Civilization pandemic | Daily News


Civilization pandemic

War kills fellow men, women and children
War kills fellow men, women and children

While we are in a panic about the COVID 19 pandemic, our present civilization has been critically ill for a long time, as had been all earlier human civilizations, which failed to recover.

First we have to realize and accept that we human beings are sick, both in mind and body. The main cause for all sickness, pain and suffering is our insatiable greed. As the Buddha said, there is the Truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering, which is called the Four Noble Truths. In healthcare, the same idea is expressed through the recognition of the disease, its etiology, prognosis and the remedy. We find this in our indigenous medical systems, where the physician treats the person instead of the disease, where he needs to practice Brahma Vihara - loving-kindness, compassion, empathy and equanimity.

We can apply this for social healthcare too. We have to really see the truth of suffering in our society. We have to open our eyes, to see and realize there is immense suffering. It is only then that we can try to find the causes of suffering, which is all due to our insatiable greed. We have to grow the confidence of knowing we can end this suffering.

According to the World Health Organization, ‘The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities - the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.’

In the latter half of the 20th century the World Health Organization launched a very ambitious project, HFA-2000, Health For All by 2000. Despite all obstacles, had the WHO been able to achieve it, we would not be here today, because there would not have been any need to panic about a pandemic.

Nearly 130 years ago, Edward Carpenter wrote, ‘We find ourselves to-day in the midst of a somewhat peculiar state of society, which we call Civilisation, but which even to the most optimistic among us does not seem altogether desirable. Some of us, indeed, are inclined to think that it is a kind of disease which the various races of man have to pass through—as children pass through measles or whooping cough; but if it is a disease, there is this serious consideration to be made, that while History tells us of many nations that have been attacked by it, of many that have succumbed to it, and of some that are still in the throes of it, we know of no single case in which a nation has fairly recovered from and passed through it to a more normal and healthy condition. In other words the development of human society has never yet (that we know of) passed beyond a certain definite and apparently final stage in the process we call Civilisation; at that stage it has always succumbed or been arrested.’

Modern life

Carpenter continues - ‘But the word Disease is applicable to our social as well as to our physical condition. For as in the body, disease arises from the loss of the physical unity which constitutes Health, and so takes the form of warfare or discord between the various parts, or of the abnormal development of individual organs, or the consumption of the system by predatory germs and growths; so in our modern life we find the unity gone which constitutes true society, and in its place warfare of classes and individuals, abnormal development of some to the detriment of others, and consumption of the organism by masses of social parasites. If the word disease is applicable anywhere, I should say it is—both in its direct and its derived sense—to the civilised societies of to-day.’ (Carpenter, Edward. 1889. Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure. London.)

The diseases of civilization have been incurable, because the majority of the people had not realized or wanted to accept their civilization, their culture and their society were sick, or perhaps they were happy to be sick, like leaders who are happy to suffer from megalomania. It is not only virus, bacteria and wild animals which cause death, but man himself as he is the cause of the highest number of deaths among mankind.

Only a very sick man in a very sick civilization could intentionally distribute blankets used by smallpox victims, to innocent Native American tribes to annihilate them. Civilized man kills by using weapons, mechanical, chemical and biological. He kills by depriving his brothers and sisters from their rightful share of food and water. He kills in the name of religion, race, language, politics or simply to satisfy his thirst for blood.

Panic over pandemic

We have been talking about pandemics for the past several months, because we became mortally scared of a microscopic creature, who we turned into a huge monster. We have faced, and continue to face much more fatal pandemic threats for many millennia. We don’t even give a seconds thought to the ten million people who die every year from tobacco and alcohol. Yet we have gone into complete lock-downs and panic over a half million people who have died around the world, from this pandemic. Whether it is ten million, half a million or even one death, it is a tragedy. But we also need to decide on our priorities, when and who should press the panic button. Because there are predictions that the COVID 19 vaccines would generate US$ 100 billion sales with US$ 40 billion profits.

There are very few instances of epidemics mentioned in early writings. The Pujawaliya, written in 1266, by a physician-monk, mentions an epidemic ‘Rakthakshi Maraka Jwara Rogaya’ about 1800 years ago. King Siri Sanghabodi had performed Satyakriya and driven away the Yaksha who caused it. Prof. Kumaradasa Jayasuriya has said the disease could have been leptospirosis. Whatever it was, we had faced a serious epidemic and eradicated it. Unfortunately leptospirosis has come back in recent decades. There is no vaccine against this, just as there is no vaccine against dengue, which is causing 100 – 400 million infections each year, according to the WHO, just as there is no vaccine to at least control our insatiable greed.

Perhaps the time is ripe for us all to consider performing Satyakriya, so that we could heal ourselves and our civilization.

(The writer can be contacted at

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