Building a Culture of Peace and the Evolution of Consciousness

Seminar; Wednesday, 2 June 2004; 3:00 P.M.- 6:00 P.M.

The Evolution of Human Consciousness and the Role of Culture—Some Keynote Thoughts And, Information on the Roerich Pact and Banner of Peace Forerunners, UNESCO World Heritage Program—Part I

Ida Urso

The concept of a "culture of peace" was first put forth at the International Congress on Peace in the Minds of Men, held at Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire, in 1989. The Yamoussoukro Declaration 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 further, to promote education and research for this vision. (UNESCO and a Culture of Peace, UNESCO Publishing, 1995).

Ten years later, in September of 1999, when he launched the International Year of the Culture of Peace, at the turn of the new millennium, Secretary-General, Kofi Annan made the statement that "For the United Nations, there remains no higher goal, no deeper commitment and no greater ambition than preventing armed conflict. "But", as he said, "true peace is far more than the absence of war. For there to be peace among nations," Mr. Annan affirmed, "there must also be peace within them," as well as "among groups and individuals." "All of us," he continued, "young and old, rich and poor, Governments and civil society alike—must do our part. The founding of the UN itself was a start. [Now, we need to] ... pool our efforts and make good on its great potential. " He finished by saying, "the culture of peace can be ours."

Indeed, the culture of peace can be ours, if we all but play our part-according to the highest and the best of which each of us is capable.

Peace, as we are beginning to understand 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. History, as it has been said, is nothing more than biography. And, as the Quran, recently quoted by Mr. Annan states, "Verily, never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves." [The Quran {11:13)]

"The Universe," according to the first volume of The Secret Doctrine, "is worked and guided from within outwards…every external motion, act, gesture, whether voluntary or mechanical, organic or mental, is produced and preceded by internal feeling or emotion, will or volition, and thought or mind."

It was the 7th Century Buddhist Saint, Shantideva who wrote,

"Likewise it is not possible for me
To restrain the external course of things;
But should I restrain this mind of mine
What would be the need to restrain all else?"

Until the vices that obstruct peace are eradicated, true peace will not be possible. Supermundane, II (319)

And, it is at this critical point that I want to emphasize the link between the evolution of consciousness and a culture of peace. The visualization exercise in which we just participated hopefully provided each of us a glimpse into a higher state of consciousness than the normal day-to-day consciousness from which we tend to live our life.

The word consciousness comes from two Latin words: con, with; and scio, to know; and means literally "that with which we know." There is much that has been written about the concept of consciousness; many books and schools of thought have been created to explain consciousness; and science of late, has begun to weigh in on how to define this term. "Consciousness," it has been said, "is a word worn smooth by a million tongues." [George Miller (1987)]

For our purposes I would like to refer to a definition put forth by the ancient sage, Patanjali, who is the first to have put in writing the wisdom of the East, as some claim, as far back as 10,000 years ago.

In his Yoga Sutras; "Yoga" being a Sanskrit word for "union"—He refers to seven states of consciousness possible on this the 7th cosmic physical plane of existence. We are all familiar with the first three states of consciousness—of the physical, the astral or emotional and the mental plane. Many are awakening to and responding to the 4th plane of consciousness known by such terms as buddhic, intuitional, group, Soul or Christ consciousness. The fifth, sixth and seventh planes of consciousness for most people are but inner levels that await to be known in future lifetimes.

A simpler formulation categorizes these seven states into three so that we have (1) personal or self-consciousness; (2) group or Soul consciousness and (3) Absolute, Divine or Universal consciousness.

All life is ever evolving, ever tending towards expansion. All life takes the form of a progressive series of awakenings. Progress, movement, awakening, expansion, enlightenment, growth—these are but a few of the concepts applied to the effects, both within and without, of the evolutionary creative process. Humanity is today evolving from personal or self-consciousness towards group or Soul consciousness. We are learning how to transcend the binding, restrictive sense of separateness and isolation by opening to and striving to attain the expanded love-wisdom of group or Soul consciousness.

