Archive | July, 2008

Schumacher and Trusteeship – by Godric Bader

Godric Bader is Patron of The Gandhi Foundation

We need a nobler economics that is not afraid to discuss spirit and conscience, moral purpose and the meaning of life, an economics that aims to educate and elevate people. – E. F. Schumacher

The words Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) which Fritz Schumacher chose to describe his commitment to helping the ‘third’ world came from his deeply intellectual, but radical and practical, mind. Its essence is now seen to be better understood as Practical Action (ITDG’s recent name change) as these two simple words accurately describe what purpose he wanted the organisation to have. I recall what he said about appropriate technology and “economics as if people mattered” in his last talk, called Caring, for Real which he gave at Caux in Switzerland in 1966 just before he died – all his words were at bottom calling for Practical Action, directly with the people wherever they were on the earth.

So I now understand why he travelled to the small village of Wallaston in Northamptonshire, where the Scott Bader company (producing polyester resins) had evacuated in 1940, when he was in great demand as an adviser by many world governments. Scott Bader was an attempt at putting good ideas into practical action in the world of industry. Ernest Bader, an immigrant Swiss national, had founded a company in London in 1920 but normal ownership had been extinguished when the family company was given freely into a charitable holding company, the Scott Bader Commonwealth Ltd, in 1951.

Fritz came to know my father at a Pacem in Terris Conference in Geneva, and Fritz wanted to encourage the company whose ethos he described in Small is Beautiful as

“the development of the power over the responsibility for a bundle of assets – not ownership”.

That is why Fritz had given me much of his lunch times in London, where we usually met in a small Polish restaurant near the National Coal Board HQ where the waitresses, some from Auschwitz, could still show you their numbers on their arms. He understood the paradigm shift we at Scott Bader were struggling with and could spell it out better than we could. I would like to think that the 21st century description we are beginning to use to describe Scott Bader as a Democratic Trusteeship, with its “responsibility for a bundle of assets instead of ownership of them” has a direct parallel as to how we now urgently have to look at our earthly home.

This is a neat description of how we all have to learn to live on our planet, being responsible for the “bundle of assets” – the air, sea and land – through which nature and our life evolved and is sustained; not to be selfishly fought over, bought, sold and pillaged. The understanding was that there was a way forward by which we could say good-bye to the 150-year-old Company law, with its dominance of ownership, of shareholder money power. Instead there would be life beyond acquisitive capitalist motivation and we would hold the earth and its resources in trust for all its peoples.

Quite early in our discussions for Scott Bader, Fritz suggested that the company should appoint two or three imaginative biologists. We should put them in our research and development labs and leave them alone for at least five years. We would then have our new products and no longer be ‘capital dependent’, for he saw, as an economist, that the world was using up its capital: its fossil fuels and minerals – as income, and literally burning it away instead of using it to construct the means of recyclable and sustainable forms of production and lifestyles. He saw the direct parallel with nature’s ability to run the planet, without piles of waste everywhere. However I was unable to persuade my fellow directors who were all in the tough competitive business world of using petrochemicals for synthesising useful polymers for paints, adhesives and resins for glass fibre boats, pipes, tanks and building products. For them biology was not even a science and was a pointless direction for the company to go. An opportunity was lost.

In business Fritz taught me that the conventional planning process and games with graphs and numbers were too rigid and lifeless. They did not reflect enough reality – if anything tangible at all. As the top Economic Adviser and Director of Statistics at the National Coal Board he learnt that planning the way forward was not a rigid process – one should “stir forward to sense what one would bump up against”, so one had to be widely read and know what was going on in the world, as well as in one’s own sector. As the small poster on my office wall with his picture above reads:

“Economic growth is a quantitative concept and quite meaningless until defined in qualitative terms”.

And to illustrate Fritz’s later ability to put things even more succinctly after he had travelled more widely, he said, when questioned about the importance of Buddhism to him, and its relevance to economics:

“Economics without Buddhism is like sex without love”.

