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OUR QUEST FOR PEACE:

FROM DUALISM TO
HOLISM
Sajeeva Samaranayake

Introduction
Modern Sri Lankans are caught between two value systems. They are
bound by one and offered liberation by the other. Yet they are lost,
unable to see which is which. This confusion is partly attributable to
the failure of popular ideologies and religions to liberate the common
man – being engaged themselves in a worldly competition to win his
allegiance.

We appear to be bonded both internally and externally. Internally by


our negative thoughts, feelings and emotions and externally by a
challenging environment that constantly threatens our equilibrium
and peace of mind.

Treading the path away from chaos and conflict (both external and
internal) requires some idea of is true and what is not – what makes
sense and what does not. This is the little base we build upon in our
search for integrity, unity and clarity of mind. As Buddhists we call it
seela, samadhi and prajna or virtue, concentration and wisdom. For
ease of understanding the eightfold aspects of the path are
presented in the following manner.

Virtue
Wholesome speech, action and livelihood

Concentration
Wholesome effort, awareness and concentration

Wisdom
Wholesome view and thought

It cannot be over-emphasized that the whole path is inter-dependent


and one. Thus virtue, concentration and wisdom in an individual will
either progress or regress together.

This tract is an endeavour to present the idea of ‘wholesomeness’ or


samma, the unifying principle of the path, using a style of
presentation and a language which all seekers of truth (irrespective
of their formal religious affiliations) will hopefully relate to – directly
and openly in an honest and humanistic way. In order to do so we
will first identify the framework of deception that needs to be
confronted and understood as dualism.

Human beings generally think, speak and act either egoistically or


wisely; subjectively or objectively, or to put it in terms of the
terminology we adopt here – either dualistically or holistically.
The dualist cannot accept the world as it is. Thus he breaks it up into
2 main parts – that which he likes and that which he dislikes. (There
is also a third part which bores him as he thinks it not worth
bothering about. So he ignores it.) It suffices for our purposes to
focus on the ‘like/dislike’ division. This is also the way children begin
to relate to reality. The holist accepts the world as it is. He sees the
full picture and does not need to divide it up to understand it. He
understands that nothing and nobody is completely good or
completely bad. Hence there is balance and perspective in the
holistic worldview. Holism thus represents maturity; a successful
transition from childhood to adulthood.

In the dualistic or childish world view which is part reality and part
imagination likes and dislikes are solidified and judged and
sentenced upon. In the real world however everything is in motion.
Whilst the past has determined the present it need not determine
the future. This is because the future is dependent only upon the
present which presents a totally fresh opportunity with every passing
moment. If however the past is solidified and converted to a bias for
determining the present the opportunity which in fact exists is
denied through ignorance.

Dualism stems from psycho-social insecurity – a sense of inherent


lack or poverty. It leads to a contraction of the heart manifested by a
fight against (attack) or flight from the present (withdrawal).

Holism stems from psycho-social security – an attitude of inherent


wealth, spaciousness, liberality, generosity and openness. The
holistic response leads to an expansion of the heart and a deep
sense of contentment with and understanding of the present.

A simple illustration of dualism and holism relates to our own attitude


as vehicle drivers when approaching the pedestrian crossing. When
we see the pedestrian as an obstacle or interruption of our journey
we are in effect denying that we have space in our hearts to include
him. Here we are not only denying the humanity of the pedestrian
but also our own. But when we acknowledge our own humanness
and see the pedestrian as another human being we acknowledge the
space in our hearts, sit back and wave him across. Another example
is the way we draw a screen between keeping ‘our own’ home and
garden clean and keeping our immediate neighbourhood clean. Sri
Lankans are yet to see common spaces as also their own. This is
classic dualist behaviour.

