Palmerston North author demystifies spirituality

Rohana Ulluwishewa has written a manuscript that aims to demystify spirituality.
Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ

Rohana Ulluwishewa has written a manuscript that aims to demystify spirituality.

It's a big subject, spirituality.

One that is hard to pinpoint, difficult to explain and often deeply personal.

For Rohana Ulluwishewa, it's something that the world needs more of and his award-winning manuscript aims to understand it, demystify it and explain it in rational and scientific terms.

It's been a hard road.

Ulluwishewa has had an extensive and international university career as an academic and development consultant but he is not a scientist.

He did, however, realise along the way that external changes brought about by development cannot solve poverty, inequality, unsustainability and unhappiness and he decided that spirituality was a positive path to change that needed explaining.

He compares writing his manuscript with making a jigsaw puzzle, familiarising himself with quantum physics, psychology, neuroscience and reading extensively on various spirituality-related issues. 

Ulluwishewa, an honorary research associate at Massey University, is quick to point out that religion is separate from spirituality. "People use a religion for identity, not for transformation," he says. 

"I find that in every religion there are two core components, the core and the periphery.

The core of each religion constitutes the original teachings of the founders of the religions which greatly contribute to inner transformation of people, to make people less selfish and more loving. That is in the core.

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"In the periphery there are things like ritualistics, cultural and political dogmas.

"So what happens is that many religious people follow the periphery and not the core, so that is the reason that religion has become a problem now.

"Religion divides people rather than unifying. The core is spiritual and the peripheral is cultural.

"People can be spiritual without being religious because they have unconditional love and the willingness to help people.

"There are people who go to church and they do all the rituals but they are less kind to people and this is how we differentiate spirituality from religion. So one can be spiritual without being religious."

Ulluwishewa is a Buddhist and he says for years he followed the periphery, the rituals, the cultures.

He wasn't living at the core and he says at some point he realised this and he made a choice to be guided "by the universe".

"Until recently I was writing about poverty, sustainability and inequality from a materialistic point of view. When the right time came, some sort of inner transformation occurred within which guided me to look at the same problems from a spiritual point of view."

Ulluwishewa's manuscript won the unpublished manuscript category for the Mind Body Spirit Literary Award and prompted the judge to say "if you were to only read one book in one's lifetime, this is the one". Judge Adonia Wylie went on to heap praise on Ulluwishewa's work.

"Its clarity, its cogent use of words, its ability to cover the most abstract of topics seamlessly while staying fully grounded, completely clear and coherent makes it a brilliant work."

For Ulluwishewa, he wanted to write something that everyone could understand.

He wants to encourage people that the only way to transform the world is to transform ourselves.

Education, says Ulluwishewa, is a key and he says that spirituality needs to be taught in schools.

"I think it was after the Industrial Revolution and the growth of capitalism in Europe that spirituality was left to the church and schools were only for materialistic education, so now we can see the consequences.

"Schools and universities are producing highly skilled individual people; they are rich in knowledge and skills but poor in love and spiritual qualities. People don't always use their knowledge for the wellbeing of the people; they use it for their own self-gratitude.

"I believe that if spirituality is integrated into schools and higher educational institutes then the students will  understand the purpose of life. We lack the understanding for the reason for existence as human beings.

"There should be a reason – things like love, kindness, compassion and tolerance. Then they can use the skills that they have gained for the wellbeing of the people rather than misuse their power."

Spirituality, says Ulluwishewa, should not be taught in a conventional way but as a practically-oriented subject.

It should be theory and practicee, explained in scientific ways, then executed through meditation, community work and putting the theory into the everyday.

It's a theory that Ulluwishewa took a year to piece together before he put pen to paper explaining a new form of faith that is based not on beliefs but on clear understanding. 

"Jesus Christ's  unique characteristic was altruism, selflessness.

"The question is how did he know? The answer comes from modern neuroscience.

"Scientists have discovered that altruism is hard-wired in our brain. We all are  altruistic in our nature but it is over-ridden by our self-centredness, which is soft-wired.

"With spirituality, we are trying to dissolve this so the hard-wired oneness can emerge. We can be selfless, altruistic and happier people."

So in other words, we are not selfish naturally, we just forget and ego takes over. 

"When we experience the outside world through our senses, the information goes to our brain, then neurons will form. If society is self-centred, then we are getting that experience and it is built up in our brain.

"It can be changed, young children are altruistic, they are selfless, but when they are exposed to society self-centredness is formed in their brain.

"We are living in a competitive world and people cannot be selfless, they have to be selfish. But the good news is that this is soft-wired and can be changed. Prayer, selfless service and meditation is the place to start."

Ulluwishewa speaks with surety and with passion. His goal is to help people achieve transformation, individually and for a greater good. Through his studies he has noted a trend with people moving away from selfishness.

"People are now beginning to understand the consequences of consumerism and there are people that appreciate a simple life. The world is changing, the new spiritual revolution is coming from Western countries. One thing is that people are seeking happiness."

And the question is there, does God exist? Ulluwishewa says that religion and being spiritual don't have to mean that you believe in a God sitting on a cloud.

"Energy fills the whole universe and that is one mind, some people call it being and that is God. The same God is within you and within me, that is our inner reality. Once we become one with that inner God then you get divine qualities, unconditional love, compassion, kindness, tolerance. You don't have to be religious for that."

It's arguably a pantheistic or Buddhist outlook.

Ulluwishewa has found his own peace in Palmerston North. He says it is the perfect place to write about spirituality.

"You have to write from within, you have to have a quiet mind and a quiet place near nature. This is the ideal place."

Ulluwishewa has decided to self-publish his manuscript as the interest generated from the award has been significant and he says it is the quickest way to make the book available.

He also wants to make the book affordable, making it accessible to "ordinary readers in low-income countries". He is also seeking an organisation committed to promoting spiritual education in New Zealand to donate 50 per cent of the income of the book to. 

The first page of the book is a dedication to Ulluwishewa's first spiritual teacher, his mother. She lived to 105 years and "left her physical body on the day I completed this book". Ulluwishewa continues her journey on what he says is a "prime need of this era".

For more information on Rohana Ulluwishewa and to follow the progress of his book go to

 - Stuff


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