Exciting vistas for social well-being
Ulluwishewa Published by Palgrave Macmillan, UK.
Rohana Ulluwishewa was associate professor of Jayewardenepura
University. After gaining an M.Sc. from London School of Economics, he
completed his Ph.D at Kyushu University, Japan. In his 30 years of
academic career he has worked as a Senior Lecturer at the University of
Brunei and was Visiting Fellow at Wageningen Agricultural University and
Leiden University in the Netherlands and Leeds University, U.K.
He has served as a consultant for many national and international
development agencies and has published in numerous international
journals. He was an honorary research associate at Massey University in
New Zealand where he currently lives.
Spirituality and Sustainable Development contains four parts. Part
one deals with spirituality. Here the author makes an attempt to give a
new interpretation to spirituality in the development perspectives. In
part two he analyses the global economic system from a spiritual
A distinction is made between worldly happiness and spiritual
happiness and perception of survival ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ for sensual
pleasures. The latter has no limits or bounds.
He has analysed with examples the widening gap between the haves and
have-nots. A stratum of social groups in the global economic system had
emerged as a product of man's greedy mind.
Part three deals with development initiatives without spirituality.
This had given rise to inequality of opportunity, disparity in global
income distribution, unsustainable environment policies and the
resultant poverty and unhappiness. Part four discusses a way towards
spirituality based development solutions.
The author has correctly diagnosed the problems of the present day
society generated through man's pursuit of a lifestyle which is egoistic
or ego-centered. His research study has brought to the fore some very
important conclusions which are based on the behavioural pattern of the
various segments of society.
The developments have taken place over a period of time. During the
known economic history, at first people's wants were limited and
therefore their survival needs were fulfilled by exchange of goods
through barter system.
With the expansion of man's wants gradually the market economy
emerged. Since then there had been no looking back. As the author points
out, people started exploiting the available resources indiscriminately
and mercilessly with no sympathy towards nature, its people and the
The economists on their part advocated a theory of optimising
satisfaction by utilising the available resources based on a self
centered policy. The Industrial Revolution that followed in the late
18th and early 19th centuries accelerated this process of exploitation
of the planet.
The newly industrialised rich countries started colonising poorer
countries in search of raw materials for the industry and new markets
for their surplus industrial outputs. As a result, the poor nations
became poorer and the rich richer.
When the colonial empires could not be held together any longer after
the two World Wars, the colonies had to be dismantled but the poor
nations were left with a legacy of depleted resources and population
which heavily depended on their previous masters for their basic needs.
The newly gained political independence did not matter much to them.
The process has been a win-win game for the powerful and for the
powerless. It has brought misery and disastrous consequences, as the
The theory of free market economy and the operation of the “invisible
hand” to regulate the economy and find solutions to the economic and
social problems, had failed.
The market was no longer free. It was free only to the rich and the
capitalists and not for the poor and the down trodden. It was true;
there had been some spin-off benefits to the poor.
On the other hand, the pursuit of sensual pleasures had failed to
achieve happiness and contentment. In spite of having more food,
clothes, cars, bigger houses, central heating, foreign holidays, shorter
working hours and better health facilities, all these had failed to
yield happiness to the rich nations.
This shows that money cannot buy happiness. Happiness is an integral
part of the mind. The author has attributed this predicament of the
capitalist economies in the West to their pursuit of policies which were
The economic theory of optimisation of resources has failed to
achieve the optimisation of satisfaction and happiness.
The rich nations with abundance of wealth at their disposal and a
minority of affluent enjoying 80 percent of the planet's resources;
still they appear to be unsatisfied and unhappy.
On the other hand, many poorer nations whose natural resources had
been fleeced by the colonisers continue to remain below the poverty
level. They look up to rich countries or their former colonial masters
for a dole of relief.
The author describes how the measures taken by the World Bank,
Internationally Monetary Fund (IMF) and donor agencies in the West that
developed various strategies to help the poor had failed to meet the
The so-called development program were based on self-centered
policies. The implementation of the aid programs did not succeed in
reducing the poverty level of the masses.
When a project was designed by the donor it was a case of thrusting
it upon the recipient country what the donor thought it to be the best,
and not what the recipient wanted.
When the project was completed the recipient country remained poorer
since the project was a failure.
The capitalist economy based on profit maximisation had resulted in
appearing different classes or groups of people in society. In the book
the author had identified them as the poor, dissatisfiers,
over-consumers, elites and inner-guided.
