Carnage of garbage: Matter vs. mind

Monday, 2 September 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

You make a garbage pit a gold mine of making easy money in the short run, paving way for dire consequences to occur. From Meethotamulla to Kerawalapitiya and then to Aruwakkalu in raw form is just a demonstration of human (or rather inhuman) behaviour – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara


There is uproar about Aruwakkalu land being dumped with raw garbage without prior preparation. 

Ironically the Aruwakkalu Waste Management Project was launched following the collapse of the Meethotamulla disposal site as a sustainable and scientific solution to the solid waste disposal problem. We still recall how piles and piles of words were uttered about the Meethotamulla mayhem. 

Today’s column is a reflection of the reality where the carnage of garbage both in matter and mind exist, resulting in colossal damage. 



Whilst the world is moving towards advanced scientific solutions towards garbage management, were we more worried about commissions, votes or popularity? Shouldn’t we have been more proactive than reactive in focusing more on deeds than words? There is no point pointing fingers to anyone at this juncture. I see a huge pile of garbage in mind, perhaps much higher than the garbage that was overflowing in Kerawalapitiya, or being dumped to Aruwakkalu. In the wake of political turmoil towards elections, it is an opportune time to reflect on ‘garbage in mind’. 

“There are no good or bad countries, only well-managed or ill-managed countries”, so said Peter Drucker, the veteran management thinker so many years ago. Management spreads across all functions, disciplines and professions in highlighting the need to ensure sustained results. Garbage management is one vital part of that complex mechanism. One can cynically argue that having a comparatively high literacy rate as a nation and having a competent set of leaders, managers and administrators, why couldn’t we simply manage our garbage? Is it an issue of right person not in the right position and hence not taking the right actions? Perhaps, ‘garbage in mind’ would have prevented managing the garbage in Meethotamulla, Kerawalapitiya and other dumping grounds. 

My intention is not to criticise the ignorance and inaction of those responsible for the chaotic complexities and convolutions. Also, I am not an expert to suggest the ecologically and economically viable solutions. Let me attempt to reflect on the ‘garbage in mind’ that pushes us to think and act like ‘laggards’ and not as ‘leaders’ in doing mostly ‘damaging’ than ‘managing’. When the whole country is expecting elections, the so called aspirants and their ardent supporters can go through a needed purification. 


Mind as the forerunner

 “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow; Our life is the creation of our mind.” So said Buddha, in highlighting the significance of mind-body relationship. As he vividly puts it, ‘Samma Ditti’ (right seeing) leads to ‘Samma Vayama’ (right action). You can’t go ahead and achieve something noble unless you see it clearly. In simple terms, clear thinking leads to clever action. 

As the first stanza of the revered text Dhammapada states, “mano pubbaagma dhamma, mano setta manomaya”. This essentially means that the mind is the forerunner for all things. Whilst its supremacy has always been undisputedly accepted, what is mind has been a perennial question. Philosophers strived to describe it while psychologists struggled to define it. As one relatively simpler definition says, mind is the human consciousness that originates in the brain and is manifested especially in thought, perception, emotion, will, memory, and imagination.

Psychologists such as Sigmund Freud and William James have developed influential theories about the nature of the human mind. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the field of cognitive science emerged and developed many varied approaches to the description of mind and its related phenomena.

In Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the conscious mind consists of everything inside of our awareness. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about in a rational way. The conscious mind includes such things as the sensations, perceptions, memories, feeling and fantasies inside of our current awareness.


Cleaning the ‘Garbage in Mind’

I am a firm advocate of ‘Five S’, the time-tested house-keeping method from Japan. It stands for the five Japanese words that start with the letter ‘S’: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. An equivalent set of five ‘S’ words in English have likewise been adopted by many, to preserve the ‘Five S’ acronym in English usage. These are: Sort, Set, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain. 

Five S offers a systematic approach in keeping things in order. It is a visual technique of ensuring the proper housekeeping as well. As Hiroyuki Hirano (1995) states in ‘Five Pillars of the Visual Workplace’, five S forms the bedrock for productivity. Further, Takashi Osada, (1995) highlights in’ The Fiv5S’s: Five keys to a Total Quality Environment’, it offers a pathway for quality and productivity improvements. 

