New Issue Christmas 2018
A Spirituality for Ecological Awareness: Contemplative Vision and Prophetic Discernment
Globalisation for the Common Good, Lucca, 2018
We know that climate change is the overriding issue facing the world. To be sure, there is degradation in every area of planetary life but it is climate change that hovers over everything. Ahead of the annual General Debate of the General Assembly of the United Nations (25 September – 1 October, 2018), where world leaders discuss world issues, the Secretary General, António Guterres, has said: “If we do not change course by 2020 we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change, with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.” By anyone’s reckoning this is startling. It feels like curtains on the future.
It would be unsurprising if we did not feel overwhelmed by such a picture. To give you the tiniest inkling of what is at stake, let me report some alarming statistics:
1) Since 1980, across Europe, 420 million birds have disappeared from the countryside, thanks to practices of modern agriculture. This was cited by the Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds in UK, in a recent newspaper article. It is a statistic matched by a related 75% drop in flying insects on which the birds feed.
- A study of the eastern Scottish Highlands has recorded that hares – not the ones on your head, but the ones with long ears – have declined by a staggering 99% since the middle of the twentieth century.
- Again, in another recent newspaper article, a different report informed us that something called “circulation stalling” is taking place in the Arctic due to rising temperatures. The circulation of wind isn’t doing what it should be doing. And as one professor of Climate Science has said: “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”
It’s easy to scare oneself literally to death with accounts like these – and they are multiplying. Apocalyptic scenarios have always reared up from time to time throughout history, but this time they’re informed by the kind of scientific evidence that was not available to our ancestors.
So to ease the pressure slightly, here’s a riddle. It comes from the late Anthony de Mello, a former Indian Jesuit, and it’s about an encounter between a big and a little fish:
“Excuse me,” said an ocean fish, “You are older than I, so can you tell me where to find this thing they call the ocean?”
“The ocean,” said the older fish, “is the thing you are in now.”
“Oh this? But this is water. What I’m seeking is the ocean,” said the disappointed fish, as he swam away to search elsewhere.
(Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird, (New York: Image Books, 1984)
De Mello’s own commentary on his riddle was: “Stop searching, little fish. There isn’t anything to look for. All you have to do is look.”
Now, let me conjure up three equivalents to match the Water vs Ocean riddle. Hold in mind that Water was the presenting substance but Ocean was the greater reality. So instead of Water vs Ocean, substitute the following:
- a) Weather vs Climate: We talk Weather, but Climate is what we’re in.
- b) Immigration vs Multiculturalism/Multifaithism: We agonise over immigration policy but
Multiculturalism/Multifaithism is what we’re in.
- c) Trade War vs Finitude of Resources: We read of Trade Wars in the news but what we’re really in is a Finite Planet.
The crisis of ecology is a grand narrative and if the postmodern in you says there aren’t meant to be any grand narratives, then I suggest you have to think again. The crisis is a grand narrative because it is manifest in our total environment – not only out there in the science of the seas, the soil, and the air, but also in our very bodies. It’s about the totality of who we are and our place in the cosmos. One Christian author puts it like this 30 years ago:
“Today’s destruction of the environment differs from all earlier destruction of the environment because it is systematic, faster than the natural regulating mechanisms and is of world-wide dimensions.”
(Ulrich Duchrow and Gerhard Liedke, Shalom: Biblical Perspectives on Creation, Justice and Peace, Geneva: WCC, 1987, pp. 16f.)
We are now becoming aware of how true this is.
You could be forgiven for feeling paralysed by the enormity of what is at stake. But is feeling paralysed a realistic option? It is one step away from the new phenomenon on the block: Denialism. This is an ugly concept and prospect which has been explored by the writer and sociologist, Keith Kahn-Harris, in his recent book, Denial: the Unspeakable Truth. Denialism is the disposition of the little fish refusing to accept the ocean, but magnified 20 times.
Denialism, says Kahn-Harris, is an “intensification of our ordinary practices of denial.” He continues: “Denial is furtive and routine; denialism is combative and extraordinary. Denial hides from the truth, denialism builds a new and better truth.” For denialism to succeed all it has to do is sow a tiny seed of doubt into an otherwise mass of incontrovertible evidence. It succeeds because the seed of doubt has the effect of undermining any urgent action for change. It also has the devastating effect of reinforcing the lie, as for example in holocaust denial. Holocaust deniers are not trying to set an historical record straight – their real objective is the lie-desire to maintain the anti-Semitic fabrications that Jews are pathological liars, are intent on a world takeover, are busy stitching up the world finance system – and most importantly, in order to combat this we have to rehabilitate the reputation of Nazi ideology. So you see why denialism is twenty times more dangerous than our everyday small-scale denials. Denialism is not about evidence, it’s about desire and the will. That’s why those of us who get frustrated at the fact that deniers don’t accept the clarity of evidence need to think differently. “This desire – for something not to be true,” says Kahn-Harris – is the driver of denialism.” The desires to find that climate change is a hoax, that the holocaust is a fiction, that evolution is wrong-headed, are just that – desires. And at this point the worst manifestation of postmodernism – that everything is just a point of view – feeds into the denialist stance: as is often said, one view as good as another. At this juncture we tip over into a post-denialist world where you give yourself permission to see the world just however you like. Post-denialists need simply to draw attention to sufficient doubt about even a strongly agreed scientific position, in order to then erect an alternative, and the alternative might be bizarre or disturbingly ugly.
Here’s an example of the bizarre. On 6 November, 2012, when Donald Trump was already thinking about running for president, he sent out a tweet about climate change: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” This is not explanation; it is assertive politics – using climate change as a weapon to get at China.
Here’s an example of the disturbingly ugly. In August 2017, one Ku Klux Klan leader (yes, they are back) told a journalist: ‘We killed 6 million Jews the last time. Eleven million (immigrants) is nothing.’ Again, this is not an argument; it is simply assertion. Actually, it is the worst kind of hate crime.
The climate change argument, ecological observations more generally, responses to immigration – are fast becoming issues about moral choices, independent of scientific evidence. That’s why climate change is about economics, politics and power. It’s about how we see the world, ideologically if you like, and the action that flows from such seeing. I am beginning to think that in the face of denialism what we could do with is something like the religious idea of conversion. I don’t mean conversion necessarily to a particular religion or spirituality, but I do mean conversion to seeing aright and acting aright, but religions and spiritual traditions do actually have some astute things to say about seeing and acting. The common paralysis of mind in the face of ecological destruction is a luxury we cannot afford: our survival instinct cries out against succumbing to self-destruction and our spirituality should motivate us in the more positive direction of hope.
So what is our response? I want to suggest that at the deepest level we are required to balance a spirituality of contemplative seeing, as a remedy for denial/denialism, with prophetic discernment, as a remedy for shaking us out of inaction.
But before I give an outline of what I mean by those phrases, there seem to me to be two other options that are potentially alluring but both distractive and therefore unsatisfactory in their different ways. Let me highlight them very briefly before moving on.
The first response is to succumb to apocalypticism, the notion that in the end we have run out of human responsibility and that solutions to problems lie only in the hands of some higher power. We look not to technical interventions to reverse the inevitability of ecological decline, but we seek a transformation that lies in the gift of the gods alone – a vision, moreover, that is usually preceded by suffering and the dissolution of the present order as punishment for wrong-doing. Our spiritual purpose before the apocalypse is reduced to an attitude of penitence and waiting on divine action.
The second response is to pretend that we can reclaim our lives as part of nature, as it were, prior to our human manipulation of it. All creatures and species are of equal worth – therefore what we need to do is “get back to nature”, live off the land and forsake the technologies which have separated us from our place in the eco order. This seems to me to be a form of deep-green romanticism. We could call it a retreat from knowledge. It intends the resacralisation of every rock, nook and cranny of our natural environment. The ancients may have endowed the diversity of nature with different kinds of spirits and divine presences but I believe now that that kind of pre-Enlightenment route is unrealistic: we have drunk at the scientific well too deeply to return to it.
So if we do not want either disempowering apocalypticism or anti-scientific romanticism, what other option is there that might connect our ecological dependency with spiritual creativity, for the sake of hope in a sustainable future? Given that the ecological crisis is one of grand narrative proportions, we are driven to the core of spirituality. This is a broad term that encompasses people of different faiths and different beliefs. I suggest that we need a combination of contemplative wisdom and prophetic discernment. The contemplative attitude would serve to awaken us to an awareness of our connectedness with the whole of life – to the world being “charged with the grandeur of God”, as the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it; where “nature is never never spent”, because there lives “the dearest freshness deep down things”. Once this is grasped, the prophetic demand would then stimulate within us the ethical energy to take responsibility for our actions in creating the common good – in fact, globalisation for the common good!
Let me set out now a little more some elements of the contemplative-cum-prophetic approach I am advocating. To contemplate the natural world and our place in it is to see a system of intricately-woven connections and dependencies and we can say this whether we view the world theistically or non-theistically. As one Christian scientist-theologian, put it:
“The character of the world–as-a-whole suggests that it is metaphysically plausible to perceive it as an interconnected and interdependent System-of-systems…”
(Arthur Peacock, Paths from Science to God: the End of all our Exploring, Oxford: Oneworld, 2001, p. 55).
Consider, for example, the system in the three-toed sloth observed by Ghillean Prance, formerly the Director of the world-renowned Royal Botanic Gardens, at Kew in London:
“The three-toed sloth (Bradypus triactylus) is not just a slow-moving, lazy mammal; it is a mobile, multi-organism ecosystem. It is well camouflaged because of the green algae which live on its grey fur, and this helps to protect it from its main enemy the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja). However, the sloth is also host to beetles, ticks, and mites which live protected in its fur. The most interesting hitchhikers are a species of moth. The sloth descends from the trees to defecate only occasionally (once in three weeks). One species of moth lays its eggs in the sloth dung where the larvae develop until the mature moths link up to their home in the fur of the sloth on its next ground visit.”
(Ghillean Prance, The Earth Under Threat: a Christian Perspective, Wild Goose Publications, 1996, p. 18).
Here we have the scientist as contemplative, pointing out the mutual dependencies of a multi-organism ecosystem.
But artists too can give us insight into the being of nature. The theologian, Paul Tillich, in one of his sermons told of a Chinese emperor who asked a famous painter for a picture of a rooster. The painter said “yes”, but added that it would take a long time. “After a year,” says Tillich:
“the emperor reminded him of his promise. The painter replied that after a year of studying the rooster he had just begun to perceive the surface of its nature. After another year the artist asserted that he had just began to penetrate the essence of this kind of life… Finally, after ten years of concentration on the nature of the rooster, he painted the picture – a work described as an inexhaustible revelation of the divine ground of the universe in one small part of it, a rooster.”
(Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations, Pelican, 1962, p. 85).
We learn from nature’s revelatory potential.
Here is a further example of learning from nature. Some years ago, during a hot dry summer, the oak tree outside the front door of my house dropped twice as many acorns than usual. I asked a tree specialist why this was happening. He replied: “The tree knows something you don’t. Faced with possible extinction in the heat, the oak tree is making a final attempt at survival by producing an abundance of seeds.” We know that the signs of climate change are all around us.
Contemplating ourselves as part of the world’s ecosystem is leading us to reassess our place in the totality of the system. We may have interventionist powers exceeding that of most other species but if we lose contemplative sight of our kinship with other species we contribute towards destruction and not flourishing. This has led some commentators to put all species on the same level of value – rocks, plants, animals, humans. I myself remain uneasy about this equalising of value, for it supposes that all beings have equivalent levels of self-awareness and self-transcendence. I realise that this may be evidence of an outdated anthropocentric view of the universe on my part, given what we now know of animal self-awareness from those who have lived at close quarters with animal life. Still, there are grounds for claiming that evolution has endowed humanity with a greater degree of self-reflective awareness than what we discern within the animal world.
There is certainly a need to allow nature its own integral life, such that its fortunes are not simply viewed as objects to be manipulated or managed by human being, who, after all, are late-comers to the planet: all of the plant and animal species arose long before us and existed without us for millions of years – including most significantly the insect world. This was pointed out by the celebrated Harvard biologist, Edward O. Wilson, who once said that it is the “little things [insects] that run the world.” “If all humankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” It is insects that rule the world, not Trump, not Putin, not Xi Jinping, not the G7/G8/G20.
Still, the question remains: how do we exercise our contemplative ability in a manner that honours the interdependence of human beings with their environment?
Continuing with the tree theme, I came across an interesting passage from the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber which might help. Buber imagines a tree according to varying characterisations – the tree as (a) a picture, as (b) an instance of a certain species, as (c) an expression of nature’s physical laws, as (d) one among any number. He says that the varying ways of approaching a tree are not mutually exclusive but are “inseparably fused.” But then he switches to the following thought: “[I]t can also happen, if will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It…” And finally: “The tree is no impression, no play of my imagination, no aspect of a mood; it confronts me bodily and has to deal with me as I must deal with it – only differently.” (Cited by Rex Ambler, Global Theology, London: SCM Press, 1990, p. 59). When we cease to objectivise our place in the ecological scheme of things we establish patterns of relationship, we know our place with and not simply over the whole. The American anthropologist-philosopher, William James, presses the same point for people of faith:
“The universe is no longer a mere “It” to us, but a “Thou” if we are religious.”
(William James, The Will to Believe, Longmans Green, 1937, p. 86)
For humans to see themselves as part of an ecological nexus of relationships is surely required if we are to become more responsible ecologically, though for many the irreversible damage has already been set in train. But Buber’s summons to establish an “I-Thou” relationship with the earth goes beyond the pragmatic necessity of survival. There is that sense of self-transcendence which accrues to human beings and which instils in us a sense of responsibility for the way life goes. Perhaps other creatures and species have a similar or related sense, we do not know; though, as I have said, it is becoming clear that many animals have a reflective capacity that exceeds the purely mechanical action-reaction model of behaviour that used to be assigned to them. My point here, however, is the simple one that human beings have been given a measure of responsibility for one another and for the earth, and that too is part of the meaning of the ecological nexus of relationships which is under threat.
The notion of responsibility leads us into an exploration of the prophetic side of my proposal for an ecological spirituality. If contemplation helps us to see how things are in the “System of systems” then the prophetic summons helps us to transform the way things are for the sake of something better. That “something better” may always be elusive as a final goal, but it acts in the present as a spur to right action and right conduct now. In relation to our fellow species, it entails that there is a responsibility, a caliphate, a stewardship which needs exercising. But it will not be a stewardship of domination but one which is consonant with the discovery, in our contemplative mood, of our interdependence with all living beings.
Interestingly, in the biblical tradition, it is the prophetic literature that resonates most with the idea that religious transformation entails a proper regard for the natural world and a sense of this interdependence. So in the Book of Prophet Isaiah we read:
I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine tree together,
so that all may see and know, all may understand that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it. (Isaiah 41.19-20)
Part of the restoration of the people of Israel from captivity is the restoration of their place within the ecological order of things: plant, animal and human life together. And in the Second Testament, Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Romans speaks of the end-time vision of creation as being liberated from its subjection to futility: “the creation will itself be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8.19-24). It is as though our human propensity for destructiveness brings the created order down with it. Therefore the transformation of the world involves the establishment of right relationships between all creatures. The same point about the transformation of humanity and the earth belonging together also has a history that resonates with contemporary times. For example, it is asserted by the prophetic-mystical writer in the Christian tradition, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), in twelfth century Germany – though in a quite unusual manner that is initially startling. She says:
“The high, the low, all of creation, God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity.”
(Cited in Joel Beversluis, ed., Sourcebook of the World’s Religions: an Interfaith Guide to Religion and Spirituality, Novato, CA: New World Library, Third Edition, 2000, p. 297).
What a reversal of fortunes this suggests! I am not sure that I want to continue with notions of divine punishment, but we get Hildegard’s gist. If we continue with our disregard for the earth’s well-being, it does bite back!