Let us take another example closer to home. You approach the


kitchen sink and find that your mate has negligently left his/her
plates and dishes unwashed. If you are in dualist mode you will
immediately react and may be even lose your temper. If you are in
the holistic mode your mind will have the space to acknowledge all
the possibilities. May be your mate had a valid reason to leave the
washing undone. In any case the objective view of reality and a true
presence of mind will reveal that there is something to be done; that
water and soap and the ability to wash is available and that there is
sense in doing what has to be done now and leaving issues to be
dealt with at a more appropriate moment. The essential point here is
that an immediate reaction is not rejected but acknowledged as one
of the options. It is all a question of understanding what the situation
requires from you. Very often it is the other way around; what we
require from the situation – which is the egoistic approach dictated
by our likes and dislikes.
In short awareness and compassion go hand in hand. Reactive
dualism reduces these qualities of head and heart. Pro-active holism
enhances them. You will see that all negative human qualities fall on
the side of dualism and that all the positive qualities fall on the side
of holism.

Dualism
Dualism is a denial of essential unity, of inter – dependence and an
assertion of separation. Any kind of group identity whether it be
social, national or international is based on this fundamental
distinction between ‘self’ and ‘others’ – ‘us’ and ‘them.’ This
subjective view of reality leads to a failure to see things as they
really are. In short it is a case of limited awareness and limited
compassion.

It is because of this limitation that we lack vision, clarity and direction


and so suffer by getting side tracked either by egoistic idealism or
egoistic materialism. The ultimate reality however is that all human
beings are united in blood and this multi dimensional quest for
happiness and peace. We need to respect this fundamental intent in
every person and acknowledge our unity in suffering as we stumble
along our unique learning processes. We all have a sense of inner
peace but very few of us seem to be able to put a finger on it. All that
is certain is that we seem to be searching for peace in all the wrong
places, getting caught in particular, in an endless web of forms like
different models for constitutional reform. The pop star Michael
Jackson hit the nail on the head when he said

I’m starting with the man in the mirror


I’m asking him to change his ways
No message could’ve been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself
And make that change

Changing however is not easy in this emotional desert where judging


and advice is free but understanding and patience in such short
supply. Yet we all keep searching - bound only by our individual
frameworks. The more limited our framework is – whether we confine
it to our race or religion – the more resistance we provoke and the
greater force and deceit we need to use to sustain the enterprise.
Thereby we harm ourselves and harm others and we spread suffering
instead of happiness. Nonetheless we all have a common destination.
In the short run it is death. In the long run it is our final salvation. As
Rabindranath Tagore said:

The night keeps hidden in its gloom the search for light
The storm still seeks its end in peace, with all its might.

And as Henri Van Zeyst wrote

In soundless depth of breathless thought,


A silent music plays;
While all the universe around
In never ending waves
Unknowingly, unwillingly,
For that same silence craves.

All men and beasts and things alike,


For independence strive;
For freedom from all wants and needs
Which cause their restless drive

Thus every deed contains the seed


Through which all will arrive
At even balanced, cravingless,
Birthless and deathless life.

Separation and Exclusion


Within this universal, inter-dependent and inter-connected reality we
all undoubtedly share, we have erected divisions. These divisions are
based on agreement and convention rather than truth. For example it
is convention that Sinhala Buddhists are the majority in Sri Lanka. But
when the question who is a Buddhist is investigated we could end up
with another minority who adhere faithfully to the five precepts. Thus
conventions may mask reality and they should not be accepted at
face value.

Subjective or compartmentalised thinking also involves the drawing


of a series of distinctions governing the relationship of the human
being with himself and with the outside world. Hence the distinctions
between mind and matter, mind and heart, man and man, and, man
and nature.

This separation provides the psychological space in which the


constructed choice between self and others is exercised in favour of
the self. Freedom of thought and action gained thereby is not
freedom at all but alienation. It is the mentality of insecurity and
poverty that denies the space to include others. Consequently it is
alienation from within and without. As Schumacher who wrote Small
is Beautiful said, if the human vice of greed (whether for power or
money) is systematically cultivated, there is a collapse of intelligence
and one’s very success becomes a failure. From a broad
environmental perspective both the exploiter and exploited lose in
the long term.

Thus today human conflict (in its different manifestations) is largely


the product of insecure human relationships conditioned and
supported by a general pattern of economic relations in society
sustained by the compartmentalisation and disunity of human
interests. The real conflict though is in the realm of perceptions – the
perception of ‘this’ and ‘that’, of ‘self’ and ‘others.’ So conflict is
based on the imagined separation of interests rather than reality! In
the realm of fact and reality we are already united and at peace with
one another. Inter-dependence and the consequent unity of mankind
is an undeniable truth which the cash economy cannot flush out. As
Martin Luther King pointed out

Before you finish your breakfast this morning, you will have
depended on half the world.

