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
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.
Who Was Fritz Schumacher?
by Diana Schumacher
E F Schumacher, the economist-philosopher, was born 100 years ago this year. The following article is edited from a longer paper written for the Schumacher Society in 2008.
Ernst Friedrich (Fritz) Schumacher was an unlikely pioneer of the Green Movement. He was born in Bonn in 1911, studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and returned to England before the Second World War to avoid living under Nazism. He died prematurely on a visit to Caux, Switzerland, in September 1977.
Although from a distinguished intellectual background, and having himself experienced a short but meteoric academic career in Germany, England and America, Schumacher always believed that “an ounce of practice is worth a tonne of theory”. Like Gandhi in both his outer and inner life he was a searcher of truth and dedicated to peace. Unlike so many of his contemporary academics, however, he needed to see these ideals translated into practical actions.
Fritz observed that throughout his own school and university careers he had given “maps of life and knowledge” on which “there was hardly a trace of many of the things I most cared about and that seemed to me of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life”. He saw the need to provide his colleagues and audiences with philosophical ‘maps’ and guidelines which related to actual reality. In the process, his life was one of constant questioning, including challenging most of the basic assumptions on which Western economic and academic theory have been based. What are the ‘laws’ that govern the ‘science’ of economics? What is the true value of money? What is the relationship between time and money? What is the real worth of work? And of development? These were the everyday questions which interested him as an economist.
In 1937, owing to Hitler’s frenzied ascendancy and his own feeling of the intellectual and political betrayal of Germany and its heritage by his nationalistic compatriots, he decided to abandon all social, family and business ties and to bring his young wife and son to London.
During the war, the family faced the hostility of being regarded as German aliens. They had to give up their home, and after being briefly interned, Fritz was hidden away with his family in Northamptonshire working as a farm labourer and was referred to by the very English name of James. At the same time (with the support of J M Keynes) he was seconded to do government research at the Oxford Institute of Statistics whilst at the same time working on his own ‘world improvement scheme’. Sometimes his ideas were appropriated by others, such as his contribution to the Beveridge Report in the early 1940s and to the Marshall Plan of 1947. Although he never received official recognition for his input to such prestigious schemes because of his German background, this did not disquiet him.
Although the expanding family was again domiciled in England from 1950 onwards, his quest for patterns of sustainability took him all over the world. He had experienced poverty, social injustice and alienation first hand, and felt that with his uniquely varied and practical background, he had something useful to contribute. As an economist he was derided by his peers for pointing out the fallacy of continuous growth in a finite world dependent on limited fossil fuel resources, but at the same time he became a champion of the poor, the marginalised and those who felt misgivings over the shallowness of contemporary values.
Philosophy and Religion
From his youth Fritz had always read prolifically. At one stage or another during his life, Fritz questioned all the main traditions, whether intellectual, national, economic or religious. As a young man he claimed to be a dedicated atheist, lecturing that religion and morality were mere products of history; they did not stand up to scientific examination and could be modified if regarded as inappropriate. Politically he was a person-loving socialist, the antithesis to Hitler’s fascism and an idealist with a restless mind. His values were very modern, based on the speed, measurement, efficiency and logic of the industrialised Western world which he inhabited. It was only later that he understood that such criteria were too inflexible, and totally incompatible with the more subtle ‘unconscious’ rhythms of the natural world. As a commuter from suburban Caterham (where he finally lived), to the National Coal Board headquarters in London’s Victoria (where he worked from 1950 to 1970), he used the train travelling time to study comparative religions and was greatly influenced by the French philosopher Fritjof Schuon’s The Transcendent Unity of Religions.
This ‘commuting’ period proved a most fruitful turning point in his inner life. He first studied notably those religions from the East, attending meetings and lectures on the spirituality of other faiths and began to practice meditation. Gradually he came to relinquish the atheism of his youth and to admit to the possibility of a ‘higher order of Being’. His changing economic and metaphysical views (which sometimes seemed contradictory) chronologically mirrored his own spiritual struggles and development.
There was, after all, a transcendent ‘vertical perspective’ to life: a hierarchy of orders from inanimate matter, through different levels of consciousness to a supreme consciousness or Being. After years of searching and inner struggles he had realised a way of bringing his lifelong paths of study and social concerns to a point of convergence and had reached his own spiritual homecoming. Finally, to the astonishment of Schumacher’s Marxist and Buddhist friends alike, he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1971, six years before he died. It was a formal renouncement of his previously cherished views of the supremacy of the intellect and reason over the Christian virtues of compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love, the acknowledgment of a Divine Creator, and the integrity of all creation.
