Building a Culture of Peace and the Evolution of Consciousness

A Summary Report1

"Over the years we have come to realize that it is not enough to send peacekeeping forces to separate warring parties. It is not enough to engage in peace-building efforts after societies have been ravaged by conflict. It is not enough to conduct preventive diplomacy. All of this is essential work, but we want enduring results. We need, in short, a culture of peace."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan

On June 2, 2004 at United Nations Headquarters in New York City a seminar entitled "Building a Culture of Peace and the Evolution of Consciousness" was held in cooperation with the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World (2001-2010). Aquarian Age Community, a non-profit, accredited nongovernmental organization (NGO) in association with the UN Department of Public Information sponsored the event.

The meeting opened with a visualization activity and meditative reflection. Participants were asked to consider a culture of peace as 'the externalization of the most sacred, most honored and most universally compassionate way of life that you can imagine'; to imagine that it already exists; that it is vital and alive within us and our planet; to reflect on how we would behave, feel, think—and BE within such a culture of peace and to focus clearly, lovingly and with purpose on that vision. Participants were offered the opportunity to share their experience during the latter part of the program, but the hope was that all would retain this experience, build on it and seek out ways to vitalize and actualize this vision from that moment onwards.

Offering keynote thoughts on "The Evolution of Human Consciousness and the Role of Culture", including the Roerich Pact and Banner of Peace and UNESCO's World Heritage Program, were Ida Urso, Ph.D., President of the Aquarian Age Community and Iris Spellings, Artist and NGO Representative for Operation Peace Through Unity.

The concept of a "culture of peace", as pointed out by Dr. Urso, was first put forth in the Yamoussoukro Declaration in 1989. It called on UNESCO to "construct a new vision of peace by developing a peace culture based on the universal values of respect for life, liberty, justice, solidarity, tolerance, human rights and equality between women and men," and to promote education and research for this vision. (UNESCO and a Culture of Peace, UNESCO Publishing, 1995) Ten years later in September 1999, Secretary-General Kofi Annan launched the International Year of the Culture of Peace.

"Peace...is an effect; it is the result of right relationship to all life, because the peace of the world results directly from the inner experience of each person on the planet," said Dr. Urso. She continued by explaining that all life is forever evolving, and in so doing, takes the form of a progressive series of awakenings, and that today humanity is moving from personal or self-consciousness towards group or Soul consciousness. As a result of our learning how to transcend the restrictive sense of separateness and isolation by opening to and striving to attain the expanded love-wisdom of group or Soul consciousness, slowly, competition is being replaced by cooperation and the power of enlightened reason and dialogue are gradually taking the place of war and brutality.

War is the result of an emphasis upon a 'material values' culture. "Now is the time," Ms. Spellings said, "to focus on creating a spiritual culture—a culture based on loving understanding, goodwill and right relations with all life. This is not an impossible dream, but the next step." Culture is the essence of a civilization and the objective of all education; for it is that of blending heart and mind, sensitivity and thought, and discovering the meaning behind form or appearance

UNESCO, understanding the importance of this, proclaimed 2003 as the UN Year for Cultural Heritage marking the 30th Anniversary of an international agreement signed to date by more than 150 countries that protects World Cultural and Natural Heritage. To date, 788 sites on the World Heritage List are protected worldwide. The Statue of Liberty is a site protected by the WHC, along with the great Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge to name a few.

A forerunner to this UNESCO program is Roerich's Pact and Banner of Peace. Nicholas Roerich, a renowned artist, philosopher and archeologist who was appalled by the devastations of World War I and sought to protect the cultural heritage of each nation, introduced this treaty in 1929. It provided that the Banner fly over all historic monuments and educational, artistic and scientific institutions to indicate neutrality, special protection and respect in times of war and of peace. Roerich is known for saying: "Where there is Peace, there is Culture; Where there is Culture, there is Peace."

The Banner of Peace symbol, three spheres within a circle, is an ancient and universal symbol dating back to the Neolithic Age. It may be found all over the world, and has had many meanings, yet it clearly represents a deep and sophisticated understanding of unity—the triune nature of existence within the circle of infinity, which remains relevant and alive today.

