A Public Talk delivered on World Animal Day (October 4, 2015) at the Dharmavijaya Foundation, Colombo.

New Vision

We need a new vision for this country and its civilizational advancement. 

It must begin in our schools.

The primary purpose of education is to make an individual a better human being. One aspect of that is to be in close contact with nature and appreciate nature. This was how the aim of education was viewed in the bygone age. Today the ethos in the educational system has radically changed. Focus is on to prepare students in subjects that will be useful to gain employment. The curriculum is directed towards technical and job oriented education, while neglecting the humanitarian side. It is a lopsided education producing children that have relatively speaking little understanding of life – which is the original and essential purpose of education. An enlightened human being cannot arise purely on the basis of instruction in technical subjects.

Once upon a time the living world was physically close to human beings. It was rural in outlook and a rural atmosphere enveloped the world. The inhabitants interacted with nature, plants and animals on a daily basis.  There is a decided shift today. An artificial virtual world has made deep inroads into our lives through new technologies uprooting the child.

There is a greatness in the outdoors. 99% of children who live in big cities have little knowledge of nature. A Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka in the recent past has been reported to have said that her child saw a frog for the first time only upon their arrival in Sri Lanka.  Those who live in concrete jungles cannot see even the sky properly. But the sky and the heavens above have always been a source of inspiration and awe to humankind. 

Buddhist Economics

There has to be a greater public debate on where we are going and our true destiny.  The uncritical copying of structures more suitable for other cultures and development of concrete jungles that we see in South East Asia at the cost of a green tree based environment may not be the best answer to Sri Lanka’s social and economic problems. Bigger is not always better. Small is beautiful said Dr. E.F. Schumacher advocating small appropriate technologies that can empower people more.  Schumacher propounded a philosophy of  "enoughness", appreciating both human needs, limitations and appropriate use of technology. It grew out of his study of village-based economics in Burma, which he subsequently named as ‘Buddhist Economics’.

Humanitarian Education 

To break or arrest this trend towards producing children who have little empathy for nature, animals and even other human beings, there is a new system of education gaining ground. It is called Humanitarian Education.  Animal Protection Education is a part of Humanitarian education. Taiwan is one region in the world that has successfully introduced Animal Protection Education into schools. We also see that happening in some parts of India such as Gujarat.

Primary School Education in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka in our Primary schools from Grade 1 – 5 four main subjects are taught, namely

1) Maths

2) Languages

3) Environment Related Activities (ERA)

4) Religion

ERA has 12 themes integrated into it, such as Safety, Transport, Family and Natural environment including animals.

Dharma Voices for Animals

The DVA (Sri Lanka – Colombo Chapter) will be formally inaugurated on October 18. Once formed it will add to the growing calls both within and outside the country for improvement of the lives of animals that are captive, stray and living in the wild in Sri Lanka.

DVA – the parent organization was formed in 2011 by Bob Isaacson and Patti Breitman in San Diego, California, USA. It is an international movement of Buddhist practitioners engaged in advocacy for the rights of all animals to live in freedom.

It is represented in over 40 countries. It has 17 Chapters altogether mostly in USA, Europe and Latin America. Taiwan being a part of China has a Chapter of DVA. Our mission basically is to campaign for animal rights, promote animal welfare, conserve wild life and maintain ecological balance, and spread Vegetarianism and Veganism. Furthermore we aim to protect animals from being captured and while in captivity, from abuse, abandonment or slaughter through the process of legislation and education. We shall promote the noble ideas of reverence for all life, respect for animals and peaceful co – existence between man and animal.

DVA in Sri Lanka

DVA would like to help the Dept of Education in the foreseeable future by helping to develop animal protection education through the adoption of a number of strategies:

a) The core purpose will be to help develop concern for animal rights and welfare in lesson planning for children.

b) Research shows a vicious cycle of violence. The child that abuses animals in the home environment is likely to be a bully at school, beat family members or spouses, and even commit crimes in society.

c) Teenage children who are abused by elders in turn abuse companion animals and other animals.