In 1955, whilst working at the National Coal Board, Schumacher accepted a three-month assignment as Economic Development adviser to the Government of the Union of Burma, where he immediately attached himself to a Buddhist monastery. He soon concluded that the last thing the Burmese people needed was economic development along Western lines. They needed an economics suited to their own culture and lifestyle – a ‘middle way’ between the Western model which sought to increase material wants and consumption to be satisfied through mechanised production and the Buddhist model which was to satisfy basic human needs through dignified work which also purified one’s character and was a spiritual offering. The tools of economics therefore had to be adapted to people’s needs and values and not vice versa. Unsurprisingly, his report was not well received in official quarters, but the experience proved yet another turning in Fritz’s spiritual and intellectual development. He was later to coin the term ‘Buddhist Economics’ which, like Marxism, implies a complete rejection of the greed and materialism on which so much of modern economics is based and a respect for the value and dignity of meaningful work.
In tandem with his job at the Coal Board, Schumacher also undertook an intensive programme of international travel, initially to give substance to his proposals to save the collapsing British coal industry, and to encourage independence from the Western world’s industrial reliance on cheap oil imports from the Middle East. Alas – and to our cost today – he was successful in neither.
His aim was also to promote sustainable development strategies in the First and Third World alike. Food and fuel he saw as the two basic necessities for survival and sustainability. All communities and regions should strive to be self-sufficient in these as far as possible – otherwise they become economically and politically vulnerable. In this respect he was an early proponent of harnessing renewable energy in all its different forms and upgrading the existing traditional technologies.
Unfortunately Fritz was many years ahead of his time, and few took much notice. Putting his own self-sufficiency theories into practice, his was one of the first UK houses to have solar panels installed on its roof. He also personally became involved in sustainable agriculture; an enthusiasm which he claimed had its seeds in his work as a farm labourer. He spent much time on his organic garden, was President of the UK Soil Association, ardently supporting Richard St Barbe Baker and his Men of the Trees, and was an unflagging advocate of tree planting and forest farming schemes wherever he went.
India and Intermediate Technology
It was during an official visit to India in 1970 to advise the Indian Government on a Five Year Development Plan, that Fritz became deeply moved by the hopeless poverty and deprivation of countless thousands of people. He encountered a despair such as he had not met in other poor countries and realised that all the official government and other Western aid schemes proposed so far were completely inadequate. As a heartfelt response, in 1966 with a small group of committed colleagues including George McRobie from the National Coal Board, he founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), a London-based charity concerned with technology transfer. The aim was to give practical ‘tool aid’, skills and education to poor rural communities in developing countries rather than expensive highly mechanised equipment which was not appropriate to the understanding and needs of the illiterate majority and which put them out of work. What was needed was ‘production by the masses and not mass production’ using ‘technologies with a human face’. With Indian colleagues, he helped to set up in Lucknow the Appropriate Technology Development Association (ATDA), working very much along the same lines and supported financially by the UK India Development Group of which Fritz was Chair.
Schumacher also understood that Western aid to poor communities frequently simply served to increase their cultural and economic dependence, and to increase the gulf between rich and poor, educated and illiterate, young and old, even within their own societies. This still holds true. On the other hand, by respecting communities’ own indigenous and cultural traditions, providing them with skills and upgraded tools and recognising that each individual could play their part the communities would be enabled to achieve long term sustainability and security. This ‘middle way’ has gained increasing acceptance over the past forty years, particularly among the poor countries themselves. The ‘development’ charities which Fritz founded continue to flourish today, although ATDA has become the Schumacher Centre Delhi. The India Development Group became the Jeevika Trust; and the ITDG has been renamed Practical Action.
In 1950 Schumacher accepted the post of Economic Adviser to the National Coal Board, partly because of his socialist conviction that true economic sustainability would most readily come about through proper organisation and use of energy resources. He was also an early advocate of the principle of subsidiarity and realised that the workers themselves needed to operate within ‘human scale’ structures even within large organisations. The National Coal Board he hoped would be an excellent springboard for testing his ideas in practice.
Small is Beautiful
Despite growing recognition of Schumacher’s numerous projects, broadcasts, writings, and public lectures, the real breakthrough only came with the publication in 1973 of his first book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. This was written in layman’s terms, since it was mainly based on previous lectures and articles, but somehow caught the spirit of the times. Small is Beautiful was not just about appropriate size. It articulated what millions of ‘little people’ worldwide subconsciously believed: that unlike any previous culture or civilisation, twentieth century Western society, whether agricultural or industrial, was living artificially off the Earth’s capital rather than off its income. Its lifeblood was the ever-increasing use of non-renewable resources primarily by the rich countries at the expense of the poor. The world could not continue sustainably on the increasing curve of production and consumption without material or moral restraint.
A Guide for the Perplexed followed in 1977; other publications such as Good Work and This I Believe were produced posthumously and were based on his earlier writings in different publications. Over thirty years after Schumacher’s death, the wisdom, warnings and predictions contained in these controversial writings, are seen to be more relevant than ever. Many organisations worldwide have since developed one or other aspect of his work. Nevertheless the trend towards gigantism, the vast growth of mega cities, mass unemployment, unsustainable patterns of energy use, rampaging environmental degradation and social violence demonstrate that none of Schumacher’s simple, human-scale solutions have been interpreted correctly by those in a position to change policies. There is now an even more urgent need to revisit some of these fundamental prerequisites for sustainability. These include, above all, the transcendence of moral values; the equality and dignity of all people; the integrity of human work as the resource base of any economy; the value of local communities; and the need for decentralised decision-making and regional self-sufficiency wherever practicable, particularly with respect to food and fuel.
