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Ahimsa – the ultimate winner

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VOICE OF JAINISM

[A report on Jain participation in the UN Earth Summit (1992) and the Sacred Earth Gathering (1992), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil]

In the last decade of the twentieth century, the Movement for environment has become worldwide. The protection and preservation of Mother Earth has become necessary for the continuing existence and survival of humanity and indeed all living beings. It is the sacred law of Nature that there should remain a harmonious balance between Humans and Nature. Indifference to this has led to serious problems confronted by the entire world – be they developed or developing countries. The lure and pursuit of material pleasures has set the humans on the path of reckless exploitation of nature.

In June 1992, under the auspices of the United Nations, an all-important Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, a leading city of Brazil in South America. The first U.N. World Conference on environment was held in 1972 in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden in Europe. The then Prime Minister of India, Smt. Indira Gandhi had raised the voice of India articulating that “poverty is the worst pollutant “, and therefore “it is absolutely essential and inescapable to look at, assess and seek solutions to the aspects of Environment and Development in a coordinated manner”.

Twenty years later at the Earth Summit Conference both these aspects were analyzed and assessed together and decisions were taken to advance the cause of environment and development hand in hand. It was agreed that the path of protection of environment should not be such as creates road blocs in the development of developing countries. Equally, development should not repeat mistakes of the past in which the environment got polluted in the name of development. 170 countries participated in this grandiose Earth Summit organized by the United Nations. Nearly 120 countries were represented by their President or Prime Minister. Along side, there was a significant coincidental presence from all nooks and corners of the world of the representatives of leading Non-Governmental Organizations. The simultaneous and parallel debates at Governmental and Non-Governmental levels heightened acute global awareness about the need to preserve and protect the environment.

The unique phenomenon was that along side UN Earth summit, seminars and brainstorming sessions took place among leading representatives of different countries, societies and religions. At the Sacred Earth Gathering held at the Monastery on hilltop in Rio, leading saints, monks, philosophers, thinkers, diplomats, social workers sat together to consider in-depth the environmental crisis in the backdrop of the divine relationship between Nature and Human beings. The declaration adopted at this gathering sought to awaken human consciousness on the spiritual dimensions of the environmental problems. Unless they are fully grasped by the human conscience, human beings will not be able to arouse the right faith in and respect for Nature and universal life in their actions.

Jain religion was represented at the Sacred Earth Gathering by H. H. Acharya Sushil Kumarji Maharaj, a Jain monk of international repute fondly called by all as ‘Guruji’ and Dr. Narendra P. Jain, who has served as India’s Ambassador to many countries in the last forty years and who has been Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. In the history of the world, it was in fact for the first time that at an international platform at Summit level principles of Jain religion and philosophy were espoused in their comprehensive universal context and with particular relevance to global environmental issues. The awareness was aroused that Jain religion is a universal religion – a religion of relevance to the entire humanity. This aspect was deeply appreciated both from philosophical as well as spiritual angles.

Along with Dr Narendra P. Jain and Gautam Oswal, when Acharya Sushil Kumarji Maharaj went to see the giant statue of Lord Christ on the highest hill top of Rio de Janeiro, he was deeply moved and felt a kind of divine inspiration to launch a World movement of Non-violence from Rio de Janeiro on the occasion of the historic Earth Summit. The movement will arouse spiritual consciousness among human beings through the medium of Non-violence and show the way for a lasting, soul satisfying and life-sustaining solution of problems connected with environment and development, progress and prosperity, contentment and achievement. Only through the practice of true and wholesome ‘Ahimsa’ (Non-violence) in thought, practice, word and deed could the world sustain and strengthen peaceful coexistence, co-development and co-prosperity. Violence could never lead to a durable victory.

Guruji made the announcement at the plenary session of the Sacred Earth Gathering. He declared that he was launching the World Movement of Non-violence for Peace and Environment from here and now. Warm clap of hands from the assembled distinguished participants greeted the announcement. Deeply moved and inspired by Guruji’s expose of the need to propagate Non-violence, Dr Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary General of U.N. and presently Chancellor of the U.N. University for Peace at Costa Rica announced his decision to become a co-founder of the Movement.

Mr. Maurice Strong, the Secretary General of the Earth Summit (UNCED II – U.N. Conference on Environment and Development), welcomed the launching of the Movement of Non-violence and observed that, “From the country of Mahatma Gandhi comes yet another invaluable initiative which should receive the endorsement of the governments and humanity”. The renowned Environmental Leader from Africa Ms. Wangari Maathi spoke in Portuguese eloquently to welcome Guruji’s “courageous step”.

Rio de Janeiro means the “river of the month of January”. Guruji made a new river flow out of Rio in the month of June – a river of Global Non-violence, whose continuous sparkling flow will wash away from the earth, from the human conscience and from the Nature all the pollution, and give rise to a unique, “Earth Ethics” which will purify once again our thoughts, our practices, our civilization and our culture.

At the Earth, summit the idea of a world wide Movement of Non-violence was set in motion. A new awareness was born. Again and yet again. Guruji spoke about it in his various discourses. The audience endorsed and appreciated the proposal.

