Sri Lanka: Thinking in the time of corona

Our very reaction to the virus showed who we are; our irresponsibility, our self-centredness, our abject stupidity, and our fear of death despite having no clue how to live a meaningful life that will merit the term being ‘alive’. Some parts of the world people were stocking up on toilet paper, carrying off lorry loads, and in Sri Lanka the rich were buying-off entire supermarkets without a scrap of consideration for those who cannot afford to buy in bulk.

The whole world has now awakened to a global threat; a deadly virus that is putting fear into our minds, threatening us with extinction, and being brutal in how it invades us.

It is using an intelligence seemingly greater than ours, but it is using it exactly in the same way as us humans, in how we have injected fear into other living beings, including humans, using our petty superiority to threaten and kill humans and other living creatures that occupy this planet, whose birth right we have made into our death right.

Just like the coronavirus, we have invaded every corner of the planet to exploit it for our own use and ruining it in the process. We have invaded rivers, oceans, and the soil; destroying it with our chemicals and polluting it with our plastic. We have preyed on natural resources of the earth, even its most basic resource, water, bottling it in polluting plastic and availing it for the rich.

We have lived our human lives using our intelligence and our innovation for selfish reasons, earning of blood money and causing destruction. Many in the world have amassed massive wealth without true joy, because there can never be true joy when that wealth is not used to uplift another.

We have used the wisdom and spirituality given to us by great spiritual masters for living in peace and harmony and turned them into the religions that exist today, to discriminate and to be used literally to kill one’s neighbour, because we have not elevated our minds to understand that we are the reflection of the other, that our reflection lies in all living beings.

The modern world has founded its riches on the planks of exploitation; exploitation of man, the earth and it’s diverse offspring, and we still remain blind to the fact that in the same manner as what is happening with this coronavirus, that we have become silent observers to millions of innocent humans being in a ‘lockdown’ for decades as powerful nations suppress them to the extent that the world does not even know what these helpless beings are going through.

Religion has been used as an excuse in some places for such indescribable brutality and there are millions of others being in permanent lockdown in the trap of hunger and debilitating poverty, while the other half lives in the nauseous poverty of ignorance while being cloaked in riches. We are alarmed now of this virus that is plaguing us but we have been living a life of permanent infection of the virus of ignorance.

Our very reaction to the virus showed who we are; our irresponsibility, our self-centredness, our abject stupidity, and our fear of death despite having no clue how to live a meaningful life that will merit the term being ‘alive’. Some parts of the world people were stocking up on toilet paper, carrying off lorry loads, and in Sri Lanka the rich buying off entire supermarkets without a scrap of consideration for those who cannot afford to buy in bulk.

In this time of crisis we have exposed ourselves to the naked truth of who we really are and the way we behave to one another is a reflection of how we have treated the planet which, if it could speak, would probably be glad that it is being relieved of its most deadly pests – the so-called ‘civilised’ and ‘modern’ humans of today.

How we have lived thus far
When we are now so scared of death, let us take a moment to examine how we have lived life thus far. We have lived in concrete jungles we have created for which we use the euphemistic term ‘development’ but we have not bothered to consider a different way of being truly ‘developed’ in mind and spirit as our ancestors were.

Let us go a few weeks back to when one of Sri Lanka’s Government ministers and his henchmen were seen in an argument with a forest officer, demanding forest reserve land for the building of a ‘playground’ for children.

In other words, they wanted a ‘play-cemetery’ where trees had been brutally murdered. They were nonplussed about evicting the living beings who reside among the wilderness. Grown men seemed unaware that trees give us oxygen, that give us rain, and that when we do not respect the life of trees that our lives are in turn are threatened by calamities such as the drought that is slowly killing us now, along with the virus.

They were quite happy to offer the next generation a dead and skinned land with chunks of plastic slides and swings fixed onto it and invite our children to ‘play’. However, probably the same Minister who wanted forest land for the ‘playground’ may soon attend some fancy conference within another concrete monstrosity and blankly nod his head at someone waxing eloquent on ‘sustainable development’ and may even admire drawings of trees and animals on school walls, that is if he looks out of his official car window.

In this coronavirus, it could be said that the hidden hand of nature is trying to rid this planet of the human menace that we have become; polluting, ruining, and being a far worse virus to the planet than the corona is to humans. If we look at the origin of the current virus and others such as the bird flu and SARS, it is linked to the animal world.

Needless to say, if we let animals have the same right to life and space in the natural world as humans and if we focused on making more verdant our planet, we would have more than enough varieties of food to be healthy and live a life of abundance and kindness to all living beings. But when we intrude into the animal world with our long arm of carnage, we too ultimately get destroyed.

It is said in Sri Lanka that when ‘well meaning’ initiatives were taken to introduce animal farming to those of the Veddha community – the indigenous people of this country – they had responded that they could not be party to the crime of ‘feeding and bringing up’ an animal like a child and then murdering it.

