“Sitting in the Heart of the World”

Over 600 people gathered at Evergreen College last Saturday for the Carry the Vision conference. Attendees were welcomed by dozens of local religious leaders, and heard from Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi and founder of the M.K. Gandhi institute for nonviolence.

He began his comments with an experiment. “Turn to the person next to you,” he said, “and imagine that one of you is holding a precious gem in your fist. Have the other person try to see it.” My neighbor and I engaged in a brief, and fruitless, bit of hand wrestling as we wondered how to accomplish the task. Gandhi then asked, “how many of you asked the other person to open their hand?” We sheepishly had to admit that such a non-violent solution had never even occurred to us.

Gandhi told of how his grandfather had told him to draw a “family tree of violence” each day. From a root of violence there came two branches- physical violence and passive violence. Physical violence is the kind of overt violence we recognize easily- striking or injuring someone directly. Passive violence is harder to see- it includes those acts of negligence, apathy, and disrespect we perform, often without even noticing. His family tree, Gandhi noticed, soon filled up the wall with the acts of passive violence. It is only when we become aware of the violence we do that genuing change can take place.

He called for four essential components of non-violent relationship: respect, understanding, acceptance, and appreciation. These four provide the foundation for human understanding and building a world of peace.

Gandhi was not the only source of rich encounters that day- there were workshops on making peace in our families, our communities, and our world. Following lunch (a langar– shared meal served by the Sikh community), attendees gathered in groups of six to get to know one another and for serious conversation about making a “simple, yet profound commitment” to making peace after leaving the conference. The process is one that was used at the Parliament of the World”s Religions in Barcelona in 2004, and was led by Helen Spector, who is a Trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World”s Religions. “I felt like I was sitting in the heart of the world,” Rev. Ellen Grace O”Brien of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment said of her experience in Barcelona.

Before and after sessions and during lunch there were ample opportunities for deep conversations, building bridges among neighbors in our valley. Thanks to the conference sponsors: The Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, San Jose City Council Member Dave Cortese, Evergreen Valley College, and The San Jose Sikh Community, and to the 24 or so religious and interfaith participating organizations.

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