Your Grace, Sir John and Lady Templeton, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is an honour for me to be awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion for 1990. The award is a tribute to the thousands of people with whom I have worked – whose faith and determination have carried us through a path of compassion and creativity towards the deepest realms of spirituality.
At Anandwan, the place where I have lived for the past 40 years, we have in our midst, a memorial to an anonymous tree. As I lie down in my Fowler’s bed, I listen to the whisperings from its grave: “I have experienced the drowsiness of every autumn and the passions of every spring, hence I do not seek dust in shame and loneliness. Why do you?”
The tree speaks to all who despair and sends the message of renewal. When a tree sheds its leaves, the uninformed mourn the death of leaves, the knowing celebrate the birth of living humans. When I consider the young, I cannot but think of them as new leaves, emerging from the nutrients of the leaf that litter the forest floor. They are the future.
From Anandwan I bring to all of you a message of hope. A hope that springs from a life-long journey in search of Man. An odyssey rooted in one of the world’s most ancient spiritual traditions. A tradition which like so many others seems enveloped today by the forces of darkness. And yet its essential teachings every moment shatter the darkness and shine through radiant, like the rays of the sun.
Work is worship, work as worship. Work which is not a source of bondage; work which is the path to liberation, Nishkama Karmayoga. A path on which the self is completely submerged and work stems from the urge of Lokasamgraham – the creation of a world order which is just and sustainable, for the good of all. Work as a yoga – as total dedication, concentration, meditation.
Meditation upon the all-pervading, primeval, eternal Source, the Source of the everlasting flow of the cosmic energy of goodness. Work founded in shraddha, total faith and inspiration; work inspired by karuna, the unbounded bounty of compassion that moved Tathagatha, who refused salvation, so as to be born again and again till all living beings attain liberation.
A suffering Servant brought a new down in my life. He commanded me to go out and help in the most personal way. The tired and bewildered, the poor and lonely. Like blood in a new wound He ordered me to rush to erase pain and provide the touch of healing. The greatest ananda (joy) comes in life when you invest yourself in others. Candihijim, Sane, Guruji and Vinoba came in my life. They all had a shining sense of moral purpose. They all believe that the death of their atma, their soul, their conscience was darker than the loss of their lives.
At Anandwan we, outcasts living with outcasts, have built a world which embraces all who wish to come and join. A world where you do not stand alone, where you belong to others who belong to you. A community of compassion. Where charity is non-existent, where creativity and building flourish. Where those rejected by an unconcerned and uncomprehending world, realise their own worth with their own hands. Self-respecting and self-sufficient. Creators of a new world of joy, and Awandwan, which holds forth the light of hope for the world outside.
A life of spiritual striving is a journey, a journey of discovery, of rediscovery – a return to the Eternal Truth. A realisation of the essential unity of all God’s creations, of their delicate balance and harmony. But each journey is also a renewal, defined by the particular form, the particular context in which this return takes place. By its colour, its texture, its medium.
Today, the medium of the moment is violence everywhere. Man has become a transgressor. His arrogance, his belief in his power to control and order the universe is crossing every reasonable limit. Technology, the supposed liberator, today stands as a potential agent of untramelled destruction.
At such a moment we must seek a new way – a way which emerges from the roots of Mother Earth – which as it spreads embraces the plants, leaves, birds, animals, trees, valleys, mountains and rivers. A path which ushers in greater kindness, tolerance and mutual respect towards all forms of life. A movement towards the rediscovery of the Eternal, towards its recollection.
I am assaulted by the insensitivity and aggression of those who wish to build atomic reactors, polluting factories and large dams. They think nothing of the living resources they kill. They think nothing of the men, women and children who depend on these resources for their very existence. Their immorality has assumed astounding proportions.
I have learnt from life that real leprosy is not in the body, but in the mind. The physical signs of leprosy are a hypo-pigmented patch and loss of sensation. Then, later, there is a thickening of the nerves. But even among the “healthy” there are those who see the worst injustice and poverty and are yet not moved. That psychological anesthesia is worse than physical leprosy. That is real loss of sensation, of feeling. That is mental leprosy.
How long are we going to watch passively as all that is our common heritage, all that is sacred to us is destroyed, lost forever in the name of development? These rivers, these forests, these forms of life – we have not inherited them from our forefathers, we have borrowed them from our children yet to be born. Their preservation, their enrichment is the solemn responsibility we bear.
Greed, self-seeking and competitiveness have made us forget, forget very deeply. Forget what we must always remember. Our infinitesimal smallness is the face of the immense munificence of Life. We must look upon this earth as a crucible of a trinity of forces – the elements, the natural world and homo sapiens. Air, water and land were once assets around which a dual partnership had thrived. Till we humans evolved to form a separate identity and power, which has led to a trinity.
The tribal people of the world respected the balance of this trinity but in the process of becoming “civilized” we lost this respect. Now we must restore the balance by appreciating the ways of our other two partners.
Today, I have become part of the battle to save the Narmada, one of the most sacred rivers in Indian tradition. There is a plan to build 30 massive dams on the river, which will destroy an entire civilization that has grown in the Narmada valley, around the river, in its fields and forests. The battle is not to save the Narmada alone. The larger goal is to bring the message of Mother Earth to the whole world. To stop the process of destruction development and to ring in this new vision – of a new way of being in the world.
The worldwide environmental movement contains the glimmers of a new hope. To realise this hope, however, it must concentrate on the essentials and discard the fads. The essential, the Eternal – sustainable living. Living which restrains desire, which respects the diversity of life – plant, animal and human. Living which is founded on compassion – that seeks the creation of a world in which there is sufficiency for all before there is superfluity for some.
It is really so straightforward. Look at the honeybee. Its treasure of nectar, obtained even from a plant of chillis, is not at the cost of the flower. In fact, its act of extracting honey delivers development and progress to the flowers.
Can the same be said of our modes of development and intervention? Why is it that today the question is repeatedly posed as development versus nature? For it is not man and nature or man with nature but nature which is man and man who is nature that must form the basis of all development.
All true development is in the ultimate, spiritual. The growing environmental movement can lead us back to the Eternal, can reverse the present tendency towards destruction, only if it remembers this fundamental Truth.
From the streams and flowers, from the woods and valleys, from the children of the Narmada valley, I send you all my warmest greetings.