Dualism being an insecure framework conformity, moral worth,


judgementalism and coercion are key values. Institutional responses
to non-conformity tend to be reactive and punitive, leading to
exclusion. Compartmentalisation also fits in with an economic order
which is not committed to radical or fundamental changes to the
social order. Issues are isolated and thereby minimised ensuring that
they are superficially addressed without meaningful change to the
structural framework. This approach is characteristic in that any
changes to the social order would threaten the prevailing economic
order.

Holism
This is the antidote to dualism. A holistic view of self is not fooled by
artificial concepts and notions of separation and independence.
Instead all human beings are viewed as individual manifestations of
the same underlying truth with no inherent significance apart from
our relationship to the whole. The ‘Whole’ may be interpreted by
theists as God and by non-theists as dharma, the law or simply ‘the
way things are.’ Inter-dependence between mind and matter, man
and man, and man and nature is acknowledged and respected. All
beings and all things are harmoniously linked. Human efforts to
improve creation or samsara are in the ultimate sense unrealistic,
misguided and a waste of time. holism counteracts the overriding
emphasis on individual freedom in dualism by pointing towards
human relationships as the key to both individual, and group unity,
health and well-being. Within this objective view of reality there is a
spirit of openness that leads to the acceptance of ‘my hunger’ and
‘your hunger’ as essentially the same thing. There is a natural
creation of space for the neighbour and inclusion is a key value.
Holism is the unifying principle of the noble eightfold path – a path
which beckons all ‘right’ thinking Sri Lankans today at this defining
moment in the history of our nation after the Tsunami disaster. The
use of the word ‘right’ to preface the eight aspects of the path,
namely our view, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort,
awareness and concentration is somewhat unfortunate in this age
when people kill and resort to violence with ease over ideas of right
and wrong. It is thus submitted with utmost humility that we now
need to use a word that reflects the word samma more accurately.
In the words of Sucitto Bikkhu

Samma means ‘whole’ or complete. It means ways that are not partial, biased or
self oriented, but ways that are of benefit to others as well as to oneself. Samma
conveys a whole balanced feeling. This is the rightness that is noble rather than
perfectionist.1

Unity and Inclusion


Holism is secure, integrated thinking that includes everything and
rejects nothing. It is the positive attitude of wealth that provides
space for all. Moderation is the balancing factor which is asserted by
‘respect for the human being as the end and never the mere means.’
in the words of Immanuel Kant. This requires us to see through the
conventional labels of people we deal with in the course of our daily
activities and recognise them as just different reflections of our own
rich and diverse human personality. Within this system of values the
idea that ‘economic development must be placed against the wider
background of the need to develop a well rounded personality and a
happy human being’ (Dr. Padmasiri De Silva, The Search for Buddhist
Economics) finds a natural home. The characteristic response to non-
conformity is tolerant, non-judgemental and pro-active. Consequently
there is an in-depth investigation of the causes leading to such
behaviour thereby reinforcing inclusion rather than exclusion.

Integration
The analysis above should not be misunderstood as a rejection of
dualism and an affirmation of holism as that would be contrary to
the spirit of holism. Holism transcends (or rises above) and includes
the opposites of dualism within its broad and dynamic framework of
understanding. Being informed by a universal perspective it stands
for balance and moderation in all responses. It does not deny that a
dualistic response may be called for in certain situations. Clear
comprehension of the situation is the best guide to the appropriate
response and holism permits the fullest freedom to do what the
situation requires (as opposed to what the self or ego demands.)
1
Ven Sucitto Bikkhu – The Dawn of the Dhamma 1995, Buddhadhamma
Foundation – Bangkok
What is essential is that dualism when used must be kept within a
short leash.

Thus the use of force (either verbal or physical) in the course of


such a movement must be necessary, conscious, precise and non-
judgemental. It must not provoke or whip up dualism. Force may be
contrasted with aggression and violence. The latter is mindless,
wasteful and stupid. The principal criteria for the pro – active and
conscious use of force are the dominant motive, the balancing of
means and ends, respect for the human being and how a specific
act fits within a framework of positive action.