Fritz directed me also to the writings of R H Tawney and such words as:

“It is a condition of freedom that men should not be ruled by an authority they cannot control”.

Scott Bader was on its way to finding, as Tawney put it so well:

“…a principle of justice upon which association for the production and distribution of wealth could be found”.

Fritz however warned

“.. this is only an enabling act … though a necessary one but not yet sufficient condition for the attainment of higher aims … yet everyone in Scott Bader has the opportunity to raise themselves to a higher level of humanity”.

We could not go very much further than encouraging and educating people, for Tawney had said:

“It is obvious, indeed, that no change of system or machinery can avert those causes of social malaise which consist in the egotism, greed, or quarrelsomeness of human nature. What it can do is to create an environment in which those are not qualities which are encouraged.”

In Davos at the European Management Conference, just before it became the World Economic Forum, I claimed that democratic common ownership, as we then called it, created an organisation in which

“man’s spirit can be freer so that he can become more creative, productive and responsible”.

I believe Democratic Trusteeship is a way of releasing the talent, so often frustrated in the present day that many look for other work, or like the Quakers give up industry (eg Cadbury, Rowntree, Huntly and Palmer, Barclays), leaving the less mobile workforces who can then only turn to unionism to speak for them.

Fritz would never have attained the recognition that he was one of the few people who had changed the direction of human thought had he not

“combined scientific thinking at its most rigorous with spiritual commitment at its most compassionate”

to quote The Times. Sadly, this was said only after his death. I well remember his funeral in Westminster Cathedral where Yehudi Menuhin with his young violinists, and speakers from around the world, paid homage. Many people afterwards turned to me including Scott Bader’s Technical Director, saying: “We did not know what we had in the Company”, or “We did not realise he was so widely known”, such was his influence, literally around the world.

Remembering him one cannot forget the highly infectious warmth of his personality. Here was someone who knew where he was in the world. His depth of assurance came from his basic grasp of what humankind’s destiny should be in the world, and how to live out our evolutionary purpose on our planet.

It is difficult to pin down the unconscious influence Fritz had on Scott Bader; his depth of understanding and ability to analyse a situation was always apparent in Company meetings, and often a simple statement or question from him would clarify matters and show the way forward. From the point of view of the Company’s efficiency, and a better life for its workers, one of the most practical things Fritz did was to bring about our transference from coal to gas with the construction of a new gas main from Wellingborough (our local town) to Wallaston.

I was looking forward to having his acceptance to follow me as Chairman in 1978 when he so tragically died in a train when returning from Caux. It was reported:

“Dr Schumacher belongs to the intensely creative minority and his death is an incalculable loss to the whole international community”.

It certainly was to Scott Bader, especially as he was also going to give our 1978 Commonwealth Lecture. In the event his son Christian took over.

Fritz was a true prophet and one the world should have listened to earlier and thus we may have been able to avoid the development of resource depletion and climate change. Fritz would have agreed with the recent slogan which appeared in Time magazine:

“Don’t blow it! Good planets are hard to find!”

Nicholas Gillett (1915-2008)

Nicholas Gillett who died on 23 June was a worthy recipient of the International Gandhi Peace Award in 1999. In his acceptance speech he spoke about caterpillars, horse flies and bees to illustrate the need for fresh approaches to peace building. Had he been less self-effacing he might have spoken of his own background and achievements.

He was born into a Quaker family in 1915. His great grandfather on his mother’s side was the radical, anti-war MP, John Bright. His mother went to South Africa in the aftermath of the Boer War to teach Boer women, confined in concentration camps set up by the British, to spin and weave wool and generate a small income. Later on in 1931 his mother was introduced to Gandhi but as it was Gandhi’s day for not speaking, they communed in silence.

Nicholas’s father owned and ran a private bank. His uncle was Joseph Rowntree, founder of the charities from which many peace organisations have benefited. Both parents were active supporters of the League of Nations, set up after the First World War.

