Considering the importance of this week that we are in I thought of directing my thoughts on a direction that was not touched in any of my previous articles. Even though there has been no articles published on press, I have written a chapter for a book published in the United States of America – [...]


True meaning of Vesak – Spirts and Spirituality


Considering the importance of this week that we are in I thought of directing my thoughts on a direction that was not touched in any of my previous articles. Even though there has been no articles published on press, I have written a chapter for a book published in the United States of America – Palgrave Handbook of workplace Well-Being along with Prof Ulluwishewa and two others on the same direction I’m going to take today. I’m really grateful to Prof Ulluwishewa for giving me the opportunity to write the chapter under the topic; Practical Buddhism for Workplace Well-being. However, I’m not going to talk about Buddhism in this article as the intention of this article is to make it relevant to all my readers who may not fall under on religion. Hence, I thought of giving a scientific touch to some of the fundamental thinking that can guide us through our behaviours which are more relevant in today’s context than ever before as many are realizing the ultimate truth of life with Covid-19 pandemic.

Sustainable consumption

As highlighted in my last week’s article we try to find an answer to a problem by addressing one side of the origin of the problem which is unsustainable manufacturing. But what drives unsustainable manufacturing is consumption. Shouldn’t the consumption be sustainable? This is the question I was trying to raise in the previous article (If you can get hold of the last week article, please read through as it will enlighten you with the problem in hand. As the question has been directed towards the policy makers and to the private sector, it’s important to look at the responsibilities of the consumers at the individual level as well. Whatever is not enforced by law is not considered to be something that the consumers should abide by under the capitalists system that  we live in. As long as we can afford to buy or as long as we can pay the price, it’s not questioned by anyone or is not supposed to be questioned. This has led to many imbalances in the way we form our consumption patterns. The birth of luxury brands for example is one such consequence of this system we are stuck in. You might have heard of a bottle of water which goes at US$ 1mn for the wealthiest high-end of the market that you and I have not experienced. Anyone who would raise a concern over this imbalanced consumption would be challenged on the grounds that if the consumer can afford to buy what she wants, should it be a concern of another… The route course of the problem lies in the concept of “separate self’ or individualism which is highly promoted in the western world. ‘Self-centered’ thinking leads to self-centered behavior or in market terms; consumption.  This is where responsible consumption comes into the picture. Responsible consumption goes way beyond using bio-degradable products and environmentally friendly products. It goes to the point of questioning if the product or service that is consumed by someone is essential for the well-being of the individual. There has to be a shift from self-centeredness to selflessness.

Results of Self-Centered Consumption

As Covid-19 unfolds around the world we are seeing the results of self-centered consumption. Factories are making as much as they can make and consumers as buying as long as they can spend and there is no end to this recurring process. It’s evident how self-centered the west is when the US citizens demanding from government that it’s their life and let them decide what they do with it, when the government demands them to be home for the well-being of the mass majority. One might say, it’s because they are daily wage earners hence they need to work. But in a country like USA there has to be a mechanism to feed those individuals who can’t find a living if the development has reached all nooks and corners of the country. Selfless consumption as opposed to this would always think of the individual self as well as the others. But the West is too self-centered even to see the whole idea of self-centeredness as an issue as it’s been taught around the world that such cultures are better than pluralist cultures of selfless cultures. Being able to scarifies and being able to be empathic is an integral part of the Eastern culture which was seen as a feminist culture around the world. Where does empathy come from? Where does selflessness come from?

Human mind

In order to find answers to the question where the empathy and selflessness come from one must see the way the human brain works.

Until recently, most neuroscientists believed the brain produces consciousness. But now, it is widely accepted the brain does not produce it but the universal consciousness, or the energy-self, manifests itself through the brain. The brain acts like a TV set which receives signals from outside, transforms them into pictures and shows them on its screen. If this is the case, the brain should exhibit the key properties of the universal consciousness—oneness, pure and universal love. Donald Pfaff, an American neuroscientist, in his book The Neuroscience of Fair Play: Why We (Usually) Follow the Golden Rule, says the human brain is hardwired to the oneness and to act according to the golden rule—one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself—which is the corner stone of all great religionsincluding Buddhism which says “aththananupamankathwanahaneyyanaghathaye.”. In his recent book, The Altruistic Brain: How We Are Naturally Good, he demonstrates that human beings are ‘wired’ to behave altruistically and spontaneous kindness is our default behaviour. It has also been found that intelligence is hardwired in our brain in three forms: (1) intellectual intelligence, or IQ, which enables us to think rationally, (2) emotional intelligence, or EQ, which enables us to harmonise our emotions with rational thinking, and (3) spiritual intelligence, or SQ which enables us to see the meaning and connection of random events. All these capacities appear to serve a certain purpose—to be one with spirit, or to become who we really are. These capacities are unique to human beings. Hence, it is sensible to argue that unlike other living beings on the planet, we are here to for a particular purpose—to become who we really are.