However, as I said earlier, we must not become too romantic about notions of harmony. There are still the tape-worm, the malaria-carrying mosquito, the Zika virus and so on. Part of the meaning of transformation is healing from disease, not simply living with it. Yet even the need to protect ourselves from threats, whether from disease or volcanoes, need not be an excuse for reasserting the model of human dominion over the natural world. We also know that a great deal of disease results from distorted life-style choices – excessive food intake or the wrong kind of food intake, for example. Is it the volcano’s fault that humans build cities near it? Is it the animal’s fault if its habitat is being consistently eroded and its food supply diminished? So when we contemplate the threatening side of nature and are tempted to reinstate notions of human dominion as a way of dealing with the threats, we have to remind ourselves of the aspiration to live in harmony. The following story helps me in this. It is a story from experience and is Buddhist in content. The historian of religion, Michael Carrithers, recounts how a Buddhist monk reacted to the threat of wild animals in the forests of Sri Lanka. It goes like this:
On two occasions while on foot in the jungle there stood between me and a surprised and threatening animal – once a wild boar and once an elephant – only the slight body and unmoving equanimity of a monk. On both occasions the monk took a firm but unaggressive stance and spoke calmly to the animal, which crashed off into the underbush.
(Michael Carrithers, ‘The Buddha’, in Founders of Faith, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 69)
Living with, not living over or against – I’d like to claim the monk’s actions as prophetic for our times.
Prophetic voices sound a warning but also point to renewal, restoration and transformation. In order to achieve this they need to connect with what is perceived to be true about the totality of our ecological awareness. For the prophet, the “divine hand” draws us to an alternative future. Not that this “hand” overrides human freedom, but it draws the human community towards greater degrees of justice and peace for all creatures and towards harmony with the created world. The question arises therefore as to where we draw our inspiration from in order to confront the human community with a more needful ecological awareness.
Some other prophetic voices in our own day are alerting us to a marriage between scientific and religious consciousness as the way forward. The universe itself is an emergent process, and for the eco-theologian guru, Thomas Berry, this includes not only its aspects described by the physical sciences but also its spiritual dimensions. He writes:
“This emerging story of the emerging universe is at once scientific, mythic, and mystical.’
(Thomas Berry, ‘The Cosmology of Religions and the Sacred Story of the Universe’, cited in Joel Beversluis, ed., Sourcebook of the World’s Religions: an Interfaith Guide to Religion and Spirituality, Novato, CA: New World Library, Third Edition, 2000, p. 246)
This is an extraordinary statement to make, for scientists, theologians and philosophers, alike. It means that the universe as such is a primary site for religious awakening. Here’s how Berry puts it:
“We have consistently thought of the human as primary and the earth as derivative. Only when the cosmos is acknowledged as the matrix of all value will we be able to solve the ecological crisis and arrive at a more comprehensive view of who we are in the community of the Earth.”
(Ibid., p. 249)
This is a challenge to all religions and philosophies. In order to understand and enter into it we shall need all the powers of listening and dialogue that we can muster. No one single tradition has the answers, all may have some insights and riches to bring. The prospects of such a dialogue could be a real source of inspiration and renewal for the whole world. This too is a prophetic task that requires our action.
There have been innumerable statements and declarations about the interconnectedness of all life, made from within a dialogical context in recent years, a seminal one being the fine Earth Charter, which was promulgated at the Parliament of Religions in 1999 at Cape Town, South Africa. The Charter has four Principles that weave together the following threads:
- Respect and Care for the Community of Life
- Ecological Integrity
- Social and Economic Justice
- Democracy, Nonviolence, and Peace
Its final paragraph is a summation of both the vision and the task before us:
“Let our be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”
(The Earth Charter, cited in Joel Beversluis, ed., Sourcebook of the World’s Religions: an Interfaith Guide to Religion and Spirituality, pp. 303-308).
The meaning of ecological awareness embraces not only our attitude to nature but also the mechanisms and institutions by which we arrange our economics and conduct our political relationships, whether we use metal to make swords or ploughshares, and so on.
Let me now draw to a close by citing two announcements for our contemplation and prophetic action. The first is prophetic-with-amusement which I spotted as a roadside advertisement in Sri Lanka:
“When you refuse to reuse, it’s earth you abuse.”
Is this worth a bumper sticker?
My second example is from the Climate Change campaigning organisation 350.org a couple of years ago:
“[T]he think-tank Oil Change International have just recalculated the mathematics of climate change. The basic gist is this: oil and gas fields and coal mines already in production contain enough carbon to carry us past the two degree mark.
That is to say, if we’re even remotely serious about stopping runaway climate change we can’t build any new fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere. The frontier of the fossil fuel industry, which has been expanding for three centuries, must be closed. Now. No gas. No coal. No oil.
That’s devastating news – not fake news – and may be only prophetic direct action will be able to match the challenge it represents. Especially when the two great climate abusers, the US and China, have no immediate plans to switch from gas, coal and oil to renewables in the immediate future.
The Revd Canon Dr Alan Race is a retired priest-theologian in the Anglican tradition. He has published mostly in the field of inter-religious relations and theology.
Director of Art of Spirit’s Earth School
Sept. 19th 2018
On the Ground With Earth School
The philosophy of Art of Spirit’s Earth School is based on the premise
that we are spiritual beings living lives in human form on planet Earth.
As such, our directive or challenge is to synthesis our dual existence of
spirit and form in a positive way. This is a continuum of trial and error,
experimentation, and subsequent learned lessons. Indeed this time
spent bound to Earth can be seen as an Earth school. This ‘macro’
view is the genesis and vision informing Art of Spirit’s Earth School.
The ‘micro’ view of Art of Spirit’s Earth School is distilled into a simple
mission statement: Earth School nurtures and facilitates a deeply
connected relationship with the natural world and all beings. Earth
School facilitates direct and indirect teachings of the natural world. It is
a hands-on experience, which becomes internalized and embedded as
inner wisdom. Earth School is a conduit to the natural and
higher teachings of Mother Earth.
The current tumultuous political, social, and climatic changes are the
symptoms of a planetary shift. Our medicine and teachings reside
within Mother Earth herself. Earth School facilitates a remembrance of
our original relationship to the Mother.
How the mission statement is implemented and embedded into a
child’s heart is what is held within the contents of this paper. The
interplay between the ‘macro’ vision and ‘micro’ action , is an ongoing
dance, each depending on the other for fulfillment or completion.
We begin with the energetic principle that life emits energy. Energy is
active. Each individual emits and resides within it’s own energy field,
radiating outward, much like a ripple in a pond. No thought or action
can be activated without its energy rippling outward, beyond self, to
family, reaching local and global communities, into the collective
energy field of the planet and beyond. It is the seen and un-seen
energy fields. They are vast and are not to be underestimated. The
energy of one is exponentially transmitted into the collective. The
power of one is where it all begins.
Quite literally, the Earth School philosophy is of changing the energetic
field of the planet one child, one person at a time. This much needed
work literally takes place on the ground, inspiring the title, “On the
Ground with Earth School’.
Earth School is a four year old, non-profit educational organization.
With its roots as a children’s summer camp, Earth School has
expanded into offering after-school, holiday, and home-school
Given their few, short years on the Earth, children retain a more
accessible connection to their original source. They have not suffered
decades of societal conditioning of separation. Therefore, their original
relationship is more readily available to them. More than being the
future thought leaders and change makers, they have the most
immediate access to their original personal truth. Earth School
facilitates a remembrance of their relationship to their inner lives
through a living relationship to the natural world. This approach also
plants the seed for an inverse, ‘trickle up effect’, influencing the adults
surrounding them. It is an expansive vision made manifest by the
conscious awareness of one child at a time.
At the same time, seeking access to as many children as possible,
Earth School offers adult programming and most significantly,
programs for Educators.
The Earth School activities and practices encourage children to
activate each of their five senses more fully. Mindful listening,
breathing, seeing and other integrated practices are naturally
prescribed as a child aligns more fully with the natural laws and
rhythms. Games are played to entice a deepening appreciation of this
sensory learning. Each of the five senses are tentacles of the often
unspoken sixth sense of perception or one’s feelings.
This raised awareness becomes evident through mindful, integrative
self-discovery available through hands-on experiences in Nature. Earth
School blends the physical and the metaphysical aspects of nature.
The active engagement of Earth School participants at this level of
awareness , opens pathways to an enhanced sense of confidence and
trust of one’s personal perceptions, often regarded as intuition.
Because Earth School is a sensory experience, it holistically speaks
to a child’s cognitive, emotional and spiritual intelligence. Specific
activities nurture and cultivate a child’s empathy and compassion for all
The Earth School philosophy is quite simple, yet the practice remains
an effort in most communities. The philosophy and practices of Earth
School stem from a simpler time, when contact with the Earth was
primal, directly informing our thoughts and actions. Our original
connection to the land was the impetus and the beneficiary of our
interdependent relationship, serving as the fulcrum of community
decision-making. As is often said, simple is not easy. Initially, choosing
a new path can be quite difficult, even if it is a return of the old ways.
Moving in opposition to surrounding societal forces and paradigms can
require a dedicated effort. Art of Spirit’s Earth School initiates this
through play and small group engagement.
1. Slow Down Time
Earth School was birthed in the northeast corridor of the United States,
between NYC, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Engulfed in the
energy of these centers of capitalism and politics, the pace of life is
frantic, and energetically dense. Adult lives proceed at an every increasing
speed on a continuum of ‘more, quicker, faster ‘. As a result,
the lives of children are driven by the momentum of the adult’s sprint .
The race of acquisition and achievement , makes difficult the direct
contact necessary to form deep relationships with nature, others, and
In slowing down time, breath opens up and choice becomes available.
Relating in the simplest, yet the most primary terms is accessed.
At Earth School this translates into sitting on the forest floor, perhaps
writing, drawing, reading, or simply observing. Such things as laying
on a fallen tree trunk or creating fairy houses serves as an introduction
to the unknown life of the forest. With fishing line in water, one
experiences the movements, sounds and lives within water. Slowing
down time literally lays the groundwork for the full sensorial experience
of Earth School.
The idea of creating space is both physical and emotional. As a child
arranges stones in a spiral labyrinth, or climbs on the generous arms of
a tree, they gain a confidence and trust in their Earth relationship.
Sitting in a stream applying mud to skin releases barriers and fears of
the unknown as healing energies are absorbed. It is unhurried, handson
experiences which invite new thoughts and attitudes to emerge.
Time to wander and wonder is essential.
What has been observed many times at Earth School is that the Earth
not only serves as a safe space, but as a space where all become
equal. She simultaneously softens one’s heart and sharpens one’s
awareness. The healing qualities she holds, provides a common
container of acceptance, welcoming all energy levels.
One of the features of Earth School is a relationship with local farms.
Participants may volunteer time, harvesting produce for donation to
area food banks. Broadening ones awareness to include the needs of
unknown others, deepens a sense of self while promoting a raised
awareness of needs of others.
Space is held for intuitive games where one might energetically make
choices. With eyes closed, hand extended, a child feels the energetic
draw of an item. Or perhaps through group consciousness games of
thought telepathy . Through these simple games, a child is
reintroduced to their inner awareness and intuitive wisdom.
Each of these simple activities carries ever-increasing levels of
personal and collective consciousness raising . This is an inter-species
awareness, recognizing the many life forms surrounding us daily. This
remembrance is incredibly simple yet, difficult to access through the
fast paced life structures. The internal remembrance that is ignited ,
carries generations of relationship to the forefront of a child’s heart and
mind. When we speak of remembrance we are referring to our internal,
visceral knowing, part of our genetic code, though not activated for
generations. It is the recognition of the quiet voice within us that
speaks our truth.
Once we let go of time and space is created, we may invite silence.
Deep communication is accessed through silence. The majority of
children (and adults) living the fast paced American lives , rarely give
themselves the gift of silence. It is a foreign and somewhat fearful
The idea of breaking away from external compulsions and turning
inward can initially feel very off putting, somewhat threatening. Some
may experience a level of agitation and unease simply because we are
not comfortable with this form of transmission.
Silence can be accessed through different modalities such as the
sound vibrations of singing bowls, meditation, and breath. For
instance, when one closes eyes and focuses on breath from the inside
out, a new world opens up, behind their eyes. As the mind begins to
slow down, the breath keeps time, aligning to a more natural rhythm .
This practice initially requires repetition, and perhaps facilitation in
order to ‘let go’. The ‘letting go’ of external sensory over-load opens to
an inward journey where calm and intuition reside.
Mindfulness teachings compare us to water. Our external self is similar
to the rolling surface waves, continually in a state of activity or
agitation. There is sight, sound, physical movement, but dipping down
below the surface, one begins to experience the lack of sensorial
experiences, as stillness emerges. The empty void soon transforms
into a fullness and depth.
This is where our inner wisdom resides, but mistakenly we attempt to
reach it through ‘doing’. Disregarding ‘doing’ for ‘being’ is the gateway.
Silence welcomes the inner knowing and understanding to emerge,
embedding themselves within the heart and mind. The sixth sense of
Perception or feeling, lies in these deep, still waters.
Through various modalities as mindful listening, breathing, or facilitated
meditation, each Earth School experience begins by inviting Silence
into the opened space. Himalayan Singing Bowls have a strong
presence in Earth School practices. Sound therapy plays a significant
role in accessing silence through the visceral impact of the unseen
vibrations. Singing Bowls are used as a vehicle to sharpen ones
awareness of sound, and the absence of it. The energetic vibrations of
the sound waves massage a child’s physical body, as the auditory
effects calm, sooth, and enhance a sense of being present.
At Earth School each child learns to play a singing bowl and is
introduced to the unseen world of energy. The bowls are primary tools
for illustrating the concept of energy and resonance of vibrational
frequencies. These concepts are inherent in a child’s natural
understanding, but in time, society turns our attention from the internal
understanding of receivership to the external complexities of deflection.
At Earth School time spent examining and feeling the energy of a
crystal or a solo walking meditation through a meadow are also
avenues of communication and relationship. Through these silent
activities, one comes to feel on a deeper level, connecting to one’s self
Process Experiences Through Art
Creating art is an important component of Earth School. Speaking to
the mind, body, and spirit of each child, Earth School processes and
internalizes experiences through integrated art projects. The spiraling,
layers of activities, Earth teachings, and personal discoveries are
gleaned through the mind, passed through the heart, and expressed
through the hands in the creation of art. A wide variety of mediums are
used to express these personal interpretations. Emphasis is placed on
the process rather than the product.
Creating art is much like writing, The written word requires discernment
and refinement to best capture the essence of emotion or experience
being relayed . One must choose words that carry the feeling of a
So it is with art. Each person’s art is an extension of their own personal
experience. The choices of paint or manipulation of clay are their
descriptive words. Many relationship themes are incorporated into the
art projects, such as Animal Totems, Wisdom Trees, Water teachings,
the Earth elements.
Earth Art plays a significant role in art making. Many hours are spent in
creeks, ponds, forest and meadows, creating art with nature as the
subject as well as the medium. Some examples would be leaf
mandalas, rock cairns , labyrinths, and fairy houses. Children discover
the fine detail and functionality of organic matter, shapes, and colors,
as integral elements of design.
Earth Art has an added teaching of the impermanence of life. Earth Art
is subject to the very thing that makes it a wonder, the continuum of
the natural cycles of creation and destruction. It is temporary and
requires one to live in the moment, focusing on the present.
All art projects are integrated with the concepts and perceptions of
each program. This multi-layered approach leads to a self-discovery of
the interconnectedness of each idea, conversation, activity, and
creation. Facilitating the discovery rather than directly informing, leads
to a more deeply embedded recognition. The subtle elegance of nature
facilitates most of this revelation itself. Earth School facilitators assist in
the process of the unfolding.
During the week long summer camp sessions, an additional outside
workshop is presented by a member of the community. An intergenerational
connection has emerged from these workshops, as many
of the presenters are older members of the community interested in
sharing their passions. This outgrowth adds to the multi-dimensionality
of the Earth School experience, benefitting both the younger and older
Reinstituting the stage of elder-hood is a powerful tie to our social
history, and cultural traditions. Elders are a living bridge to our shared
past. This inter-generational relationship is lacking in many
These workshops include topics of water and energy dowsing, stone
sculpture, beekeeping, storytelling, living soil, and crystals.
