As we enter March tomorrow, instead of focusing on the cliché of Ides, we need to reflect deeply on inter-religious unity in diversity and how the power of liberative spirituality could empower the country and the people to face four main issues among others.
In Sri Lanka and worldwide, these have been identified as poverty alleviation, the battle against climate change, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and a sustainable development strategy which is eco-friendly and all-inclusive.
At present, after more than decades of the globalised capitalist market economic system, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened to obscenely monstrous proportions. The world social justice movement Oxfam’s latest report reveals the catastrophe that eight super-billionaires own more wealth than half the world’s population of some 3,750 million. All religions would acknowledge that the root causes of this are selfishness, self-centredness, greed and the acquisitive instinct that drives people to become rich fools.
Our major religions tell us that this earthly life is transient and impermanent. With nothing we came, with nothing we shall leave. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Unfortunately even highly-qualified and intelligent people appear to forget this reality and build more barns or secret bank accounts instead of experiencing the spiritual liberation of generously sharing what the have with impoverished and oppressed people.
If money, wealth and possessions are giving us security or success in life, prestige or power, then we are worshiping false deities instead of following the religious teachings of love and compassion, mercy and justice, sharing and caring for others, especially the oppressed people. All major religious tell us that from our inner selfish nature emerge the vices or the desire for personal gain or glory, power or cheap popularity or the accumulation of wealth, which in Sri Lanka is described as bahubhandawadaya.
If there is no gradual and conscious inner liberation from this selfishness and its related vices, then to speak of other freedoms – including the freedom of the country – would be meaningless or hypocritical.
Political leaders especially need to be aware of this, as must religious, social and other leaders. Only then could they give sincere servant leadership instead of domineering or authoritative leadership where the people are used and their resources abused for the personal gain of political leaders, their families or even dynasties.
In the battle against climate change all religions and ethnic communities could come together to find eco-friendly solutions to a multitude of environmental crises. Sri Lanka at present is going through its worst drought in about four decades. If political, religious and other leaders set a good example, then most civic-conscious citizens will also co-operate in conserving water and electricity, obtaining solar panels to generate electricity from the sun, installing rainwater harvesting equipment and other measures.
Another vital area for inter-religious dialogue and co-operation would be a commitment to non-violence and a peaceful resolution of conflicts through a consensus on the middle path. This is another basic teaching in all major religions but there could be serious questions about the extent to which the teaching is practiced, especially by some leaders.
The National Government has announced an eco-friendly, all inclusive economic strategy intended mainly to provide about one million productive jobs and bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources. But the progress so far has been painfully slow with controversy arising over many big development projects and the joint opposition making political capital out of it, ridiculing one of the projects as a hoaxwagon.
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe need to go beyond the talk and ensure that government politicians are not doing business again. They need to stop wasteful expenditure, luxuries or extravagance and turn around to the hallowed principle of alpechchathawaya – a simple, humble and honest lifestyle.