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Speech by Dr. Karan Singh on "The Many Dimensions of Peace" at the University of Maryland, College Park

October 28, 2005 

Thank you President Mote for your very generous introduction. Ambassador Ronen Sen, Ambassador Shrestha, Professor Bushrui, distinguished academicians, members of the faculty and students of the University of Maryland, and friends, it is always a pleasure to visit this great country America, which was discovered by mistake when Columbus was looking for us. I have had a long and rewarding association with America, having come here first as a patient. I was in a hospital for over a year in New York; and then also my brief sojourn as ambassador to your great country—lasted only seven months, alas, but it was very memorable. And today I am particularly happy to visit the University of Maryland which has over the years developed high standards in academics in many different fields. I was discussing with President Mote in the various fields in which this university excels. 

I have always been a university man myself, and I hope that the relations, the academic relations, between India and the American universities will deepen and strengthen in the years ahead. I genuinely feel that our two countries have a great deal to learn from each other, particularly when the Bihar Elections are on. And for those who have followed them, you will know exactly what I mean, but I do think that the level of academic exchanges between our two countries are not yet adequate. And perhaps, we can make a beginning with the University of Maryland. Ambassador Sen was wondering whether we couldn’t institute a series of lectures in the name perhaps of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King [Jr.] to be held alternatively in India and in the United States. There are various methodologies, but I thought I’d just begin by saying that this academic relations between the two countries are tremendously important, apart of course from the political relations and the economic relations. And they’re also in the process of trying to set up a Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., an Indian Cultural Center, which hopefully, develop into an area where there will be a constant spectrum of events covering the entire gamut of India’s cultural traditions. 

I was wondering what I should speak about today, but because this is the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace, I thought I’d share some perceptions with you on “The Many Dimensions of Peace” and try and present a somewhat holistic approach to this often invoked but seldom attained concept of peace. Despite astounding progress in many fields, in the twentieth century, most of us have lived through a large part of the twentieth century: science and technology, instant communications, breaking of the space barrier, reaching the moon, reaching the planets, reaching also the stars, all sorts of astounding developments. Nonetheless, the twentieth century has been the most lethal in human history. More people have been killed and massacred and tortured in the twentieth century than in any other century in human history. So it is a curiously dichotomous situation. On the one hand, you have this tremendous progress, you have unbelievable breakthroughs; and on the other, you have these terrible wars and dictatorships and terrorism. And you have, therefore, a situation now, as we enter the twenty-first century A.D., in which we have to see whether we can finally establish some kind of abiding peace. Peace is essential for economic growth in any sane and harmonious global society. There’s a huge multibillion-dollar industry for war. I think it was President Eisenhower who spoke about the Industrial Military Complex and about how there are people around the world who have a vested interest in wars, and I believe that we need to build a countervailing coalition for peace, a countervailing coalition which would involve educationists, environmentalists, interfaith activists, human rights activists, women’s organizations, youth organizations, and so on. Young people particularly, and I am glad to see so many of them in the audience, have a vested interest in peace, and therefore, I think it’s important that young people should get involved in the creative aspects of establishing peace. And as I see it, there are at least five dimensions of peace that we have to address simultaneously; and I would look upon these, not as parallel activities, but more as concentric circles so that each of one of these has to be addressed, and briefly, I will try and place before you my views. 

Incidentally, I do feel that the Indian practice of having the lectures before dinner is really preferable, because by the time you finish dinner, the audience is half asleep, and the speaker is three-quarters asleep. And I think that is very unfair, because you can make a very few light-hearted remarks after dinner and throw in a few jokes and things, but if you want a serious lecture, I would strongly urge you to learn from the Indian cultural tradition and to try to get your speeches over before you sit down to a meal. Then one can eat with a clearer conscience. In any case, let me now get down to the lecture. 

