Nothing can compare to potential devastation posed by nuclear weapons. They are the greatest hazard to life on Earth. We cannot be sure that the Coronavirus pandemic is under control in what is designated its first wave and we can’t be sure that the system can be repaired.
Peace is a process, the happy sum of many good human acts and positive behavioral attitudes. Any alienation of its role from the true soul leads to arrogance, pride, and a fall from grace. When divorced from the life-giving soul, our role becomes deficient, impoverished, and irrelevant. Our role atrophies and the light goes out. These are some of the words of the former Education Minister of Bhutan who every day can look up to the Himalayas, much as I look up at the Acropolis. One image reflects the magnificence of Nature, the other the refinement of the human spirit.
In his small book Gyal-Khab, he reflects deeply, with a strong tone of optimism on state, citizen and citizenship education. It reflects on the thoughts of President Andrew Jackson who said every good citizen makes his country’s honor his own, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru who said citizenship consists in the service of the country and Socrates who said I am a citizen of the world. But if citizens are lacking in education and reason, the educational system needs reform. Thakur S. Powdyel has a passion for education and is often referred to as the most foot-travelled education minister in the world. He told us that global citizenship acknowledges a special contribution to humanity. For him, the Acropolis is sacred, home of seers and civilizations and the cradle of many awakenings.
We seemed to agree that the oft-repeated and difficult philosophical questions of today cannot be solved by Artificial Intelligence as clever as it is. What our existence is and means must be seen through the prism of a well-fulfilled life, which returned us to the ancient Hellenic world and Socrates, the First Citizen of the World, who said to young people, fall in love, get married! If it works, great! If not, become a philosopher. He was also the father of life-long-learning for having listened to a soldier singing outside of his death cell, he asked him to sing the song again. The soldier balked telling him: “Forget it old man for soon you will be dead”. “That’s the point - said the philosopher - I have a chance to learn one more thing before I die”.
According to writer and educator, Thakur S. Powdyel, freedom of expression means the right of an individual to be, to have and to do, within the bounds of propriety, without harm to others or interference with another’s rights. He regards freedom of expression as a moral act and an article of faith, which, when conducted well, solves problems, uplifts and inspires. I asked him what does he have to say given that Socrates broke the law and so did the Kings Bay Ploughshares, in America? In my limited understanding and unlimited admiration of Socrates, the philosopher represents an infallible sensibility, a wide-awake consciousness, a flowering of human genius that saw it all and saw it fully.
What looks exceptional to us mortals is in essence the apprehension of truth as it is. Socrates didn't have to say it; it was enough that he was. As to the Ploughshares it may be helpful to put it through the prism of means and ends and seek to resolve the apparent tension between them. In my scheme of things, the means must justify the ends: if the end is noble, the means to achieve that end must be noble. So I say greater nobility has no-man or no-woman than to sacrifice his or her freedom to turn back the atomic clock and ask where will the nobility be found to correct the dysfunctions in the legal, health and educational systems.
Our interactions and conversations started in Manila when he told me that I am now in the world’s hall of fame as an ambassador of peace. From the podium: peace is not an illusion. Peace is a mission. Peace is a destiny. Peace is the fundamental condition for human flourishing, happiness, and sustainability. It is a condition of the mind that makes life and living a worthwhile experience, a state of being that empowers life to grow, to hope, to build, to create as well as to celebrate the process and joy of living on this earth. Your role as Peace Laureates meets its soul in your noble work, which makes a difference.
Thakur S. Powdyel was a special guest and keynote speaker of the founder and chairman of the Gusi Foundation, Ambassador Barry Gusi. His address was inspirational and congratulatory to the assembled laureates; it referred to poetry and politicians and gave meaningful messages. He gave sincere congratulations to all the nineteen remarkable recipients on receiving an award referred to as the “Nobel of Asia” and well-deserved acknowledgment of distinguished service to humanity. It was bestowed in the true Gusi ideals of Godliness, Unity, Service, and Internationalism to help make our world, a world now characterized by distrust and disharmony, a better place. The award that I was about to receive was for service to international public health and the promotion of Greek thought and classical philosophy. It carries no monetary reward and comes with the expectation that its recipients will continue working for peace. This was stressed on several occasions to me and to all my fellow-Peace-Laureates.