Art of Spirit’s Earth School teaches to a child’s cognitive, emotional
and spiritual intelligence. De-mystifying spirituality in a child’s
education is a forward thinking educational initiative. The essence of a
personal and collective spiritual connection is at the center of the Earth
School experience. Earth School debunks the idea that a child’s
spiritual life is not to be spoken of, much less nurtured within the
institutional school structures of the United States and elsewhere.
Spirituality is not to be mistaken for religion. They are not the same.
The coupling of the cognitive, and emotional intelligences become
embedded as components of a child’s spiritual understanding of the
interconnectedness of all life. This spiritual intelligence and sense of
relationship is at the forefront of re-balancing life on the new Earth.
This revealed level of understanding allows a child to trust and stand in
their own truth as they know and experience it. These practices are
tools leading a child to recognize and strengthen their inner lives. This
relationship is a memory that can be awakened through the healing
energies of the Earth. Quite literally placing one’s hands on the Earth
begins the process of shedding what is unnecessary and energizing
what lies below the surface . This deep level of communication and
relationship transforms knowledge into a deeply felt wisdom.
This revealed level of understanding allows a child to trust and stand in
their own truth as they know and experience it. These practices are
tools leading a child to recognize and strengthen their inner lives. This
relationship is a memory that can be awakened through the healing
energies of the Earth. Quite literally placing one’s hands on the Earth
begins the process of shedding what is unnecessary and energizing
what lies below the surface . This deep level of communication and
relationship transforms knowledge into a deeply felt wisdom.
The philosophies and practices of Earth School are essential in
cultivating and nurturing living relationships with the Earth and all
beings, most importantly, to our own inner lives. Again, this is a
remembrance, not a new idea. It lies within us, but has been
discouraged and buried from hundreds, if not thousands of years of
To summarize, the process of Earth School is to slow down time,
create space, and invite silence. The subtle Earth teachings that reveal
themselves, serve to promote positive thoughts, actions and energies.
When each individual feels the truth and strength of their own essence,
their energies ripple out in a positive frequency. One by one,
community by community, the collective energetic forces of all beings
on planet earth will shift toward a positive frequency.
There is no mystery to these philosophies and practices of Earth
School, only a willingness to invest dedicated personal time and
reflective energy into it. To live congruently in thoughts, words, and
deeds on a daily basis by making a personal choice .
Patricia Walsh-Collins has a twenty-five year professional career as an
educator. The majority of her career has been spent teaching visual
arts and world religion. In a leap of faith, she left her full time position in
order to broaden her teaching in a more holistic way. Patricia is the
founder and director of Art of Spirit’s Earth School. This nature/spiritbased
experience for children is an integration of her personal and
professional development, mindfulness training, and extensive travels
in native cultures
Coming soon! Browse a few sample articles below: Thanks to the following authors Paul Palmarozza, Marcus Braybrooke, John Hough, and Richard Gerry
The Ethical Entrepreneur-Vision & Values
Paul Palmarozza- Principled Business
I am going to explore the subject of the Ethical Entrepreneur from both philosophic and practical perspectives; looking at the core management functions in terms of fine universal values so that when applied, the atmosphere created and the results obtained are both Ethical & Effective; Spiritual and Practical.
THE SITUATION TODAY
My observation of business practices over a business career spanning 52 years is that there has been a gradual shift away from the core values of hard work, honesty, loyalty and service in favour of intense efforts directed at obtaining short term results for me, usually financial. The ‘me’ in most cases is the individual, but this sense of greed and excess quickly spreads within an organisation, especially when the leaders are the ones setting the bad example. As standards slip, more people begin to think that the focus on short term gain, at any cost, is the normal and accepted way things are done in business; ‘everyone is doing it’. Accepting this error in judgement as the norm is the next step down the slippery slope. A current example of the slippery slope is the increased use of illegal drugs by sportsmen as exposed in recent years. Winning becomes more important than obeying the law, than playing fair.
When looking at values many people have a double standard: there is one standard for family, friends, home life and another for business. For a vast majority of us it is clearly wrong and unacceptable to lie to our family or friends, but for an increasingly large number of people it is OK to lie in business, if you can get away with it.
Clever justifications of policies promoting excess in business were devised and promulgated by many, including business schools and management gurus. It was usually in the form of mantras like, ‘Maximise Shareholder Value’. You will note it does not say ‘Optimise’ which might have brought about a more balanced approach to company goals. This encouragement of excess has been recognised by some of the top business schools as unsuitable and one major player, Harvard Business School, has established an ‘MBA Oath’ which points graduates in the direction of working to fine principles for the sake of all stakeholders.
An example of one of the pledges a graduate voluntarily swears is:
I will refrain from corruption, unfair competition, or business practices harmful to society. THE MBA OATH: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders; (Portfolio Pub); Max Anderson and Peter Escher
It probably will not surprise you to hear that many CEOs of FTSE 100 companies are paid 150-200 times the average salary – taking in the range of £3-5 million per year. The CEO of WPP, an advertising firm, was paid £71 million in 2015. ‘I deserve it’ is the typical justification. It should also then not surprise you to learn that the average life expectancy of a CEO is now down to 3-4 years; not even long enough to see the impact of some of their decisions. This excess on the part of the leaders gives full justification for others in an organisation, like investment bank traders and others, to find ways to maximise their income in the short term, at any cost. This approach to business is best expressed as, ‘Take the Money and Run.’
“The corporate leader as a hero has been replaced in the mind of many Americans by a view of individuals that are immoral, incompetent and interested only in enriching themselves. Greed is addictive. Money has replaced morality. ” Dalai Llama
Money has replaced morality; Cash is in command! That is why it is so important that ethics be brought more to the forefront of our decision making.
“Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.”
‘My word is my bond’, the old, tried and true basis for business in the City of London is no longer practised or used as the basis for agreements. Instead we need lengthy written contracts. When I started my company our contracts in the 1980s & 1990s with major companies like Unilever, Heineken, and Nestle with short 3-4 page agreements. In 2010 we had to sign a 47 page purchase agreement in order to do business with a US Pharma company. This increased complexity is making business more difficult for small businesses.
You will also have noticed the growing public frustration with business leaders which has resulted in a dramatic loss in public trust. Opinion polls regarding trust in various occupations rate business people near the very bottom of the scale. The verdict is that business people cannot be trusted. ( Ipsos MORI Veracity Index 2015: Trust in Professions)
That same lack of trust is present within many companies, making working for such companies an unattractive proposition, especially for many young people. They ‘do not want to go there’ and that is why there is a growing interest by young people to start their own enterprise – to become entrepreneurs.
MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS GUIDED BY FINE VALUES
I am going to look at the subject of the necessary management functions in running an enterprise addressing the mental, emotional/social and physical actions guided by values reflecting our inherent spiritual nature.
What will be shown is that these values are the best guides for life as well as when performing business functions. The values explored are inner, natural human values, which when followed lead to external results like efficiency, excellence, profitability. These results are often described as an organisations’ values, but what really needs to be the focus are the inner values that make these results possible.
HOW WE THINK, HOW WE RELATE TO OTHERS, HOW WE ACT
I will offer for consideration a series of values which when followed enable the best performance of the particular function. Some selected references that support the positon will be offered in the form quotes from various traditions, east and west; spiritual and secular. I will also use some statements from the free Mindfulness Values App called If I can… which offers a daily reminder about the value and application of values. See www.ificanapp.com and www.timelessvalues.co.uk
HOW WE THINK -Establish a stable and balanced state of mind when making decisions.
In business and in life we continually need to make decisions. What enables us to make a good and right decision is when the mind is stable and balanced and thus able to view with clarity all the factors involved.
The values that help bring about that state of mind are Self-Control, Stillness and Calmness.
Self-Control is the ability to keep cool when someone is making it hot for you. Anon
If We can trust that when the storms of agitation are swirling around, that is when we most need inner stillness…
Here is another familiar guiding statement: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
For those of you familiar with Mindfulness and Meditation, they are being used increasingly in schools as well as businesses to relieve stress and to help bring about a quieter, still state of mind. While we have all experienced such moments of stillness, the direction given is to go there more often, especially when making difficult decisions.
In today’s rush we all think too much – seek too much – want too much and forget about the joy of just being. Eckhart Tolle
HOW WE THINK – Be clear about the vision, values and our long term sustainable objectives
The long term perspective of the enterprise is as important as meeting its short term goals. Here the values of Service, Duty/Responsibility and Fearlessness are important.
In reality, the secret of finding deep fulfilment lies in serving others.
We are encouraged to focus, to give our full attention to our duty, avoiding the mental comparisons with the tasks and rewards of others, which distracts us from doing what is needed. Many of the teachings from various spiritual traditions, such as the Bhagavad Gita set out our lawful duties and responsibilities in life i.e. our Dharma. Our duties are linked to our talents and when we make best use of our talents in the service of all, we are fulfilling the law of Dharma. 3
The true source of rights is duty. If we discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek. Mahatma Gandhi
The entrepreneur needs to be clear about the vision for the enterprise and how this will be sustained in the long run. When I founded my company in a creative moment of stillness, I had a vision of the company as a whole with a picture of how it would come together in the future-all at once.
Another example of a wider perspective came to me in 1968 when I was working for an America computer company who made large, fast, computers. We were visited by a team of Japanese engineers who observed what we were doing. I asked one of the group, ‘What is your vison for computers in Japan?’ He said, ‘We are going to make the fastest computer in the world.’ I was very surprised and said ‘But there are many large US companies like IBM, Honeywell, Univac, Burroughs and our company in this field. How are you going to beat all of us?’ ‘Ah, we have 20 year plan. You people in the west think very short term.’ ‘He repeated, ‘We have 20 year plan!’ I can still hear his voice. In 1987 Fujitsu announced the ‘fastest computer in the world.’ All the other competitors I had mentioned were no longer in the game.
Fearlessness – We all know that fear about what might happen in the future can mess up our mind, causing agitation such that good, clear decisions are impossible. Without fear we are able to remain balanced and poised in the present moment. I have found in my business career that there were times when I had to put fears and doubts aside and step into the unknown. The founding of a new e-learning business in the 1980’s was such a moment for me.
If I can go down the narrow path of truth that is full of sharp obstacles and not be discouraged or afraid…
HOW WE THINK – Be free from excessive desires, habitual reactions and claims for success or failure
Another important aspect of how we think is how we meet the inevitable problems created by excessive desires, habits e.g. ‘We have always done it that way!’ and the claims for the result. When we are in a weakened frame of mind, one where there is no balance or stillness, then we become subject to the pressures from peers, from reams of advertising encouraging us to want more, consume more, travel more etc. which make it more likely that we will continue to follow our habitual patterns.
The important values here are Detachment, Temperance/Moderation and Contentment.
To produce without possessing, to work without expecting, to enlarge without usurping, to know when you have had enough, is to be rich.
Lao Tzu 4
If I can see that the inevitable result of excess is discontentment and loss of energy…
Rest satisfied with doing well. And leave others to talk of you as they please. Pythagoras
HOW WE RELATE TO OTHERS– Establish and maintain a harmonious work environment- one which is based on the importance of WE ( as opposed to focussing on ‘what’s in for ME’.)
This is an important aspect in any organisation and in fact, in life. Here the values of Respect, Tolerance, Compassion and Cooperation come into play to provide the right conditions for our self and others. Here are some thoughts on the application of these fine values:
Respect man as a spiritual being in whom dwells the Divine Spirit.
People were created for the sake of one another. Either teach them or bear with them. Marcus Aurelius
Teach this triple truth to all; a generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.
If I can ask myself more often, ‘How can I make a positive contribution here?’…
HOW WE RELATE TO OTHERS – Be truthful and consistent in all our dealings- internally and externally.
Most importantly when relating to others, be they within the organisation or externally, there needs to the values of Truth/Honesty, Integrity and Trust.
These are some of the most important aspects today, given the existing attitudes, experiences and conditions. In the e-learning company that I founded, which grew and became a listed company on the London Aim exchange, our two core values were Integrity and Service. For us integrity meant that we spoke truthfully and did what we said we would do. We lived it and great trust was established with our employees, suppliers and clients.
If I can keep the Three Honests; Honest in Thought, Word and Deed…
The superior man acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according to his action. Confucius
If I can see that trust is like a vase, that once broken it is difficult to put back together…
HOW WE ACT – Focus energies on the right priorities and in the right way.
Getting our priorities right is obviously important. What also needs to be addressed is following through in the right manner. Here the values of Discrimination, Patience and Justice are relevant.
If I can use the power of discrimination to decide correctly between good &n evil; right & wrong; real & unreal…
All men commend patience, although only a few are willing to follow it. Thomas A’Kempis
The rule of justice is plain, namely that a good man ought not to swerve from the truth, not to inflict any unjust loss on anyone nor to act in any way deceitfully or fraudulently. St Ambrose
HOW WE ACT – Deal effectively with the inevitable challenging situations brought about by mistakes, competitive pressures, uncontrollable external factors.
In order to maintain clarity under such pressures we need to apply values such as Equanimity, Determination and Perseverance.
Equanimity implies a detachment from the results which is why it is so important today. One of the most penetrating lines of poetry citing the need and power of Equanimity is from the poem If by Rudyard Kipling:
If you can treat triumph and disaster, those two imposters, just the same.
If I can do as I decide and not be distracted or diverted…
And from Winston Churchill a few brief words on Determination:
Never, never, never, never give up.
On Perseverance from another inspiring leader, one who lived his values.
It always seems impossible until its done. Nelson Mandela
HOW WE ACT – Provide inspiring leadership by setting the right example
Providing inspiring leadership is VERY important and VERY difficult. There is unfortunately today a lack of enough inspiring leaders who are setting a good example for others, especially young entrepreneurs, to follow.
Here is what the Bhagavad Gita says about a strong stable leader- a man of steady wisdom:
He whose mind is not agitated in misfortune, whose desire for pleasure has disappeared, who is free from attachment, fear and anger; he is a man of steady wisdom, he is said to be a wise sage.
What is needed is to put aside the EGO driven ideas and live based on values such as Love/Care, Selflessness and Humility.
If We can see how a loving attitude towards others naturally brings out the best in them and in me…
Selflessness – working for the benefit of oneself and others.
It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others. Dalai Lama
Humility seems to be a very rare quality for CEOs of many companies these days. It is a very fine quality one which is greatly appreciated when observed.
We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility.
One other piece of advice from Winston Churchill helps summarise the essence of the message of values:
You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.
THE RESULTS – for all the stakeholders: employees, clients, suppliers, family, friends, the community, the nation, the universe.
If we are able to live the values; if we walk the talk then we will achieve for ourself and for all who associate or depend on us, that which we all naturally desire i.e. Happiness, Unity and Peace.
I am sure you would agree that we all want to be happy. The problem is that we often make mistakes about what will bring us happiness. Today the prominent values which people seem to believe will make them happy are Wealth, Power, Fame and Pleasure. Interestingly these were the same dominant values at the end of the Roman Empire which was documented in a book, The Consolation of Philosophy written at that time by Boethius. 7
True happiness is not dependent on any external person or thing, it exists within us all and when we connect with our inner happiness, it brings naturally with it a state of Peace and Contentment i.e. no desires and a sense of Unity. All are aspects of our true nature.
You will end by the discovery that the best means to health is to watch over the good health of others, and that the surest way to be happy is to watch over the happiness of others. Swami Vivekananda
If he cannot stop the mind that seeks after fame and profit, he will spend his life without finding peace. Dogen
If We can acknowledge that unity blossoms when there is appreciation of each individual’s contribution…
And the final question:
CAN WE WORK ACCORDING TO
FINE VALUES AND:
Still MAKE A PROFIT???
YES WE CAN !!!
