BUDDHISM AND DEVELOPMENT
Cultures and Development ", n° 22, June 1995.
FAITH DURING RIO'S EARTH SUMMIT (UNCED)
and Development", n° 13/14, May 1993.
ACTIVIST AND SPIRITUALITY
"Cultures and Development", n° 13/14, May 1993.
BUDDHISM AND DEVELOPMENT
Tokyo, Cultures and Development's editor had the opportunity to
meet people from SVA-Sotoshu Volunteer Association. SVA is a Japanese
Buddhist NGO of a Soto Zen sect doing development work in Laos,
Cambodia, Thailand. Here follow extracts from their dialogue.
& D - What work do you do as an NGO ?
- Our NGO works in Indo-China with Buddhist monks. These monks
of Theravada Buddhism are launching outstanding activities to
foster the independence of local communities. We want to support
them and also learn from them because they can give us lessons,
in Japan, to go beyond modern progress and acquire more wisdom.
We, as a Japanese NGO, attempt to support "Kaihotsen".
The word development in Japanese is "Kaihatsen".
But in Buddhism we say "Kaihôtsen". With an "a",
the word is objective. But with "o", it is subjective
and it means to develop oneself rather than to be developed. When
we read "No life without roots", we felt the same notion
was present. Kaihotsen is "internal flourishing in harmony
Indo-China, our NGO tries to pay respect to localities. Our mimeography
project in Cambodia is an example of the cultural assistance we
bring, allowing local people to communicate. Even Mhong refugees
were able to communicate thanks to a simple mimeograph machine.
People thus create their culture. Our NGO has "only"
given this simple devise so as to assist peoples' activities.
That, to us, is enough. People help themselves.
balance must be struck between the material and spiritual. For
refugee camps, cultural activity is essential to avert chaos.
I will tell you an anecdote which illustrates how vitally important
culture is to people. One day, in our library, a mother softly
tried to slip a book in Khmer language into her bag. We did have
to object but for her this book was a life buoy. She was about
to migrate, To speak to her child about her country when installed
in a third country was essential to her. That is why she wanted
that book so badly and even tried to steal it. This example shows
how important culture can be for the very survival of people.
& D - How do you feel about the economic and technical progress
of Japan ?
- The world sees Japan as a great success and a model for
the Third World. But our values were destroyed under the slogan
of "catching-up" with Europe. We "succeeded"
but lost many important things. The impact of modern economies
on Buddhism was fatal. The five dragons of the Fast East (or NIC'S)
inspire us with the awesome feeling now that they too will pay
a price ! In Japan, we lost so much ! Alienation is fatal to us.
I hope the Third World will not follow our model.
& D - Can Buddhism offer an alternative to capitalism, now
that this system reigns supreme but is leading our planet to a
tragedy ? At least, can it offer a critique of dominant thinking
which can help us ?
- I think that Buddhism and capitalism are incompatible. But,
concretely, Buddhism in Japan is too weak today. The Japanese
religions are cornered into the Japanese society. Our Constitution
dictates that religions cannot play a political role.
& D - Still political leaders everywhere in the world know
our world is following a dangerous course. A man like Jacques
Delors, president of the European Commission, recently called
upon intellectuals, artists and spiritual leaders in Europe to
speak out, to offer other perspectives, more sense and depth.
- Of course, some people speak out. And we need networking
these people because there are many restrictions in Japanese society
on social criticism. To cope with capitalism, the control of desires
is essential. Capitalism is based on infinite desires. But how
can you limit your desires ? I would say we need to know that
"we have enough" ! Also we need to acquire the idea
that humans and nature live together. We are "with others"
: this is a key notion. We must think of symbioses in diversity,
both in terms of nature and of culture. Buddhism says that we
cannot exist without relation with others.
& D - Your interest in Network Cultures is based precisely
on what ?
- What we like about your views on Cultures and Development
is that, as Europeans, you criticise the eurocentric view on development.
& D - May I ask whether you like that because it pleases your
Japanese pride to hear a critique of Europe or because you believe
that also Japan has perhaps been and still is ethnocentric ? In
other words, do you apply our criticism to Japan itself ?
- The concept of Development Aid is quite new in Japan. Many
Japanese studied abroad and were stimulated by Western ODA. But
they felt there were limitations in this ODA concept, in the whole
idea of development co-operation ! Thus, our NGO sensed that culture
should be taken into account. But we could not spell out clearly
what was wrong with development aid. Critical ideas on culture
and development from Europe helped us to clarify our views.
& D - Can you give an example ?
- We printed 1.000.000 books on Buddhist classical texts for
refuges camps in Cambodia/Thailand. But our constituency and fellow
NGOs laughed at us. Through your Network, we read that some NGOs
in Europe had also sent books containing holy Buddhist scriptures
so as to re-equip the libraries of the pogodas in Cambodia which
had been destroyed by Pol Pot. This was encouraging and interesting.
& D - Do you limit culture to the past ?
- No. Culture can change. It is influenced by the whole world.
