The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration will be on
The Gandhi Foundation’s Multifaith Celebration took place on Thursday 30th January 2014 at the House of Lords, London
Dr Rex Andrews gave a lecture on Gandhi related aspects of his new book “God in a Nutshell“. Our President, Lord Parekh, hosted and Chaired the event with Q&A with a multifaith audience.
Thank you to all who attended
Sadly Father Alec Reid, who received The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award in 2008 along with Rev. Harold Good, died on 22nd November 2013 aged 82 years. His role in the disarmament process in Northern Ireland, the victory of non-violence over violence, and the bringing together of the Catholic and Protestant communities with Rev. Harold Good were significant milestones on the road to peace. You can read an account of the 2008 award and speeches by clicking:
The Daily Telegraph obituary can be read here:
The Abbey, in the little village of Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, was again the setting for this year’s Gathering, a week of attempting to live in the style of one of Gandhi’s ashrams whilst allowing a space for discussion into applying his principles to issues faced in the modern world. The building itself is a perfect facilitator for this event, providing several cosy sitting rooms, a kitchen and dining room dating to the 13th century, and a large Great Hall which has windows that open out into the main garden. The grounds give ample space for camping and sports including badminton, as well as a large kitchen garden which provides much of the delicious food for the week! The surrounding countryside also provides several beautiful walks along the river Thames.
Although some rooms are available in the Abbey itself, most Gatherers stay in the guest house annexe, which has the advantage of 20th rather than 13th century plumbing and heating! The braver amongst us, mostly families, camped and this year a camper van was also used for accommodation. Thirty Seven people attended over the first weekend, with people coming and going over the next week.
The premise of Gandhi’s ashram means that a great communal spirit is built up throughout the week, with teams taking turns to help prepare meals and keep communal spaces clean. The kitchen is usually the focal point, where children’s (and adult’s!) baking and craft takes place, as well as some of the most interesting discussions about the year’s theme.
After a help-yourself breakfast, the morning session begins with a brief meditation and sharing of information, then continues into the main discussion topic for the day. There is normally a short introductory presentation followed by discussion in small groups and then feedback. This leads into Shramdana, meaning ‘sharing of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all’ in accordance with the way Gandhi’s ashrams were run. Lunch is eaten and, after a digestion break, craft activities begin later in the afternoon. It was Gandhi’s belief that time should be spent on useful tasks, and this period is used to follow his guidance. Crafts available this year were varied, including collage making, art using dried flowers, crochet and watercolour painting. One particularly interesting activity was spinning thread from a sheep’s fleece: we set up a production line including carding the wool, using the spinning wheel to turn the wool into thread and winding the finished wool into balls (and untangling it!). The spinning wheel was a bit trickier to use than I expected and unfortunately my wool alternated between being much too thick and snapping because it was too thin! After supper Gatherers are invited to contribute to the evening’s entertainment which included animal noises, poetry readings, slideshows and circle dancing. Then meditation and time for sleep before it all begins again in the morning!
The topic for this year’s Gathering was “A World of Limited Resources: Inspirations and Challenges in Sharing the Planet” which attracted many external speakers as well as new participants. This meant that there was often a talk in the afternoon in addition to the morning session. The first of these was given by an architect, Sandra Piesik, who is running a project reviewing renewable resources as construction materials, involving over 120 scientists and professionals. Her talk mainly focussed on developing architecture using palm leaves in the United Arab Emirates, and her efforts to rescue indigenous technology from the extinction imposed by the advent of globalisation and modern building practices. She highlighted the fact that concrete is not always the most suitable building material in every environment on Earth, and that there is a huge untapped source of building materials from the palm leaves from plants used for date production, which are currently wasted in the UAE.
The theme of the first morning session (Sunday) was Sarvodaya. This is a term coined by Gandhi to mean ‘universal uplift’ or ‘progress of all’ and was a fundamental principle of his political philosophy. We discussed some of Gandhi’s other main principles: Swaraj, self-rule; Swadeshi, self-sufficiency; and Satyagraha, “truth force”, Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance strategy.
