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Speeches

M.D. Bryant: The Syrian Crisis and the Way of Dialogue

Speech at the UPF Interfaith Consultation on the Crisis in Syria
Amman, Jordan, October 11-13, 2013

Published in Dialogue & Alliance, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2013

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself ablaze and sparked an uprising that spread across North Africa and into the Middle East. In early 2011 there were some local protests in Syria. But what began as local protests in Damascus and Daraa in January and February escalated on March 15, 2011, to widespread protests in Damascus, Aleppo, Daraa and Hama. Some of the protesters called for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and others for the end of Ba’ath Party rule. In April President Bashar al-Assad called out the army to put the protest down. Some took up arms, and the civil conflict began. Some in the West saw these events as part of the “Arab Spring,” while others, especially in the Middle East itself, rejected this description of the events that have unfolded since 2010.

We are now two and a half years into this civil conflict/war. More than 100,000 are dead and more than 2 million Syrians have become refugees, mainly in Jordon but also in Turkey, and an additional 30,000 Palestinians have fled Syria for refuge in Lebanon. There are another 4 million who have been displaced within Syria itself. This is more than a quarter of Syria’s population. I have also read reports that indicate that in Turkey especially, there are many “refugees” who have not been reported. The scale of human suffering is tremendous and continues to grow daily.

Currently, more than half of the country is in rebel hands, and yet the military forces of al-Assad control more than half of the population. The August 2013 use of chemical weapons led to the deaths of another 1400 Syrians and added another level of insanity to the whole situation. The fighting continues, but little movement is seen. The suffering of Syria’s people continues and grows.

The efforts of the United Nations, first led in 2012 by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and now by Mr. Lakdar Brahmini, to end the violence in Syria are ongoing despite the lack of positive movement since May of 2012. In the fall of 2013, Mr. Brahmini renewed a call for talks in Geneva, but the outcome is still unclear.[1]

A timely colloquium/consultation

On October 11-13, 2013, the Universal Peace Federation convened in Amman, Jordan an interfaith consultation on “Prospects for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Syria: The Role of Religion in International Relations.” Nearly 40 participants from diverse disciplines, organizations, and religions gathered from 19 countries. The letter of invitation from the Universal Peace Federation noted that “there is growing, yet still inadequate, awareness of the important role which religions could and should play in international relations.” One aspect of that “important” role is the sea change that is taking place in relation to the ways people in the many religious traditions are relating to both those within their own traditions (intra-faith relations) and those from other traditions (inter-faith relations).[2] Another is the recognition among scholars of international relations that peace is more than the absence of military conflict and that religion can be a positive force in peacebuilding.[3] A third factor is the recognition among some political leaders that religion/spirituality remains a crucial dimension of civil society.[4] It is at the intersection of these three developments that I wish to make a contribution.[5] I begin with noting the many religions and the way of dialogue.

The many religions and a sea-change: The Way of Dialogue

Though we live in a secular age, the vast majority, nearly 80 to 90 percent of the world’s population, continue to identify with one or more of the world’s great religious traditions: Christians (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, 30%) together with Muslims (Sunni, Shi’a and Sufi, 25%) and Jews (Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, 1.1%); thus, the Abrahamic traditions constitute nearly 60% of the believing world. Hindus (Vaishnavite, Shivite and others), Buddhists (Theravada and Mahayana), Confucians, Daoists and Shinto constitute another 30%, and the Primal Peoples (First Nations in Canada, African Traditional Religion, Native groups in the Americas, etc.) along with newer groups such as Sikhs, Bahai’s, Modern Pagans and “spiritual but not religious” groups make up the last 10%. None of these traditions includes war or conflict with others as central to their own self-understanding. Muslims pursue the Way of Peace that comes with surrender to Allah, while Mahayana Buddhism promises “the enlightenment of all sentient beings,” and Christians teach the love of God and the neighbor. Confucians want harmony in the family, the society and the world. Jews walk in the Way of the Torah and await the coming of the Messiah, while the First Nations of Canada thank the creator for the gift of the land.[6] So why do we have a history of conflict both within these traditions and between traditions over much of human history?