There is always a great danger to freeze a human icon such as Schumacher in the situation of their time, and not to allow for the fact that their own ideas would be constantly changing and moving on with changed circumstances. The revolutions in information technology, virtual reality and genetic engineering would have occupied Schumacher’s attention insofar as they affect our overall human condition. It is now up to a new generation to arm itself with the necessary knowledge and moral courage to find its own solutions to the contemporary interrelated crises and to build peace with all levels of Creation.
As Fritz Schumacher said in Good Work:
“I certainly never feel discouraged. I can’t myself raise the winds which might blow us, or this ship, into a better world. But I can at least put up the sail, so that when the wind comes I can catch it.”
Diana Schumacher is a Patron of The Gandhi Foundation and active in the environmental field. She was a founder of the Schumacher Society and founded its Annual Schumacher Award. She also co-founded the Environmental Law Foundation.
This article was first published in issue 96 of The Gandhi Way
On 2nd December 2007 Media Lens were presented with the Gandhi International Peace Award by Denis Halliday, former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq and himself a recipient of the award in 2003. Here Matthew Bain, a Friend of the Gandhi Foundation, asks David Edwards about the relationship between Media Lens’ work and the Gandhian principle of satyagraha.
Bain: In his struggles against oppression, Gandhi sought to break down the barriers between oppressors and oppressed, seeing them all as victims. Whereas the oppressed often suffered from physical or economic degradation, the oppressors suffered from moral degradation. Is this theory relevant to Media Lens’ work ?
Edwards: The great Buddhist sage Shantideva said the “ancient enemies” of living beings, the real enemies, are greed, hatred and ignorance. These are the three causes and effects of the self-cherishing mind. It is greed, hatred and ignorance that lead people to believe their own suffering and happiness matter more than everyone else’s. This leads us to put ourselves first and to ignore the consequences for others. Many of the miseries of the world are rooted in this fundamental willingness to subordinate the interests of others to our own.
It’s tempting to see particular groups of people as the cause of all problems. But actually we’re all afflicted by the “ancient enemies”. So, for example, people are outraged if someone expresses racist or sexist prejudice – these are rightly seen as sources of immense suffering. But there is a far more deep-rooted prejudice – the bias whereby we see ourselves as far more important than all other people. Geshe Lhundub Sopa does a good job of explaining what we know but don’t really recognise in ourselves:
“We think everything should focus upon us – all services and good things should be for me. Then of course we try to gain enjoyment, fame, wealth, and everything else that we feel is necessary for this me. We become angry if we see that something might prevent us getting those things or if anyone else gets something better. These feelings make us think, act, and speak in negative ways. Everyone is subject to this problem: we all act from selfishness.” (Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Steps on the Path to Enlightenment, Volume 3, Wisdom Books, 2008, p.111)
We are almost always massively prejudiced in our own favour. We feel virtuous when we have one or two compassionate impulses, but it’s actually shocking how many of our thoughts are concerned with squeezing just a little more pleasure into our lives. Not into other people’s lives, into our own. We want the best for ourselves; we’re the centre of the universe. The human universe never was heliocentric, it has always been egocentric. Racial and sexual prejudices are sub-divisions of this ultimate bias.
Shantideva delivered his amazing “J’accuse!” to his own selfish mind as far back as the eighth century (Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambhala Publications, 1997)):
“O my mind, what countless ages
Have you spent in working for yourself?
And what great weariness it was,
While your reward was only misery!
“The truth, therefore, is this:
That you must wholly give yourself and take the other’s place.
The Buddha did not lie in what he said –
You’ll see the benefits that come from it.” (p132)
“And so it is that if I want contentment,
I should never seek to please myself.
And likewise, if I wish to save myself,
I’ll always be the guardian of others.” (p.134)
Shantideva was here doing nothing less than rejecting his own favouritism towards himself ! And this was not some kind of gesture or stunt – his work, The Way of the Bodhisattva, is a precise, step-by-step guide to actually achieving this result. When he advises that we “take the other’s place,” he means that we should work for the benefit of others as though it were our own, rather than working for our own benefit.
That this aspiration can emerge in a product of nature “red in tooth and claw” is astonishing. In my opinion, Shantideva’s words constitute the ultimate revolutionary statement – the complete rejection of self-interest out of concern for the welfare of others.
Shantideva was not advocating this as a matter of righteous, hair-shirted stoicism. His point is that we need to replace the inevitable misery of the self-cherishing mind, of the “ancient enemies”, with the almost unimagined happiness of the compassionate mind liberated from greed, hatred and ignorance. Of course the self-cherishing that Shantideva rejected is at the heart of all individual exploitation and of all exploitative systems of power. It is self-cherishing that causes us to build and participate in these systems.