And if so:
Then We will be the change
we want to see in the world
2 Dalai Lama – Google/Dalai Lama quotes on business
2 Kofi Annan – Statement On The Adoption By The General Assembly
Of The United Nations Convention Against Corruption
3 Eckhart Tolle – www.goodreads.com
3 Dadi Janki – Brahma Kumaris – Wisdom for the Day
4 Mahatma Gandhi – www.azquotes.com
4 Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching
5 Pythagoras – www.goodreads.com
5 Leo Tolstoy – www.goodreads.com
5 Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
5 Buddha – www.thinkexist.com
6 Confucius – www.thinkexist.com
6 Thomas A’Kempis – www.brainyquote.com
6 St Ambrose – The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations
6 Winston Churchill – www.brainyquote.com
6 Nelson Mandela – www.goodreads.com
7 Dalai Lama – www.goodreads.com
7 Rabindranth Tagore – www.brainyquote.com
7 Winston Churchill – www.brainyquote.com
8 Swami Vivekananda – Raja Yoga
8 Dogen – www.thedailyzen.org
All the If I can statements are from the If I can… values app- www.ificanapp.com
The Globalization of Religions: for the Common Good?
“More than anything else, with the possible exception of technological innovation, globalization and the great world religions are shaping our lives” religion is the claim made by Miroslav Volf in his recent book Flourishing. He continues, “Unless we understand these two powerful phenomena in their relation to each other, we will neither know what is happening to us and to out our world nor be able to act responsibly in it.” Neither in his view, with which I agree, is wholly good or wholly evil.
Global capitalism and global communications have enriched the lives of many people. I remember sixty years ago in Libya we never knew whether we could get a telephone connection to Benghazi some two hundred miles away. As I child learning some geography, I never dreamed of visiting places such Vancouver or Peking – as Beijing was then called. In the home in which I grew up there was no washing machine, no fridge, no vacuum cleaner, no television, no central heating and the kitchen was about 8ft by 8ft. Many people too in less affluent areas have been lifted out of poverty. “We have made remarkable progress in reducing the number of people living under $1.25 a day in the developing world, but the fact that there are still 1.2 billion people in extreme poverty is a stain on our collective conscience,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in 2013. The number of people living on less than $1.25 per day has decreased dramatically in the past three decades, from half the citizens in the developing world in 1981 to 21 percent in 2010, despite a 59 percent increase in the developing world population. I remember when I first went to India in the nineteen sixties a missionary said to me that you could tell how poor a village was by whether people had sandals or walked bare footed. When we went back many of the students had scooters. My last visit to Chennai a couple of years ago, it would seem from the stationary traffic that everyone had cars or lorries.
But, to quote Jim Yong Kim again, “The fact that there are still 1.2 billion people in extreme poverty is a stain on our collective conscience. This figure should serve as a rallying cry to the international community to take the fight against poverty to the next level. Our analysis and our advice can help guide the way toward ending extreme poverty by 2030, by showing where the poor live and where poverty is deepest.”
As prosperity increases so it is sometimes said violence should decrease. Yet, as Volf says, “Driven as they are by the ‘commercial spirit’ in their present form globalization processes are undermining the health of the global ecosystem, widening the gap between rich and poor, and eroding global solidarity. Even as it is generating conditions for peace, market-driven globalization is simultaneously generating new conditions for violence.” “Every day,” as Ray Waddle says, “the materialistic dynamo grows louder, more confident, storming ahead with its own logia of money, ego, and extremism.”
This is not a criticism of global capitalism per se: but of alternative visions of human flourishing. This is where religion comes in. “World religions,” Wolf says, “don”t stand or fall on their ability to deliver more and better worldly goods to more people… but on their ability to connect people to the transcendent realm and thereby make it possible for them to truly flourish.” Such “flourishing puts premium on contentment and solidarity and not on “bread alone”“ By “flourishing,” I take Volf to mean what Jesus spoke of as “life in all its fullness” (John:10, 10). Former Archbishop Rowan Williams says much the same. “I have found myself repeatedly noting that the word “economy” itself is in its origins a word for housekeeping… A household is somewhere life is lived in common; and housekeeping is guaranteeing that this common life has some stability and that it allows the members of the household to grow and flourish and act in useful ways. A working household is an environment in which vulnerable people are nurtured and allowed to grow up (children) or wind down (the elderly); it is the background against which active people can go to labour in various ways to reinforce the security of the household; it is a setting where leisure and creativity can find room in the general business of intensifying and strengthening the relationships that are involved. God housekeeping seeks common well-being.” The same should be true of our world – “the home we build together” to use words of the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Economic activity should seek common well-being. “Theology,” Williams says, represents a “separate frame of reference… It recalls us to the idea that what makes humanity human is completely independent of anyone’s judgements of failure or success, profit or loss. It is sheer gift – sheer love, in Christian terms. And if the universe is founded on this, there will be no sustainable human society for long if this goes unrecognised.”
Is religion up to the task of ensuring that global capitalism contributes to human flourishing – for all people and not just a privileged minority? Too often religion has become a badge of identity. It determines what clothes you wear, what food you eat, who you should not marry. Thereby it becomes divisive rather than unifying. It has also all too often been hijacked by rulers and revolutionaries who use it as an ideology to buttress their cause and even to justify violence. There is indeed a globalization of idolatrous pseudo-religious terror. In part, this is the result of the exclusivism inherent in many faith traditions, which claim exclusive possession of God.
Herein lies the challenge of the interfaith movement to the members of all of the world’s religions. Many prophetic figures have said that as the world becomes increasingly one, so we need a world faith. This I suggest is happening. Wilfred Cantwell Smith insisted that “we have all along been participants in the world history of religions” and that through the centuries religions have interacted. Today more than ever we should start from “the unity or coherence of humankind’s religious history.”  This I tried to illustrate in my Beacons of Light – picturing the “spiritual history of humankind as a great river, with various springs, sources and tributaries, always changing, sometimes dividing, maybe with backwaters, but moving forward and enriching the present with what is carried forward from the past and opening up new vistas for the future.”
Such a “world faith” is not an artificial creation of a world religion. The term points to the fact that as increasingly we all live in one world, so the religions are, sometimes imperceptibly, coalescing.
This is happening for several reasons. First, as a result of human migration, many more countries are multi-religious. It is suggested, for example, that by 2050, Muslims will make up 10 per cent of Europe’s population. On the other hand, in other hand in some countries in the Middle East, minorities such as Christians or Baha’is face severe pressure.
Secondly, during the last two centuries scholars have translated the scriptures and other spiritual writings into many languages. They are now widely available, not only in libraries, but on the web. Type the name “Rumi” into Google and you get over a quarter of a million items. Indeed some people prefer to create their own spiritual faith and practice for themselves rather than as a regular member of a faith community. Many Universities and some schools now provide for some study of the world’s religions.
Thirdly, far more people travel. Of course, in colonial times,many Westerners lived for a time in Asia or Africa, but now far more people travel to distant resorts not only to find lonely beaches but to see the wonders of cultures and faiths other than their own.
Fourthly, and more important, as the world faiths respond to the changing world they come closer together. Indeed the American group which published the report Rethinking Missions, a Laymen’s Enquiry after a Hundred Years in 1932, said that the missionaries’ aim should not be conversion, but to encourage members of a faith to come out of their isolation into a world fellowship. The report was heavily influenced by the American philosopher W Hocking, who developed these ideas in his books, Living Religions and a World Faith and The Coming World Civilization. His key word was “reconception.” He claimed that as members of a religion respond to new developments in the world, so they come closer together.
This can be seen to be happening. For example, in most faiths now there is real concern about treasuring planet earth and care for the environment. Indeed at the Melbourne Parliament of World Religions in 2009, some eighty Hindu leaders came together to issue a very strong statement on the subject. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew II made environmental issues a priority. Members of all faiths have had to grapple with “science versus religion” debate. They are all confronted by issues of human sexuality. Scriptures are now increasingly read in a historical context (even by some in the Muslim world) rather than as the infallible word of God. Increasingly members of one faith are encouraged to show “respect for the other” rather than denounce them as heathen, heretics or idolaters – and this involves some theological rethinking. The UN now promotes World Interfaith Harmony Week, which in the words of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “celebrates the principles of tolerance and respect for the other that are deeply rooted in the world’s major religions. The observance is also a summons to solidarity in the face of those who spread misunderstanding and mistrust.” 
Besides this, there is far more practical co-operation. With the growth of the interfaith movement there is growing interfaith co-operation on major issues that confront the world: violence, war, poverty, human rights, and the environment. For example, Religions for Peace was originally founded to bring people of faith together to oppose nuclear weapons.
Last October, Mary and I, like nearly ten thousand other people, attended the Parliament of the World Religions in Salt Lake City in the USA. The emphasis was on what we can do to redress the dangers of Climate Change, the Widening Wealth Gap, the spread of Hate Speech, Violence War and the continuing oppression of women, as well as engaging young people in this task. The good news is that increasingly people of faith at a national and international level are trying to make this vision a reality.
Much is happening: increasingly faiths are taking action. At the signing of the Paris agreement on Climate change, a multi-faith petition was presented urging governments to act on their promises. Linked to the UN, there are interfaith initiatives to combat child poverty and also to ensure that all people have clean water and proper sanitation –WASH, which sponsors World Toilet Day, to remind us of this need. Recently, I was asked to sing a petition that Seven Baha”i leaders in Iran who have been held in prison without trial should be released.
I must emphasise, however, that the visionaries who dream of an emerging world faith do not start from the differences or the problems of the world, but from a mystical sense of the Oneness of all life in the divine. Too easily governments want to co-opt faiths to promote “social cohesion,” but however beneficial genuine religion may be, it is primarily a response to the Transcendent and not to 10 Downing Street.
Pictures of Planet Earth from Space have been called a symbol for our age. They show the beauty and fragility of Earth, but it does not show the differences of nationality, colour, gender or race. Everyone who has been in space speaks of the beauty and fragility of our planet. The ill-fated Columbia space-craft had an interfaith crew – a Hindu, Christians of various denominations a Unitarian and a Jew who brought with him a Torah scroll that had been used at a Bar Mitzvah ceremony in a concentration camp. Kalpana Chawla, a Hindu, said, “The first view of the Earth is magical. In such a small planet, with such a small ribbon of life, so much goes on. It is as if the whole place is sacred. You get the feeling that I need to work extraordinarily hard along with other human beings to respect that.”
The mystics who have explored inner space say the same. They affirm the Oneness of all life. Teilhard de Chardin, a Paleontologist and a priest said “Personal Love and Cosmic power are present in every part of the universe.” From this perspective not only should humanity not be divided, history also should not be compartmentalised – we are inheritors of all that has gone before – from the most primitive amoeba. In the same way we are heirs of the riches of all religions.
Religions are pathways leading us to the Divine and the nearer we come to the Holy One, the less our differences matter. In the vision of the holy city at the end of the Bible, we are told there is no temple and presumably no gurdwara, or synagogue or church, because the Lord God Almighty is the temple. (Revelation, 21, 22). When you arrive you do not need a map or a satnav. Of course, most of us are only at the beginning of our spiritual journey: we need guidance and the company of others. For me, it is in Jesus that I have experienced most clearly the all accepting love of God, but I know my spiritual journey has been enriched by friendships with people of many faiths and by the teaching and example of holy people of many centuries and creeds.
The pioneers of the interfaith movement, who have inspired me, started from a vision of oneness, which includes the oneness of all people and the sacredness of all life. And that of course impels us to seek fullness of life for them all. Seventeen years before Thomas Merton – a popular guru of the seventies and campaigner against the Vietnam war – became a monk, he was shopping in the centre of Louisville. “I was,” he said, “suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people: that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers… There is no way of telling people that they are walking around shining like the sun…” Thomas Merton, went on, ““There are no strangers… If only we could see each other (as we really are) all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.” 
It was a similar experience that inspired Sir Framcis Younghusband to found the World Congress of Faiths in 1936. The experience, to which he refers, he describes in one of his books, Vital Religion: “The day after leaving Lhasa I went off alone to the mountainside, and there gave myself up to all the emotions of this eventful time. Every anxiety was over – I was full of good-will as my former foes were converted into stalwart friends. But now there grew up in me something infinitely greater than mere elation and good-will. Elation grew to exultation, exultation to an exaltation which thrilled through me with overpowering intensity. I was beside myself with untellable joy. The whole world was ablaze with the same ineffable bliss that was burning within me. I felt in touch with the flaming heart of the world. What was glowing in all creation and in every single human being was a joy far beyond mere goodness as the glory of the sun is beyond the glow of a candle. A mighty joy-giving Power was at work in the world – at work in all about me and at work in every living thing. So it was revealed. Never again could I think evil. Never again could I bear enmity. Joy had begotten love “
A “Civilization with a Heart” is the beautiful name that Wayne Teasdale, a modern mystic, has given to the alternative future. Compassion not competition will ensure that global capitalism contributes to the flourishing of all people. Equally people of faith need to rediscover that “the religion of love is the message of all religions.” 
 Miroslav Volf, Flourishing, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2015, p. 2.
 Wolf, p.2
 Volf, p.172.
 Ray Waddle, Undistorted God, Abingdon Press, Nashvile, 2014, p. xi
 Volf, pp.81-2
 Volf, p. 172.
 Rowan Williams, Faith in the Public Square, Bloomsbury, London, 2012, p.227.
 Quoted by Williams, p.228.
 Williams, p. 232.
 Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Towards a World Theology, macmillan, London, 1981, p. 20.
 Marcus Braybrooke, Beacons of Light, O Books, 2009, p.4
 Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry. Commission of Appraisal. Re-thinking Missions; a Laymen’s Inquiry after One Hundred Years. New York, London: Harper & Brothers, 1932. Available on line
 Hocking, William Ernest. Living Religions and a World Faith. New York: MacMillan, 1940.
Hocking, William Ernest, The Coming World Civilization, London, Ruskin House and George Allen and Unwin, 1958.
|Both books are available on line.|
See also Rouner, See Leroy S., ed. Philosophy, Religion, and the Coming World Civilization, Essays in Honor of William Ernest Hocking. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966; and Marcus Braybrooke, Together to the Truth, CLS, Madras, 1971, pp. 115-7.
 Quoted in Marcus Braybrooke, A Heart for the World, O-books, Winchester, 2005, p.125
 Quoted by Thomas Berry in “The Cosmology of Religions” by Thomas Berry in A Source Book for the Earth’s Community of Religions, ed. Joel Beversluis, CoNexus press, 1995 edtn, p.380
 Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Crown Publishing Group, 17 Nov 2009. pp.140-42
 Francis Younghusband, Vital Religion, John Murray, London, 1940, pp.3-5.
 Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart, New World Library, 1999, pp4-7
 Words attributed to Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi
ETHICAL VALUES FOR ETERNITY
By Richard Gerry
In order to understand natural laws, realise man’s potential and help humanity, a system of ethical values needs to be understood and cultivated.
They are a set of universal behavioural ideals that reflect natural human law and allow happy and harmonious life. Natural laws need to be appreciated and followed. The more this materialises, the greater the understanding of virtue and goodness. Living in harmony with these standards allows one be in harmony with oneself (loving thyself). Living within these laws can be sustained; breaking them cannot.
The consequence of action is not always obvious; there needs to be understanding.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might”. How can this be practical – to love a being one does not know and never sees?
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, means, in part, conduct towards others based on reasonable expectation of how others should behave towards us. Not living according to these values causes problems for those in receipt of the act, and also conflict within, in the knowledge that we don’t want it done to us.
TRUTH Not lying and being honest with oneself; not speaking at variance with one’s thoughts and deeds. Not pretending to have things, achievements or qualities that one does not possess. To pursue truth continually and actively. Spiritual work, e.g. meditation.
LOVING ATTITUDE Patience is not being affected when injured. This applies to things one cannot change; it presupposes discrimination between what one can change and what one can’t. We can only be forgiven if we forgive; we can only forgive properly if we reflect on our own shortcomings. Accepting anything beyond one’s control is an act of love, particularly oneself. This is one way of understanding: “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. Returning fine behaviour for coarse. Action with a proper attitude to meet a need. Giving financially or time and care where practical.
RESTRAINT Restraint of excessive desire or aversion, greed and anger. “Nothing in excess”. Dispassion towards pleasure or possessions. To steal is to take something not given with pleasure or to take more than one needs – ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’. One’s neighbour includes humanity. Fairness in one’s dealings and equitable temperament. Wishing no harm to others. Consistent application to any activity.
PURITY Cleanliness of body, clothes and environment.; clean mind and reasoning and purity of emotions. Avoiding criticism (“evil be to him who evil thinks”). Giving that very thing which one thinks one lacks. Where practical, to put right any wrong. Feelings such as envy, greed, jealousy, hatred, anger, obsessive desire are susceptible to treatment by reason, opposite thinking or prayer.
