In Pursuit Of Wellbeing
Dev Raj Dahal
The bulge of consciousness has widened the concept of wellbeing exposing citizens and leaders to a big picture. Sages, philosophers and scholars have always been engaged in seeking universal values of wellbeing with cluster of themes such as freedom, justice, social esteem, compassion, rights, healthcare, liberation, happiness, social security, economic participation, political opportunities, peace, etc. in a pursuit of decent standards of living. It manifests in different ways around the world upholding various strands of thought and philosophy espousing the wellbeing of citizens under diverse pre-historic and historical traditions. The Vedas say that human beings have an ability to transcend selfishness and attain both humanity and divinity-the higher stage of wellbeing.
Janak, Astavakra, Ved Vyas, Valmiki, Buddha, etc. have set examples of how a great intellectual ferment of wellbeing is secured without coercion. Ancient Nepal espoused four dimensions of human life-dharma (virtuous conduct), artha (wealth), kama (pleasure) and mokchha or nirvana (emancipation) for physical, social, moral and spiritual wellbeing bound up with optimally good life. The last one does not dawn with the resignation to fate, social determinism, envy or ego but by an active and mindful engagement in the public life and removal of all barriers to knowledge, wealth, health, balance and nurturance. True wellbeing comes through enlightenment, innovation and freedom to determine vital choices of life affirming the wisdom of the Upanishad: damayata (self-control), datta (altruism and giving) and dayadhvam (compassion) to those in need of care. These normative compulsions have levelling impulses. It is useful to resolve the inner incongruity of life and ease one’s conscience.
The Isha Upanishad issues a wise message,” while enjoying the fruits of creation one should not covet for others’ possessions. One should partake in the means of livelihood to the minimum and conserve the resources available in the universe for others to meet their requirements.” This impels justice across human and natural world spurring the reason to defend what Gautam Buddha and Karl Marx call need-based economy to resolve external incongruity of life. The supreme ethics of science and politics finds its resonance in the ongoing global debate and consensus on sustainable development. Wellbeing is thus linked to outward, material pleasure and inward joy of life linked to pran vital to set off existential life-process.
Wise persons see others like themselves, cultivate creative zeal to gauge wellbeing beyond empirical indicators and measure the quality of life in holistic sense. When human grief vanishes by getting the dignity of life citizens seek to reach the oneness of humanity now somewhat affirmed by the canon of human rights. But it does not fully cherish the cosmic web of life as it is anthropocentric in nature. The will of humanity is governed more by the virtue of duty than rights. In the Nepali context, the prime condition of wellbeing rests on the fulfilment of basic needs, then the attainment of general public goods and finally perfect bliss which can be achieved by higher will affirming the destiny of its civilisation. This perspective demands a control on the wild expression of human nature by legal bounds, inclusive social transformation and common traction on normative and legal issues on the scale of human values that stops the hidden cuffs of cognitive dependence, ends violence in politics, restores ethics in economics and whets the resilience of ecological and social life.
The modern meaning of wellbeing in the nation underpins freedom of Nepalis from the chains of ignorance, basic needs deficits and fear so that they can pursue their rights to live larger lives. It is grounded in the moral and constitutional frame as it helps to confront evils of society for the attainment of freedom, equality, entitlements and adequate social opportunities animating a more enriching way of living lives. The approach to wellbeing is not calculated in the economic system of accounting of growth and habits of material consumption only without the use of democratic ethics. Enlightenment view of human nature considers human as rational being capable of judgment and public action for the prevention of harm and promotion of wellbeing. The contamination of wellbeing in Nepal springs from the unstable condition of self and society generated by the nation’s post-traumatic stress disorder and misery of the world that sets political culture clashing with the satisfaction of pent-up needs.
