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Mindfulness a panacea for current tensions: ethnic, religious


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During my youth I was greatly influenced by Dr. E.W. Adikaram (1905-1985). As an Advanced Level student, I first met him at his Pagoda Road residence along with a school teacher. Later, when I met him at his residence, then he was with Dr. Palihawadana, he asked me in Sinhala a question like “who are you?”. The conversation was as follows as I can recollect: 

Me: I am a Sinhalese.

Dr. A: How do you say so?

Me: I speak the Sinhala language.

Dr. A: Are all the people who speak the Sinhala language Singhalese?

Me: No. (I had a friend who had a Tamil surname but did not know Tamil. He spoke Sinhala.)

Me: Both my parents are Sinhalese.

Dr. A: How did they become Sinhalese?

I did not have an answer and realised that the questioning could go on to the parents of my parents and so on. By that time I had read Dr. Paranawithana’s book Sinhalayo where he stated that Singhalese and Tamils in this country were mixed. I felt that I was checkmated. His view of religion was that it divides people. After some time, I was able to shed my inner ethnic and religious identities to a great extent. I remained a human being.

Thereby, Dr. Adikaram helped me to inquire deep into the ideologies, dogmas, and traditions which were deep-rooted in our thinking. Dr. Adikaram was influenced by J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986) who was one of the great thinkers of human history. He said, in order to understand self, observe self. He did not say how to observe. By defining a method firstly, he thought that he would become a Guru to which he was opposed. Secondly, he thought that the so-called followers would stick to the method which is like looking at the finger which points out the moon rather than looking at the moon.

Mindfulness

Observing oneself through the activities oneself is engaged in, should be done with mindfulness. Mindfulness is spreading in the western world today without any religious background. However, mindfulness was first discussed in detail by the Buddha. In one of the discourses called Satipattana Sutta where the Buddha dealt with mindfulness it was declared as follows at the beginning: 

“This is the only way, O bhikkhus, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely, the Four Arousings of Mindfulness.”

In the West, there was extensive research done in respect of the benefits of mindfulness and the medical doctors prescribe mindfulness meditation to their patients in order to overcome tension and stress. In several countries, mindfulness is taught in the schools so that children at a very tender age are accustomed to it.

The Sati Pasala movement

In Sri Lanka, there is a movement called Sati Pasala of which the literary meaning is Mindfulness School. This was initiated by the Most Venerable UdaIriyagama Dhammajiva, Abbot of Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya, a forest monastery in Sri Lanka. The movement is guided and supported by the clergy belonging to all four major religions in Sri Lanka – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. However, the message is taken without any religious background so that it can reach the masses of different religious and ethnic identities on equal footing.

The Ministry of Education has supported the movement by allowing Sati Pasala to train the teachers of national schools in mindfulness so that they in turn take the message to the school children. The Sati Pasala team, although with very limited resources and resource persons, take the message to the school children direct on invitations.

Be aware of the present

The message is simple: Be aware of the present. If the words of J. Krishnamurthi are used, pay full attention to the present movement.  When eating, pay full attention to the process rather than allowing the mind to wonder around. Observe the food and enjoy the taste. Observe that you are enjoying the taste. When hearing, observe the sound. Observe the origin of the sound and when it fades away observe the process of fading away. When engaged in day-to-day personal activities, observe that you are engaged in the activity. When brushing your teeth, observe the entire process from taking the brush, applying tooth paste, taking it to the mouth and the brushing process in detail. When walking, observe the touch of the foot to the floor and the movement. When sitting, be aware that you are sitting and bring the mind to the present moment. There is no religion involved here and all human beings can practice this. It is proved scientifically that the process would help to get the tensions and the stress to fade away gradually.

The beauty is this – in this process, when one is with oneself, the pain of the leg identified earlier as the pain of my leg, would reduce to a mere pain. Strong ethnic and religious identities would reduce to the level of mere human beings. Rabindranath Tagore said: “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”

Sati Pasala has gone to all the provinces of the island. It has gone to the Northern and Eastern Provinces and engaged with Tamil and Muslim teachers as well as with Sinhala Buddhist and Christian teachers of the other provinces. Bi-lingual training sessions in both Sinhala and Tamil languages were held at the training centre of the Ministry of Education at Meepe for selected education officers/teachers from all the educational districts of the island. Children of all the religions and all the ethnicities embraced the message enthusiastically.

Therefore, this can be a solution to the current ethnic and religious tensions of the country. When the tsunami came, it wiped out all the differences of the people affected. What remained was humanity. If we learnt the lesson of nature we would have shed the religious and ethnic tensions at that time. By practicing mindfulness, the same result can be achieved in the long run in addition to releasing one’s own tensions.

(The writer is the President of Sati Pasala Foundation <www.satipasala.org>)


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