GF Multifaith Celebration 2016 – The Sanctity of Life

On Saturday 30th January, The Gandhi Foundation held their annual multifaith celebration at Kingsley Hall in association with The Animal Interfaith Alliance.  Mark Hoda, Chair of The Gandhi Foundation and Rev Feargus O’Connor, Chair of The Animal Interfaith Alliance, introduced the event.

Before introducing the speakers, Graham Davey of The Gandhi Foundation provided an outline of Gandhi’s commitment to nonviolence, his vegetarianism and frustrated veganism, and his positive compassion for all living creatures.  As a Hindu, influenced by Jains, Gandhi had respect for all living things; all touched by the Divine, all equals with human beings in God’s eyes. Gandhi was outspoken against vivisection and Rev O’Connor suggested that the two organisations could join in support of the Dr Hadwen Trust and their work replacing animal experiments.

Ketan Varia (Jain) of The Animal Interfaith Alliance spoke of ensoulled nature and the need to limit our diet to plant life – most urgently today but based historically on the Jain belief that the greater number of senses an organism possesses, the greater our responsibility to shield it from unnecessary suffering – and the need to educate without coercion on these matters.

Rev. Nagase (Buddhist) of Battersea Peace Pagoda spoke of the Buddha’s compassion for all beings. He mentioned serious environmental concerns over Japan’s nuclear industry and weapons in general, before chanting a prayer that helped bring the proceedings to a place of profound contemplation.

Rev. Martin Henig (Christian Anglican) observed that the Christian tradition has always drawn heavily on the Old Testament, referring the audience to Psalm 104 and its strong vision of animals’ importance to the God of compassion and love.

Sheikh Rashad Ali (Muslim) seconded the importance of non-coercion. He spoke of the Islamic tradition’s deep concern with matters of welfare, quoting the Hadith and stating that the creation taken as a whole is in fact ‘the family of God’, each creature spiritually connected. From his perspective, adequate legal protection is what animals most sorely lack today.

Jewish vegan campaigner, Jonathan Fitter, finished with a powerful 2012 text provided by The Jewish Vegetarian Society, demonstrating the Torah’s mandate of veganism. He went on to say that 5% of Israel’s population are now vegan and that even Israel’s military are observing meat-free Mondays.

The event was well attended and delicious vegan food was served in the Three Bees Cafe.  Attenders also enjoyed a tour of Gandhi’s cell, which he occupied when in London in the 1930s.

Judith Wilkins is a member of The Jewish Vegetarian Society, Quaker Concern for Animals and The Animal Interfaith Alliance

I believe in the fundamental Truth of all great religions of the world. I believe they are all God-given and I believe they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed.  And I believe that if only we could all of us read the scriptures of the different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of these faiths, we should find that they were at the bottom all one and were all helpful to one another. M. K. Gandhi

It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures. M. K. Gandhi

Anne Finch of  UK charity Greyhounds in Need and Rev Nagase of the Battersea Park Peace Pagoda at the Interfaith Celebration in Kingsley Hall

Speech by the Rev Feargus O’Connor:

It is indeed an honour to represent the Animal Interfaith Alliance and World Congress of Faiths at this interfaith service honouring Mahatma Gandhi and his life mission of nonviolence to all living beings.

The World Congress of Faiths unites people of goodwill of all religious beliefs in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect to struggle together to create a peaceful world where all the great religions live in harmony and work for the common good. The Animal Interfaith Alliance is dedicated to extending our love and compassion to all fellow living creatures and living in peace with them. That mission is truly in the spirit of Gandhi himself and we honour him for all he did for that universal ethic of ahimsa.

In that Gandhian spirit I wish to honour today not only Gandhi himself but also Dr Albert Schweitzer, whose ethic of Reverence for Life prompts us to love and respect all our fellow creatures to “recompense them for the great misery that [human beings] inflict upon them”.

In his Nobel Peace Prize address Schweitzer asserted that “compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can attain its full breadth and depth only if it embraces all living creatures”.  So he proclaimed the moral necessity of a “boundless ethics” of universal compassion.

“Until we extend the circle of our compassion to all living beings we shall not ourselves find peace.”

If it is true, as William Blake declared, that “all that lives is holy” what nobler act can there be than saving lives ?

Violence against any fellow creature is surely a violation of that ethic of ahimsa inspiring us to act for the welfare and happiness of all ?  Because all of us here passionately believe that in our innermost hearts how appropriate it is for us to participate in this service honouring Gandhi’s ethic of ahimsa and extending it to all fellow beings.

I hope this augurs well for our future cooperation in working for what some have called that Peaceable Kingdom envisioned by the Prophet Isaiah:

The wolf lies with the lamb.

The panther lies down with the kid.

Calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them.

The cow and the bear make friends.

Their young lie down together.

The lion eats straw like the ox.

The infant plays over the cobra’s hole.

Into the viper’s lair the young child puts his hand.

They do no hurt, no harm, on all my holy mountain.

I end with a concrete proposal on which I hope the Gandhi Foundation and the Animal Interfaith Alliance might cooperate to honour the Gandhian ethic of ahimsa and save human and animal lives.

“Vivisection is the blackest of all the black crimes that [humankind] is at present committing against God and His fair creation. It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practise elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures.”

“I abhor vivisection with my whole soul”, he declared, and he deplored “scientific discoveries stained with innocent blood”.  

To honour Gandhi’s ethic of universal compassion I am therefore proposing that the Gandhi Foundation might consider joining the Animal Interfaith Alliance in taking action to live that ethic by launching a special appeal for the Universal Kinship Fund of the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research.  I hope we shall do this together to witness to Gandhi’s values in the world by doing what he would most have wanted: save human and non-human lives.

Judith Wilkins

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