At the concurrent Parliamentary Earth summit conference of the Global Forum of Parliamentarians and spiritualists, Dr. Narendra Jain made two keynote presentations on Jain Religion and relevance to the Environmental crisis confronting humanity today. He also dealt with the objective of and inspiration behind the idea of launching world Movement of Non-violence. At the commencement of the plenary session, Guruji recited ‘Namokar Mantra’ and ‘Om Shanti Om’ in his resonant voice. The distinguished persons from all over the world assembled in the central hall of the Brazilian Parliament with its imposing dome were spell bound.

The keynote speech of Acharya Sushil Kumarji (Guruji) at the Global Hearts Convention in the Flamingo Park on “Non-violence as the future of Earth” was very inspiring. His simple language touched the hearts of the audience.

When the people heard about non-violence and its philosophy. They seemed to appreciate that the key to genuine and durable peace and healthy environment is comprehensive all pervading non-violence. The world is caught up inextricably in the complicated and destructive web of violence. Discord arising out of violence, hatred arising out of discord, conflicts, bloodshed and loss of life arising out of hatred, terrorism and spread of fear complex are negating the totality of comprehensive and path breaking achievements of the humanity in the twentieth century. Time has come when the world should reorient its outlook so that our individual, social, national and international life moves in a constructive direction inspired by the philosophy of Non-violence, and reverence for life. One day we were being interviewed on television at the flamingo park. A gentleman passing by inquired from Acharya Sushil Kumarji Maharaj about his country and religion. Before Guruji could reply, a Christian missionary who was privy to the conversation said that ‘He represents world’s most peaceful and peace-oriented Jain religion. Jain community is the most peace-loving community, which has pinned its faith in non-violence as a nucleus philosophy and way of life.

It was a very fascinating experience for me to see that wherever Guruji went, people-young and old surrounded him and got engaged in engrossing conversation. Brazilian young men and women, adults and old persons in their broken English heartily interspersed with Portuguese words addressed him as an “adopted God Father”. They were drawn to him by his natural smile and graceful personality, and endeavoured to understand and grasp the secret of peace and tranquility reflected in his person. The experience was so refreshingly different from the day-to-day ethos of the culture over burdened with materialist philosophy and way of life.

Leaders of the other religions and learned persons from other countries seemed to realize after talking to us that in fact Jain religion is not a sectarian religion of a small community. It bears depth interspersed with a natural approach, which gives life an inspiring, and soul satisfying direction both in the worldly as well as beyond the world context. Jain religion strengthens the feeling of peace, fraternity, tolerance, fellow feeling, equality and equanimity. Deeply moved by Guruji’s recitation of ‘Namokar Mantra’ and after hearing my expose of the Jain religion’s humanitarian philosophy, the American Hindu saint from the famous Hindu Math at Hawaii in USA observed that, “we had so far considered Jain religion as a rival of Hindu religion. The misconception is cleared today. Jain religion is a religion of humanity and we shall be happy to publish material in our journal on Jain Philosophy”.

Mr. Benton Mussel White, a leading lawyer and environmentalist had come from USA to participate in the Rio Earth Summit NGO conferences. His dream was to give shape to a movement that could bring the universe together and transform the United Nations into a truly representative institution of the peoples of the world. He organized a big meeting at the large sports stadium of Rio and presented his plan of “one world now” Guruji, Gautam and myself were very cordially invited to it. We struck a good friendship with Benton, who kept on consulting us for furthering his plans. He appreciated the stress on Non-violence. He televised a detailed interview with Guruji and me for his “One World Now”.

Mrs. Hanne Strong was our host in Rio in her capacity as President of the Manitou Foundation and key sponsor of the Wisdom Keepers’ Convention. Hanne Strong is the wife of Mr. Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the Earth Summit. Her presence in Rio at the Earth Summit was not merely as a better half of her distinguished husband, but in her own role as a dynamic and forceful personality advocating awareness about the spiritual dimension of the environmental crisis.

She had invited sixty prominent persons the world over including Guruji and me. Mr. Maurice Strong knew me from the days of the 1972 Stockholm Conference when as India’s Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative at the U.N. I was elected as Vice President of the U.N. preparatory committee for the first ever U.N. Conference on Environment at Stockholm. All of us-sixty persons were put up at a gorgeous ranch of a Brazilian industrialist outside the city of Rio but close to the site of the Earth Summit. Professors, scholars, saints, priests, authors, and poets, musicians, photographers, journalists and diplomats, thinkers and sports persons constituted this delightfully diverse group of distinguished persons. The exchange of views turned out, therefore to be very rich, fascinating and useful. It was only apt that the gathering was called “Wisdom Keepers’ Convention”. There was a lot of wisdom exchanged with cordiality and friendliness.

In this group were included Chiefs of American Indian and Brazilian Indian communities. They were extremely vocal in their call for back to Nature. They exposed the view that in their ancient tradition, culture, customs and life style, there was the capability of attaining natural balance and harmony with Nature. It is necessary, therefore, to revive old traditions and customs and protect the heritage of the original Indians and not let it be swamped out by the highly materialist civilization of today.