The first dimension, of course, is world peace. Now humanity has lived under the dire threat of annihilation ever since the bombs exploded on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And these World Wars in the twentieth century wrack absolute havoc. The Cold War, in a way put a stop to those World Wars, but the Cold War also lasted, what, from 1945 to 1989. I was here when the Cold War ended, when the Berlin Wall came down, when the meeting was held at Malta. It began in Yalta, ended in Malta. That was the Cold War. But during this period, also and afterwards, the peace dividend has not been forthcoming. Millions of people have lost their lives subsequently. In regional wars, in wars between groups, civil wars, and so on. The United Nations that was set up in 1945 as the arbiter, as it were, of world peace, has not developed as an effective instrument for establishing that peace. For one thing, the United Nations is now almost grotesquely unrepresentative. It is a “hangover” from the 1945 victorious powers, and they represent—the permanent members of the Security Council—represent hardly one-third of the human race. And so unless we restructure our international organizations, we cannot really say that we have learned our lessons from these terrible conflicts. And so although the threat of a nuclear war between the so-called “Great Powers” has diminished, the threat of regional conflicts still remains. And I would like to recall here that many years ago our young Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had put forward a visionary plan, if you recall, which was called the “Five-Continent Six-Nation Initiative.” And that call for a universal nuclear disarmament, nobody took it seriously at the time. That was long before either India or Pakistan had gone nuclear, and that was not taken up. Everybody dismissed it as if it was of no importance. And you find today a situation, in which there is a threat in some ways of nuclear proliferation, and the tensions remain. So obviously, world peace is essential. It has an economic dimension, quite clearly. We talked about globalization, which is upon us; it is an irreversible process. But globalization cannot simply mean that the rich nations keep getting richer, and the poor nations keep getting poorer. When we talk of the world as a family (translation in Sanskrit), it’s a different concept than the world as a market. The world as a single market is alright, but a market is essentially an exploitative structure, which is necessary and essential. But a family is a supportive structure, and if we are really going to have a world community, then we have to restructure our world economy also in such a way that we still have one-third of the human race, two billion people living on or below the poverty line—and the poverty line is defined as one U.S. dollar per day, how do you expect world peace when you have this sort of explosive situation of abject poverty living along with tremendous wealth and tremendous affluence? Therefore, this concept of world peace is not simply a ceasefire between Russia and the United States; world peace is very much more than that. World peace is a restructuring of the United Nations; it’s a restructuring of our economic situation, and it is a mindset that really looks upon all the people of this planet as citizens of a small spaceship hurtling throughout the space, and we are all citizens on it. We are all citizens for better or for worse, and we’ve got to live with each other. And unless we can structure a concept of world peace in the deeper level, we will not achieve our goal. That is the first dimension, the outer dimension, which is obviously there. 

The second is regional peace. In each region, whether it’s Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa, or West Asia or South Asia, we’ve had our own conflicts—not conflicts between great powers, but conflicts within the regions. Millions of people have perished in regional conflicts and regional wars in the last fifty years since the end of the World War. And I always feel that the European Union is really the model which we should hold before us. I’m talking, for example now of SAR, of the South Asian region. It’s astounding. We read in our history books we were brought up on the history of wars in Europe—endless wars between France and Germany and Britain, and millions upon millions of people perishing in the battlefields of Europe until very recently. And today, you go to Europe, there is, you can’t see any barriers. The franc has disappeared; the mark has disappeared; the lira has disappeared; and you have a common currency; and you do not know where Germany ends and France begins. It’s an astounding revolution. I think the most remarkable event, after the Second World War, has been the emergence of the European Union. It has its problems and difficulties; I’m not going into that. I’m making the point, that if they can get over their age-old animosities, why can’t we, in the developing nations, not also do the same? After all, Germany and France were enemies for five-hundred years. Our conflicts with Pakistan are only fifty or sixty-years-old. They’re much younger, so we should be able to get over them, and we are trying to get over them. Let me tell you, that India as perhaps the larger power in SAR and in that part of the world is making an effort to reach out to other countries, to reach out a hand of friendship. There are lots of problems. I do not want to go into them, but I think that is the way to solve the problems. We used to read about Alsace and Lorraine, you remember, when we were in school, write short notes on Alsace and Lorraine. Who remembers or cares now where Alsace or Lorraine is? Nobody even knows where they are. I mean I’m sure people won’t forget where Kashmir is, but what I’m saying is that it is not necessary that we be locked in attitudes of permanent enmity and hatred. And I think everybody must realize that. I think in India we are beginning to realize that. I think Pakistan, perhaps, is beginning to realize that. And the terrible earthquake that we had recently, in which so many precious lives have been lost in North India and in Pakistan, in a way has shown that our countries are linked indissolubly by geography, by history, by culture. And that is what I mean when I talk of regional peace, I feel that it is important that these regional organizations, regional structures, must be strengthened, because ultimately, it is these regional structures perhaps that can then really coalesce into a truly world community. 

