Chairperson Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, my co-panelists, dear friends,
I thank the Community of Sant’Egidio for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts on the important subject of this panel.
The Community of Sant’Egidio is the best example of what it means to be inspired by the Spirit of Assisi. It does not merely peace the Spirit of Assisi, but actually practices it. This is obvious from each of its three main activities ─ serving the poor, inter-faith harmony and conflict-resolution.
What is remarkable about this panel, is that we are discussing how the Spirit of Assisi can, and should, influence the Geopolitics of Dialogue in today’s world.
Unfortunately, the current state of geopolitics is such that there is hardly any meaningful dialogue leading to constructive cooperation.
Today, much of politics has become a dialogue of the deaf.
There is really no dialogue; there is only discord.
And such dialogue as does exist in the political domain or in the domain of geo-economics or geo-strategy, that dialogue is as completely removed from the Spirit of Assisi as darkness is from light.
The pupose of our panel discussion is how to banish the darkness of mistrust and conflict, and how to bring in the light of mutual trust, goodwill, cooperation, sustainable development and durable peace.
This transition from darkness to light is compellingly descibed in an old mantra from the Vedas, the sacred ancient text of Hinduism, the religion I represent.
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
Lead me from Untruth towards Truth
Lead me from Darkness to towards the Light (of Spiritual Knowledge)
And Lead me from Death towards the Immortality
Saint Francis of Assisi did not belong to the Hindu tradition. Nevertheless, to me he reprsents Truth, he represents Light and he represents the path that leads us to Immortality.
Seven meanings of the Spirit of Assisi
Permit me to summarise seven main meanings of the Spirit of Assisi. Each of these aspects can illuminate, elevate and effectuate the Geopolitics of Dialogue to address the major challenges facing our world today.
1. The Spirit of Assisi is the spirit of nonviolence.
2. The Spirit of Assisi is the spirit of compassion and love.
3. The Spirit of Assisi is the spirit of treating everyone – and also everything – in the world as one’s equal.
4. The Spirit of Assisi is the spirit of charity ─ the willingness to help those in need.
5. The Spirit of Assisi is the spirit of spiritual socialism ─ All of Each, and Each for All, but without coercion.
6. The Spirit of Assisi is the spirit of seeing the entire world as one.
7. The Spirit of Assisi is also the spirit the to accept the diversity in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest apostle of nonviolence and truth in modern times, held Saint Francis of Assisi in immense respect. This is what Gandhi wrote about him:
“St. Francis was a great Yogi in Europe. He used to wander in the forests among reptiles, etc., but they never harmed him. On the contrary, they were friends with him. Thousands of Jogis and fakirs live in the forests of India. They move fearlessly among tigers, wolves, snakes, etc., and one never hears of their coming to any harm on that account. We are told, and we believe it to be true, that these jogis and fakirs keep no weapons with which to withstand these beasts.
“I personally feel that when we rid ourselves of all enmity towards any living creatures, the latter also cease to regard us with hate. Compassion or love is man’s greatest excellence. Without this he cannot cultivate love of God. We come to realize in all the religions, more or less clearly, that compassion is the root of the higher life.”
On another occasion, Mahatma Gandhi wrote:
“A man who really practices ahimsa (nonviolence) in its fullness has the world at his feet, he so affects his surroundings that even the snakes and other venomous reptiles do him no harm. This is said to have been the experience of St. Francis of Assisi.”
St. Francis preached the teaching of the Catholic Church, which holds that the world was created good and beautiful by God. He believed it to be the duty of all creatures to praise God and the duty of all men to protect and enjoy nature. The underlying thinking behind this belief was that man, as the highest creation of God, is the steward of God's creation.
This is precisely what Gandhi meant by Trusteeship – that Man is the trustee of all the non-human creatures in the world. Indeed, this idea of Man as the caring trustee of other men in need, and also of the entire flora and fauna on our beautiful and bountiful Planet Earth can be called the kernel of spiritual socialism.
Thus, we see that there is a great degree of commonality and resonance between Christianity and Hinduism, between St Francis and Gandhi, indeed between evolved spiritual personalities from all religions and all cultures. They have conveyed to us a message of universal brotherhood – not only brotherhood of all human beings, but of all living things.
St Francis’s life is a profound lesson in two other virtues that our world greatly needs for its healing and health.
One is a about the virtue of love. We know that love is a great healer. But why does love heal? How does love heal? St Francis’s life provides the answer.
The moment you love somebody, you look upon that person as your equal. There cannot be love between unequals, and there cannot be inequality in a loving relationship.
