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January 12, 2006

Peace Dialogue: Community Leaders’ Gathering to Encourage Peace



Peace is an often-mentioned word in Sri Lanka, but something that has been elusive to the island in recent years. Since Sarvodaya’s inception five decades ago, it has strived to create a peaceful society in Sri Lanka. The nature of the organization’s developmental work has always been aimed at creating a society that values peace and friendship through broad human interrelationships. On 10th January 2006, Sarvodaya took yet another “first step” in what it hopes to be an extensive, far-reaching program to initiate peace not only in Sri Lanka, but around the world.


Sarvodaya believes that peace will never come if each person keeps to his side and fights. Instead it is only a large gathering of and conversation between all sides that will ensure peace in this country. The program entitled “Community Leaders’ Gathering to Initiate Peace in Sri Lanka” was organized to facilitate this.

The movement already has a major foundation towards this, which is based on broad people’s participation. In both 1978 and 1983, the movement gathered together community leaders who represented all sections of society. These participants engaged in intensive, lengthy discussions about peace and society and formed the “Declaration on Peace,” a document that gathered their ideas and suggestions on creating peace in Sri Lanka. In the next few years, Sarvodaya put these ideas into action.


However, the present-day situation demands that more such decisive action be taken towards peace. The movement realized that it was imperative that it hold discussions about this declaration again, take into consideration new ideas and new suggestions, rewrite the declaration accordingly, and put it into action. The program on 10th January was held towards this. Its objective was to revamp the declaration to face the challenges of today, initiate a dialogue, and recommit to a new journey for peace and development. The Executive Director of Sarvodaya, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, in his introduction to the program called it a gathering of “representatives of civil society and the business community and religious leaders who believe in solving problems through ahimsa.” Sarvodaya invited various community leaders in the country except for political leaders because it felt that it was important for nonpolitical leaders to take a larger role in bringing peace to Sri Lanka.


Dr. Deepak Chopra was chosen to present the keynote address of the gathering. Dr. Vinya said that Sarvodaya selected Dr. Chopra for this honor because he is a great leader who works to change the consciousness of people and this is how Sarvodaya does its peace work too.

Dr. Chopra’s speech:

“I feel very privileged to talk about the new peace consciousness that will emerge from Sri Lanka and change the world. I think it is fair to ask ourselves if there has ever been peace in this world. And I think it would be very honest if we admitted that the history of humanity has been a history of violence. Even though we like to romanticize about the past there has never been a history of peace in the world … ever. Not during the time of the Lord Buddha, not during the time of the Christ, not during the time of Mohammad, not during the time of the Upanishad gods, and not during the time of King Asoka. Yes, there were a few pockets of peace among some people, but the vast majority of humanity has always, always been about violence.


So is it foolish for us to seek peace? Dr. Ariyaratne, Sarvodaya, and all of us gathered in the name of peace: are we looking for a hopeless cause?

If we have to go by history then history is not a good teacher. From a purely scientific point of view and as somebody who is interested in the history of civilization and evolution, the history of humanity has gone through many phases. From a purely historical, evolutionary point of view, our Mother Earth is about 3.8 billion years old. Of those years, human beings have existed only for 200,000 years. Of those 200,000 years, it is only about 15,000 years since humans started to think in oral language. Written language is only about five to six thousand years old. Self-consciousness in human beings is only about five to six thousand years old.

About five to two thousand years ago, people emerged all over the world who were talking about self-consciousness. From the Greek philosophers to the Upanishads to Lord Buddha to Mohammad, these are very, very recent developments in human history. And if you trace the history of civilization, it goes through the following phases: about five thousand years ago the dominant culture of humanity was hunters and gatherers. And the only way to survive was to fight. In Darwin’s theory this is called the survival of the fittest. In fact, according to Darwin’s theory, we’re alive today because our ancestors were violent. They were able to protect themselves from the dangerous environment of predators.

When the age of the hunter-gatherer transferred to the age of the farmer and the agriculturalist, they became more conscious and aware. If you look at the hymns of the Rigveda, the Bible, the wealth of economics is provided by and integrated with agricultural resources. But this change did not stop violence. People fought about land and people are still fighting about land in Sri Lanka and all over the world. As we moved from the age of agriculture to the age of industry, what is powerful changed from land to resources because resources are valuable for creating machines.

Today we are shifting from the industrial age to the information age. Today wealth and power come from Information Technology. And Information Technology has become very powerful today. In a few years it will become even more powerful. It will be possible for anyone to have this kind of computer in their pocket and interfere with air traffic. It will be possible through handheld implements to make nuclear stations leak and cut off electricity. And when that happens we will make ourselves extinct because we have powerful technology combined with ancient habits.

