Image from Wikipedia

In the current hype on ‘Development’ have any of us questioned its intent?  Does it just mean ‘progress’ in the manner referred to by Anada Coomaraswamy when he published the comment that  “we who call art significant not knowing of what, are also proud to progress, not knowing wither” ?  Wandering aimlessly, with success measured only by an increase in industry and consumerism. The current vision of development certainly could not refer to cultural or philosophical development.  So exactly what type of development are we referring to in Sri Lanka when we have various public figures exhorting us towards ‘development’?

It would seem bizarre indeed if it transpired that we have been developing for the past 40 odd years manly in a western consumerist perspective.  One of the standard answers to the question of what is development? is that it means economic growth. On this point Prof. Dudley Seers notes, “in fact, it looks as if economic growth may not merely fail to address social and political problems, certain types of growth can actually cause them”. Economic growth, measured by such indices as GDP, is fundamentally dependent on consumption. The more one consumes the better.  To consume more, one must crave more, but to us in a Buddhist society the consequences of such action should be obvious.  As the Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka Thera noted: Buddhism clearly states that the cause of suffering is craving. “The first sermon of the Buddha states as follows: “Katamauchauso dukkah ariya sachcha? Yaya tanha pono bhavika nandiraga sahhagta tatra tahtabhi nandani seyyathidau kama tauha, bhava tauha, vibhava tauha” “O! Bhikkhus, what is the cause of suffering? It is this craving that leads to repeated becoming, delighting now here, now there, namely craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence and craving for non-existence”

A. M. Hockart who was the head of the Ceylon archaeological survey wrote some poignant words in 1922 that bear relevance to the phenomena of creating desire:

Here is a politician who appeals for help in disturbing the pathetic contentment of Asiatic peasants and is ready to pillory as an inhuman wretch anyone who may wish them to remain contented. Contentment has become a crime, because it opens up no markets for goods or for doctrines, woe to the man who does not want more fish, more art, more science, more education, more speed. Trade has no use for him politics and science abhor him. The men after their own heart is the one who can make two desires grow where only one grew before. What, though he threw to the wind, the old fashion restrains and the time honour virtues? What though his stoops to cringing or insolence, to false wood, even to corruption? He is hailed as a creative artist for he has created desire”.

I wonder how truthful would be an advocate of a Buddhist righteous society, if he or she believes in development in the current context, where craving and greed is encouraged as officially as development?

An example of this process at work can be seen in our desire for oil. Oil is a commodity traded on the world market place. The sellers are few and the customers are many. Anyone even remotely familiar with any aspect of marketing will know that as an item of high demand becomes scarce the price increases correspondently. Such is the nature of market commodities. The old story of supply and demand. So, as oil becomes scarce the price increase will become correspondingly larger. Its development measured by increasing dependency in such a commodity?

In a port city in France, goes a story; there live some of the most unscrupulous criminals. There are the drug traffickers who deal in the cruel drug heroin.  Heroin is addictive, it creates a sense of well being; but one requires increasingly large doses to maintain this sense of well being. The victim who begins to take it becomes even more dependent on the drug and freedom from it becomes increasingly difficult. The traffickers it is alleged, give free doses to children in the 12, 13 age group knowing well that the gullible, naïve, children will soon become addicted. When they become addicted they have to pay and the price they will have to pay increases with the addiction. They are trapped in a vicious dependency cycle and there is no way out. They end up being the chattel of the criminals.

Is development to be spell out as dependency on oil? If this is the criterion that governs development and our hopes and sense of well-being is tied to the oil purveyors, how safe are we as an independent nation?

Unfortunately, the power to protect us from these dismal trends reside with the political leadership and their capacity to be sensitive to the long term well-being of the people.

The words of J.R.Jayawardende in his early writings demonstrate such sensitivity.  He wrote; “The environment which the State provides today, for building up the character of its citizens, tends not to the establishment of the ideal but to its destruction. The majority of States, including Sri Lanka, stand for “the purely industrial and utilitarian view of life, the cult of power and machinery and national comfort.

Public education, financed by the State, equips the young to fit into this same environment. Even religious organizations preach the ideal, but practice the opposite. In the social world, in the professions, in commerce and in politics, we find the struggle to acquire for self as the dominant factor. The society that comprises the state is a purely acquisitive society: and the sickness we suffer from is the sickness of an acquisitive society.

