Rene Wadlow USA

Bridges Between the Local and the Universal

Bridges

    On bridges are stated the limits in tons
of the loads they can bear.
Bridges
But I’ve never yet found one that can bear more
than we do,
although we are not made of roman freestone,
nor of steel, nor of concrete.

It’s the twentieth century we bear
across the chasms of the universe,
each one of us
a small, narrow bridge
on which the heaviest weight is yet to fall:
the future evolving from this era
in which the greatest evil flourishes:
the lie of power and the power of the lie
in the quagmire of meanness
in the high Alps of arrogance,            Drawing: Cecile Wadlow
in the ocean of blind folly.

And the computer calculates perfectly
In the shadow of the nuclear reactor

Ondra Lysohorsky (1905 – 1989)

Ondra Lysohorsky is far more profoundly the poet of all mankind and a practical, maturing, struggling and suffering humanity because he had bound himself to that region where he was born.  He had chosen to create in the dialect of his native province of Lachia in what was later Czechoslovakia. Just as Frederic Mistral did for Provencal, Lysohorsky has raised up Lachian to the flexibility of a literary language. Lachian is a tongue understood without translation by about one million people, some Poles, Slovaks and Czechs.  Lysohorsky was influenced by the example of Mistral and his work for the revival of the culture of the south of France through poetry and art.

He was born Erwin Goy in 1905, ninth child of a coal miner, at Frydek, near Ostrawa, the capital of the Lach area. The poet grew up with poverty and commercial exploitation following the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.  He started working in the coal mines at seven.  Somewhat later, he contracted polio and so could no longer work in the mines.  His intelligence was noted by local schoolteachers, and he was granted a scholarship, first to the German Lycee at Frydek and later to the German University at Prague where he took his doctorate in Philosophy and European Languages.  He spent some time at the Sorbonne University in Paris for he was both rooted in his local culture and open to the wider currents of European literature.  He was an admirer of Romain Rolland and Rolland’s efforts at building bridges between cultures, between France and Germany, between Europe and India.
Lysohorsky began writing poetry in 1922, binding himself closely to his native region, its people and its soil, yet always seeking the moral and spiritual dimensions which make for the fuller life. Thus his advice to himself on the deeper aspects of poetry:

To a Poet
Poetry is termed
Growing, creative, resistance.

If you grow only in height and breadth
Not in the deeps too,
The first storm uproots you.

Upon the invisible work
Under the earth
All springs.            (translated by Hugh McKinley)

He took the literary name of “Ondra Lysohorsky” from the regional mountain Lyso Hora. He was a founder-member of the anti-Fascist group Blok and worked against Nazi currents among German speakers in Czechoslovakia. At the start of the Second World War, he left for Poland and was there when the Germans attacked.  He was able to go to the Soviet Union, first to Moscow and later Tashkent in Central Asia.  While in Moscow and Tashkent he made friends with writers and poets and grew aware of the many styles of poetry circulating in the Soviet Union, not all of which could be published.  His Songs of the Sun and the Earth was published in Moscow in 1945, translated by Boris Pasternak and other leading poet-translators.
Lysohorsky was always concerned with the link between time and eternity.  Here is his meditation upon the Danube Room for All translated by the poet who shared many of his themes, W.H. Auden:

From my source the gathering waters have been flowing since time began

Hundreds of wars have I seen, and millions of warriors,
Led, clad, weaponed differently in every century,
But always spilling the same blood.

What do the hills around me
And the sky above me still harbour?
I hear the people on both my banks.
They build no bridges for reconciliation.

But I must flow,
But I must hear;
But I must see,
From the source to the ocean
For in me there is room for all.
He was the poet building a bridge between local and the universal. As he wrote “True love is maturity, and maturity is equilibrium, measure, order.” After the Second World War, he taught in Czechoslovakia but had difficulties with the government authorities because he insisted in writing in Lach rather than Czech.  Thus his poems were widely known in other countries having been translated by respected poets: Boris Pasternak in Russian, W.H. Auden and Hugh McKinley in English and Pierre Garnier in French.  Garnier also wrote in Picard, a dialect of northern France.  Garnier saw in Lysohorshy a kindred soul in developing a literary form of a minority language.

