Vaswani says education is imperative for peaceful world
In welcoming the Hindu philosopher and humanitarian leader Dada Vaswani to the stage of Richardson Auditorium last night, Shashi Tharoor, former undersecretary general of the United Nations, spoke of the challenge — and the necessity — of achieving religious tolerance and eliminating fear and rage in an increasingly globalized world.
"It is time for all of us to make the world safe for diversity," Tharoor said.
Tharoor's introduction set the stage for Vaswani's talk, titled "Peace or Perish: There is No Other Choice," which outlined the components of a peaceful world to an audience of more than 300 people.
The 88-year-old native of India began his lecture by praying to a portrait of his guru and expressing his gratitude to all those who have helped and inspired him, including "the great Nobel laureate Albert Einstein."
"A thrill passes through my entire frame at the thought that Albert Einstein perhaps stood [on this stage]," he said.
Vaswani obtained a masters in physics before deciding to dedicate his life to spreading his spoken and written messages of peace and tolerance.
In his lecture, Vaswani emphasized the impossibility of creating a peaceful world without the proper education of children.
"I think we have ignored children for a long time. If only we can give children the right kind of education in the school, and the right kind of training in the home, there will be no situation like Iraq," he said.
He noted that there is a fragile balance, however, between what he called the education of the mind and the education of the heart.
"The brain has been developed, science is marching on, but the problems that are before the nations today will not be solved by the developed brain," he said.
Building on Tharoor's introductory discussion of the two opposing faces of globalization, Vaswani expressed his belief that power, technology and material possessions alone will not make a peaceful world.
"The American people have everything that the world can give; yet they are searching for happiness, which if you have once, you have forever," he said.
He stressed the fraternity of people of all cultures and religions and said that "unless we have this spirit of brotherhood, both culture and world peace cannot become a reality."
While endorsing the benefits of spirituality and reverence in achieving peace, Vaswani also stressed the importance of expressing the utmost respect, compassion and tolerance for people who hold other worldviews.
His reverence for life extended to the animal kingdom, which he fervently defended. "Just as women do not exist as resources for men, animals do not exist as resources for humans," he said.
"The 18th century gave rights to men, the 19th century gave rights to slaves, the 20th century gave right to women and the 21st century, I believe, will give rights to animals ... Stop all killing if you want peace on earth," he added.
Ryan Marrinan '07 was particularly taken by Vaswani's arguments for vegetarianism. He said he realized that "by eating animals, you are perpetuating a cycle of violence."
Ariel Klainerman '07, on the other hand, said that vegetarianism and other utopian ideals are "not feasibly possible in a realist world."
Religion professor Cornel West, who attended the lecture, expressed his admiration for the humility of the man who described himself as "but a simple pilgrim."
"He exemplifies love, compassion and humility in a very powerful way," West said in an interview after the event.
Vaswani's talk was part of a series of lectures organized by the Wilson School and the Religious Life Council to bring to campus religious leaders whose work has implications for public policy and world peace.
The lecture was a highlight of Princeton's first-ever "Hinduism Week," an event designed to "increase awareness, dispel stereotypes and increase education of issues related to Hinduism on campus," Deepa Iyer '09, president of the Princeton Hindu Satsangam, said.
Vaswani concluded to an ovation from the audience. "The nations today are wandering in a jungle of darkness. Humanity is standing in the midst of unseen ruins. Nations and individuals must make peace with each other ... there is no other choice."