Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne Basava Sree Award Acceptance Speech
Conferring of Basava Sree Award – 2011
On Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne,
At the Ceremony held at Sri Muruga Math,
Chitradurga – Karnataka . India
On Monday the 15th August 2011
At the outset of my acceptance speech, I wish to express my very sincere thanks to Swamiji Dr. Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru and his selection committee for selecting me to confer this prestigious BASAVA SREE Award for 2011. I most humbly accept this award on behalf of several million people in Sri Lanka who labored with me and my wife ( Neetha Dhammachari, who is also present here) for the last 53 years under the banner of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement – a Movement to Awaken All through Sharing.
I consider it a singular honor to receive this award in the presence of our most respected H.E. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalamji, former President of India. Additionally, I am honored that many other dignitaries are also present at this ceremony. Last but not least, it is an extremely memorable moment in my life to have this opportunity to speak a few words in the presence of Dr. Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru Swamiji and several thousand Sharanas who keep alive the life and mission of Sri Basaveshwara and Sharane Akkamahadevi.
I am delighted today to join the company of an array of great social workers, reformists and peaceful revolutionaries who received the Basava Sree Award before me. Among them are several personalities who are closely known to me such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dr. Kiran Bedi, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Sri Anna Hazare and Swami Agnivesh, all of whom have been great sources of inspiration for my work. At this auspicious occasion, I remember all of them and wish them continued success in their respective humanitarian missions.
I must confess that when I read the material that Swamiji had sent me about Shri Murugharajendra Jagadguru Mutt, I felt that it had much relevance both in its historical and spiritual context as well as in current socio-economic applications to what we are doing in Sri Lanka. We at Sarvodaya are doing exactly the same to transform our society by applying peaceful, constructive and non-violent revolutionary methods and techniques.
Just like Shri Jagathguru Murugharajendra Mutt, we in Sarvodaya treat all life with respect, extend compassion towards all living beings, treat all human beings with equality and fraternity, awaken human personalities, families and village communities for self-governance, building a self-sufficient no-poverty economy, taking care of the environment, safeguarding the ecology and extending all possible services to the needy. We are empowering the poor and powerless people at the very bottom of our society. We are helping the poor and powerless to awaken their consciousness, develop their full potential and build institutions and self-development structures from the bottom-up.
I would like to take this opportunity to describe in a little more detail how we at Sarvodaya are building a better existence for the Sri Lankan people by working toward the same goal as Shri Basavanna and the other Sharanas, the goal being to build a truly spiritually awakened society.
On this day, at the present time, do you understand why there are riots in London, people in Somalia dying due to drought, thousands of Chinese becoming victims of floods, Japanese in Fukushima facing nuclear fallouts and death, Libyans dividing into two factions and killing one another and many more tragic incidents? All of this evil is happening in a world where we are boasting of democracy, good governance, unprecedented economic growth and amazing discoveries and inventions in the field science and technology. Undoubtedly, something has radically gone wrong in our human psyche, our human consciousness and our socio-economic and political arrangements for all of this evil to occur.
In our Buddhist literature we come across five cosmic laws, pancha niyama dharmas, which operate above all man made laws. If we act in violation of these laws as we do now, we have to face the consequences such as earthquakes, tsunamis, tidal waves, tornados, floods, droughts, famines, civil unrest, bloodshed, incurable diseases, wars and such other disasters.
What are these Niyama Dharmas? Firstly, BIJA Niyama or the natural laws pertaining to genes or our genetic formations. Secondly, UTU Niyama, or the laws governing seasons and climates. Thirdly, KAMMA Niyama or the laws of causality. Fourthly, CITTA Niyama or the effect of volitions on the psycho sphere and fifthly, DHAMMA Niyama or the cosmic laws pertaining to all phenomena. Together these five Niyama Dhammas determine the wellness of our environmental and ecological state for plants, humans and other living beings to survive on our planet, mental health or sanity prevailing in our societies in order for us to live together in peace and harmony, and shared spiritual goals that give a meaning and purpose for human existence.
The problem is that the modern world is dominated by materialistic values that always promote greed, aversions and ignorance and disrupt the Niyama Dharmas. We are immersed in a global dark cloud of ignorance bringing about large-scale social unrest, deprivation, and natural and man-made disasters I mentioned earlier. Globalization has led to a concentration of wealth in the hands of high-income elite around the world and this has spread materialist values through society. This has led to multiple forms of organized violence that have been instituted by both the elite in the name of improving society and terrorist groups who promise liberation.
As you know, the result has been the opposite of the positive framing and positive connotations that come with the mainstream rhetoric of “development” and modernization. The rosy concept that the international system paints of an improved society has in fact led to extreme amounts of destruction instituted by states, a decrease in democratic governance worldwide, negative effects on food security and ecological sustainability, and the marginalization and exploitation of women and minority groups, breeding fundamentalism and promoting terrorism, just to name a few. Also, many “improvement” efforts just end up usurping rights and resources of indigenous communities by private business interests for capitalist profit and not for the overall benefit and improvement of the world’s poor.
