Conference of the World Fellowship of Interreligious Councils in Cochin
WFIRC 2008 ASSEMBLY
Spirituality and the Environment
Your honour, revered leaders, brothers and sisters, thank you for honouring me by this invitation to speak.
I am delighted to be in Kochi again and to have the opportunity to participate in another Assembly of the World Federation of Inter-religious Councils. I am sure you will all join me in expressing our appreciation to Fr Albert Nambiaparambil, and those who have worked with him, for bringing us all together and in voicing our thanks to him for a life devoted to building interfaith fellowship.
I personally, as a Christian, owe a great deal to India’s rich spiritual heritage. Over forty years ago I studied at Madras Christian College. I learned from Hinduism that the Mystery of the Divine is more wonderful than any names by which we address the Holy. This helped me discover the Christian mystical tradition, which in the sixties was largely hidden. The great Mosques of North India deepened my sense of the transcendent glory of God. Later, visiting the Golden Temple, I became more aware of how precious all our scriptures are to us. I could speak of the influence of Mahatma Gandhi and of Buddhism in making me aware, as Jesus also showed, that any real change can only come by non-violent means. I could go on, but my first point is that far from diluting our particular faith, our interfaith fellowship is spiritually enriching and, as C.F. Andrews said, it makes us more aware of the universal compassion of the Divine.
Interfaith sharing is also enriching as our personal friendships grow and the importance of this needs to be emphasised at a time when religious differences are misused to foment hatred and violence. Our interfaith friendships ‘bind us together in love’ and in an affection in which our religious labels become irrelevant. This was vividly emphasised to us on Vivekananda’s rock on the day before the 1993 WFIRC Assembly. We had only just arrived in India and as were shown round Mary - who asks me to send her greetings to her many interfaith friends here - felt quite faint. Various people offered to help and it was a Baha’i who pushed us to front of the queue onto the ferry. Then, when we got off it, a Hindu drove us to the hotel. About an hour later, there was a knock on the door and there if I remember aright, was Mrs Meher Master Moos with an envelope in her hand. ‘I think you dropped this on the rock. Do you want it?’ It contained our tickets, our passports, and our money. ‘Yes, thank you, we certainly do need it.’
But, an old man’s privilege, allow me one more memory. At Madras Christian College, I went with some other students – a Catholic from Sri Lanka and a Muslim from Hyderabad to help at a Leprosy Clinic. The doctor was a Saivite. There I learned what is the deepest reason for our interfaith endeavours: that we should overcome past prejudice and misunderstanding and join together in the service of the poor. Each child who dies of hunger or of a curable disease is evidence of our failure and the failure of our religions to serve God – of whatever name – in the way that God most desires.
This too is why not only faiths should come together but also why all who give time and energy to the various interfaith groups – be they local, national or international – also need to co-operate. This is why the International Interfaith Centre was set up in Oxford fifteen years ago. The interfaith movement is bigger than any organisation. There is more than enough for us all to do and we shall be more effective in the changes for which we pray if we see ourselves as partners. It is this that IION – the International Interfaith Organisations Network - exists to encourage. We will be enriched in our discussions as we learn of what all of you are doing and I hope we can contribute to this important gathering. Thank you for welcoming us. And our IION meeting here is a sign that we take environmental issues seriously. Many of us wished in any case to accept the kind invitation to the WFIRC meeting, but by having the IION meeting at the same time – we have halved our carbon footprint – so thank you for your hospitality.
What I want to suggest tonight is that we need nothing less than a spiritual revolution if we are to do justice to our responsibilities to the environment. I said this in a World Congress of Faiths ‘Interfaith Celebration of Animals’ a couple of weeks ago and then next day read these words by Chandra Muzzafar of Just International, who would like to have been here: ‘The solutions … require an unprecedented paradigm shift in the way in which we look at ourselves, at others, and at the planet we inhabit.’ 
Care of the environment is central to our concern for social justice. Droughts, which are linked to climate change, are one cause of the current food crisis. The likely rise in sea levels will endanger the poor who live in areas most exposed to flooding. Moreover the richer countries consume more of the world’s resources and their carbon footprints are those of giants, if not dinosaurs. These are issues that, no doubt, the panels will be discussing. But these issues point beyond themselves to our need to discover or recover a truly spiritual relationship to Nature
Recently I went to Eilat in the South of Israel on the Red Sea, where there is a coral reef and an aquarium that allows you to go under water and observe the amazing variety of brightly coloured fish. I felt part of the ocean life and recognised again that every creature - ‘water-beings, fire-beings, plants, animals’ (to quote from the Jain scriptures) from the simplest to the most complex share the wonderful gift of Life.
