Interfaith Alliance

Transcript: Bani Dugal on the GreenPlanet BluePlanet Podcast with Julian Guderley

July 2020

Julian: Hi, and welcome to the GreenPlanet BluePlanet podcast - highlighting the artists, teachers, authors and philanthropreneurs of the regenerative movement - people who are committed to and showcase qualities of planetary leadership.

My name is Julian Guderley, I am a transformational coach, a teacher and I am committed to a world that allows people from all walks of life to thrive. I am your host and creator of Green PlanetBlue Planet podcast and in today’s episode I am hosting an interview with Bani Dugal. Bani Dugal is the principal representative of the Bahá’i international community to the United Nations. She is a human rights expert and has devoted her career towards advancing the rights of women and children and promoting freedom of worship around the world.

The Bahá’i faith has a beautiful proverb I’m going to share with you which is: “The human race, as a distinct, organic unit, has passed through evolutionary stages analogous to the stages of infancy and childhood in the lives of its individual members, and is now in the culminating period of its turbulent adolescence approaching its long-awaited coming of age” - with the subtitle, ‘the promise of world peace’ and so with these words and that context, welcome to the show Bani. 

Bani: Thank you very much Julian, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Julian: It’s a pleasure to have you on the line today and to hear more about the Bahá’i faith, to hear more about world peace and all the work in the world that is being done through decades and centuries on bringing people together to actually organise, through this turbulent adolescence - I really like that metaphor. So maybe, Bani, if you don’t mind - please share a little bit about the Bahá’i faith for people who don’t know in regard to the principles of unity and the principles of harmony as a little introduction. 

Bani: Sure. So the central aim of the Bahá’i faith is really that Bahá’is believe that the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future, of society and the nature and purpose of life. And such a vision unfolds in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh.  Throughout history God has sent a series of divine educators or manifestations of God whose teachings provide the basis for the advancement of civilization. Bahá'u'lláh we believe is the latest of these, and he explained that the natures of the religions of the world come from the same source and that they are successive chapters of one religion from God. And as you mentioned this - promise of world peace is one of the beliefs - peace is the goal that all Bahá’i’s are working with others to achieve because we believe that there will be an age when human kind will live in greater and greater dimensions, realise greater dimensions of peace through unity and justice which are some of the core principles that we work towards. 
And some of the central beliefs of the Bahá’i faith are the oneness of God and religion - that all religions come from the same God and there is a progression of manifestations just as mankind matures, we are learning the truths from God through these manifestations. 
And another core principle is the oneness of humanity and freedom from prejudice. The principle of oneness of humanity is both a goal and an operating principle for Bahá’i’s - for the work that we are doing. 
And another core principle is the basic and inherent nobility of the human being; that all human beings are created noble, and they all have the capacity to work alongside others for the progress of their societies. So you won’t find Bahá’i’s working for others; we work with others. 
And then there is the principle of the integration of work and service - there is the fundamental equality, understanding of the equality of sexes - that women and men are equal, the harmony between religion and science, I think I was mentioning that without science religion is just superstition - a set of superstitions in a sense, and without religion, science lacks spirit, and a real meaning and sense of purpose. 
And then another principle is the centrality of justice in all human endeavours - the importance of education is another; Bahá’i’s all over the world lay a lot of stress on education and this is not just book learning in schools but it’s that every individual is bound to continue learning through one’s life, generating knowledge which we share and then grow our knowledge with the purpose of living and being. 
And then another area where we work very closely is building close dynamics of relationships that bind together individuals, communities and institutions as humanity is advancing towards it’s collective maturity which you mentioned from that quote as well - that we believe that as mankind matures, we will have the traits of a mature society and eventually with that will come a time of peace and conflict will end or at least lessen greatly and we learn better how to resolve conflicts. 
So that in a nutshell are the teachings. 

Julian: Thanks for catching us all up that have heard of Bahá’i only a few times or are new to the Bahá’i faith, as a system almost, as a belief or faith. It's so beautiful to see the integration of the various aspects that are such an integral part of our societies, where we’re from, and connecting that to faith and I think there is an Albert Einstein quote along the lines of science and spirituality needing to emerge at some point in his future, and we live in his future so to me that seems somewhat reasonable but to me it makes my heart sing. This idea that we could unite people rather than having them in different camps, but I love what you said there: Science without spirituality, there is a lack of spirit. Spirit is afterall what connects all life, so what a beautiful set up for our conversation today. I’d love to understand quite a bit more about the education principle - I often ask this question much later in the interview but I’m going to start with you: what I heard is the principle of lifelong learning which I think is fundamentally important, but then maybe I’ll just ask you: if you or a team of experts around you could revolutionize the way our education systems are set up, what would you do? What are the ideas you are already standing for there?