For Lysohorsky poetry was a bridge to understanding among cultures. As he said in a talk on world brotherhood and peace through poetry “ Poetry has an intellectual and spiritual task which includes and concerns the whole world, and the whole of humanity, all its inner life and outward actions.  Poetry is concerned with the Whole, with all life, with all countries, peoples and ages, with all our human brothers and sisters of yesterday, today and tomorrow, and we hope of the day-after-tomorrow too! Poetry is the path of reconciliation, of neighbourly love.  The whole of mankind needs it.”

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Bridges
Rene Wadlow
Rene Wadlow

Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe : A Reflection of When Things Fall Apart

–         Rene Wadlow, e-mail : wadlowz@aol.com

The death in a Boston hospital of Chinua Achebe, on 21 March 2013, the Nigerian novelist about whom it was said that his writings were “concerned with universal human communication across racial and cultural boundaries as a means of fostering respect for all people” came just at the start of the UN-sponsored 2013-2022 International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures. Continue reading “Chinua Achebe”

The Foundations of Interfaith Dialogue

By : René Wadlow, e-mail : wadlowz@aol.com
Member of Fellowship of Reconciliation,
Representative of United Nations, Geneva
& The Association of World Citizens,
Gravieres, France
 

January 12th is the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Indian religious reformer Vivekananda.  It was Vivekananda who at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago became the visible face of Indian religious thought in the United States and Europe. This to mark his anniversary, it is appropriate to look at the early foundations of interfaith dialogue and mutual cooperation.

There has always been interaction and borrowing of ideas among spiritual and religious groups. Early Christianity took ideas and rituals from the Jewish milieu of its early members, including its founder, Jesus. However, ideas from the mystical traditions of the Middle East and Greece were also incorporated — Neo-Platonism as well as aspects of the Eleusinian and other initiation rituals. Christian Gnostic groups had relations with Zoroastrian thought and probably Buddhists from India.

In Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, in reaction to the violent religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation, humanists such as Erasmus appealed for tolerance and tried to find an intellectual basis for reconciliation. The Erasmian spirit found one of its most beautiful expressions in a small but influential group known as the Domus Charitatis (the Family of Love). Founded in the 1540s, the Family of Love recruited its members from all over Europe and included both Catholics and Protestants. The Familists placed an emphasis on the practice and growth of spiritual love as a way of building bridges between dogmatic religious positions.

During the same period of the 16th and 17th centuries, in a more esoteric way, the alchemists turned to a wide variety of sources in their search for a symbolic language to express the mystery of both physical and spiritual transformation. In addition to Christian symbolism, they used the symbolism of Greek and Roman mythology, Gnosticism, the Jewish Kabbal, and Islamic culture. Drawing on such a wide variety of traditions, the alchemists paved the way for the gradual interest in the study of the world religions in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries.

However, we can date the start of formal inter-religious understanding and cooperation from the first World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, Illinois. In 1893, interfaith dialogue was almost unknown in the United States when immigration up until that time was nearly exclusively Christian with the addition of a small number of Jews coming from Germany and Central Europe.

The 1893 World Parliament of Religions (sometimes called the World’s Congress of Religions) was convened in Chicago in connection with the World Fair of that year (1). The Parliament owed much to the efforts of its organizing president, John Henry Barrow. Barrow was a well-known Chicago lawyer as well as a Swedenborg minister. The Parliament was heavily weighed in favor of liberal Protestant denominations: the Unitarians, the Universalists, and the Congregationalists, along with two more conservative Protestant churches, the Presbyterians and the Baptists. The Roman Catholics were represented by the prominent Cardinal Gibbons.