But Dr. Ariyaratne and Sarvodaya are giving us a new model and this is saying that we have to move from the age of information to the age of knowledge. And we have to move from the age of knowledge to the age of wisdom. When you saw those slides on the screen, you saw a model that was based on the wisdom of civilization. And this wisdom and this civilization say one thing and one thing only: that the future does not belong to the survival of the fittest, but that it belong to the survival of the wisest. Survival of the wisest will become the new criteria for evolution. It is a new civilization based on wisdom-based consciousness, a wisdom-based economy, and a wisdom-based power structure and leadership, the three pillars that you saw in the slide from Sarvodaya, which are economy, consciousness, and power. This wisdom therefore is the most important thing that we seek in our lives today. Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Lord Buddha said that the world is about interdependence; the environment, the forces of nature, and human consciousness are all part of one single reality. And today many scientists are talking about interdependent co-arising. But this interdependent co-arising gives birth to a field of consciousness that should make this change.

Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Lord Buddha said there is no such thing as a separate self. I think it is the experience of everyone in this room that when we think only of ourselves we are very unhappy. It is very interesting that when you think only of yourself, you are unhappy and when you are unhappy, you will see that you are only thinking of yourself. That is because the separate self does not exist. It is a socially created misconception created by tribal ideas of identity. And when you are conscious of your inter-beingness, and when you experience your inter-beingness then from there spontaneously comes loving kindness, from this spontaneously comes compassion, from this spontaneously comes altruistic joy, and from this spontaneously comes equanimity. Because these four attributes are not about our separate self, but about our interdependence.

Lord Buddha said that we are inter-beings that arise in inter-existence with inter-dependence. Today science is telling us that everything we call reality arises from this inter-beingness. Whether it is our thinking or it is our moods, emotions, and feelings or whether it is our perception of the world or whether it is our environment or whether it is our social interactions or whether it is our personal relationships or whether it is our behavior or whether it is our biology or whether it is our interaction with the great forces of nature, all this depends on whether you consider yourself as separate or inter-dependent. To heal the world out there we have to heal ourselves in here. And that requires only one shift: the shift of identity. The answer to the question, who am I? As long as you think of yourself as separate then everything gets into chaos and disorder out there. As soon as you feel yourself unified with the elements of the cosmos, then there is healing.

So today’s crisis is not a crisis of economy even if fifty percent of people live in poverty. Today’s crisis is not a crisis about social injustice even though today’s world has social injustice. Today’s crisis is not a crisis about war and terrorism even if there are thirty-five wars that are going on in this world today. And today’s crisis is not a crisis about the environment even if the environment is being destroyed around us. Today’s crisis is the crisis of perception, of identity. And unless you can heal yourself there is no healing in the world.

Economic and social injustice, environmental problems, and war and terrorism are interdependent, co-arising effects of our separate selves. When the Lord Buddha talks about the eightfold path to salvation he is talking about that correction to identity. Right thinking is what seeds do I place in my mind – the seeds of consciousness or the seeds of separation? Right view is understanding that every viewpoint is right not just mine. Right concentration is putting our attention on what we want for us and the world. Right living is to have your livelihood based on sarvodaya. Right action is that action which nurtures dharma, connectivity with the rest of the elements of the universe. Right effort is diligence. Right speech is that which creates peace. And right mindfulness is attention to loving kindness, interdependence.

These are not religious teachings. These are practical steps to awareness and correct understanding of the universe. I would suggest to you that the Buddha was not a Buddhist. Christ was not a Christian. Mohammad was not a Mohammedan. They were great beings through which the universe came through in great wisdom. It is us who created ideology through truth and went to war over it. It is a sad commentary that in spite of our access to great beings and luminaries we have used it to fight each other in the name of god.

But the time is right now for a new civilization. They say it takes a long time for a fruit to ripen. The fruit of civilization has been ripening for five thousand years. When the fruit is ripe it falls … suddenly. Today’s social scientists tell us that if you have a critical mass of people living in consciousness, then when that peace consciousness reaches a critical level, it will ripen and fruit for everyone. The great luminaries of civilization have told us do not fight darkness with darkness. In fact, do not fight darkness at all. Bring the light of consciousness and when you bring the light of consciousness to a critical mass of humanity then humanity will change. A critical mass of change creates what in physics we call a quantum change.