Then we come to peace within countries, within individual countries. Civil wars have been wracking many countries in Africa. There is social unrest; there are conflicts. In our own countries we have conflicts, sometimes based on caste. Even in the United States, still you have discriminatory situations between various communities and races, and so on. So within the countries themselves, unless we are able to establish peace between communities, we have a problem in India in the sense that, we were hoping to get over our caste and communal divisions. We do not believe in the “clash of civilizations.” In fact, India stands for the confluence of civilizations; it always has. For thousands of years, it has had a very strong civilization of its own but has also accepted and received inputs from different parts of the world. And yet, we do still have problems between various castes and communities. So each country has got to work strongly for peace, for social peace. And social peace, we feel, can come really only from social justice. Where social justice is lacking, it is very difficult to establish social peace at all. And here I must mention that terrorism has become an extremely dangerous and disturbing factor. I do not want to go into the so-called “roots” of terrorism, but the fact is that the utilization of violent and destructive means, based upon philosophies of hatred, whether they are religious or nonreligious, can lead to nothing but death, destruction, and disaster. It has become very clear to us in our own lifetime wherever you resort to philosophies that preach hatred, whether it’s Fascism or Nazism, or Maoism or Jihadism, or any other “ism” of that nature, ultimately, you come to grief, because that has its own malign reaction. We’ve lived through that, and we’ve seen that. 

And talking about religion, particularly, this is the Bahá’í Chair . . . the role of religion in history has been a very mixed one. On the one hand, much that is great and noble in human civilization—art and architecture, and music and dance, and moral codes and scriptures and literature—can be traced back to one or other of the great religions of the world. On the other hand, more people have been killed and tortured and massacred in the name of religion than in any other name. Now this dichotomous situation can no longer be tolerated. We’ve got to move now into an interfaith situation, and that is why we’ve been involved, many of us—Suheil Bushrui and others, other friends—in the interfaith movement. The interfaith movement can be said to have begun in Chicago in 1893 with the first Parliament of the World’s Religions that was held there. And you remember, Swami Vivekananda appeared there and made a very dramatic impact. In the twentieth century, a large number of interfaith organizations came into being, including the Temple of Understanding of which I am International Chair. And we’ve had conferences around the world designed to bring together people of goodwill, not in order to discuss the or the debate the merits of different religions, but simply to try and bring about a better understanding, an awareness, and a harmony between religions. There have been many conferences: the second Parliament was held in Chicago a hundred years later, 1993; the third in Cape Town, South Africa, 1999; in 2000, an event was held in the United Nations hall itself—a summit of spiritual and political religious leaders; in 2004, last year, the Barcelona, held the fourth Parliament of World Religions. So we have a lot of activity going on in the interfaith movement. However, it is still peripheral. We have to move interfaith from the periphery to the center of human conscience very much like environment. I was a delegate to the first UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. Only two heads of government were there—Olof Palme and Indira Gandhi, both of whom who were sadly enough assassinated. Twenty years later, in Rio, in 1992, a hundred-and-twelve heads of government were there—not that everybody lived up to their environmental promises. I’m afraid the United States also doesn’t have a very good record either, but the point I’m making is that the environment has become a central issue in human conscience. That is what I would like to see happen to interfaith. We must realize that there is no sole monopoly of divine wisdom in any religion. The Rig Veda has a marvelous phrase (Sanskrit translation). “The truth is one. The wise call it by many names.” There are multiple paths to the Divine. Unless that is accepted, you will never have peace on Earth. I can say that for me, my religion is the best, fair enough. But I cannot say that because this is my path, therefore, you must follow the same path. Who are we—denizens of a tiny speck of dust in this cosmos—to lay down that the illimitable splendor of the Divine can appear only in this place and at this time and in this mode? It’s unacceptable! There are billions of suns in our galaxy. There are billions of galaxies in the unending universe around us. How do we know where or in what way the Divine has expressed itself in all these various worlds? Therefore, it is the height of hubris for us to say that this is the only path. We must realize and accept that there are many pathways to the Divine. That is the beginning of interfaith wisdom. And unless that is there, as long as people continue to claim that they have got the sole monopoly of divine wisdom or they have sole selling rights of the Divine Word, it is not going to work, and the sooner people realize that, the better for all concerned. And I would add that those people who try and use violence to propagate their religion are doing the greatest damage to their own religion. They’re bringing their own religion into disrepute. They are not doing any service to their religion. Therefore, the way now is not to regress into Revanchism, into fundamentalism, into fanaticism, but to progress into an interfaith structure. So that is the third dimension. I was talking about world peace; of regional peace; I was talking of peace within countries; and between communities. 