We must not limit culture to tradition. Our notion should not
be rigid. We must reinforce peoples' capacity to evolve and choose.
Self-esteem is important for all people as well as the Buddhist's
notion of "enough". By the way, we are curious : what
about Christianity ? Do Christians also speak about limitation
of desires and putting a break ("enough") to consumption
& D - I think this is a jolly good question ! Going beyond
modernity and its craving for limitless accumulation and consumption
is, to me, a major challenge for European culture and for Christian
spirituality. We must learn to dissociate ourselves and our spirituality
from some of the negative aspects of modernity. Buddhism may help
Christians and Westerners in general to rediscover their own roots.
" Cultures and Development ", n° 22, June 1995.
FAITH DURING RIO'S EARTH SUMMIT (UNCED)
NGOs territory at Flamengo Park, in Rio de Janeiro, became a "holy
village" in the night of June 4th 1992. Twenty five different
religious traditions joined in a twelve hours long celebration,
from 8 p.m. through 8 a.m. of the next morning. According to security,
around thirty five thousands entered the gates to be a part of
the all night vigil.
Each religious group took possession of one of the tents especially
built for the Global Forum, making of it a worship space where
the earth could be celebrated according to that tradition's particular
rites. Walking around the tents, as many chose to do, one entered
the forest of symbols that have composed the deepest layers of
The experiment touched on fragile borderlines. Belief differences
that have been the source of so many conflicts were brought awfully
close for the vigil. The solemn eucharist of the Roman Catholics
(with Teilhard de Chardin's Mass for the World's Evolution) happened
a few yards away from the largest to date gathering of Candomblé
priestesses. The first time in the Americas, the Catholic hierarchy
shared a celebration with the religious heirs to the African slaves.
Austere Lutherans, led by the president to the World Lutheran
Federation, worshiped next door to Brazilian spiritists. Hindu
groupings, such as Ananda Marga, Brahma Kumaris, Sai Baba Movement,
Guinana Mandiram, Hare Krishna endured their differences, rneditating
or dancing close by Japanese (Rissho Kosei-Kai) and Tibetan Buddhism
could meet Synchretic religions, such as the Japanese Brazilian
Messianic Church or the Amazonian Santo Daime (generously sharing
the hallucinogenous "ayuasca") held a respectful presence
in crowded tents.
all-night vigil for the earth
religious Woodstock", announced a local newspaper the day
after. Such a wealth of symbols could indeed evoke a taste from
the sixties. However, this was not an "alternative"
demonstration. Don Luciano Mendes de Almeida, the president of
the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, spent the night
in vigil. The conservative archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Cardinal
Eugenio Sales, sent an official representation. Besides heterodox
Reb Zalman from Philadelphia and his disciple Rabi Bonder, from
Rio de Janeiro, the local Jewish establishment was equally present.
Hundreds of religious authorities, from churches and sects alike,
showed an equivalent spiritual earnest, experiencing the enchantment
of a global encounter that enjoys the value of innumerable diversity.
Around 3 a.m., the communities left their tents to meet each other
in the various open spaces. They did this through a variety of
forms : music, dancing, in small groups' conversations, in painting,
in sculpturing, visiting (and often joining) those rituals that
would not stop for the interval. After two hours of exchanges,
they went back to their tents, to prepare for the common celebration
at sun rise. They had been ceremoniously together in the beginning,
at the open air amphitheater of Flamengo Park. They had been called
by the sound of Dijiridoo, the Australia aborigean wind instrument
that makes one hear the depths of the earth. That was the only
sign of unity expressed throughout the opening ceremony, a unity
that-cannot be named. Solemn invocations, in the languages and
rites of so many religions cultures, recalled the astonishing
diversity inscribed in the human search for the divine. The crystal
clear voice of the Brazilian singer Olivia Byington and the earthy
sound of Dijiridoo recovered the sense of unity.
Together again at dawn, they stayed in silence for some time,
listening to the birds, while waiting for the arrival of his Holiness
the Dalaï Lama. They heard the words by the candid Tibetan
king and by the humble Brazilian bishop, Don Helder Camara. They
also heard the hawling sax of Paul Winter, held hands and literally
cried to the singing of Olivia Byington, and saluted the new day
joyfully dancing to the rhythm of Hindu mantras.
Something very unique and promising happened that night.
and Development", n° 13/14, May 1993.
ACTIVIST AND SPIRITUALITY
Many activists feel uneasy with the word 'spirituality', and quite
rightly so. The word 'spiritual' appears counter-posed to the physical
world. This is a false separation. But for want of another word
I shall use it all the same.
more ways than one the activist is in crisis today. The guiding
ideologies inspired by Marxism and other streams of radical socialist
thought which played so crucial a role in the seventies, find
themselves inadequate. (... ) Having condemned capitalism, those
who looked to the socialist giants, are far less clear now.
is also becoming a vexed question. The old dictum that the political
Right will misuse technology and the Left will use it in the genuine
interests of humanity does not hold as much conviction as earlier.