While I admit that lot of good things are done by governments, intergovernmental organizations and UN bodies to combat this injustice, the global challenges are too big for their generally non-spiritual and highly conditioned and egoistic minds to handle. Therefore, personally I do not believe that much can be expected from them who are committed to increased production and increased consumption, economic growth, global markets and modernization. The modern economic and political systems are not based on any spiritual principles. As I stated earlier, they make the best out of human weaknesses such as greed, hatred and ignorance. So, they do not believe in the three principles of (Anicca) change,( Dukkha) suffering and (Anatta) egolessness that Buddha has shown to us as the three unavoidable conditions we possess. They rather believe in (Nicca) permanence, (Sukha) lasting comforts and (Atta) egoism. In spite of the vast Danda Shakthi (power to punish) and Dhana Shakthi (power of wealth) that these macro organizations have, they lack Dharma Shakthi (strength of the dharma) and Jana Shakthi (strength of the people) which alone can bring about a significant change foe the better.
We at Sarvodaya believe that true cleansing of society can be realized through putting into practice the strength of the dharma and the strength of the people. In more practical terms, we who are spiritually motivated to serve our communities have to base our work on rural and urban communities that can be educated to build their social, economic and political structures on a foundation of their traditional, spiritual, moral and cultural values. It was this kind of initiative that your founder took when he organized his movement 900 years ago which is now being continued by the Sri Jagadguru Murugharajendra Mutt. As his holiness Dr. Sri Shivamurthy Murughanarendra Sharanaru knows, even today, this spiritual approach to cleansing society is the safest and surest path we can take to tackle global problems, however insignificant our efforts may appear to the decision makers of macro organizations and centralized political authorities.
The Sarvodaya Movement was inspired by the teachings of the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggles, examples set by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Sri Jayaprakash Narayan and many other Sri Lankan, Indian and world leaders. These leaders believed in spiritual values and tried to apply them to change the social, economic and political life of people for more freedom, equality and peace. Practicing the spiritual values taught by the above leaders is extremely difficult. While billions are invested for political and business promotion and propaganda to condition gullible people’s minds for the advantage of those who seek and keep power and wealth, hardly one cent is spent for the promotion of cleansing of people’s minds of lobha (greed), dosa (aversions), and moha (ignorance). It is easy to invest in greed, promote aversions and exploit ignorance. But, investing to develop loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity in people is not as easy. This is what you from here and we from there are doing.
Sarvodaya works to get individuals and communities to invest in beneficence. This investment occurs through working together shoulder to shoulder with common people on the basis of loving-kindness and sharing instead of on the basis of greed, cutthroat competition and ego-centricity. We at Sarvodaya believe that this spiritual focus on cleansing of the mind will progressively influence higher echelons of our society.
The Movement strives to build spirituality in the truest Buddhist sense to eliminate both desire and suffering. It follows a bottom-up approach to development by putting the individual in the driving seat and giving individuals responsibility for improving their own lives. Sarvodaya believes that a focus on spiritual values can lead to a transformation of personality and empower the Sri Lankan people to take control of their lives and “wake up together” to rise above the desire and suffering and follow the middle path towards a healthy, no-poverty – no-affluence society.
This integrated infrastructure awakens people and cleanses people’s minds of Lobha (greed), Dosa (aversions), and Moha (ignorance). This infrastructure building takes place through our large Sarvodaya family of work units, independent organizations, and income generating projects. The Sarvodaya family builds this infrastructure through peace marches and meditations, pre-schools, refugee camps, village societies, microcredit programs, women’s empowerment programs, educational exchanges between youth of different ethnic backgrounds, nutrition centers, orphanages, re-integration programs in post-conflict areas, legal services, educational programming and the training of youth in peace work.
Membership in the Movement is more than any single Sri Lankan political party. There are 14 national level independent units affiliated with Sarvodaya that support about 15,000 village societies across Sri Lanka. In every district and sub district Sarvodaya has a development education and development co-ordination centre serving the above villages. 5300 of these village societies are registered as independent legal units. They are organizing savings, credit, entrepreneurship, micro-enterprise programs, with the aim of building their own village bank. There are 12 Development Educational Institutes which are linked to a Sarvodaya Institute of Higher Learning.
The most recent development is the organization of Deshodaya (National Awakening) Councils at divisional, district and national levels. There are 300 Deshodaya Mandals formed of elected members from 3000 village level Grama Swaraja Committees. They in turn delegate 1000 elected members to attend a monthly National Deshodaya Sabha meeting lasting for three days each time in a different district. They take a pledge to work voluntarily on a thirty point program to transform the Consciousness, the Economy and Power relationships in the country without dabbling in power and party politics. They pledge to strive nonviolently to build a Sarvodaya social order where village-self governing units will be the foundation of good governance. We already have 140,000 youth in our Shanthi Sena Movement and we are in the process of enrolling 100,000 National Deshodaya Sabha members.
I have spent 53 years of my life with my colleagues building up the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement and traveling around the world to promote the Sarvodaya message in philosophy and praxis. After 80 years of living, it is refreshing to join my brothers and sisters here in India who do the same work at their 200 religious institutions, 125 educational institutions and many orphanages and social programs. Together we can continue to spread a balanced vision where all people can meet their basic needs and build a future where no one is excluded from a compassionate development process. On this historic day of India’s independence, let us resolve to join together selflessly to become new human beings and build a new world society which works for all – man, animal and plant – and where we will live in peace with ourselves, our human society, and nature.
Thank you again for the Award, the gentle hospitality and affection bestowed on us. I wish all of you good health, long life and dispassionate joy of living and serving our world.
Devo Vassatu Kalena May there be seasonal rains
Sassa Sampatti Hotuca May there be agricultural prosperity
Peetho Bhavatu Lokoca May there be mental joy in all
Raja Bhavatu Dhammiko May the rulers be righteous
2011 August 15