Conference 'Economics of Non-violence...' - Development Alternatives: Humane Development

Posted: 03.12.2005
Updated on: 02.07.2015

December 5-7, 2005: New Delhi

Conference Paper:

Development Alternatives: Humane Development

Dr. Ashok Bapna

With the world fast turning into a Global Village and the countries getting interconnected through a complex system, learning on exploitation, exploration and economic development is gaining a new dimension. Development cannot be confined to a country, ignoring vast under-privileged humanity and compromising with the disappearance of values, such as compassion, love, and truth and, above all, the need for co-existence in society.

The major problem with the current economic growth model is that it has failed to uplift large sections of mankind in a world where economic power is skewed against deprived people, leading to a persisting gulf between the have's and have not's, thus reducing human dignity and higher values and leading to grave social injustice, violent conflicts, sharp dissensions and ultimately to wars of global dimensions.

Another problem with the present economic system is that it depends heavily on the continuous stimulation of consumption. In order to increase consumption, the market economy takes recourse to unholy marketing techniques, cheating, using sex ads to sell products and encouraging self-indulgence to extreme heights. This is contrary to the traditional values of hard work and frugality. Too much of materialism and consumerism lead to decline in morality, lack of sustainability of higher values in life & finally, cultural and spiritual erosion.

Undisputedly, possessions and wealth are necessary for leading a comfortable life. However, they should serve our need, and not greed. Whether it is clothing, shoes or homes, possessing more than what is required becomes a wasteful hoarding. Amassing of wealth and possessions come from internal insecurity of an individual. This leads to a spiral: to get more money for acquiring more money and services, and finally leading to unethical and immoral life style. We should not forget the dictum that 'where wealth accumulates, man decays'.

The debate over the last two decades has given a new hope for humanity. We need to recognize the fact that 21st century has thrown many new challenges and the very existence of humanity is at crossroads. It is being predicted that a third of the world's adult population that is more than one billion people will suffer from high blood pressure by 2025. Cardiovascular disease is one of the top killers in most countries accounting for 30% of all deaths worldwide.

The US is a prosperous and powerful nation, but about 75 per cent people there suffer from sleep disorders. A recent survey shows that one out of every four Americans has psychiatric problems. The survey, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, reveals that the younger generation is especially prone to mental illness and depression. They take to alcohol, drugs, live under constant fear or develop various types of phobias. The survey also shows that more than fifty per cent of the Americans have suffered, at one time or the other, from psychic problems & disorders in their life. These facts put a question mark on the path we have chosen and the goals we want to achieve. There seems to be a need to reconsider our social and economic priorities.

Today there is too much emphasis on adopting a new development strategy for achieving high growth rate to improve living standards of the people in underdeveloped countries of the world. This emphasis is not unjustified. But when we look at the day-to-day events even in India, we feel a little disheartened and disappointed at the prevailing socio-economic and political situation. India, which has been acclaimed as the 'Spiritual Guru' of the world in the past, now presents a dismal picture of a land, where various types of evils like attacks on innocent civilians by terrorists, killings by organized groups, scandals of different kinds, economic loot by mafias operating in various sectors of the economy; such as land, mines, forests, currency notes, judicial stamps, drugs and medicines, articles of daily consumption such as milk, ghee, vegetable oils, etc., are eating into the vitals of our entire social fabric. Therefore, we have to learn and practice the 'ABC of spiritualism, before we can boast loudly to adopt wholesale spiritualism in our life-style. That way alone lies the salvation of not only India, but the entire mankind. A happy blend of economic advancement and moral advancement is the need of the hour. There is no question of 'either/or' here, it is a situation of having both of them, which alone can save mankind from the impending doom and disaster. India must learn this lesson without loss of time and teach it to other nations as well. That way alone it can regain its past glory and greatness.

Gandhiji (1869-1948) was known to hundreds of millions across the globe as the "Mahatma" or "great soul", whose emphasis on non-violence, combined with a great human vision, brought about the emancipation of India in 1947. He was the most decisive theoretician and the most spectacular practitioner of non-violence. Gandhiji's overall strategy for peace & justice hinged upon the practice of all seven solutions, selfless service, fair & right labour, love and non-violence, conciliation, participation in government, education/re-education, and sharing of resources.

"The Gandhian strategy is a challenge to us. If we want a world that is secure and human, we have a responsibility to change our lives! We have a responsibility to make changes around us that will improve the lives of others" (Gy de Mallac's book on "Gandhi's seven steps to global change").

Today's world is in the throes of several global crises that have repercussions for us all. Swelled by growing numbers today, world population, now at more than six billion, is on its way to alarming signals.

Precious nonrenewable energy resources are being squandered, while we are witnessing a rapid deterioration and loss of resources essential for agriculture. All the while, we are living in the shadow and insecurity of a formidable escalation in the production of lethal weapons - a colossal waste of the world's precious resources that could be better used to cater to the basic needs of humanity.