On their suggestion at the ranch an elaborate fire ceremony was initiated which continued for the entire period of 18 days. Dedicated and spirited men and women kept the fire burning day and night. People used to from a circle around the fire, throw tobacco on it as per the ancient American- Indian custom, meditate and orient their thoughts to the need of restoring harmony with Nature.

It was interesting to see that worship of fire as an element of Nature was basically inspired by the same thought process as is inherent in the ancient culture and customs of our country – India – the same kind of faith in Nature and search for peaceful contented and coexistence.

Present in this group was Ms Shabari – an American lady who has spent years in her dedicated devotion to Indian culture and philosophy. She is a great yoga fan and an ardent vegetarian and has converted her entire family to it. She has pinned her faith in Hindu religion, philosophy, worship and yoga practice. She has emerged as an enthusiastic and vocal supporter giving spiritual dimension to environmental problems. She did not stay in any room in the fabulous buildings of the Ranch, but chose to stay in a tent that she pitched in the open space close to the site of the fire ceremony. She has been close to Guruji, and respects him a great deal.

Vera, wife of the owner of the Ranch bore a very graceful personality full of simplicity and unostentatious behavior. In her huge estate, she has in the wooded corners carved out some caves for meditation and yoga practice. She took Guruji there to do meditation in those beautiful, peaceful and inspiring surroundings. She is greatly inclined towards Indian philosophy of non-attachment and non-possessiveness. She appeared as much unattached to the worldly things surrounding her, as her husband looked deeply attached to them! She had made excellent arrangements for our vegetarian diet and paid very careful attention to them. Her association with us gave in her words “an unforgettable golden opportunity” to learn about the essence of Jainism. She has visited India several times and is deeply influenced by the Indian philosophical traditions and life culture.

We came in contact with a unique Brazilian couple in Rio. Wife ‘Sheiva’ is a well-known psychoanalyst and consulting doctor and the husband a leading lawyer. Their two-storey huge apartment has been beautifully and tastefully decorated with ‘object de art’ from all over the world including particularly India and China. Both of them are devout followers of Satya Shri Sai Baba and have visited India several times. Sheiva felt a lot of peace and tranquility and felt released from tensions when she came in touch with Guruji. The couple seemed to be opening the portals of their minds and hearts to the virtues of vegetarianism, non-violence and tolerance.

They celebrated Guruji’s birthday at their gorgeous residence and invited a select group of friends to it. The long and big dining table was lined with a variety of vegetarian dishes. On the birthday cake were the traditional candles glowing in their light. When Gujarati was requested to blow out the candles, he said, “As a servant of God- I only light the light and never blow it out”. Instead, he gave a full- throated recitation of ‘Namokar Mantra’ and ‘Om Shanti Om’. All present joined in the chorus lustily. It became an unforgettable moment for all of us.

Sister Sheiva was very inquisitive about Jain religion and conversed a lot with Guruji and me in this regard. She and her husband agreed with great pleasure to start the Brazilian chapter of the International Mahavir Jain Mission at Rio. She also took Guruji and me to meet the mother of the President of Brazil. The mother of the then President (since deposed) is widely respected for her association with social causes and humanitarian projects. She had until then never heard about Jain religion and was glad to be exposed to its compassionate philosophy. She appeared sad, as her son- the President had became the subject of public indignation because of his rampant corruption. As events unfolded later, he was impeached by the Brazilian Parliament and removed from his post.

Acharya Sushil Kumarji Maharaj also met his old friend H.H. Dalai Lama at Rio. H.H. Dalai Lama had also come to attend the meeting of the Global Forum of Parliamentarians and Spiritual leaders. Wherever he went, he was surrounded by tight security arrangements and cordoned off the people milling around to get a glimpse of him, to say hello to him or to greet him. Brazilian Government had mad extensive security arrangements for him because of China’s protest at the Brazilian invitation to H.H. Dalai Lama to visit Rio during the Earth Summit.

Suddenly through the crowed, his eyes fell on Guruji who was conversing with a group of people at the other end of the hall. His eyes shone up in recognition and with folded hands, he greeted Guruji who equally spontaneously reciprocated. It was a fascinating and heartwarming reunion of two well-known spiritual leaders.

The meeting with Indian Prime Minister Shri P V Narasimha Rao also turned out to be an agreeably pleasant occasion. The meeting was to be at the office of the India delegation, but by chance before it we met him as he was coming out of the plenary session to meet the Prime Minister of China. Seeing Guruji and me he stopped, warmly shook hands and listened attentively with positive orientation to Guruji’s proposal about world Movement of Non-violence and International University of Non-violence. People surrounding him wanted him to move on, but he took us aside to listen to our plans of launching world-wide movement for non-violence and made valuable suggestions. We were happy that we could bring home to an elite and influential global audience the relevance of the philosophy of Jain religion to modern day problems confronting the global community in the sphere of peace, progress, environment and development.

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