As a result, slowly, competition is being replaced by cooperation and the power of enlightened reason and dialogue are gradually taking the place of, war and brutality. As a planetary society, we are beginning to move from a separative and selfish culture with its emphasis on "me, mine and my own" to a heart oriented culture where world-wide cooperation for the Common Good, the Good of the Whole is becoming the acceptable norm. The imprisonment of human consciousness is slowly lessening as we move towards the liberation of the human spirit.

The existence of the United Nations, the growing number of welfare movements and NGOs, the avid interest in spirituality and the growing understanding that humanity and all life are interconnected attest to this evolution towards group consciousness. In short, we are slowly, but surely turning from a culture of war to a culture of peace.

In a talk last year the Secretary-General presented his vision of what I would term a culture of peace, which, to my mind, clearly exemplifies group or Soul consciousness. He said, "I see human beings caring for each other, and states sharing responsibility for the safety and welfare of all people, wherever they may live...I see all peoples working together to care for their common home, the earth, ensuring that its riches are preserved for future generations. And I see decisions that affect the global interest being taken in global institutions, starting with the United Nations. All members will respect each other's views, and strive honestly to reach agreement." (Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, June23, 2003).

Always there have been individuals on the planet who throughout time have demonstrated this group or Soul consciousness. They are the great spiritual teachers and the great servants of humanity in all fields. Today, we are here at this meeting walking in the footprints they left behind. We are adding our quota to their vision of the Good, the Beautiful and the True. We are part of the same stream of energy they initiated, as we too seek to serve the Common Good. The difference is that in the past we could only point to an individual here or there who demonstrated such a consciousness; today, the expectation is for such a consciousness to become the norm and not the exception.

And, speaking of the large footprints of our forbears, we would be remiss to talk about a Culture of Peace and UNESCO's World Heritage program if we did not bring up the vision and work of Nicholas Roerich who created the Banner of Peace and who is responsible for the Roerich Pact which was signed as a treaty in the White House on April 15, 1935 in the presence of then President Frankilin Roosevelt.

It was the devastations of World War I and the Russian revolution that spurred the efforts of Nicholas Roerich, a renowned painter, philosopher and archeologist to seek to protect the cultural heritage of each nation. He viewed all educational, artistic, religious and scientific institutions, as well as all sites of cultural significance as part of a world treasure—belonging to the whole of humanity

He believed that all art and all creativity must be protected from the ravages of war and neglect for without them, he said, life would be nothing but a rude and ignorant time on earth. And, he thought that just as the Red Cross, which seeks to alleviate the physical sufferings of humanity is embodied in a protective sign and banner, so too, should the Roerich Pact also have a Banner of Peace, which was designated to be flown at all sites of cultural activity and historical value, declaring these sites to be inviolable and calling for them to be respected by all nations in the times of war and peace.

The Banner of Peace symbol has ancient origins, even appearing on Stone Age amulets. The design shows three inner spheres surrounded by a circle in magenta color on a white background. Of the many national and individual interpretations of this symbol, perhaps the most usual are those of Religion, Art and Science as aspects of the totality of culture, which is the surrounding circle; another interpretation is that of the Past, Present and Future achievements of humanity guarded within the circle of Eternity.

For a copy of this Treaty entitled, "Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments" as well as a biography on Nicholas Roerich, you can visit the Nicholas Roerich web site ( which also includes many of the 7,000 some paintings which this great artist created. For those who live in the New York area, you might also want to visit the Nicholas Roerich Museum that features many of his paintings. The Museum is located at 319 West 107th Street in New York City.

Nicholas believed that art and culture could elevate the consciousness; that if one were in the presence of great beauty and open to that beauty that such would evoke a sense of transcendence and the highest spirituality within the individual.

I would like to end my talk with a concise yet I believe, profound quote synonymous with his name, which might even be described as the keynote of his life:

"In Beauty we are united
Through Beauty we pray
With Beauty we conquer."

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