UNDERSTANDING the SUPREME BEING
PRAYERFULNESS Prayer is a freely performed action which must have a result. Prayer is a complete surrender of oneself; it must have love behind it to make it meaningful. Prayer has the potential to transform an obstacle into something that might be overcome.
About the Author: Richard Gerry
Richard has loved philosophy ever since he can remember. At University (civil engineering), he began to read academic philosophy including Bertrand Russell. After returning to London with many more questions, he became friendly with a number of Jewish scholars and rabbis in London. In 1974 he started study at the School of Economic Science, did their three-year Economics course and also took part in the Philosophy course running from then until now. This embraces meditation and various other studies, including the Bible, Sanskrit scriptures and language, Shakespeare and Plato.
ETHICAL VALUES FOR ETERNITY
In order to understand natural laws, realise man’s nature and potential and also to help humanity, a system of ethical values needs to be understood and cultivated. Such a system would help to prepare mankind for its ultimate purpose – the highest aim of human existence. What this is, is a question for each person to contemplate and discover.
Study of philosophy has shown that, despite appearances, each person is in essence full and free. Although we feel limited most of the time, philosophic work reveals a different reality; freedom is real, but at a subtler level of being. This work is principally to bring about the removal of obstacles in each of us, so as to allow the reality to be self-evident. In doing so, some good is inevitably brought to those around us, because any refinement to the individual cannot stop there – s/he must interact with and affect others. In fact, there is no real boundary between people – though it may feel like there is! ‘No man is an island’ is a commonly acknowledged truism.
One vital aspect of this effort is living according to universal values: one cannot hope to move towards freedom if this is ignored. In addition, the natural course seems to be that one is tested again and again, at increasing levels of difficulty. This is rather like starting at kindergarten, and moving through various grades until one ends up with a doctorate. But in life, one doesn’t have to look for the tests – nature herself seems to provide them.
There is a set of universal behavioural ideals that reflect natural human law and allow happy and harmonious life. Natural laws need consciously to be appreciated and followed. The more this materialises, the greater the understanding of virtue and goodness. Living in harmony with these standards allows one be in harmony with oneself (loving thyself). Because they are natural, living within these laws can be sustained; breaking them cannot.
In this paper, sometimes consciously and often inadvertently, I shall be using the following sources: –
The Bhagavad Geeta
Conversations between the SoES and His Holiness Śrī Śāntānanda Sarasvatī
Conversations between the SoES and His Holiness Śrī Vāsudevānanda Sarasvatī
The Laws of Manu – Sanatana dharma
Moses Maimonides – Mishneh Torah
Swami Dayananda Sarasvatī
2 BASIC ASSUMPTIONS
I should like to propose a few principles concerning our life and its context. Whether these axioms are in fact true would form part of another discussion, but your indulgence is requested at least temporarily! The reason this is important is that many talks or lectures make hidden assumptions which the listener cannot always be clear about, and in some cases are not obvious even after some probing.
- There is a supreme being (sometimes called hereunder ’God’, ‘Lord’…)
- There is an invisible world of divine forces
- There is such a thing called love
- There is an ultimate purpose for human life
- Human beings are designed in a certain way such that some things are natural and others are not.
- There are authoritative scriptures and people, but each has to be understood in the context of a complete system of teaching.
- There is no ‘final answer’ since the human mind is capable of interpreting statements and guidance in many ways
- A virtue has to be understood fully in order to be lived; if it is not then a person will go through continuous cycles of practice and forgetting
- Reality has many levels, so that what may be valid at one level may not be at another. (This is reflected in the manifest world where laws and forces at nano level are not significant at large scale and vice versa.)
- There is such a thing as free will
- Humanity has the faculty of reason
- The world we normally inhabit has countless rules and regulations; the divine world we could live in has very few and different laws
- Word meanings are vitally important, and confusion and argument arises from different takes on the meaning of a word (e.g. ‘God’)
- Every action has a consequence (either immediate or delayed, or both) and each result has a cause
- Although knowledge is wonderful, nothing can be known absolutely
- Everyone has one life but many embodiments.
3 FREE WILL
Do we have it or do we not? After all there isn’t much point in having a system of values if we don’t. Neither would there be any reason for having punishment for wrong action. In spite of everything we don’t put lions on trial for the sin of killing. So is there something special about human beings? In the absence of freedom of action there would not be much point in making any effort at all – one would have a pre-determined very particular view of life: ‘it’s all in the hands of natural forces or the stars’. So it’s important to start from this principle.
Various traditions imply that one is transformed oneself according to by how one thinks, so that freedom of thought is widely accepted. Thought precedes action as in: ‘I want a cup of tea’ and then I make one.
Śrī Vāsudevānanda Sarasvatī said: “Freedom is the facility to be natural in the divine sense.”
We have the faculty of choice in respect of ends and means. Both the end I seek must be acceptable and also the way I achieve it. I can choose to do something or not to do it and also how to do it. It can be done carefully, carelessly, lovingly or resentfully. Free choice allows us to use, not use or abuse relationships, situations, or things.
(‘Use’ implies proper and measured use while ‘abuse’ implies improper and mis-measured use.)
However there seems to be a catch, in that if something is abused continually, the freedom in relation to that particular thing seems to diminish and finally disappear. E.g. addiction. So freedom could be divided in two – potential and actual. At the addiction end of things, freedom is almost completely hidden, but when the mind and heart are open, freedom can be total.
There is another difficulty: for any single event it is not possible to say definitively whether it was under free will or not.
Sometimes the painful consequence of an action does not immediately follow on, so that the connection can be unclear. For example, if I take a poisonous substance, it may have an immediate result or its effect may be delayed, sometimes by a long time.
The above snags give rise to another – free will is not under direct order (otherwise it would not be free); it comes under indirect instruction in that each action has its particular consequence. Because the result of action is not always obvious, we need the help of scripture or wise instruction, together with our own reasoning.
4 HUMAN NATURE
In the above quote what does ‘natural’ mean? It seems to imply ‘the way something is made or designed’. So health is natural and ill health is unnatural. We try to acquire or get back the natural and to move away from the unnatural. We all want to be happy and no-one likes to be unhappy. This implies happiness is natural and unhappiness is not.
What is natural action and what is unnatural action? Our makeup is such that if something is unnatural (e.g. pain) we try to resolve it as soon as we can; if something is natural we try to retain it. If there is something unnatural like pain, some illness is implied. If there is unhappiness, something unnatural in heart or mind is indicated. So these unfavourable experiences are there to tell us that something is wrong. In the absence of an instruction booklet being delivered with each baby, this indirect system indicates the unwritten set of instructions for humanity. With physical illness we have medicine, and for psychological problems there is a system of ethical values and philosophy.
Action is to bring about a change and it is normally initiated by a desire. If by some chance one were to be completely happy with everything, it is possible that desire for change would vanish and ‘action’ would take on a different meaning. While a person is not entirely happy with the way things are, then action seems to be inevitable – all day long for most of us!
The consequence of action is not always obvious; the simple principle is that there can be no result without a prior cause and there cannot be an action without a result.
One’s way of living is an expression of his assimilated value structure. If values are not properly taken on board, these behavioural standards will not transform into living, and will be ignored or forgotten in times of strong desire or stress. As someone once said – when you really squeeze a person – then what is deep inside shoots out.
Values can only become full and personal when their worth is seen with total clarity; otherwise they are a sort of imposed restraints or conditioning, which cannot yield lasting benefit and will not be effective when the chips are down. Personal experience and consideration which establishes undoubting confidence in a mode of behaviour is what is being spoken of here – undoubting consonance of one’s mind and heart with the validity of the action or its restraint.
6 WHAT ARE THESE UNIVERSAL VALUES?
In Matthew 22, Christ was asked: what is the great commandment in the law? His reply was to quote the central tenet of the Old Testament:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might”.
How can this be practical – to love a being one does not know and never sees?
To love anything, one must give it attention; the more attention the greater the love. Secondly to love God means to understand what/who s/he is. Love of God corresponds with knowledge of God. If someone says ‘I believe in God’ or ‘I don’t believe in God’, the question is the same – ‘what sort of God are you talking about?’ The process of focussing in on this question is already a start in love. The more attention one gives this question the more one begins to love.
And knowledge takes the form of what God is not. We think we know what knowledge is but when looked at carefully, we shall see that it is a mystery. Perhaps this is why Socrates said he knew nothing (“I am aware of being wise in nothing great or small”). Direct perception (like seeing, hearing, etc.) and inference are not going to help. Every day or even specialised information cannot fulfil this
Living by the fine laws of this world is a great help. The natural laws as they apply to mankind need to be understood and followed. The more they are followed the more understanding there will be. This is a dynamic process and so often requiring reason. Not all laws are absolute; for example, ‘do no harm’ is generally acceptable but if you are a surgeon, you may have to harm the patient and cut his body (which may hurt after the anaesthetic has worn off) in order to bring about a good that is greater than the harm.
Regarding the first commandment, Jesus expanded it further saying: “this is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’”. This means, in part: conduct towards others based on reasonable expectation of how others should behave towards us. Not living according to these values causes problems not only for those in receipt of the act, but also for the doer, because of the knowledge that no-one wants it done to them.
(It is curious that Christ said that the second commandment, which does not mention God, is like the first, which has God at its centre, although the word ‘love’ does join them.)
So, for example, both you and I expect not to be insulted, threatened or assaulted, to be lied to or cheated and we do not want our property to be coveted, stolen or damaged. We want to be looked after when old or sick. We want freedom of movement, worship and speech (within proper limits). Accordingly, these expectations are turned outward to reflect the way we behave to others. Hopefully we deliberately take on the feeling that the whole world is family, and treat everyone as we would wish to be treated. Not always easy, but if followed it is evolutionary for the person.
A thief doesn’t want anyone to steal from him, a liar doesn’t want to be lied to, and a rapist doesn’t want to be raped. Stealing, lying or raping brings about internal division between what is known and what is enacted. The source of tension – a universal problem! Thought, word and deed, if brought into harmony, is a process of living according to the fine laws. This is definitely not easy but most useful for a person’s inner growth – which can be called emotional maturity.
It would be possible for a criminal to think, speak and act in evil harmony. So another ingredient is needed – call it goodness or holiness.
When an ethical value is taken on board fully, that is, both head and heart work together, behaviour accords with what is known and there is no inner split. This happens when it is clearly seen that a particular act, say lying, will make the doer suffer. If I love truth and that is my aim, lying becomes impossible because that value has been absorbed properly. Speaking the truth moves beyond choice and becomes spontaneous.
For a standard of behaviour to be spontaneous and natural, its value needs to be appreciated completely. This requires deliberate choice and reflection on matters affected by the value until its full worth is appreciated.
Gita chapter 13 indicates that if a person wants spiritual knowledge, his mind needs preparation. Just as a standard of simple arithmetic is insufficient for understanding calculus; training is necessary in all the steps leading up to appreciation of a sophisticated mathematical tool. In the same way the Geeta says that these ethical values are necessary preparation for self-knowledge.
When one lives in harmony with these standards, one can be in harmony with oneself. (Loving thyself). Everyone wants to be happy all the time without limit; this is the way to achieve it.
Below, under six broad headings a number of ethical values are given which interlink and overlap. They try to indicate a harmonious and free quality of mind and heart. These are the ‘natural laws governing the relations between men in society’ and also between man and creator.
7 ETHICAL VALUES
- Loving Attitude,
- Understanding the Supreme Being,
A TRUTH including REASON and CONSTANCY
Śrī Śāntānanda Sarasvatī said that truth is the medicine for the wrongs of the world. Below are some comments related to truth.
“Know thyself” was an inscription on the temple to Apollo at Delphi. Although sutraic in its brevity this instruction carries a great deal of significance. One possible meaning is that one should know oneself continually.
Śrī Vāsudevānanda Sarasvatī described truth in this way: “To perceive that which really exists, to conceive the truth as it ought to exist and to speak the truth as it does and has existed in the mind.”
Not lying and being honest with oneself; not speaking at variance with one’s thoughts and deeds. Not pretending to have things, achievements or qualities that one does not possess. To pursue truth continually and actively. Spiritual work, e.g. meditation.
One more aspect of truth is an inner consistency – acting in consonance with what is expected of others – see above!
A further level is continually and actively to pursue truth – to understand what is true and real or to acquire spiritual knowledge. This entails a vision of what that means and continually to clarify that vision. There is the need to keep in view one’s ultimate purpose.
Śrī Vāsudevānanda Sarasvatī said that using the intellect in listening to discourses, reception of good ideas, accepting these ideas, analysis, semantics and philosophical or spiritual principles is necessary for development of reason. Refined reasoning will give access to more subtle facts which open more and more doors in the spiritual world.
Recognition of what is untrue can lead to proper inquiry to reveal truth itself – for example, the analogy of the rope and snake. Only by more light or by looking more closely can the ‘snake’ be seen to not be a snake but a rope. Merely to say that the snake is really a rope because someone else said it or because it sounds reasonable will not be enough. One’s own recognition is needed.
Reasonable propositions within a unified system need to be heard in a conducive context created for learning, followed by inquiry and analysis. Doubts and contradictions will always arise to challenge what has been heard, simply because most experience stands against spiritual knowledge. Reason is needed to handle this and so free up ones thought process. Habitual thought patterns can interfere with clear minded appreciation. Repetitive thoughts become fixed and although they may have had some initial logic, become set and divorced from reason. Basically, anything fixed is a problem!
The quality of constancy is very close to truth and entails staying with the original aim, come what may, and could well require courage under challenge. Firm commitment does not admit of failure nor does it allow stopping on the way. It requires faith as well as reason.
Recollection of the faults of life viz: disease and difficulties of living, old age and infirmity, death (‘fear of God’ as presented in the Bible) helps one to make good use of the time and opportunities that are available.
All systems of knowledge require faith which needs surrender to what seems reasonable but not yet completely verifiable. Faith suspends judgement pending confirmation through discovery; it holds a preliminary belief in anticipation of later verification, based on provisional acceptance of initial information. Thus the important principle that one should neither accept nor reject what is given but should try it out in practice, question it and discuss it. This is a long way from blind faith where judgement and intelligence are surrendered and where the very essence of humanity – intelligence – is allowed or put to sleep.
Sure he that made us with such large discourse
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unused
(HAMLET Act IV scene 4)
B LOVING ATTITUDE including PATIENCE, FORGIVENESS and EQUANIMITY
Śrī Śāntānanda Sarasvatī said about confidence and patience that “If there is no confidence there cannot be patience”, and “Having consideration, giving pardon and being tolerant of all the difficulties, awkwardness and faults of others”.
Patience is not being affected when injured. This applies to things one cannot change so it presupposes discrimination between what one can change and what one cannot. Normally another person can’t change much if at all when we expect them to, so we usually have to surrender any expectation that they do. Any change has normally to be within oneself – an aspect of patience.
Any demand (even unspoken) that another person change is bound to limit the flow of love. A loving response to conduct that is not liked is to understand what is behind the behaviour and to respond to the person rather than the action. This could be called a merciful attitude. ‘There but for the grace of God’ or one can remember that one is not exactly fault free either.
Accepting anything beyond one’s control is an act of love, particularly oneself. This is one way of understanding: “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. Lawful order governs our actions and thoughts although not always obvious, and acknowledging this is helpful.
We can only be forgiven if we forgive; we can only forgive properly if we reflect on and are aware of our own shortcomings.
Sometimes we are beleaguered by unwelcome thoughts or feelings. understanding their origin to be lawful, and not random, can bring about a distance between us and the experience and gives us the opportunity to welcome what is unwelcome. This is much better than trying to get rid of a feeling or say to oneself: ‘I should not be feeling this’. When something is welcomed, it can be faced properly, even if a solution is not immediately available.
To be free from anger is another aspect – if someone becomes angry, their love is covered. It is so easy to be affected by anger since it is spontaneous and unbidden – apparently beyond one’s control. But anger can lead to violence – either physical or verbal so it is best managed. This could be by questioning its source (either within oneself or with another person), or by acknowledging and not denying it (either by saying ‘I should not be angry’ or by pretending that one isn’t), then waiting until it has died down before acting or speaking, so as to avoid the possibility of hurting someone.
