Sustainable Development : Clarion Call to Rethink Strategy

Ambassador Dato’ Dr. G.K. Ananda Kumaraseri is our new columnist. He is a career ambassador of over 30 years standing. He retired in 1995 as Director General ASEAN. He has authored over two scores of notable books on the cultivation of human values, personal development, holistic education, the sacredness of motherhood, mothercare, holistic parenting, childcare and development and peace. He is a much sought after Dhamma Speaker in Malaysia and overseas. He is available for public talks and discussions. His email is [email protected] You may also link up to www.livebybuddhism.com for an insight into his works and activities and for free resources. – Editors

Ambassador Dato’ Dr. Ananda Kumaraseri

(January 10, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian ) Environmental degradation and the consequential of climate change which have been wrecking catastrophic havoc all around the world have been debated and deliberated by world leaders, renowned experts, scientists and top officials for many decades now. Several hundreds of national, regional and global institutions, organisations, societies, governmental and non-governmental organisations as well as the United Nations and its specialised agencies have wrestled with the frightful repercussions of environmental degradation and climate change. Several billions of dollars have been spent and billions more are being urged by world leaders to be committed to save humankind from the disastrous prospect of a total annihilation, if the inevitable catastrophic consequences of these two challenges are not arrested soon.

Yet most regrettably, the tragic repercussions arising from the challenges have perceptibly escalated rather than ameliorated despite the above mentioned global best efforts. Several pertinent questions at once come to mind : Why is this so? Is the commitment of more funds the right answer to addressing the frightful global challenges? What should be a more effective results-oriented global strategy if we are to succeed in overcoming the ever escalating global dilemma? Obviously we need to take a relook at the national and global efforts to address the challenges. Only then can we expect to establish more effective ways and means of preventing environmental degradation and the disastrous consequences of climate change.


What should be a more effective results-oriented global strategy if we are to succeed in overcoming the ever escalating global dilemma?


It is my intention to avoid repetition by merely recording what has been done in the past in respect to the global crises of environmental degradation and climate change, but instead, to inject some fresh insight into the deliberations. However, I am urged to highlight a common feature of the ongoing strategies being beholden to focus on tangible and data-based or statically orientated programs and projects such as carbon emission controls and measures. Though these measures so serve a purpose, they are far from holistically addressing the global challenges. Thus, the primary purpose of this article is to bring to the fore critical factors or fundamental truths which are to be embraced in a holistic approach to addressing the challenges that have, however, been grossly overlooked in national and global endeavours.

My primary aim is to firstly underline the need for a more thorough understanding of the challenges with the view to proffering a holistic strategy based on fundamental universal principles and realities or truths. In this regard, I would also like to try and avoid the commonly travelled academic path or approach. With due respect to their valuable contributions on human problems and issues, I am inclined to view that academicians tend to theorise and also generalise on mundane problems and issues. A good illustration is evidenced in regard to the aspect of causality where one size fits all solutions or formulae are generally proffered.

Also, academicians tend to get into knotty issues of splitting hairs on definitions and indulging in fierce debates as to who is right, who is wrong, who is the ultimate expert or authority and so on. This serves little purpose in addressing the challenges and opportunities in actualising sustainable development or for that matter regarding any mundane problem or issue. A stark reality is that at the end of the day only a great deal of hot air is let off alongside egoistically-driven intellectual masturbation that results in greater confusion and chaos and wastage of invaluable limited resources. Furthermore, an underlying fault line in theorising on mundane issue, problems or challenge is the tendency among academicians to talk above the heads of the average man in the street. This invariably results in their inability to be fully involved in the programs and projects they formulate to addressing them.

I aim therefore to use the limited space offered to highlight certain paradoxes that are inherent in the deliberations and debates on environmental degradation and climate change. Hopefully, this would help to reorientate our thinking and approach to these global challenges that would produce more effective durable outcomes. This is all the more necessary, given a number of incongruencies evidenced in the prevailing national and global strategies vis-a-vis sustainable development. More specifically, first and foremost, leaders from all sections of society need to rethink the causality of the crises of persistent environmental degradation and climate change all around the world and embark on a fresh holistic approach in addressing the challenge of sustainable development.

