Hu Jintao

Using local wisdom

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2007, 12:00am


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What do the political leaders on both sides of the Himalayas have in common? Many of them are calling for new, innovative and local solutions for global problems in the form of a new regional consensus. They include President Hu Jintao, Nepal's Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Sri Lankan Buddhist opposition party leader and monk Athuraliye Rathana, Bangladesh's Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk.

This 'Himalaya Consensus' is a sharp contrast to the Washington Consensus approach to development, economics, politics and global values. It is being discussed from Colombo to Islamabad, embracing three pillars of new-age idealism.

First, mainland China's fast-paced economic development has overturned assumptions once taken for granted in the economic development theories of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. So, throw out the theory. The experiences of each country in the new consensus differ according to local conditions. Mainland China emphasises its gross domestic product while Bhutan calls for gross domestic happiness. Both are correct: they apply, separately, according to different local circumstances, population density, rural and urban income gaps and so forth.

The idea of following a single model should be dropped, and replaced by sharing sets of experiences related to development. These would emphasise a grass-roots, microcredit approach to markets and planning.

Second, since the end of the second world war, the United States has more or less set the tone of global values - such as cookie-cutter notions of democracy - delivered with heavy doses of Judeo-Christian morality. The Himalaya Consensus prefers to draw its values from indigenous sources: Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. These religions aspire for equality among humanity, closing rich-poor gaps, global human rights, respect for the environment as the basis of humanity's own sustainable development, and peaceful solutions to global conflict.

Ian Baker, author of many books on the Himalayas and Buddhism and a long-term resident of Kathmandu, explains this approach as follows: 'Close [the] gaps between meditation and social transformation. The essence of Buddhism - getting purified - goes beyond self-help to helping others.' The Himalaya Consensus approach, Mr Baker said, means positive social action: 'Don't look for a perfect world. Spending time searching for it [is just an escape]. Go create it!'

Third, based on these two pillars, every country should have the right to develop its own political system. Indigenous models of participatory government should be created based on the foundations of each country's local culture, tribal and historic political models. Forcing an American model of government on countries that have no relevant historic, social or cultural points in common with the US leads only to ineffective government, political instability and social-humanitarian disasters.

'The Shambhala vision,' Mr Baker says of the Himalaya Consensus, 'is of a world without limitations - paradise includes all things and everything is included - not a dual world. In opposition politics you cannot win, because you are always opposed to something'.

As an example, Mr Baker says, 'in Nepal, politics means freedom and working for the common good. Democracy as a system went against what people wanted, which was to work together collectively. Democracy, with its emphasis on duality, has its own deep flaws - perpetuating ways of thinking that can never lead to an enlightened view'.

What, then, is the future of the Himalaya Consensus? 'It all comes down to politics,' said Mr Baker. 'In the Buddhist tradition, Buddha walked out of politics and renounced it to sit under a tree. Now it is time for Buddha to walk back into politics, not sit under a tree, because the trees are all being cut down.'

Laurence Brahm is a political economist, author, filmmaker and founder of Shambhala Foundation