Monday, January 12, 2009

When the world is burning, the important thing to ask is what is being born? Interview with Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee of Global Oneness Project

Life is an expression of divine oneness..
We are an integral part of life's unfolding mystery, its wonder and glory.
And we have the capacity to be conscious of life's oneness, just as we can recognize how every cell of creation carries an imprint of His name.

- Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
from his book Working with Oneness


Oneness is without failing, at the heart of all the spiritual paths. Specially from mystical point of view the vantage point where all paths unite is exactly this what we call oneness. It is perhaps the most difficult idea to comprehend with rational mind and yet the simplest notion of Reality that simply IS.

Global Oneness Project takes this idea of oneness and explores how the radically simple notion of interconnectedness can be lived in our increasingly complex world. Starting from January 2006, the project has traveled the globe gathering stories from creative and courageous people who base their lives and work on the understanding that we bear great responsibility for each other and our shared world. The project make available all its films at its website for anybody to watch, share and be inspired. Over the years it has grown into a rich collection of human experiences with the different facets of oneness as people are exploring at different part of this planet. Since I have known about it, I have been very inspired by the Global Oneness Project personally and very appreciative of what it's doing.

Last week I have spoken with Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, director and founder of Global Oneness Project. Other than his identity as a critically acclaimed jazz bassist/composer and his experience with media and entertainment world, he is also a practicing sufi. More interestingly he is the son of contemporary Sufi teacher Shaykh Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee of Naqshbandiyya Mujaddidiyya order of Sufism. We spoke about the Global Oneness project and its relationship with oneness. Following is the transcript of the interview:

Sadiq Alam: Tell us what Global Oneness Project is for those who are stranger to it.

Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee: Global Oneness Project is essentially a platform for trying to help support a shift from a "me" based society to a "we" based society, to trying to change a shift in consciousness away from a dualistic way of thinking, way of working; one that has for centuries specially in the west viewed everything as something to be comodified, something to be sold, something to be exploited and doesn't value the idea of seeing things as inter-connected, as inter-dependent, doesn't see things as holistically and that we need to shift in a way of working, of thinking, of creating systems or developing solutions to problems from a holistic way of thinking. As that holistic understanding has been present for hundreds and thousands years in different spiritual traditions, in indigenous culture, in nature.

I think the next step we need to take as a human species is to acknowledge the value of that and integrate that into our way of living. And obviously now we are confronted by the signs of our unsustainable way of living through that dualistic nature, around us through environmental problems, through social problems, now obvious in everybody's forefront is the economic problem. If you have a system that is based on greed and based upon profit in that idea that progress means always producing more and producing more, look what happens.

It becomes an unsustainable and economic crisis can happen on mass scale because of our global interconnected global economic system. So the project is about those ideas. And how we can use media by sharing the voices and stories of people, around the world who are talking about these issues, thinking about these issues and more importantly found solutions to problems in their local and global environments by thinking holistically, and how sharing these stories can be a powerful tool in getting people to see that its possible and its happening.

There is a movement emerging of individuals, organizations, initiatives, thinkers who are saying, 'we are not going be confined in a construct of a dualistic system and live according to that way of life; and we are going to embrace a new of thinking, a new way of working which acknowledges that we are an inter-connected and inter-dependent system, people on many levels'. So we try to explore that through spiritual concepts, through economics, human rights, conflict resolutions, arts, media, indigenous culture, really many facets. Really be as even handed as we can of exploring these concepts, not just go the traditional route of saying, 'oh holistic way of thinking is really a spiritual concept, personal well being', no its really more than that.

For me personally, the spiritual values only gain real ground when you live them and when you embody them and how you live and work. Thats what people find so inspiring about people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King or spiritual figures throughout millenia, from Jesus to Muhammad to Buddha. They had teachings and understanding and they lived them in their life and said its not just an idea you can keep to yourselves, this is something you have to embody and the values how a society should live.

