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For Ariyaratne, 40 years of treading a Western-oriented development and modernization path that has catered in full measure to a privileged elite class, but not to others, has brought Sri Lanka to a point of social disruption, conflict and bloodshed today. That means that there is something radically wrong with the Western model when it is generally applied.

The Western model is production-centred. The production of more and more goods and services and the creation of more and more desires to consume these seem to be the underlying philosophy of the model. In production-centred development the total perspective of human personality, nature and sustainable relationships between man and nature seems to be lost. Human happiness arises only from sense gratifications coming from increased consumption. The higher ideals of human civilization are disregarded. Non-renewable resources are exploited. Markets are flooded creating mass consumption societies. The adverse impact of such on human cultures is disregarded. In the context of a free market, foreign goods and services are consumed from borrowed monies. The giant share of such are luxuries consumed by an elite, while short-term suffering and long-term debt payments fall on the present and future generations of the masses. But from the growth rate point of view the elites themselves have adopted, the country has developed.

Great discoveries made in science have been applied to develop technologies purely with the objective of more and more efficient mass production, distribution and consumption, without taking into consideration the adverse influence such indiscriminate applications, for Ariyaratne, would have on human personalities, human family life and the wellbeing of communities.


The kind of centrally controlled bureaucracies and managerial capitalism presently imposed on human societies purely for the sake of keeping this production-centred development going is unsurpassed in human history. When Ariyaratne considers the depth of the globally connected trading, commerce and financial systems that have been developed to make these systems work, he begins to wonder whether such "global slavery" on human spirit and freedom ever existed before. Governments seem to have lost control of regulating these processes – all too apparent today – even within their own political boundaries. These affect lifestyles and human consciousness analogously to physical pollution in the biosphere. Aside then from ecological imbalances, it is the de-personalization of human beings, leading to a sense of alienation and purposefulness culminating in violent crime, which is the worst.

While it is one thing to reject production-centred development, in reality the model is backed by powerful governments and corporations, global financial institutions, giant communications systems and the armament industry. It is this model that has absorbed most scientists, technologists and global capital. This is the reality we face. Ariyaratne introduces an alternative.


Development as Awakening

The word "Sarva" in Sanskrit means all-embracing, integrating everything pertaining to man, society and nature. "Udaya" means well-being.

Sarvodaya is a people-centred development process, involving a total awakening of the human personality, the family and the community: local, national and international. The first three are micro-, the second three macro-awakening. Without awakening of the individual personality there is not point of talking of helping others to awaken their personalities.

No rational, spiritual, religious or sustainable development is possible, firstly then, without the human personality itself being awakened to play a central role in re-building society and the world.

Promoting Non-violence

Non-violence, as a second key tenet of Sarvodaya, applies both to personal conflicts, and to the social, political and economic structures which should be structurally non-violent, rather than promote injustice and inequality. Valueless centrally controlled monstrous structures, for Ariyaratne, have taken away the emotional and life-sustaining links that existed between human beings and the territories in which they lived. Sarvodaya works toward a more people-centred development process, that is (in the mid-1990s) in 5,600 out of 23,000 villages in Sri Lanka. The biggest problem in Sri Lanka is power, through politics, wealth or gangsterism. Until wealth and the protection of the law is fairly distributed among the people, this problem will not be solved.

Overcoming Ignorance

If, thirdly, you succeed in overcoming ignorance about yourself then you will learn to love and live with others on grounds of friendship, compassion, equality and co-operation. Most modern scholars fail to understand the importance of building a spiritual-cultural infrastructure as a pre-requisite for people-centred development. Social upheaval is attributed to ethnic and linguistic, political and economic causes, rather than to psycho-spiritual insecurity.

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