Knowledge of Nepalis about the pain of scarcity is necessary for breaking its causes through duties, accountabilities and justice where the state, citizens and a variety of institutions in-between have to play creative and complementary roles to capture the synergy of progress. An awakening to this helps oneself to acquire power and ability of true self and set the path of wellbeing and self-realisation. The sutto guna, divine virtue of human beings, enables them to become creator of their own destiny and exercise wisdom, not entirely conditioned by tamo (passion) and rajo (spirit and valour) gunas or external compulsion. In a least developed nation like Nepal wealth creation is crucial but not enough to catch the delight of wellbeing. The source of wealth-greed, avarice and undue misuse of nature and poor is simply unsustainable. It creates a biological destiny built in human nature. Such destiny is afflicted by jealously, poverty and insecurity. It hits inner disharmonies and breeds befuddled conviction, profession and law animus to rational consistency with moral high ground.
In the pursuit of wellbeing, the Constitution embodies many social and economic provisions including right to work, education, health, social security and even universal human rights. Ironically about 25 per cent of Nepalis are deprived of the basic necessities of life while about six million youths tormented by the miseries of life are working hard in foreign land to sustain their living and support the national economy. It is important to lift the unfair burden on the life of the poor and re-moralise public life deemed fit for them to belong. Feeding the stomach lifts the heart to long for freedom. Therefore, Nepalis had until recently defined shuva lav, just price as per innate value of things in the market place evoking corporate social responsibility and maintenance of business ethics where civil society can educate about the aim of life.
So long as Nepal continues to practice revenue-based economic model, dream of remittance, tourism, excessive import, aid, investment and careless use of natural and human resources and maintains rich-poor gap, the nation’s rise to developing country is hard. Dependence does not sustain the springs of hope for a socialised polity nor nurtures national sovereignty, the collective manifestation of individual freedom. Nepalis must be liberated from the bottom up for creative social initiatives and enterprises so that each of them can explore life’s immense possibilities beyond biological survival. The Constitutional vision of right to work supposes a job that pays a liveable wage for everyone. This requires labour market reforms along the line of social development and economic imperatives of ecological balance. It is possible by ending the grubby transitional politics, curbing patronage and shifting politics to democratic affinities- reflection, deliberation, policy making and collective action.
The role of Nepali state lies in promoting the “real economy” to ensure food sovereignty, adaptive skills of its citizens fit for the jobs in technology-driven economy, condition for the realisation of equal rights and duties and enabling them to undertake civic roles. The role of government lies in removing institutional deficiencies by shifting the legal and ethical balance in favour of the ordinary citizens, weak and marginalised while the role of democratic polity lies in widening the public sphere, acquiring capacity to deliver public goods and reaching out to those who no longer have faith in liberal way of life defined by the power of reason for its failure to confront political problems. Wellbeing of Nepalis is relative to their expectation bred by electoral manifestoes of political parties, leaders’ promises and constitutional provisions with their ability to pull self and communities together to a higher plane. A person’s wellbeing is the result of overall satisfaction with much solidarity with family, community, society, profession, the state to many global networks.
Among the multitude of forces that propel prosperity, knowledge, artificial intelligence, communication, entrepreneurship, connectivity and distributive justice are the vital ones. They empower Nepalis to realise their slumbering potentials, utilise surpluses of the nation, meet challenges and capacitate the state to comply with global obligations. Nothing can stop Nepal from achieving its elevated wellbeing once citizens, imbued with confidence in the power of sovereignty embedded in them and leadership guided by national vision, begin to step forward in a committed way in the implementation of the Constitution and maximisation of welfare provisions entrenched in it. They can change human condition through right decisions in every aspect of life. But they must be cautious enough on who are subverting the polity and allowing the surge of centrifugal geopolitics and clogging the state’s outreach at the grassroots.
For Nepalis, wellbeing is more than comfort of existence. It rests on preference compatible with aspirations of what Immanuel Kant says “moral destiny.” The decay of religion and ideologies has renewed the principle of utility and contaminated moral atmosphere. But it is restoring human appeal to knowing self that vindicates commonsense and values self-esteem again that sets a reasonable equilibrium between physical, psychological and spiritual state of life vital for animating wellbeing.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)