I think that spiritual concepts have a very important role to play in our time and the most important spiritual concept for me is this value of seeing thing as inter-connected. Because if you see everything is inter-connected, as everything is related; the way you are going to relate to each other, to the earth, to materials to yourself will change because you will see that its not about only the interest of one individual, or one country or one community, its the interest of all of those communities and how they are related on every single level and one's value must change accordingly.

Sadiq: As I was reading your previous interviews in SF Gate with David Ian Miller and Dobarh Lindsay at KRXA radio show. In both places you have mentioned how the inspiration for this project came while working in the film, One: The Movie. On the inspiration of this project, do you have more to share with us?

Emmanuel: It was really that experience (working on the One: Movie) that gave me the opportunity to travel different parts of the country and the world to see people responding to a piece of media that talks about what brings us together, what unites us rather what separates us. And it was interesting to see how people are responding to that. So for me it was an eye opening experience that people from many different background are interested in this. I was interested to take this inquiry, this exploration which is present in that film to a deeper level. We thought how could we make this by broadening the people we speak to, not just spiritual teachers but people from all these different areas of society representing different disciplines, professions and approaches.

Also taking it to global level by going to different parts of the world and specifically to the part of the world where the majority of people live. In the global south, in the area of poverty. Look the majority of people do not live as westerners do in California or in New York or London, they live in cities like Mumbai or Mexico City or vast slums in South Africa. Going to those places, to talk to people about these issues and see if this is something that is relevant and present there or is it really just an idea for people who have the luxury to think about, because they have got a nice kushi job and they can go to a meditation group in Monday night, start thinking and philosophizing about, versus actually exploring hands-on in those communities.

Sadiq: The Oneness idea is deeply rooted in the sufi teachings of Oneness of Being, Wahadtul Wujud in classical sufi term, as famously developed by great sufi mystic and philosopher Ibn Arabi. At the same time your father, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who has been a major contemporary sufi master who is teaching about Oneness for such a long time in the west. How much influence you had from Llewellyn's teaching?

Emmanuel: You know my father's influence on me is very strong, as I am sure every son's relationship to their father is. Although my father has been teaching about oneness in books publicly for ten years, I grew up in a sufi household, living above a spiritual teacher before my father was a teacher; because we grew up in the house of his teacher. If you grow up in that environment, in which the values associated with that spiritual tradition being sufism, are alway present, taught and integrated in life.

Sufism as you know, the basic premise of sufism is the belief in the oneness of being, so that encompass a lot of the way I grew up and having that ingrained in life. So for me oneness was not a foreign concept. I guess the difference of what happened with my father's teaching is that rather than just talking about oneness in the concept of traditional sufi teaching related to students of the path, obviously now its becoming a real concept that needs to be introduced into global thought and to global evolution. So he really started speaking about, what was a spiritual concept, spiritual way of being that was specifically for initiates or people who are interested to studying that tradition, now should be available to everybody, something that should be utilized for the evolution of humanity and for instance to survive.

Yes his teachings have definitely influenced me, but I would say, more than the books he has written, just growing up in that environment, with those values and those ethos been very central to my life.

For an individual, the spiritual path begins once there has been an experience of oneness through grace. You can trace it back to the mystical understanding of oneness, because oneness is a basic mystical experience. Many, many, many people have had experiences of oneness. They've woken up for a moment, and like the poet William Blake said, "To see the world in a grain of sand." They have had those momentary experiences. They see that everything is one. They see the universe as one dynamic whole. But .. this might become part of our collective human experience, not just an individual mystical experience ..

- Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Conversation about Oneness

Sadiq: For some people who don't necessarily have a propensity or opening to mystical teachings or direct experience of oneness, for them the teaching of oneness from mystical perspective is often time very hard to grasp. I have even heard people in the spiritual path criticize the philosophy of oneness by misunderstanding it as some kind of airy New Age thing. How do you communicate to them?

Emmanuel: One thing we try to focus on is that the films we produce are not so much about the idea 'oneness is an airy, combia philosophical idea'; but it is practically implemented in life through realization. If you talk about oneness from the perspective of relationships and values; the value of trust, the value of generosity, the value of compassion, the value of stewardship is a representation, a manifestation of oneness in the world.