Then I come to the fourth circle, and that is family peace. Family still remains the most fundamental, social unit at least in the East. In America, of course, it is rapidly breaking up, but still the family does retain a certain importance. In India, the joint family has disintegrated as it must. The nuclear family has developed. The empowerment of women is essential for any progress in any field, whether it is family planning, whether it is child nutrition, or any other type of development—empowerment of women is of the essence. And therefore, the importance of the family, I think, has to be recognized, and if there is constant war within the family, I don’t think that it is possible for the children to grow up with an attitude of peace. And family relationships, of course, revolve around two parameters: there is the man-woman relationship, and there is the parent-children relationship. In the man-woman relationship, the ideal, of course, is not the old Eastern tradition of the woman walking three paces behind the man, nor the equally weird Western tradition of the woman walking three paces ahead. What is required is the concept of (Sanskrit) “walking side by side” as coequal sharers in the adventure of life. And this brings me to a rather amusing story I heard the other day. Somebody was posted to a country—I won’t mention the country for fear of anybody getting hurt—a man was posted in a certain country, and he saw, when he was there, the women were walking three paces behind the men, and he got posted back somewhere out, and he went there again ten years later. And then he saw that women were walking three paces ahead. So he said to his colleagues, “You know I’m very, very impressed of the social revolution that has taken place in your country ten years later. He says, “No, no that’s not the point. The point is we’ve had a civil war, and there are lots of unexploded mines lying around.” So we must be very careful when we talk of this question of walking in front and walking behind. But it has to be a balance to the relationship. And as far as parents and children are concerned, parents must not be over-possessive as Indian parents tend to be, or under-possessive as American parents tend to be. I think there has to be a proper balance here. Young people, I think should treat their parents with respect. They don’t have to believe or accept what they say. They don’t have to necessarily agree with them, but there has to be some respect/regard shown for the elderly. And the parents, on their part, must not try and run their children’s lives. As Kahlil Gibran says, “Your children come through you, but they do not belong to you.” They have their own consciousness; they have their own karma, and therefore, they have to develop in their own way. So I think when we talk of family relationships, we have to see that both these parameters—the man-woman relationship and the parent-children relationship are balanced. I must also mention another point here which I feel is of importance. The impact upon children of the violence and horror that we constantly see on television and in the movies . . . the movies are getting more and more violent. You talk of peace. Where is the peace? I mean, look at these movies; there’s nothing but bloodshed from the first scene until the end. And not only that. All sorts of dark creatures emerging from the depths of the psyche. I cannot understand the American obsession with death, disaster, and dinosaurs. I mean surely, surely there are better things you can think about, for heaven’s sake. And now all these horrid creatures coming out like some sort of Jungian archetypes, and the other day, one of the networks proudly announced that “You can now see your nightmares with your eyes open.” For God’s sake, what kind of a sick community are we if all we can achieve is to see our nightmares with our eyes open? I mean the whole thing is ridiculous! And nobody is worried. All you great educationists sitting here, talking about educational theories and systems, aren’t you worried about your grandchildren’s consciousness? Are you worried that your grandchildren are plunked down in front of television screens before they can even walk? Do you realize what sort of an impact these images are going to have on the collective psyche of the human race? Rupert Sheldrake has his theory of “morphic resonance” of how these sort of images in a certain race can spread their malign forces around. Something has to be done. I don’t know what can be done, but I genuinely believe that this explosion of horror . . . Why should horror be allowed? What is the advantage of a horror film? I read in today’s paper that the manufacturers or the promoters of horror films were having a conference to see what new horrors they could think up. I mean, these people are horrors themselves, for God’s sake. They cannot inflict this upon our children. They are not being asked to do that. They are not qualified to do that. It’s not fair for them just in order to make a “quick buck,” to poison the springs of consciousness. And we talk about peace, I don’t see how . . . Kill Bill, God knows how many that woman, you know, that will see her and you dread back that she slashes around, and chops off a head and chops off a hand. I mean what sort of peace are we going to have, for God’s sake? So I think that I suggest that America should wake up to the horrors of the horror films, of the ultra promiscuity, and the hyper-consumerism that is gradually eroding your society. You have everything. America is the richest society the world has ever seen, and yet when you were hit by the hurricane, you were powerless in the face of the wrath of nature. Never in your hubris, consider yourself second to the Roman Empire, because our hold on this planet is very, very tenuous, and you never know when we are going to be swept away. Therefore, we have to break out of this horror syndrome. 

