Friday, December 26, 2008
I'm glad you managed to to spend it with you family
Unfortunately i had to be here at work in Anuradhapura and could not be with my family.
It was interesting to note that even here in Anuradhapura, despite being a Sinhalese Buddhist majority town the Christmas lights were shinning bright, and and to my pleasant surprise I even saw a Sri Lankan Santa Clause dressed in red, prancing in the main street of Anuradhapura as I ate my Christmas kothu rotti.
I read you reflections with interest, but also with some difference. I found what you had written to be very thought and emotion provoking - which has led me to contribute to this forum. Forgive me if what I have to say is somewhat lengthy but I feel it to be important all the same.
- There were prayers for the rulers and the military that they will soon bring about an end to the conflict with their ongoing military operations, which is on the verge of “victory”.
- But there were no prayers for a negotiated, just, political solution that will meet aspirations of all communities.
I share you sentiment in agreeing that it is very saddening that we are at war. Living here you cannot escape this awareness. In fact this conflict is heartbreaking for anyone who is aware, as I'm sure many readers here will agree.
However, to me, your writing omits the fact that there "are" prayers by many Sri Lankan's for a peaceful end to this conflict - i can vouch for at least one person (myself) but know of many many more who have this very prayer. What you report is the lack of guided prayer on these topics by the Minister of your service perhaps, rather than the prayer that exists in the mind of ordinary people - a much more difficult thing for one to profess to know. I challenge everyone who reads Ground views to write in if they have themselves had a prayer to the end of violence, or knows of others who feel this way - i'm sure it is many in number.
When I talk to the public about what they want it is most definitely "peace" and not "violence". I live amongst many casualties of war here in the North of the so called "South". However there is a strong belief that, amongst the people with whom I talk, that the LTTE will "not give up their armed fight" for a separate state at any cost, and that a ceasefire without commitment will only lead to re-arming and further violent conflict. This is the only reason why they support the government military stance.
Whilst living here it has saddened me to learn at close hands that the civilians in the LTTE controlled areas are "erroneously" led to believe that "the Sinhalese" want to wipe out the entire Tamil race. One trip down to the capital of Sri Lanka and it is plainly obvious that this is not the case, as Tamil will be the main language one can hear being expressed in many areas of Colombo, however, the people of the Wanni do not realise this until they become the fortunate few who are able to leave (only to find that they cannot return without being at risk of conscription to the LTTE).
We know about this misconception because patients who are casualties of war are often treated in Anuradhapura hospital and they express these erroneous and hurtful views to the doctors treating them, often fighting hard to save their lives. Of course these civilians themselves are not to blame, because under Prabakaran's LTTE regime this is what they are led to believe.
There was incident not too long ago (within the last 6 months) where a Tamil patient from the Wanni was transferred (which is a common occurrence) for treatment of a traumatic injury and despite several hours of surgery and intensive care they eventually succumbed for medical reasons. However, the family member that accompanied them from the Wanni was adamant that medical care was withheld and their relation was killed because they were a Tamil. The consultant spent a very long time trying to convince the bystander that this was not the case - despite being in a very busy hospital and having other pressures, for the very reason that it was important to them they they did not have this wrong view that the Sinhalese are trying to kill the Tamil people, however, this these efforts were sadly in vain as there was no changing this deep seated view that had likely been the result of much brainwashing.
PEACE CAN START AT A COMMUNITY LEVEL FOR ALL OF US
I am not claiming there are no hardships faced by Tamil people in Sri Lanka today (scrutiny at checkpoints, which in some cases is clear harassment, being just one example of a difficulties faced by Tamils living in Sri Lanka at present), after all I could never know what it is to be a Tamil person in Sri Lanka. At the same time I also know that there is very little positive light being given to the ethnic harmony that also exists despite this ongoing conflict, at least in my experience. I have had the pleasure of working alongside people of all ethnic minorities in this country since i arrived here 3 years ago, and even in Anuradhapura, which is so close to the conflict. For the last 2 years I have had Tamil co-workers who were all clearly treated with equality to the Sinhalese Majority and other Ethnic minorities, as one would expected (but perhaps may not realise).
I was privileged to be able to offer a Puja at the local Kovil with both Sinhalese and Tamil colleagues together in Anuradhapura only a few months back. Here the the Hindu priest told us that he has been offering puja's and serving the community for years, and certainly throughout this conflict. What was heartening for me to hear was that he had such a good relationship with the local "Harmaduruwo" (Buddhist Priest), where he said that if there was ever a need they could freely call upon one another. The greatest conflict he had received was pressure from other Hindu priests residing the North of Sri Lanka who criticised him for maintaining his support of a Hindu Temple in a Sinhala predominant area, despite not having any trouble from this community. This was saddening to hear as such pressure only encourages separation rather than unity, however, it was pleasant to see his courage in doing what he felt was right.
I would like to re-iterate for this forum that the Sinhalese "does not" want to "exterminate" the Tamil people as Tamil people in the Wanni have been led to believe in order to continue fighting this war for the LTTE. This ideology is not only erroneous, but it is extremely damaging to all communities.
In my personal experience of working in this region, the only real threat of physical harm that has come to both me and my Tamil colleagues was when the LTTE planted a bomb in the local Anuradhapura "pola" (community market) back in February this year, which was luckily defused before it caused any damage.
Don't get me wrong, as far as I'm concerned "any" form of war or physical violence is terrible and a real mess- and I have always been a proponent of non-violence as you know. Anyone working in the medical sphere knows that the human destruction of military or guerilla/terrorist warfare is terribly devastating. I also agree that more thought and action can be done to help those who are casualties of war.
RIGHTS OF CIVILIANS IN THE WANNI
However, if feel the current conflict in Sri Lanka should always be presented as function of the conflict between two sides. A lack of attention to the terrible conditions the civilians in LTTE controlled areas have to face because of the LTTE is unbalanced reporting and also unfair to these poor civilians who do not have the benefit of getting their message out in a forum like groundviews. Where is the reports of the plight of families who have to give up not one but two children to be LTTE cadres? Or those who cannot return (even medical officers) who are at fear of being forcibly conscripted. These people cannot voice their opinion for fear of their own lives and their families lives. However, I feel I never read much of these people's plight at these sort of forums, sadly.
- There were no prayers or mention of hundreds of thousands of displaced, men, women and children, with inadequate shelter, food, medicine, education, water and sanitation.
- There were no prayers for children and adults conscripted as soldiers, their families.
I agree that there should be prayers for these people, and publicly so.
WRITING WHAT ONE FEELS
I think writing about the conflict is a very difficult thing and I commend you Ruki to have the courage to write what you "feel", and I do believe this the piece your wrote here is primarily about "feelings"
So in response I have shared some of my thoughts and "feelings".