Both dualism and holism are value systems that require distinct
supporting conditions. The inherent pragmatism of the holistic
response requires a keen insight into present conditions and how
they are sustained. Insecure societies resort to dualism whilst
secure societies are those which have established holistic principles.
Progressive societies are those which move away from dualism
towards holism in a measured and natural movement that is broadly
understood by the masses though it may be led by a few. If our
society is simply understood as a collection of parents and children
(which it is in fact) this could be accomplished by honest striving to
fulfil duties at home, in workplaces and in schools. Example and
compassion must precede precept and measures of control.

The social structures of colonial and post – colonial Sri Lanka being
ideologically trapped in an ethic of competition (in all spheres –
economic, social, political, cultural and religious) rather than an ethic
of cooperation, are based on dualist thinking. Understanding how
dualism influences us structurally, socially and inter-personally is
therefore important for an accurate diagnosis of what ails us Sri
Lankans and why we continue to remain squarely in the Third World.
The separation and compartmentalisation of human interests in this
island has been the signal achievement of dualist thinking reinforced
by social and professional structures that continue to operate under
an ethic of separation. Thus it is not just the so called separatists
who support and facilitate the disintegration of Sri Lankan society
but each one of us who think, speak and act in this dualistic child
mode. The required transformation from this established mode of
thinking to holism is a process of self education that must initially
take place at an individual and inter-personal level. It is also a
process that needs honesty, openness and detachment.

Not another theory


Holism is not another theory. It is a framework that includes all
other theories. But because it is inclusive, freedom is balanced with
responsibility. Openness and inclusion are therefore the core values
of the holistic approach. In seeking solutions to human problems it
denotes a horizontal and cooperative process in which the use of
power is minimized. Solutions are not predetermined but are left to
be determined by the process. A good process therefore is the best
guarantee of a good result.

This process opens up those spaces which were previously hidden


from our view and releases all kinds of energies that were once
trapped within negative mechanisms and processes. Our
fundamental rights jurisdiction is flawed in this sense because its
process is formal and adversarial. This also affects its power to
ensure a just and equitable result because coercion ‘touches the
skin but not the heart.’

A positive attitude
Ultimately holism springs from within. It is simply an attitude or a
state of mind and heart which is ready to embark on a genuine and
selfless search for the truth. This ‘truth’ in the ‘mundane sphere’
may range from a decision to allocate scarce resources between two
groups of people or a programmatic choice made to prioritise one
objective over another. In many of these cases there is no knowing
which the ‘right’ decision was. This assumes that there was one
right decision. Who is to judge that? To the holist it does not matter.
When a decision is taken with due consideration and due
participation his duty is discharged and there is nothing more to it.
Holism is therefore not for the weak mind or the faint heart.
Nyanaponika Mahathera describes this selfless attitude in the
following terms in his classic Right Mindfulness: The Heart of
Buddhist Meditation;

Within there is no self that acts and outside there is no self affected by the action.
If this is kept before the mind, not only in great undertakings but also in those no
less important minor activities of ordinary life, then a beneficient feeling of inner
distance from one’s so called ‘own’ action will develop, and a growing detachment
as to any success or failure, praise or blame resulting from such action.

The action, after its purpose or suitability have been clearly established, is now
performed for its own sake and in its own right.

For that very reason the apparent indifference with which the action is done will
not cause any loss of energy in its performance. On the contrary, when sidelong
glances at oneself, at others or at the results are absent, this exclusive devotion
to the work itself will enhance its chance of success.

Holism therefore is applicable to any field of human endeavour that


places the human being at the centre. It gives the fullest expression
to the conviction that ‘the object of all education is the generation
of human happiness.’

Holism is our vision – but dualism is our inspiration and


motivation
This is particularly important. Dualism or dukkha is everywhere and
we need to cultivate our reserves of openness, generosity and
compassion to open our hearts to the tremendous suffering that
underlies dualism within and without. Unless we do this we will find
our progress, as individuals, as communities and as a nation
impeded, trapped within dualism.

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