Deepavali tonic to still your fears

15 Oct 2019 / 19:42 H.

THE Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 promises to do better than the New Economic Model in narrowing the wealth gaps between classes, ethnicities, and territories. But for SPV to work, it needs to be accompanied by another vision: a Shared Morality Vision.

To share prosperity, you need a sense of neighbourly care that provides a common base for all the people to share a larger cake in equitable ways. In scriptural terms, “neighbours” are like the ripples in a pool. You have small circles close to you, and big circles that reach out to the edge. All Malaysians are neighbours regardless of their class, ethnicity, religion, or territory.

The first rule of morality, known as the Golden Rule, is this: Treat your neighbour the way you would like to be treated. This isn’t a new moral precept but is 300,000 years old. The primeval ancestors of all the world’s aboriginal tribes carved this rule in the hearts of every child. On this common base, the tribes managed to integrate and build civilisations that generated prosperity.

Do we in Malaysia have this sense of neighbourly care that must accompany any effort to create shared prosperity? “Kami prihatin” is a great slogan, but how large is your circle of care? October is a holy month with four religio-cultural festivities: Nine Emperor Gods, Navarathiri, and Holy Rosary during the first half, with Deepavali coming up in the second half.

Ironically, in a holy month a top girls’ school got embroiled in a dispute over prayer. If our circle of care is so narrow that it sparks offence to hear a prayer of another faith community asking for blessings upon the gathering – whether it is a school assembly, business conference, or public seminar – then we really need to pray a lot more and plead that God will clear the severe blockages in our hearts, lest the nation collapses.

More saddening is the resolution adopted at a recent congress, also in this holy month, that all top government positions must be reserved for one community to ensure the religion of that community is not threatened. But any time you face a threat from another group, it is because that group has no sense of neighbourly care towards you.

If you fear that other groups have no sense of neighbourly care for you, these other groups may also harbour the same fear about you. Unable to share trust and goodwill, how are we to share prosperity? A factionalist mindset creates blockages in our hearts, and soon the heart of our nation will be in seizure. The solution is not to build for each community a high thick-walled silo that requires a password to enter; the solution is to foster neighbourly care.

On the occasion of Deepavali coming round the corner, here’s a teaspoonful of ancient Vedic tonic for your heart. It’s a verse from Srimad Bhagavata on neighbourly care but fear not, it isn’t a prayer: “Just as all rivers, originating from different mountains and fed by rain, finally enter the ocean, so also all paths of worship lead ultimately to You”.

Let’s start with the last phrase ... “all paths of worship lead ultimately to You.” Hard to believe? If you’re a father with eight sons born of the same mother and you let only one son talk to you while the rest must speak to your housekeeper, what kind of father are you? Believe that God has no favourites.

Next ... “all rivers” and “different mountains”. These portray the great diversity of human ethnicities (the so-called races) and religions. Finally ... “rain” and “ocean”, source and destination. Is there anything fundamentally different between your rain here and his rain in Greenland, the ocean at your shore and the ocean at her shore in Brazil?

Nature is the greatest moral teacher, the original teacher, and its precept of neighbourly care is based on the fundamental oneness underlying all diversities. Let’s not fear the rivers and the mountains, the ethnicities and religions that look distantly strange. Without trust bonding all Malaysian communities, there can be no shared prosperity.

The writer champions interfaith harmony.

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