That is too big a question to answer here, but it is important to acknowledge the continuing relevance of traditions both large and small in the on-going life of humankind. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge the amazing changes that are taking place in the ways that the peoples of faith are beginning to relate to one another. We are at the beginning of a sea-change in the relations between the many ways of religious life. I call it the Way of Dialogue.

Given the long and often bitter relationship of Christianity to other faiths, who could have imagined that Pope John XXIII would call a council, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), that would issue a document like Nostre Aetate (On the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions) that would acknowledge the great religious traditions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and others and call for “dialogue and collaboration” with those traditions? Or that the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of more than 350 national Protestant and Orthodox churches, would establish a Unit for Dialogue with Living Faiths and Ideologies and engage in ongoing dialogues with Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, etc.? Or that all the mainline churches in Canada would issue Guidelines for Dialogue with Other Faiths as they did in the 1970s and 1980s? Or that lay interfaith organizations would spring up across the world and in every tradition: Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Christian and New Religions, that would work to build new relationships, positive and life giving ones, with people of other faiths? And yet the mainline media continue to report and present religion in terms that fail to recognize this new reality, the Way of Dialogue that is flourishing in our time.

The Way of Dialogue is meeting and engaging the religious other with respect, acknowledging what we share and where we diverge in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation. It is there in H.H. the Dalai Lama’s Foundation for Universal Responsibility, in the Muslim Common Voice, in the Jewish Elijah Interfaith Institute, etc. Certainly, the Way of Dialogue has not penetrated the religious/spiritual life of all, but it is evident in our gathering.[7] (I was shocked to learn of 1,000 Buddhists attacking Muslims in Myanmar while I was preparing this paper.) We still have a long way to go but the Way of Dialogue is key to our planetary future.

How then do we account for the many and obvious failures of so many in our religious traditions to embrace the Way of Dialogue? Why do so many assume that if my Way is true, then the Way of the other must be false? Why do we continue to squabble with one another when we all aspire to peace, within ourselves, our families, our societies and our world? Is it just part of human nature? Is it an evolutionary failure? Religious people have asked themselves these questions for millennia and have their own answers: it is due to “ignorance” says the Hindu, or “forgetfulness” says the Muslim, or “brokenness” says the Christian, or “disharmony” says the Confucian, etc. It is the perpetual challenge of all faiths to address these perennial failings and to find healing antidotes within the riches of each tradition. It also says something about the ambiguities inherent in the very ways themselves.[8]

At their dialogical best, the religious traditions also contribute to the healing of our broken world. It is those resources that we need to call upon as a global community of faith. Here we are asked to explore whether or not our traditions can contribute to international relations.

Religion in modern-day Syria

Standard sources tell us that modern Syria is nearly 90% percent Muslim; 74% of the Muslims are Sunni/Sufi, and 13% are Shi’a. The largest Shi’a community is the Alawites (11%), followed by 12ers (1%), Ismailis and Zaydis (.5% each). Druze constitute 3% and Christians 10% of the population. It is thus a situation that calls for both intra- and interfaith dialogue. One voice, the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Yahanna Ibrahmin, speaking at Princeton in the fall of 2012 described the interfaith situation in Syria as “very positive.” I do know that the former Grand Mufti of Syria, Amed Muhammad Amin Kuftaro (1915-2004), was an outspoken advocate of interfaith dialogue.[9] Hopefully there are religious leaders in Syria that UPF has known prior to the current crisis from the various religious communities. It is imperative that we listen to all the religious voices in Syria as we explore the contributions that religions, both local and international, might make in the context of the Syrian crisis.