The claim is that thoughts pretty much obey the laws of Newtonian physics – they build psychological momentum in the absence of an opponent force. The more we are angry, the stronger our anger becomes. On the other hand, the more we are compassionate, the more anger dissipates. There is a marvellous quote that sums up the logic of self-restraint in a discussion on training the mind to become more patient: “It is not productive to one’s practice to become impatient with those who are impatient.” (Sopa, op. cit., p.284)
What we’re trying to do is to increase compassion in the world, to decrease self-cherishing. This is achievable when we perceive greed, hatred and ignorance as the enemy. When we perceive particular individuals as the enemy, we tend to achieve the opposite result.
Bain: Gandhi named his active method to combat oppression ’satyagraha’, meaning struggle for truth. Satyagraha looks for the moral levers in the oppressor’s own psychology or mythology, and then discovers a way to pull them. Gandhi was successful in pulling the levers in the British psychology. As rulers of India we considered ourselves to be upholders of righteous constitutional rule, so when Gandhi allowed himself to be imprisoned by us he forced us to look in the mirror and see that we were not acting in accordance with our own self-image. Do you believe that there are elements of satyagraha in Media Lens’ work?
Edwards: In his book, Web Of Deceit, the historian Mark Curtis showed how the mainstream media promote one key concept above all others: “Britain’s basic benevolence.”
(http://www.medialens.org/alerts/03/030603_Basic_Benevolence.ht) This provides an obvious lever for challenging exploitative power – the challenge to live up to the hype.
For example, in 2002, journalists like David Aaronovitch and Johann Hari claimed their real concern was for the welfare of the Iraqi people. So we investigated how this compassion has manifested itself during the subsequent catastrophic occupation. We examined to what extent they have drawn attention to the suffering of Iraqi refugees, to the patients dying in hospitals for the lack of the most basic equipment, to the small children dying from a lack of basic sanitation, and so on.
The claim of humanitarian intent is a very powerful propaganda weapon for systems of concentrated power, but it does allow dissidents to offer a challenge in that moral arena. And power is under pressure to provide credible answers, to be seen to live up to its own claims. The fact is that people in our society do need to be persuaded to support violent interventions on humanitarian grounds. If these claims are shown to be bogus, then powerful interests have much greater difficulty in waging war – they can’t railroad the population completely; they can’t afford for democracy to be exposed as a total sham.
Government support for the Iraq war went ahead against overwhelming public opposition in several countries in 2003, but at a very high political cost to the likes of Blair, Aznar and Bush. It’s fair to say that Blair’s career was ruined by his mendacious campaign to manipulate Britain into war – his reputation has been demolished. It’s hard now to remember just what a source of optimism he was for many people (liberal journalists in particular) before 2003.
Bain: Media Lens can only do so much. What other ‘moral levers’ are out there, that you would like other people to pull?
Edwards: Especially on the left, I think people need to look to the moral levers in themselves. It’s so easy to place all our trust in facts and rational argument to win the battle of ideas, to convince everyone of the need for progressive change. But as discussed, the self-cherishing mind is highly adept at simply deflecting these facts and arguments from awareness. We should also be seeking to strengthen the capacity for kindness, compassion, love, patience and generosity in ourselves and others. We need a compassionate revolution, as opposed to a bomb-throwing revolution. Basically the left needs to start meditating on these subjects.
People often think this means sitting cross-legged on a cushion and emptying the mind of thoughts. But fully one-half of Buddhist meditation is called ‘analytical meditation’. This type of meditation involves simply reflecting on these issues exactly as we’ve been doing here. What are the disadvantages of the self-cherishing mind ? Have I ever felt self-obsessed, really greedy for pleasure ? What was the impact of indulging these thoughts on my sense of well-being ? Where did they lead ? Have I ever felt coldly indifferent to everyone else who just seemed to be a damned nuisance ? How did I feel in those moments ? Have I ever been really generous ? Have I given something to someone solely out of an intention to make them happy with no thought of reward ? How did I feel in those situations ? How did other people react ?
A good place to start in this internal analysis is Matthieu Ricard’s book Happiness (Atlantic Books, 2006). Geshe Lhundub Sopa gives an idea of how the mind can be trained:
“The way to meditate on love is similar to the manner of meditating on compassion. Where compassion is wanting sentient beings to be free from misery, love is wanting them to possess happiness, enjoyment, and bliss. So here we look at sentient beings, beginning with our relatives, and see that they do not even have worldly happiness … Go back and forth, first thinking that sentient beings lack a specific thing and therefore they suffer this or that type of misery, and then wishing that they have the cause of happiness. Think this way again and again and you will come to feel like a mother whose dear child is in need of many things. A mother wants her child to have the things that will make him or her happy; she sincerely desires to help her child obtain these things.” (Sopa, op. cit., p.89)
This kind of repetitive practice gradually moves the momentum of the mind away from ruthless, unrestrained self-cherishing, towards kindness. We can sensitise our minds to the suffering of others, to compassion.
