"Notes from the Field": 
   Journal Entry # 14: 
Good News from Sri Lanka  
Changing Consciousness  
Sarvodaya's People's Peace Operation for 2002 
It's Not Magic...  

Notes from the Field – Moratuwa:

Good news from Sri Lanka – and better news on the way!!


I’ve just arrived for what may be a pivotal trip to Sri Lanka.

From all accounts, it seems like peace is breaking out all over!  This is a very delicate time, but (I think) time for some delicate optimism.

Changing Consciousness:
From the outset of our current “peace offensive”, Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne stated that the purpose of the Sarvodaya Peace Initiative was to change the “psychosphere”, the field of consciousness that surrounds all people, all beings on the island.  The idea was to change the consciousness of war, to change people’s THINKING so that war would be unthinkable and peace inevitable.  The way we would accomplish this is by getting hundreds of thousands of people meditating for peace.

Many people, including many veterans of the peace and conflict resolution movements, scoffed at this idea.  The notion of “doing nothing” (how they see meditating) to stop war and violence was viewed with skepticism.  The idea of not supporting one side or another as the “victim” seemed wrongheaded.  What good would just sitting around meditating do?

Another scoffing point:  in our strategy, we spent less time talking to “leaders” and much more time talking to common people.  “What good will that do?  It’s the leaders who have the power to stop or continue the war.   Talking to people who don’t have power is a waste of time.“  One well-known peace activist dismissed our approach as “minor league”.

Over the course of the past two years of my involvement, things have seemed pretty grim.  As we instituted the peace meditations and the other elements of the Sarvodaya Peace Action Plan, it seemed as though Ari’s strategy was going nowhere.  Military attacks escalated, including aerial bombing of the Tiger-held villages of the North.  Increased suicide bombings, including one attack that barely missed killing the President.  Increased communal violence.    This past July, the stunning attack on the international airport, destroying an already weak tourist industry.  Ominous reports that the government was importing chemical warfare agents.

Then, as if by magic…

In the stretch of only two months, there are so many hopeful signs of peace, it is difficult to count them all.  The government and the Tamil Tigers seem to be trying to outdo each other in peace gestures!!!

--Both sides have declared mutual and unilateral ceasefires.  And, miraculously, the ceasefires are holding, with no reported violent incidents on either side.
--The government has removed many of the roadblocks and military checkpoints, both in the capital city and throughout the country.
--The Tamil Tigers have removed barricades and de-mined many of the roads through territory it holds.  And, in a surprising development, the Tigers have agreed to open the “A-9” roadway through the northern third of the island, right through the center of the Tigers’ stronghold.  This road has been closed for two decades, and has been the scene of many bloody battles, as the government troops attempted (and failed) on several occasions to blast a route to the north.  By the end of this month (February), it will be possible to drive from one end of the island to the other.  For the first time in 19 years.  [Note: the “A-9” roadway was indeed de-mined and opened to civilian traffic on 15 February 2002.]
--Not to be outdone, the government has significantly eased the economic embargo of the Tiger-held areas, allowing vital foods and supplies to be delivered in realistic quantities.
--The government has also eased movement restrictions to and from the Tiger-held areas, increasing the flow of people traveling from 1,200 per week to over 3,500 per week.  They also eased the nonsensical bureaucratic paperwork requirements for travel.
-- The Tigers have started returning captured government troops to their families.

These peace gestures have led to some rather interesting developments:

--Uniformed Tigers have shown up at government checkpoints, where they have been given escorted tours of government-held villages, and allowed to return to the Tiger-held areas.  (In other times, they would be arrested or shot on sight.)
--A busload of government police officers took a wrong turn and wound up on a road controlled by the Tamil Tigers.  In other days, they would have been killed, and their weapons and vehicles confiscated.  Now, in these new times, the Tigers stopped them, treated them to soft drinks, and then gave them an escort back out to the main road.

So, has the island turned into paradise on Earth?  Not quite, and not yet.  The parties have taken each of these moves unilaterally.  They have yet to negotiate and sign a peace agreement.  And, there is a small number of vociferous “hard-liners” who are dead set against any peace agreement between the parties.

We all know the situation in the Middle East, where hard-line elements were able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by a series of provocative moves designed to inflame negative passions on all sides.  The same can happen here.

The Sarvodaya People’s Peace Operation for 2002
To insure that peace stays on the right track, Ari has called for a massive peace demonstration in mid-March.  He is calling for 500,000 people to gather in the ancient northern city of Anuradapura.  That’s right – HALF A MILLION PEOPLE!!  Who says the little guy doesn’t think big?  And, given Sarvodaya’s track record of bringing people together in mass meditations, it’s possible for Sarvodaya to double that figure.

Needless to say, this is taking some unbelievable logistical arrangements.  Just think: where do you park the buses that have transported 500,000 people?  What kind of sound system is needed?  How do you translate all of this into the three dominant languages on the island?  Where do 500,000 people go to the toilet – in a country devoid of porta-jons?  Stay tuned…

It’s Not Magic…
All of these changes (and more to come) are not the result of some “magical” force or power.  It is the result of the application of PROVEN METHODOLOGIES in changing consciousness and changing behavior.  The Sarvodaya approach to development, peace and spiritual awakening.  Commonway’s parallel and complimentary approach to the Philosophy of Inclusivity.

We know what to do.  In Sri Lanka, with Dr. Ariyaratne’s patient leadership, we have shown that we can shift the field of consciousness.  Our task now is to continue the shift.

There will be others who may claim “credit” for the recent outbreaks of peace.  There will be those who may believe that their violence was the cause of peace, that pouring gasoline on a fire will extinguish it.

--The Tigers may claim that their attack on the airport forced a change of government.
--The hardliners may claim that the continued military attacks forced the Tigers to peace.
-- George Bush may claim that his “war on terrorism” scared both parties to the negotiating table.

Let them make their claims.  We know better.



On a Personal Note:
Sunday night, after spending the day at the beach on the Indian Ocean, I went up on the roof of my little house near Sarvodaya's headquarters.  While I was in the US, the roof was converted into a nursery for hundreds of plants and flowers.  I stood there, watching a magenta sunset.  From the west, dozens of "flying foxes", bats the size of small dogs, were flying, silhouetted in the fading light.  When they passed overhead, they were so close and so big I could hear their three-foot long wings flapping.  A really beautiful experience.

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