The politician in power can change this framework. He can change our environment and he can control and direct Education. He can, by legislation, make it impossible for citizens to control wealth and possessions. He can, by public education teach the ideal and mould the young citizen to take his place in a society that is not acquisitive”.

But most perplexing is that, in rising to power, in a complete betrayal of his stated philosophy, he invited consumerist consumption and the robber barons into this nation as the agents of development.  Thus a nation must remain ever vigilant to the entry of unsavoury elements into the ‘development’ dialogue. It must remain vigilant of hypocrites who trumpet ‘development’ as an excuse for all of their unsavoury activities.  Tragically, a significant feature of today‘s development was begun with the legalizing of gambling and free movement of money, exactly the same policies enunciated by Batista the Cuban dictator at the height of his power to facilitate the entry of the Mafia, which eventually acquired control of that country, spreading misery to the populace.

Can a Buddhist citizenry really accept the current vision of development without being totally hypocritical? To accept greed and desire as a laudable attribute will be to face a future full of suffering, if we accept as true, the words of Gautama Buddha.

  • Amba Yaluwaa

    Great article. Very nicely written and a pleasure to read. Thank you. However, I have to dispute your premise that the “current vision of development” is one of economic growth, facilitated by capitalist behaviors such as consumerism and greed and poisoned by a dependency on commodities.

    It has been long since development discourse broke away from that oft-quoted formula. Development is not only about economic growth but also about how the benefits of economic growth are distributed among people. People-centered approaches to development have been circulating since the 60s, with such ideas as community development, participation and more recently, human development/capability approaches. The consensus today is that the end of development is not industrialization and rampant economic growth/progress but the improvement of human well-being. Amartya Sen’s “Development as Freedom” (1999) argued that development is about expanding human capabilities, enabling people to be and do the things they value. Mahbub ul Haq (1995) similarly explains development as a process of creating an environment in which people’s opportunities and capabilities are expanded, so that they can lead the lives they value.

    Many people fall into the trap of stereotyping development as ‘progress’ and progress as ‘economic growth’, but I think this is unfair to development actors who have striven over the past decades to strip development of such shallow tenets. The position in which development stands today, which is, as a holistic approach embracing the participation of the subjects of development with an objective of improving their well-being, I think, is coterminous with Buddhist philosophy. I do not think a Buddhist citizenry needs to fear a future of suffering if they understand development in its modern sense.

  • dinuk

    Many thanks for this – spot on! I hope it is the beginning of a concerted critique of the militarized, land-grabbing, environmentally and socially destrucutive, neoliberal development model Lanka is following which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. INEQUALITY is the name of the game! However the Poverty Analysis Centers in Lanka merely keep re-discovering different forms of “poverty” in order to stay in the development BUSINESS and racket! The current development model of Rajapakse Bros Inc is one that is intellectually and morally bankrupt and highly militarized and dangerous. In any case it is a failed consumerist development model that generates greed and craving based on over consumption and DEBT which is now crashing the economies of Europe and North America. This model of development is seriously in question in the rest of the world.
    Development has always be a colonial project as as many brilliant academics have pointed out was and is “colonialism by other means” except now the colonized embrace it with more vigor than those who invented it. Mark Duffield has written on how development consists of the perpetual re-discovery of poverty while actually reproducing, policing and maintaining the border between the rich and the poor in his book “Development, Security and Endless War”. Also Nobel winners Stiglitz and Amatya Sen have written on “Mismeasuring our Lives: Why GDP does not add up” and the problem of inequality which leads to conflict and violence.. Keep up the good work Ranil!

  • justitia

    An excellent review of the present day socio-political society in sri lanka today.
    Development, it seems to most citizens, is mostly of the wealth and power of those who are governing us, mostly to ensure their future.
    Citizens are led astray by short term promises, to support and enable them to govern all of us.
    This governance is mainly enabled by police and the armed forces, on which more and more is being spent, even after two years of cessation of war.
    More is to be allocated in the coming budget.
    Why do we need a peacetime army of 200,000 plus navy and airforce, is not clear.
    There are those who say that this is necessary as “an invasion from outside may occur” – but not stated, from where.
    Are we becoming a military state – like Cuba was under Batista, and now under Fidel’s chosen successer?