Practicing acceptance of anything beyond one’s control is an act of love, particularly accepting one’s own circumstances, either internal or external. This is one way of understanding the second part of “Love thy neighbour as thyself”.
What does ‘love thyself’ mean? One way is to see oneself as completely free despite appearances. Another is to accept oneself as one is (for the moment) without self-criticism, albeit in the knowledge that refinement may be needed in time. As one is now is an expression of law working. So if there is handling of something hot, then one could accept the pain.
I had a fear of heights from a very young age and still do have to some extent. My work requires that I go up ladders and scaffolds frequently. I found that telling myself that such a fear was unreasonable or trying to reason the feeling through would not relieve the fear. So the only response was to accept the feeling and not pay it any attention. At times full acceptance meant that the fear was left where it was without any desire for change. The acceptance was bigger and the fear was smaller. No rejection involved.
Returning fine behaviour for coarse is a loving action and against the natural flow. This is free will working for something better. In a way it can be an acknowledgement that everything we are presented with is a test.
Action with a proper attitude to meet a need is called service. What does ‘proper attitude’ mean? It involves an offering of the action and its fruit to the divine, together with an understanding that all that one has and does is sourced in the divine. It also understands that the fruit of the action is outside one’s control. An intimate appreciation of what constitutes the divine is increasingly important. What is it and where is it? See below!
Showing love for one’s neighbour can involve giving financially or time and care where practical.
Choice of perceptions which are conducive to a refined and dignified life is most helpful. This would naturally involve withdrawal from unhealthy sense impressions. It is more a matter of regulation than of curbing.
An absence of an overriding drive for pleasure or possessions is most useful. It’s not a matter of doing without things; rather an absence of craving or continued attention. Understanding the limitation of pleasure or possessions helps with this. Desire is not supposed to be suppressed entirely; it either does not arise when there is clear understanding of the object of desire, or it can be satisfied if it is reasonable and conforms to ethical values.
A feeling of restriction or limit means that desires are inevitable – fundamentally they express the wish to be free. The pull of the infinite is expressing itself in various activities motivated by desire. Discrimination and observation tell us that no amount of security or pleasure will ever make us free. Security includes money, home family, friends and pleasure incudes anything that is a source of pleasure to us albeit temporarily. The effect of these things does not last and they always have a price. They do not help us to feel complete. When this is understood then security and pleasure take their proper place. (“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”).
Organs of action need to be measured so that all that one does is balanced and healthy. For example, one needs to eat so much food that is healthy and not more nor less. Measure can apply to all activities and its appreciation can be refined. “Nothing in excess” was inscribed on the temple to Apollo at Delphi.
To steal is to take something not given consciously with pleasure or to take more than one deserves or needs. Most of us would not like something to be taken from us without willing permission, so ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ in this case must imply restraint in this regard. If one expands the concept of neighbour to include humanity this principle would form an important aspect of economics, because it would inevitably lead to less consumption and also less waste, which in turn means treating the earth with care.
Fairness in one’s dealings and equitable temperament shows consideration for others and their situation and needs, and includes not wishing harm to others who may be a source of pain or injury to us.
There is mechanical and there is deliberate thinking. The former is a product of conditioning and habit, while purposeful thought necessitates the use of will, discrimination and reason. This value therefore requires that habitual thought is restrained in order to allow the latter to flourish. It requires a fundamental shift inward to a ascertain a direction for one’s life – what is it actually for? Once the direction of one’s life is clear, then the ability to return to deliberate thinking gets easier. One form of this is meditation which is directing the mind repeatedly to a particular holy word or words.
As exemplified by Plato and Socrates, deliberate thought entails a conscious progression, seeing every step as reasonable (not necessarily expected – it could be completely new) and ending the process by conscious decision – not through distraction of thought.
Ignorance of the truth about who I am brings about a sense of ego and understanding this cause helps to mitigate its effects. By ‘ego’ I mean that individual aspect of our makeup which is in opposition to the universal or that which gives the feeling of ‘I’ based on any relationship of the inner real self with the something else. Ego is constituted of claims and notions about oneself and clear thought will undermine such claims. For example, I may claim knowledge, but it could be seen that this is not created by me; only passed on to me by others.
I may claim my body but this was given by my parents and nourished by food grown and produced by others – I am really its caretaker. Results of actions are born of many factors outside my control, like materials I did not produce, learning from others, favourable circumstances, and other people’s cooperation. Personal credit for any achievement has to be rather absurd and without basis.
Any sense of ownership is based on unnecessary claim; there is a temporary tenure only. My house was there before I was born and will almost certainly be there after I die. I neither built it nor am I responsible for its creation in any way. So in what way is it ‘mine’? The price I paid for it was for the use of it only.
Lack of excessive attachment to family and property is another form of restraint that helps freedom, and without which freedom becomes difficult. This does not mean there is no care and love, which unquestionably need to be there. The question is: ‘could I do without them? Would my life collapse without that person/thing?’ This leads to the ability to be by oneself and self-reliant, regardless of circumstances. The feeling of being complete would mitigate against a sense of reliance on other people or things. The nearer one gets to a feeling of fullness, the less will be one’s dependence on others.
Equanimity of mind when faced with desirable or undesirable results allows objective response and acceptance of things that cannot be controlled. Facts are neutral; it is my response to them in terms of like or dislike that creates problems. Such behaviour signifies constancy. It also shows understanding of the idea that everything is under law and there is little that comes without impulse from the past.
Harmlessness is an important aspect of restraint – one wishes no harm to others and does not think harmful thoughts. No hurtful speech (even if true) or injury to creatures is acceptable – or possible for one who has taken on board that everyone is connected and therefore harm to another is harm to oneself.
There are two simple divisions – outer purity and inner purity.
Cleanliness of body, clothes, place of residence and environment are all natural values simple to understand. Proper treatment of the environment is not so easily practised, although essential. This includes minimising waste, and therefore not taking more than one needs, nurturing the soil, seas and water supplies as well as curtailing pollution of any resource.
Clean mind, thought and reasoning and purity of emotions and feelings are less straightforward. Just as outer purity is practised each day, inner cleanliness needs daily attention. The mind seems to accumulate a great deal of rubbish which then has to be cleared and one way of doing this is through meditation.
In the studies at the School of Economic Science, it has been a principle not to criticise either inwardly or outwardly. ‘Criticise’ means uninvited, ego-based, condemnation, devoid of love or any real desire to help. So keeping clear of this is essentially a practice of preserving clean thought. Thinking burdened with criticism quickly narrows and stirs up the world which one inhabits and also harms the other person and oneself (“evil be to him who evil thinks”). Reason could be used to see that that which is being condemned is no more than a thought or action, not the person, so if anything needs criticising, it is the act.
If there is residual resentment over a person’s action or omission, it is possible to think the opposite. This would take the form of seeing their good qualities, as everyone has good in them. Also, they may be behaving badly due to pressure of circumstances, possibly difficult upbringing or unhappy home life. By doing this we are in fact engendering the qualities of patience and forgiveness.
Another way is to use deliberate thought of an opposing nature. For example, the practice of giving that very thing which one thinks one lacks.
Other impurities of thought include: envy, greed, jealousy, hatred, anger, obsessive desire; all are susceptible to treatment by reason, opposite thinking or prayer.
It is also important, where practical, to put right any wrong that one may have done previously. This releases inner conflict as well as helps the other person.
E UNDERSTANDING the SUPREME BEING
In the activities at the School of Economic Science, we have the dedication at the beginning and end of activities involving surrender to the Paramatman. it is possible that the meaning of the word ‘Paramatman’ may not be clear. It is also possible that we limit the dedication to just these times; but it could also be continuous throughout the activity through a feeling of dedication.
In order to come to a real sense of the meaning of a word like Paramatman or God or Lord, we need to address the difference between belief, faith and understanding.
Some things can be understood and some things can only be believed – that is, they are not verifiable. 2 + 2 = 4 is knowledge and not a matter of belief, but if you are told there is a heaven, that is the stuff of belief because it can’t be verified. Some pieces of information which start out as beliefs can be transformed into understanding through experience. For example, if someone says about an unknown fruit that it is bitter, one can believe it because the person looks honest. Once the fruit has been tasted, the statement has been verified, and there is no more need for belief.
So initial belief can be turned into knowledge or understanding. Faith embraces an initial belief in anticipation of future verification. The earlier belief is based on some reason, often incomplete knowledge.
For example, E= MC2 is understood partially because it makes some sense that matter is transformable into energy; we see a piece of wood being burned and giving off heat. But most of us do not understand the full implication of the equation – so there is faith that it is correct. If there were no observable corroborative phenomena in ordinary life, then there would be blind faith – one accepts the information due to belief in the wisdom of its originator.
Every part of the created world has a specific role and is intelligently put together. For example, the human body and each organ within it or a car that is put together and designed with knowledge and intelligence. Each component has its place and function, relating to other parts.
In the same way it is not unreasonable to look at the whole ‘creation’ as something which is lawful, intelligent and full of knowledge. If you say ‘but some things seem random, not lawful’ like tragedies affecting individuals or societies, there is an issue as to where the lawful ends and randomness begins (or vice versa). What determines that? If it is law then where can randomness come in? if randomness, where is there room for law? It must be one or the other. In fact, even so called random events like rolling of dice can be analysed into specific actions of the hand and dice to produce a lawful result. Cheats know this and use it. There is really no such thing as pure randomness. Events are only apparently so when the governing laws are not understood.
The obvious example is the random number generator button on a calculator. If you press that button you get a ‘random’ number: as far as you are concerned it is random, but we know that there is an algorithm on the machine which generates the number. So while it seems random it is not at all. In fact, the word ‘random’ is meaningless.
Law is operating in so many different ways at every moment. For example, the words you have been reading all make some kind of sense through the working of your mind. The light has not suddenly changed (barring sunset or switching on the lights in the room) you do not see the back of the screen or the paper. The size and shape of the letters do not change from moment to moment. All the laws of light have been operating perfectly all the time. So has gravity – you have not suddenly floated up to the ceiling or even found yourself in another room. The physiological functions of your body are working; the breathing, digestion, blood flow, nerve transport etc. etc. – all of this works lawfully.
Careful consideration of everyday existence shows that ordinary events happen in a systematic way and that if they did not then no effort in any sphere would be useful as no result could be expected. Writing this would not result in anything sensible if the key sequence is not reflected in the machine. Think of a tennis match without laws of physics. What point would there be? It is common experience that if effort is put into some work then a logical result usually arises. E.g. learning the piano or riding a bicycle.
Another simple fact is that, although we may know a lot about a thing, we can never say that we know everything about it. Take the human body. Enormous resources are put in, and have been for some time to find cures for diseases. We know a huge amount about the workings of the body but still there are things which are beyond us, even in today’s amazing age of technology and science. This is concerning the body only. What about the mind and emotions?
Any product implies a maker or team of people who are responsible for that thing. Just as it is impossible to accept reasonably that a car is assembled through chance occurrence, it is inconceivable that this body is put together without intelligence (which happens to be invisible). An intelligently put together object implies intelligence as the source. It is not reasonable to assume that there is no intelligence behind things like seeds or trees or galaxies.
What is this intelligence? Is it conscious? if we, who are part of the creation, are, how can it not be? It cannot lack consciousness or existence if we have it. It must be conscious and have power, knowledge and happiness as we all do in some measure. Being present throughout it is possible that it is omniscient and limitlessly happy. This supreme being has many names: God, Paramatman, Lord, saguna Brahman and Isvara are a few.
God, being the cause of this creation, needs material from which to create. Where is that material to come from? As there is nothing else apart from himself, he is the only material available. So, all that is here, animate and inanimate, is God. He is all that exists. He is the order and law expressed in all things and events.
It is alright to say that everything can be or will one day be explained by science, but this begs the question: where did the material originate and what was the source of the laws that govern it? Is there a source without a source? If not – the alternative is infinite regress of sources and causes. Most systems of thought consider that to be unacceptable and that space is part of the created universe. With space comes time as a measure of movement from one place to another.
Space is infinite both in the immeasurable distances to the outer reaches of the known universe and also between any two points you choose. Divide the distance between any two points in half and divide again. This can go on indefinitely so that an infinite number of points exist between any two positions. Infinity is everywhere – including between you and these words.
Anything that exists with name and form is bound by time/space and also quality and is a form of knowledge. All such things constitute the universe, which comes from the originator and depends on it. The source does not depend on it though. For example, clay can exist without the pot but the pot cannot be there without the clay. Effect depends on the material cause (like pot and clay) and also the creator (the pot maker), who has the complete knowledge.
Just as in dream all the events and our response to them are our very own; we are the maker and the material out of which the dream is born, which sustains the dream and to which the dream returns at its conclusion. There is no-one else responsible for any part of it. So it is with the creator and his creation.
Each of us has within us an emotional and mental setup, and a physical order. These evolve through life. Whether we comprehend a person’s behaviour or not (including our own) it is still possible to accept that a hidden set of laws is behind any action or thought, which naturally results from previous actions.
If this is recognised, we can relax and accept a situation without resisting. This does not mean that one does not try to correct something where possible; for example, seeking medical help in the case of illness. When Isvara or God is understood as lawful order, then one is in order! Everything about oneself is included in that order.
When the name of the Lord is remembered, what accompanies it? Is it just some abstract concept? Or does it carry some depth of reality and feeling?
It is natural to look to an infallible and all powerful being. Originally we had our parents and a depth of feeling towards them would almost certainly have been there. In order to expand this to the Lord, the first move in this direction is to be grateful for all that is given, because everything is given. If I can see that the only thing which is truly my own is my ignorance, then I have a good chance of surrendering properly to the Lord as the one who is the giver of everything else. Additionally, a sense of responsibility for my own ignorance may lead to feeling helpless in shifting it. In this case prayer may arise naturally. Hence the prayer in the Isa Upanishad. See the next section.
Limited power, knowledge, strength, and wealth exist in nearly everyone. The source of these forces is not limited. When I do not resist the law and order of the Lord, I can relate to him directly. But if I do resist, suffering must follow, because what I am resisting cannot yield, so I must come off the worse.
Throughout waking life each of us has to relate to the world from the moment of birth to that of death. Life is made of many relationships – mother, father, brother, sister, teacher, friend etc. The ‘I’ in each of us has to play roles, but the common factor is always the ‘I’. I am father, I am son, I am brother etc. What is this ‘I’?
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…”
If I play a beggar on stage I may cry and curse but inwardly I am unaffected. The beggar is me but I am not the beggar – this is the difference. The beggar suffers, but not the actor. Why? Because the actor is playing a role. There is a space between ‘I’ and the beggar.
In our relationships, there could be the same space, separating the ‘I’ from the role. Throughout life, I am related to Paramatman or God in everything I do, and it is for me to find what that relationship means, and awareness of that relationship gives the space. That relationship can prosper with prayer because it involves a melting of the heart. It implies acceptance of my own limitations as the individual I feel myself to be and also of a boundless source, which has limitless power.
There is the Lord’s creation and there is the individual set up which may oppose it. This is manifest as having subjective judgements about what one has or experiences. Setting aside subjectivity is to join the Lord’s creation and to leave one’s own. Ordinarily, daily life is rooted in one’s own likes and dislikes arising from personal opinion, but living life with an awareness of Paramatman implies acceptance of all that comes one’s way and a natural response to it.
Paramatman has no equal; there is nothing outside and nothing besides. Paramatman transcends everything. The more he is understood the more he is loved. Growth of understanding will in time show us that the personal and universal are essentially not different. The puny wave seems very different to the mighty ocean, but what are they are both essentially? Water. “All have seen the drop merge into the ocean,But who knows the mystery of the ocean merging into the drop?” Kabir
The Self does not and need not pray, but the apparently limited individual does need to.
Prayer assumes a limited ego and a limitlessness Lord. As every action must have a result at some time, some future result must accrue – sometimes known as grace. This also acknowledges that everything manifest now is a result of previous action. If there is something that appears today, like disease, then prayer may neutralise or alleviate some of the results from earlier actions.