The current Grand Mufti, Ahmad Hassoun, seems to have been cautious during the first year of the conflict, but on February 5, 2012, President al-Assad joined the Grand Mufti for prayers at a mosque in Damascus. Pictures of them standing side by side were widely circulated. Following the service, Grand Mufti Hassoun called on Syrians to “join the army and fight for the unity of this great country.” Yet in September 2013, Grand Mufti Hassoun in response to the call of Pope Francis for a “day of fasting and prayer” for the people of Syria, said he would “like to be present for the prayer vigil” and told his community to “welcome the appeal to pray for peace in Syria extended by the Pope to all religions.”[10]

Syria is home to an ancient culture and yet is a very recent modern nation state. The beginnings of Syrian culture go back to the second millennium B.C.E. Damascus was a destination in the ancient world and a meeting place for the cultures of the ancient world. It is close to Harran (in modern-day Turkey), the place of Abraham. It was on the road to Damascus that Paul encountered the Risen Christ. And Damascus was the capital during the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750), just 31 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. It was a place where cultures sometimes clashed and sometimes mingled. It has given the world many gifts.

Modern Syria is a recent creation following the end of World War I and the carving up of the Ottoman Empire. It became a French Mandate until 1938, when it was declared a republic, and it gained independence in 1946. Since 1970 it has been ruled by the Assads, first by Hafez al-Assad until 2000, when Bashar al-Assad took over.[11]

It is important to know something of the history of religions in Syria. The present situation finds the religious communities divided, with some supporting the regime and others being very much opposed to the current regime; that divide also exists within these religious communities.

Focus on human suffering

As we turn to the Syrian crisis, it is imperative that we keep our focus on the suffering of the Syrian people. Given the political swirl that surrounds the Syrian situation, it is easy to get caught up in those political machinations. But our first obligation is to stay focused on the human dimensions of the conflict: the more than 100,000 casualties, civil as well as military, the destruction of people’s homes, livelihoods and cities (Aleppo, Hama, Darra and sections of Damascus), the more than 2 million refugees, the shutdown of schools, etc. It is these human dimensions of the Syrian crisis that should always remain at the center of our attention.

But where are the voices of the international community centered?

First consider those of the international religious world. There have been voices from the greater Muslim world from early on. The American Muslim voice has spoken out as well as Syrian Women for Peace. In September 2013, Pope Francis spoke out calling for a day of “fasting and prayer for the people of Syria,” and earlier he had urged Russian President Putin to seek non-violent ways. Dr. Olaf Tveit, Secretary General of the World Council of Churches (WCC), sent an “Open Letter” to the UN Security Council in September 2013 in which he argued that

there is no other way to sustainable justice and peace for the people of Syria than the hard work that must be undertaken by all parties inside and outside Syria to find a negotiated political solution…it is the responsibility of the international community to act now to do everything possible to find a non-violent solution leading to a lasting peace.[12]

And on September 18, 2013 the WCC convened an “interfaith gathering” that issued a Joint Communiqué that spoke “against the war in Syria” and urged “those in power” to “protect the common interest of humanity.”

On October 5, 2013, the Vatican celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). Dr. Olaf Tveit of the WCC was in attendance and called for an interfaith initiative in relation to the Syrian crisis.

In some of Pope Francis’ statements and in Dr. Tveit’s Open Letter you find reference to consultation with “Christian leaders in Syria.” What about the voices of Muslim leaders? Were they consulted? Of course, there have been international voices from the Muslim world calling for an end to the violence in Syria, and many of them, including Al-Azar University in Egypt, were calling on the USA to back off military intervention. In September 2013, H.H. the Dalai Lama added his voice to those international voices as he called for “peace, democracy and a dialogue on Syria.”[13]

These voices stand in contrast to those of some international political leaders. US President Barack Obama in August 2013 called for a military strike against Syria because of the use of chemical weapons. This has, fortunately, been derailed by widespread opposition to a military strike and the intervention of Russian President Putin.[14] The American initiative was also widely rejected by the international community, though Saudi Arabia supported a military strike.

It seems to me that it is important for UPF to keep its focus on the humanitarian crisis and connect with all the religious communities in Syria as well as the international religious voices as it seeks to address the Syrian situation. UPF can bring a distinctive interfaith and international voice to the current conflict in Syria.

Connecting with religious communities within the zone of conflict

One advantage of UPF as an international and interfaith organization is its commitment to connecting with all the religious communities in Syria. In a country that is 90% Muslim, it is imperative that lines of communication with Muslim leaders be established. It is also important to engage the religious and political leadership in neighboring countries in the region.

Some of the voices coming out of the Christian world seem to be primarily interested in the consequences of the crisis for the Christians in Syria. This might undercut the persuasiveness of such voices if they sound too self-interested.

One voice that was available on the Internet was that of the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim. He spoke at Princeton in October 2012 and argued that the “root cause” of the initial protests was “government corruption.” He called for “a multi-step initiative” involving parties “from both within and outside Syria.” He saw then a “lasting ceasefire as central to any peace effort.” He urged the “immediate repatriation of all displaced citizens” and underscored the need for “humanitarian assistance” to deal with the human crisis in Syria. He described Aleppo as “a ghost city that feels like a prison.” He also commented that interfaith relations in Syria were quite positive.[15] His is but one voice, and we need to hear others from other communities.

On April 22, 2013 Archbishop Mar Gregorios was kidnapped along with another Orthodox bishop. Rumors have swirled, but at the end of September there were reliable reports that Archbishop Ibrahim is still alive.

In dealing with an area of conflict, it is imperative that we access many voices from all religious communities in formulating a stance on the Syrian situation.

The situation in Syria is ever-changing and difficult. It is a challenging situation, but whatever position UPF takes must have some resonance with religious and cultural voices living within Syria. It is worth noting that on the Internet there is considerable criticism from religious voices inside Syria directed towards those outside Syria for failing to grasp the internal Syrian situation and over-simplifying what is happening. While such criticisms should be acknowledged and wherever reasonable accepted, they should not determine the UPF response.

Soft power in a hard world

In the fall 2012 issue of Dialogue & Alliance there is an important article on “Interfaith, Multi-Track Diplomacy and Peace” with the subtitle “Balancing Hard and Soft Power Approaches to Peace in the Middle East.”[16] Here Dr. Thomas Walsh, President of UPF, distinguishes between the “hard power world” of international relations driven by a desire to get others to do as one desires by words backed with force or the threat of force. On the other hand, there are also softer power strategies that seek to persuade through an appeal to values, ideals, humanitarian visions and wisdom from the world’s religions. In our world, religions operate on a “soft power” basis, though there are societies where particular religious traditions have direct ties to the “political levers of power.” An NGO such as UPF can employ only soft power in relation to the Syrian crisis.

Soft power initiatives – and people power –do have an impact. I am struck by the Grand Mufti of Syria’s welcoming response to the words of Pope Francis for a day of fasting and prayer for Syria. I also note the on-line initiatives that called on people to voice their opposition to Obama’s threatened strike against Syria for using chemical weapons. These initiatives do have influence on the world of “hard power,” even though they seldom become CNN headlines. They are rather part of a multi-track process that contributes to a growing number of voices both within and outside Syria that are seeking an end to the civil war and the beginning of a process that will lead to a non-violent resolution of the Syrian crisis.

The Way of Dialogue that has emerged in our time is not limited to the encounter and dialogue within the world of religion; it is also the way for the religious communities to act in the world. Wouldn’t it strengthen voices coming from the religious world if they were to indicate some consultation across the religious world? I think it would. It would be a sign of the new situation in our planetary society.

On the other hand, something of this new situation in reflected in UPF stationery. It is not insignificant that most of the names found there come from the political world: former prime ministers and presidents, men and women who have spent their lives in the hard and soft power worlds of politics. They are people who recognize the contributions of the faith communities to the well-being of their societies and the world.[17] The positive role that religions might play in “peacebuilding” has also been increasingly recognized since the 1990s.[18] All this is part of the new global situation as we all began to become aware that we are all in this together and that we need the insights and wisdom of the whole of humanity to address the challenges facing our world.