Among other pertinent outcomes envisaged in the holistic approach is the establishment of diagnostically-based actionable principles. Such an approach would help to anchor the rethink on a scientific, rational, logical and comprehensible footing that would also garner active involvement of the masses. Indeed, such a rethinking bears the critical advantage of being readily understood and thereby has better prospects of engendering greater public commitment and participation in the belief that it is a universally desirable goal that is also ultimately in their own self-interest. An underpinning of the validity of the rethink would reinforce the needed conviction and confidence among the masses to diligently engage in the fresh approach to address the global challenges. Such an understanding and commitment which constitute a prerequisite for successful implementation is starkly absent in the many decades of huge costly programs and projects to address the twin challenges besetting the world.

Imperative of a Holistic Approach

Another critical point I would like to underline is that we tend to look at problems and issues, including the challenges of environmental degradation and climate change, from a rather limited physical perspective. This is largely due to the process of acculturation we have undergone since infancy. Our understanding of problems or issues is generally viewed according to the physical manifestations these present. That is because this is how we have been groomed since our infant years. That is also how we have been taught in school as well because the education systems around the world are largely based on cognition. In learning and teaching psychology cognitive learning is the lowest level of learning. Also, it is passive learning where internalisation of the learning is absent.

Since our perspective of problems and issues are viewed along cognitive contours, we fail to get deeper into the analytical and dialogistical dimensions which are vital to get to the ROOT CAUSE of a problem or issue. We merely recognise the manifestations of the problem or issue at hand. As a result, we tend to address these tangible aspects. We fail to address the ROOT CAUSE which is vital for formulating effective problem solving strategies. Furthermore, as the learning is not internalised commitment to live according to the learning does not get rooted in the individual. She or he may know of the repercussions of environmental degradation and climate change, but would not necessarily live by the prescriptive measures that are being advocated. These limitations are evident in the on-going programs and projects relating to the twin global challenges of environmental degradation and climate change.


We merely recognise the manifestations of the problem or issue at hand. As a result, we tend to address these tangible aspects. We fail to address the Root Cause which is vital for formulating effective problem-solving strategies.


While on this point, it is worthwhile to note, that we can draw confidence from the Sublime Teaching of the Buddha in adopting a holistic approach. He consistently stressed the imperative of identifying and addressing the ROOT CAUSE of a problem or issue if we are to effectively overcome it. That is to say, it is only upon removing the ROOT CAUSE of environmental degradation that this challenge can be effectively ameliorated or totally resolved or overcome. Since the prevailing strategies fail to address the ROOT CAUSE of the twin global challenges, at best, we can expect only some symptom of the issue or challenge to be addressed. As such, the issues and challenges are bound to persist as we have witnessed in respect to the national and global strategies adopted to overcome the twin global crises. So, a fundamental step of the rethink proffered is to go beyond the manifestations of the challenge of environmental degradation and climate change by adopting a holistic approach by firstly understanding and addressing the ROOT CAUSE.

Another inherent drawback in viewing a problem or challenge from a limited physical perspective is that we tend to regard it as being external to us and therefore not of direct or immediate concern. It is a common human frailty to then view the problem or challenge as someone else’s concern and responsibility. Whereas the Buddha pointedly advised us to constantly look within ourselves first and to think in terms of one’s duty and responsibility in respect of any societal issue or problem rather than to regard them as something that is distant and unconnected to one. His teaching of samagga and the parable of the uprooting of the gigantic Sala tree remains prophetic today as it was over 2550years ago. For, among other significant considerations, adherence of His Sublime Teaching, would then enable people to develop a mindset of viewing a problem or issue in its totality. In so doing they would possess a better understanding how in the ultimate one and one’s future offspring’s are affected and accordingly be motivated towards fulfilling one’s responsibility and role in overcoming it. Further, we would be more objective in our perception of the nature of the challenge and be better placed to address the problem or issue in a holistic and systematic manner.