There are two main kinds of prayer; worship, in which the Absolute’s glories are praised or dedication in which the fruit of any action is offered to the Lord and, secondly, prayer, where something is asked for. This includes grace, forgiveness for transgression or shortcoming, welfare for oneself or others, or freedom from limitation.
A first stage for prayer is to recall all the things one has that one is grateful for, including a human body/mind, a family, children, education, health, a teaching, wealth etc. etc. This can extend to every mouthful of food that one eats, for example, or every repetition of a mantra in meditation or every breath one takes.
Important activities are best begun with prayer and end with a surrender.
Śrī Śāntānanda Sarasvatī said that prayers are not simply repetition of certain words in rhythm, but complete surrender of oneself. This feeling of surrender melts the heart. He says that prayer is not for someone outside to answer but for someone within to fulfil. One is forgiven only when one has forgiven. He said prayer must have love behind it to make it purposeful and meaningful. The more intense, the more effective. Intensity comes in part from the degree of truthfulness one is able to bring to bear on the present circumstances – “How do I really feel? What do I really want?”
Values and ethics go with action – either internal or external – they work together. If an inferior value is selected (return wrong for wrong) then the corresponding result will be coarse. If instead something fine is chosen, the fruit will be beneficial. This is called grace – helpful results of action turning up later. How is grace to be found? What action brings it about? One way is serving others selflessly dedicating the action to the Lord. There is also meditation and prayer as well as keeping good company and pure thoughts.
Śrī Śāntānanda Sarasvatī mentioned a number of prayers to the School of Economic Science over the years. In 1985 he quoted the Isa Upanishad’s prayer saying:
“‘Between you, O Pushan, and me, the light of truth does exist, but it remains covered by a golden sheath. I and thou are ultimately the same, but please help me to remove this golden cover so that I may see the truth of unity.’
“The golden covering is ego. It is very pleasing to possess. Unless a grace is bestowed, the inner forces cannot undo this ego, which is beautiful and very dear.”
How does one get grace? It is often seen that people in desperate situations instinctively pray, even those who say there is no God. How can that be?
In the book ‘Who am I’, Śrī Śāntānanda Sarasvatī said “reason can dissolve them [obstacles] only when one sees the obstacle and feels sorry to have stumbled.” He also said cleansing of the soul “…is possible only through a prayerful attitude and complete submission so that the forces of the Absolute may come into play within the individual…”
Chapter 13 of the Bhagavad Gita gives as a virtue unswerving devotion to the Lord through a sense of non-separateness. Such an approach includes acknowledging the Lord as the one who bestows the fruits of actions, so that all events are viewed as coming from Him. This leads to welcoming whatever befalls one, which in turn strengthens patience or equanimity. To be able to respond to events with this attitude and without reacting with personal like or dislike, gives greater peace and freedom. We can choose actions, but not the results.
Another value the same chapter commends is the liking of quiet places, not out of separateness, but from contentment to be with oneself quietly. This means facing oneself happily, accepting oneself and loving one’s self. This is complemented by not needing to be in company. To be happy in one’s own company is not so easy. It means that one has largely transcended desires and that one is not a needy person. It implies a high level of understanding. Liking of quiet places and not needing company allows the mind to deepen and to inquire more deeply.
Here are the natural laws governing relations between people and also between humanity and its source, which help us to be truly happy. This is practical and spiritual knowledge combined. The description of the wise and the means to wisdom, based on love and reason is the foundation; love tempered by reason and reason imbued with love.
However, it would not be right to finish without leaving some questions:
A Despite all the knowledge that is in the books and spoken about, there is the simple practical fact that it is not easy to follow the fine laws systematically and progressively. How is this to be resolved?
B If man is made in the image of God (or is perfect within), what is all this about? How is it that there is a dichotomy between the image or perfection and what is actually happening? How can that be explained?
Finally, we could remember (to quote Plato in Theaetetus) that there is always some force ranged against the good. Or as Vedic tradition maintains, there are divine and demonic forces always at play. This means that while embodied, there will always be challenges that want to destabilise us. These are best met with conduct rich in ethical values described above or to put it another way – virtue.
Plato said further that, because evils have no place in heaven and hover around mortal nature, we ought to fly away to heaven as quickly as we can. To fly away is to become as like unto God as is possible, and to become like God is to become just and holy with the help of wisdom. Plotinus says this is what it means to be virtuous.
C What is there in heaven, where is it and how do we get there? Is heaven a different place and if not what is it like?
Plotinus in Ennead I:2:7 indicates that virtues have levels and are related. He suggests that it is an evolutionary process aimed at likeness to the Good.
Pierre Hadot (Plotinus or The Simplicity of Vision) says: the task of virtue is interior purification, simplification and unification. And Plotinus in II:9:15 says “What shows God to us is virtue, as it comes to be in the soul, accompanied by wisdom. Without this genuine virtue, God is only a word.” Hadot: “the only thing that will lead us to God is inner transformation…obtained through virtue.”
We are all disturbed by anger, desire and so on – but the measure of virtue might be how long it takes to restore our equilibrium.
D Is to be like God the ultimate aim of human life? What could that mean and how could one realise it?
E What is our own vision of the ultimate aim of our life?
GCGI Conference Session – John Hough
I represent the modern-day ‘Robin Hood’ session as it transpired on the day of the Conference , including:
- My Powerpoint slides
- Robin’s Speech to the United Nations
- Background Notes [Why Robin has little confidence in the UN fulfilling its Peace and Security mandate]
Thank you. All of you who attended the session and entered into the spirit of the presentation, imagining you were in the United Nations General Assembly Hall and debating whether you could support Robin Hood’s non-violent action as and until the United Nations is able to meet its Peace and Security mandate.
It was a fascinating discussion on the nature of ‘law’, values and acting for ‘the global common good’; and I admit surprise at the voting outcome.
Points raised included:
- By going to the UN, and if the UN endorses Robin’s actions, then is he acting ‘within the law’?
- What is the authority of the United Nations? Especially when resolutions and conventions are not universally accepted, nor enforced.
- Precedents of acting outside the ‘law’ for the common good: the suffragettes, action by Nelson Mandela and others protesting against apartheid.
- The repercussions of supporting someone being both ‘judge and executioner’ – above the law.
- ‘Stealing stolen money’. Robin and his team, using current electronic technology, are robbing those who benefit from violent conflict; immoral, if not illegal, earnings. The $200 Billion dollars collected so far are offered to the United Nations to use for the common good.
Do you support Robin Hood’s non-violent action as and until the United Nations is able to meet its Peace and Security mandate?
For: 16 Against: 7 Abstentions: 2
GCGI – Robin’s speech to the UN [Extract from ‘The Loxley Trust’]
Close your eyes. Picture yourself in the UN General Assembly Hall representing your country; one of 193 delegates. The seating capacity is 1,800. The ceiling is 75feet above you.
Look up. The ceiling reminds me of an owl’s eye, a symbol of wisdom. It is also like looking out at the universe; or, maybe it’s the eye of the world community looking in; or maybe even the eye of a universal intelligence trying to understand the complexity that is mankind.
Close your eyes. Each time you open them, imagine yourself in that great hall!
Thankyou all for agreeing to meet with me in person.
Thankyou Mr Secretary General for facilitating this meeting despite pressure to throw me out on the streets. I emphasise from the start: in no way does what I have to say have any endorsement from the Secretary General, nor from any of The Secretariat. I have no backing from any government. I have no backing from any corporation. My only backing is a small group of dear friends that believe, like me, that no-one [individual, company or nation] should be allowed to benefit from violent conflict.
No one should be allowed to benefit from violent conflict!
I pause to let the message sink in.
This should be one of your mantras every time you walk into the UN building; every time you speak at the UN; every time you vote at the UN.
No one should be allowed to benefit from violent conflict!
You know the background causes leading up to violent conflict. It’s well-documented!
Most violent conflicts can be predicted, if not the exact timing and ferocity.
You know those who facilitate violent conflict with the supply of arms and mercenary forces. You know many of the agents, middlemen and financiers who facilitate and benefit from the arms trade. You know those that by-pass UN sanctions. It’s well documented!
And what do you do?
Let me ask you to look up at the ceiling.
I raise my eyes to the roof and point.
Imagine now all the ordinary citizens of your nations looking down on you. Not your government masters. The people. All of them. In aggregate, all the people of the world looking down on you. What would they ask of you? Can you represent them?
Most of them want peace and security. Protection from those who benefit from violent conflict. The majority want good health, good education, the fair sharing of resources. They don’t want money spent on arms. Can you represent them? Will you represent them? And take action?
Five years ago, myself and a group of friends decided that the UN, comprising delegates from the world’s governments, couldn’t deliver on international justice. The UN couldn’t ensure that no-one prospered from violent conflict. In fact, those who prospered from violent conflict were the most powerful forces within the UN. Either directly or indirectly.
So we set about taking action ourselves. Over four years we built a financial database of those who benefited from violent conflict, their bank accounts, their assets; the lawyers and accountants who helped them; the banks and other financial institutions that handled their transactions. At the same time, we built up a network of professionals sympathetic to our aims: IT professionals, security professionals: particularly those with expertise in the financial sector. We also encouraged young idealistic ‘hackers’.
About a year ago we were ready to take ‘donations’ from those benefiting from, or seeking to benefit from violent conflict. To date we’ve collected over 200 billion dollars in donations, and expect to improve on that over the coming years. That’s over one trillion dollars over the next five years.
I pause to let the numbers sink in.
For many of you this is a big number. One trillion dollars.
But you need to think of it in the context of the arms and ‘security’ industries, and on the monies spent on violent conflict. Then double that with the rehabilitation, refugee and redevelopment costs in rebuilding lives and communities. One trillion is a small fraction of the total cost.
A key principle on which The Loxley Trust is founded is ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’. We believe that transparency and accountability are significant forces in combatting violent conflict. When realised, they provide a basis for understanding and negotiation between stakeholders; they’re a preventive medicine against corruption, which in turn can be a cause or trigger for violent conflict. We admire the work of Transparency International and other watchdog organisations. In this context we’ve maintained records of all our donations, distributions and overhead expenses. We welcome your advice on how best to use the funds we’ve collected.
For the UN to act on the mantra: no one shall be allowed to benefit from violent conflict, then the UN needs major reform. Much of the reform agenda is documented by organisations like the Global Policy Forum. A number of you have tried to get reform, but have been defeated by the powerful nations either directly or by their bullying and bribing other nations. Therefore we don’t underestimate the task ahead. Still. I say to you, the 188 nations without a veto power: the choice is yours.
When the UN, you in this hall, promotes the principles of democracy, the people of the world recognise your hypocrisy, where within the UN, five nations have undemocratic and anachronistic powers given to themselves over fifty years ago.
The choice is yours.
When the new government was elected in Kiev, a protester was asked: ‘Will there now be peace in Ukraine?’ The protestor replied: ‘We’ll only have peace in Ukraine when we have leaders who put the interests of ALL Ukrainian citizens above their own personal interests and their party interests.’
So with the UN: there’ll only be peace and security around the world when you all put the interests of the world community above your personal interests and your governments’ interests; when you see yourselves as acting with integrity to serve the interests of the whole global community.
The choice is yours.
Without changes to the UN structure and the empowering of all nations to work co-operatively towards peace, security and justice under the UN banner, then you, we, are left subservient to the competing interests of a few powerful nations and international corporate interests.
Let’s look at three areas of major conflict: Syria and Iraq, Israel and Palestine, and Yemen. In all cases the UN has been largely marginalised to providing aid to the victims of violent conflict. Your countrymen and women contribute through their taxes and personal donations to alleviate the suffering. They have little say in taking action to address the conflicts themselves or to confiscate assets from those benefiting from the conflicts. Is this just? Are you content being side-lined?
The choice is yours.
In conclusion: whatever happens to me, the Loxley Trust will continue to take donations from those benefiting from or seeking to benefit from violent conflict. The Trust will assist initiatives that seek to prevent or end violent conflict. The Trust understands that arms do not in themselves initiate a conflict; what they do is determine both the extent and sustainability of the violence.
If the Loxley Trust finds itself seriously threatened, then its financial database will be automatically and widely distributed around the world. I will let you ponder the repercussions.
Hopefully over the coming months and years you will make changes and take action such that there’s no need for the Loxley Trust.
A few years ago a retired British politician explained his optimism: he saw two flames still burning in the minds of many men and women around the world: firstly, anger against injustice: secondly, hope for building a better world. I would add that I see two cold winds blowing: firstly, the greed of a rich and powerful minority: secondly, the politics of fear.
You have two choices:
- block out the cold winds and let the flames burn brightly in every home, every community and every nation
- do nothing and let the cold winds blow out the flames
The choice is yours.
Members of the Assembly: I thank you for your attention.
Notes for Robin Hood Presentation – Why Robin believes the United Nations cannot fulfil its mandate on Peace and Security.
The 2015 UN Register on Conventional Arms: still time to improve
On 16 September 2015 the United Nations Secretary-General’s annual report on the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA) was made publicly available. Reporting for the register started in 1993 and it remains the only global mechanism for official transparency on arms transfers. The register aims to enhance confidence between states and to prevent the excessive and destabilizing accumulation of arms.
Each year all UN member states are requested, on a voluntary basis, to provide UNROCA with information on the previous year’s exports and imports of specific categories of arms that are ‘deemed the most lethal ones’: battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles or missile launchers.
Following the trend in 2012–14, 2015 is likely to be another disappointing year for transparency in arms transfers. Despite UNODA sending out a friendly reminder to UN member states in February, the number of submissions was only 35 (out of 193 states) by the date of the annual report, 22 July 2015.
Many of the countries that are reported to have imported large numbers of major arms in 2014, in UNROCA submissions from arms exporters or in other public sources, did not participate in the register. Although the Middle East was the original reason for establishing UNROCA, and despite the fact that large-scale arms procurement is an important element in the region’s security situation, Turkey was the only state to report from the region for 2014. Israel, which in the past was the one country in the region that reported every year, stopped reporting by 2013. Saudi Arabia, the largest importer in the region, has never submitted a report. Qatar has not reported on actual imports, yet in 2013 and 2014, through other sources, it announced arms procurement programmes significantly larger than any of its previous arms procurements. Its submission for 2013 consisted merely of a statement saying that ‘It is not seeking to stockpile weapons in quantities surplus to its needs, and is working to reduce its imports of weapons’.
In South Asia, India and Pakistan had reported their significant and increasing imports of major arms for many years, but they did not send reports covering 2013. India did, however, report this year for 2014. But there is still no report available for 2014 from Pakistan. Singapore was the only country to report for 2014 in Southeast Asia, where tensions and arms acquisitions in the South China Sea foreshadow a concerning future. No country from the African continent has submitted a report covering 2014 yet.
Reporting by the UK, also among the top arms exporters in the world, also raised some questions. The UK should be commended for the detail in which it reports exports of small arms and light weapons to the register, in contrast, for example, to the USA. However, as in previous years, its listing of major arms exported in 2014 consists mainly of irrelevant details on exports of decommissioned ships for scrapping and exports of aircraft and armoured vehicles from the 1940s and 1950s to museums and collectors. Of the UK’s 35 entries on exports, only 2 are transfers to military users and of actual military or political significance. The most important transfer of these is the delivery of 8 Typhoon combat aircraft. However, that report is also an example of questionable accuracy since the Typhoon producer, BAE Systems, reported that 11 were delivered to Saudi Arabia in 2014. The UK Government explains the difference elsewhere by stating that it does not report actual deliveries but rather an average annual number based on export licences valid for several years.
More problematic is that several important arms transfers are missing. The UK report does not mention the delivery of 1 Khareef frigate to Oman in 2014, just as the report for 2013 did not list the delivery of another 2. Whereas BAE systems has openly reported continuing deliveries of unidentified numbers of Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Saudi Arabia in 2013, and other sources indicate the likelihood of further deliveries in 2014 and/or 2015, the UK has never mentioned such deliveries in any of its UNROCA submissions (even though the missiles, without doubt, fall under the UNROCA definition). The delivery of an armed patrol ship to Ireland also did not make it into the UK reporting for 2014. Nor did Ireland report the transfer, although it did report the import in 2014 of 6 machine guns for testing purposes listed under the category of battle tanks.