Except the first and the last groups, the other groups are guided by
the selfish motives manifesting themselves in the form of limitless
desire, greed, competitions and exploiting the others and environment to
The development strategies had failed to deliver peace and prosperity
to all or to be sustainable socially and environmentally. It had also
failed to deliver happiness to seekers of happiness through this
The restlessness, unhappiness, frustration, mental and psychological
disorders in the modern society had given rise to a spate of wanton
killings of fellow beings, suicide and other criminal acts. Even
children have fallen into these decadent pitfalls.
The WHO has reported that every four minutes a suicide is taking
place somewhere in the world.
The author have given numerous examples of elites and over consumers
who always remain unhappy and discontented with all the material wealth
at their disposal. This will be so as long as they remain spiritually
Therefore he has recommended that spiritual development is a
necessity in the balanced economic development. The material development
alone cannot fulfil the needs of the mankind.
The author does not agree with the general view of the economists
that the humans are intrinsically selfish and therefore they will follow
the policy for the gratification of sensual desires.
The book has given examples of how the over-consumers and elites who
are controlling almost all their resources in the planet are still
discontented. They are psychologically poor and suffering mentally from
The pleasures generated by seeking sensual gratifications are
transient and temporary. The low income levels as well as high income
level are both harmful for spiritual growth.
When survival needs are fulfilled, unput of more money and income
should be combined with spirituality if one has to get the optimum
happiness, says the author.
This process will lead to a group of inner guided people. These
people are psychologically advanced, contended, enjoying inner peace,
more humane and environmental and society friendly.
There is evidence to show that self-centered people experience stress
and more likely to be subjected to anxiety, loneliness, depression and
similar psychological problems than the selfless altruistic people.
The root cause of unhappiness is within us. Happiness which is
aroused though external sources. Such as sensual pleasure is temporary
and short lived. The solution has to be found intrinsically for inner
The solution suggested by the author is to aim at sustainable
development strategies combined with inbuilt spirituality inputs. For
this purpose, inspiration could be drawn for all main religious leaders.
Unfortunately some of the present day practitioners of the organised
religions had moved away from core area (heart) of the teaching and
dwelling on the periphery.
Some followers have drifted away even from the periphery and walking
in the opposite direction. For example, Prophet Mohammed has advocated
kindness, tolerance and love towards the fellow human beings.
But today we can witness two sects of the same religion are killing
each other not sparing even innocent women and children.
Similar development can be seen in other religions as well.In this
context the author suggests that we have to have a fresh look at the
original teachings of the all religious leaders to find avenues for
The crux of the problem is self-centeredness of man. The book has
given numerous examples how the human minds can be changed by various
practices such as prayers, meditation, and repetition of holy words,
devotional singing, chanting, charity, generosity and selfless services
to the other humans.
Accordingly sustainability assures ecological, social and economic
In this process the author recommends to incorporate ethical values
to economic initiatives if we want to make the development strategies
sustainable and meaningful to all stakeholders.
Some may feel that elimination of self-centeredness is a difficult
task though it may not be impossible. The Buddha has said that a
personality view “I” is a myth-based ignorance. In reality it is the
mind and matter (Nama and Rupa) phenomena.
If one can penetrate into the reality of the mind and matter
phenomena by Vipassana meditation, the self view can be eliminated.
But we do not need to realise full liberation of the mind from
personality view for us to achieve the mundane benefits of sustainable
development based on spirituality.
As the author asserts, all main religions lead their followers
towards one goal of either union with God or realising the ultimate
truth of life which may be characterised by highest divine qualities
such as love, peace, wisdom, joy, courage and ultimate bliss.
In this way we are expected to experience universal love, kindness,
ethical life free from greed, hatred, aversion and ignorance.
Under the umbrella of universal love, we can help the needy and weak
without expecting anything in return.
In this scenario sustainable development based on spirituality can
give a new dimension to the development economic imperatives. It is
heartening to note that the trend has already started in many parts of
the Western world.
I am not competent to comment, with a detailed analysis, on the above
on-going process. But I do agree with the proposition that existing
gross exploitation of the planet and its resources including its people,
animal kingdom and flora cannot be continued for long.
The results will be disastrous. Even now one could see the frequency
of floods, drought, cyclones, earthquakes, sea erosion, rising sea water
level, global warning and their consequences have increased dramatically
during the past five decades.
Therefore, the message give by Rohana Ulluwishewa is timely and it
has to be taken very seriously.
The role played by the inner-guided group has to be given due
recognition at international level and appropriate policy measures have
to be initiated to reverse the present dangerous trend.
The policy makers who stand for universal social welfare system owe a
debt of gratitude to Rohana Ulluwishewa for his untiring efforts taken
over a period of five years to bring out this valuable book.
The given bibliography of books which had been used as references in
conducting the research shows the volume of time and energy gone into
the production of the work. When the contents of the book are taken into
consideration, I feel the time and energy take in the process is fully