Bani: Yes. Thank you, that’s a very good question because even though we often hear universal learning / education, that is very important and we believe that, but it is the quality of education that is the most important. So, we would set up an education system which allows for every individual to develop the capacity to contribute to the wellbeing of society. And the wellbeing of one's community would be the most important aspect of this learning because I believe the education we have today is excellent in some places, but it is not equal and equally accessible by all so some people get a better education than others, but in any case the education that we receive today is very much materially focused. It's about gaining more material assets and working towards developing the world in material terms, which is important, but I think we need to also think about the wellbeing of humankind, and developing those capacities which will contribute to building unity and justice and wellbeing for all people and that the wealth of the world should not be in the hands of just a few individuals - at this time I believe it's 8 men or 7 men now - but if the material well being should be distributed more evenly but human beings have the capacity - everybody has the capacity to learn and grow and contribute and so it is that kind of education that we would be promoting. 

Julian: Beautiful. I hear you loud and clear - we have inherited systems, financial systems, federal banking systems but also educational systems that might have worked at a certain time. But the way they’re working now in 2020, where the world has increasingly globalized for good and for worse - on the good side humans are already unifying quite a bit more, maturing and understanding our differences as well as our opportunities and so our education and the way we distribute wealth and the way we use wealth, kind of needs to catch up with that quite a bit. And so another question I have on that note is: what do you believe is needed for humanity to gain the ability to learn from past mistakes, either quicker or at all? We’ve made a lot of mistakes in this world which they should teach us but it seems we’re quite slow at learning. 

Bani: I think the answer is that as we are maturing together, I think to be able to gain the new understanding that has been revealed before us, so again as Bahá’i as I said - we believe in progressive revelations, so we believe in this progression of understanding and of knowledge - this knowledge has to be generated. We talk about peace but nobody knows what that time is going to look like when we are all living in peace - when there is equality, one of the principles of the Bahá’i faith is equality, gender equality and the equality of the races - we don’t know what that is going to look like. So I think it’s an ongoing endeavour to generate the knowledge to understand better as to how we are progressing. And so I think we learn from our mistakes but it is not only by looking backwards - we have to have our eye in the far future to look at the world we want to build. If we are looking to build that perfect world where we are living in harmony with love and understanding amongst all the peoples of the world, in this sense of oneness that we are all on this planet together and one big family, then I think it will happen. So it's keeping the eye on the goal in the future but also knowing that certain patterns of behaviour do not help us progress. 

Julian: I like how you opened the timeline there - in terms of how it's alright now but really the past and future play a big way in how we approach life. That's a very curious question and it comes up in a lot of conversations and it literally just happened at a dinner group - we talked about this quite a bit yesterday night - how do we even measure the success of world peace or the success of equality of races, because right now in the world we have this wound of inequality show up and there is such a big opportunity for reconciliation, but then we all were a little silent on the answer to ‘how is it going to look?’ because it’s hard to imagine something you haven’t seen and stretch your imagination to and so practicing that together is where faith comes in - so how does that look or how does that come in your heart space and mindspace to understand that there will be a time where there is a version of us that has achieved certain things - maybe not utopia, but progressed on the spectrum quite a bit forward? 

Bani: Well in a sense, we can already see that because humanity has progressed a lot - you come from Europe and about 80 years ago all of Europe was at war and now, 75 years later, we see a united Europe and I believe the world is moving in that direction that we will eventually come to that. And as Bahá’i’s there is this element of being and doing - so of course we want to be good human beings like most people of faith and most people, and we learn and study our writings and other spiritual writings in order to become better human beings, but we believe its not only in the being but also in actions so everything we do is rooted in action and we are working alongside other individuals for the betterment of society. Because it's only once every individual is a protagonist in their own development - in the development of their society - by that I don’t just mean mature adults, I even mean youth and junior youth - have the capacity  to imagine what this better world would look like and start putting that into practice. Whether it be by engaging in discourses in society that need to take place or if it is in areas of social action as simple as cleaning the beach or working towards helping the sick - whatever little action that people wish to do in their communities but it is really helpful to advance the community as a whole. So these are little windows into that future that we all envision. 