This is not a new problem and such issues have been around since the start of UNROCA. Differences in definitions and varying interpretations of how and what to report make it difficult to assess submissions to UNROCA, which may intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent actual arms transfers. However, in UNROCA both exporter and importer report on the same transfer and the result should be almost a mirror image. In reality, there are big discrepancies. Of the 50 cases where both exporter and importer have provided a report, only 5 cases show an exact data match; in 6 cases both parties report the transfer but the number of units differ; and in no less than 39 cases either the exporter or the importer does not report the transfer at all. The continuing deficiencies in reporting can be illustrated by a number of key examples from the major arms-exporting states that did report—and certainly have the resources to do a proper job.
The United States provides, in most cases, a designation and description of the weapons it reports to have transferred in 2013 and 2014. In some certain cases the level of detail in US submissions to the UNROCA is quite high like, for example, in reports regarding the transfer of a P-40 (WWII combat aircraft) to a museum in the United Kingdom. In other cases, however, there are clear mistakes and omissions that have, in many instances, been reported via other US Government sources. The omissions are particularly remarkable, as all the missing transfers have been reported via other sources, including in other publications by US Government institutions, such as the Pentagon or the State Department, and by the companies that produced some of the weapons.
The most glaring examples include the reporting of a delivery of 20 F-16C/D combat aircraft to Egypt in 2013 on top of reporting the delivery of 7 F-16C/Ds in 2012. Public reporting elsewhere clearly indicates that only 8 of an order for 20 F-16C/Ds were delivered in 2013, after which the USA stopped deliveries as part of a widely reported suspension of most military aid to Egypt. The final 12 were delivered in mid-2015. At the same time, the delivery of 2 Ambassador missile armed ships to Egypt—handed over in 2013 and transported there in 2014—has not been reported in any US submission to UNROCA. The delivery of 12 F-16Cs to Oman in 2014 has not been reported, nor has the handing over of several F-16s to Iraq in 2014, possibly because the latter were only flown to Iraq in 2015. A transfer of 5 old P-3B maritime patrol aircraft to Pakistan in 2014 has been included, although these planes are probably still in the USA for upgrades before being ferried to Pakistan. However, the actual delivery to India in 2014 of a total of 5 new P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, the advanced successor of the P-3, has been omitted—even though the supply of anti-ship missiles for the aircraft was dutifully reported.
For the first time, in its reports for 2013 and 2014, the USA included some exports of unarmed military transport aircraft: 1 C-130J to Tunisia in 2013 and 1 to Oman in 2014. However, it omitted the delivery in 2013–14 of 2 additional C-130J to Tunisia and Oman, about 20 similar aircraft to several other countries and 10 much larger C-17 transport aircraft to India. The reason for including 2 C-130J is unclear (unarmed transport aircraft are not included in the UNROCA definition), as is the reason for excluding some 30 other aircraft.
 WikiLeaks cables: Secret deal let Americans sidestep cluster bomb ban
Officials concealed from parliament how US is allowed to bring weapons on to British soil in defiance of treaty
British and American officials colluded in a plan to hoodwink parliament over a proposed ban on cluster bombs, the Guardian can disclose.
According to leaked US embassy dispatches, David Miliband, who was Britain’s foreign secretary under Labour, approved the use of a loophole to manoeuvre around the ban and allow the US to keep the munitions on British territory.
Unlike Britain, the US had refused to sign up to an international convention that bans the weapons because of the widespread injury they cause to civilians.
The US military asserted that cluster bombs were “legitimate weapons that provide a vital military capability” and wanted to carry on using British bases regardless of the ban.
Whitehall officials proposed that a specially created loophole to grant the US a free hand should be concealed from parliament in case it “complicated or muddied” the MPs’ debate.
Gordon Brown, as prime minister, had swung his political weight in 2008 behind the treaty to ban the use and stockpiling of cluster bombs. Britain therefore signed it, contrary to earlier assurances made by British officials to their US counterparts.
The US had stockpiles of cluster munitions at bases on British soil and intended to keep them, regardless of the treaty.
When the bill to ratify the treaty was going through parliament this year, the then Labour foreign ministers Glenys Kinnock and Chris Bryant repeatedly proclaimed that US cluster munition arsenals would be removed from British territory by the declared deadline of 2013.
But a different picture emerges from a confidential account of a meeting between UK and US officials in May last year.
It shows that the two governments concocted the “concept” of allowing US forces to store their cluster weapons as “temporary exceptions” and on a “case-by-case” basis for specific military operations.
Foreign Office officials “confirmed that the concept was accepted at highest levels of the government, as that idea had been included in the draft letter from minister [David] Miliband to secretary [of state Hillary] Clinton”.
US cluster munitions are permanently stored on ships off the coast of the Diego Garcia airbase in the Indian Ocean, the cables reveal. The base is crucial for US military missions in the Middle East. Diego Garcia, still deemed British territory, has been occupied by the US military since its inhabitants were expelled in the 1960s and 1970s. The British concept of a “temporary exception” to oblige the US does not appear to be envisaged in the treaty. But the British arranged that “any movement of cluster munitions from ships at Diego Garcia to planes there, temporary transit, or use from British territory … would require the temporary exception”.
Nicholas Pickard, head of the Foreign Office’s security policy unit, is quoted as saying: “It would be better for the US government and HMG [the British government] not to reach final agreement on this temporary agreement understanding until after the [treaty] ratification process is completed in parliament, so that they can tell parliamentarians that they have requested the US government to remove its cluster munitions by 2013, without complicating/muddying the debate by having to indicate that this request is open to exceptions.”
Lady Kinnock subsequently promised parliament that there would be no “permanent stockpiles of cluster munitions on UK territory” after the treaty as the US had decided it no longer needed them on British soil.
There is no suggestion that Kinnock or Bryant were aware of a plan to mislead parliament.
Tonight, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We reject any allegation that the Foreign Office deliberately misled parliament or failed in our obligation to inform parliament. We cannot go into specifics of any leaked documents because we condemn any unauthorised release of classified information.”
David Miliband declined to comment.
Cluster bombs drop large numbers of “bomblets” over a wide area. Many do not explode at the time but can kill long afterwards. The Americans dropped thousands of cluster bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. Civilians in Vietnam still die from cluster bombs dropped by the US in the 1960s.
The leaked US state department documents reveal American displeasure at the international project launched by Norway to outlaw cluster munitions. An American arms control diplomat, John Rood, privately told the Foreign Office in 2008 that the US disliked this initiative, called the Oslo process. The Americans denounced it as “impractical and unconstructive” and were urging countries not to sign up.
Mariot Leslie, then director general of defence and intelligence in the Foreign Office, reassured him that the British were only taking part as a “tactical manoeuvre” and cluster bombs were “essential to its arsenal”. “The UK is concerned about the impact of the Oslo process on the aftermath of a conflict, foreseeing ‘astronomical bills’ handed out to those who used cluster munitions in the past,” Leslie is recorded as saying.
But two weeks later Brown defied military opposition and went ahead in banning British cluster munitions.
Afghanistan, which had suffered grievous civilian casualties from the continuing war on its territory, also unexpectedly signed up to the treaty in December 2008 “without prior consultation with the US government” and “despite assurances to the contrary from President Karzai”.
Washington’s reaction was to seek to convince the Kabul government that the US could still legally use cluster munitions on Afghan territory under the treaty, even if the Afghan regime itself could not.
Diplomats recommended a “low-profile approach” at “sub-ministerial level … given the political sensitivities in Afghanistan surrounding cluster munitions, as well as air and artillery strikes in general”.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions
The 6th Meeting of States Parties (6MSP) will be held from 5-7 September 2016 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is an international treaty that addresses the humanitarian consequences and unacceptable harm to civilians caused by cluster munitions, through a categorical prohibition and a framework for action.
The Convention prohibits all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. In addition, it establishes a framework for cooperation and assistance to ensure adequate care and rehabilitation to survivors and their communities, clearance of contaminated areas, risk reduction education and destruction of stockpiles.
Cluster munitions are unacceptable for two reasons. Firstly, they have wide area effects and are unable to distinguish between civilians and combatants. Secondly, the use of cluster munitions leave behind large numbers of dangerous unexploded ordnance. Such remnants kill and injure civilians, obstruct economic and social development, and have other severe consequences that persist for years and decades after use.
Adopted on 30 May 2008 in Dublin, Ireland and signed on 3-4 December 2008 in Oslo, Norway, the Convention on Cluster Munitions entered into force on 01 August 2010. As of 16 June 2016, a total of 119 states have joined the Convention, as 100 States parties and 19 Signatories.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is an international treaty that prohibits the use, transfer and stockpile of cluster bombs, a type of explosive weapon which scatters submunitions (“bomblets”) over an area. The convention was adopted on 30 May 2008 in Dublin, and was opened for signature on 3 December 2008 in Oslo. It entered into force on 1 August 2010, six months after it was ratified by 30 states. As of April 2016, 108 states have signed the treaty and 100 have ratified it or acceded to it.
Countries that ratify the convention will be obliged “never under any circumstances to”:
(a) Use cluster munitions;
(b) Develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, cluster munitions;
(c) Assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.
The treaty was opposed by a number of countries that produce or stockpile significant quantities of cluster munitions, including China, Russia, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan and Brazil. The U.S. has acknowledged humanitarian concerns about the use of cluster munitions, but insisted that the proper venue for a discussion of cluster munitions was the forum attached to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which includes all major military powers. The U.S. has further stated that the development and introduction of “smart” cluster munitions, where each submunition contains its own targeting and guidance system as well as an auto-self-destruct mechanism, means that the problematic munitions are being moved away from in any case. In 2006, Barack Obama voted to support a legislative measure to limit use of the bombs, while his general election opponent John McCain and his primary opponent Hillary Clinton both voted against it. According to the Pentagon’s 2008 policy, cluster munitions are actually humane weapons. “Because future adversaries will likely use civilian shields for military targets – for example by locating a military target on the roof of an occupied building – use of unitary weapons could result in more civilian casualties and damage than cluster munitions,” the policy claims. “Blanket elimination of cluster munitions is therefore unacceptable due not only to negative military consequences but also due to potential negative consequences for civilians.”
The treaty allows certain types of weapons with submunitions that do not have the indiscriminate area effects or pose the same unexploded ordnance risks as the prohibited weapons. These must contain no more than nine submunitions, and no submunition may weigh less than 4 kilograms (8.8 lb). Each submunition must have the capability to detect and engage a single target object and contain electronic self-destruct and self-deactivation devices. Weapons containing submunitions which each weigh at least 20 kg (44 lb) are also excluded. Australia, which supports the treaty, stated that the convention does not prohibit the SMArt 155 artillery shell that it has bought, which releases two self-guided self-destructing submunitions.
In response to U.S. lobbying, and also concerns raised by diplomats from Australia, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and others, the treaty includes a provision allowing signatory nations to cooperate militarily with non-signatory nations. This provision is designed to provide legal protections to the military personnel of signatory nations engaged in military operations with the U.S. or other non-signatory nations that might use cluster munitions. David Miliband, who was Britain’s foreign secretary under Labour, approved the use of a loophole to manoeuvre around the ban and allow the US to keep the munitions on British territory.
New UN working group on nuclear disarmament
February 15, 2016
The United Nations General Assembly voted on 7 December 2015 to set up a working group that will develop “legal measures, legal provisions and norms” for achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world. This new UN body – which has the backing of 138 nations – is widely expected to focus its efforts on devising the elements for a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons outright.
The working group will meet in Geneva, Switzerland, in February, May and August 2016. All UN member states have been invited to participate. In the interests of achieving real progress, the working group will not be bound by strict consensus rules. It will submit a report to the General Assembly in October 2016 on its substantive work and agreed recommendations.
International organizations and civil society organizations, including ICAN, have also been invited to participate. “It is time to begin the serious practical work of developing the elements for a treaty banning nuclear weapons,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN. “The overwhelming majority of nations support this course of action.”
In its preambular paragraphs, the Mexican-sponsored resolution that set up the working group acknowledged “the absence of concrete outcomes of multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations within the UN framework for almost two decades”. It stated that the “current international climate” – of increased tensions among nuclear-armed nations – made the elimination of nuclear weapons “all the more urgent”.
Open to all nations
Five of the nine nuclear-armed nations – China, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and France – issued a joint statement in November 2015 explaining why they opposed the creation of the working group. “An instrument such as a ban” would “undermine the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] regime”, they argued, but did not explain how.
They said that they could have supported an “appropriately mandated” working group bound by strict consensus rules. However, such an arrangement would have allowed them, collectively or individually, to block all proposed actions and decisions, including the appointment of a chair and adoption of an agenda. The Mexican approach of giving greater control to nuclear-free nations is “divisive”, they complained.
Germany, which hosts US nuclear weapons on its territory, abstained from voting on the resolution, asserting that the working group is not “inclusive”, even though it is open to the participation of all nations. Japan and Australia, which believe it is acceptable to use nuclear weapons in certain circumstances, also abstained, offering vague explanations.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan argued that the working group would threaten the Conference on Disarmament – a Geneva-based forum that has been stagnant for close to two decades and excludes two-thirds of the world’s nations from its deliberations (mostly developing nations). They, too, abstained from voting on the resolution.
Indonesia 1975: Example of USA Administration’s policy on the United Nations
In 1975 Indonesia invaded and annexed East Timor with US support and Australia’s acquiescence, slaughtering over half a million East Timorese in the process. The UN proved impotent in preventing the action. As the US ambassador to the UN, Daniel Moynihan, quoted at the time: ‘The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success’. The Australian Foreign Minister was more circumspect: ‘the world is a pretty unfair place, littered with examples of acquisition by force’. No-one mentioned the subsequent Australian-Indonesian treaty whereby Timor’s rich oil and gas reserves would be plundered by US and Australian oil companies.
References [Extract from ‘The Loxley Trust’]
When presenting my first book ‘Integrity’ to Probus, Rotary and Lions groups I was often asked: ‘Why should we believe what you’ve written?’ My reply was always the same. Please, never accept anything you read from any source without questioning it, do further research and apply your own judgement.
I found the following references both informative and moving. They also provide a much wider range of secondary references for your information.
The first group of references relate to UN peacekeeping operations, the horrors of armed conflict and the challenges facing UN commanders. I believe they support major reform of the UN. I also refer you to the website for Child Soldiers Initiative [www.childsoldiers.org] initiated by Canadian Lt Gen (Ret.) Romeo Dellaire.
Shake Hands with The Devil: Romeo Dellaire
- They fight like soldiers, they die like children: Romeo Dellaire
- Fighting for Peace: General Sir Michael Rose
- The Utility of Force: Rupert Smith
For detailed background on the arms trade a good starting point is:
The Shadow World-Inside the Global Arms Trade: Andrew Feinstein
Any meaningful discussion of the Middle East needs to be put in a historical context starting with the geopolitical division of the Middle East following World War I and continuing after World War II. Before countries like the US, UK and France can be credible in their efforts towards peaceful resolutions in the region, they need to recognise their pivotal role in determining state boundaries and championing leaders who supported their national interests. Often these leaders represented one religious group, sometimes a minority group; and with international backing they were able to dominate and disenfranchise other groups. This explains in part the conflicts unravelling in the Middle East today. I recommend:
The history of the modern Middle East: William L Cleveland and Martin Bunton and
Pity the Nation- Lebanon at War: Robert Fisk
For information on the UN, my references were the websites for:
- The United Nations [www.un.org/en/]
- The Global Policy Forum [www.globalpolicy.org]
- Transparency International [www.transparency.org]
For information on the group of ‘Elders’ founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007:
In September 2014 I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of the choral symphony ‘Unfinished Remembering’ at Birmingham [UK] Symphony Hall. The composer is Paul Spicer. Before the concert, the Librettist, Poet Euan Tait explained his thinking behind the words. In particular, he expressed the view that ‘honouring’ the fallen means taking action now and every day to move towards a world where such human sacrifice is no longer necessary. I see this book as a small personal step in that direction.