Monday’s theme was resource depletion: examining the effects of diminishing stocks of non-renewable gas, oil, coal and minerals on the world. We discussed particular industries’ impacts on the earth and its people, and possible substitutes.
Tuesday focussed on climate change and population from a biological perspective, as the talk was given by an ecologist. Human culture has gradually evolved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle through small scale agriculture to the globalised economy we see today. However, this has occurred in a period of relatively stable climatic conditions for the past 5000 years, which has lulled us into a sense of false security. We were divided into three groups and attempted to answer three questions. The question for my group was: What attributes from our hunter gatherer and agricultural ancestors should we cultivate and which should we reject? We were also asked to talk about steps we could take to reduce our energy usage both on a personal and national/global scale.
Ruth gave a presentation originally aimed at actuaries to show that in the economic world it is vital to take into account risks of climate change and resource depletion.
The World Economic System was Wednesday’s subject. Alan Sloan presented us with a thought-provoking presentation on a potential new economic system based on ecological footprints. Conventional money is not directly related to the material world, and he suggested that if the new currency were based on the resources available from the earth then this would help to solve the resource depletion crises we are currently facing, as well as relieving poverty in the developing world.
Four participants gave presentations on four ‘prophets’ on Thursday. John Muir was an American naturalist whose activism helped to preserve national parks such as Sequoia National Park and the Yosemite Valley. Ishpriya is a Catholic nun who founded the International Satsang Organisation. The Reverend Horace Dammers was the founder of the Lifestyle Movement. Frances Moore Lappé is the author of the bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, which advocated a plant-based diet as being much more conducive to food security.
On Friday we welcomed another guest speaker, a representative of Traidcraft. He gave a presentation on the organisation and their efforts to ensure that workers are paid a fair price for their products.
On the last evening we held a party, which was a sort of variety show with everyone offering their best party pieces. We had old home videos, games, singing, jokes, poetry, a small flute recital and some improvised circle dancing. The evening ended with a small tribute to the victims of the atom bomb in 1945, as it was Nagasaki Day. We went out into the garden and floated tea lights in little paper boats in a large baking tray filled with water, as incense smoke floated up into the night sky. It was a lovely way to end the week, which has been one of the most thought-provoking I have attended.
The Gandhi Foundation Multifaith Celebration Review
at St Ethelburga’s on 30th January 2012
By Mark Hoda, Chair & Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation
It was really heartening to see such a large audience gather at St Ethelberga’s on a cold January evening. They heard though provoking reflections on the environment and sustainability from a range of faith perspectives as well as on Gandhi’s influence on the green movement today, which continues to draw inspiration from his philosophy and satyagraha strategies.
Anglican Priest Father Ivor opened proceedings with a quote often attributed to Gandhi that “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need buy not anyone’s greed”. He also quoted from Tagore and the Upanishads before offering the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi, who he said had much in common with Gandhi.
Gandhi Foundation Trustee, Graham Davey, set out how the Quaker Testimonies of simplicity, truth, equality and peace relate to care for the environment by espousing the values of moderation, sustainability and non violence and concern for the depletion of non renewable resources. The Quaker Book of Discipline calls for us to rejoice in God’s world but to appreciate that we are not its owners but its custodians.
Gandhi Foundation and Environmental Law foundation founder, Martin Polden, offered observations on the teachings of Judaism. He quoted the Old Testament’s injunction to “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and everything that moves on the Earth”. He said this should be read in conjunction with chapter 2 verses 7-8, where Adam first appears, and is expressed to be ‘planted’ in the Garden of Eden, with a duty to ‘cultivate and keep it’, i.e. serve it and conserve it. Throughout the Torah, there is the injunction to take account of cultivation and obey good husbandry, said Polden.