Sustainable Development: Not a Novel Concept

A significant misconception which merits highlighting is the perception that the concept of sustainable development is a modern-day gem of wisdom derived from the western intellectual world. On the contrary, respect and regard for Nature and the imperative of sustainable development, deep ecology etc. are concepts that were underlined by the Buddha, over 25 centuries ago. The Buddha had stressed the importance of moderation and respect of the ecology in the context of the larger sustained interest of humanity. He recognised that the need of balanced development arose in the wake of the transformation of human society from being food gathering nomadic tribes into settled sedentary communities. As these societies evolved, individuals progressively became self-centred and as a result self-interest superseded the larger interest of the tribe and environment. In the sedentary, wealth accumulating societies which became increasingly entrenched, ownership of property became individualised as distinct from the hitherto community ownership. This transformation of society from collective interest and community ownership of wealth to individualistic self-centred societal values marks the genesis of the concept of sustainable development.

Buddha; status of mind

Additionally, since there has been a great deal of hype about the catastrophic outcomes of climate change in the print and electronic media, people generally tend to think that the concept is of recent origin, whereas it is actually an anthropological outcome which became marked as societies became increasingly individualistic. The difference is that today the scale of the repercussions have escalated manifold. This is perceptibly evidenced in the wake of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and, further exacerbated in the modern era of scientific and technological advances and unabated consumerism. We must thus recognise that the advocacy for sustainable development is not a modern phenomenon but one that has been progressively compounded over several centuries. In actual fact, humankind has been abusing the environment with almost complete disregard to sustainable development for centuries to a precarious point of precipitating unthinkable global disasters which we can now ill afford to ignore or dismiss any longer.


The Buddha had stressed the importance of moderation and respect of the ecology in the context of the larger sustained interest of humanity. He recognised that the need of balanced development arose in the wake of the transformation of human society from being food gathering nomadic tribes into settled sedentary communities.


This reality brings us to a critical fundamental truth that needs to be stressed, which is; the global challenges are first and foremost caused by human beings. National and international deliberations have failed to underline this underlying truth and instead focus on measures such carbon footprint and other essentially statistically-based tangible programs and projects. Therefore, we have to urgently rethink the fundamental premise of sustainable development.

The challenge of environmental degradation and climate change, without question, are caused by human beings. The solution must, necessarily, be found in human beings and not in any external being or power as many religious leaders have propagated. The strategy on sustainable development must therefore be refocused on the human being that is at the very heart of the twin global challenges than purely be relying on tangible programs and projects. We need to disabuse such baseless notions from peoples’ minds and drive home the fact that the primary cause, as the Buddha had more specifically pinpointed, is human greed. A paradigm shift in the thinking and focus of programs and projects on sustainable development based on the following holistic parameters is thus long overdue.

Mind Is Paramount

Briefly, we fail to recognise the connectivity between human greed and sustainable development as taught by the Supremely Self-enlightened Buddha. His Teaching pinpoints that the ROOT CAUSE of environmental degradation is an uncultivated and untrained mind. This reality needs to be squarely addressed as a matter of priority. Paradoxically, though human beings are the principal actors, or rather the primary culprits of environmental degradation and consequent climate change, we fail to give due attention to the cultivation of a wholesome mental culture. We continue to neglect this primary responsibility despite the cultivation of a wholesome mental self-culture being the prerequisite for ensuring the respect and safeguard of Nature as taught by the Buddha.

Another related paradox is the failure to understand the make-up and nature of the human being who is the primary cause of the challenges. A thorough understanding of the human being hence constitutes a fundamental first step in the formulation of the holistic strategy. Referred to as manusia, a human being is a creature that has a mana or mano or a mind that can be developed to its highest potential. This basic understanding of the human being and human nature should be driven home. As the Buddha had underlined, this is critical since all of our thoughts, speech and actions are born in the mind. Furthermore, this reality applies to all peoples, regardless of a person’s religious belief, race, creed, gender, station in life, social status or any other difference. In addition, the Buddha stressed that we need to also understand the complexities of the mind. For example, there is the logical mind, the emotional mind, the conscious mind, the sub-conscious mind and so on. Another critical feature of the mind is that it is a super-duper computer. Further, the Buddha taught that whatever we experience is mind-centred and many more other complexities about our mind. Once we understand and appreciate the paramount importance of the mind as taught by the Buddha, then we are better equipped and motivated to cultivate a wholesome mind.

