An Interview of Ven. S. Upali

On social activism:

“The question that always motivates me: all the upali-photo-3-copy1experiences I’ve had, especially the ones I don’t like, all the personal faults, how can I overcome them? To experience real peace.”

“Since I know this is not only my experience how can I learn so well I can always help other people experience life this way, to not be disturbed by the unexpected things that are bound to happen. Failures and stress. But how can we replace these with courage and still go on.”

“The activism is making myself capable of addressing other people and explaining whatever knowledge I have. So they can also face life that way. A better quality life.”

On modern technology:

“The digital world is like an illusion actually. There is nothing. What do you see? It’s just light and color. You don’t see anything beyond light and color. Light and color are the biggest illusions. Change it slightly and you get more attracted to different lights and color.”

“Even the picture that you see. The picture is not the person. What it involves is memory. The picture triggers something in our mind. Even those things we are building ourselves. It’s not actually real connection.”

“What you reflect back and ask questions: is it making me more happy? But actually it wasn’t. It was making me more restless. After the computer the state of mind is not focused. It’s irritated.”

On letter writing:

“Oh! I miss writing letters.”

“I always felt uncomfortable writing letters because my handwriting is not good. I have very bad handwriting.”

“I used to write many letters and poems and submit them to local magazines. I had my little brother write them since his handwriting was more legible. Now I use a computer.”

“Long ago, my family would write me before I was old enough to use computers. It was very nice. Expected it all the time. I had a pile of letters. I feel it was actually very important.”

“I would encourage other social activists that they’re doing good and that I appreciate what they’re doing.”

On championing issues:

“I would like to write letters to the very big people. The real bourgeois. Who are doing a lot of harm to the society. To the 1%, they are doing a lot of harm to the society. To explain that the world we have is not for themselves. Who would say that Bill Gates is not a brilliant man. But it’s good to be humble and share what they have.”

“In Cambridge last year I can’t forget the memory. In the middle of the night. Around the public library there is a school. And just near to the school. One man was lying down. And I thought he was dead. A homeless guy. They don’t deserve to life that way. A little more sharing and caring could make life better.”

“I’d write a letter to please share your wealth with the people who need it.”

On violence, race, meditation, and reconcillation:

“I think it would be very tough because I myself don’t have all the wisdom. But I definitely think meditation could be used. Because they are not actually talking to each other. How to make them listen to what each other are saying. Not just hearing but really see the pain of the other person.”

“Who am I to hate people? I’m just a person trying to get along with this life.”

“A jail in India. The worst kind of criminals. Murderers and rapists. It is the most dense jail. They conducted a meditation in the jail. A ten day course. At the end of the course, the prisoners and guards have a violent relationship, but when they were leaving the mediation they were hugging and crying like relatives.”

“The relationship you have with others is the relationship you have with yourself. Meditation gives you calm and quiet and helps you have a better relationship with yourself.”

Final thoughts:

At what point when you disagree with things do a hunger strike or protest?

“That’s actually a very big question for the religious people and academics. Religious people aren’t meant just for churches and monasteries. They should come back to the world. I myself am not in a good position for social organizing. But I did participate in protests in Sri Lanka.”

“I don’t know what the protests actually do. But they bring issues to a wider attention. And to bring the government to take steps to address it.”

“When someone is unreasonable or harming another person. I try to stay away and disconnect with a person. People may think I’m not social, but I say to myself it was the right thing to do. You cannot keep being loyal to someone just because they’ve done one or two nice things for you.”

“If all other methods fail. Let us use compassionate violence.”

“We can say many things, but on a practical level it can be very hard.”

“The spiritual life we want to develop. When things get to the maximum. When patience and tolerance get tested to the maximum what do you do? If your wisdom is not developed you can take missteps.”


[originally published at:

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