Its not something about 'we are all one', but, what do you do with that? You have to actually embody that and live that.

Thats why I was saying, people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa like these iconic figures in history, why are they so powerful? Because they didn't just talk about things, they did them, implemented these ideas and they were very spiritual people. These are very spiritual people. Gandhi was a very spiritual man, Theresa was a very spiritual woman and Martin Luther King was a very spiritual man, who all believed in the oneness of God, in these very religious or spiritual ideas and they implemented them. You can not just talk about them, you have to actually live that.

The film Goonj is not really about spiritual values in the same way that you would expect oneness to be about; its about how do you make use of every scrap of clothing in order to benefit those in need and be creative about that.

Bario de Paz is about a woman who works with gang kids in Barrio De Paz in Guayaquil and views the value of what they are as human being is something to work with, not something to be tossed aside and stream rolled over with your ideas of progress and peace.

So lot of our films really don't continue the status quo idea of what oneness is but they actually challenge it in saying 'oneness is not just a consciousness, oneness is reality, oneness is something you live, its a value'. Its way of thinking, yes it is a way of meditating perhaps, but more importantly it is potentially a way of living and way of creating solutions to problems by thinking of things inter-connectedly.

Sadiq: Another notion I got from talking to other people and friends about global oneness, it seems they see it as purely environmental movement. Global Oneness to my understanding is not limited to just environment or ecology of the planet. The oneness of human family as a global tribe is another very important component of it. What other key areas that global oneness project has been exploring so far and wish to explore in the future?

Emmanuel: We have already have several films that talk about human rights, social justice and conflict resolution, religion and spirituality and indigenous culture, so we have been pretty even handed if you go through our library of films of exploring this idea from different perspectives. We did a film recently in South Africa about a girl who uses soccer as a tool to unify people and bring about awareness of HIV and through her experience of fighting of poverty was able to see the strengths of the values that oneness in holistic way bring. We can't just talk about it, we have to live.

It is not a ecological film in the slightest, there is not even a reference to ecology or anything to do with environment in that film. And many of our films don't. So we have really tried to explore from these different avenues by highlighting the work of people or organization who would think about it and apply it in this context.

Global Oneness Trailer Video ShotSadiq: There are so many conflicts and wars going on at this moment, as we speak and some people have this idea that, "I don't want to hear about it, I don't even want to learn about it because its all negative, its about conflicts and violence", do you think thats a healthy attitude when we are talking about oneness.

Emmanuel: I don't think thats healthy at all. Everyone obviously is free to do what they want but I think that is very much an ignorant way to look at how oneness is interpreted. People often react with the idea of oneness, they put it in that kind of context that its all about nice things, about things being connected, one lovely whole.

The world in one, all connected means the acknowledgment of people in suffering, whether that means through war and conflicts, through HIV & AIDS, or through not access to clean water, not access to food and acknowledging that, and as a result the decisions you make as an individual can impact them direct or indirect way.

So, I think acknowledging what is happening in the world and being aware of it is very important. If you can't deal with it because you don't like the idea of negative images, or you want to focus on always being positive, thats your choice. I think thats not a realistic way of living in this world.

I think acknowledging whats going on in the world, being aware of it is important, because once you are aware of other people's suffering then you can change the way you think and act. And it doesn't mean you have to go to the extreme and then sacrifice everything you have in your life in order to make somebody else's better. If thats what you really want to do, thats great. But it just really mean being aware and oneness is being aware.

Basic premise of a lot of spiritual tradition is awareness, awareness first and through awareness comes transformation because you become aware within yourself, around you and people and through that tremendous change can come. I think we as a country here have been very unaware, we don't want to be aware what's going on in the world in America. International sellable to audience of 18 to 42 age group which marketers cover and advertisers cover, so we don't see that. We don't see whats going on around the world, those images, you don't actually get an understanding of conflicts, like Darfur just move aside after the next news cycle and thats not right and there needs to be awareness of what's going.