My main criticism of "feeling-based" writing (including my own piece of writing here) is that what ends up being presented is a usually a one sided argument.
One sided arguments run the risk of further to deepen the divide between "us" and "them" (whichever side, or view, you support) instead of realising the beauty of the oneness that we are all bound by.
I believe the media, including "groundviews" has a very important role to play in generating peace, by being as balanced as possible. The provision of the website to make comment and provide feedback is commendable. Thank you to the organisers for creating this platform. However the balance is only as good as the diversity of contribution so I encourage all with differing opinions to present their view as I am weary of reading the same viewpoints over and over, and I am sure there are other who feel the same.
I thank you for your patients with my "reflections", and will leave you with the best Chirstmas prayer that I can think of to achieve decreasing the divide between "us" and "them" in favour or peace for all.
I pray that we don't project only "despair" in our current situation as this will only lead to more despair,
Instead I pray that we start look for the light in the current situation,
As "difficult" as it may be because of the scars that we bear, and because of how dark it may currently seem,
And I pray for us to build upon what we good we have, no matter how little it may seem.
We should not look to blame others, but look for solutions for ourselves
Including the simple acknowledgement of the goodwill that exists in our communities are this very moment in time
I assure you that this goodwill is there- we just need to nurture it further
Only then as community we can find and promote lasting peace in Sri Lanka
Bishan - 25/12/08
“Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong”
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
“Whenever you have truth it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected”
(quotes by Mahatma Gandhi)
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that"
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
(Martin Luther King, Jr.)
First I will present his article
My response will follow
Its Christmas day. For a change, I was at home with my family.
Early morning, I went for Christmas Mass in my parish. Many years ago, I had been active in the church, as a student and teacher in the Sunday School, as an Alter Server and in the Young Christian Students Movement. But I had not gone to my parish for a long time, though I have been visiting and staying in churches all over Sri Lanka, especially in the war ravaged North. I thought I will go today, as it was Christmas, also because of my family.
Unlike most people, I didn’t go to the crib in the Church. But I did have images of Jesus being born in a cattle shed 2008 years ago. That Mary was compelled to give birth to Jesus away from her home, as she and Joseph were forced to leave her hometown, while she was pregnant, due to an order of the rulers of that time.
I sat quietly in the church and said a silent prayer for the baby that I saw few weeks ago in Menik Farm, Vavuniya. She would be 40 days today. She had no name when I visited her. A baby born as her parents fled the advancing Army in Vanni. A baby who is forced to live in a mosquito infested, muddy and murky camp, as her parents are not allowed to live with their relatives, but confined to a defacto prison by the military, even though they are not charged with any crime.
The Christmas Mass was taking longer than the usual Sunday service, many prayers and long preaching by the priest.
There were prayers for the rulers and the military that they will soon bring about an end to the conflict with their ongoing military operations, which is on the verge of “victory”.
But there were no prayers for a negotiated, just, political solution that will meet aspirations of all communities.
There was no mention of a call for ceasefire by the two Anglican Bishops and three Catholic Bishops.
There were no prayers or mention of hundreds of thousands of displaced, men, women and children, with inadequate shelter, food, medicine, education, water and sanitation.
There were no prayers for children and adults conscripted as soldiers, their families.
There were no prayers for families of disappeared, those killed.
No remembering churches that were shelled and bombed, as they offered shelter to people fleeing the war, and no prayers for priests killed and disappeared as they were helping the war affected.
No remembering those tortured, those being detained merely on suspicion in inhumane conditions, worse than conditions that some animals are kept.
I wondered whether I was living in the same country, whether I was part of “one Catholic Church”.
Amidst my frustration and gloom, some gave me hope and inspiration.
A Catholic sister told me a while ago that she and a priest had shared about the plight of the displaced in the North during a Christmas Mass and asked people for their prayers and donations. People had donated more than Rs. 50,000.
After the mass, I visited three journalists being detained, one of who had written about children being conscripted as child soldiers just before he was detained. I went with a diplomat attached to an embassy in Colombo; she brought chocolates, and stood patiently in the sun with me for close to an hour, while waiting to get in. I will remember the smiles of the people we met and chatted briefly.
I also remembered the wife of one of the journalists, with who I had been in close contact. What would Christmas mean to her? What Christmas greetings, what Christmas gift could I offer her? Will my usual greeting, “Happy Christmas” have any meaning to her?
I met some Catholic sisters who were coming from the prison as I was about to go in. Several other priests - Anglican, Methodist and Catholic – as well as some other friends, who had got my text message, also told me they will visit detainees in the coming days.
So this is Christmas in Sri Lanka, 2008 December.
I could not help reflecting that if Jesus was to be born in Sri Lanka, he would not be born in the Church I went for the Christmas Mass.
It is possible though that Jesus might be born in a Church in the battle zones in the North, that offers shelter to people fleeing bombing and shelling from the sky and around them. Or probably in the prison I visited. Or in the house of a family member of a disappeared. Or amongst the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.
Happy Christmas from Sri Lanka.
Monday, November 10, 2008
I just finished watching Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. It was pretty amazing. The whole thing was amazing to be honest, how he ploughed on through it all, through the competitive primary elections with Hillary Clinton, and beyond the tough and rigorous battle of the main campaign. So many people doubted him due to his race, and his relative inexperience as a politician, but despite this he backed himself and, supported by his family and followers, he made it.
He has sent a very important message to the world. One man can make a difference and “you can” make it if you believe in yourself, and you can make a difference.
Barack Obama may not on the surface have achieved anything yet, in office that is to say, however, but if you look deeper he has already achieved something great by lifting the hopes of so many people not just in America but around the world – including myself. Amazing!
This has motivated me to write a letter to the editor of the Sri Lankan newspapers to see how this historic event can positively shape our outlook toward the situation here:-
Dear Sir / Madam
After watching the US elections I have become very inspired in what can be achieved within a nation. The message of Barack Obama has given me hope that anything can be achieved if you feel strongly enough about what you are trying to achieve. Obama’s acceptance speech was highly commendable and we can all learn from it. In particular it gives me hope in humanity that a world leader who poses so much personal power can put a Nation ahead of his own ego. As Barack Obama said in his speech:-
“But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you.”
Whilst I was wholly impressed and inspired by the acceptance of victory by Obama, the winner in the political race, I was perhaps even more moved by the gravity of McCain’s concession speech which really sets up America as a nation to be the overall winner in time to come. Below are some poignant extracts from his concession speech:-
“This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.”
“Senator Obama and I have had and argued our differences, and he has prevailed. No doubt many of those differences remain.”
“I urge all Americans ... I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.”
“Tonight - tonight, more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all its citizens, whether they supported me or Senator Obama - whether they supported me or Senator Obama.”
