Ancient Wisdom in seven guises

At the Davos Economic Forum in 2006 there was a meeting whereat seven of the world’s spiritual leaders each spoke for between 5 and 10 minutes.

I am bound to say that I am not a fan of the Economic Forum. No doubt it was founded with the best of intentions, but it has always looked to me like a gathering of self-regarding busybodies who, persuaded that they are wiser than everyone else, discuss how to impose their views on the world. It is true that Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War and the exchange of thoughts and ideas is welcome. But it is ‘top-down’ imposition of those ideas, rather than the fostering of their natural organic spread, that has consistently caused so many problems in the world.

Nevertheless a group of spiritual leaders in discussion might be a source of wisdom, so let’s eavesdrop. They are Lord Carey, Matthieu Ricard, Diarmuid Martin, David Rosen, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Bartholomew, and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. The last is becoming a regular on this blog and, though he speaks for barely 10% of the time, some arbitrary electronic decision has placed a still image of him (below) to represent them all.

The meeting is fairly pleasingly punctuated by song, though I have been unable definitively to identify the singer.

Lord Carey tops and tails the meeting. He greets from 5:55 to 10:10, setting the scene. He seeks to define wisdom, citing T.S.Eliot’s making the distinction between information. knowledge and wisdom. He introduces the speakers, and also points out that the audience contains several spiritual leaders also.  At this stage I spot an inevitability about all the offerings from these speakers. Coming from a range of different faiths, they are not there to promote their own faith but to promote the oneness of humanity. Doing that without resorting to a stream of cliché platitudes is a challenge that I would not want to tackle..

Matthieu Ricard speaks from 10:12 to 16:27. People are beautiful: people are good, however much they might quarrel. Ricard quotes Gandhi, and the quote leads him into a call for compassion and forgiveness. He quotes Martin Luther King and The Dalai Lama and these lead him towards a call for Gross Domestic Happiness.

Diarmuid Martin speaks from 18:35 to 24:36. He uses the parable of The Good Samaritan as his theme, pointing out that though we know no more about the Samaritan than his nationality, we know even less about the traveller. He is every man, and one in distress. Martin goes on to examine the nature of care, and becomes quite compelling in the process.

David Rosen speaks from 26:28 to 33:03. He draws on the Midrash to define wisdom and one conclusion that he reaches is that wisdom is the capacity to be aware of, and appreciate, the divine in everything and everyone. I have one quibble, not with what he says but how he says it. There were two places that he could have stopped earlier than he did, and either would have been slightly stronger than his eventual finish.

Feisal Abdul Rauf speaks from 35:18 to 43:53. “Religion […] is the repository of human wisdom”. That is his opening shot, and an uncompromising one to those whose spiritual thought harbours doubts about religion. But this is only the first element in an anaphora which culminates in acknowledging that religion can be a harmful tool in the hands of unscrupulous men. He goes on to reinforce the distinction between those for whom the word of God inspires love, and those in whom it foments hatred.

Bartholomew speaks from 46:15 to 55:57. He raises a word that had been niggling at me – ‘succession’. I had been marvelling at the wealth of apostolic succession represented on that stage. He lists, and explores, essential values: dignity, silence, beauty and ascesis. He dwells longest on silence, with a four-element anaphora – “if we stand silent…”

Jaggi Vasudev speaks from 58:22 to 1:06:12. Remembering that central to his teaching are the words, “I do not know”, I am curious as to how well this talk will sit with the others. He translates the word, “Yoga”. It means “Union”. He goes on to expand on the nature of the union, reaching the necessity of all of us to be at one with each other and our surroundings. That needs clarity of perception. Finally he says that modern questions require modern answers, and he illustrates that with a funny story. It gets more of a laugh from the floor than from the stage.

Lord Carey concludes from 1:08:18. He addresses the challenge of being passionate about one’s own religion without diminishing the divine in others. He recalls an orchestra that had entertained them the previous evening, all the musicians and the variety of instruments all combining towards a single message. He likewise concludes with a story, this time about the distinction between a church service and worship.

The quality of the speaking at this gathering was predictably very high. All of them lead through teaching, and their communication skill is manifest. It would be frankly impertinent and otiose for me to offer any conclusion beyond what these people said. And anyway, I do not know.

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