  • James Chance

    Nice article. Thank you. It’s nice to see Buddhist ideas being used in such a publicly-spirited way. Isn’t it odd that a government so hostile to the west when it comes to governance and human rights has adopted lock stock and barrel the west’s bankrupt polices of develeopment-as-growth-and-consumption? I hope this critique gets a wide hearing – and that the remaining traces of Buddhist Lanka can re-emerge for the well-being of all creatures.

  • Dear Ranil Senanayaka,
    For any development, and the correct understanding of the word ‘development,’ the knowledge, analyzing power and constructive imagination of the students and the ordinary people must be increased adequately. Thus, different subjects should be taught in schools and Universities with the aim of increasing the knowledge, analyzing power and constructive imagination. But, it is rare to find articles on media on changes that have to be made on teaching of the subjects like Languages, literature, culture, civilization, religions, fine arts, archaeology, history etc.
    Our scholars say the Brahmi scripts were used in Lanka from the 3rd – 2nd centuries B.C. But, in Sri Lanka we don’t find a single small poem or story written with Brahmi scrips.The scholars do not explain what necessity compelled the Sinhalese to invent new Sinhalese scripts.
    Failure of our scholars in studying the Pali, Tamil, Sinhala and Sanskrit literature and archaeological finds of Lanka only resulted in the formulation of the imaginary and false doctrine: Aryan – Sinhala – Sinhalese – Theravada Buddhism – Lanka doctrine with one to one correspondence.
    Our politicians who crave for power and fame utilized this imaginary and false doctrine to capture power and loot the country.
    When we take about Buddhism, we talk about the Sinhala Theravada Buddhism only. The Sinhalese and Tamils do not know the existence of Mahayana Buddhism or Tamil Mahayana Buddhists in the ancient time.
    The Sinhala Theravada Buddhists do not know the difference between Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism and the impact of Mahayana Buddhism in the Sinhala language, Sinhala literature, Culture, art and architecture of Sri Lanka.
    The scholars towed in line with the politicians and wrote everything to satisfy the imaginary and false doctrine of the Sinhala nation.Almost all the ‘ancient’ Sinhala literature were written by the Tamil Mahayana Buddhist Monks. But, the Sinhalese scholars talk about the ‘Sinhalese Literature.’ Like wise, without telling the students ‘the Mahayana Buddhist Art and Architecture of Lanka,’they say ‘Sinhala Buddhist arts and Architecture.’
    The Sinhalese scholars talk much about Buddhism. But they have not carried out a scientific study on Symbolization and Symbolization of Buddha and Buddhism.
    Professor Paranavithane studied over 2500 Brahmi inscriptions and wrote a big book.
    But he did not study over 65 different symbols found marked on them. He did not consider the significance of the Symbols. His method of analysis is unscientific. But, all the other scholars have accepted his explanations and conclusions. The present students cannot raise questions over it. If they raise a question, they will not be allowed to pass the paper or examination.
    In the Government official web site, we find the national flag and an explanation on it.
    The lion holding a sword on its right fore paw placed inside a rectangle with pinnacles placed at the four corners symbolizes Lord Buddha who himself adhered to what the Four Noble truth emphasize.
    But, the students and the people are told that the lion symbolizes the Sinhalese race!
    Our scholars say something wrong and imaginary. But, all have to accept.!
    Except the subjects maths, and natural science, all that are taught in the other subjects are wrong and imaginary.
    Thus, the University students who study the subjects archaeology, history etc. do not know how to study scientifically the coins, seals, statues, sculpture, architecture etc.and come to correct conclusion.
    There study has become memorizing things that were taught and reproduce the same in the examination.
    With such a system of education,we cannot expect economic, social, political development in our country.The politicians will say the Infra structure development as ‘Economic development.’ Putting new buildings for schools as ‘Educational developmet.’ Allowing the North and Eastern fishermen do fishing after decades as ‘fishery development.’ But the people will accept this and praise the government ministers, M.Ps and others, and cast their votes.
    Unless the knowledge and analyzing power of our students are increased through appropriate changes in the study of different subjects, talking about development will be a good time killer. All can enjoy! Why not we?