The second virtue is charity. Charity is good and laudable. But Charity with Love and Empathy is altogether different. When Charity is rendered with Love and Empathy, there is Respect and Solidarity. It is not a mere act of giving. It is a revolutionary act of helping oneself by helping others.
Seven thoughts for reforming our troubled world guided by the Spirit of Assisi
The question we should discuss in this Panel is: How can we relate and apply these inter-rleated aspects of the Spirit of Assisi to the Geopolitics of Dialogue in the 21st century?
How can today’s dialogue and action in Geopolitics, Geo-Economics and Geo-Strategy be reformed in the light of the Spirit of Assisi?
Again, I would like to submit seven thoughts for your consideration.
One: We must rescue the human race from the suicidal path of violence and wars, and redirect humanity’s future evolution along the path of nonviolence.
We must resolutely counter the widespread notion that violence and wars are natural to human beings and human communities.
We must also understand and affirm that nonviolence is a virtue of the brave, and not of the weak and cowardly.
St Francis was an extraordinarily brave man, one who could not be harmed by any animal in the forest. Indeed, all the birds and beasts showed respect to him.
He was a brave man precisely because he was a man of utmost love and utmost nonviolence.
Two: Nonviolence is not only absence of violent action. It also means nonviolence in one’s freelings, words, and deeds.
My fellow co-panelist Mr Homi Dhalla represents the great faith of Zoroastrianism. The true meaning and practice of nonviolence is beaufifully captured in the Zoroastrian threefold motto of “hú-mata, hükhta, hvarshta,” ─ which means, “good thoughts, good words and good deeds”.
All our politicians, diplomats and others in all countries who are engaged in geopolitics should be trained in nonviolence.
Three: In specific terms, the goal of building a world without violence and wars enjoins upon us the task of fighting militarism in all its manifestations. More specificially, it casts upon us the duty to demand universalk and irrevesible and timebound nulear disarmament and also elimination of all other weapons of mass destruction.
This means that not only North Korea and Iran should abandon their nuclear weapons programmes, but, more importantly, those who already possess nuclear weapons – USA, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel – must also destroy their nuclear arsenals.
Four: If militarism has to go, we must also raise our voice against the concept of today’s rigidily defined nation-states and and the water-tight and mutually exclusive sytem of national soveregnities. National identities cannot be wished away. However, in today’s age of globalisation, the world needs to move in the direction of shared sovereignty and maximum international cooperation.
In the context of South Asia, the region I come from, this principally means the urgent need to work for ending decades-long hostility between India and Pakistan. It also means, to foster maximum cooperation among all South Asian nations, along with our neighbour China, to create a New South Asia – free of poverty and conflicts, and full of opportunities for the flowering of the human personality in the most populous region in the world.
Five: What follows from this is the concept of a new system of Global Governance, which is truly democratic. All nations, races, religions, cultures and civilisations must be regarded as equal. The only difference is that, the bigger and richer the nation, it has to shoulder greater responsibility for Good Global Governance.
This is only possible if, as mentioned earlier, nations begin to relate to each other with love, compassion, charity and solidarity.
Six: Perhaps the most self-evident application of the Spirit of Assisi in our times is in a new and uncompromising global geopolitical commitment on saving our planet’s fragile ecology. Specifically, all nations, especially rich and powerful nations, must fulfill their Paris Accord obligations to mitigate the ill-effects of Climate Change.
How to do so is most comprehensively eluciated in His Holiness Pope Francis’s enlightened encyclical, Laudato si’, in 2015. Its theme of “Saving our Common Home and the Future of Life on Earth” is a faithful, practical and unavoidable application of the Spirit of Assisi to one of the most pressing problems faced by our species – indeed, all species on our planet – today.
The alternative is species suicide.
Today we have unimaginably powerful tools of modern science and technology to help us in arresting and reversing the environmental degradation, and to move from Industrial Civilisation to Ecological Civilisation.
My seventh and final thought is that the new dialogue for a new kind of geopolitics cannot be left to politicians, presidents, prime ministers, bankers, billionaires, CEOs and suchlike people alone. There are enlightened people among them too.
But the main ballast behind the task of reviving the Spirit of Assisi must come from enlightened individuals and institutions from all countries, all cultures, all religions and all humanistic ideologies, working in unison and cooperation, showing respect for diverse viewpoints, but wedded to a common goal.
And that common goal is to lay the foundation stone for a new and higher civilization, worthy of being called a human civilisation.