The Way of Dialogue and the quest for peace in Syria

Earlier this year I joined my good friend Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami[19] of India and 30 million other Hindus to celebrate the Kumbha Mela, the world’s largest gathering of human beings. Following that event I took a dozen North Americans into Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, Jain and Baha’i communities in New Delhi, Varanasi/Sarnath, Bodh Gaya, Kolkata and Kalimpong to encounter the living religious traditions of India. I then joined my good friend Doboom Tulku for a Buddhist-Christian Symposium in Hyderabad. It was part of my following the Way of Dialogue that has been my passion for nearly 40 years. I have learned much in that journey. I have learned to listen to the voice of the other and to try to hear that voice in its own terms rather than mine. I have learned that when we meet in a spirit of respect and an openness to learn, relationships grow and enhance us all. I have also learned that things do not change overnight and the importance of staying the course. I have learned the truth of what the great Jewish thinker Martin Buber said long ago: “Genuine dialogue happens where each participant has in mind the other and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relationship.” Then we are on the Way of Dialogue; then we are beginning to find what makes for peace.

Peace in ourselves, our families, our societies, our world is not a given, nor is it permanent. It is always a task. It is neither a utopian dream nor a realistic impossibility. It is our best efforts to cultivate the things that make for peace; it is a gift that exceeds us.

Our efforts here are but a modest contribution to that wider quest for peace in Syria. Since April 2011 we have seen a country and people devastated as more than 100,000 died and another 2 million sought refuge leaving behind their homes and belongings, while an additional 4 million have been displaced within Syria. What can we do to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people? What can we do to get the various parties of Syria speaking to one another?[20] Our efforts here are but a small step in those global efforts to seek an end to the human tragedy unfolding in Syria.

Let me conclude with a bit of Confucian wisdom and a parable. First, the Confucian wisdom that I happened upon during the conference in Amman:

If there be righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
If there be beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
If there be harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.
If there be order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.
[21]

Now the little parable:

When the rhythms of peace break down
between parties in a given society
or between nations
and they stop speaking to one another,
war breaks out.
The path to peace begins
when once again
those involved in the conflict
began to speak to one another.
That’s why they are called “peace talks.”
[22]

Professor M. Darrol Bryant is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus and the Director of the Centre for Dialogue and Spirituality in the World Religions at Renison University College/ University of Waterloo in Canada. Raised in North Dakota and educated at Concordia College, Harvard Divinity School, and the Institute of Christian Thought at St. Michael’s University of Toronto, he has been involved in the dialogue of religions since the late 1970s. He is the author or editor of 25 volumes in the study of religion including Religion in a New Key, God, The Contemporary Discussion, Muslim Christian Dialogue: Promise & Problems, On Spirituality, Along the Silk Road, and Ways of the Spirit. The Way of Dialogue is his passion.


1. See the New York Times, November 4, 2013: “Few Eager to Talk Peace in Syria.”

2. The literature on inter-faith, religious pluralism and inter-religious encounter and dialogue is growing by leaps and bounds. But far too often it is rooted in abstract theoretical considerations rather than any experiential involvement with another tradition. I would recommend a minimum of two years of involvement with the living traditions one is writing about as a methodological rule. For some useful sources see Leonard Swidler’s Dialogue Institute and his “Dialogue Decalogue: Ground Rules for Interreligious, Intercultural Dialogue,” first published in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies in 1983. See also my Muslim Christian Dialogue: Promise & Problems, St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1995, and Religion in a New Key, Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2001.

3. The area of peacebuilding has become a growth industry in recent times. Religion is often cited as a soft power element that can have a positive impact in the peace-building process.

4. See Madeleine Albright, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs, New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

5. My own interest in the relationship of religion and society goes back to my undergraduate days. Then I pursued a double major in philosophy (at Concordia it overlapped with religious studies) and political science. I did Senior Honors papers in both areas, one on St. Anselm and, for political science, one on Reinhold Niebuhr and John C. Bennett on Christian Realism. At that time my heroes for that religion/society overlap were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference motto “Speaking Truth to Power” and Mahatma Gandhi and Satyagraha and Swaraj or village self-empowerment. I was surprised to discover that not all religious folks agreed with me on the role of religion in society even on the question of civil rights, but especially in relation to the war in Vietnam. Then, these issues were clear to me; now, these matters have become much more complicated.

6. I am aware of the fact that in the Hebrew Bible, the Lord is sometimes identified as a warrior and a that Krishna is presented in the Bhagavad Gita as advising Arjuna as he is about to enter a war. There is much language of conflict, even of war, in the sacred texts of the world’s religions.

