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November 27, 2004

Application of Gandhian and Buddhist Principles of Non-Violence to Combat Fanaticism


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

Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement for the People in Need.