Some technologies, like the nuclear one for example, are proving
to be totally detrimental to our very survival. Bhopal and Minamata
are further questions : are they merely tragic accidents or are
they symbols of a far deeper malaise ?
activists are caught in a dilemma : a return to older ways with
organic farming and simpler forms of technology, or a critical
continuance with the present tendency. Or is there another alternative
capitalism continues to relentlessly propagate the consumer ethic.
Nobody is spared from these values. Competition, often ruthless.
The individual as the centre of the Universe. The United Nations'
Declaration of Human Rights is an example. A liberal individualistic
perception of rights which forgets the notion of rights which
other traditions have held sacred : the right of specific traditions,
the rights of the cosmos.
Poverty continues to rage as before among billions of human beings.
The structures that marginalise and oppress are becoming more
and more sophisticated in their methods. Human rights violations
are blatantly carried out in all societies.
seems to be the principle. Differences have to be wiped out. The
'other' cannot exist. Either perish or homogenise. Earlier the
European worldview dominated, now the American one does. Non-western
cultures are being brutally transformed.
interests of international capitalism will not tolerate any soul
but its own. And this soul is composed of loudness, information
and more information. Loud sounds, loud colours, loud lights,
loud sex, violence-stimulating, over-stimulating. Taking us progressively
from the real. Fragmenting everybody.
the world is also undergoing transformation; transformations which
suggest hope. We may be sometimes unsure, even ambiguous in assessing
our work and its implications. But we have to still admit that
it is considerable, and often very solid. Let us look briefly
at some of these transformations.
notion of mass participation in all the critical issues facing
society is slowly making headway. In thousands of villages, factories,
slums, in women's groups, among fish workers, decisions are debated
at a popular level. This is a major area of activist contribution.
Will these ideas lead to more genuine political and economic democracy,
to decentralisation ? Possibly. There is a good chance.
male dominated world is beginning to crack and feminism is talking
about values which may fundamentally affect our way of being.
False dichotomies between the rational and the intuitive, between
thinking and feeling are now under attack.
peoples are reasserting their old truths. That the Earth is mother
and cannot be violated, brutalised. The indigenous peoples of
the Pacific talk through stories and not through a language which
is merely cerebral. Their songs, their struggles, their Gods become
part of their stories, at once personal and collective.
We are learning that a symbiotic relationship exists between humans
and the Earth. They are each part of the other. The various environmental
struggles hopefully bear testimony to this conviction. Some have
even gone further and talk about Eco-Spirituality.
clasp of sisterhood and brotherhood
spiritual has to do with 'emptiness' and with matters of ultimate
meaning. It has to do with the clasp of sisterhood and brotherhood.
It has to do with pain and joy. It has to do with freedom. It
has to do with striving to be free, and walking with the other
on roads to freedom. It is an experience of the here and now and
the beyond. "Lead us from the Unreal to the Real", says
an old Vedic chant.
illusions of our consumer society, the legitimisation of power
for narrow personal ends in the name of the struggle, hiding behind
words and expressions because we are afraid to confront ourselves,
afraid to be creative, afraid to be free - all this is the Unreal.
We can say the right things, sound hopeful and be cynics at heart.
is a despairing world we live in, and hope must be wrung from
this despair. Otherwise hope may be mere fizz, another cliché.
can help sustain hope and authenticity ? The Vedic chant says
: "Lead us from the Unreal to the Real" - What constitutes
the Real ? The values that we live, free from clichés.
Owning up, at least to ourselves, our contradictions and ambiguities.
The capacity to feel deeply and intensively. To experience real
pain and joy. To respond to the pain and joy of the other. To
respond politically, to respond humanly.
Where does the activist find the Real ? In the struggle, the direct
involvement to transform society. In the struggle that began here
with the Minamata tragedy, in the struggles of indigenous peoples
in Asia and the Pacific, in women articulating new experiences
and understandings, in the struggle to green our Earth.
Real is found in any experience that is creative and intensely
human. The Real is found in transforming our social environment,
and in so doing transforming ourselves. It is found in transforming
our environment. Sometimes personal depth experiences are to the
fore, sometimes social transformation gains ascendance Both go
together, with the emphasis being different at different moments
of our personal and social history.
depth experiences and confrontations are experienced in personal
and political struggles, in the energies of cultural action, in
popular theatre, singing, poetry, music, dance. In the art of
loving, caring. It is found in silent contemplation, in prayer,
in what is authentically religious.
all that is liberating is spiritual, then the activist cannot
do without spirituality To the extent
that religions are authentically liberating, to that extent they
are genuinely spiritual. If we discard the cultural accretions
of the major religions in Asia and the Pacific, we may find profound
truths and insights. They help us to see ourselves clearly and
critically. They tell us that in the act of saving society we
must also save ourselves. They teach us to listen to rivers, see
the sap throbbing in trees, touch the Earth. They teach us to
see suffering and oppression around us and respond creatively
and Development", n° 13/14, May 1993.