He explained how Gandhi was influenced by the Jewish community in South Africa and how the 12th century philosopher Maimonides influenced E.F. Schumacher’s ‘Guide for the Perplexed’. As a lawyer, Polden has worked with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists “on issues that concern the region and where each marks the other with respect and recognition of each as human beings, with the key of living together, as distinct from stereotypes”.
Martin Polden also said that our prayers with GF President Lord Attenborough, who is unwell. Trustee John Rowley also collected messages from the audience to send to him.
Reverend Nagase from the London Peace Pagoda, said that in Buddhism, there are two paths open to attain Buddhahood; creating the pure land, and to lead the people to the teachings of Buddhism. “When people become peaceful and affectionate, the land in which they live is also bound to become peaceful and affectionate in accordance…It may seem as if the path is separated into two: the land and the people, yet originally both are the realisations of a single truth”.
Reflecting on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last year, Rev Nagase said “If the minds of the people are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure, in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of people’s minds. It is the same with a Buddha and a common mortal. While deluded, one is called a ‘common mortal’, but once enlightened, is called a ‘Buddha’. Even a tarnished mirror will shine like a jewel if it is polished”.
Madhava Turumella from the Hindu Forum explained how he stayed at Gandhi’s Sevagram ashram after graduating from university. He said he found serenity there and appreciated the many faiths that influenced Gandhi. This religious pluralism in Turumella’s branch of Hinduism which believes in the universality of humanity and harmony with other belief systems. He echoed previous speakers when he said that the earth does not belong to anyone. He said all life is interconnected and we must not covet or steal its resources. He said that this is precisely what is happening today, however, and it is causing great damage to our world.
Gandhi Foundation Trustee, Omar Hayat, speaking about Islam, also echoed much of what previous speakers and highlighted the great commonality between faiths. Muslims are guided by the Koran and the teachings and conduct of the Prophet and Hayat gave examples of both to explain the faith’s environmental perspective. The Koran states that man is not at the centre of the world, but just one part of the environment. Islam emphasises the unity of creation and equality of all creation and the role of man as a trustee of the earth and its resources and calls for humility. The current environmental crisis reflects mankind’s spiritual crisis.
The teachings of the Prophet, emphasise that the earth must not be exploited or abused and flora, fauna and animals have equal rights to man as God’s dependants. Hayat concluded with a quote from Prophet Mohammed “Act in your life as though you are living forever and act for the Hereafter as if you are dying tomorrow”.
Green London Assembly Member, Darren Johnson, explained the impact that Gandhi has had on modern environmentalists. Johnson said Gandhi was one of the first public figures to warn of environmental damage, warning of the consequences of pollution of air water and grain, and he described him as “A patron saint of the green movement”.
He said that Gandhi’s contemporary influence was based on his emphasis on sustainability, social justice, democratic participation and non-violence. Johnson felt that Gandhi would approve of modern London’s multi-ethnic society but not the massive gap between rich and poor. Gandhi would understand the reason behind the current Occupy movement in the capital.
Gandhi’s non-violent methods have inspired civil rights movements across the world and are fundamental to the green movement today. Johnson said that we have a long way to go to realise Gandhi’s vision but his philosophy is as relevant as ever.
John Dal Din, representing the Catholic faith, like Father Ivor, offered a Franciscan prayer – the Canticle of Creation. He talked of the deep links between St Francis and Gandhi.
Ajit Singh explained the influence of the Sikh faith on Gandhi. He posed the question what is the world and our place within it. Quoting Guru Nanak and Sikh morning prayers, he said that God creates and sustains the earth but mankind is responsible for it and all its life forms. All life is interconnected and any damage done to the earth is damage to me, said Singh.
David Fazey from Village Action India talked about a month-long Ekta Parishad (an indian grassroots movement) Satyagraha march in October in India in which 100,000 people will participate. It is inspired by Gandhi and is being staged to highlight the plight of Indian rural communities who are being denied rights to their land, water and forests. This march builds on the Janadesh march in 2007.