What are we eating as ‘meat’ when we eat farm-raised chickens or beef? We are eating the poisons of chemicals fed to the chickens for ‘artificial growth’ and we are eating fear and sorrow of fellow beings who try till the last minute to evade death.

Although the Veddha community like all indigenous tribes across the world did carry out hunting in the forests, it was based on ethics of giving the animal a fair chance to save its life and wrapping both the hunted and the hunter was the karmic gamble that catches up with all of us.

It was not caged and trapped for premeditated murder that robs the earth of billions of gallons of water to grow animal food to soon be butchered animals. We speak in ‘sustainability conferences’ about carbon footprint. Do we speak enough about the massive water footprint of meat products?

In conversation with one of the members of these once upon a time Lankan forest dwellers who we have now pushed to agrarian land areas, destroyed by pesticide and weedicide, he revealed that most of those of the Veddha community who are living in these ‘cleared lands’ are having kidney diseases because of agro-chemicals used by farmers of adjoining lands.

Modern man has become mass assassins; of humans, of the land, of animals, of everything gracious and beautiful and this vicious retribution-based cycle has man now struggling in his own net. We are all children of Mother Earth and we have brutally raped and murdered her along with her manifold children.

Yes, we are not the only children of Mother Earth. There are millions of others. They fly, they buzz, they moo, they bark, they bleat, they roar, they swim and they all glorify the joy of being alive. Then there are the rooted children of the earth who grow from its deep womb and give us shelter and fruits and herbs and nuts.

None of us have the right to kill any of them or destroy their homes with our axes, our chemicals and our plastic and take their lives, not as a last resort, because we do not have anything else to eat, but to frivolously satisfy our taste-buds.

The few people who are aware of our precolonial ancient practices with regard to Mother Earth will explain the rituals of permission carried out before cutting down a tree for human need and then too the axe is used in a particular manner so that the tree suffers the least amount of pain. In some cultures, crops such as potatoes were not traditionally eaten as it meant the full ‘uprooting’ or fully ‘killing’ the plant. This was our indigenous sensitivity to all beings.

It is possible that those who say they are from ‘meat eating cultures’ to say that their ‘religion’ gives them permission where killing to survive is concerned. True. Yes. But some thinking is required. For example in Tibet, Buddhists eat meat. But it has nothing to do with religion but terrain.

The Buddha unlike Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, did not explicitly ban the eating of meat, because he would have considered that some areas of India too are arid and desert-like, but he did indeed preach loving compassion to all beings which means in general, the opposite of killing.

Most parts of Tibet are arid land or ice-fields, with sparse vegetation. The terrain in which Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad and other prophets of the Judaic and Christian tradition lived were also sparse in vegetation and were desert lands and thus eating flesh of another was being necessitated for the sole purpose of keeping the human body alive. Prophet Muhammad especially was known to be highly compassionate to animals and the natural world; it is pointed out in the Quran that animals are communities like us.

Today where many food items around the world are imported to most arid lands, and modern irrigation carried out, only some remote areas such as Tibet and desert-like terrain in some other countries or ice-ridden areas of the planet such as closer to the North Pole where the Inuit people live, may have the genuine need of killing another being for sustaining the human body.

In some other countries which are today known to eat many animals who live in the wild, the origin of it probably was when there was acute famine and people got used to consuming diverse creatures for the purpose of keeping the human body alive – but today this practice has become a mindless act of greed that lead to the victimisation and extinction of creatures that belong on this earth and not our plate.

We speak highly of our modern education but it has done nothing to promote dispassionate thinking. It has only perfected the art of wars and weapons to fight it, it has perfected the art of submerging our knowledge in the murky waters of trivial competition (between people, between communities and between countries) and setting float like paper boats, every kind of vice upon its shallow waters.

Thinking – unbiased, actual thinking, has become the first casualty of modern education – and has got mowed down by the wheels of rote learning carried out in concrete prisons and we have gradually proceeded from being alien beings to the wondrous universe and to ultimately becoming its enemy. And in karmic accuracy, it has retaliated in kind; in drought, in floods, and in deadly pandemics that is now consuming us.

Would it be possible for humans to truly think even now? Would it be possible for humans to change even now?

The writer is a vegan as a result of a thinking process. She cultivates trees in the central province of Sri Lanka as well as elsewhere in the country, and has a keen interest in comparative spirituality and indigenous knowledge. She is currently studying the precolonial educational philosophy and methods of Sri Lanka and South Asia. Her academic training has been in sociology. She is a curriculum writer and visiting lecturer in Mass Communication at a national university in Sri Lanka under her inherited family name. Her library of 20,000 books, of which a large number is on indigenous medicine, agro-forestry, philosophy, global literature, science and comparative spirituality, has been opened up for the public free-of-charge. Those interested in borrowing any book could contact 0812494285.


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