Mind: Everything

Regrettably, a key reality that has been overlooked in contemporary society is that the mind is very much alive from the foetal state while growing in the mother’s womb. As such, the cultivation of the mind which constitutes a fundamental strategy of sustainable development should commence from the foetal stage of a child. Otherwise the odds are that the child’s mind would in all likelihood be negatively impacted. These scientifically and medically validated realities of the human being are explained in greater detail in my book Mothercare and Patenting : Key to Social Structuring which have a direct bearing to the adoption of a holistic strategy for sustainable development. A holistic development of the foetus while growing in the mother’s womb, as taught by the Buddha, ensures not only a healthy physical development, but also the mental, emotional, spiritual and psychological development of the unborn baby. The Buddha referred to this holistic childbirth as Ghabba Parihara. Unfortunately this rich Buddhist heritage of cultivating a wholesome mental self-culture from the foetal stage is not being universally embraced.


A holistic development of the foetus while growing in the mother’s womb, as taught by the Buddha, ensures not only a healthy physical development, but also the mental, emotional, spiritual and psychological development of the unborn baby.


The next critical stage in the cultivation of the human mind which has been grossly neglected is the first five to six years from the time of a child’s birth. This is recognised as the period when the brain develops steeply after which its growth plateaus off. This is also the period when the child is literally bombarded with negative stimuli through the six sense doors, which comprise the mind, eyes, ears, touch, nose and mouth. It is therefore incumbent upon parents to conscientiously reinforce the cultivation of a wholesome mental culture in their child from infancy at home. This Teaching of the fundamental duty and responsibility of parents is encapsulated in the Buddha’s Teaching of parents being Pubbha Archariyas. That is to say, parents are the first and foremost teachers and the home is the first and foremost school.

For want of a better definition in English, this foremost parental duty may be referred as, ‘home education’. Regrettably, in the modern nuclear family situation where both parents are income earners, home education is virtually absent. The maid, T.V or iPod which is used as a modern pacifier have dominated an infant’s life instead. As a result we are burdened with a highly complex problem of deprogramming a child’s mind that has gone awry at adolescences or youth because it had not been holistically cultivated or trained through home education. These cogent factors have also to be squarely addressed as an integral of a holistic strategy of stainable development.

Media and the Mind

The print and electronic media has played and will continue to play an important role in addressing the global challenge of sustainable development. People around the world have become more conscious of the global challenges of environmental degradation, climate change and sustainable development through regular media coverage. Otherwise not much attention would have been accorded by the general public to these challenges. In this sense the media has played a positive contributory role. On the other hand, the media, especially its advertising arm, constantly entices, both directly and subtly, a culture of consumerism and crass materialism in the minds of the general public. It consciously promotes indulgences in sensual gratification to enhance the sale of products which are linked to the senses. The net result is the reinforcement of craving and immoderation among people. A major challenge is to encourage media stakeholders and practitioners to play a responsible constructive role in promoting a wholesome culture of samagga or kinship as taught by the Buddha and of discernment, balance and other human values pertaining to respecting and safeguarding Mother Nature. The advocacy for the cultivation of a wholesome mental culture in a child from the foetal stage and right throughout childhood would, beyond question, prove an unparalleled contribution to humankind on the part of the media.


The primary goal of education is to produce better human beings in terms of embracing human values, responsible behaviour, social integration, respect and safeguard of Mother Nature etc.


Education is another key factor which has been horribly overlooked in the formulation of a holistic strategy to effect sustainable development. To begin with, there is no well thought out curriculum to teach and internalise a mental self-culture of sustainable development in schools. A more complex challenge regarding education is the fact that the system of mass secular education itself has proven to be a failure all across the world. More people receive a basic education today, but there are far greater social ills and crimes committed in contemporary society than even a generation earlier. Whereas the primary goal of education is to produce better human beings in terms of embracing human values, responsible behaviour, social integration, respect and safeguard of Mother Nature etc.

While on this point, it is to be noted that the Buddha is recognised as an Unparalleled Teacher. It is imperative that his emphasis on holistic education which embodies the foregoing concerns outlined be fully embraced. This will contribute appreciably towards reinforcing the cultivation of a wholesome mental culture among people. In addition, the Buddha’s stress on the Pedagogy of by Example, should be taken to heart. We ourselves must set examples for safeguarding and protecting the environment. So must leaders from all sections of society in everything that they do and pronounce and ensure that this becomes second nature and rubs off on to others who would then follow suit.

Sustainable Development : Clarion Call to Rethink Strategy