In biological evolution there are many examples of these great jumps of creativity. One of the most dramatic examples is the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly. In biological terms this is what happens: when the caterpillar, which is a worm, it becomes too consumptive when it eats more than it needs. Then its body starts to die. But within the body of the caterpillar there are cells that are called imaginal cells by biologists. Unlike the cells of the dying caterpillar, which are very chaotic, these imaginal cells are very calm. The immune cells of the caterpillar when they look at the imaginal cells, they say these are different, let’s attack them.

The imaginal cells do not react to this attack. The imaginal cells stay quiet and they’re dreaming a new reality. Soon the imaginal cells start to collect in little clusters and soon they start to connect with each other. And when the connectivity of these cells reach a critical mass, something very magical happens. The magic is that there is a genetic code that lies sleeping in the cells which wakes up which undergoes sarvodaya. Now the connectivity increases and the cells use the dying body of the caterpillar as their nutrition. Soon the beautiful creature emerges: the butterfly. With wings to fly. With neurons and new navigational skills. With new metabolism, new arms and legs. Scientists say that it is as if you took your bike to the repair shop and there was a Boeing 737 waiting for you when you returned.

I tell you this story because you are the imaginal cells today. And through Sarvodaya we create imaginal cells globally and we connect them. And we use war and terrorism, economic disparity and social injustice as the nutrition of the dying carcass of the old paradigm. Scientists also tell us that the genes of the butterfly are the same genes that power the human heart. Because it is in the human heart that there is a longing for a better world, that we feel love and peace and kindness. It is this that will make the world better. A Brazilian saying goes, “The dream that I dream alone is just a dream. The dream that I dream together is reality.” But that dream must be combined with action. Love without action is meaningless. And action without love is irrelevant. Today you have glimpsed through Sarvodaya love through action. A shift in consciousness, a shift in economy based on interdependence and sustainability, and a shift in visionary leadership and power where power belongs to the people, where power is based on the true empowerment of the self. Please nurture this dream.

I want to leave you with seven practices:

1. Being peace through mediation
2. Thinking peace through loving kindness, compassion
3. Feeling peace: take time to look at someone else. Say to yourself that person is just like me, that person suffers just like me, that person craves happiness just like me, that person will one day die just like me. When you feel that the other person, even your enemy, is just like you, there will be birth of compassion because among other things compassion is shared suffering and when there is shared suffering there is the birth of love and when there is love, there is healing.
4. Speaking peace: making sure that your words do not hurt anyone
5. Acting peace
6. Creating peace through a creative solution to a conflict
7. Sharing peace

If we just cause a shift in our own consciousness there will be peace in the world. Because the world is us. There is no us and them. There is only us. It is impossible for a human being to kill another human being unless you demonize them. Gandhi once said, “The only way to change is to change yourself.”

So my dear friends, thank you for inviting me. I am so privileged be part of Sarvodaya. I think this will be the start of a change; a lesson to the whole world. The great leaders of the world said, “The world is my family.” I am currently president of a society called the Alliance for Humanity, which gave its most prestigious award to Dr. Ariyaratne. We are going to bring an international delegation from the Alliance for Humanity to see what is happening in Sarvodaya. We will have workshops and seminars on economics, power, and consciousness. And we will conclude it one day with a million people in mediation in Sri Lanka. We will web cast it throughout the world. So that we create a culture of being peace, thinking peace, feeling peace, speaking peace, acting peace, creating peace, and sharing peace throughout the world. The great Sufi poet, Rumi, said,

“When I die,
I will soar with angels
And when I die to the angels
What I shall become
You can not imagine.”

Let us make these words a reality.”

After, Dr. Chopra’s speech, the floor was opened for people to express their ideas and comments. A range of community leaders from Trincomalee to Elpitiya, from Ududumbara to Matara, from Ratnapura to Manampari stood up to talk about their thoughts on peace in Sri Lanka and on creating peace in Sri Lanka. A number of religious leaders spoke too. All of the participants were given forms to fill with their ideas on peace and constructive suggestions on what Sarvodaya should do towards this.

Dr. A.T.Ariyaratne addressed the gathering and promised that this would be only the start of a very long journey. He talked at length about the gathering that was held in 1983 and the march he and its participants, including the leading religious clergy of the island, started following the conclusion of the declaration. He expressed his regret that he called off the march only a few days into it because he was informed by the then executive leader of the country that the CID had got reports of people waiting to assassinate Dr. Ariyaratne. He said that he now thinks that if that march had been continued, the conflict situation that was to continue in the following years might never have arisen. Dr. Ariyaratne promised that the movement would organize a meditation program to be held in Anuradhapura sometime during 2006, which will bring together one million people from throughout Sri Lanka and all over the world.

Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement for the People in Need.