“I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.”
To me the words of McCain really pulled on the positive common goals that he shared with Obama without bickering about the differences they had. Even more valiant is the fact that he encouraged his supporters to have a positive outlook for the good of the nation despite the loss of the candidate they voted for and believed in.
I think the real challenges in life come not in dealing with success but in managing defeat, and the way that McCain dealt with his defeat was admirable. Despite a fierce battle having being fought, the stance of both men at the end of it, is focussed toward looking forward for the good of the nation, for the people and ideals that they are meant to be representing , and it sets the stage for the country to prosper.
Both these men, Barack Obama, and John McCain, had choices in how they interpreted the event of Obama winning the election, and in my opinion they both chose the high road – Obama by choosing to look at his victory not as an individual triumph against a fierce competitor, but rather as the success of an ideology that he represented through popular vote, and McCain by putting aside his personal loss for sake of the progress and prosperity of the nation.
These men could just as easily have chosen one of many available lower roads. Obama could have spoken of the dirty campaign tactics that McCain used in the election campaign, or McCain could have spoken how the American Public was robbed from a victory that was theirs, and urged his supporters to not to give up as they will be able to battle it out again in the next election. But they both chose the good of the country and the nation that they represented in the words that they used.
When I think of Sri Lanka I earnestly hope that we will learn from these very powerful examples of leadership that have fallen before us in this week.
Right now this country is fighting a bloody war. The government claims to be only a short distance from the military defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), a terrorist organization that claims to represent the Tamil people of Sri Lanka but has been categorical in the elimination of any other Tamil groups. Both parties believe that they are fighting for “their people”.
In recent times the cycle of violence has escalated with increasing civilian targeted terrorist bombs in the South and aerial attacks by the forces in the North Despite this seemingly helpless situation, I believe there are still positives things that can be done right now despite this trail of destruction that has been put in front of us, such as examine our own hearts and mind in their capacity for creating an environment of real peace.
For example we could consider one potential future and examine how we would embrace lasting peace. Let us say the prediction of the government actually came true and there was a “military defeat of the LTTE” as what occurred in the East last year. Would this actually be “the eradication of terrorism” as the media puts it, and more importantly would this be synonymous with the end of conflict?
My thoughts are that it would not, and these more important things such as ending conflict is a much more complicated process which need the issues that lead to the terrorism in the first place to be addressed, such as the plight of the Tamil people.
My question is would the leaders here be able to have the strength of character and concern for the future well being of all citizens and people to tackle this situation in the most skilful manner.
Let us examine two potential scenarios of how political leaders and terrorist leaders might react upon a hypothetical defeat of the LTTE, fully acknowledging that a multitude of possibilities might occur. The purpose of this role-play is to consider what feelings of peace are created by different potential attitudes and messages that Sri Lankan political leaders could take.
Would President Mahinda Rajapaksa state that they have now unified the country and terrorism has been eradicated. That the Tamil people can now rest assured that they will rebuild the North as they are already starting to in the East, and now we will live as a unified Sri Lanka, and go on to thank the military for their tireless efforts in defending the country?
Will Ranil Wickramesinghe continue to state that the government has bled the country’s economy in irresponsibly fight a war and mismanaging funds?
Would the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) leadership state that it is good riddance to terrorism and it should be never allowed to rear its ugly head again?
Will the JHU (Jathika Hela Urumaya party) say that the sacred Buddhist way should never be allowed to be put in this much jeopardy again, and may the triple gem bless our new found terrorist free Lanka?
Will the message of the LTTE supporters whose voices will be free to be projected overseas continue with messages saying that the cause of the Tamil people will never be defeated despite a temporary military setback. Will they then claim the North is not really a free state but a Military state where the citizens continue to suffer problems with human rights, only now from a Sinhalese army rather than a Tamil speaking LTTE?
Will the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) walk out of parliament stating this country has been witness to gross genocide and military dictatorship and refuse to accept that northern state as now under democratic rule?
Will the conflict continue to rumble unresolved because there has been no real acknowledgement of the reason for the terrorism in the first place.
Will the dissatisfaction continue to prevail amongst the majority of Tamils for a feeling that their true plight of living as a minority has neither been acknowledged properly nor pledged to be corrected? Will they feel comfort in the knowledge that they live in a country where there is a lack of basic of human rights for anyone who is not connected with money or power? And in particular will they feel comforatable knowing that even though this lack of basic human rights, for those not “connected” , does not operate along racial lines , it will still somehow affect them more by being a minority and unless specific policy is introduced to protect them from this inevitable consequencde they will be subject to the tyranny of the majority.
Perhaps will we see something similar to what we have witnessed in USA a land where already they are starting to put dreams of action into place, such as with strategies for the energy crisis (see http://repoweramerica.org/)
Imagine if we see President Mahinda Rajapakse start with a speech that addresses us in three languages “Ayubowan, Vannakam, and Greetings to you all” showing that the head of state represents a unified state. He then addresses the plight of all Sri Lankan people for all they have suffered, and in particular the Tamil people of the North who have suffered for years in ways that that many other parts of the island cannot understand, and will only come to realise in years to come, and perhaps never fully understand.
He then goes on to apologise for all the civilians who have suffered, whether it was because of terrorist bombs, and forced child recruitment, suicide bombing, evictions, at the hand of the LTTE, or for aerial attacks and military offensives at the hand of the government. Following this he thanks the military for their protection and sacrifices, but also offers thoughts for the terrorists who were fighting for what they believed was right because of a ideology that they were immersed in and not free to challenge.
He understands that LTTE supporters have had an intense distrust of the government because of this terrible military conflict over the past 25 years, but from this day onwards things will change. He vows to rebuild this trust. Without the confines of terrorist rule and with the freedom that democracy brings they will too taste the fruits of opportunity, and the protection of being an equal Sri Lankan citizen. The Tamil people will be embraced into society for the brothers and sisters that they are, and will be valued by the majority Sinhalese and other minorities for the rich cultural diversity that they provide to the diverse mix that makes Sri Lanka the strength that it is today. It can be even stronger tomorrow with this kind of collaboration of communities.
In addition to this, perhaps he will then go on to add more to his newly made pledge to rebuild trust by making the following statement to the Tamil people.
I am also sorry for those innocent Tamil civilians who lost their lives in the thousands in 1983, and apologise for the state not stepping in to stop this immediately. This was a mistake which was inexcusable and it will never happen again in the new united Sri Lanka that we must all forge together from this day on.
I am sorry for the thousands of Muslim refugees who were forced to leave Jaffna with a day’s notice by the LTTE and continue to live in camps waiting to return to their homelands, I hope you will now be able to do this.
I am sorry to all the innocent Tamil civilians who have felt harassed by the increased scrutiny that they have undergone in recent time in suspicion for being LTTE terrorists. Again we will make steps that this will not happen in the future.
