Shanghai: “We are welcoming UNAOC in the region, our only regret is that you are coming only now; the mission and the work of the Alliance are immensely important and relevant in Asia and the South Pacific region!” These were the
words of many participants from China and countries in Asia and South Pacific at the occasion of the UNAOC regional consultation held in Shanghai on November 29 and 30, 2012.
Mata Amrutanandamayi, popularly known as ‘Amma’ in her address said “When we engage others with respect, understanding and acceptance, then we will be able to communicate at the level of the heart” at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations’ (UNAOC) Regional Consultations for Asia-South Pacific, being held in Shanghai, November 29 and 30, 2012.
Amma, the only spiritual leader invited to the conference, gave her speech on “Coexistence and Engagement Between Cultures.”
She explained how globalization has affected our coexistence both positively and negatively, emphasizing that “coexistence is possible only when culture and modernisation are in balance.” She warned that “efforts at coexistence fail when we claim ‘We are all one,’ but we disrespect each other’s ancient customs and traditions.” Proceeding to offer solutions, as well, Amma spoke, “we have to acknowledge the fact that even though we are one in essence, externally, we are different,” then she urged the assembly to respect diversity — “An awareness of the need for coexistence amidst diversity is the only way to alleviate the suffering of others.”
Supporting her points with practical examples and suggestions based on decades of humanitarian work in culturally diverse regions, Amma invited everyone to contribute to the global conversation on coexistence by setting an example of respect and tolerance. Amma also called for a balance of rights and respect. saying that “when we engage others with respect, understanding and acceptance, then we will be able to communicate at the level of the heart.”
Amma brought her speech to a conclusion by focusing on the power of love. “For the past 40 years, I have been communicating with people of all languages, races, colors, castes and religions, from the very poorest to the rich and famous, through the language of Love. There are no barriers for love. I have full faith in the transformational power of Love to unite all hearts.”
“Our focus today should neither be on dependence nor on non-dependence, but on interdependence. This is because the human race, the animal and plant kingdoms and the whole universe are all interdependent.
“Reverence and respect are rare qualities in today’s world, leaving us with a society lacking in proper maturity. Education, acquisition of knowledge, science and technology may help us advance to unimaginable levels, but if the result is a mentally and emotionally immature generation with no sense of discrimination, it would be truly catastrophic.”
“Respect the Earth, nature and all our fellow living beings. Realise that we truly need to acknowledge the differences between race, religion, color and creed. When we approach others with respect that is firmly established in a deep understanding and acceptance of all our differences, then we will be able to communicate at the level of the heart” Amma concluded.
Amma was speaking in her native tongue Malayalam, and it was simultaneously translated into English.
The Shanghai event, titled “Harmony Through Diversity and Dialogue”, is jointly organized by the UNAOC and the UN Association of China.
More than 150 delegates from throughout Asia and the South Pacific- representing governments, academic, corporations, NGOs and cultural organizations – are taking part in the two-day Shanghai Consultations. The Guest of Honor was Cui Tiankai, Vice Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other dignitaries participating were Jean-Christophe Bas, Senior Advisor, Strategic Development and Partnerships UNAOC; Ambassador Chen Jian, President of the UN Association of China; Tu Guangshao, Vice Mayor of Shanghai Municipal Government; and Jorge Sampaio, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations and former President of Portugal.
As President Sampaio stressed in his opening remarks “Because of the Alliance’s mission, Asia lies at its core…Asia is home to an astonishing diversity — diversity of civilizations, cultures, religions, ethnic groups, languages. Asia is, in spite of its imprecise borders, the most diverse continent on Earth! Asia hosts the majority of the world’s Muslim population ( est. 60 per cent ) further to being home to a wide range of religious groups…this region faces a rise in tensions, racial and ethnic polarization and homegrown extremism that can span conflicts and result in a high degree of human suffering and Barbary”.
The consultation was aimed at mapping out relevant issues and topics for the work and activity of the Alliance in the region in the coming years. Concrete proposals were put forward at the occasion of eight workshops and a plan of action will be discussed and agreed in January by the steering committee and will be presented at the occasion of the Vienna Forum in February 2013.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar President of International Movement for a Just World, a partner in the organization of the consultation stated that “Shanghai provided a platform for governments and civil society organizations in East Asia and South Pacific to come together to reflect on some of the issues central to civilization dialogue. It brought to the fore the critical question of China’s role in civilization interaction. One hopes that the Shanghai meeting would persuade Chinese intellectuals and activists to try to fathom in greater depth other cultural and religious communities in the region just as non-Chinese groups should view the meeting as an important step in developing a deeper understanding of Chinese civilization at this point in time.”
This was Amma’s first visit to China. She has addressed United Nations at it’s International Celebrations for the 50th Anniversary in New York, the Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the UN in Geneva, the Summit of the Global Peace Initiative of Women in Jaipur, twice at the Parliament of World’s Religions, and as well as at many other international platforms.