Many of us think we’re prevented from trying harder to help others because of indifference. But this couldn’t be more wrong. The problem is not indifference; it’s our passionate dedication to serving ourselves. Our problem is not laziness but that we’re working so hard to satisfy our desires, to indulge our egos, to get everything we want.
But the response to the self-cherishing habit is not to somehow just try harder, to whip ourselves into being more committed people. Our self-cherishing minds will certainly not tolerate this for very long – it’s far too much like hard work. We might manage for a while but pretty soon we’ll decide all this suffering is deeply unfair – ‘It’s not my fault the world’s full of suffering, and anyway what can one person really achieve ?’ – at which point we’ll likely disappear off to have some fun.
The solution is to challenge the false claims of the self-cherishing mind and to investigate the liberatory potential of the other-cherishing, compassionate, mind.
And there are real surprises here. The principal one being that focusing primarily on our own happiness guarantees suffering for ourselves and others. Curiously, happiness lies in exactly the opposite direction.
The 2007 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award was presented to Media Lens.
Media Lens (www.medialens.org) is an online, UK-based media watch project, set up in 2001, providing detailed and documented criticism of bias and omissions in the British media.
David Edwards and David Cromwell are co-founders and co-editors of Media Lens. Media Lens is an online, UK-based media watch project, set up in 2001, providing detailed and documented criticism of bias and omissions in the British media. Through their free email Media Alerts, they provide detailed analysis of news reporting in the UK media, concentrating on the ‘quality’ liberal print and broadcast media. Their aim is to expose bias, inconsistencies, inaccuracies, omissions and untruths. They challenge journalists and editors by email and invite their response.
Media Lens has been praised by outstanding individuals in the field of media analysis and journalism such as Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman and John Pilger.u
- Noam Chomsky writes: “Regular critical analysis of the media, filling crucial gaps and correcting the distortions of ideological prisms, has never been more important. Media Lens has performed a major public service by carrying out this task with energy, insight, and care.”
- Edward S. Herman writes: “Media Lens is doing an outstanding job of pressing the mainstream media to at least follow their own stated principles and meet their public service obligations.”
- John Pilger writes: “Without Media Lens during the attack on and occupation of Iraq, the full gravity of that debacle might have been consigned to oblivion, and to bad history.”
Media Lens is motivated by the ideal of compassion, inspired by the Buddha’s teachings. David Edwards has written
“We encourage people to seek confidence and rationality in compassion, rather than in anger, say, or conformity. We emphasise peaceful challenges to authority. We reject not only violence, but also anger.”
Media Lens Peace Award Acceptance Speech:
Compassionate Dissent in an Age of Illusions
December 2, 2007
It’s a real honour to accept the 2007 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award. It seems amazing to us that an idea which developed over a couple of pints in the Giddy Bridge pub in Southampton has led to us being considered in the same company as Denis Halliday, for example, who accepted this award in January 2003.
My co-editor David Edwards interviewed Denis Halliday, the former United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, in May 2000. Halliday explained how US-UK sanctions on Iraq were responsible for what he described as a “genocide.” The sanctions directly contributed to the deaths of around one and a half million Iraqis. That dreadful death toll includes half a million children under the age of five. Halliday exposed the deceit behind British and American claims that the Iraqi government had been stockpiling food and withholding medicines from its stricken people.
David wrote up the interview and, in the weeks that followed, he sent it to every liberal newspaper in England, Ireland and Scotland. Nothing like it had ever been published before. But the article was dismissed out of hand because “Halliday is old hat”; or because “the question and answer format is not right for us”; or because “what is needed is for the government position to change first”; or because “we have already
covered that subject” in an article before – once!
The indifference and cynicism were astonishing. It gave a snapshot of a media system utterly lost to cynicism and servility to power, even in response to a completely credible claim that our government was responsible for nothing less than genocide. This was one of many experiences with the media that we both had that led to the creation of Media Lens in July 2001.
Our aim is to draw attention to silences like the one I’ve just mentioned: to highlight what credible commentators like Denis Halliday say; to show what journalists have said on the same issues; and to ask those journalists why they have neglected so much that is true, relevant and important.
When so much of the public is alienated from politics and politicians, we believe the internet provides a tremendous opportunity for the public to get involved in matters of vital importance, and to debate these issues with journalists. So, at the end of each media alert, we add the email addresses of the reporters and editors whose work has been discussed in that alert, and we ask readers to send polite, rational challenges to them.
After the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, for example, we invited readers to ask Guardian journalists why they had so little to say about the 7.5 million Afghans who were starving even before Britain and the United States started bombing – bombing that instantly stopped all aid convoys.
We noted that Maslakh refugee camp in Afghanistan contained 350,000 refugees where one hundred people were dying every day in January 2002. We asked why, between September 2001 and January 2002, the Guardian and the Observer had mentioned the catastrophe at Maslakh just five times. Later, we asked why, by May 2005, Maslakh had been mentioned only twenty-one times over the previous four years in all UK national newspapers.
