When individuals transform, families transform; when families transform, communities transform; when communities transform, countries transform; when countries transform, the world transforms
– Prof. Rohana Ulluwishewa
The above is the quote from the author of the internationally award winning book ‘Spirituality Demystified’, who gave an extensive interview to the Harmony page of Daily Financial Times, facilitated by the Sri Lankan thought movement Earth Life Water Knowledge Trails. We this week publish the continuation of the exclusive interview with Prof. Ulluwishewa, so that Sri Lankans, especially those in diverse leadership roles, in many sectors, could be inspired by the views shared, to take on initiatives that will go beyond narrow boundaries of ego, ethnicity, race and rote learning:
Q: In your book Spirituality Demystified, you quote cell biologist, Bruce Lipton, who says that beliefs are like filters on a camera, changing how one sees the world. Today we have people killing in the name of belief. Based on your research, do you think someone with an entrenched view of fundamentalism could still change if exposed to the right kind of knowledge over a prolonged time period?
A: My answer is a big ‘yes’! Theoretically speaking, the same Spirit or in other words, the same source of universal love is within all of us, including those who kill others in the name of their beliefs and fundamentalists. Universal love is hardwired in our brain. What prevents us from being guided by the universal love within is the attachments and aversions soft-wired in our brain. According to neuroscientists, the soft-wired neural structures can be changed or totally eliminated. No matter how deeply one’s beliefs and views are entrenched, they all are still soft-wired, not hardwired and therefore can be changed.
Once the soft-wired beliefs and behaviours of a dangerous criminal is changed, the same ‘criminal’s behaviour is guided by the universal love hardwired in his brain and then he will spontaneously behave kindly. What is necessary is appropriate methods of mind training. There is plenty of evidence. How meditation training has changed dangerous criminals in US prisons is often quoted to show the effectiveness of meditation to change the criminal brain. Evidence reveals that various kinds of meditation such as mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation and loving-kindness meditation, yoga and various other contemplative practices have been successfully tried in prisons in many countries to rehabilitate prisoners.
Another interesting point is that according to the findings of some scientific research, group meditation can effectively reduce crimes in the area where such meditation programs are held. Research undertaken in USA and UK reveal that as the size of the group increases, the crimes such as homicide, rape and assault decrease.
Q: In your book, you draw on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s findings on ‘self actualisers’ who you point out are less self-centred and more loving and generous. In principle this understanding, as you point out, goes against the theories that have held that the ‘selfish gene’ is what causes survival and success. Could you please elaborate more, drawing on your explanation of inner guided people and their characteristics?
A: As mentioned before, we are ‘originally’ designed to be guided by the Spirit/Universal Love within. So, originally we all are inner-guided. But, as attachments to what we like and aversions to what we dislike are soft-wired in our brain, instead of the hardwired universal love, the soft-wired likes and dislikes begin to guide our behaviour. Then, we become outer-guided and selfish.
The inner-guided people are, guided not by external material values such as wealth, power, prestige, status and reputation but by spiritual or human values hidden within every human being, such as love, truth, peace, righteousness and non-violence. They may or may not possess material capital but they possess what Zohar and Marshall (2004) call ‘Spiritual Capital’. They are satisfied with what they have and need material wealth only to gratify their survival needs and do not seek economic growth. If they seek it, it is for the wellbeing of the poor.
The inner-guidedness is not a utopian and unrealistic goal. Evidence suggest that there are inner-guided people in our society. They remain scattered and unorganised, and therefore not much visible. However, some studies have discovered that the inner guided population is steadily growing.
Q: You quote in your book Psychotherapists, to state that spiritual psychology is more effective than the preaching of clergy because the groups who had taken this therapy effectively developed higher qualities such as caring, support, unselfishness, consideration and tolerance. Could you elaborate more?
A: Transpersonal psychologists have developed numerous therapeutic practices that can help us develop ourselves spiritually. What happens in this process is that we gain access to Spirit within or what transpersonal psychologists call Higher Self or Higher Consciousness. This form of consciousness usually comes at first in the form of glimpses. It feels like something lucky rather than something dependable. But it can be cultivated by transpersonal psychotherapeutic practices.
A trained transpersonal psychotherapist cultivates the ability to access the Higher Self at will. Before starting a therapy session with a client, the therapist accesses this higher level of consciousness and then works together with the client to bring the client to the higher level. In such a session the client would experience connection with the Higher Self in the form of glimpses which he/she cannot retain.
But ‘if we persevere, it can become a plateau experience which lasts longer – perhaps for the length of a therapy session or a workshop. It can then become a permanent acquisition, so that we have access to it at all times. When we reach this level, we get rid of our ego, self-defensiveness and self-centeredness, and in the absence of the ego-boundaries, we can be with another person’s Higher Self and develop a heart-to-heart relationship.
Q: The epilogue in your book is themed ‘Transforming Ourselves to transform the world’. Could you elaborate on this more as this is a significant factor that has to be absorbed by the reader?
