Friday, May 29, 2009

We Are the Same…Not Different

By Ven. Walpola Piyananda, Chief Sangha Nayake of America

The old saying, “the world is getting smaller all the time,” was never more true than it is today. We have seen how the economic crisis in the United States triggered the downturn in the entire world economy, and we have also seen how extremist terrorism quickly spread like a cancer from one country to another – seemingly overnight. Geopolitical boundaries have very little meaning these days in terms of events; even if we think they are local and insignificant, each and every one of them affects the whole planet. In other words, we’re all downwind of everything that happens to everyone.

There are metaphysical and spiritual reasons for this phenomenon, the main ones being: we are all connected at deeper levels than we ever suspected; there is no such thing as separation; “me,” “mine” and “I” are myths; karma, cause and effect, is the fundamental law of the universe.

The Buddha explained the mechanism of cause and effect in his teaching of Dependent Origination: as conditions arise and pass away, phenomenon also arises and passes away; for one condition to exist, such and such a condition must arise; for a condition to cease to exist, such and such a condition must cease; and so on.

Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans now have a golden opportunity to realize these basic, ancient truths. For example, the primary cause for the social and economic ruination of Sri Lanka during the past three decades has ceased to exist: Prabhakaran, his LTTE, and its dreams of a racially-segregated Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka are finished. That primary cause having ceased, now is the time to work on eliminating the other, more subtle, secondary causes that threaten to keep us de-stabilized, and from resuming our rightful place as a global economic player. Those causes are the unfounded feelings of separation that exist between Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, and Malays; the illusionary sense of false identity claimed by each of these groups; and the equally-illusionary false notion that one group is superior to the other, or that one is entitled to dominate the others because of history, tradition, or size of population. All of these causes must cease to exist, and be replaced by strong new positive conditions, which are spawned by all groups identifying themselves as Sri Lankan first.

The terrorist conflict first arose because of perceived differences between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, and it eventually spread out of control. In actuality, the Sinhalese and Tamil races both trace their origins to the Indian sub-continent: one group theoretically from the North, and the other from the South. We look alike, our blood is the same color, we share the same cultural and religious roots, we both share the same aspirations for success and happiness, and we both experience suffering in the same way. So how can we claim to be different? Realistically, we can’t.

As our President recently said, and I paraphrase, “There are only two types of Sri Lankans: one type loves the country and wants to see it unified and prosperous; and the other type wants to perpetuate the old ideas of disunity and separation. There are no other types; and there are no minorities.” I completely agree with the President, and support him in his efforts to help us change our mind-set to accommodate this new view: there is no other way to achieve peace and harmony in our motherland except by unifying our individual hopes for its future.

The Buddha taught us that the present moment was the only reality, and this timeless message is so relevant and important for our current situation in Sri Lanka. Old wrongs and past issues must pass away, and allow new conditions to arise that will stimulate a fresh start. Two generations have already grown up since the old wrongs were committed, and young people today only learn about them from their elders who knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate them in the minds of their children. This negative mental indoctrination of successive generations does nothing but keep the false idea of separation alive, and if we are to succeed in rebuilding our country, it must be stopped for good. It must be replaced by the idea that we are all Sri Lankans – regardless of the group we came from.

On a positive note, we have the opportunity now to encourage conditions to emerge that will greatly benefit our country in a wide variety of ways. We can show our Tamil brothers in the North and East (and everywhere else on the island, for that mater) that we are serious about including them in a consensus Government that appreciates our language, cultural and religious differences rather than ignores, criticizes, or condemns them. We can also eliminate political parties founded on racial or ethnic platforms. Another way is to direct our collective energies toward fostering social and economic programs that create an environment conducive to growth. In addition, we can support the arising of conditions that make everyone feel safe from the threats of physical and mental terrorism, and insures that all are free to enjoy the benefits of a new, reformed political culture that is free from corruption and self-serving bureaucratic obstacles.

To the so-called “Tamil Diaspora,” I ask you to take a second look at your imagined need for an ethnic Tamil homeland in the first place. Why is this necessary – particularly in the free democratic country of Sri Lanka? How will it benefit you? What role do you see yourselves playing in the new unified Sri Lanka? How can you help it recover and eventually prosper? Many members of the Diaspora were born in the Western countries they currently live in, and have no real sense of “life on the ground” in the country they wish to divide. To those, please ask yourselves: “Would Sri Lanka be better for my Tamil brethren in a separate country only for Tamils – or in a free, unified democracy where everyone is included in the political process?” This latter is President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s goal, and I’m confident that he will make it a reality.

In conclusion, all of us, as citizens of one nation, need to allow the conditions to arise that are conducive for success in our new, reborn Sri Lanka. Each one of us is responsible for the outcome, and each one of us will enjoy the rewards.

The Hindu Bhagavad Gita says, “Understanding, wisdom, clarity, forbearance and truthfulness, inner control and peace, joy, grief, the arising and passing away of things; Whatever exists is disposed to such states of mind, and all these varieties come from me.” Let us learn to accept our differences and appreciate them as the products of countless generations of conditions.

As our Christian friends quote from the Bible, “All things must pass away, and all things are made new.” I implore you all to let the past pass away, and create the new with optimism and re-invigorated commitment to your country.

Our Muslim friends use the phrase from the Quoran, “For those who believe and work deeds of righteousness is a reward that will never fail.” To this I say, “Inshallah!”

In the words of the Buddha, “Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a Law Eternal.” I implore you to put aside hatred and ill-will towards any living being, and focus your attention on the good that lives in everyone.