And the final circle is inner peace. UNESCO says that wars begin in the minds of men. I would say that peace begins in the hearts of human beings. It is ultimately in the heart of human beings, that we will have to find the power, the compassion, the love, the wisdom, the understanding to build a new society. That inner light of which all religions speak—the Bible calls it “the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;” this is the “Nur Ilahi” of the Sufis; (Sanskrit) of the Sikhs; this is what the Hindu seer says (Sanskrit): “I have seen that Great Being shining like a thousand suns beyond the darkness.” That is power. Francis Thompson, in one of his marvelous poems: 

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!—
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places;—
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

The “many-splendoured” light of the art man, the light that lighteth this entire universe, that spiritual light is ultimately within ourselves, and we must access it, whether we access it through prayer, or meditation, or whatever, whatever way. We must realize that when we talk of peace, there are horizontal dimensions of interactions with society, that there is a vertical dimension of interaction with ourselves. Do we take time to look into the depths of our own psyche? Do we realize that there are those dark creatures lurking, and there it is that the light of consciousness has to be ignited; and the light of compassion has to burn brightly so that the shadows can disappear. Always remember, friends, that the darkest shadow is opposite the brightest light. And the bright light of modern civilization is showing the dark shadows—the drug smuggling, the human trafficking, all the terrorist activities. The dark shadows are there. And we will not do that until we integrate the shadows. Carl Gustav Jung said that the destiny of human beings in this age is to integrate the shadows, and integrating the shadows is the only way in which we can really establish peace. And so what is needed is an integral and integrated commitment to build a just and peaceful world, and this is beautifully articulated in a Vedic prayer, with which I am going to close, and that prayer, I will translate it first in English. It’s three or four-thousand-years-old.: 

May there be peace in the heaven. 
May there be peace in the sky. 
May there be peace on Earth. 
May there be peace in the waters. 
May there be peace among the celestials. 
May there be peace in the trees. 
May there be peace in the flowers. 
May there be peace in the Divine. 
May there be peace among all the peoples, and may that peace also reside in me. 
(followed by Sanskrit translation) 
Thank you.