Or take Iraq. In the run-up to the invasion in 2003, we repeatedly pointed to the neglected testimony of the former UN chief weapons inspector, Scott Ritter. He had reported that by December 1998, his team had destroyed “90-95%” of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, including 100% of its nuclear capability, leaving it “fundamentally disarmed” with only “bits and pieces” of programmes left.
We asked why, in 2003, the Guardian and the Observer mentioned Iraq in a total of 12,356 articles, but Ritter was mentioned in just 17 of them. We asked why the media failed to question seriously the state of any retained Iraqi WMD. According to CIA reports, any WMD would, given its limited shelf life, have long since turned to “sludge”.
Sad to say, the BBC has been as shameful as the press, if not worse. Its channelling of government propaganda on the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, and subsequent occupation, has been relentless.
On April 9, 2003, as US tanks rolled into Baghdad, the BBC’s then political editor Andrew Marr said of Tony Blair:
“He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.”
The same month, on BBC’s Panorama, Matt Frei told viewers:
“There’s no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East… is now increasingly tied up with military power.”
This, we are to believe, is the famed BBC ‘balance’ and ‘impartiality’. As Marr told the world in January 2001:
“When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.”
Only a handful of media outlets covered a survey published in October estimating that 1.2 million Iraqis had died violently since the 2003 invasion. The study, undertaken by an experienced British company called Opinion Research Business, provided strong supportive evidence for the findings of the earlier, far more detailed and rigorous 2006 Lancet study. This was the scientific study that had estimated 655,000
Iraqi deaths as a result of the war.
BBC’s Newsnight was a rare exception in reporting the results of the ORB survey. In a brief news roundup, it devoted 34 seconds to those 1.2 million deaths. But then, this is the usual media standard for reporting the crimes of +our+ government: either silence or relegation to the margins.
When our readers politely challenged Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler on this, he was unimpressed. He said:
“The last time I remember a robotic response from people like this was watching film of the Nuremberg rallies.”
Esler’s response to the public’s challenge was ironic on more than one level. Rather than sending out “robotic responses” following our media alert, our readers had, in virtually every case, written individually crafted, articulate emails.
Perhaps the greater irony was the reference to Nuremberg and fascism. The prosecutors at the post-WW2 Nuremberg trials found that initiating a war of aggression is “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”. As far as we can
tell, not one journalist at the BBC has ever put it to Blair, Bush or their accomplices that, by the standards of Nuremberg, they would have been found guilty of the supreme international crime.This is just a taste of the appalling media coverage on Iraq.
Or take climate. In 2002, the US National Academy of Sciences warned of imminent global climate disaster, perhaps within ten years. Reviewing the academy’s report, the then UK environment minister, Michael Meacher, wrote:
“We do not have much time and we do not have any serious option. If we do not act quickly to minimise runaway feedback effects we run the risk of making this planet, our home, uninhabitable.”
On February 3 of this year, the Independent noted that the latest scientific assessment by the prestigious UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had provided
“humanity’s loudest warning yet of the catastrophe that is threatening to overtake us”.
Inside the same edition of the newspaper, readers were presented with graphs of dangerously rising temperatures, text explaining the catastrophic impacts, and photographs of climate-related disasters around the world. And also, bottom left on the same page, a large advert for Halfords “car essentials”. And, at bottom right, an American Airlines advert for reduced-fare flights to New York (just £199!). The rest
of the Independent – like all the other newspapers that day and, indeed, every day – was crammed with the usual inducements to indulge in unrestrained consumerism.
We asked how readers were supposed to take the Independent seriously as part of the solution to impending climate chaos when, like all the so-called quality press, it depends on advertising for around 75% of its revenue, and when it’s therefore so clearly part of the problem. This did not make us popular with journalists. After all, they are not allowed to so much as mention the adverts that appear in their media,
much less criticise them.
The positive results of media activism are not always easy to assess. In this case, however, discussion +has+ been kick-started as a result. In October, for example, the Guardian readers’ editor wrote a column discussing George Monbiot’s calls in the same paper for newspapers to abandon the worst fossil fuel advertisers – Monbiot had been responding to criticism from Media Lens readers on this point.
This kind of progress is rarely smooth. People don’t like being criticised and, to be honest, we don’t like to be incessantly critical. Early in the life of Media Lens, Monbiot had reacted to our criticisms by describing us as “narrow” and “intolerant”. A couple of years later, however, he told us:
“you have begun to force people working for newspapers and broadcasters to look over their left shoulders as well as their right,” which he described as “a major service to democracy”.
This indicates the grave danger of writing people off as ‘enemies’, or of responding to
criticism with anger and hatred.
Gandhi said that: “Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind.” He was as right as he was misunderstood. In truth, non-violence does not merely mean to refrain from hitting someone over the head. It does not even mean restraining one’s anger – although both of these are admirable.