The sense of insecurity can be reduced by first trying to understand ourselves. Most people are afraid of looking deep within. But a deeper understanding will give us a perspective in life, which is the genesis of spirituality. It will help in the understanding of the spirit inside us.

Spirituality can help in keeping our greed for material and resources in check. As a person progresses on the path of spirituality his or her priorities in life undergo a change. The focus of life shifts from greed impulse to giving and sharing of resources with others. Giving here does not specifically refer to giving to charity, etc. It refers to attitudes towards life, the basic awareness that life is a matter of developing or unfolding from within. It is knowing that life is not something to get, but something to give.

Spiritual approach in human behaviour will allow us to discover the wonder of giving and experience the blessing of inner fulfilment and affluence. The law is exact: if we give, really work in a giving spirit rather than a receiving one. When we begin to understand this principle, we would know that there is a wellspring of life, substance, and intelligence within us, and that ours is the privilege at any time of giving way to its flow.

A key feature of spiritual economics that differs fundamentally from current economic theories is the recognition of the importance of spiritual advancement of man along with his material advancement. It teaches him to balance his spiritual and material efforts. But the main thrust of the system lies in having a deep and overwhelming concern for the welfare of all, as enshrined in the following Upanishadic Shloka:

Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Niramaya
Sarve Bhadrani Pashyantu
Ma kaschid Dukh Bhagbhavet



- Bhavishya Puran




which translates in English as:

May all be Happy
May all be Healthy
May God look after their welfare
May they have no sufferings to bear.

We have to remember that all human beings have evolved from a common source, are parts of one and the same organism and everyone's welfare is dependent on others in many ways. This very idea must have led Albert Einstein to say in his book 'Society and Personality', "when we survey our lives and endeavours, we soon observe that almost the whole gamut of our actions and desires is bound up with the existence of other human beings." He was convinced that "a man's value to the community depends primarily on how far his feelings, thoughts and actions are directed towards promoting the good of his fellows."

Sri Krishna gave the lesson of altruism several thousand years ago in the Gita, "Of all living beings those who do good to others through their lives, wealth, wisdom and their worlds - they alone justify their birth." In fact, the thrust of the message of the Gita is the welfare of all: "Rejoice in the good of all creatures." The Bible too has laid great stress on love and self-sacrifice. Love thy neighbour as thyself; 'Don't forget to do good and to share what you have with those in need." The Quran has similar precepts and teachings.

The consecration of ones' acquisitions and possessions to public good has to be a continuous process, for the more one gives, the more one gets and the blessings as they come, must be passed on to the needy and to society in general. For the individual it is, therefore, a compulsory spiritual discipline to recognize the composite character of mankind and to work in teams for the good of all in spite of inevitable natural differences.

The fundamentals of the entire economic system are spiritual in nature and are associated with the world of the heart and spirit. It means that it is the spiritual and human values alone in the last resort that can bring in man's nature such a fundamental change as to enable him to adjust the economic relationships of society. It is only in this way that man can mould and control the economic forces that threaten to disrupt the foundations of his existence.

In the beginning of 21 st century, the thrust of discussion has shifted from economic development to the well being and welfare of humanity, and there are people who feel convinced that unless there is a complete reconciliation between economics and spirituality, there will not be peace in the world, there will not be a state of human welfare which would be really acceptable to us all. They do not simply talk of an economic development pattern that increases the material welfare of the people, a world void of hunger and malnutrition, one that is gender equal, one that protects our children and so on, but also of development with emphasis on human and civic values that would bring about happiness and everlasting peace. Economics uninformed by holistic values of development is 'freakonomics'. Acharya Tulsi, a renowned spiritual leader and Jain Saint, held in highest esteem in our country and abroad, once said if economic development is secured at the cost of peace, the resultant distressed persons cannot enjoy economic prosperity. It is a basic requirement of the present times that there should be a synthesis between the satisfaction of economic wants, social harmony and peace. Development must lead to human enlightenment.

The President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam observed in an article published in the Times of India dated, July 19, 2003, that "The enlightened citizen emerges out of education with a value system, transforming religion into spiritual force and economic development. Integrated development of all these similar aspects would enrich society with peace and prosperity in abundant measure". Emphasizing the holistic approach, Deepak Chopra has also said that "a think tank of economists, scientists, sociologists, and philosophers can help in four major areas: social justice, economic disparity, ecological balance and conflict resolution".

Similarly, another highly respected spiritual leader of the present times, Acharya Mahapragya, who has authored the book The Economics of Mahavira holds that economists, sociologists, psychologists, educationists, scientists and religious teachers should join together for preparing a new outline of economics which can solve modern problems. Acharya Mahapragya has scientifically studied scriptures and examined various principles propounded by Lord Mahavira and other saints and sages in relation to their applicability to life in the present day context and suggested solutions to problems at the micro and macro level. Acharya Mahapragya stresses the need to follow Lord Mahavira's principle of sharing resources with others in a just and equitable manner.

