Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy was to work for the wellbeing of all, to awaken the potentiality of all people. Lord Buddha, 2500 years before Gandhi, taught us to extend our loving kindness towards the entire living world, to look at humanity and nature as a whole with a universal perspective without getting trapped into all kinds of sectarian views based on our political, religious or cultural divergences.
Extremist and intolerant attitudes are born of a kind of instability of mind, brought about by a number of causes interacting on the human personality. The Gandhian and Buddhist approaches look at the totality of these causes and factors and try to bring about a transformation at the very root level.
“Fanatical excess is a thing always to be shunned. The middle path is the royal road, “wrote Gandhi (Young India, 21 March 1929). “It is good to die for religion, but for religious fanaticism one must neither live nor die.” (Bapu-ke-Ashirvad, Sept 13, 1948) Lord Buddha attained supreme enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodhgaya, and realised that neither self-indulgence nor self-mortification would lead towards Truth. He took to the Middle Path between eternalism and annihilationism.
When we discuss fanaticism, it is important that we understand the Middle Path explained both by Mahatma Gandhi and, in greater detail and depth, by Lord Buddha. Fanaticism arises due to a multiplicity of causes, including economic deprivation, political subjugation and religious or cultural intolerance which lead to frustration, violence and even terrorism. When the causes are no more there, there will be no fanaticism.
The Middle way of Lord Buddha is encapsulated in the Noble Eight Fold Path under which we seek right understanding, right thought, right words, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
In the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka, with which I am associated, the Middle Path provides the background of our practical programmes to heal our minds, our society and our environment from today’s myriad of serious ailments.
We begin with an educational process for parents who bring children into this world. We believe that the raising of consciousness in the new-born must also be related to dispositions in the past of a dying person who struggles to continue his existence. It is important to understand the true facts about our entering this world at birth and leaving this world at death so that we are prepared for both. The parents, the members of the family and the community have to provide the person born into this world not only with right nutrition and health care, but also the psycho-social environment for the normal unfolding of his personality. In this, we must cut across all social, cultural, economic and ethical barriers. Any tendency to discriminate against any human being has to be totally discouraged and prevented during this early childhood period.
Next, we pay our attention to adolescence, when the child begins to develop his identity and even his tendency to acquire false views which may bring about harm to himself and others in adulthood. At Sarvodaya, we seek to organise mass campaigns with the objective of creating a psychological and spiritual environment where the civil war in the north and east of the country and terrorist activities in the south can be peacefully resolved.
Sarvodaya does not believe democratic participation of people in their economic life and political governance can be achieved unless direct self-governance (Gram Swaraj of Gandhian thought) is achieved in each village area or community. Community-based power is the answer to most of the social disturbances and violent upheavals that are brought about by fanatical actions of power hungry rabble-rousers in our societies. Community power is based on an awareness that long run non-violent power is preferable to short-lived power based on fanatical threats and terrorist attacks.
We, at Sarvodaya, follow Gandhiji’s integrated and holistic approach to development, peace and education with emphasis on the following: swadeshi, bread-labour, aparigraha (non-possession), trusteeship, non-exploitation, equality, appropriate use of machinery, satyagraha and basic education. These are all interdependent and form a coherent system, as was Lord Buddha’s teaching of the Noble Eight Fold Path.