By Brian Landever
As the Venezuelan Minister of Defense firmly placed his hands on my shoulder for my desired photo op, I found myself filled with pride. I am certainly not the type to commonly have such sentiments in the company of anyone that represents forceful means, but the worthiness of the people-first system that the high general stands to defend made it hard to avoid elation in his close presence. It is the preference for the latter of these two ideas: defense over aggression, which had been increasing my delight throughout the day at Chief General Raúl Isaías Baduel's international peace conference. Staring at the crowd throughout the two day event beginning on the 27th of April in the military academy of Caracas was a quote which characterized the intention of the seemingly contradictory situation.
"When they asked me about a weapon able to resist the power of the atomic bomb, I suggested the best of all: Peace."
-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
It was clear that Baduel had brought together peace activists, intellectuals, professionals, spiritual and religious leaders, artists, and many young members of his armed forces to explore the art of overcoming a lust for violence and the bigger cannon, replacing it with the exploration of the different lanes along the road of peace.
The events began in private on Thursday evening with a dinner held in the Eurobuilding Hotel's Chef's Choice Dining Hall. Symbolizing what was to come in the following days, the conference speakers gathered to dine with Minister Baduel and his wife, Cruz Maria Baduel.
The following morning, it was apparent to me that they had built their introductory levels of familiarity and respect for one another. Throughout the morning's ecumenical service, which began the public events, they were happily greeting one another, making light conversation.
Entering the church, a large open-air, 500-seat stadium with a pulpit and live orchestra below, the speakers and spiritual groups walked together between two lines of unarmed soldiers and hundreds of guests towards the front where they took their seats next to one another.
Lieutenant Coronel Monsignor Raúl Ascanio Chirinos opened the service in a traditional Catholic manner, speaking from the pulpit placed below a large stained glass mural of Simon Bolivar, and beside a live orchestra. He then initiated the proceedings not with a twenty-one gun salute, but with the release of a white dove. Following him was a speaker from nearly every spiritual group within Venezuela. They each explained how their spiritual path contributes to peaceful coexistence with others, and provided a taste of their prayers before the audience. The two hour service presented speakers from the evangelical Church Renacer, the World Muslim League of Venezuela, the Synagogue Tiferet Israel of The East, Ananda Marga, the Sri Chaitanya Sridhar Govinda Seva Ashram of Caracas, Venezuela, and the Asociacion Civil Cultural Seguidores of IFA.
A private breakfast commenced after the service for the all the speakers of the conference as well as those of the morning's service. This was hosted by the Chief General, and was held in his private meeting room, a well decorated room with a full wall of pictures of Simón Bolivar. He welcomed his guests, and acknowledged the presence of several Jewish Nazi concentration camp survivors. At the head table, the Catholic priest, Jewish rabbi, and Muslim imam sat together.
The conference began that afternoon in the Defense Ministry Auditorium, an approximate 700-seat auditorium which was filled at least at 90% capacity throughout the two days. Amongst the several hundred civilians and Chief General Baduel were at least 250 young male and female Venezuelan soldiers, high officers, and for the morning of Saturday, a four star Chinese general.
Speakers from the Dominican Republic, Spain, the USA, and Venezuela each presented stimulating accounts on the methods of peace. Topics ranged from establishing local development as a solution to neoliberal economics, to Buddhist methods of bringing about inner calm and inner wisdom. Success-only education, the benefits of emotional intelligence, music therapy, incorporating cultures of differing races into policy, communication techniques, and empathy were some of the other topics.
All the sincere, different examinations of how peace may be practiced left me feeling inspired and hopeful. Not only for the actual messages that I received from each individual presentation, but for the larger picture that was painted for a more concerned world. This conference represented the unification that is building in Venezuela. As such, it was a form of communication that expressed an alternative to present forms of capitalism. Today's popular economy requires self-interested individualism in order to maintain its theory that competition will balance its markets. Yet what Venezuela is creating takes this societal-economic vision to the level of social solidarity, attempting to eliminate forms of alienating competition. They are recreating the workplace paradigm to make the people aware of the people, thus creating the understanding of the personal importance and production benefits of interdependence.
This peace conference was settling in that it was in line with the vision of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution. It is people that are the interest in a society that uses community-serving cooperatives, for example, to encourage people to organize, to develop their neighborhoods, and to increase their standard of living. And it is people, the value of life, that are the interest of an armed forces that would rather avoid violence by bringing people together in ways that support the elements that maintain peace. The armed forces of Venezuela may continue to stand prepared for anything, but the message they have sent to the world that weekend is not a common one in the world's ever prepared soldiers- they stand fearlessly, and with curbed greed for personal power, to defend the self-empowerment of developing groups of people.