Fazey said that if the March is to be successful, it must be witnessed and he called on all those present to raise awareness of the event. A leaflet on the march was circulated and further details are available at www.marchforjustice2012.org
There were further impromptu contributions at the end of the event; Margaret Waterward highlighted a march of 450 slum children dressed in Khadi in Kolkata the previous day, calling for education and a future free of poverty; a from a representative of the Jain faith, Sagar Sumaria, highlighting the environmental damage created by our demand for consumer electronics, such as mobile phones. A peace petition was also circulated on behalf of Newham Mosque.
Mark Hoda concluded the event by thanking Omar Hayat and GF Friend Jane Sill for all their help in organising this year’s Multifaith Celebration.
How can we distinguish between fatal and liberating choices? That was the question posed by Sheikh Aly N’Daw, head of the International Sufi School. He was speaking at his book launch in Westminster, hosted by Ian Stewart MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of Islam group. Aly N’Daw is from the Mouride school of Sufism founded by the Senegalese saint Amadou Bamba (1850-1927) who emphasised service to others as the path to God. Sheikh Aly encourages his students to study the lives of great men and women who have bridged the gap between politics and spirituality, and have demonstrated how peace within leads to peace in the world.
Sheikh Aly asked us to consider the choice that Martin Luther King made when he decided not to opt for a comfortable lifestyle in Chicago, but to take his ministry to the Deep South and confront the spectre of racial discrimination. On the surface, it appears that Dr. King made a fatal choice, because his ministry ended with his assassination. However, in reality he made a liberating choice, because he could have suffered spiritual death by taking the easy option of remaining in Chicago, but instead his self-sacrifice contributed to the political and social liberation of millions of African-Americans.
Next we were asked to consider Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of micro-credit and founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. A professor of economics, he became disillusioned with academic life and went to live with a group of peasants. Many people would consider this a fatal choice, at least professionally, but for Muhammad Yunus it was liberating because it showed him how small sums of money loaned on trust could yield massive results if targetted at the right people, particularly women. By 2008 the Grameen Bank had loaned US$7.8 billion to the poor.
Ian Stewart MP talked about his own difficult choice, to vote for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He explained that his motivation had been to help the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs, but now that hundreds of thousands of people had died as a result of the war, he could not be sure if he had been right. He described the whirl of conventional political life and how politicians, caught in the maelstrom, are on auto-pilot, without time or space to connect with the spiritual dimension of life. As he is not standing in the forthcoming general election, he expressed the hope that he would now have time to learn more about what Sufism describes as the ‘spiritual heart’.
The first two books in Sheikh Aly N’Daw’s series are ‘The Initiatory Way To Peace’ and ‘Liberation Therapy’. If you would like to buy any copies, please email: email@example.com
Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein has inspired and changed the lives of many women. A muslim feminist writer and educationalist, she campaigned for equality, peace, social justice, harmony and an eco-friendly world. Born in 1880, in colonial Victorian India in Rangpur, now in Bangladesh, she fought a lonely battle to create a better society and improve the lives of women. She was brought up under very strict purdah and denied the opportunity of education. It was sheer determination and commitment that kept her going despite all the difficulties, barriers, abuse and opposition.
For the past five years I have been trying to raise awareness and promote Rokeya in the West. Following the success of a play Rokeya’s Dream (based on Rokeya’s satire Sultana’s Dream) staged in London last year, there was an invitation to visit West Bengal this spring. The production, a joint venture was initiated by Mahila Sangha, a Bangladeshi women’s group (that I Chair) with Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance and Tara Arts as partners.