I tend to think that we need to apply five S to the Mind as a way of clearing garbage. 

It is worthwhile discussing each S in detail. 


Seiri (Sort) 

This is the starting point. Typical workplace activities include going through all tools, materials, and so forth in the plant and work area. Keeping only essential items and eliminate what is not required, prioritising things per requirements and keeping them in easily-accessible places, are other key actions. Everything else is stored or discarded.

The way I think, the deep relevance of Seiri to the mind is ‘purposefulness’. In order to ensure clarity over clutter with ‘right seeing’ (Samma Dhitti), one needs to identify positive thoughts, constructive emotions and unbiased perceptions with a clear purpose in mind. This is much more difficult than sorting things in a workplace. 


Seiton (Set)

This typically means arranging workplace, equipment, parts, and instructions in such a way that the work flows free of waste through the value added tasks with a division of labour necessary to meet demand. It follows the practice of ‘everything has a proper place’. It is all about efficiency. 

As I observe, the deep relevance of Seiton to the mind is ‘prioritising’. It requires focusing on value creation. Connecting thoughts in a logical manner with proper analysis is the need. It in fact helps oneself to focus on tasks linked to targets in the context of overall purpose. What is connected to the purpose has to be a priority. The rest have to be ‘set aside’ to be done only when time permits. 


Seiso (Shine)

This involves cleaning the workspace and all equipment, and keep them organised. In a typical factory, at the end of each shift, clean the work area and be sure everything is restored to its place. This step ensures that the workstation is ready for the next user and that order is sustained.

The way I see, the deep relevance of Seiso to the mind is ‘purity’. This is where the spiritual dimension looms large. Pure thoughts devoid of malice, jealously and other negativities is what is required. A shining mind is a spiritual mind empathising with others compassionately. 


Seiketsu (Sustain)

This is all about uniformity and consistency. In a typical workplace, uniform procedures need to be ensured throughout an operation to promote interchangeability. I think, the deep relevance of Seiketsu to the mind is ‘perseverance’. So many start-ups might end up half way through without proper completion. A mind that is geared towards perseverance will ensure continuity of a recommended habit, preferred value or a best practice. One needs determination and dedication in order to sustain noteworthy initiatives. 


Shitsuke (Standardise)

This refers to ensuring the disciplined adherence to previous four Ss. It assists in preventing a possible backsliding to where thing were prior to the implementation of five S. 

The key word here is discipline. It denotes practicing five S as a way of life. As Japanese say, the emphasis of Shitsuke is elimination of bad habits and constant practice of good ones. Once true Shitsuke is achieved, people would keep things naturally, without reminders and warnings. 

The way I see, the deep relevance of Shitsuke to the mind is ‘pro-activeness’. With a ‘proactive’ mind, ‘purposeful, prioritised, pure’ actions can be continued with ‘perseverance’. In essence, it sums up the overall application of five S to the mind.


Beyond garbage clearance

As we saw clearly so far, five S for the workplace can be applicable in a deep way as five S for the mind. In such an approach, it can even be called five Ps. They are purposefulness, prioritising, purity, perseverance and pro-activeness. Sri Lankan leaders, administrators and managers can embrace the above five Ps and then engage in five Ss so that mind and matter can be both organised in a better way. 

We need to transform ourselves to a disciplined society with adherence to values. The upcoming elections can be a testing time to reflect on leadership in an enlightened manner. We need to overcome our multiple inner battles. Being conscious of valuing green over greed is one such choice. Being conscious of valuing principles over privileges is another. Being open-minded and holistic instead of being opportunistic and harmful is yet another value-centric decision. 

When the opposite happens the consequences are very clear. You make a garbage pit a gold mine of making easy money in the short run, paving way for dire consequences to occur. From Meethotamulla to Kerawalapitiya and then to Aruwakkalu in raw form is just a demonstration of human (or rather inhuman) behaviour. Let me revisit the first stanza of Dhammapada to conclude.

Mind precedes all knowables,

mind’s their chief, mind-made are they.

If with a corrupted mind

one should either speak or act

dukkha follows caused by that,

as does the wheel the ox’s hoof.

(The writer can be reached through direct[email protected], [email protected] or

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