One of the most virtuous features or characteristics of the Yahapalanaya Government is the commitment to a simple and humble lifestyle or Alpechchethawaye which has been part of Sri Lanka’s culture and civilisation for more than 2,500 years. President Maithripala Sirisena who was elected to this high office in a silent rainbow revolution of the people on January 8 has himself set the example for selfless, simple and sacrificial servant leadership. He has rejected luxuries, extravagance or any event where there is wasteful expenditure and has opted to live in his own residence instead of the luxury of Temple Trees or several presidential palaces. Pope Francis who made a memorable visit to Sri Lanka in January this year has said that of all the world leaders he has met, President Sirisena was the simplest and the humblest.
We hope ministers and MPs, members of local councils, religious leaders and others will follow the example of President Sirisena.
Simple and humble living essentially means learning to live with our basic needs without desiring or craving for extra comforts, luxuries or even power, prestige and popularity as we saw in the former regime. When we live simply and save more, we will have more to share with others and even in a small way help bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources though some economic structural reforms are also needed.
As we reflect on whether we have got into the habit or trap of living beyond our means and suffering the consequences, we also need to think about a grave trend of dying beyond our means. This trend, which grew after we swallowed the deadly dimensions of the globalised capitalist market economic system, has led to the horror of extravagant funerals where some families spend about half a million rupees with the expensive coffins costing more than Rs.200,000. The malabatha, the seventh day, 31st day and the annual alms-givings also cost a large amount. Instead we could give a meal to some poor people or homes for the destitute.
In this area the Muslim Community sets a good example. Whoever dies, the richest or the poorest, the most powerful or the powerless and voiceless people, are buried in the same way. With prayers, the body is wrapped in a cloth taken in a basket and buried within 24 hours.
Another area that needs renewal is the fashion of having five-star weddings. Even in rich countries like the United States, most of the weddings are held in community centres with a good meal, dancing and festivity, but at a fraction of the cost that some Sri Lankans spend for five-star weddings. To keep up with social trends, some even borrow huge sums of money to have luxury weddings with the couple having to repay the money for months or years to come and putting themselves into the discredited place of surviving in debt. Movements like the Pubuduwa have for decades promoted simple weddings where there are no gold rings but steel rings, no big receptions but a meal or traditional Lankan short-eats. The bride and the groom wear simple white. The simple invitation card requests guests to wear white or a simple dress. One couple who got married in this way, the husband being a professor, gave gifts of belli and other plants to all who came. It was eco-friendly in many ways, good for the economy and good for the environment.
With nothing we come, with nothing we go. That is the reality of life. Thus luxury or extravagant living is largely a flirtation with unreality though we delude ourselves into thinking it shows off our social status.
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