DVA will strive to influence the education system to

i) develop an environment in schools to promote teachers and children’s understanding of the meaning of animal protection and help them recognize the inter – dependence and inter – subjective relationship among human beings, animals and mother nature.

ii) help programmes that lead children to establish positive relationship with animals and strengthen their ability to emphathise with animals.

iii) promote the concept of respect and affection for animals and their habitats and generate humane and caring values and the power to act

iv) If students are made to understand that animals like humans also have the ability to feel pain, they can then develop the endearing traits of benevolence and sympathy.

v) Advocacy of Animal Protection Ideas – Today’s Children will become the future leaders of Sri Lanka. DVA will develop and assist programmes that will encourage children and teenagers to become a conduit in conveying the ideas of animal protection to the public which will in turn help them to gain the ability to interact with people and develop effective communication skills.

vi) DVA will help children and their teachers understand the unpalatable truth behind animal shows and Zoos (which in reality are animal prisons though euphemistically called Zoos) and empower them to think critically and engage in resolute action including even refusing to visit a Zoo as a place for enjoyment and merry making. Children must be taught to emphathise and speak on behalf of caged animals in Zoos who have been given a punitive life sentence without committing an offence.  Our children should be encouraged to share their birthday treats with animals and birds including zoo and stray animals among others. 

Furthermore, our children must be reminded of the Buddha's words quoted in the Dhammapada:

“He who does not inflict injury on beings, whether feeble or strong, does not kill nor cause to kill, him I call a Brahmana.”

vii) Sri Lanka is a country with a lot of wild life.  It is the human being who is encroaching into the natural habitats of our elephants. Their territory is getting reduced by the day. We are invading their territory without an iota of guilt feeling. They have a right to live in their natural habitats undisturbed by human encroachment. This is a message that children must carry with them to prevent further aggravation of the human – elephant conflict.

vii) Teachers must be trained to provide children with opportunities to choose a set of values different from mainstream values. Allow children to have lifestyle options such as avoiding products that are basically slaughter products or combined with slaughter products e.g. furs, animal skins, reduce meat consumption and choose a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Meat is a product of a huge injustice caused to animals. We prematurely end their natural span of life and then rob their body parts for our use and consumption. No amount of religious script based excuses or defense can hide this shameful bitter truth.  

James Cameron, famed director of ‘Titanic’ and well-known climate change activist, has a message for the masses: go vegan to fight climate change.

Cameron, who has been vegan for four years, has said in a recent interview with the Fortune Magazine as follows:

“ [T]he thing that became abundantly clear to us when we met with the experts who are working in nutrition and energy sustainability and climate change is that we can’t actually meet our emission goals if we don’t address animal agriculture, and that’s the thing that’s been left out of the conversation.

This message is crucial because many people who care about the environment still have no idea that raising animals for food is so incredibly destructive.”

Consider some of these facts:

•             It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef

•             80 percent of land deforested in the Amazon is for raising cattle

•             Factory farms grossly contaminate rivers and ground water

Future Plan

DVA Sri Lanka Chapter would like to initiate a campaign to promote animal protection education and see it take root in our system of school education.

An unique program operating in schools in Israel has found that animal welfare education leads to a host of other benefits including sensitivity to the needs of others, personal responsibility and prevention of violence. In respect to primary school education, young children particularly up to the age of seven years are recognized for being receptive towards forming positive attitudes to animal welfare that will carry them through to adulthood.

We must remember that children are generally very receptive, their minds are inquiring and active and they have huge supplies of natural enthusiasm. The messages they receive at school run deep. A caring child will turn out be a caring adult. DVA will also help in establishing Animal Protection Clubs or Associations in schools and Universities. These clubs will serve as a platform for students to exchange resources, share information, discuss issues, and make animal protection plans more practical and local.

DVA will campaign for introduction of ‘ Animal Law ’as part of legal studies in high school and tertiary education i.e. Law Faculty. DVA will issue legal proceedings and enter public litigation when required to save lives or defend the interests of innocent defenseless animals in our courts.

The study of philosophy both Eastern and Western must be re-introduced into our educational system with a view to expanding the intellectual horizons of our school and university students.

  People in Sri Lanka in the pre-colonial era were called Arya Sinhala or Aryavansa – noble race by fellow Asians because of our animal friendly cultural heritage and compassion towards animals.

DVA’s ultimate goal is to help build a caring and compassionate society in Sri Lanka that fits in with the Buddhist Civilizational Goals of achieving peaceful co – existence between man and animal. We can then become a true role model for the world like Bhutan has become in respect to the preservation of its rich natural environment.

Senaka Weeraratna

Attorney – at – Law

Chapter Leader of Dharma Voices for Animals (Sri Lanka – Colombo Chapter)

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