I have been asked on a number of occasions if Indra is a religious organisation: here are some thoughts for the New Year.
Although the Congress is guided by the spiritual, Buddhist metaphor of Indra’s Net, Indra is not a specifically religious organisation. The initial ARROW programme (Art: a Resource for Reconciliation Over the World) was partly inspired by the figure of Desmond Tutu, which has led some to assume, incorrectly, that ARROW was formally linked to Christianity. I have a photograph of me, taken by Marina Barham in Bethlehem, standing under the West Bank separation wall with the words, ‘God is not only Christian: Desmond Tutu’, daubed in large graffiti.
We are living through times of extraordinary global turbulence, with devastating wars, refugee crises, rampant corporatism and greed, extremist ideologies, radical climate change and gross inequalities, which all seem to be happening at the same time! As in Yeat’s prophetic poem:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot see the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It is easy to be despondent. Listening/watching the news is not a heart lifting experience, but times of turbulence and chaos can also be the birth pains of change and hope – hope that is deeper than a comfortable optimism. Here’s an example: The religious writer Karen Armstrong was some time ago awarded a major prize. She spent the prize money on establishing The Charter for Compassion, a universal commitment from leading figures in all faiths and none to emphasise the centrality and priority of the Golden Rule in their religious and ethical practice: Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.’ The Charter highlights the centrality of the Golden Rule in the ethical teachings of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hindusim, Buddhism, other faiths and humanist traditions. It calls on all religious and spiritual practices to denounce as illegitimate any interpretation of scripture that breeds hatred, violence and disdain.
The word compassion has roots in latin and Greek meaning suffering, enduring, and the word com, meaning with. We suffer with, or in dramatic terms we empathise: a basic component of theatre and the process through which we can see ‘the self in the other and the other in the self.’ How the power of compassion is given expression and form will be subject to debate and argument, but if the guiding principle of compassion can become deeply rooted then there is hope. I have signed up to the charter.
The image of Indra’s net is a global metaphor for the Golden Rule, i.e. that all peoples are treated as we would wish to be treated ourselves. The young participants, co-ordinators, artists and others that make up the precious jewels in the net of the Indra Congress, use the wonderful, probing, challenging and joyful language of the arts as a vehicle to this end: together we imagine and aspire to a better world guided by compassion, justice and creativity.