Colombo, Religion and faith

Justice Everywhere?

This article is inspired by a programme called Justice Everywhere – an exhibition and events with Martin Luther King III, son of US Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. presiding held in Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka in January 2010.

A young TV journalist asked me whether Martin Luther Kings’ philosophy of non-violence will work in bringing true peace to Sri Lanka ?

I cannot remember how I answered it facing the camera, but I hope I would have said something like this.

Martin Luther King Jr. paid the ultimate price violently driving a non violent campaign to win freedom for African American people who gained their official freedom 100 years earlier.   In my eyes, Martin Luther King Jr. was spiritually a fearless warrior.  He took on a system, a society and a people who were fearful of what he was asking for.  These fearful people though, had the power and guns to resist his dream of white and black people living in harmony.  He fell prey to one of those guns, but his dream is slowly being realized.

Sri Lanka too is ruled by a spiritually fearful people who need protection from their own.   In ruling fearfully, there is little justice everywhere.    Resistance by asking questions makes one a traitor, judged and condemned.   This judgment comes from a place of fear, the same kind that judged Jesus and nailed him to the stake, gave Aristotle the death sentence, oppressed Gandhi and Mandela as they fearlessly went about asking for justice for everyone.

Just like in those times, in taking on King’s Gandhian philosophy of ‘ahimsa’ to bring about justice has huge personal risks in Sri Lanka today.   So, how do we go about this?

I am sure there are many people within this system who’s conscience is tugged at every time a non-violent resistor, a questioner is attacked, abducted or killed.  After all we humans have an in built cosmic spirituality deeply rooted in us.  This spirituality is founded on the oneness of all beings, our interconnected natures so when we hurt another, we hurt ourselves too.  We have to reach out to them.

The difficulty is years of conditioning where spirituality is well hidden by the sensory defilements that excite through material gain, which derive them superficial power.  The challenge is how do we help them see this?

Turning to Religion ?

Religion is supposed to address these very issues, but the institutions have divided us as people more than uniting us in humanity.   These divisions are ingrained too.  The differences – mine is better than yours syndrome – when the original message of the prophets were essentially the same in terms of inward individual inquiry, finding peace within self and enlightenment.   This is happening here to Buddhism as it is externalized through a focus on rituals, loudspeakers and linking it to politics and Sinhala nationalism.

Islam for instance has been branded to be a violent religion for obvious reasons as followers have been misled by subsequent leaders who have shaped it that way to meet their needs for power.   Ms. Jezima Ismail, a panelist at the Interfaith Panel Discussion Session at the Martin Luther King Jr event spoke of the pacific nature of real Islam and went on to redefine Jihad to mean going back to the original book for guidance, meaning the Koran when facing a challenge and not holy war that even many Muslims believe it to be.  Koran has no place for violence in it.  So, it is clear that religious institutions over the years have used a doctrine of violence to seek and hold power over people to meet their leader’s selfish ends.

As we get older, many of us seek more meaning in life and become spiritual, but we see around us though a few stupid old men who are drunk with power not realizing life’s impermanence and the karma of it all.  In the meantime, many people around them suffer.   Yet, I live in hope that there is room for this philosophy of non-violence for us in Sri Lanka through a Dharma Asoka like transformation with our political leaders to create Justice Everywhere – or is it a pipe dream?

Focus on the Young

There may be hope for the future if we start with the young.  Another panelist at the Interfaith Discussion, Brahmacharya Darshan Chaitanya said, we have a great opportunity in Sri Lanka as religion is offered as a subject in the school system.  Yet we squander this opportunity by teaching religion the same way we teach science and geography – the external systems, the rituals, memorizing stanzas, stories and subjecting them to regurgitation at an exam at the end of the year – which has no link to personal spiritual development to bring meaning to their lives through inquiry and mindfulness.    Another panelist, Fr. Mervyn Fernando said that we are teaching religion but not teaching the young to be religious.  To be religious is the inward journey seeking the real truth.  This requires reflection, contemplation, prayer and meditation and we have to help develop these skills.

Then and only then will we create a generation of fearless warriors who will not need big egos and guns to protect them.   They will have the power and the confidence to change this world of contradiction, a world where everyone of us contribute to violence in the form of the oil and arms industry (every time we switch on a light or get on vehicle to travel) which rule us by controlling small nations like ours too through their corrupt practices.  At least the younger generation may make these linkages and work to make this world less violent and less polluted in every way by seeking alternatives to oil and arms, for instance.

Our challenge then is find Justice Everywhere through non-violence against these huge odds and there will be a price to pay.   Then again, if we become fearless warriors we will not fear death.

Personally, there is yet a long way for me for that…. So I keep working on myself towards mindfulness……towards that goal……to end Samsara, the cycle of life, as life is suffering, as another panelist Ven Bellanvila Wimalaratana said and then in the meantime, we may just realize our dream of Justice Everywhere.

May all beings be well and happy!