A: This is about our inner change or spiritual transformation. No external force can bring such a transformation to the world. It can come only from inner transformation in individuals. Individuals, when transformed, radiate love towards others. When individuals transform, families transform; when families transform, communities transform; when communities transform, countries transform; when countries transform, the world transforms. The best way we can contribute to transforming the world is to transform ourselves. If we decide to transform ourselves, no force in the world can prevent us from doing so. We can transform ourselves.
If we want to do so, there are pathways, both religious and non-religious. If we want, we can choose to practice our own religion – the core teachings of the founders, not the rituals, beliefs and doctrines added later. If we don’t like religions, there are many non-religious pathways. No matter what path we follow, if we transform ourselves, the small world around us will begin to follow. Each and every one of us should ask ourselves ‘what changes should I make within me if I am to make this world a better place to live for me, others and future generations?’.
Q: After 21 April ISIS-styled terrorist attack in Sri Lanka, there were suggestions to rid the education system from ethnic and religious labels and initiate comparative religions and spirituality into the education systems. Your comments?
A: Comparative religious studies is nothing new. It is an academic exercise in which similarities and differences between different religions are studied at the superficial level. Such studies cannot stimulate much needed spiritual transformation within individuals. However, if it is done aligned with a quantum physicist lens so that students could see beyond the narrow religious boundaries and understand the oneness at the quantum level, it can stimulate spiritual transformation within individuals.
Q: You have initiated many projects in Sri Lanka to make a change for the better. Could you speak of your work?
A: As I understand, each and every human being is endowed with a set of unique talents and abilities, and we are supposed to use them for specific ‘projects’ in order to make a change for the better. The Universe or the Higher Self/God offers opportunities to use them for the greater good. I perceive the projects that I have initiated, as outcomes of the opportunities that the Universe has offered to me rather than the initiatives taken by my ‘ego-self’.
After my two books were published, whenever I visited Sri Lanka, I got an opportunity to deliver a few public talks. In every talk, I emphasised the significance of integrating spirituality into formal education as the ultimate solution for most of the problems our society has faced today.
In the beginning of the last year, I had an opportunity to address the staff members of the Faculty of Management Studies and Commerce, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. In my speech, I stressed the significance of integrating spirituality into management education as a strategy to produce ‘Dharmic’ managers with basic human qualities. After the speech, the Dean of the Faculty and a group of staff members expressed their interest in pursuing this idea. A couple of days later, a day before I returned to New Zealand, we met again for a follow up discussion and decided to meet again via Skype.
After having several rounds of further discussions with me, they decided to establish a centre under the Faculty for the purpose of integrating spirituality into management studies. Establishment of the ‘Center for Spirituality in Sustainable Business Management (CSSBM)’ was the beginning of a long journey. The Dean of the Faculty, the Executive Director of the Center, then invited me to visit them and serve as a Visiting Professor to promote the CSSBM. I have been working for the CSSBM since August 2018. I was physically there for six months and now I am remotely working on a number of projects the CSSBM has initiated.
One of the most interesting projects is the new course we introduced – Spirituality for Management. This course is offered as a non-credit course for the students who are interested in the subject. The course was first taught to MBA students and then to undergraduate students too. Students who belong to different religions sit together and take part in academic discussions on the subject – spirituality. This course enables students to gain a deep insight into the reality beyond their narrow religious boundaries.
The feedback we received from the students upon successful completion of the course was highly encouraging. In response to the growing demand for the course, we are now planning to teach the course again early next year. This is the first ever course on spirituality in the history of higher education in Sri Lanka.
As part of our projects, we are taking initiatives to integrate spirituality into research. Once spirituality is integrated into research, research becomes a spiritual practice and the researcher and others who are involved in the research project are spiritually transformed and become better and happier human beings while conducting the research. We encourage students to incorporate a spiritual element to their research projects and provide guidance to help them conduct their project in line with spirituality. In fact, this morning I received a dissertation from a student who has completed her research. The fascinating thing is that she says her research has broadened her worldview and changed her life positively.
Currently we are conducting a research project to study how university education and campus life affect students’ spiritual growth. We are still in the process of collecting qualitative information through group discussions with randomly selected groups of students. Upon completion of this, we will undertake a comprehensive questionnaire survey in three universities in Sri Lanka.
This research project will help us discover what changes are necessary in our university education system and in the campus life if our universities are to produce spiritually evolved graduates who are genuinely willing to use their knowledge and skills and sacrifice their personal comforts for the wellbeing of society. Apart from this project, we are involved in publishing book chapters and journal articles on spirituality and management related issues. So far, we have published four book chapters and one journal article, all internationally.
Currently we are organising a tract on Spirituality and Management in the upcoming International Conference on Business Management (ICBM) to be held in Monash University in Australia in December. Apart from the tract, under the same Conference, we are also organising a workshop on ‘Spirituality and Sustainable Living’. The ICBM has been held annually for more than a decade, but this the first time spirituality has become part of the program.