Nicholas went to the Quaker school, Leighton Park, and then to Oxford where he studied philosophy, politics and economics. One of his first friends there, Chandra Mal, had worked for Gandhi as a secretary and was a committed devotee. During the vacations, Nicholas went to a variety of work camps in this country and overseas. He helped Corder Catchpool in Berlin in his work for reconciliation and was appalled as he watched Hitler address a youth rally in Innsbruck.

At a work camp in Salford, Manchester, he met Ruth Cadbury and they were married in 1938. Ruth’s grandfather was George Cadbury who had established the Bournville chocolate factory and estate for the workers. Her parents, Henry and Lucy Cadbury, were wardens of the Quaker Study Centre, Woodbrooke, where Gandhi stayed in 1931.

After initial training to be a teacher of physical education, Nicholas grew increasingly interested in educational psychology. He, Ruth and their growing family of six children managed two farms during the Second World War and from 1945 onwards Nicholas lectured at Teacher Training Colleges at Saltley, Cheltenham and Dudley while studying for an MA in education at Birmingham University in his spare time. He helped to found the first Parent-Teacher Associations in the country and served UNESCO in the Philippines, Thailand and Iran. The family moved to Bristol in 1965 where Nicholas lectured at the University and gave generously of his time and money to various peace and development groups and especially the UNA.

During this time, Nicholas withheld the part of his tax payment which would have gone to the Ministry of Defence and he and Ruth had their more valuable furniture and other possessions seized by bailiffs to make up the deficit. Some of the property was bought at auction by members of the family and returned to them but it showed their commitment to the pacifist cause.

From 1975 to 1977 Nicholas and Ruth represented Quaker Peace and Service in Northern Ireland where they supported the Peace People led by Mairead Corrigan, Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeowen. Ruth took the lead in setting up the means by which disaffected paramilitary men from both sides could disengage from their units, adopt new identities and live peaceful and useful lives.

Three years after their return to Bristol from Belfast, Nicholas and Ruth went off to serve QPS again in the Quaker UN office in Geneva. Ruth died suddenly two months after she and Nicholas had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in Bristol in 1988.

Nicholas practised farming in his early adult life and he spent his last years helping his second wife, Mehr Fardoonji, manage an organic market garden near Chester. Mehr is a Parsee and had walked with Vinoba Bhave in the Land-Gift Movement. Nicholas continued to write and speak about peace, development and education.

Nicholas’s parents had been close friends with Jan Christian Smuts who had been responsible for imprisoning Gandhi in South Africa. Each man had considerable respect for the other and while in prison, Gandhi made a pair of sandals as a present for Smuts. Later, Smuts gave them to Nicholas’s mother. Nicholas found them in a cupboard one day and continued to wear them until they were worn out. He, more than most people, walked in the footsteps of Gandhi.

Graham Davey

October 2008: Annual Lecture & Peace Award

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture and the International Peace Award 2008

Rev Harold Good OBE & Father Alex Reid CSSR

will receive the Award for their work in Northern Ireland as independent witnesses to the disarmament conducted under General John de Chastelain

Rev Harold Good will also deliver the Annual Lecture

Thursday 30 October at 6.15pm

in Committee room 4A, the House of Lords, Westminster

Chair: Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh
Centennial Professor, Centre for the Study of Global Governance, LSE
and Patron of the Gandhi Foundation

Invitations available from

Omar Hayat,
28 Bronwen Court,
Grove End Road,

enclosing £5 per person (max.2) made out to The Gandhi Foundation


Mahatma Gandhi: Images and Ideas for Nonviolence – by Vijay Rana

Mahatma Gandhi: Images and Ideas for Nonviolence
Vijay Rana
Publisher: NRIfm
ISBN: 978-0-9557026-0-0

This book is a well needed tonic for any one who believes in Gandhi’s message but suffers from intermittent bouts of despair and melancholy due to some of the absurd directions that the political world has adopted. Vijay Rana’s book should be on every ‘chai’ (tea) table as it is full of images which show how alive and vibrant Gandhi’s message actually is.