With all its imperfections, the world is still a good place. And from the podium, with all its aches and pains, life is still beautiful and precious; it is worth working for, worth honoring and celebrating. What matters is that we all play our part, wherever we are. He quoted words of Carl Sandberg: There is only one man in the world. His name is All Men. There is only one woman in the world. Her name is All Women. There is only one child in the world. And, the child’s name is All Children as well as a profound thought coming from the late President Anwar Al Sadat of Egypt: Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man; the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth. The hospitality we received from the Gusi Foundation was indeed gracious and memorable.
Thakur S. Powdyel noted some of the fields of study, research and practices represented in the endeavors of the laureates, from the timeless foundations of philosophy to the latest experiments in neuroscience and stem-cell research, to creating a shared space for Palestinian and Israeli doctors to live together and work together in perfect harmony, to build peace in strife-torn regions of our globe, to dig water-wells to quench agonizing thirst in the desert hamlets of Pakistan, to fight corruption and ensure justice in Argentina, to build social well-being and ensure environmental integrity in burgeoning Manila, to reclaim the soul of a nation and nation-building in South Africa, to restore the purpose of education in Turkey, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Russia, and from Greece in the service to global public health and the promotion of Greek classical thinking.
Thakur S. Powdyel is a down-to-earth man, deeply thoughtful, gracious and quietly sophisticated with an illuminating knowledge of ancient lands, great awakenings and civilizations. We talked of the proud home of Plato and of Socrates and of Aristotle, their peers, predecessors and successors. Thakur S. Powdyel says we should feel truly blessed with such world heritage.
I made it to the Philippines with the help of my daughter to receive the prestigious International Gusi Peace Prize after a serious fall, a geriatric injury. Thakur S. Powdyel noted that despite the injury, there was the ever-shining light of joy in our faces. I was touched by the way a daughter took care of her father, at all times, in all places. We can take care of our parents only until they are around! I have no such privilege.
Our conversations took off in Manila at a time when COVID-19 was working its way from animal to man and then to be passed on to the world with such devastating consequences. As the first wave continues to evolve in the southern hemisphere we find ourselves in a vastly altered world with many bad things still the same within the framework of a dysfunctional relationship between humanity and nature that will cause more disease.
We left Manila tingling with memories and after a memorable last evening over an active volcano just ahead of airport shut down, one breath ago, an eternity gone by, we escaped the rains and raucous winds of a typhoon, escaped as well, earth-spewed hot volcanic ash. One of the gems we carried with us was Thakur S. Powdyel’s book My Green School, which has been translated into Spanish, Catalan, Vietnamese, Japanese, Kannada, Thai, Italian, French, German and Lithuanian with some others underway. Thakur S. Powdyel referred to it as my little book and this little baby of a book, which is a commendable read. His wish is to see it printed in Greek. Little did we know then that hidden devils lurked in China and Europe would soon be in locked-down in quarantine?
Touching upon COVID, we noted the remarkable response of Greece and Taiwan. In Bhutan, we have had no internal infection so far except some 47 imported cases under quarantine and in isolation now. The first positive case came with an American tourist. The country has put in strong measures for prevention. Thakur S. Powdyel’s prayer for the Post-COVID-19 world is one, minus the virus, the spontaneous manifestation of essential human goodness and the selfless spirit of sustained caring and sharing. It means doing more with less, and, above all, it is an awakening that despite variations in status and attainments, we are all the same - just humans, just mortals, ephemeral - helpless in front of elements far mightier than us. Even though it will never be the same again, let it be a world in which all our children, and their children, and theirs and beyond, will be able to live with the blessings of peace, security and well-being in the loving embrace of a healthy Planet Earth that we call our home. When the scourge is behind us, let a new world-order with a more humane society, and a wiser view of life, emerge. If mankind falls back into its same old habits of mind and its unsustainable patterns of living after so much misery and sacrifice, it will be a pity of further tragic dimensions.
We shared with him an extract from a poem with a demonstration of the personification of quarantine and lockdown in Greece.
Wear COVID out Quarantine, keep devils at bay. Wear COVID down Lockdown, contagion give way. Test, test for COVID, test, test till we know, where the pest comes from, where do he go. And troubled by thoughts and concerns for its return we urged. While in the words of a Nobel noble poet, just a little more and we shall see almond trees in blossom, marbles shining in the sun. Don’t throw away again the glory accumulated there, Coronavirus is never fair.