My friend and great spiritual teacher Donald Nicholl – some of you may know his book Holiness - wrote of his experience one morning climbing down the steep path into the Grand Canyon in America. Seeing the different layers of fossils, he said, ‘You feel a true kinship with all those beings knowing that you and they trace their existence back to the first moment when life appeared on earth. And then you start to reflect that the very eyes with which you are observing these wondrous evidences are the result of millions of years of striving for light… We are who we are thanks to the striving and sacrifice of innumerable living beings who have helped to make possible the life we enjoy.’
We are part of a chain of being that stretches back for millions of years and we need to recognise our interdependence with all life and our need to respect and care for it. This truth, as you well know and could illustrate, is to be found in all the great religious traditions. It is also affirmed in publications of the United Nations Environment Programme. 
Prophetic thinkers such as Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo, however, go further and have emphasised that the story of evolution is a growth in consciousness, which in human beings becomes self-consciousness. The pattern of sacrifice, of life through death, which in the Natural world is involuntary, now becomes a matter of choice. As Jesus said, ‘He who loses his life will save it.’
Are we willing to lay down our lives for others? Too often we refuse and history is the repeated tragic story of killing rather than being killed. But spiritual teachers, such as Jesus who chose the way of the Cross, and the Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi and many others who preached non-violence, teach us that sacrifice is the way to life. The Environmental Crisis is not a problem out there – for World Leaders and the World Bank to solve – but a direct question to each one of us about our own spirituality. Do we reflect in the way we live, in the choices we make, in our awareness of our oneness with people of other faiths and races, in our care for animals and our respect for nature, this reverence for all life? Are we living icons of the truth that life - all life - is precious, because it is a gift of God?
It is fascinating that mystics who plumb the depths of the Spirit and those who have explored outer space have the same message for us.
Pictures of the earth taken from space have been called a symbol for our age. Astronauts David Brown and Kalpana Chawla, who both died in the Columbia spacecraft disaster, spoke of the magical beauty of our planet as seen from space. ‘If I’d been born in space,’ David Brown said, ‘I would desire to visit beautiful Earth more than I ever yearned to visit space. It’s a wonderful planet.’ Kalpana Chawla said, ‘The first view of Earth is magical… in such a small planet, with such a small ribbon of life, so much goes on. You get the feeling that I need to work extraordinarily hard along with other human beings to respect that.’ 
Mystics who have explored inner space proclaim the same message of unity. The French Jesuit and palaeontologist Teilhard de Chardin said, ‘I live at the heart of a single, unique Element, the Centre of the Universe, and present in each part of it; personal Love and cosmic Power.’  The American environmental theologian Fr. Thomas Berry has written ‘We are earthlings. The Earth is our origin, our nourishment, our support, our guide. Our spirituality itself is Earth-derived.’ 
Awareness of our oneness with all life and with the Source of Being should inspire in us the compassion and energy that will ensure that all people live in peace and that no one goes hungry and that the Natural world is protected for future generations and that all beings are valued and their right to life is respected. To share in such a spiritual revolution is today’s exciting and challenging call to all people of faith. As the environmentalist Jane Goodall says, ‘We are moving toward the ultimate destiny of our species – a state of compassion and love.’ 
Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke is President of the World Congress of Faiths, Patron of the International Interfaith Centre and Co-Founder of the Three Faiths Forum. He is the author of over forty books including A Heart for the World and What Can We learn from Hinduism and What can We learn from Islam. He edited the anthology 1,000 World Prayers.
Chandra Muzaffar in Just Commentary,Vol 8, No 8, August 2008., p. 1
 See for example Earth and Faith,
 Quoted in Marcus Braybrooke, 365 Meditations for a Peaceful Heart and a Peaceful World, Godsfield , 2004, p. 380
 Teilhard de Chardin, quoted in ‘The Cosmology of Religions’, p. 97
 Spirituality of the Earth’ in Celebrating Earth Holy Days, Ed. Susan J Clark, Crossroad, 1992
 Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope, Warner Books, 1999, p. 267.