The book, which is a collection of images and quotes from Gandhi, thankfully, does not churn out the old iconic images but has fresh, contemporary, relevant images from around the world showing Gandhi as part and parcel of popular culture even if his message is still not part of governmental political culture. The book contains images from Uruguay to Ireland, from Spain to Australia. It contains images of statues of Gandhi to wall murals and even popular graffiti.

One of the most emotive pictures in the book is of a peaceful protester from the West Bank holding a placard showing the image of Gandhi and proclaiming ‘nonviolence ends occupation and restores peace’. There is also a picture of a poster at the site where the Twin Towers stood showing a peaceful and saintly image of Gandhi amidst the hustle and bustle of every day New York life – a wonderful picture capturing the cruelty of the attack and the human need for progress and peace.

There are also images of Gandhi quotes inscribed either professionally in stone or quotes scribbled on walls as part of popular culture. bFrom these images and poignant quotes we get a new insight into how Gandhi has been adopted by people from all walks of life and countries the world over. These seventy or so images are certainly images which most people would not have seen. They raise hope and give a feeling of global community despite the relentless images of violence around us.

The author Vijay Rana dedicated his time and his own money in publishing this book and throughout one can see the love and affection with which he pursued this cause.

Omar Hayat

The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future – by Martha C. Nussbaum

The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future
Martha C. Nussbaum
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
29.95 euros

Martha C. Nussbaum is Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. She worked for eight years (1985-93) with the Research Project of the UN World Institute for Development in Helsinki, focusing on the economic and cultural problems of India. She chose India when she wanted to write on human rights norms for women’s development worldwide. She was a consultant with the UN Development Programme’s New Delhi Office and in 2004 was a visiting Professor at the Centre for Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. She lectured in various parts of India and wrote extensively on India’s legal and constitutional traditions. She travelled so many times to India that it now feels like her second home.

Her relationship with India is intensely political, focussed on issues of social justice, and she has had close contacts with Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1988. Three personalities in particular feature, namely, Nehru, Tagore and Gandhi. In her Preface she states: “This is a book about India for an American and European audience”. But it is not only about India but also about the present clash between Islam and the West.

She writes: “… that the real clash is not a civilisational one between ‘Islam and the West’, but instead a clash within virtually all modern nations – between people who are prepared to live with others who are different, on terms of equal respect, and those who seek the protection of homogeneity, achieved through the domination of a single religious and ethnic tradition”.

At a deeper level the thesis of this book is the Gandhian claim that the real struggle that democracy must wage is a struggle within the individual between the urge to dominate and defile the other, and to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability that such a life entails.

Nussbaum deals extensively with the ethnic/religious pogrom in Gujarat in February-March 2002 when approximately 2,000 Muslims were killed by Hindus. She analyses the Hindu nationalistic personality and finds sufficient hatred within to explain the Gujarat events. Her conclusion – based to a great extent on Gandhi’s thinking – is worth quoting:

“The ability to accept differences – differences of religion, of ethnicity, of race, of sexuality – requires first, the ability to accept something about oneself: that one is not lord of the world, that one is both adult and child, that no all-embracing collectivity will keep one safe from the vicissitudes of life, that others outside oneself have reality. This ability requires, in turn, the cultivation of a moral imagination that sees reality in other human beings, that does not see other human beings as mere instruments of one’s own power or threats to that power.”

She argues, in this highly passionate study, that ultimately the greatest threat comes not from a clash between civilisations, but from a clash within each of us.

Piet Dijkstra

Albert Schweitzer and Indian Thought – by Rasoul Sorkhabi

“He [Albert Schweitzer] is the only Westerner who has had a moral effect on this generation comparable to Gandhi’s. As in the case of Gandhi, the extent of this effect is overwhelmingly due to the example he gave by his own life’s work.” Albert Einstein

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), the renowned Christian theologian, philosopher, musician, physician, author, and the winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, was one of the great minds of humanity and one of the reputed activists of world peace in the twentieth century. When I was a young boy, Dr Schweitzer’s story of how he left a comfortable life in Europe to establish and work in a hospital in Africa and to help the needy people represented for my generation a role model of compassion and self-less service to humanity. However, as singers, actors, and entertainers are increasingly becoming heroes among the young generation, the Forest Doctor’s life story and philosophy is gradually fading away from the public memory. Nonetheless, I hope, his heritage will survive in history and will influence those who listen to their inner voices and are touched by the sufferings of humanity and the beauties of life on Earth. In my research on Dr. Schweitzer, I have noted his deep connections to Indian religious philosophy. This is a less investigated but an illuminating aspect of Schweitzer’s life with a message for our time and of significance for scholars who are interested in the history and philosophy of peace movements.

A Sketch of Schweitzer’s Life
Albert Schweitzer was born on 14 January1875 in Kayserberg, Upper Alsace, Germany (now Haut-Rhin department in France). “Schweitzer” means Swiss, referring to Albert’s Swiss ancestors who went to Germany in the seventeenth century. His father and maternal grandfather were pastors who taught the young Albert the art of playing and building the organ – an interest he carried throughout this life. (Schweitzer was an authority on J S Bach’s music, and records of his playing Bach are available.) He studied theology and philosophy at the University of Strasbourg in France, obtaining his PhD in 1899. For a number of years, he taught at the Theological College (Seminary) of Saint Thomas at Strasbourg and later wrote books on the life and works of Jesus Christ and Saint Paul. In 1905, Schweitzer decided to study medicine at the University of Strasbourg in order to go to Africa as a physician missionary. He obtained his degree in medicine in 1912, and the same year he married Helene Bresslau, a girl friend from his student years.

Despite much opposition and worries from his parents, colleagues and friends, Albert and Helene left for the French Equatorial Africa (the present Republic of Gabon) in 1913, and set up a clinic near an already existing mission station in Lambaréné. Schweitzer treated and operated thousands of patients, including many victims of African sleeping sickness, and took care of hundreds of lepers. There were several interruptions in their African life, especially during World War I (1914-18) when Albert and Helene were taken as prisoners of war to France. Nonetheless, they always returned to their hospital and a life full of service in Africa. (Schweitzer had fourteen trips between Africa and Europe.) Helene died in 1957 and Albert Schweitzer died on 4 September 1965 (aged ninety); both of them are buried on the hospital grounds in Lambaréné. They were survived by their only daughter Rhena Schweitzer Miller who administered the hospital for many years. The Lambaréné hospital still remains as an internationally supported health centre serving African patients, and as a symbol of human love in action.

Reverence for Life
Schweitzer described his life philosophy or “worldview” (Weltanschauung) as “ethical mysticism” or “the ethics of reverence for life.” He believed that all life forms possess “the will-to-live in the midst of will-to-live.” We know this from our own life as well as observing other living beings. Through our own experience and realization we appreciate the rights of all life forms and the sacredness of life itself. Schweitzer remarked that he first articulated the term “reverence for life” in September 1915 at sunset when he was sailing on the Ogowe River, some 48 miles from Lambaréné. Later, Schweitzer expounded upon his philosophy of life in speeches, interviews, articles and books, especially in The Philosophy of Civilization (1923).

How did Schweitzer develop the idea of “reverence for life” ? I suggest four sources. First, from childhood, Schweitzer was lovingly sensitive to the life and suffering of animals. In his Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, Schweitzer wrote:

“Already before I started school it seemed quite incomprehensible to me that my evening prayers were supposed to be limited to human beings. Therefore, when my mother had prayed with me and kissed me goodnight, I secretly added another prayer which I had made up myself for all living beings: Dear God, protect and bless all beings that breathe, keep all evil from them, and let them sleep in peace.”

Second, Schweitzer (brought up in a Christian family and educated in Christianity) was deeply influenced by Jesus’ teaching of love (“Love Thy Neighbour”) and Moses’ commandment of “Thou Shall Not Kill.”

Third, Schweitzer was impressed by Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy, especially his book, The World as Will and Idea (1819), in which the German philosopher argues that there is an intuitive “Will” in the world of living beings. He calls it “the Will to Live” (Willen zum Leben).

Fourth, both Schopenhauer and Schweitzer were influenced by Indian religious thinking, particularly by the idea of ‘ahimsa’ (‘not-harming’ or ‘non-violence’). Schweitzer, in fact, wrote a (less-known) book on Die Weltanschauung der Indischen Denken: Mystik und Ethik (Munich, 1935) (“The World View of the Indian Thinkers: The Mystical and the Ethical”) which has been translated into English as Indian Thought and Its Development (translated by Mrs C E B Russell, published by Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1936; reprinted by Adam and Charles Black, London, 1956). In that book, Schweitzer remarks:

“The laying down of the commandment not to kill and not to damage [ahimsa] is one of the greatest events in the spiritual history of mankind. Starting from its principle, founded on world and life negation, of abstention from action, ancient Indian thought – and this in a period when in other respects ethics have not progressed very far – reaches the tremendous discovery that ethics know no bounds! So far as we know, this is for the first time clearly expressed by Jainism” (p. 83). “If Jainism requires that the monk should suppress all emotions of hatred and revenge, the Buddha lays on him the further command, that he shall meet all living things, yea, the whole Universe, with a feeling of kindness” (p. 104). “The Buddha is the first to express the fundamental law that ethical spirit quite simply in itself means energy which brings about what is ethical in the world” (p. 106).

Schweitzer and Indian Thought
How did Schweitzer become interested in Indian religious thought? In the preface to Indian Thought and Its Development, Schweitzer confesses:

“Indian thought has greatly attracted me since in my youth I first became acquainted with it through reading the works of Arthur Schopenhauer.” He then acknowledges three persons: (1) Professor Moritz Winternitz of Prague (author of A History of Indian Literature, 1933) for “his great work on Indian literature” and for “giving me a fund of information in response to my questions”; (2) the British-Indian friend of Mahatma Gandhi, Charles F Andrews (author of Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas, 1929) for discussions; and (4) Romain Rolland for his “penetrating studies on [Sri] Ramakrishna and [Swami] Vivekananda.”

In a letter dated 29 November 1964 to the then Indian prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Schweitzer acknowledges his correspondence with several “Indian friends” including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru through Charles Andrews,and states that his own ideas “are consistent with Indian ideas” and that the ethics of respect for all living beings “existed for Indian thought for more than two thousand years” and is “first clearly expressed by Jainism.” (Quoted from Albert Schweitzer Letters, 1905-1965, edited by Hans Walter Bahr, p. 348.)

In 1965, four months before he died, Schweitzer wrote to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta [Kolkata]:

“I studied Indian philosophy early on, when I was attending the University of Strasbourg, Alsace, even though no course was being given on that subject. But then, around 1900, Europe started getting acquainted with Indian thought. Rabindranath Tagore became known as the great living Indian thinker. When I grew conversant with his teachings, they made a deep impact on me. In Germany it was the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who first recognized the significance of Indian thinking. A pupil of Schopenhauer was director of the Mulhouse Secondary School in Alsace, which prepared students for the university. [The school Schweitzer attended.] His name was [Wilhelm] Deecke. In this way I got to know Indian thinking at an early date. And by the time I completed my doctoral examination in philosophy, I was familiar with Indian thought. By then I was teaching at the University of Strasbourg. Focusing as I did on the problem of ethics, I reached the conclusion that Indian ethics is correct in demanding kindness and mercy not only toward human beings but [also] toward all living creatures. Now the world is gradually realising that compassion for all living creatures is part of true ethics.” (Albert Schweitzer Letters, 1905-1965, p. 351)

Schweitzer’s Indian Thought and Its Development has 16 chapters: (I) Western and Indian thought; (II) The rise of world and life negation in Indian thought; (III) The teaching of the Upanishads; (IV) The Samkhya doctrine; (V) Jainism; (VI) The Buddha and his teaching; (VII) Later Buddhism in India; (VIII) Buddhism in China,Tibet and Mongolia; (IX) Buddhism in Japan; (X) The later Brahmanic doctrine; (XI) Brahmanic world-view in the laws of Manu; (XII) Hinduism and Bhakti mysticism; (XIII) The Bhagavad Gita; (XIV) From the Bhagavad Gita to modern times; (XV) Modern Indian thought; and (XVI) Looking backward and forward.