However,weperceiveourselvesasseparateindividuals,separatedfrom others and the natural environment.  This perceived separateness is soft-wired in our brain, meaning that our “ brain has been programmed by our wrong perceptions to see ourselves, not as integral parts of the whole, but as individuals separate from others and from the environment, and to perceive our fellow human beings as ‘others’—competitors and enemies (Ulluwishewa, 2016, p. 162). Therefore,webehaveasself-centredindividuals.Thisbehaviorisculturallylearned, driven by mechanisms that have ensured our fitness in the past (Davis, 2017). However, our brain is hard-wired for ethical behaviour and altruism (Cozolino, 2014). When acting under our soft-wired brain, we are inclined to achieve our well-being even at the expense of the well-being of others and the natural environment; yet, we are more likely to behave altruistically toward our social groups (Mathur, Harada, Lipke, &Chiao, 2010). When individuals act under a soft-wired brain of separateness, they do not mind meeting their needs even at the expense of the ability of others and future generations to meet their needs (Dalai Lama XIV, 2014).

So what?

The above explanations described that the Western behavior is a learned behavior which now the East also has learned from the West. Sri Lankans who have gone abroad at times end up turning  out to be more self-centered thinking it’s a superior behavior than that of the one they have already learned and experienced while they were in Sri Lanka. As a result; some of them may end up practicing the newly learned behavior which is more self-centered and might be soft-wired. Instead of talking of isolated cases, we need to take this discussion to a point where we can apply this to the whole society as a whole. That’s where we need to look at what spirituality is.


Spirituality is the awareness and experience of belonging to the larger, interconnected community of life, of the purpose and meaning of life within this context, andthedevelopmentofpersonalandcommunityvaluesandactionsoutofthese.In other words, spiritualityisaprocessofinnertransformation,atransformationfrom self-centeredness to selflessness, from greed to generosity, from fear to courage, from disharmony to harmony within the self, from fear to love, and from “I” to “we” (Ulluwishewa, 2016). As professor states It is a personal transformation within individuals. This leads us to look at what spirit is.


Spirit in a nutshell is something which can give life to a system. All living beings, plant, animal and human, are biological systems (By now the modern science has discovered that natural resources such as coral reefs, rocks etc can respond and they also feel). What gives life to us is spirit; it is the source of power which enables our body to move, eyes to see, ears to hear, nose to smell, tongue to taste, skin to feel and the brain to be conscious and to think. In the absence of spirit, our body is merely a collection of cells which has no life. Hence, the spirit or the energy flow is independent of the physical matter and it’s eternal or deathless. Understanding the separability between the physical body and spirit allows one to realize many realities about life and it also leave one with the question where does the spirit live and where is to be found? To find the answer, one can look into one’s body with the help of a powerful microscope. If one does so, one will first find cells, the basic building blocks of all living beings. But, we know cells are not deathless. If one looks into a cell, one will first find molecules, which are also not deathless. If one goes further in, one will then discover atoms. Atoms are deathless but they are not the ultimate reality and one can go further in. If one goes further ahead and look into an atom, one will find subatomic or quantum objects—particles and waves— that are recognised by quantum physicists as energy. According to them, 99.99 % of the space within each atom is empty and this emptiness is occupied by energy. Energy is something which cannot be created or destroyed and therefore is eternal or deathless. Hence, we can conclude that the energy which occupies the atoms of the body is what we call spirit, which gives life to us and which makes us live and when we die, the spirit leaves us and find another physical structure. Why is it important for us to understand this reality?


This understanding leaves us with the opportunity of being mindful of the actions we take, the words we say and the things we think. Mind precedes action, and words. We are what we have thought so far and what we have not thought so far. We can control what we think and what we say and what we put into action only by being aware of our thoughts. Being aware of one’s thoughts is known as mindfulness. You may try to meditate or may try to practice yoga etc. In all these activities all you try to get at is to train your brain to see your own thoughts. If one can develop the mind to see her own thoughts it will clarify most of the unanswered questions which for some people remained unanswered during the whole life time. What does mindfulness leave to? Why is it required?

Responsible Consumption

Responsible consumption will only be possible by being mindful of our thoughts which precede our actions. If we can develop our mind, we can surely tame our mind. Tamed mind will always look twice at a thought. The tameness in our mind can prevent us from irresponsible consumption. Therefore, if we can be responsible consumers, who are aware of our own thoughts half the problems which are faced by us could be resolved overnight. Covid-19 has taught us on how responsible we can in our behavior as well as in our consumption. It has made us frugal and made us to be more mindful about what we buy and even how we store and cook them. This mindfulness is required to be sustained. There will be a day the pandemic can go away from us or the fear of Covid-19 will go away from the whole world. It’s on that day we need to make sure that we would never unlearn the lessons learned. Hence, it’s clear that responsible consumption has its own merits and also it is pivotal for the continuation of the mankind as it brings us the much needed sustainability to the whole world. But why couldn’t we be happy before covid-19 to settle on a more sustainable consumption pattern?

The answer lies in the question itself… our happiness was positively correlated to consumption. The more we consumed the more we used to be happy and there was no end to this. Why we are happy now? Covid-19 has suddenly brought in a realization that we could have had pre-covid but it required a shit in the way we think and a fundamental shift in the way we look at world. Today, the mankind has been confronted with the biggest challenge ever… Controlling needs and controlling mind if it’s not required for the existence of the mankind. The cost of the lesson of course so far is more than 250, 000 lives around the world. But this number is an indication if the mankind fails to read the signals sent by mother nature, the second wave or the second hit would cost more and more lives like how it costed millions of lives during the second wave of the Spanish-flue which took place 100 years ago. Therefore, unlearning what’s learned in the hard way would surely lead our lives to better, happy and a sustainable position which feels the pain of the others and which makes us feel better in the end. As the societies are getting less restricted in time to come, keeping the lessons learned in our mind will leave us with a better version of happiness which is not over-consumption dependent.

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