Image courtesy Canadian Lawyers Abroad’s Blog
It is the human being that should be the primary concern of any development programme. After all, it is for the benefit of humanity that all development programmes are mooted. Although often portrayed as an economic and social entity, the human being is primarily a biological entity composed of myriads of interconnected cells and organs. The ideal state of this biological entity is when it is free from any harmful or injurious input, provided with nutrition and deemed ‘healthy’. Both tradition and science have identified many inputs that are harmful or injurious to the biological being. Since the ideal conditions for biological organisms are being free from these negative inputs and since development must be a movement towards the ideal state; we can summarize that ‘Any process or activity that leads to the reduction of the biological quality of life cannot contribute to real development’ or that ‘any process or activity that produces physical or chemical inputs demonstrable to be injurious to biological well being leads to mal development’. Such a stand will allow people rather than abstract entities to attain greater importance in the assessment of development and hopefully regain what was lost in bestowing human rights to non-living entities. Thus no amount of economic gain or corporate growth can justify the erosion of the well being of people.
Development, beyond the provision of a measure of human well-being, becomes a particular word view. Today the development paradigm, whether economic or ecological, is still driven by the same values that created the problems, greed and desire. No amount of growth driven by these forces will provide real development. It reflects the old myth that the ‘hair of the dog that bit you’ can cure that dog’s bite. If modern society has no answers to modern development’s diseases except more of the same, where should we look? It is certainly a question that calls for urgent answers.
Traditional society represents a wide diversity of expression. It is product of a long history of co-evolution within any landscape. The product of these incredibly long processes of ‘informal research’ is codified as traditional knowledge and practice. The inroads of modern consumerist society, the present claimant to the status of global society, are rapidly homogenizing such traditional societies, in pursuance of the ‘modern’ vision of development. Often it is neither democratic nor requested by traditional people, but forced upon them through the use of ‘development agents’ and compliant politicians. The backdrop to the process is aggressive advertizing, advertising creates a pecuniary condition where, a want for something that was never required by a person is created through definition and media used to create a want artificially, it is then sold as something essential to that person.
A.M .Hocart on returning to England from Sri Lanka in 1922 wrote the following experience of this process :
I looked out for the green fields. Soon they came into view with their hedges and tall trees and straying cattle. But what are those huge boards punctuating the meadows at intervals and bidding me to take Dr.Drug’s cure? It is not that Dr. Drug is interested in me and wishes me well; it is my money he wants, and to get it he is prepared to blot out the landscape with his ceaseless iterations. He is not the only one, for as we near town insistent signs multiply, all seeking to awake a desire for pleasure or a fear of evil. ……
If the reader cannot be enticed he must be scared. Bogies are planted here and there to drive the panic stricken quarry into the toils of desire, premature wrinkles, uric acid, indigestion, lassitude, night starvation, all the ills that flesh is heir to, and many more are dangled before the eyes like a specter
As I watch desires and fears crowding to this assault on human peace, there comes before my minds eye a scene often illustrated in Buddhist literature. The Buddha is sitting on his diamond throne, impassive between terrific forms and alluring females. Both fears and longings assail him to divert him from his fixed purpose of saving the world from their tyranny. But he keeps his course.
This was the tradition of Sri Lanka, to understand the teaching given by the Buddha. But under the tutelage of corrupt politicians, priests and criminals, the traditional values give way to the purveyors of desire.
It is not just us, each traditional society had a worldview that must be recognized, valued and incorporated into the international agenda of development. Consider the tradition of the Squamish people of America who on the eve of loosing their land to the colonizers. Their Chief stated:
If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
This was the tradition of the original people of the Americas before they were brutally butchered to make way for the aggression and greed that marked the birth of the ‘developed’ society that the world is supposed to emulate.
Commenting on ‘development ‘ and ‘progress’ in Sri Lanka Ananda Commaraswamy had this comment at the turn of the last century:
The Sinhalese people are not, in my opinion, happier or better than they were in the eighteenth century. Talk of progress, and the reality, is not the same. Civilization is supposed to advance by the creation of new desires, to gratify which the individual must endeavor to improve his position. But in reality it is not quantity, but quality of wants that may be taken as evidence of progress in the Art of Living. No one acquainted with modern Sinhalese taste will pretend that it gives evidence of any improvement in the quality of wants. Indeed, it is sufficiently obvious that quantity, variety, and novelty are not really compatible with quality.
It seems that we have now come to the harvest of the bitter fruits of the seeds that were sown by so-called leaders, who seemed to delight in destroying our traditions and values on the altar of desire. Who trumpeted that it was quantity not quality that was important. They created a group of insensitive, uneducated thugs claiming leadership and promoting the need to sell the land that we sustained for so long in the name of ‘investment’ and ‘development’ to known poisoners of people and destroyers of biodiversity and sustainability of the planet.
As the Buddha states:
I am the owner of my karma I inherit my karma. I am born of my karma. I am related to my karma. I live supported by my karma. Whatever karma I create, whether good or evil, that I shall inherit.
Is the current leadership that we have inherited a consequence of the ignoring of tradition and embracing violence and corruption as an admirable way of life? Indeed the so-called media and arts, seem to glorify this way of life. It is indeed tragic to witness this decent, which must reflect the karmic consequences of our actions, but as the Buddha demonstrated, everything is anicca (impermanent), this too will change.