It is with deep humility and renewed
faith in the service of humanity that I rise on this memorable occasion to
deliver this brief response. This is an honor you have given to my country,
to the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of which I am a humble worker, and
above all an honor given to chose simple village people who responded to our
call of "love and service." I am only a medium chosen by destiny to assist
the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation to carry the spirit of that great
leader, the late President Ramon Magsaysay, into the minds and hearts of my
own common people—for it was for the emancipation of the common man that he
lived and died.
Great men of the caliber of Ramon Magsaysay do not belong to one country or
one period or one generation. They are social phenomena that suddenly appear
and disappear like flashes of lightning in darkness and show us the path.
They belong to the entire universe and eternity. Lord Buddha says "Rupan
jeerathi maccanan—Nama goththan na jeerathi" which means while all that is
mortal in us decays our noble thoughts, words and deeds will live long after
our physical remains are gone. The true greatness of a man is known only by
the way his fellowmen hold him in esteem after his death. Judging from the
name he has left behind to be honored and perpetuated in this manner, I am
sure he must now be among the divine. May he bless us all in our endeavors
to serve our fellowmen, particularly those that are considered the
lowest—the lowliest and the lost.
I believe the Foundation has elected me for the Community Leadership Award
on the basis of the external manifestations of my behavior in that
particular field. Therefore, it is my duty to place before this august
assembly some of my inner thoughts that motivated my external behavior.
In the culture in which I was brought up I was fascinated from my childhood
by certain thoughts the implementation of which, however, was postponed by
that same culture to the next life. Peetho bhavatu lokocha, meaning may all
beings in the universe be well and happy, was one such thought. Working for
a nobler ideal than the ideal of the greater good of the greater number
became a passion in my life. Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave called
this thought, the welfare of all, by the Sanskrit word sarvodaya.
For the awakening of all in society we have to awaken ourselves first. Again
my own Buddhist culture showed me four noble goals towards which every
individual should strive. The first is loving kindness, or metta as we call
it. As a good mother loves her one and only child and protects him at the
risk of her own life we are taught to love and protect all living beings.
Secondly, we are taught to cultivate kanuna, or compassion, which motivates
us to go in search of those who suffer and help remove the causes which have
brought upon them that suffering. Thirdly, we are taught to train ourselves
to take altruistic joy in others' happiness. We call this muditha. Fourthly,
to educate oneself in upekkha, or equanimity, which gives one emotional
balance to take fame or blame, profit or loss, success or failure with
detachment and patience. These four qualities are called divine abodes
because they elevate the follower to divine levels. It is this philosophy of
life that motivated me for this silent mission which you have adjudged
worthy of honor.
These are not impractical idealistic thoughts that have no relevance to the
modern scientific and technological world. Modernity is not determined by
time. It is determined by our attitudes and outlook to life and living.
These thoughts we translated into practical application to bring about
significant changes in the grass-roots of our society—changes for the better
among our rural communities which are the foundation of our culture, freedom
and human dignity. And wasn't it our revered Ramon Magsaysay himself who
said that "democracy should start from the grassroots?"
The technique we adopted to translate thoughts into action was a call to all
to share their "time, thought and energy" in the service of their fellowmen.
We called it shramadana. Sharing (dana), compassionate speech (priya vacana),
constructive activity (arthacharya) and equanimity (samanath-matha) are the
four salient features of shramadana.
These thoughts and action in their own small way are laying a strong
spiritual and material foundation for rebuilding a new Ceylon—a new Sri
Lanka—where I assure you science and spirituality will be harmonized and the
island deserve once again to be called Dharmadweepa—The Island of
Righteousness. Here and now I declare in the name of that great leader, the
Lord Buddha, that every cent of this monetary award and every element of
personal recognition that you have given me today will be utilized for this
noble end. For I believe as he believed that "you can find yourself only to
the extent you can lose yourself." Lose yourself in what? Lose yourself
completely and totally in the service of your fellowmen to free them from
the causes of all suffering; namely, greed, ignorance and hatred.