The Spiritual History of the United Nations
by Diane Williams, Founder of CSVGC-NY
Remarks from Spirit of the UN Awards – October 25, 2016
“We can only succeed in achieving world peace if there is
a Spiritual Renaissance on this planet”,
– H.E. Dag Hammarskjold, 2nd Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Today we are honoring and celebrating very special people, each of whom embodies the Spirit of the United Nations. Through their work they express the core principles, spirit and vision upon which the United Nations was founded and their presence emits a special energy that captures the true essence of the United Nations.
I think it’s important to state that from the very beginning, the United Nations was built upon a spiritual foundation as the founders and key players including those we are honoring today were guided by universal values, spiritual principles and practices.
The vision starting with the League of Nations in 1919 which ignited a dream for a universal organization that would create unity and harmony among nations. In December 1944 the Dumbarton Oaks Declaration, was announced in San Francisco. The key countries that were addressing the UN Charter listed 12 major functions of the UN.
One of these functions was to be the seeker of freedom. And, in defining this term, it said that for humans to attain ultimate freedom the UN not only had to promote material growth but also spiritual growth. After World War II the soul and the spirit of humanity was greatly suffering and needed more than material reconstruction. Unfortunately “spiritual growth” never made it into the Charter but it has and continues to be very present within the UN system.
A monumental event occurred in June of 1945 when Representatives of 51 countries adopted the Charter of the United Nations at a conference in San Francisco. This was the first time in the entire history of humanity that nations came together to form an inter-governmental organization with the mission of promoting international co-operation. In my view, this was a spiritual vision….and all those that helped the United Nations to form and evolve over the years, are engaging in a very high form of spiritual practice.
A spiritual practice is often defined as a performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of cultivating spiritual development that moves a person or community towards a goal. That goal is often the experience of feeling union…unity with each other and our true nature.
This unity is what the United Nations was built upon. There has also been a clear call from various leaders of the UN to honor our humanity by realizing and embodying universal values that are deeply ingrained in the human spirit itself such as the ones in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I would like to share how some of the UN Secretary-Generals have embodied the Spirit of the UN and helped to build it as a unifying body that expresses the consciousness of one world.
In 1956 the 2nd Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, with the cooperation of the Laymen’s Movement, set out to redesign what we now call The Meditation Room in the UN Lobby. In November 1957, the transformed meditation room re-opened to create an atmosphere of stillness by placing a six and a half ton triangular block of crystalline iron ore in the middle of the room with a beam of light striking from an unseen source on the stone, a symbol of the light of sky and the earth, the only symbol in the room.
Dag Hammarskjold said, “I would like to think of this symbol as our own divine light as well….This house must have one room, one place, which is dedicated to Silence, dedicated to silence in the outer sense and stillness in the inner sense…We want to bring back the stillness, which we have lost in our streets and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back in a setting in which no noise would impinge upon our imagination. We want to bring back the idea of worship, devotion to something which is greater and higher than we are ourselves.”
The United Nations is one of our world’s most Sacred Places. It always feels to me like one is stepping onto holy ground when one walks into the building as the destiny of so many depend on its success. It’s important for all of those that are supporting the work of the United Nations to visit the Meditation Room on a regular basis to find that point of stillness within and send our spiritual support to the UN.
Other Secretary Generals recognized the significance of stillness and meditation. U Thant our 3rd Secretary General was a Buddhist who meditated at home every morning before driving to the UN as he acknowledged meditation as a “process that cleanses the mind of impurities…finally leading to the attainment of highest wisdom,” He stated:
“I am always conscious of the fact that I am a member of the human race…This consciousness prompts me to work for a great human synthesis, which is the implicit goal of the world Organization I had the privilege of serving…Long before I was appointed Secretary-General, I use to dwell at some length on the oneness of the human community.”
In addressing the Millennium Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders, the 7th Secretary General Kofi Annan stated several times the importance of the non-material, the spiritual, He indicated that; “at the heart, we are dealing with universal values. To be merciful, to be tolerant, to love thy neighbor…” And he added: “there is no mystery here. Such values are deeply ingrained in the human spirit itself. It is little wonder that the same values animate the Charter of the United Nations, and lie at the root of our search for world peace.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also affirmed the following: “There are moments in history when our humanity fills us with hope and courage; when we discover our common spirituality and values and build a shared vision of where the future must lead. We are at such a moment today – and we must seize it.”
In a recent interview with Time Magazine on July 20th, 2016, the incumbent UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently asserted: “the ability to be an advocate for our true universal values is essential in the Secretary-General’s job to strengthen the UN. He recently said that during his time as Secretary General he plans put special emphasis on the empowerment of woman and girls and work to ensure the human dignity of each person. He expressed his regret as a result of the refugee crisis: “What has made us immune to the plight of those most socially and economically underprivileged? All of this makes me feel the acute responsibility to make human dignity the core of my work.”
The are many other key players in the UN community that are supporting the spiritual evolution of the UN including thousands of UN Staff members, consultants and NGOs in consultative relationship with the United Nations that work closely with the UN on all issues, including groups that aim to bring the spiritual and values dimension more deeply into the work of the UN including:
The Values Caucus (NY);
The Spiritual Caucus in New York;
The United Nations Staff and Recreation Club has a number of spiritually minded groups like the Society for Enlightenment and Transformation and the Feng Shui Club;
Global Movement for The Culture of Peace;
Committee of Religious NGOs;
NGO Committee on the Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
NGO Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns and others.
The groups I just mentioned all do their best to help expand the consciousness of the United Nations so that decisions are being made in a way that takes values, ethics, spirituality and the inherent worth of each individual in account.
So while we do select a few very special individuals each year to receive the Spirit of the UN Award, we also recognize that it’s the spirit of all those that put their energy and commitment into making the UN thrive that makes up the soul, consciousness and spirit of the United Nations and drives it to evolve to its highest potential. Today is also about honoring all of those people as well.
Spirituality and Universal Values are alive, well, growing and evolving at the United Nations. Together let us use the awareness and wisdom from our deepest Source to usher in this Spiritual Renaissance for the benefit of all.