Genuine nonviolence is rooted in a deeply-held conviction that the suffering and happiness of others are of equal importance to our own. By sheer force of arithmetic, it goes further still in asserting that the suffering and happiness of 10, 20, one million other beings, are far more important than the concerns of this single individual I call ‘me’.
How many of us compromise what we do in our careers – for example, as journalists or in any job – out of concern for our own financial security, out of concern for our immediate families? Of course, these matter. But do they matter most, if the consequence of our compromise is death and destruction for millions of people, for example in Iraq?
Does our responsibility rest solely in taking care of those who share our DNA and who, let’s be honest, provide us with our security and happiness? How do we escape from the cosy conceit that we are good people because we are taking care of ourselves and our loved ones – from the conceit that this is enough?
According to Buddhism, we can do so by reflecting strongly on the similarity between ourselves and others. Fundamentally, we all wish to be free from suffering; we all wish to be happy. By focusing repeatedly on the suffering of others, we can increase our sensitivity to the reality of others who suffer and yearn for happiness from the core of their beings, just as we do. This is the true basis of compassionate action.
With diligence and time, we can come to find the suffering of a sick child in Baghdad quite as unbearable as the suffering of our own children.
This is hard. In fact, it as an Olympian feat, and we are all beginners. But even a small success, even slightly increased compassion for others, strikes a blow against the forces of selfishness, greed and hatred that have always tormented our world. These forces are the real enemies; the real causes of the darkness that weaves what James Joyce called “the nightmare of history”.
Compassion is a gleam of light in that darkness – a source of hope, and in fact a promise, that humanity will one day wake up!
Thank you for listening.
While there are many causes of violence, religious differences have been historically one of them, in spite of their teachings of love, compassion and service to humanity.
As empires arose in different parts of the world, the kings claimed divinity and the priest class facilitated the process. Thus the link between religion and polities has continued all through history and religion has been in part an integrating or stabilising factor.
In India from the days of Ramayana (probably around ioth century BCE) kings claimed divine origin — either Surya (sun) or Chandra (moon) Vamsa — both sun and moon are gods in Hindu mythology. As the Pallava and Chola empires arose in south India around 7th century CE, the Bhakti cult also emerged and huge temples were constructed. The emperors often assumed the name of the presiding deity of the greatest temples. For the masses the king was indistinguishable from God.
At least in India the kings and society at large showed tolerance towards different faiths. Perhaps this was inherent in the ‘tenets’ of Hinduism itself. Though one of the oldest religions in the world, it does not have a single god head or a gospel or a single institution. Atheism was also born in India – the Charvaks who were atheists posed a challenge to the priestly class. They were tolerated. The word ‘Hinduism’ was born around 8-9th century and was used by the Arabs and Persians for those living beyond the river Indus. Prior to this, expressions like Sanatana Dharma, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shakti cult and so on were used.
Buddhism was just 2-3 centuries old during the reign of Asoka. After his victory in the Kalinga war in the 3rd century BCE he gave up violence and embraced Buddhism. His edicts enjoin that other sects deserve reverence. It is important to note that although Asoka became a Buddhist he did not announce Buddhism as the state religion. Hinduism and Jainism, which also arose around the time of Buddhism, flourished in Asoka’s empire.
In the south both under Pallavas and Cholas, Buddhist viharas and Jam temples were part of the town’s landscape along with the Hindu temples. There was freedom to choose one’s religion. The Bhakti cult that arose with the Nayanmars and Aiwars around the 7th century CE became over whelmingly popular in Tamilnadu, and Buddhism and Jainism started to decline. Perhaps these religions could not match the sagacity and popularity of the wandering minstrels singing the praises of the Hindu gods!
Akbar’s Divine Faith
An attempt was made by the great i6th century mogul emperor Akbar to integrate the different religions. Though he was not a man of letters – in fact he was illiterate — he established a library in his capital Agra and arranged for works like Ramayana and Maha Bharatha to be translated from Sanskrit into Persian. He acquired a deep and thorough knowledge of the religions of his time — Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Jainism by arranging recurring dialogues with scholars of these faiths. Akbar liked to reason about particular components of each multi-faceted religion. He was sceptical of the rituals of Jainism but he liked and opted for vegetarianism from that religion. Taking the essential elements from different faiths, Akbar founded a new religion — Din-e-ilahi, meaning ‘Divine Faith’ or ‘Religion of God’. He did not manage to popularise it among the masses; it remained academic. Yet its importance should not be underestimated. That the greatest emperor of his times devoted his time and energy to the study of religion and came up with the idea of a common religion is a landmark in human history. No king either before or after Akbar showed this constructive attitude towards religions.
Tolerance by other Muslim rulers
There is a popular belief that under Muslim rule conversions to Islam took place at the point of the sword. Since Hindus continued to be the majority population in the mogul capital Delhi and all over the empire even after five centuries of Muslim rule this cannot be true. In truth millions of Hindus especially Dalits and some classes of artisans who were denied entry to Hindu temples, embraced Islam since it offered brotherhood and inside the mosque all are equal before Allah.