I send out my sympathies in recognition of your suffering.”
Perhaps then the President follows on by saying we must now start working together as a nation, beyond ethnic religious and language barriers, and makes amends to this by inciting a prayer in all the different languages and different religions by different religious leaders.
With regards to the north we must recognise our promises during the many years of negotiations to offer the Tamil people of the North their due respect and autonomy with a political solution that empowers them.
With regards to the other leaders:
Again given the hypothetical military defeat of the LTTE in the North, imagine if Velupillai Prabakaran would think of what could ultimately lead to the salvation of the people he claims to support and tells his supporters that they must now change tactics from the military path as a strategy as it will no longer bring peace to the Tamils of Sri Lanka or the North. Now that the territory was in the hands of the government and that they have pledged to grant due power and authority to the Tamil people, we must accept this and work within this system to fight for our rights.
“I fought until the end to deliver what I promised, but too many have died and we must now not think of this as defeat, but a victory for our people, because by struggling so hard the Tamil cause has gained so much recognition we will never experience a situation like in 1983, or 1977 or 1957 again. Because of my movement and your efforts we have created an awareness of the plight of the Tamils in this country and we have fought against this. Now we must work together peacefully and respect all that have died in the process. Never give up the struggle to maintain your rights as a minority, but please just as I now have to look at non military means of effecting change, you must do the same – it is the way forward for our future generations.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has apologised for the serious events against our people in the past and pledged to make this country a truly multicultural one where a Tamil person can feel a true sense of belonging whilst represented by government, and this will be backed up by legislation and constitution changes to embody these words. This has never been delivered to us in such sincerity before and we must embrace this new opportunity to make this new age of Sri Lanka an incredibly prosperous one for Tamils as well as all Sri Lankans.
I also apologize to all Sri Lankan citizens for the bloodshed and suffering that occured at the hands of my organisation, including child conscription, assasinations and civilian bombings. I was only doing what I felt the government had forced us to do. However, I now know that these methods were wrong and will face the consequences of my actions in the name of my people”
Imagine if the UNP opposition leader, Ranil Wickramasinghe, also chose the high road by saying that “I would like to congratulate Mahinda Rajapakse in his relentless journey to bring this country to peace in the best way he could manage. Now is not the time to bicker about different approaches we have had to achieving the same solution of peace. We now have a situation where there is no direct military conflict or war, and we have a chance to work together to create a prosperous Sri Lanka which is multi cultural, multi lingual and multi religious and we should use this to create the economic paradise that this country should already represent. This is where my skills lie and I will work together with Mr Mahinda Rajapakse in the months to come for the economic prosperity of the country and it’s people, to ensure that we make use of this crucial opportunity rather than fight about small matters.”
Also imagine if the JVP say that that in supporting the sovereignty of Sri Lanka we have to recognise the current military defeat of the LTTE as only the first step in preventing future terrorism by joining together and embracing the sentiments of President Rajapakse and the opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe by truly respecting all citizens of this country in the same way, and providing equal rights to all, the poor as well as the rich, and the minorities as well as the majority.
Will the JHU say they would like to like to commend the words of peace being spoken by President and other political leaders. They have great hope for peace in this country and that we must work had to respect diversity and equality just as the Buddhist doctrine encourages, to see things the way that they are.
“We must also try to ensure that no group should be disadvantaged and we must never again realise a situation where so many citizens of this country have been put in a position where they are routinely forced to break the first precept of Buddhism (thou shalt not kill another being) as they have been the case throughout the last 25 years of war. We must also in the true spirit of Buddhism completely put aside ego, and greed for power, in the name of what is right for the country.
Also we Buddhist monks should not maintain our membership with orthodox clergy and hold a position as a minister, for it entails power that is beyond what is humanly possible to resist clinging and craving and is not conducive to the Buddhist doctrine that we have ordained to practice. The fact that other religions also place people in positions of power for the maintenance of the religion is of no consequence. However it is very important that the Buddhist virtues in this country are safeguarded so we will entrust in lay representatives. I will lead the way but announcing my “disrobing” from the Sangha in order to continue on the JHU as a true politician who is in close association with the Sangha but no longer a direct affiliate. I do this in honour of the Sangha, Dhamma and of course the Buddha.”
Imagine if the TNA offer their condolences for all Sri Lankans who have lost life in the recent battles of the north and all Tamils civilian who they primarily represent, followed by a vision for the future. Will they pledge their co-operation with the government in trying to rebuild Jaffna and the entire North as well as be key players in the power sharing that will ensure in this region?
Does all this sound like a situation where we can have peace not just in name but a lasting and enduring peace, supported by all Sri Lankans not just on this island but Sri Lankans abroad who have been responsible for so much funding of this war as well.
Does the notion of lasting peace in Sri Lanka, or one step further even, a multi cultural, muti lingual, multi religious and economically prosperous Sri Lanka sound too incredible a dream to believe? Well look it this way – what about a black man being the president of the USA; a country that was the leader of slavery only a few centuries prior and where institutional segregation thrived as late as in the 1960s.
When I suggested to some Sri Lankan citizens, like myself, the notion that the political leaders of Sri Lanka could co-operate, at least verbally, for the good of the nation at a pivotal and crucial time such as after a military defeat of the LTTE, just as the American leaders did after a crucial election just recently, the response was “this will never happen in Sri Lanka”.
When we look at the two scenarios that have been presented above it does look somewhat incredible for the second option to come true. The phrase “The Audacity of Hope”, the title of Barack Obama’s book, comes to mind.
Leaders of Sri Lanka – why not collaborate for the goal of Peace?
Perhaps at this point in time the leaders I mentioned will not be able to come together in the name of improving the country because it means conceding the ideals that they have been representing wholeheartedly during the time of war.
But at the same time we can ask “why not now”? What reasons would there be for President Rajapaksa not to use a military defeat of the LTTE in the North as a good opportunity to apologise for the atrocities of the 1983 riots and also a chance to pledge specifically to make an effort that a unified state would mean that Tamils are ensured to have equal rights?
In considering why the leader don’t just collaborate to achieve peace for the peole that they represent another reason is that the voting public would make it too difficult to do. For example if President Rajapaksa made an apology to the Tamil people for the riots of 1983, as suggested in the hypothetical example, and a majority of voter felt that this was not appropriate then this good gesture of the President will actually threaten his existence. Only if the public create a climate of positivity for this kind of statement will it be possible. Similarly if Mr Prabakaran sent out a strong message to their supporters that they were going to give up their armes and enter into the democratic political mainstream, they may suffer a lack of support if they didn’t agree with this move, because they have been promised more, such as a separate state with two thirds of the island’s coastline at the very least, and if this was the case his support would be cut.
