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CONSCIOUS, POWERFUL, ECONOMIC EFFECT: SRI LANKA'S SARVODAYA

Development efforts over the last two and a half decades have demonstrated that, however clever or generous the schemes, the local populace will not use or profit from them unless it is internally motivated to do so. To enlist popular participation and commitment, development programmes require a value- base that is meaningful to the people, relevant to their perceived needs, and affirmative of their inherent strengths. And where are such values to be found? They are present in indigenous religious traditions, which over centuries have shaped the people's perception of reality and their notions of what is good and true. Principles for the improvement of their present lives can be culled from these traditions, and re-articulated in ways that mobilize people to take responsibility for social change.

Joanna Macy, Dharma and Development (1)

INTRODUCTION TO SARVODAYA

HUMAN CYCLE TO AWAKENING OF ALL

We have now journeyed, culturally and spiritually from an "Eastern" perspective, from our Indian-Asian grounding in the human cycle, through our integral emergence through spiral dynamic, onto an Eastern European navigation, via threefolding – cultural, political and economic.

Whereas the human cycle is grounded in Asian, Indian soils, the equally developmental approach to spiral dynamics, now spanning culture and spirituality as well as science and technology, politics and economics, emerged in America, albeit influenced by Eastern philosophy, and the threefold commonwealth that originated in Eastern Europe.

We now turn once again to Asia, to the Sarvodayan effect, that is the awakening of all. The founder of Sarvodaya, 50 years ago, was schoolteacher A.T. Ariyaratne (2). Today Sarvodaya operates in some 38,000 villages across Sri Lanka. We start by reviewing Sarvodaya's philosophy in the light of Sri Lanka's natural and cultural, social and political evolution.

Integral Eastern Polity

Figure 10.1 Integral Eastern Polity

THE SARVODAYA PHILOSOPHY

Sri Lanka, like many other newly independent nations at the time, for A.T. Ariyaratne, was a victim of Western colonialism for over four centuries. Except for a negligible fraction of the native population who learned the colonizer's language, embraced the latter's religion, and adopted an alien culture, the vast majority of the people in these countries were languishing in poverty, ignorance, disease and squalor.

During the period of industrialization in Europe and the subsequent commercial expansion toward the East, production of wealth was a material and mechanical affair, from which spiritual and humanistic considerations were totally absent, and was the sole economic philosophy that interested the Western capitalists. Ariyaratne came to the conclusion in the middle of the last century that his country could not go on that way. The dilemma he faced was how to harmonize economic theory with Sri Lanka's age-old spiritual wealth, its culture, if you like, and its consciousness.

The Sarvodaya philosophy – the "awakening of all" – that he evolved (3), then, was syncretic in ideology and a universal concept, indeed interweaving Marx, Rousseau, Ashoka, and most specifically Buddha's teachings. According to Lord Buddha, man's suffering is due to his ignorance of the true nature of things. The three particular Buddhist principles to be realized are:

• principle of Change: all phenomena are in a state of constant change;

• principle of Suffering: one who fails to understand such, "grasps" at things;

• principle of Egolessness: the deceptive notion of "I" is at the roots of anger, hatred and greed.

Long before the socialist economic theories were formulated in the West as a reaction to extreme capitalist exploitation, people practised a socialist way of life based on

Buddhist philosophy. The concept of "dana", or sharing, was purely based on the notion that overcoming "craving" is the sole means to happiness, and "shrama" (4), as we shall see, is the notion of "work". In fact such indigenous philosophies have been all too often ignored by the colonial powers.

 
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