7. While the Way of Dialogue has not penetrated the whole of the religious world, it is worth noting that now every mainline Christian Church in Canada has a document on “Guidelines for Dialogue with Other Faiths.” The United Church of Canada has an outstanding 70-page booklet on dialogue with the Muslim world.

8. I am thinking of the long-standing interplay of religion and the ruler, where the ruler determined the religion of a group, a society or a nation. Religions are not isolated or insulated bodies with a society but are always in dynamic interaction with other social groupings including the political. And in the modern nation state, religion is regularly called upon to bless military operations. And, on the other hand, religions have loyalties and commitments and values that move beyond the boundaries of the nation state. In the Christian traditions, for example, we have Christians, especially the Quakers and the “Peace Churches” or Anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, etc., who are categorically opposed to war or are pacifists, and other groupings that affirm the tradition of “just war.” Hence, the traditions have a complex and difficult road to walk, and they take different paths within the same tradition.

9. I met Grand Mufti Kuftaro on more than one occasion in the 1980s and 1990s in relation to the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace, one of the predecessors of the UPF. He struck me as very genuine.

10. For the Prayer Vigil held at St. Peter’s in Rome, an estimated 100,000 people were present. And smaller prayer vigils were held across the Catholic/Christian world including one in Ottawa and also among Orthodox Christians in Syria. Many other religious leaders in different religious traditions supported the Pope’s initiative.

11. See David Lesch, Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad, New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 2012.

12. See the World Council of Churches website for the Secretary General’s Open Letter.

13. See the Tibet Sun, September 13, 2013.

14. See Ferry de Kerckhove, “The Syrian Crisis: What it Means for the World; Is There a Role for Canada?” in The Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute, Vol. 4, Issue 5, Calgary: School of Public Policy, 2012. Here de Kerckhove argued that “military intervention … may well be the most sensible approach” but stated that since intervention was unlikely, there were also other diplomatic options that could be pursued.

15. See isd.princeton.edu/syrian-orthodox-archbishop-aleppo-describes-situation-syria-lisd-lecture accessed October 2013.

16. See Thomas Walsh, “Interfaith, Multi-Track Diplomacy & Peace: Balancing Hard & Soft Power Approaches to Peace in the Middle East,” in Dialogue & Alliance, Fall 2012, pp. 10-17.

17. Earlier I mentioned Madeleine Albright as an example of a political leader (she was the first woman US Secretary of State) aware of the importance of religion in public life. Often, however, political leaders seek to use religion to pursue their own political ends. Thus I don’t want to overstate the extent to which political leaders recognize the contributions of faith communities to the well-being of their societies and the world.

18. There has been a virtual explosion of volumes on peacebuilding since the 1990s. See, for example, Harold Coward & Gordon Smith, Religion & Peacebuilding, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2004; David Smock, Interfaith Dialogue & Peacebuilding, Washington D.C.: US Institute of Peace Press, 2002; Susan Nan & Zachariah Mampilly, Peacemaking: From Practice to Theory, Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012; Colin Knox & P. Quirk, Peace Building in Northern Ireland, Israel, & South Africa: Transition, Transformation & Reconciliation, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000; and Jeffrey Haynes, Religion, Politics, & International Relations, New York: Routledge, 2011.

19. I mentioned Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami of Vrindaban, India, since he was a participant at the Amman consultation. I have known Shrivatsa since the early 1980s and have visited the Goswami Ashram, Jai Singh Ghera, numerous times with my family and groups of students I have taken to India. He has also been my host at the Kumbha Mela in 1989, 2001 and 2013.

20. A major obstacle in bringing the various Syrian forces to the table is the presence of non-Syrian fighters in Syria. And a hard question that has bothered me is this: does a call for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement mean a victory for President Bashar al-Assad and a return to a pre-April 2011 situation?

21. From The Great Learning of the Confucian tradition as quoted in Huston Smith, Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World’s Religions, New York: Harper Collins, 1992, p. 150.

22. I can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.