Julian: I trust and I know that there is quite a bit of imagination for a world that works for everyone and so - that is a curious part of my being to understand how can we get different voices of society much louder than we are currently hearing them, including youth as well as elders that have real elder roles rather than those that just try to grab for power - I think is a very important part of that dialogue. I have another question that has to do with your work for the Interfaith Alliance and Interfaith in general - another really important principle of the Bahá’i faith is to work with and collaborate and that is the context with which we got introduced as well - your work with the Interfaith Alliance. 

Bani: Yes, so as I was mentioning - I represent the Bahá’i International community to the UN, and in that role my colleagues and I are always engaging with other groups - like minded groups, other groups that may not be exactly like minded but they are working at the UN on issues engaging the discourses on humanity at the level of international policy in the UN setting, and in that light we also engage with other faiths or faith based organizations and alliances. The Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities is one of those - and it's a movement of faith leaders, businesses, civil society actors and NGOs all coming together to contribute to our societies, building better society. And we have been working in the area of combating hate crime and it would be rhetoric or even actions that are hateful, and also on online exploitation, primarily of children, and online sexual exploitation which is on the rise. So those are some of the areas but we are expanding and working together with others. Really it's a coalition of faith leaders with business actors and others - the alliance has this tremendous capacity to convene individuals from different walks of life and we have the capacity to make the difference that is required. I also work with different interfaith alliances - there is the multi-faith advisory council to the UN, also made up of a number of faith based organizations. 

Julian: That’s beautiful - I think the idea of collaborating with like minded or even groups that have maybe more differences on the surfaces but deep down connecting as one human family with a lot of our goals - our agendas - when we look deeper into them, we go beyond the headlines, there is always a form of synergy. And I wonder if topics like what you said about online crime and online sexual crimes - what does it take to have a world where we are so transparent as humans that things are visible and that we can therefore really move away from any criminal or life denying principles but yet feel free enough that we are not watched by big brother? We need that form of transparency but some are afraid that they will be watched non-stop. Is there a middle way?

Bani: I think one of the reasons why the IAFSC started this engagement with faith leaders is because faith has a way of calling people to their higher nature rather than the lower end of temptations and criminal thoughts and behaviours that we find in society, and faith actors have the capacity to affect behavioural change. Now, not everyone believes in religion, however, at the core, everybody has that yearning for the divine and has the capacity to overcome actions and thoughts and the worst of the material part of our nature which is what leads them to engage in criminal activity and hateful activity in the dark web - and there is a lot of money being made - which is sadly being supported by some leaders -  people know that this exists and I’m sure that with all the capacity and resources available to us we can.

Julian: It's time to lift those curtains and to step forward in our evolution. Darwinian philosophy which is survival of the fittest which ultimately means the most adaptive, so as we adapt as a species we have to adapt to those - the dark web or the deep web that look like they are hidden away - but really a lot of people have intuitions and feelings and there has been a lot of research that has been done into our criminal history and this is why I asked how do we learn from our past mistakes? And so I think it is a real pursuit that I think is important as well and it is not often talked about because it is not that fun to talk about - it is not only light and bliss to talk about. So thank you for going there for a little bit - there is definitely a lot of work to do but that is why we are all here, to celebrate our difference ultimately. 

Bani: And thank you for doing what you’re doing because often conversations like this are not ones that are being broadcasted, it's the darkness of the world that is being broadcasted by the media and I really think that the media has a role to play as well - all kinds of media, I’m putting you in that because it is social media you’re promoting an uplifting discourse, one that is inspiring to others rather than dragging down people into places where it is easy to go. 

Julian: Every conversation we are having is part of the nervous system of our planet - trees all communicate in a way that is hyper intelligent in comparison to us but we’re just getting used to processing it - and every conversion radiates energy - one of my previous guests said ‘the storytellers are coming late to the table - the storytellers of this new earth, this better world that we know in our hearts is possible’ - I think there is a massive media machine that has impregnated people’s minds that make people look away or normalise things so this has been going on for decades. Growing up in Germany - I associate it with the unifying energy of the Berlin wall coming down, but the truth is we had to learn a lot about the history of the second world war from age 10 to 18 - the role of propaganda played one of the biggest roles to brainwash people that fast - and so possibly when we look at our world in the future we look back at these times, we might see that there is a lot more propaganda going on than we currently understand. It’s time to lift our eyes onto a new horizon and so that is why I’m having you on today because those conversations are so important for people to understand because we really have to properly engage in evolution, it is not just something we read in a book. 

