of the world but conquerors of self?
We are not alone in this new way of thinking. It has become a fashion in the world today to talk in terms of human-being- centered development. The target of development should be the human being. All development efforts would be man centered. All development should have people’s participation at all levels. Development should relate itself to cultural and spiritual values. Techniques adopted should be appropriate to the particular situations. Development should take place from the grass-roots up and not vice versa This is the form of responsible language that is being spoken by planners and development thinkers all over the world today. But this latest development vocabulary will remain only the self- satisfying jargon of distant technocrats unless a deeper spirituo-cultural and socio-economic meaning is given to them.
Dr. James P. Grant’s team at the Overseas Development Council in Washington has developed what is now popularly known as PQLI-Physical Quality of Life Index. This is a step in the right direction but we cannot stop with that. We should develop an index to measure spirituo-cultural quality of life as well.
The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka has geared its entire programme towards the identification and satisfaction of Ten Basic Human Needs of the Communities who have embraced its philosophy. This is a direct attempt to evolve such a total concept, programme and measuring process.
The Ten Basic Human Needs envisaged by Sarvodaya are:
# A clean and beautiful environment including a psychological infrastructure.
# A safe and adequate supply of water.
# Basic requirements of clothing.
# A regular balanced diet.
# A simple abode.
# Basic Health Care Services.
# Transport and Communication facilities.
# Continuing education for all, and
# Cultural and spiritual development.
These Ten Basic Human Needs have been sub-divided into 165 sub-needs. Five processes to understanding the problem by the people themselves, fourteen forms of organisational structures at the base, twelve forms of physical infrastructures and sixteen forms of collective action programmes to satisfy these basic needs make the total picture of the Sarvodaya action at the grassroots.
In this list, the traditional economist and the planner claiming modernity will surely miss two important aspects that keep them occupied. These are employment and income. They will also be surprised that education not only embraces a total life process but a whole cycle of lives-births and deaths -finally aiming at a state of deathlessness or non-birth. In the tenth Basic Human Need in the list we have the spiritual and cultural needs of life mentioned. Is it possible for the socio-metric sciences and econo-metric sciences to help us by giving us an instrument to measure these as an integral part of the total development process? Or on the other hand is it possible to develop a culture – metric and spiritual measure of economic and social needs? We have gone so far into the development of impersonal and objective physical measurements of the quality of life. Can we now explore the field of spiritual and cultural qualities of life with the same impersonality and objectivity? If we cannot develop such a measure then we are left with no alternative but to ‘turn the search light inwards’ as stated by His Excellency J.R. Jayewardene when he bade good-bye to the National State Assembly to assume the first elected Presidentship with executive power of the Republic of Sri Lanka.
If physical and Social Sciences cannot accept this challenge or in the alternative organised religion and culture also cannot accept this challenge then I would say they have outlived their usefulness in the context of the vast majority of people in this world.
Sarvodaya workers will always stress the process of ‘Total Reawakening’ which is the final objective of the direct approach they are making to satisfy the basic human needs. There is no giver or receiver. All are sharers. The satisfaction of the physical need of one would be a satisfaction of a spiritual need of another. This enables us to liberate ourselves from the craze for complexities and revert to simplicities which are closer to the joy of real living.
Let me throw a little more light on this issue. In the middle path doctrine of Lord Buddha, both Right Livelihood and Right Concentration are integral parts of the noble Eight-fold Path. Here there is a continuity between the realities of existing state of life and the highest states one can strive for both physically and mentally. In the Maha Mangala Suthra, Environmental factor, Karmic Hereditary factor and the Self-mastering Mind factor are mentioned as three auspicious factors that go into the making of a total awakening personality. In Vyaggapajja Suthra efficiency in production, protective measures for what is produced, social environment in which production takes place and balanced consumption patterns are mentioned as essential components of a good economic system. Therefore, in spiritual teachings essential socio-economic factors are always embodied. Why is it not possible for the economic and social sciences also to have a spiritual essence in their theories and practices?
The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka is not a fountain source from which development wisdom flows in all directions. On the other hand it is one of those springs in human society that has sprung up from a deep-rooted culture. All societies have these refreshing fountains. We have to motivate and inspire people of those cultures to look for those fountains rather than attempt to lay inter-continental pipe lines to take the holy water from here. We have no such arrogance as exporters of cultures or ways of living. But we certainly can share to the benefit of all of us that innate goodness which we all possess from wherever we come. Sarvodaya strongly believes that one day all these springs in all parts of the world will flow themselves into one single ocean which would have unidentifiably mixed waters of human wisdom and compassion.
Now let me very briefly re-capitulate two decades of our experiences from the village to the world.