The relevance of the message of Mahavira has increased manifold in the present age which is marked by violent conflicts arising from economic hegemony, exploitation and profiteering. Mahavira's whole gamut of thought is based on ahimsa which has in it the quintessence of all faiths. If his preaching is followed in true spirit, it can resolve many thorny problems of modern times. Mahavira asked his disciples to limit their consumption and possession, but did not forbid production and acquisition. While modern economics pleads for multiplication of wants or desires. Mahavira said that there could be no peace unless desires were restrained. Mahavira's emphasis on ethical conduct in day-to-day dealings is itself a panacea for all ills prevalent today.

In the preaching's of several other spiritual leaders also individual is the focus of change. The present-day propounder of "vipasyana" mode of meditation in India aims at creating better human beings. He says, "By walking down the path of Vipasyana meditation, we arrive at experiences that season and mature our personality. The personal transformation we undergo becomes the catalyst for social change as we influence everything around us". Vipasyana, he avers, contains nothing of sectarian nature. This technique is a simple logical way to achieve real peace of mind and to lead a happy and useful life. It teaches us personal responsibility and encourages the practitioner to find peace and harmony within and to generate peace and harmony for others.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living movement, also known as the spiritual Guru of Joy, and Swami Ram Dev, the Yoga Guru, moved by a deep and overwhelming concern for the welfare of all, are striving hard to improve the human condition by teaching people the art of living life powerfully and joyfully through yoga, meditation and service. "So long as you breathe the free air of earth, you are under obligation to render grateful service", said Paramhans Yogananda in his Autobiography.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom published after he won Nobel Prize in 1998 also lays stress on human values. According to Brahma Kumaris goodwill towards fellow beings, fair play, sympathy, non-violence and compassion are some of the essential human values. If we peep a little into this work-a-day world, we find that these values are really of great value. The preface to Brahm Kumari's publication New Beginnings says, "As the world plunges deeper and deeper into one crisis after another, an ever growing number of people are witnessing the rebirth of all that is true and noble in the human heart. On one side, the clamour for change, liberation, independence and equality; and on the other, the perception that the change required is not simply a matter of economics or politics, but one that touches the core of our nature, attitudes and visions".

The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyasto, vehemently supports the movement for happiness to be adopted as an economic indicator. In a letter of support to an international conference in Bhutan on Gross National Happiness, he writes: "As a Buddhist I believe that the purpose of our lives is to overcome suffering and cultivate happiness. But by happiness, I do not mean the temporary pleasure that is derived from material comfort alone. I am thinking more of the enduring happiness that results from the thorough transformation and development of the mind that can be achieved through the cultivation of such qualities as compassion, patience and wisdom. At the same time, on national and global levels we need an economic system that enables such a pursuit of true happiness. The purpose of economic development should be to cntribute to rather than obstruct this goal."

A group of western economists, inspired by Bhutan 's Concept of Gross National Happiness are working to get the idea adopted internationally. "Gross International Happiness could be the next level of evolution in our economic thinking", says the Dutch economist Sander Tideman. Bhutan, led by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, is the only country in the world to measure its well being by Gross National Happiness, instead of Gross National Product. The unorthodox approach is an attempt to question the values of unbridled economic progress, and bring to the forefront the importance of maintaining a balance between tradition and modernity.

"There is a need for a new movement that talks the language of economists and tries to expand their horizons," says Tideman. "Since the Enlightenment we stopped seeing the divine in everything and the west created economic models that say that if we have enough material goods we will be happy. Now that is completely invalidated." This view is endorsed by the Dalai Lama, who says, "I have discovered in my travels around the world that people in wealthy countries are often not nearly as happy as I had expected them to be, considering their material affluence. Seeing deep poverty side by side with conspicuous consumption in both wealthy and poor countries also indicates that all is not well."

Continuing with his argument Tideman says, "Our western culture has defined well-being and the objective of life in purely material terms. We need a model that embraces the totality of life that's also based on the immaterial reality including emotions, feelings, water, earth, sunshine, all those softer values that don't show up in current economic and business models. Once you do that you can create true value. That's the way forward."

To make man better and better is the main function of economics which conventional economics has neglected so far. Let us now endeavour to change the world into a place where men and women will increase the sum-total of happiness by working hard for the good of all to create a model, happy, organized and progressive society where the goal of prosperity and knowledge is aligned to the pursuit of peace and cooperation. Indian spirituality seems to be the better hope in trying to come to terms with a world where nothing else seems to make sense. It gives man the strength to solve the problems of life by cultivation of moral and human values in his life. It gives meaning and purpose to life, inspires people to higher and nobler goals, brings about unity in place of fragmentation and gives peace and solace to the suffering humanity.

In the ultimate analysis, it is humane development which really matters. Keeping an appropriate balance between spiritualism & consumerism is what one is anxiously looking for in future. Let us hope the present century does not miss this important message & marches ahead with great hope, vision & optimism. This is what the new 'International Centre for Research & Training in Non-violence & Economics' along with 'Centre for Humanism and Sustainable Development (CHSD)' and 'Society for International Development (SID)' jointly wish to carry forward.

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