Report from the United NationsThe Sri Chinmoy Centre Participates in Habitat Forum Vancouver, B.C., Canada
28 May — 11 June 1976
HABITAT, the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, was recently held in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. There were two major components to HABITAT: the official UN Conference, and Habitat Forum, a related, non-governmental conference/exposition. Together with many related events around the world before, during and after the conference itself, HABITAT and Habitat Forum provided a focal point in building awareness of, and concern for the environmental problems of human settlements — the cities, towns, villages and rural communities where people live, work, conduct their business, are educated and take their leisure.
During the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972, attention was mainly focused on the problems of the natural environment. At that time, it was proposed that a separate international meeting should deal with the man-made environment. At the invitation of the Government of Canada, the meeting was set for Vancouver. A special section of the United Nations Secretariat, headed by Enrique Peñalosa, Secretary-General for HABITAT, worked for over two years to prepare the Conference. It was directed in this task by a governmental Preparatory Committee made up of representatives of 58 Nations.
The holding of non-governmental activities in conjunction with UN conferences has become a tradition. They provide an opportunity for everyone to participate, as an individual or through an organization. “Habitat Forum” was the collective name for the activities of the non-governmental organizations at HABITAT. These ranged all the way from large and quite formal plenary sessions to physical exhibitions of appropriate human settlements technologies. While referred to as an NGO conference, Habitat Forum was open to all. Ordinary citizens as well as Prime Ministers attended both to participate and to observe.
The site of the Forum was Jericho Beach, a former military base which commands a spectacular view across an ocean inlet to the coast mountains and downtown Vancouver. Long before the city of Vancouver was founded, the Coast Indians, the Salish, used to come to what is now called Jericho Beach to fish, to hunt, and to meet for Potlatch. The Indian name for this spot was Eyalmoch, “a good place.”
Just outside the gates of Habitat Forum, spiritual groups from around the world participated in a spiritual forum entitled “Spirit in Community.” The Sri Chinmoy Centre was one of these groups. Members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre from the Victoria and Seattle Centres brought to the forum three Audio-Visual presentations (films and slides) which were used as part of the “Spiritual Forum Day” (6 June) and the “Yoga and Meditation Day” (7 June). These were quite well received by the seekers drawn there for the spiritual side of HABITAT. In addition, the Sri Chinmoy Centre put up a display of spiritual books.
“Spirit in Community” culminated in the Earth Healing Ceremony, 10-12 June. Leaders and medicine men of the Native Peoples travelled to Habitat Forum to perform this three-day healing rite for our planet. They were joined in ceremonies and celebrations by the leaders and members of many other spiritual ways. Said Thomas Banyacya, leader of the members of the Hopi tribe who attended, “The Native People must return to the spiritual path as one to cure and heal our Mother Earth. It is only through the heart, prayer and ceremony that we can bring this turbulence of evil to a halt.”
Members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre attended the lighting of the ceremonial fire, the sunrise meditations and councils of the Earth Healing Ceremony. They were very pleased to hear the news on Friday, 11 June, when Thomas Banyacya was granted an interview with Minister Barney Danson, president of the official Habitat Conference, in which Mr. Banyacya was able to deliver to the official United Nations body the message of the Native Peoples. Mr. Banyacya felt, as did all the participants in the Earth Healing Ceremony, that this was a significant acceptance on the part of the UN of the aspirations and ideals of the Native Peoples.
Later that evening, the Spiritual Forum again assembled, this time for the “Full Moon Meditation,” a part of World Invocation Day. Members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre opened the evening with a half-hour programme of singing in English, Sanskrit and Bengali. Other groups also led devotional activities. Downtown, in the last plenary session, delegates from the United Nations Member States were concluding the 2-week conference by adopting “The Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements, 1976” and a nine-point programme of international co-operation in the human settlements field. At the Forum and around the world, spiritual brothers and sisters from many different paths meditated in silence to invoke the presence of the Supreme Being for the healing of the Earth and for the ever-growing oneness of mankind.
Thus HABITAT, Habitat Forum and “Spirit in Community” ended, all successful in their own ways. No doubt, the participants in all these activities left with an expanded awareness and a real sense of satisfaction at what was accomplished there.