More reflections, opinions, research, and personal adventures of Brian Landever may be read at http://samericatravels.livejour
A News Report
By Dada Maheshvarananda
Ecumenical Spiritual Celebration
A morning inter-religious celebration of Peace was organized to invoke the sacred before the conference began. Representatives from eight major religions and spiritual traditions solemnly entered the central hall of the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense between two files of soldiers at attention. As the spiritual leaders passed through, the soldiers released white balloons and a dozen white doves into the blue sky, a visually stunning image of humanity’s common dream of peace on earth.
The hall was very beautifully decorated with hundreds of fresh flowers, and the Armed Forces Orchestra and choir performed uplifting spiritual music including Kyrie and the stirring Hallelujah Chorus by Handel. The religious heads then sat amongst respectful admirals and generals. The sincere reverence that each leader showed for the other faiths was clearly visible and very inspiring.
Lieutenant Coronel Monseñor Raúl Ascanio Chirinos, Chaplain of the Army, opened the service with a call to worship in the Catholic tradition.
Immediately afterwards a young Muslim rose and sang the Adhan Call to Prayer in Arabic in a stirring voice that filled the hall: “Allahu Akbar”, God is Great! “Islam defends the rights of all religions,” explained Mohammadali Ibrahim Bokhari from Saudi Arabia, imam of the Sheik Ibrahim Mosque in Caracas.
Bishop Jesús Pérez, leader of the evangelical Renacer Church, said, "There is a lot of social imbalance, and this causes people to rebel. Therefore there won't be peace on earth until there is justice.” The Bishop then quoted from the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.’ The evangelical choir sang a beautiful hymn, “You are my universe.”
Rabbi Avi Amsalem, head of the Tiferet Israel del Este Synagogue, represented the Jewish religion in a call for peace, tolerance and understanding.
The Afro-Venezuelan traditions were represented by Babalawo Adalberto Herrera, President of the Association of the Social and Cultural Followers of Ifa, and the religion Yoruba. His prayer: “We request to Olodumare, Olofin, Ocdudua and other entities of the Pantheon. Ocha-ifa that spreads her merciful mantel, entering all hearts in Venezuela and the world, the closest feelings of love, coexistence and fraternity inspired in faith, hope and charity.” He also appealed for humility, solidarity, honesty, sincerity, tolerance, and justice to overcome all political, religious, social, family and business conflicts.
Representing the 7,000-year-old tradition of Tantra Yoga from India was Didi Ananda Amegha, nun of Ananda Marga (“The Path of Bliss”), the only female speaker in the program. She said, “Meditation is a process to connect with our inner self. By overcoming the natural restlessness of our thoughts and emotions, we achieve silence and inner peace, experiencing the Infinite Love of God. This spiritual experience is the birthright of all human beings.” (www.anandamarga.org)
Representing another tradition that originated in India was Antaryami Das, president of the Sri Chaitanya Sridhar Govinda Seva Ashram de Caracas, Venezuela. This is a society of Vaisnava devotees serving Sriman Mahaprabhu and Sri Sri Radha-Govinda. He read from the Bhagavad Giita, one of the Hindu Holy Scriptures, and proclaimed, “The only way to disentangle oneself from the material world is through Krishna consciousness. We are eternal souls that live in a temporal world.” After his talk the Krishna devotees chanted Sanskrit mantras, including Hare Krishna. (www.paramakaruna.org.ve)
There was a time for everyone to warmly greet one another, and a lighting of candles representing peace through mutual respect and universal spirituality.
When it was over, representatives from each religion and spiritual tradition were invited to share a special breakfast in the formal dining room of the ministry building with General Baduel, who began by acknowledging the presence of several Jewish women and men who had survived the Nazi concentration camps. At the head table, the Catholic priest, the Jewish rabbi and the Muslim imam sat together.
Conference on the Way of Peace
The official conference began the same afternoon. Four speakers came from Spain (including one via live satellite videoconference), two from the Dominican Republic, and 11 from Venezuela, including myself as Director of the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela. All the speakers gave cutting edge ideas emphasizing emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, overcoming domestic violence and racism, and five of them emphasized meditation! The presentations (in Spanish) will be available for free download at: www.fundacionactive.org
The stated objective of the conference was “To create a space to meet and share diverse experiences and multidisciplinary knowledge for the attainment of peace in Venezuela and the world. Its premise is the principle that every part of the internal essence of every human being is the same.”