While this Pact was primarily an appeal to governments, the Manifesto 2000 pledge, formulated by the Nobel Peace Laureates at the end of the century, is an appeal to us all to live responsibly. Signed to date by more than 75 million people, the Manifesto 2000 offers 6 clear and simple guidelines, which if applied is believed will bring about a peaceful and non-violent civilization: "Respect all life; Reject violence; Share with others; Listen to understand; Preserve the planet; Rediscover solidarity".

The pivotal role the mind plays in creating a culture of peace was noted many times throughout the seminar...as well as this relevant and well-known quote from UNESCO: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."

H.E. Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) as guest speaker addressed the essential question: "How Can the UN and Civil Society Promote a Culture of Peace?" His broad perspective and knowledge based on many years of service and experience in this field inspired all.

Ambassador Chowdhury pointed out that due to globalization and advancements in science and technology, our problems and we—the world—are becoming increasingly more interdependent and interconnected. Because of their magnitude, solving these problems requires humanity to work together finding new, workable, realistic solutions based on this new reality. "Global efforts towards peace and reconciliation can only succeed with a collective approach built on trust, dialogue and collaboration," he said noting that we have to build a grand alliance between all, especially including the participation of civil society and young people

Peace is a prerequisite for human development and the most essential vehicle for realizing the goals and objectives of the UN in the 21st century. The Ambassador emphasized that a culture of peace is no longer an idea or just a concept—it is growing into a global movement. He added guardedly, that this is only the first step. Only when we are nearer to solving the problems of poverty, homelessness, education, discrimination, etc., only when the world will be a better place to live, for us, and the generations to come, only then will the movement for a culture of peace achieve its objective.

Citing the importance of peace education as essential in building a culture of peace, and the role of the family—the oldest institution in human history—at the core of this education, he said he believed that "the real foundation of any peace proposal must be the reawakening of human spirit—spirit that should energize and empower each and every individual belonging to our planet with love and concern for each other for the greater good of humanity".

The role of simplicity and beauty in evoking this spirit, or sense of transcendence, was another common thread throughout the afternoon's discussions. Nicholas Roerich understood this well. He was quoted as saying: "In Beauty we are united; Through Beauty we pray; With Beauty we conquer."

The appalling destruction of such beauty, namely, the Buddhas at Barniyan in Afghanistan in 2001, was the causal event that inspired Tito Dupret to form his own nonprofit organization to document sites such as these and raise awareness of their fragility. With his determination and dedication to photograph all 788 of the sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List and see to it that they are preserved on film as part of our human history, it became evident that this Belgian filmmaker and multimedia director could perhaps be considered Roerich's modern day equivalent.

All listened intently as Mr. Dupret gave them a tour of his website and answered questions regarding this massive project he has embarked upon. Aside from the sheer beauty of the photographs is the fact that they are photographed 360 degrees around—vertically, horizontally and in between—and then "stitched together" via computer to exhibit one spherical 360 degree photo navigated merely by the computer's mouse or touch pad. These can be experienced at his website: http://www.world-heritage-tour.org/

The seminar came to a close as the audience participated in answering the following questions:

  1. What is the UN already doing to foster and facilitate a Culture of Peace in the world?
  2. What is my vision of a Culture of Peace -for myself? For my home and community? Within the United Nations and within the World?
  3. In what ways can I contribute to a Culture of Peace-in my personal and professional life?

A lively discussion followed as the comments were geared to a wide variety of specific projects that people wanted to focus on and commit themselves to in order to bring about their vision of a culture of peace. The afternoon ended in silent reflection as participants were asked to consider one especially significant and motivational thought or experience, which they wanted to carry out of the seminar into their daily lives.

Any thoughts on the above questions are welcome.


For information on the Roerich Banner of Peace, see: http://www.roerich.org/nr.html?mid=pact For information on the Manifesto 2000, see: http://www3.unesco.org/manifesto2000/uk/uk_6points.htm


1 Written by Iris Spellings who can be contacted at the following e-mail address: un-aquaac@earthlink.net. This summary was written for the publication, Many to Many, of Operation Peace Through Unity, which can be found at the following web portal: http://www.isleofavalon.co.uk/manytomany.html

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