S.N. Goenka addresses a Peace Summit on how to live in harmony
In the summer of 2000, Mr Goenka, the principal teacher of Vipassana meditation, visited the United States and spoke, along with other world spiritual leaders, at the “Millennium World Peace Summit” at the United Nations World Headquarters.
The following article describes the event – by Bill Higgins, 29 August 2000.
New York – Vipassana Acharya S.N. Goenka addressed the delegates to the Millennium World Peace Summit as they gathered in the United Nations General Assembly Hall today – the first ever gathering of religious and spiritual leaders in the UN.
Mr Goenka’s speech, in the session entitled “Conflict Transformation,” focused on the themes of religious harmony, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
“Rather than converting people from one organised religion to another organised religion,” said Mr Goenka, “we should try to convert people from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation and from cruelty to compassion.”
Mr Goenka gave his speech during the Summit’s afternoon session to a group that included roughly two thousand delegates and observers. Mr Goenka spoke in the session that followed CNN founder Ted Turner’s speech. Mr Turner is one of the Summit’s financial patrons.
In keeping with the Summit’s theme of seeking world peace, Mr Goenka stressed in his speech that peace in the world cannot be achieved unless there is peace within individuals. “There cannot be peace in the world when people have anger and hatred in their hearts. Only with love and compassion in the heart is world peace attainable.”
An important aspect of the Summit is the effort to reduce sectarian conflict and tension. Regarding this Mr Goenka said, “When there is anger and hatred within, one becomes miserable irrespective of whether one is a Christian or a Hindu or a Muslim.”
Similarly he said, to a thunderous applause, “One who has love and compassion with a pure heart experiences the Kingdom of Heaven within. This is the Law of Nature, or if one would rather, God’s will.”
Appropriately to a crowd that included major world religious leaders he said, “Let us focus on the commonalities of all religions, on the inner core of all religions, which is purity of heart. We should all give importance to this aspect of religion and avoid conflict over the outer shell of the religions, which is various rites, rituals, festivals and dogmas.”
In summing up, Mr Goenka quoted the Emperor Ashoka who in one of his rock edicts said, “One should not honour only one’s own religion and condemn other religions. Instead, one should honour other religions for various reasons. By so doing one helps one’s own religion to grow and also renders service to the religions of others. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one’s own religion and harms other religions as well. Someone who honours his own religion and condemns other religions may do so out of devotion to his religion, thinking, ‘I will glorify my religion’; but his actions injure his own religion more gravely. Concord is good. Let all listen and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others.”
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called the Summit “a gathering of the world’s pre-eminent religious and spiritual leaders in a united call for peace that will hopefully strengthen the prospect for peace as we enter the new millennium.”
Spiritual leaders who’ve been invited to the UN’s first-ever conference of this kind include Pramukh Swami of Swami Narayana Movement, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Agniwesh, Mata Amritanandamayi Devi and Dada Wasvani as well as eminent scholars such as Dr Karan Singh and L.M. Singhvi.
In reference to the participants’ religious and cultural diversity, Annan has said, “The United Nations is a tapestry, not only of suits and saris but of clerics’ collars, nuns’ habits and lamas’ robes; of mitres, skullcaps and yarmulkes.”
Though Annan has been repeatedly questioned about the Tibetan leader’s absence, he has attempted to steer questions back to the Summit’s goal, which he says is “to restore religion to its rightful role as peacemaker and pacifier – the problem of conflict is never the Bible or the Torah or the Koran. Indeed, the problem is never the faith – it is the faithful and how we behave towards each other. You must, once again, teach your faithful the ways of peace and the ways of tolerance.”
The UN leader’s hope is that since eighty-three per cent of the world’s population adheres to a formal religious or spiritual belief system, these religious leaders can influence their followers towards peace.
The UN is hoping the conference will move the world community to, in the words of one document, “acknowledge its spiritual potential and recognise that it is within our power to eradicate the worst form of human brutality – war – as well as one of the root causes of war – poverty. The time is ripe for the world’s spiritual leadership to work more closely with the United Nations in its effort to address the pressing needs of humankind.”
The Summit will end this Thursday on 31 August when participants will sign a Declaration for World Peace and form an International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, which will work with the United Nations and the UN Secretary-General in peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts.
“The goal of the International Advisory Council of Religious and Spiritual Leaders is to enhance and strengthen the work of the United Nations,” said Bawa Jain, the Secretary-General of the World Peace Summit. “It is our earnest hope that in times of conflict, the world’s great religious and spiritual leaders can be parachuted into these hotspots to seek non-violent resolutions to the conflicts.”