Spain came under Muslim rule in the 1oth century and ruled the country for five centuries without forcible conversion. Today Muslims number less than five percent of the population of Spain.
The same religious tolerance was prevalent under the Ottoman empire which flourished from the 13th till early 20th century. Especially between 1500 and 1920 the Turks ruled over not only Arabia, central Asia and Greece but also the Slavic nations, and in Turkey, Syria, Egypt and so on a Christian population lived in peace.
Gandhiji’s views on Religion
In January 1935 Dr S Radhakrishnan asked Gandhiji three questions:
- What is your religion?
- How are you led to it?
- What is its bearing on social life?
Gandhiji’s reply was:
“My religion is Hinduism which, for me, is religion of humanity and includes the best of all the religions known to me. I take it that the present tense in the second question has been purposely used instead of the past. I am being led to my religion through Truth and Nonviolence, ie love in the broadest sense. I often describe my religion as religion of Truth, Of late, instead of saying God is Truth, I have being saying Truth is God, in order more fully to define my religion. I used at one time to know by heart the thousand names of God which a booklet in Hinduism gives in verse form and which perhaps tens of thousands recite every morning. But nowadays nothing so completely describes my God as Truth. Denial of God we have known. Denial of Truth we have not known. The most ignorant among mankind have some truth in them.
The bearing of this religion on social life is, or has to be, seen in one’s daily social contact. To be true to such religion one has to lose oneself in continuous and continuing service of all life. Realisation of Truth is impossible without a complete merging of oneself in and identification with this limitless ocean of life. Hence, for me, there is no escape from social service; there is no happiness on earth beyond or apart from it. Social service here must be taken to include every department of life. In this scheme there is nothing low, nothing high. For, all is one, though we seem to be many.”
In his famous constructive programme, communal unity occupies the first place. In Gandhiji’s words: “Unity does not mean political unity which may be imposed. It means an unbreakable heart unity. The first thing essential for achieving such a unity is for every person, whatever his religion may be, to represent in his own person Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, Jew, etc In order to realise this, every person will cultivate personal friendship with persons representing faiths other than his own. He should have the same regard for the other faiths as he has for his own.”
The situation in the 21st century
Gandhiji would have derived great comfort and happiness about one significant aspect of the Indian situation today. With more than 8o% of the population being Hindu, India has a Prime Minister (Man Mohan Singh) from the Sikh religion, a President (Abdul Kalam) who is a Muslim, and the ruling party, Congress, being presided over by a woman from a Christian background (Sofia Gandhi). I wonder whether such a situation has ever existed in any other country with a democratic form of government?
A real danger in the world today is the tendency to segregate and identify people on the basis of religion. Almost every country in the world has become multi-ethnic and is home to people from different faiths. To segregate them as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists etc could create complications. We have to understand the reality that we have multiple identities based on language, religion, nation, gender, profession etc. The use of religious identity alone as a rubber stamp is improper and dangerous.
Nevertheless, we have to face the reality that after 11th September 2001 Muslims have to some extent become suspect. How do we overcome this situation? The word Jihad in the literal sense means effort, or a striving. Islamic scholars say that the Quran and Hadith ascribe two meanings to the term: ‘al-Jihad al Akhbar’ and ‘al-Jihad al Asghar’.
The former means the ‘greater warfare’, which is against one’s inner demon, while the latter means the ‘lesser warfare’ against infidels. The perception of jihad in the former sense is subjective and has moral implications. It involves a way of life in which fleeting temptations have no place. Individuals become discerning subjects who comprehend that worldly temptations are ephemeral and have to be fought. It is also the ability to suffer virtuously the afflictions caused by the foe by following the commandment of Allah and to preach, through education, art and literature, the precepts of Islam.
The second meaning of jihad is the religious war against ‘oppressive occupiers’ of the homeland of Islam, Dar-al-Islam. The jihad is a defensive act: it is a war of last resort dictated by circumstances and compulsions confronting Muslims. Yet unfortunately some Maulvis and Maulanas are obsessed with the politics of communal power and preach false interpretations of jihad as the fight against non-believers.
An agenda for peace and harmony
How do we ensure communal harmony and peace in this strife-torn world? The ball is in the court of the Gandhians and all social groups which stand for peace and harmony and above all — responsible leaders of different religions. Religious leaders have a tremendous responsibility. There is no religion in the world that does not speak about love, compassion and service to society. We have to go back to the days of Akbar and draw inspiration from his wisdom of bringing out the Religion of God. We cannot create a new religion and unify the population. But we can learn to tolerate and respect other religions. We have to sit together and draw up an agenda for peace and communal harmony. This agenda should take its cue from Gandhiji’s doctrines of Truth and Nonviolence.
M R Rajagopalan is Secretary of the Gandhigram Trust in Tamil Nadu.