More than 600 people attended, including many members and some senior officers of the armed forces. The program was sponsored by the Ministry of Defense of Venezuela, the Social Welfare Foundation of the Ministry of Defense (founded and directed by Cruz Maria Baduel, the minister’s wife) and the Active Foundation (www.fundacionactive.org).
In his welcoming address, General Baduel said, “On the occasion of the 197th Anniversary of the Ministry of the Popular Power for the Defense of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, it is an honor to welcome you to this event dedicated to the theme of peace.
“Some people may find it strange that a Secretary of Defense and General of the Army whose duty is the military security of the country, its people and its democracy, is actively participating in a conference about peace. However, it has been said that those who know the horrors of armed conflicts firsthand are the most concerned in how to avoid them. Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, said, ‘Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.’
“Humbly, I have been inspired by the wise thoughts in the Holy Scriptures that say: ‘And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’ (Micah 4:3)”
“We have the certainty that by sharing their knowledge with us, all the speakers will contribute to the growth and development of Venezuela.”
Singer Samuel opened and closed the conference with a beautiful song, “Cry of Peace”.
The Art of Peace Program
First Panel: "Internal attitude: How to win the battle within oneself"
Coordinator: Carola Castillo. Psychotherapist. Specialist in Systemic Constellations. Trauma works and emotional psychosomatic loads, Venezuela
"Inner peace and world peace: a Buddhist perspective"
Maestro Ven. Shih-Fa Lu: Ordained Buddhist monk, Lin Chi lineage of Cha´n Buddhism of China. BA in Education, Masters in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Venezuela
"The warrior's physical consciousness and emotional consciousness"
Javier Sintes: Archery master, writer, photographer and video producer, Spain
"Peace as a tool for the individual"
Josef Beraha: Energy therapist and transformational breathing, specialist in internal conflicts through the movement of energy in the physical body, Venezuela
Second Panel: "Education and communication: opening roads toward global peace"
Coordinator: Dr. José María Poveda, MD, PhD, specialist in shamanism. Office of International Relations of the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain
"Think globally, act locally"
Dada Maheshvarananda: Writer and monk, teacher of meditation and yoga, founder of the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela
"Reconciliation through communication"
Alfredo Sánchez: Social Comunicator and film director, Venezuela
"The management of success and education for the complexity of the XXI century"
Caesar Peña: Engineer, Rector of the Central Technological University (UNITEC), Venezuela
To close Friday’s program disciples of Lord Krishna performed traditional Hindu dances.
Third Panel: "Personal identity and responsibility for the collective thing"
Coordinator: Dr. Cirilo Yelamo. Surgeon and trauma specialist, professor of the Galician Rómulo University, Venezuela
"Cracks and barriers in the road toward peace: the challenge to construct a culture without violence"
Altagracia Valdez: Psychologist, specialist in psycho-physical and energy therapy, Dominican Republic
"To communicate without losing identity: Music and the modulation of emotional states"
Carmen Serna. Poet, music therapist, Spain
"Legislation and Justice: legal focus and goals toward peace"
Susan Espaillat: Lawyer with master in managerial right and economic legislation. Teacher of Reiki and facilitator in Family Counseling, Dominican Republic
Fourth Panel: "The encounter with the other ones in the path toward the peace"
Coordinator: Wilfredo Lanza: Professor of Anthropology and Ethics, Department of Philosophy, School of Education, University of Carabobo, Venezuela
"The encounter with the other and empathy"
Dr. Alvaro Requena: Head of Psychiatry at Red Cross Hospital. Columnist with El Nacional newspaper, Venezuela
"The encounter with one’s shadow and self-esteem"
Rebeca Retamales: Professor of Medical Psychology, University of Alcalá, Spain
"Art of peace, art of war"
Professor Elías Capriles. Instructor of Buddhism and Dzogchén, Center of African and Asian Studies, University of the Andes, Venezuela
Conclusion: "Important pillars for the construction of peace in the community: blacks, whites and Indians"
Carola Castillo. Psychotherapist, VenezuelaClosing remarks: General in Chief, Raúl Isaías Baduel, Secretary of the Popular Power for the Defense of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela