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Exciting vistas for social well-being

Spirituality and Subtainable Development
Author: Rohana 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 perspective.

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.

Problems

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 environment.

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.

Win-win game

The process has been a win-win game for the powerful and for the powerless. It has brought misery and disastrous consequences, as the author asserts.

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 self centered.

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.

World Bank

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 desired results.

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 their advantage.

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 economic model.

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.

Consumers

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 undeveloped.

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 disillusionment.

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.

Happiness

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 happiness.

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 spiritual development.

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 integrity.

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.

Myth

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.

Analysis

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 justified.

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