Bani: And everyone can do it and we all have the responsibility - we can’t keep waiting for the leaders in our countries to do that - we do believe that they are the ones who will bring about this age of peace by making treaties with other countries but it is people like you and I and other people we work with that will make it happen. 

Julian: It's about what we are embodying and living right here - I have another question and maybe you can answer  from a personal perspective - what is required for you to experience trust? Either in an interaction, an organization or in general?

Bani: Trust, I believe, is one of the key ingredients in any relationship, and it could be a personal relationship between a mother and child, a husband and wife, a leader and his population or between countries, and we are experiencing a time where trust is being eroded and there is a great deal of insecurity being felt today. I think that trust is key. In order to bring trust back into relationships we have to act in trustworthy ways. So I think again, the onus is on every individual to conduct themselves in a way and build societies that are the bedrock of justice and unity and the trust will come. 

Julian: Let that sink in - and so one of the other questions - it has to do with earth vision - zooming out on the timeline beyond our existence, but in a seven generational context - looking back is easier but looking forward, how can we be good ancestors to the future? What comes to mind there? What is the earth vision that you’re feeling and seeing and sensing?

Bani: I grew up at a time when my grandparents came from privilege in a country where there were a lot of poor people, we were taught to cut the cloth according to what we needed to use. To live within one's means and shorten our footprint. So to consume what is required but not overextend ourselves - every human being has a role and a space in this world - not to take up more than we are required to: to be contributing more than consuming. Giving back more than we get. If we all live as responsible citizens and take care of the people around us, we will give that legacy for future generations to do the same - a lot has been eroded already, we have lived in a lot of excess, but I think it is time to begin to turn it around - the consciousness is there and it is growing. I think by the work you are doing, and others, and my organization, we will begin to return that trust to the future generations that we received from the earlier ones. 

Julian: How are you, in that context, choosing optimism on a daily basis?

Bani: Well as Bahá’i’s we are optimistic because we believe there will be a time and we have a lot of faith in humankind and the capacities of human beings and we are after all divine beings being guided at some level from a divine source, and yes mistakes will be made but we will learn from these mistakes and this is an ever advancing civilization - we believe that we will go onto that time when there is peace and where we live in a world that is based on the principles of justice and equality and consideration for all. And the earth will be taken care of. The optimism comes from this understanding that we can do it. And the nobility of human beings and the inherent goodness of people and I truly believe as do many others that we are all in this together and we just have to rise to that level of a better understanding of interconnectedness. And I believe this horrible time that we are experiencing with this pandemic of coronavirus  is bringing us to that realisation - some people are resisting it but already with all these lockdowns and all these luring of the pressure on our planet, we are seeing birds and blue skies in New Dehli in the middle of summer which was almost unheard of for the past 3 decades or so, so it is showing us that it is possible - if one month of lockdown can provide this with just a few changed behaviours we are going to be looking at a much greener, brighter future for our planet and all the people within. 

Julian: This is one of the many positive revelations that we can already track - sometimes it does take unfortunate events for people to open their eyes - the moment we stop our industries and scale it back to what is essential, shouldn’t we just build an economy around what is essential? The moment we do that nature comes back everywhere in the world. This was on nobody’s scientific agenda or calculation of where we are going so they need to be redone - we must have the imagination to find the way forward - countries like the UK, Germany and France that do not want to go back to normal but rebuild into a much greener economy. Bani, do you have any closing words? Call to action? A prayer?

Bani: I believe that we are all in this journey together and that we just have to keep looking out for people that we can work with to contribute to this ever advaning civilization. Bahá’i’s are doing it all over the world and if anyone wants to contact them and join them because we work with others, not for ourselves, the only way that we can advance together to that place of peace and justice and unity. That is what I hope all of your listeners are on a journey to do. 

Julian: Thank you so much for your time and for being on Green PlanetBlue Planet. 

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