If we, the public, care to look more closely at the political leaders we may notice that their choices also are often not as clear-cut as we think. They are really in the hot seats that we the public put them in.
If we, the public, demand “peace” and allow deviation from the previous party line, then we will give the current leaders more freedom to make more skilful choices of sustainable Peace. If we, the public, have a narrow minded, short-sighted viewpoint then these same leaders will be forced to stick with the status quo for fear of loosing power and we will miss out on innovative new strategies to bring Peace to our country.
Thus when we look at peace in Sri Lanka, we must realise the choice is not just in the hands of the politicians, but the choice is also ours. When we look in the mirror in the morning and ask “why there is still conflict in this country?” –we are usually quick to blame political leaders, military, terrorists. However, in reality we are also to blame, just as a famous quote by Martin Luther King describes it:
“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
Yes we can change ourselves and our views, but why do we so often not choose to do so?
Also considering the analogy of facing the mirror in the morning and asking the question , “how are we ever going to solve this problem and find lasting peace for our beautiful multicultural island and see it and the people within it prosper?” the flip side is also true. The answer is usually right there starring back at us, and hopefully smiling too.
The only things we need to achieve peace, at least in “our” hearts is that we have to 1) want it, 2) we have to believe it is possible to achieve, and 3) we have to understand that “everyone” needs to contribute in some way, even if it is only in an ideological way.
Let’s make Peace in Sri Lanka a reality, we can get there if we all want it enough and are willing to work together and believe it is possible.
These pictures are taken within the last 6 month where a group of Sinhalese Buddhists went to offer a Puja with Tamil Hindus in one of our Ancient cities only kilometres from the conflict. Within the last 6 month period prior to this there had been multiple terrorist attacks on civilians. To the north of here there was military offensives. The Hindu priest tells us that 90% of the people who come there are Sinhalese – there is no problem at a community level. He also goes on to say that the Buddhist monk from across the road has always been a great support to him.
This alone shows that Peace is already in the hearts and minds of Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka. This movement of co-operation and understanding only needs to be strengthened. It is possible, it can happen, and it “will happen” – will you be behind the movement or simply critical of it?
(i won't put the pictures of the people faces because I haven't asked for permission to post their photos on the internet, but hopefully the temple and fruit display the moment adequately)
I apologise if I have offended with my words or ideas, but I would love the idea to improve my ideas by getting your feedback and knowing your response to what I have said. This has not been easy to write and for me it has taken a lot of courage –I as the same of you, please lend me your thoughts and feedback. This is the only way to progress as individuals and as a society. Action, contemplation, and education re-action.
Even though this is a blog that nobody in particular reads, I have realised that I am very self-conscious and sensitive about what I write here. This is reflected in the fact that I haven’t posted and entry since March 2008 and now it is November 2008. Despite the lack of entry there has been so much that I have wanted to write and post here in the last 6 months.
Why not write more in this blog?
I guess there are several reasons for my self-conscious and sensitivity in writing this blog. One reason is my current busy schedule and horrible addiction to perfectionism regarding what I write (even though it may not show in the quality of the writing). However, it goes much further and deeper than that. One of the things that holds me back from posting things like this is that “Peace” in “Sri Lanka” is a very hot topic, that is also emotionally charged topic.
Also it's a topic where you know people are going disagree with your viewpoint, or certain aspects of your viewpoint, and the people disagreeing may be very close to you - friends or even family. This is particularly difficult because we love our family and friends, even if we don’t always share their ideas or stances on issues. However, we also “believe” what we “believe” and if we don’t express it we will never be able to challenge what we think to be write and believe to be wrong.
The other thing is that sometimes I worry about expressing views on a public forum. At the beginning of the year I held a candle for peace outside Fort railway station along with other peace supporters. I even gave my comments for a private TV station about how I believed in the concepts of piece and non violence. However since them people who have seen this item have suspected that I am a terrorist supporter which is not the case.
Finally it is very difficult to know “all” the facts necessary to hold an absolutely accurate viewpoint. Even if all the facts were known the direction in which we viewed these facts could completely change their message and meaning.
So really what is left then – will we ever really know the truth? The truths behind the conflict is what I’ve been striving to find for 2 and a half years since coming back to Sri Lanka, and before that on and off for my entire adult life. However the more I know about the situation, the less I feel I know.
But strangely the more I know about the situation, the more I care about it, and the more I realise that the truths of the past are nowhere nearly as important as the ways we handle the present moment. Right now it is November 10th 2008 – Peace is really within our grasp. The sooner we realise this in ourselves by letting go of our fears, prejudices and anger, the sooner we will see actual peace in the communities we love and cherish.
2008 can see peace in Sri Lanka if we all want it badly enough. Do you want it badly? Then believe it is possible and let it “truly” exist at least in your heart. It may not come easily, but with practice it can.
God bless, Theruwan Sarani, Om Shanthi, Ishallah, Shalom
Or plain old “let’s hope”
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I just signed an urgent petition calling on the Chinese government to respect human rights in Tibet and engage in meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama. This is really important, and I thought you might want to take action
After nearly 50 years of Chinese rule, the Tibetans are sending out a global cry for change. But violence is spreading across Tibet and neighbouring regions, and the Chinese regime is right now considering a choice between increasing brutality or dialogue, that could determine the future of Tibet and China.
We can affect this historic choice. China does care about its international reputation. Its economy is totally dependent on "Made in China" exports that we all buy, and it is keen to make the Olympics in Beijing this summer a celebration of a new China that is a respected world power.
President Hu needs to hear that 'Brand China' and the Olympics can succeed only if he makes the right choice. But it will take an avalanche of global people power to get his attention. Click below to join me and sign a petition to President Hu calling for restraint in Tibet and dialogue with the Dalai Lama -- and tell absolutely everyone you can right away. The petition is organized by Avaaz, and they are urgently aiming to reach 1 million signatures to deliver directly to Chinese officials:
Thank you so much for your help!
I think this a very good cause. I have also transcribed a recent speech by the Dalai lama describing his vision for world peace in the future which I also strongly support. Have a look!
(see below in this blog at http://peaceandunity-bishan.blogspot.com/2008/02/my-vision-of-compassionate-future.html)
Monday, February 4, 2008
However, today was a very very sad day for me which really drove home the reality of what it means to be at war. There are a lot of conflicting emotions to deal with. Since Saturday there have been 3 bombs set off by the LTTE that have resulted in the death of 31 people and the injury of more than 150 people.
Saturday 2nd Feb - A public bus going from Kandy to Anuradhapura was blown up in Dambulla, killing 20 and injuring over 50 people (people who were on a pilgrimage).
Sunday 3rd Feb - A grenade thrown into the Dehiwala Zoo injured 4 people
Sunday 3rd Feb - A bomb set off on a train in Fort, Colombo's main railways station killed 11 people and injured over 100 people.
These are all civilian deaths. These are all a result of the LTTE terrorist activities.
In addition to these highlighted deaths there are the deaths that are occurring in the North of this beautiful island everyday, due to a military offensive against the LTTE, and the similar retaliations. Basically it's war up there. There are many casualties occurring, the exact numbers of which are not know.
The casualties included the LTTE fighters and SL army soldiers, but also the inevitable loss of civilians caught in the crossfire. This latter group can be considerable as the LTTE often use human shields or recruit children for fighting which means that these kids are victims to both LTTE conscription, as well victims to the artillery of the SL Army because they are now "the enemy". It's very sad.
WAR = KILLING
KILLING = suffering (for the family and friends of the victims)
What do we all want?
--- PEACE -----
I just wrote that because I feel it is easy to forget these simple logical conclusions and words of truth. The current climate is that "war is a solution", not just here in Sri Lanka, but in the entire world. You don't have to look far to find war, or advocacy of violence being a completely normal way to solve a problem. Why is this I wonder? Do we have no faith in the wisdome of some of these great leaders that existed in the past, and what they stood for? Look what they managed to achieve without resorting to violence.
“Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong”
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
“Whenever you have truth it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected”
(quotes by Mahatma Gandhi)
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that"
(Martin Luther King, Jr.)
People who advocate war and violence
I wonder what the people who advocate war in Sri Lanka, or in the rest of the world for that matter, really think when they consider the above statements? Whether they be LTTE supporters, or Sri Lankan army supporters - it doesn't matter - do they really believe taking someone's life is going to improve the world they live in, or even their little part of the world?
I also really wonder - would they be so keen for war if it were their own children on the frontline of the battlefield in the north? If you are and advocate of this war - would you want your own kith and kin on the frontline to be fighting it for you? Please think about that question properly before you answer it ?
My answer is a simple. No
And if this is the case, then I think they should stop hostilities and force a seize fire immediately.
Unless I am personally willing to jump to front line of a military offensive - how can I advocate somebody else to send their children to do my dirty work for me? Sound crazy ? Actually it makes sense, but sadly not a mainstream view point.
There's all sorts of much more sensible view points like " you don't understand, that's not how the world works", "you can't trust them, tho only way to be sure is to kill them and elliminate them " etc etc.
Is there any thought for the countless number of family members or friends who will still be left alive with grievances - no this is never thought about in the simple "kill and exterminate" model, because people who use this model operate on the basis of Kill now, and we can deal with those problems later, rather than let's not kill so we don't have to deal with those problems among other problems.
Anyway my feelings are clear to me. We should immediately stop all violence - re-evaluate the mistaken idea that a military solution to a problem is the correct path to take.
People who advocate war and violence (who themselves live outside Sri Lanka)
If you are living outside Sri Lanka and sitting in an armchair watching CNN or BBC or Al Jezeera - and your advocating or supporting this violence - whether you support the LTTE or the Governments of Sri Lanka or any group that promotes killing or violence - then why don't you come here and start catching the public buses which are being blown up in increasing frequency in the current situation.
Or again, answer the question "are you willing to send your own children on the frontline of the battlefield in the north?". (I pose it in this manner because the majority of people who want this violence somehow are poeple who are old enough to have children, and the children seem to follow what lead thier parents take)
I was due to travel through Dambulla tomorrow, past the very place where Saturday's bomb exploded. My cousin caught a bus from colombo fort railway station where the train exploded, but luckily hours before.
I don't want to be caught up in the next bomb.
Is the loss of even one life- too much? There has to be another way.
There is another way, and if we can't see it - well we just have to look harder.
Pro Peace does not equal Pro LTTE
"Being pro peace does not make you Pro LTTE", I am against "any group" that uses force and violence, and Sadly the LTTE is an incredibly violent group.
In addition to killing many innocent civilians, such as on occasions like today, they have also killed many many Tamil politicians and peacemakers alike. If they are really for a the cause of the Tamils of Sri Lanka they would not behave like this. Also if any group is going to justly represent the Tamil people they should be able tolerate debate within the organisation. Sadly in the LTTE there has very little tolerance of any alternative opinion. This fact is often not know by people unfamiliar with Sri Lanka's conflict and often overlooked by LTTE supporters because of their distrust of the Government is so high.
(the interview : http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2006/nomoretears/special_uthr.html )
This interview with the University Teachers for human rights (Jaffna), and independant Human rights watchdog elucidates this phenomenon well in thier monitoring of LTTE activities over the years, particullarly in the way they killed Dr. Rajani Thiranagama (an LTTE supporter who worked with them and then disagreed with their methods), to send a message that no alternative opinion would be tolerated.
Pro Peace does not equal "Anti-government"
I maintain that it still makes sense to work within the framework of democracy, is supporting the government. However, if the government uses force and violence as their primary means of achieving things, then I cannot support the elements within that want this. I will not limit myself to being "anti-government" as some chose. Being "Anti" anything closes off the door to the opposing side of any argument, and forces one to disengage. In the same way I am not Anit LTTE, despite the killings and past action - I am against those elements who have chosen a violent an inhumane path, or continue to do so.
Whilst the current government is carrying out a military offensive, this doesn't mean that everybody who is within the government agrees with this. The news papers may be black and white, but the minds of many of the people whose ideas get written about are i'm sure a little more to do with "shades of grey". There is plenty of unvoiced opinion in favor of a more peaceful, non violent solution. This is why, a climate of one should be with the government 100%, otherwise you are against them is not the way forward for meaningful dialog and understanding in my opinion.
This is why I hold the government in a position of hope, unlike so many other citizens who are disillusioned by their current military stance. There has to be a way to reach out to the leaders of this country to feel confident that there is another way. If the entire population of Sri Lanka wanted peace by immediate cessation of violence, then the government would have to do this, or atleast it would given them the confidence to do so. Unfortunately this is not the case, but it is just to simple to blame the state without looking at our actions or lack of actions as being party to this tradegy.
I say, even if the current strategy of a "military solution" was carried out, and the LTTE was killed (along with countless civilians - which is what it would amount to). What would be the fall out afterwards - does the advocate of military tactics think of this?
No matter what happens we are going to have to deal with the consequence of so many loved ones having died, but the sooner this happens the less people who have died in an already far too high toll, and thus the better for us all.
Many people who question peace, often say "what is the point always appealing to the government to stop hostilities. Why don't the supporter of LTTE do the same form the LTTE" As mentioned before the very nature of the LTTE organisation is such that it doesn't tolerate descent or core differences opinion. We live in a democracy and we have the power to empower our rights as citizens that this state represents. Whilst people in Sri Lanka do experience problems with freedom of speech, and there are problems, I believe people sing this song far to loud. Since being here I have read many articles about on topics such as "Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinism" where they are publishing articles highly critical of some lines of thinking (which were quite valid opinions) but were published in national newspapers all the same.
When I went on a peace vigil on 31st of December last year (whilst there was an intense military offensive in the north). We had the message of "stop the violence and killing in 2008", and we were treated with respect and dignity by citizens passing by, the local police and military vehicles had passed by without any problem. Whilst mainstream journalism has had issues with freedom of speech, other mediums such as this one (blogging) goes without interference, after all I am expressing my views right now and this is some testament to the country in which I am living. I have read many similar such posting from many Sri Lankan citizens. (Having said this I do know that Tamil. net in blocked in Sri Lanka)
My point that should not be missed is that despite the problems we face here, we do not live in a "dicatorial state", unless we chose to feel that we do. The reality is that democracy of every country is flawed at some level - a recent talk that I went to by the American author, Gore Vidal - illustrated the flaws in US democracy quite nicely.
We can all realise the freedom that we do have and use it to our full potential constructively. We just need to have more constructive diaolog. This is another reason why i set up this blog - so please excercise your rights leave a comment for me and others to read if you so desire.
The real victims - the people who are most important not to forget
The poor people who are innocent victims in this conflict. The families of the people killed in todays bombs. The families of the Soldiers who are also killed . The families of the LTTE who often didn't have any choice but to let their family member join in the fighting, especially in the case of child soldiers. These Tamil civilians in the North who live amongst the LTTE, who are subject to Army and Airoforce attacks on one side, and LTTE forced child conscription on the other side.
These people are all the real victims.
(these are just pictures of regular people I have taken over the last two years, from markets in Wellawatte, Villages in the south, and hospitals in the north central province - with permission. They are not actual victims but represent potential victims - as we all do. Interestingly Tamils, Sinhalese, and Muslims are represented in these three pictures - which is quite fitting because all are victims of this conflict - it affects the entire Sri Lankan population)
Who is responsible for violence?
These are the people instructing the people that fighting is the only way. The heads of the LTTE. Also the heads of state in this government, all the way down to "you" or "I", who have the ability to voice our opinions (unlike the people of the Wanni) but choose not to. We choose not to partly out of fear, but partly because we do not know how to voice our opinions in a effective way (again, why not try leaving a comment)
Why can we not find a better way?
Not tomorrow but today.
How many more deaths do we need to experience?
How close to home does it have to be before we give up the game of violence? Surely the whole world would be a better place if we just gave up violence?
Why do Pro Peace people never protest against LTTE bombings?
I've been asked several times by people who are against Pro Peace movements, saying "you are always jumping up and down whenever the government wants to try an eliminate terrorism in for the safety of the country, but why is it that nobody protests against the LTTE when they set off a bomb?"
I've been looking at my own responses as person who is pro peace -in how I view todays bombs
1) When the LTTE sets off a bomb such as in the Fort Railway station (where the Peace Vigil I took part in on Dec 31st was held) - it really destablises society. Right now I don't feel safe to go the streets. Nor do I think it will be wise to organise a group of people to stand out side fort Railway station with placard saying "LTTE" please stop killing civilians" because the reality is they are now targeting civilians, and a group of people protesting their actions might then be prime targets.
2) I also know that part of the reason the LTTE is targeting civilians is that they are desperate and they are using whatever means are available.
The reality is that in War there are no rules that people follow, especially in terrorist warfare. We can say "the LTTE really shouldn't target civilians", "this is a cowardly and inhumane act" (which it is). I "am" saying this. However, the reality is this is the LTTE do, whether we like it or not.
Therefore, when the government runs offensive military operations in the North, then given the tactics of the LTTE, they know that we will expect to see such bombing that occurred today in the south. Thus they know that their actions will result in civilian death, and are willing to tolerate it.
More force and aggression doesn't lead to less violence, on the contrary, it leads to more.
Anyone who is Truly for "Peace" is against "all killings" no matter who is responsible. Peace is non partisan (see Thich Nhat Hanh video in previous post). I agree that you can twist this by only calling peace when one type of killing occurs - this is certainly not the case in my experience of actually meeting with people who are for peace.
It scares me that society can sometimes actually be "against" peace
(I ask the question are these Buddhist monks or Christian priests really interested in overthrowing the government? Am interested in overthrowing the government - not at all. They just want peace. I just want peace. We all just want PEACE.
I guess the debate comes in peoples belief of how peace will come about - a "War for peace", or perhaps "Peace for Peace" - which one would you invest your money in? I know which one I would )
KILLING = SUFFERING , it's the simple formula. You don't need a degree to figure this one out.
The ultimate hope is that by showing the way of non-violence a peaceful solution can be achieved.
Time to sleep
Anyway, i'm tired, and I have a long PhD proposal to write, that's way overdue. It's hard to explain to supervisors who are in Australia that some of my lack of progress is about caring about the world that I living too much to just "get on with it". Also the belief that I can make a difference, no matter how small it may be, with positive ideas, also seems to hamper progress on the work front - nevertheless I am happy with my choices.
Happy 60th Independance Sri Lanka - let's make it worth something, I know we can, despite the odds.
Here's hoping that Sri Lanka moves toward the amazing country that it could be - one that respects unity in diversity, peace and understanding. I believe it can be, and when we think, talk and discuss, we are making positive steps in the right direction. To work with these "shades of grey" rather than to choose either "black or white" is the challenge that awaits us and could help us create the rainbow of our future.
Tonight please spare a thought for all the innocent victims of this senseless violence.
( I really mean "senseless" - violence never make sense when you really look at it - if you can give me a logical reason why violence does make sense please let me know)
Finally I would like to post the Dalai Lama's recent words on a his vision of a Compassionate Future (next post)
May all you all being be well, and truly find peace in this lifetime
Please read the Dalai Lama's message - it is beautiful piece of work and truely inspirational - i've copied the section that I think is relevant to my current discussion below
"But the genuine practice of nonviolence is still at an experimental stage. If this experiment succeeds, it can open the way to a far more peaceful world. We need to embrace a more realistic approach to dealing with human conflicts, an approach that is in tune with a new reality of heavy interdependence in which the old concepts of "we" and "they" are no longer relevant. The very idea of total victory for one's own side and the total defeat of one's enemy is untenable. In violent conflicts, the innocent are often the first casualties, as the war in Iraq and Sudan's Darfur crisis [ed note - "or the Sri Lankan conflict"] painfully remind us. Today, the only viable solution to human conflicts will come through dialogue and reconciliation based on the spirit of compromise."
My dream is that we have an end to human conflict. This dream is achievable if enough people believe it.
Standing fo peace is "not" Crazy.
Sunday, February 3, 2008
MY VISION OF A COMPASSIONATE FUTURE
By The Dalai Lama
Sunday, October 21, 2007; B01
Brute force can never subdue the basic human desire for freedom. The thousands of people who marched in the cities of Eastern Europe in recent decades, the unwavering determination of the people in my homeland of Tibet and the recent demonstrations in Burma are powerful reminders of this truth. Freedom is the very source of creativity and human development. It is not enough, as communist systems assumed, to provide people with food, shelter and clothing. If we have these things but lack the precious air of liberty to sustain our deeper nature, we remain only half human.
In the past, oppressed peoples often resorted to violence in their struggle to be free. But visionaries such as Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. have shown us that successful changes can be brought about nonviolently. I believe that, at the basic human
level, most of us wish to be peaceful. Deep down, we desire constructive, fruitful growth and dislike destruction.
Many people today agree that we need to reduce violence in our society. If we are truly serious about this, we must deal with the roots of violence, particularly those that exist within each of us. We need to embrace "inner disarmament," reducing our own emotions of suspicion, hatred and hostility toward our brothers and sisters.
Furthermore, we must reexamine how we relate to the very question ofthe use of violence in today's profoundly interconnected world. One may sometimes feel that one can solve a problem quickly with force, but such success is often achieved at the expense of the rights and welfare of others. One problem may have been solved, but the seed of another is planted, thus opening a new chapter in a cycle of violence and counter-violence.
From the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia to the popular pro-democracy movement in the Philippines, the world has seen how a nonviolent approach can lead to positive political changes. But the genuine practice of nonviolence is still at an experimental stage. If this experiment succeeds, it can open the way to a far more peaceful world. We need to embrace a more realistic approach to dealing with human conflicts, an approach that is in tune with a new reality of heavy interdependence in which the old concepts of "we" and "they" are
no longer relevant. The very idea of total victory for one's own side and the total defeat of one's enemy is untenable. In violent conflicts, the innocent are often the first casualties, as the war in
Iraq and Sudan's Darfur crisis painfully remind us. Today, the only viable solution to human conflicts will come through dialogue and reconciliation based on the spirit of compromise.
Many of the problems we confront today are our own creation. I believe that one of the root causes of these manmade problems is the inability of humans to control their agitated minds and hearts -- an area in which the teachings of the world's great religions have much to offer.
A scientist from Chile once told me that it is inappropriate for a scientist to be attached to his particular field of study, because that would undermine his objectivity. I am a Buddhist practitioner, but if I mix up my devotion for Buddhism with an attachment to it, my
mind will be biased toward it. A biased mind never sees the complete picture, and any action that results will not be in tune with reality. If religious practitioners can heed this scientist's advice and refrain from being attached to their own faith traditions, it could
prevent the growth of fundamentalism. It also could enable such followers to genuinely respect faith traditions other than their own. I often say that while one can adhere to the principle of "one truth, one religion" at the level of one's personal faith, we should embrace at the same time the principle of "many truths, many religions" in the context of wider society. I see no contradiction between these two.
I do not mean to suggest that religion is indispensable to a sound ethical way of life, or for that matter to genuine happiness. In the end, whether one is a believer or a nonbeliever, what matters is that one be a good, kind and warmhearted person. A deep sense of caring for
others, based on a profound sense of interconnection, is the essence of the teachings of all great religions of the world. In my travels, I always consider my foremost mission to be the promotion of basic human qualities of goodness -- the need for and appreciation of the value of
love, our natural capacity for compassion and the need for genuine fellow feeling. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people.
When I first saw a photograph of Earth taken from outer space, it powerfully brought home to me how small and fragile the planet is and how petty our squabbles are. Amid our perceived differences, we tend to forget how the world's different religions, ideologies and
political systems were meant to serve humans, not destroy them. When I traveled to the former Soviet Union in the late 1970s, I encountered widespread paranoia, even among ordinary people who feared that theWest hated them so much that it was ready to invade their country. Of course, I knew this was mere projection.
Today, more than ever, we need to make this fundamental recognition of the basic oneness of humanity the foundation of our perspective on the world and its challenges. From the dangerous rate of global warming to the widening gap between rich and poor, from the rise of global terrorism to regional conflicts, we need a fundamental shift in our
attitudes and our consciousness -- a wider, more holistic outlook.
As a society, we need to shift our basic attitude about how we educate our younger generation. Something is fundamentally lacking in our modern education when it comes to educating the human heart. As people begin to explore this important question, it is my hope that we will
be able to redress the current imbalance between the development of our brains and the development of our hearts.
To promote greater compassion, we must pay special attention to the role of women. Given that mothers carry the fetus for months within their own bodies, from a biological point of view women in general may possess greater sensitivity of heart and capacity for empathy. My
first teacher of love and compassion was my own mother, who provided me with maximum love. I do not mean to reinforce in any way the traditional view that a woman's place is confined to the home. I believe that the time has come for women to take more active roles in
all domains of human society, in an age in which education and the capacities of the mind, not physical strength, define leadership. This could help create a more equitable and compassionate society.
In general, I feel optimistic about the future. As late as the 1950s and '60s, people believed that war was an inevitable condition of mankind and that conflicts must be solved through the use of force. Today, despite ongoing conflicts and the threat of terrorism, most people are genuinely concerned about world peace, far less interested in propounding ideology and far more committed to coexistence.
The rapid changes in our attitude toward the Earth are also a source of hope. Until recently, we thoughtlessly consumed its resources as if there were no end to them. Now not only individuals but also governments are seeking a new ecological order. I often joke that the moon and stars look beautiful, but if any of us tried to live on them, we would be miserable. This blue planet of ours is the most delightful habitat we know. Its life is our life, its future our future. Now
Mother Nature is telling us to cooperate. In the face of such global problems as the greenhouse effect and the deterioration of the ozonelayer, individual organizations and single nations are helpless. Our mother is teaching us a lesson in universal responsibility.
The 20th century became a century of bloodshed; despite its faltering start, the 21st century could become one of dialogue, one in which compassion, the seed of nonviolence, will be able to flourish. But good wishes are not enough. We must seriously address the urgent question of the proliferation of weapons and make worldwide efforts toward greater external disarmament.
Large human movements spring from individual human initiatives. If you feel that you cannot have much of an effect, the next person may also become discouraged, and a great opportunity will have been lost. On the other hand, each of us can inspire others simply by working to develop our own altruistic motivations -- and engaging the world with a compassion-tempered heart and mind.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet.
Since 1959, he has been living in Dharamsala, in northern India, the
seat of the Tibetan government in exile.
(c) 2007 The Washington Post Company
Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly,
kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably,
Live with gratitude and peace in your heart.
by Cat Gilliam