Schweitzer also wrote Chinese Thought and Its Development, which still remains unpublished. In passing I should mention that Schweitzer’s attitude toward Indian religions was not always positive or factual. In Indian Thought and Its Development, Schweitzer emphasizes over and over that Indian religions have mainly adopted a nihilistic outlook of “world and life negation”, while Christianity is based on the idea of “world and life affirmation.” One should note that the Western knowledge of Indian religions in the early twentieth century was very limited. Schweitzer himself did not live and study in India and his knowledge and criticism of Indian religions were thus those of a Western-Christian outsider, albeit intellectual and spiritual, confined to his own time and place. In reference to Schweitzer’s analysis of Indian religions as nihilistic, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in his book Eastern Religions and Western Thought comments:

“To divide peoples into those who will not accept the world at all and those who will accept nothing else is hardly fair.”

Ahimsa is the Way
What I find very significance in Schweitzer’s life and philosophy is his reafirmation of the idea of ahimsa (non-violence) developed over 2500 years ago in India. Schweitzer did not base his philosophy of “reverence for life” on any scientific finding or metaphysical debate; he regarded one’s own life experience and realisation as a basis for “ethical mysticism.” Perhaps the following poem by the thirteenth century Persian poet, Sa’di summarizes Schweitzer’s idea of “reverence for life”:

Do not harm that ant that carries a little grain;
It has life and life is sweet.

Rhena Schweitzer Miller once remarked:

“One day I asked my father, “You have done so much for Africa. Has it given you anything in return?”

He said,

“Yes, nowhere else could I have found the idea of reverence for life than here.”

Our world is facing violent conflicts and brutality fuelled by religious extremism, dirty politics, personality cults, inhuman nationalism, and economies based on never-ending greed. The root causes of all this bloodshed, cruelty and suffering are the same old vices: Self-centred views, prejudices, hatred, limitless desires, and little appreciation of life and nature. Given this grave situation, Schweitzer’s philosophy of “reverence for life” as a way of loving and appreciating this sacred planet on which we are privileged to live, and the Indian idea of ahimsa as a humane way of resolving our conflicts peacefully and making a better world gains a new significance. It is thus appropriate to close this essay with a quote from Albert Schweitzer himself:

“Ethics are complete, profound, and alive only when addressed to all living beings. Only then we are in spiritual connection with the world … Profound love demands a deep conception and out of this develops reverence for the mystery of life. It brings us close to all beings. To the poorest and smallest, as well as all others. We reject the idea that man is ‘master of other creatures,’ ‘lord’ above all others. We bow to reality. We recognize that all existence is a mystery, like our own existence. The poor fly which we would like to kill with our hand has come into existence like ourselves. It knows anxiety, it knows hope for happiness, it knows fear of not existing any more. Has any man so far been able to create a fly? That is why our neighbor is not only man: my neighbor is a creature like myself, subject to the same joys, the same fears, and the idea of reverence for life gives us something more profound and mightier than the idea of humanism. It includes all living beings” (Quoted in The Schweitzer Album, edited by Erica Anderson, 1965, p. 174).

Rasoul Sorkhabi graduated from universities in India and Japan, doing his Ph.D. thesis on the geology of the Himalayas. He is currently a Research Professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City where he lives with his wife Setsuko. The couple published articles on Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Rumi, and the Dalai Lama. This article was first published in the UK monthly Yoga & Health, April 2006, and has been slightly modified by the author for The Gandhi Way. He can be contacted at Copyright: Rasoul Sorkhabi (2006, 2008).


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