A group of three Bruford graduates (Rae Leaver, Claudia Jazz Haley and Alia Wilson) who had worked on the play, the choreographer (Showmi Das) and I went to India in response to the invitation from three Universities and Sakhawat Memorial Government Girls’ High School. The trip was possible because of the untiring efforts of a Rokeya scholar and peace activist, Mr. Prantosh Bandyopadhyay. The warm welcome with beautiful bouquets of flowers everywhere and the love, affection, hospitality and kindness of everyone touched our hearts deeply. It reflected the true spirit of Rokeya. We had travelled 6000 miles and had taken from Britain a message of goodwill, love and peace.
We attended the centenary of Sakhawat Memorial School established by Rokeya in 1911 to educate young muslim women. At the time Muslim women did not have access to education and purdah was a barrier. Today, the school boasts as one of the top institutions in Kolkata and is open to students of all faiths and denominations. The march through the streets of rush hour central Kolkata with placards displaying Rokeya’s slogans and the rally and cultural performances by the students were breathtaking. The chief minister of West Bengal and several other ministers were present. So were their alumni from all parts of the globe. It was quite an emotional experience for me as my mother (Anwara Bahar Choudhury) was a student of Rokeya and a former Headteacher of the school. My siblings (Iqbal Bahar Choudhury and Nasreen Shams) had also been invited and they joined me from the US and Bangladesh to attend the event. Our team did a workshop at the school on Rokeya’s messages through dance and movements. The students enjoyed every moment of it. There are plans to link the school with Plumstead Manor School in London.
We were indeed very honoured to have the opportunity of working with the students of the Department of Drama, University of Rabindra Bharati and Visva Bharati. The latter was created by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and is situated in rural Bolpur. The ethos of Visva Bharati is based on Tagore’s philosophy of learning in a natural environment and also linking up globally. It is part of Santiniketan, a unique educational centre for all age groups. The peace and tranquility of rural Bengal can be experienced here amidst the natural surroundings. Rabindra Bharati was established in Tagore’s family estate in the outskirts of Kolkata by the Government of India in his honour on his birth centenary.
Our aim at the workshops was to tell the participants about Rokeya’s life and messages, share our experiences of producing the play, Rokeya’s Dream and presenting the western interpretation of her story. At the end of the workshops, and after exploring the ideas, the students had to present their interpretation of the messages in short group performances. Their creativity and innovative talents were stunning. Most of them had never heard of Rokeya and the media picked this up by quoting in the headlines of The Indian Express ‘Britons help Bengal students rediscover one of the early feminist icons of South Asia’.
Tagore and Rokeya had many common messages. In some of the performances the students had incorporated Tagore’s work alongside. Rokeya had touched them all. Many of them said that they could relate with her messages when they looked at their own life experiences. The themes are all very pertinent in today’s world. They were deeply moved and inspired and pledged to continue to work on Rokeya.
We left the two Universities with the request from the students and teachers to organise further collaborative work and exchange programmes between them and Bruford. With Tagore’s 150 birth anniversary next year, there could not be a better opportunity. Promoting friendship, exchanging ideas and understanding different cultures through theatre can be very powerful and enriching. Theatre as an art form is visual and universal, there is no language barrier.
Our final destination was Burdwan University. We were speakers at an international conference on Women and Folk Culture. Rokeya featured in our presentations. Rae Leaver who spoke on behalf of the Bruford graduates said that ‘Rokeya is a role model for British women’. Rokeya has no boundaries.
We left Kolkata with tears. They were probably tears of joy. We had experienced so much in such a short time and had been greatly enriched. We had even seen the final resting place of Rokeya and visited a children’s home in Panihati that she had initiated. We had made numerous friends, shared our ideas, raised awareness about Rokeya and her messages; established a link for future communication between the centres of learning. East had met West. There is now global interest in the work of our group – The Rokeya Project. These small steps could be the beginning of a wider peace movement that Rokeya dreamt. Salaam Rokeya.
Shaheen Westcombe is a member of the GF Executive. Her heritage country is Bangladesh where she trained as an architect. After working as an architect in the UK for about 10 years she moved to community development and worked in management positions in local government in London for 25 years. She was awarded the MBE in 2001 for contributions to community relations.