We started with one village. Then we tried to respond to calls from several other villages. The idea of extension came to our minds almost involuntarily. We extended our work to a hundred villages and the famous Hundred Village Development Scheme of the late nineteen sixties became our key expression. We were very clever at infrastructure building. We succeeded in psychological infrastructural work such as unifying the minds and hearts of people and physical infrastructural work such as linking a village to a city by a ten mile motorable road. We did not stop with that. Still further we expanded to a 1,000 villages and today we have gone beyond 2,000 villages which have received the Sarvodaya message and experienced at least one of our basic activities.
This of course is not a mean achievement. Many friends of Sarvodaya who were genuinely interested in us cautioned us against this expansion. We remained a popular Movement, but we realized at the beginning of the second decade itself, the conceptual contradiction we were developing by the extension approach we were voluntarily following.
Promptly we corrected ourselves. What was necessary was not extension but awakening. There is a potential in individuals and groups to grasp the practical programmes we were advocating to translate the four ‘Brahma Viharas’ (Metta, Karuna Mudita and Upekka) to personality awakening action and four ‘Sathara Sangraha Vasthus’ (Dana, Priya-vachana, Artha-charya and Samanathmatha) to awaken the group. In societies like ours where centuries of foreign domination prevailed we could not help being looked upon by the poorest of the poor with whom we were working as a new form of elite or liberator. Naturally they had to identify a leadership and rush to them not only for inspiration and guidance but also material support. We had to be realistic on one hand but on the other hand to fight within ourselves all the time against the human tendency of falling a prey to our own self-importance. Some of us fall by the wayside when we do not possess enough spiritual energy to retain our humility in spite of recognition we are receiving. Our affinity to the philosophy and principles of the Movement as well as our usefulness to the Movement is inversely proportional to the self-importance we develop within ourselves while helping the Movement to grow. This danger will always be there, haunting everyone of us who are dedicated Sarvodaya workers.
The subject of leadership has to be dealt with very delicately. This is one of those subjects where generalizations have to be attempted very carefully. Leadership is not an end in itself. It is a response to a real need demanded by a particular environment at a particular point of time. Whether the leadership should be of a person or a group of persons or whether the leadership is necessary at all, will be determined by a variety of factors including time and environment. It is extremely difficult for the followers to set down criteria for leaders wherever a leadership is present. In the same way from a successful leadership more than the leader himself it is the following that reap the benefit. On the other hand in case of wrong leadership it is the leadership that suffers most and not the following if his leadership fails. That is why in Buddha’s philosophy a leader was always idealized as one following ten codes of conduct leading to supreme perfection called the state of Buddhahood.
In the Sarvodaya Movement the leadership would not claim that they are following the Bodhisatva* ideal. But at the same time it should be mentioned that certainly that ideal is an inspirational source we have inherited from our culture.
The objective of Sarvodaya is to develop thousands of leaders working in harmony with one another in all parts of the country. That is why from childhood to the age of elders a variety of programmes have been developed for leaders to emerge inculcating a value system in them accepted by our society as righteous. The ultimate ideal of Sarvodaya being a self-governing family of villages with appropriate political and economic co-ordination among them based on non-exploitation and co-operation the emergence of such a leadership is a sine-qua-non.
In the group situation such as the village whether it is in Sri Lanka or in another country such as the Netherlands, Belgium or Canada, again this same deviation from our original principles can take place. Instead of individual self-importance, group self-importance can also breed. This will lead to disintegration of groups which have begun with great initial altruism. Disillusionment, frustration and factionalism can follow. As groups we have to guard against this tendency also at a group level.
For psychological reasons an individual or a group can take to Sarvodaya. There is no harm in it as long as the main stream of the workers are of a sound spiritual mind. On the other hand if the very essence of the Movement is lost by a predomination of psychological imbalances, then of course, the group has used tolerance to the point of annihilation of an essential social force. It is here that compassionate leadership has to exert itself even though democratic values and group leadership are most essential elements in any worthwhile social Movement. You may interpret these words as a reference to my own mental make-up. I do not mind risking that impression. As a human being I may undergo humiliation or oppression as long as it does not affect the Movement. But this spiritual quality I may have to compromise if such adverse phenomena affect the very existence of the Movement which I am convinced is doing so much for so many.
This is where careful decisions have to be made from a total mental perspective of patiently trying to understand the purity of the individual, the dynamism of the Movement and the organisational base from which the Movement gets its outer form as integrated factors of a total process.
I have said that it is a very patient and long journey we have to make from personality awakening to group awakening. You have to fight the deeds and not the doers, according to our ethical code. This is not an easy task. All those who dedicate themselves for Sarvodaya and play a significant role in a group have to decide for themselves how problems of a psychological and organisational nature have to be handled as the Movement grows without killing its dynamism and non-conformist nature.