Barrow depended on his contacts in Chicago with members of the Theosophical Society for advice on Asian religions. Thus Annie Besant, president of the Theosophical Society, living at its headquarters in India and active in Indian reform movements suggested the Asian speakers — all of whom represented a modern, social reformist wing of their faiths. Besant participated and had insisted that there be an important contribution from women highlighting their specific roles — a theme then new to the largely hierarchical and patriarchal structures of religious groups.

Buddhism was represented by the theosophically-trained H. Dharmapala, an educator and social reformer in what is now Sri Lanka, but not a member of the orthodox Buddhist Sanga of the island. The Zoroastrians were represented by an Indian Parsee, Jananji Modi, a friend of the Theosophical Society and a friend of the Oxford scholar of religions Max Muller, who also played an important intellectual role in the preparation of the Parliament. Muller did not attend but sent a paper on “Greek Philosophy and the Christian Religion,” which was read by Barrow. An aspect of Indian thought was represented by B.R. Nargarkara of the reformist Bhahmo-Sumaj who quoted its spirit saying, “When scriptures differ, and faith disagree, a man should see truth reflected in his own spirit … We do not believe in the revelation of books and men, of histories and historical records for today God communicates His will to mankind as truly and as really as He did in the days of Christ or Moses, Mohammed or Buddha.”

The most striking voice of Indian thought came from the young Vivekananda (born Naremdranath Datta to an aristocratic Calcutta family). He alighted in Chicago in ochre robes and turban and gave a series of talks to the 4,000 attendees of the Parliament. Vivekananda, a follower of the more mystic thinker, Ramakrishna, defined Hinduism as a few basic propositions of Vedantic thought, the foremost being that “all souls are potentially divine,” and he quoted Ramakrishna that “the mystical experience at the heart of every religious discipline was essentially the same.” Being 31, Vivekananda had the energy to travel throughout the United States, meeting intellectuals who were discovering Indian thought not through translations of Indian scriptures, as had Emerson and other New England writers, but through a learned and dynamic Indian.

From the United States his writings spread, influencing such thinkers as Leo Tolstoy and Romain Rolland who wrote Life of Ramakrishna and Life of Vivekananda (1928). Later the English writer, Aldous Huxley, wrote The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Vivekananda’s enthusiasm for the USA as a new land unburdened by the old ways was boundless, and quite fittingly, he died on July 4, 1902 — the U.S. national holiday. He was just 39 years old, but was exhausted from ceaseless work and untreated diabetes.

For many decades, the exposition of Indian thought by Vivekananda was considered to be Hinduism. It was not until the late 1950s and the coming to the University of Chicago of Mircea Eliade, the Romanian specialist of Indian religious thought, that the many different strands of Hinduism were stressed. Hinduism was a term coined by the English colonists as they wanted a term to cover all Indian thought as they were already used to “Islam” for the Arabs and “Christians” for the West. At the start of the English colonial period in India, Indians never referred to themselves as Hindus, but used more often the term dharma — the law of Nature — for their faith. Likewise Buddhists also never spoke of themselves as Buddhists. Buddha was also said to have explained the dharma which had existed eternally, and they were only following the dharma as explained by the Buddha; they were not following the historical Buddha.

Since 1893, interfaith discussions have increased, but many of the issues have remained the same: how to make religious thought relevant to the social-economic-political issues of the day. Can religious organizations play a useful role in the resolution of violent conflicts (2)?

It is important to build on past efforts, but many challenges remain. These challenges call for responses from a wide range of people and groups, motivated by good will to break down barriers and to reconcile women and men within the world community.

Notes:

  1. For a record of the talks and statement of the Parliament, see: The World’s Congress of Religionsby Rev. Minot J. Savage (Arena Publishing Co., 1893, 428 pages).
  2. For a useful overview of recent multifaith dialogue and cooperation by a participant in many of the efforts, see: Faith and Interfaith in a Global Age by Marcus Braybrooks (Co-Nexus Press, 1998, 144 page).