The Millennium World Peace Summit
28 August to 31 August 2000, New York
The much-awaited 4-day Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations in New York commenced on 28 August 2000. Over 1800 spiritual leaders, scholars and delegates representing more than 12 major religions of mankind like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, Taoism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, etc. hailing from all over the world, namely, North America, Latin America, Europe, Balkans, China, India, Russia, Africa, Middle East, Far East …, gathered to share and focus on how to resolve the conflicts that divide countries and establish peace. The event is the first ever Spiritual Summit encouraged by the United Nations Organization at its General Assembly Hall since it was founded 54 years ago. The United Nations has recognized the need for a spiritual dimension to help alleviate poverty, defuse conflict and instill peace.
Of the 300 Hindu delegates, 108 were prominent religious leaders and profound scholars including HH Swami Dayananda Saraswati, HH Swami Satyamitranandji, HH Acharya Dharmendraji, Dr. L M Singhvi, Dr. Karan Singh, Shri Ashok Singhal, Shri B K Modi and others.
The opening ceremony session on 28th afternoon and the inaugural session on 29th morning was held at the United Nation's General Assembly Hall. The subsequent sessions for the remaining two days were held at The Waldorf - Astoria Hotel.
On 28th afternoon, fifty children from the Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) welcomed the delegates with flower petals and a traditional Indian dance in colorful costumes at the United Nations. The opening ceremony which included prayers from all religions, commenced with Vedic Prayers for Peace - The Shanti Paath, sung in Sanskrit by learned sadhus of BAPS. The musical notes of the tanpura and beats of tabla captivated the listeners and the Vedic Prayers were deeply appreciated and applauded by one and all. HH Swami Dayananda Saraswati, echoed the feelings of many, saying, "Nothing could have been better. It was the best part of all the prayers."
On 29th morning, as the main voice of Hinduism, HDH Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Spiritual Leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, addressed the inaugural session. Amongst prominent speakers like H.E. Kofi Annan (Secretary General, UN), H.E. Francis Cardinal Arinze (Vatican, Christianity), H.E. Abdullah al-Obaid (World Muslim League, Islam), Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, (Ashkenazi, Judaism), Dr. Ted Turner (CNN), Swamishri highlighted in his address, 'A Call to Dialogue - Our Collective Responsibility':
"Just as the unity of our followers makes our religion strong and protected, the unity of all faiths will make our common future strong and protected… True progress of any religion lies not in growth by numbers but by the quality of life and purity and the spiritual awakening in the adherents. Thus every Hindu should become a better Hindu, every Jew a better Jew, every Christian a better Christian and every Muslim a better Muslim and every follower should become a better follower… Religious leaders should not dream of establishing their religion as the one religion of the world, but dream of a world where all religions are united. Unity in diversity is the first lesson of life. Flourishing together by working together is the secret behind peace. From Rigvedic times, the Hindus have professed this global broadmindedness of a Beautiful Borderless World."
In conclusion, Swamishri stressed that, "We must not progress at the cost of others, but sacrifice a part of ourselves for the good of others. For true religion is that which inspires love for one another."
Deeply impressed and touched by Swamishri's direct and universal appeal many delegates and even fellow speakers rushed to express their gratitude. Interestingly and historically, this was the first time a speech in Gujarati was delivered at the United Nations and directly translated into international languages. In his keynote address, Dr. Ted Turner of CNN and Vice Chair of Time Warner Inc., the Chairperson of the Session and Sponsor of the Summit, remarked: "It is not necessary to believe that Christ alone is the savior. Every religion should welcome goodness from every other religion with an open heart." Later, during his personal meeting with HDH Pramukh Swami Maharaj, he appreciated the ideals of universal harmony displayed in the exhibition - Beautiful Borderless World, arranged by the BAPS.
Special Meeting with the UN Secretary General H.E. Kofi Annan
On the afternoon of 29 August, at 4.00 p.m. the UN Secretary General, H.E. Kofi Annan, personally greeted HDH Pramukh Swami Maharaj in the traditional Hindu way with pranams and discussed about global peace at his office in the United Nations. While Swamishri appreciated Mr. Annan's initiatives and efforts for harmony, the Secretary General showed immense respect for Swamishri's work and message of de-addiction, family harmony, nurturing the youths, etc., by saying: "We are honored that you have blessed the Summit by your message of love and peace." He also expressed a desire to visit the famous Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir in London in the near future. At the conclusion, Swamishri presented a traditionally crafted silver 'Purna Kumbha' to Mr. Kofi Annan as a memento of auspiciousness and a flower sanctified by Lord Harikrishna Maharaj on behalf of the Hindu Religion.
At the special request of the Peace Summit Committee, over 150 volunteers of BAPS helped the delegates in the registration formalities, transportation, greeting, ushering and in catering to the special needs of eminent speakers and religious heads.
The General Secretary of The World Peace Summit, Mr. Bawa Jain repeatedly and wholeheartedly thanked the volunteers of BAPS for their service, while many Hindu leaders like Acharya Dharmendraji opined: "Swamishri you have glorified the honor of Hinduism."