Sadiq: When it comes to reaching out to others, to transmit a message, what we can learn from the past or to be specific, in the Quran we see two models. One model is to reach out to common folk and giving the message to them so that on a collective scale things can shift and change. In this model each individual although less effective as single person, can bring great change when a great number of people receive the message and become conscious. Another model is to contact the top hierarchy, to the top authorities who sits at the some kind of seat of power, who have direct influence over many. in trying to give the message to their heart so that they can implement and make effective changes by changing policies and how things are done.

The idea of Global Oneness is so profound and beautiful that sometime I feel it needs to be get acrossed to top people with this precise hope that they can get it and by inspiring them it can influence a whole country or state or whole district. Imagine if mayors of all cities in America fall in love with this idea and in diverse ways it become a mass project.

Is this something Global Oneness Project can experiment with?

Emmanuel: I think that ideally you want to have both models, you want to be able to reach the masses and I am wanting just even the messes because we have been living in such an hierarchical society where everything is coming from the top down that we really need to be in a place of bottom up and voices of the people telling the new emerging stories how we want to live in this world. But if we can get people in position and power, whether they are political power, economic power, who are interested in these ideas and get them understand the importance of it, then I am all for it. For us, personally to go around and trying to do that, thats a hard job. We could send a DVD to every mayor's office in America but I don't know whether they would ever watch it.

The position of authority can be very variable, it could be a mayor, it could be principal of a school to share something with a whole bunch of kids. Or somebody who is running a business and they can make decision about how they want to start that business or continue that business, so perhaps they can take into consideration more than just profit. So there are many ways these ideas can influence in position and authority of power. I think the higher up you can go, the better; but I am personally more interested in how the world will change as a result of individuals stepping up and saying we want to change based upon this way of thinking, of this way of committing ourselves for the future.

Sadiq: Tell us for those who will chance upon here and read this interview, what are the practical ways they can participate, contribute and engage in Global Oneness Project?

Emmanuel: They can go to our site Global Oneness Project, they can go to the Get Involve section of our site, they can see different sections. If they want to contribute more directly, they can email us. They can volunteer with us directly, perhaps we can connect them with somebody who might need help in some of the projects that we have highlighted.

Most importantly if they can spread the word, hosting a screen is a great way to get started. If they can get 5 people together, 10 people together and watch the films and talk about the issues. May be doing it in a area outside of their comfort zone, rather than their friends who know about the issues. Trying gather five co-workers in a office lunch who have never been exposed to this and show it to them and see what they think. You don't have to preach something but its like "hey what do you think about this?" Does it make them think about this differently? does it make them question something?

I think any response is a worth while response, even if it is "I don't like it at all." But at least there is an exposure to different way of thinking and different way of living and people get to see how other people in the world are doing things.

End Comment:

Ibn Arabi said, "there are only two things to be done: the necessary and the impossible."

Like many across the globe, I am personally very inspired by Global Oneness Project. It is doing something absolutely necessary for our time. By bringing these works of oneness on the ground into mass awareness, it is helping many to enter into the field of practical oneness that is lived and transforming. I hope the project will unfold and evolve into doing what is 'impossible', what we long to happen but still dare to believe.

May that impossibility which all mystics long for, that one day all of humanity can wakeup collectively, that the waking of the sleeping soul of humanity happens - precisely that "im-possibility" may arrive here. May this be done by the Grace.

Many thanks Emmanuel to you and all who work for the Project. Much Blessings.

[>] Watch the Trailer of Global Oneness Project: When the world is burning, the important thing to ask is what is being born?
[>] Interviewees as part of Global Oneness Project
[>] Home Page of Global Oneness Project

# Favorite picks of Global Oneness short films
. Jayesh bhai from Ghandhi Ashram, India
. Goonj
. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
. Father Keating: Oneness and the Heart of the World
. Sami Awad from Palestine
. Bob Randall from Australia

# Further:
. One: the Movie and Project
. Finding my Religion via SFGate: another Interview
. Interview with Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, founder and director of the Global Oneness Project (audio) Pin It Now!

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