Social infrastructure work is comparatively easy. One has to understand the general needs of the people, realize the specific needs, learn the art of group involvement and implement the programmes scientifically. Most of the critics of Sarvodaya excel in analysing and evaluating this training aspect of our programme. It is not difficult to make training programmes in leadership more effective than they are today and no doubt we have to do it. Doing this for one village or 100 villages is easy enough. But even if we build a model of 100 villages I do not believe it will in any way change our country’s situation, if in building models, our energy is totally absorbed exclusively in that process. On the other hand expediency demands that even at the risk of not attaining excellence in training it is of greater value to influence the whole society even at a minimal acceptable level. This was the type of situation that we faced during the last decade.
Let me elaborate a little more on this. The Sarvodaya Movement is not working in a social vacuum where no other forces are acting. We too operate our programmes in a highly politicized and complex social situation. For reasons of survival and to create a social climate our qualitative strength is supplemented by a quantitative force also. I confess that we have gambled with a strategy and that it is nothing but an attempt to meet a realistic situation.
The same factors could be mentioned when referring to the economic infrastructures we have been trying to build. Even in the international programmes like Village Links and Youth Exchange Programmes or even in trade these these same factors affected our thinking.
In spite of our apparent weaknesses and many failures we have succeeded in focussing the attention of the nation as a whole on what we have been struggling to do. We have exposed ourselves unreservedly and sometimes unashamedly to the nation and the world. All those who have no vested interests have come to accept our integrity and even others respect for our views.
We attempt to co-ordinate the activities going on in villages at an electoral level. This brings into our Movement a new dimension. Many enlightened political leaders and administrative leaders along with social leaders have been brought into a harmonious relationship with us for the greater good of the people whose well-being we commonly share. Our friends warn us of the dangers that may fall on the Movement by working closely with political leaders. This of course, will be determined by the moral strength which the Sarvodaya leadership can command by their own precept and example. A Movement dedicated to bring about a dual revolution, one within those who compose it, and the other in the society in which they live, will always have to face a dual risk.
Completion of two decades of a serious community awakening process deserves the Movement’s entry into the national re-awakening stage. Active participation in Sarvodaya programmes recently of political leaders, policy makers and administrators of development and welfare programmes of our country is a pointer to the bigger and bigger national role we have to play. The active participation of two Prime Ministers and the first elected Executive President of the Republic of Sri Lanka in important Sarvodaya events has further established the bona fides of the Movement in the minds of the people.
Sarvodaya does not consider that confrontation is the only path to progress. On the other hand conformity with the existing order is also not the Sarvodaya way. When some aspects of the established order conforms with the righteous principles of the Movement, the Movement co-operates with those aspects of the establishment. When it becomes unrighteous, in those areas of unrighteousness, the Movement has to confront them. In between these two extremes there is a vast area of activities pertaining to human well-being and social change which we should not forget. The wider this area of agreement, the greater can be the degree of co-operation of a non-violent Movement with government. If a people’s Movement because of its integrity and record of service and adherence to an acceptable code of ethics can command the respect of the government such a Movement can accelerate the non-violent social change considerably. Of course if the political leadership of the nation is wielding power for the sake of power then this area of co-operation becomes very narrow. At this moment both the President and the Prime Minister of our country were motivated by a deep spiritual understanding of the Movement when they publicly declared that, ‘the government which is trying to establish a righteous society by using political power and the Sarvodaya Movement which is also trying to establish a righteous society working directly with the people can march hand in hand in the service of humanity.’ Therefore, it is not an illusory relationship but a deeper spirituo-cultural relationship that can lead to a harmonious working relationship in times to come.
This has brought us to a point where we must re-assess our past programmes and develop future possibilities. But our aims and objectives of total awakening of man and society remain unchanged.
It is at this juncture that we are holding the first International Conference of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement. The contributions that will be made by our brothers and sisters who are present here will guide us a great deal in programming for our tasks ahead. The subject we are discussing is ‘Sarvodaya and World Development.’ We can talk about disarmament, trade policies, transfer of technology, re-distributing of world resources etc., etc., etc. At the end of such discussions and exchange of ideas and information we may come back to the same point from where we started. But on the other hand if we realise that the awakening of a man as a human being within a family, the awakening of the family in a village or urban group situation, the awakening of the village in a national situation, and the awakening of the nation in a world situation, can happen simultaneously, then our approach would be different in the sense that we are the masters of what we ourselves have decided to do. Now the question is what are we going to do? I pose this question to this enlightened fellow servants of humanity.