The following story includes the mention of a rickshaw driver who’s life took a major u-turn before our eyes. At the end of the outing, I realized this would make a superb blog donation (I’ll tell you who you are), and gave him a generous 500 rupees — to make him feel extra special about the day, and because it was so worth it. For just about $12, one man entered a space that would forever change his life. Through his transformation, he taught us a radical lesson in the power of forgiveness and the value of reaching in to make connections, even at times when it seems counter-intuitive, or even impossible.

Vishnu clearly seemed like he was planted there by universal forces, and fortunately, we were attentive enough to pick it out. Here is a quick story of this most amazing day…

How to Create World Peace… or At Least Stepping in the Right Direction

jagatsketchsarvdharm_1Creating peace is something which must begin internally and then expressed outwardly.  It’s in this spirit that we planned a walk in silence from Hindu Temple to Muslim Masjid to Jain Mandir to Christian Church to Sikh Gurdwara.  Our 12 kilometer walk for “Faith, Forgiveness, and Good Wishes” began at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, India, where the NGO Manav Sadhna is based.  It was planned in parallel with a Manav Sadhana reunion happening in San Francisco at the same time.

As with most plans, things rarely go just as expected, but sometimes it’s in embracing the unexpected that we find the genuine treasures we were seeking.  This is what happened on August 7th, 2005, when we met at 5:30am to begin the walk.

The experiment started when Mark and John pulled up in a rickshaw at the Gandhi Ashram, asking for some assistance in translating.  The rickshaw driver was demanding 150 rupees for a ride that costs about 42.  He had doctored his meter and claimed that they had him drive all across town. He said that they were foreigners and were confused. Everyone knew better.  John and Mark had been here for 6 months already – doing volunteer service work – and knew the route intimately.  A heated group argument ensued.

The situation escalated for a half-hour until the guy finally admitted that he had lied.  He still, however, insisted on being paid Rs. 70 for the ride.  At a certain point, both John and Mark realized that if anyone were to benefit from this walk, it was the driver, and they offered to pay what he would make in rickshaw fares, and then some, for the duration of the walk if he came along.  With a little gentle touch from Jayeshbhai, the driver, Vishnu, agreed, and about 15 of us set out on the walk.

We started with a prayer at the Gandhi Ashram and then headed out.

oldcityfamily_1We paid our respects and sat in silence at each sacred venue, at times lending a hand sweeping or picking up debris.  Along the way, we encountered an impoverished family in desperate need of help.  The mother had mental problems and her youngest son was sick and malnourished, and likely near death.  Jayeshbhai called this the “Temple of Humanity.” After talking to them in length, we took them along with us.

The most amazing transformation occurred with the driver who went from wanting to cheat everyone to looking for ways in which he could give – picking up trash, holding people’s bags, and even buying the whole group bananas. His life was literally transforming before our eyes. He vowed that he would never lie again and never chew tobacco again. Whether or not he is able to stick to this, there is no doubt that this experience had an enormous impact on his life.  Near the end, he took the impoverished family back to the ashram.

The last stop was at a Gurdwara where they insisted on feeding the whole group lunch.

Later in the day, over a hundred children gathered at the ashram to create cards, made in the spirit of love, peace and harmony to give to the children in Pakistan. Within every child who participated, seeds of friendship were planted, and internal bridges of peace were created.  Mark and John intend to carry these cards – along with thousands of others to the children in Pakistan, and hope to return to India with letters of love and friendship from the Pakistani kids as well.  The cards were colorful and brilliant, full of promise for a better world.

freedomfighterswriting_2Soon after, a group of a dozen or so Gandhian freedom fighters arrived.  These men are in their eighties or nineties and stood in solidarity with Mahatma Gandhi in a nonviolent movement to liberate India from British rule. These men all show deep character and love for their country and fellow human being.  They sat down together and carefully crafted their own letters of peace and good wishes to the people of Pakistan.  These historic letters call for a unification of the two countries and are filled with deep sentiments of hope and regrets for the tragedies that occurred when India and Pakistan separated.  They asked that their letters be shown to President Musharaf.  John and Mark will do their best to fulfill this request and hope to give them ultimately to the freedom fighters living in Pakistan.

servingkids_1Dinner was then lovingly prepared for 160 guests, including the freedom fighters, the children, and many of the walkers.  The rickshaw driver, Vishnu, brought along his entire family, and the impoverished family began their new life with a bath and a healthy meal.

For those present, the day was filled with one miraculous moment after another.

It’s our hope in writing this that perhaps it may inspire you or others to experiment with your own efforts toward communal harmony, perhaps doing similar interfaith walks or participating in card campaigns of your own to build bridges of peace in places where discord may exist. The change begins within.  It begins with love.  It begins with us.  In walking together we soon discover that world peace is within reach… but if only we take the steps.

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Multi-faith artwork by Jagatbhai