In closing, we asked Thakur S. Powdyel to comment on a divided, fragmented world, in spite of globalization, well into a new arms race, which makes it imperative here and now to work towards control by treaty and to put in a much more vigorous effort to promote world peace. It means greatly reducing the number of have-nots and the influence of the rich elite on politics. Children work in dangerous conditions, shackled if they have psychosocial problems, go hungry, fall sick and are unable to learn. On cruel migration and refugee highways they are threatened with death by suffocation and by drowning, victims of profiteers.
His response: one of the most inexorable lessons of COVID-19 is the re-statement of the eternal law of impermanence. “Nothing stays; everything flows”, as in the old Heraclitus fashion. As we look around, and what we find staring us in the face today, is the fact that even the mightiest of the mighty are rendered helpless in the wake of developments over which they have no control. At the same time, it is a moment when the ever latent seed of humanity re-germinates and gives soul-healing shelter to the weary and the needy in a collective effort dedicated to the preservation of life and the celebration of living. My country, Bhutan, has shown that nothing is more precious than life thanks to the example of a beloved King who walks the talk.
A global, spontaneous manifestation of positive energy and basic human goodness must be far more powerful and pervasive in the restoration of the integrity of life than any there has been hitherto. It is nothing less than a revolution in the rehabilitation of the goodness of the human race in the face of desolation and disaster. It is my prayer that this becomes the norm in peace-time as it has been in times of war, awakening the human in mankind of the species. It is calling us back to ourselves, to travel inward, to value our native resources that sustain us that give meaning to life. This, in my view, is a veritable revolution, a revolution for and dedicated to Life, now and forever. And in Europe he queries?
What you say means a necessary return to Greek classical philosophy and a return to a marriage of all philosophies if peace is to be given its greatest chance. And then the world will be as one. But while trying to remain optimistic under COVID in Europe, I am pulled back to the enormous unfulfilled promise of public health, its institutions and specific instruments as well as political complacency in the face of high-risk events with a low-probability of occurrence1. Then came COVID’s first wave! Are we prepared for a second wave? Should heaven forbid a nuclear war erupts there will be no olive branch.
The closing words of Thakur S. Powdyel: not to learn anything redemptive from so much pain and suffering would be a tragic waste. l hope that COVID-19 will have a powerful cathartic effect on our world and that we will emerge a little better, more humane and much wiser. At the end of the day, it is my belief that the love of life is greater than the love of death, and the impulse to peace is stronger than the impulse to war. I believe in the great goodness of the world and the collective merit of humanity, which can take us to the sunnier side of the street. In Bhutan, we have no illusion about the challenges presented in pursuing a different path to development called Gross National Happiness as opposed to pursuing the conventional path of utilitarian the Gross Domestic Product. I see challenges and despair, but I also see hope. However, it is important to consciously create conditions commensurate with its fulfillment since the ultimate goal of all human beings, across time and space, is the realization of happiness.
1 The Dubrovnik Pledge and the Skopje Declaration: Public Health, Peace, and Human Rights (circa 2000) related to the Balkans and aimed to reduce vulnerability of its peoples by using public health and disaster preparedness. They expressed the social conscience of public health, proclaimed its union with peace and human rights and called for support for the ethics and value systems of the United Nations, World Health Organization and the Council of Europe. The Athens ASPHER Accord (2016) and part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region reiterated and added further concern for the predicament of rising vulnerability and the need for public health preparation for problems engulfing Europe. All three instruments stated a conviction that public health constitutes one basic element and practical ingredient, for mankind’s hope for a future, closer to the human heart’s desire. They fell silently on political ears.
The GNH Index or Gross National Happiness was first coined by the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. He declared Gross National Happiness more important than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As a concept, it implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing. A much earlier legal code (1729) stated that if the government cannot create happiness (dekid) for its people, there is no purpose for the government to exist.
This well before: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the United States Declaration of Independence, which is repeated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the God-given right to life, liberty, and security of person, which governments are created to protect. An extensive analysis of GNH Index (Karma Ura et.al.), comes from the Centre for Bhutan Studies, 2012, within a holistic framework of social and collective wellbeing with sustainable and equitable distribution.