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The Universal Declaration on Nonviolence
and the Emergence of a Global Culture



by Bro. Wayne Teasdale


In the last ten thousand years, or five hundred generations, there have been some 80,000 wars. Most of these have been officially sanctioned by religious authority. It is, I believe, the responsibility of the various world religions not simply to acknowledge this tragic fact, but to foster a change in this pattern of behavior so ingrained in the human. One way to break this historical habit of aggression in our nature, and hence to alter the tendency of support for the pattern by religions is to abandon the notion of support for war, that is in effect, to reject the claim of “holy” wars or jihads -- the claim that they are justified -- and to espouse a more compassionate, humane and engaged way to settle differences. Clearly this is something within our power. The various religious traditions can lead the world away from reliance on war by separating themselves formally from it. This is the essential purpose of the Universal Declaration on Nonviolence.

This document grew out of a number of discussions between the Dalai Lama and Bro. Wayne Teasdale. In his first encounter with the Dalai Lama at Archbishop’s House in London in April, 1988, they examined the possibility of a statement formally separating religion from any relationship with organized violence, with the Iran-Iraq war as a backdrop. In subsequent meetings it became clear to them that what was needed was a permanent document that would forcefully introduce this principle into the discourse of the world with clarity and directness. Their idea was to float this insight: that in any vision of the future the religions must act collectively to steer a course towards a lasting stable peace by undoing the psychological mechanism of automatic support for war when it seemed justified or in our interest, or that of our nation.

By the second draft of the Declaration in1989, the support of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (formerly, the North American Board for East-West Dialogue) was gained. This Board is a monastic organization of which Bro. Wayne was a member until 1995 and to which he continues to be an advisor. Together the ten members worked very hard to refine the document into its present form, which was then signed by all of them, by Dom Bede Griffiths and by H.H. The Dalai Lama. Since then, hundreds of communities, organizations and individuals have signed it.

The Universal Declaration On Nonviolence presented here is conceived as an ongoing document, much like the U.N. document, the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, or An Initial Declaration Towards a Global Ethic which was signed by many of the participants in the Assembly of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. It is not that important to obtain the endorsement of all the religious traditions at the outset, though certainly that would be desirable. It is assumed that as time goes on, religious bodies, groups, and persons will want to sign it when they have achieved a certain awareness of its necessity and value. What we are attempting to do here in this Declaration, is to draw attention to a foundational element of a new global culture and society.

It is crucial to understand that this is not just another “peace statement” among others, nor a passivist manifesto. Indeed, the document cannot be properly understood in isolation from its context: a new vision of civilization in which organized violence is no longer tolerated. It is only if we can dream of such a world, such a vision for generations yet to come, that it can become a reality, rather than yet another failed utopian scheme. The interdependence of economies, cultures, and religions, fortified by the technological advance of instantaneous communications, not to mention the dynamism of evolving societies in the matrix of world history, itself, make this particular dream a genuine possibility. It is a possibility simply waiting to be realized by our own collective efforts.

The Universal Declaration constitutes a creative leap into the future --into the third millennium -- and is a conscious effort at civilization-building. It tries to formulate what is one of the most authentic desires of us all: a permanent condition of global peace. This document is not the end of the process; it is really only the beginning because such a new global culture will not only be predicated on nonviolence and so on peace, but also on the precious values of love, compassion, kindness, sharing, and spirituality etc. At the core of its self-understanding. Its self-understanding will give expression to a more ultimate notion of justice, a justice truly grounded in concern and charity. This new civilization, furthermore, would be firmly established on a profound sense of the sacredness of Nature with all its wonderfully diversity of life-forms, and a permanent, unwavering commitment to ecological justice.

As St. Augustine saw in his own time, peace is ultimately “the tranquility of order”, the divine order that exists not simply in this universe but also between created being and the Divine Reality itself. Harmony is a defining characteristic of this order and this intuition of peace. Nonviolence, in its highest sense, is an acknowledgement of this order, of that reality of harmony with the Divine, as well as between and among individuals, groups, religions, cultures, and nations. Nonviolence, or ahimsa in the Indian tradition is, in its most mature or evolved form, Love. Love is not only the basis of this vision of a new world order, it is also the very essence of peace as the tranquility of order. It is, after all, the very heart of that order, what indeed animates it: the Divine Mystery itself as the actuality of infinite Love , the primordial, eternal energy of the Godhead circulating within itself, within each of us, and within the entire cosmos.



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