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Head of Secretariat’s Welcome Remarks at PaRD’s Annual Forum 2022 on Faith and Partnerships in Addressing the Climate Crisis

PaRD’s Head of Secretariat, Khushwant Singh, spoke in Bali (Indonesia) about the importance of “Unity in Diversity” and a circular understanding of life, as well as the need to unlearn linear and growth-oriented thinking in order to tackle the human-made climate crisis.

The following text is the speech by Khushwant Singh, PaRD’s Head of Secretariat, held on 1 November 2022 at PaRD’s Annual Forum on Religion and Sustainable Development 2022.

Dear excellencies,
dear members and leadership of the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD), 
dear guests of PaRD’s Annual Forum 2022,
Selamat datang di Bali! I warmly welcome you to our Annual Forum in Bali!

Bali is loved all over the world. For beautiful forests, mountains, lakes, rivers and of course its beaches. And, for Bali’s unique cultural customs, ancient wisdom, and diverse traditions. In Bali, people not only live side by side, but they are enriching each other and striving for harmony in the long run. Bali exemplifies the Indonesian motto “Unity in Diversity” – Berbeda tapi tetap satu. In, Sikhi, the spiritual tradition I adhere, it is called anek hain fir ek hain and tuhai ek anek jio.

PaRD is about Unity in Diversity. Its members are united as they get a space of complementing and inspiring each other on a long-term basis at equal levels. So, it is no surprise that the PaRD leadership chose Bali for the Annual Forum during a time when G20 meetings are happening here. 

Spirituality is all about unity and transcending ephemerality. Spiritual people understand their responsibilities as guests on this wonderful planet. They care for Mother Earth in the same way they care for their elders and children. They think of tomorrow. They even think of the Hereafter. 

No one in this room, and I am confident to say this, wants the wonders of Bali, a symbol of the beauty of the Divine, to vanish. Everyone in this Forum knows that it is our responsibility to protect the sacredness on and of the Earth and its wonders. The motto of our Annual Forum speaks for itself: Faith and Partnerships in Addressing the Climate Crisis.

Spirituality is all about unity and transcending ephemerality. Spiritual people understand their responsibilities as guests on this wonderful planet. They care for Mother Earth in the same way they care for their elders and children. They think of tomorrow. They even think of the Hereafter.

I feel privileged to speak to you today. Around 300 participants have registered for this hybrid event. Over 130 people from all continents and around 40 countries are attending in person. The list of speakers is extensive and diverse, and more than half of the speakers are women. This is not only the largest Annual Forum in PaRD’s young history. It is also the most diverse, where also the younger generation and Indigenous people can raise their voice and be heard. 

I know you care. Every single soul in this room. Every single soul following virtually. People of good faith have gathered today. People of responsibility. People of hope. People whose heart brings together both, the moral and practical world. More such people are needed. Because we live in challenging times. The ephemerality of life is palpable on our fingertips. We just faced a global pandemic. People hoped it would bring a shift in the way we organise our life and economy. Did it? 

Many, including younger people, are worried that we will not reach the goals of the 2030 Agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals. The current wars, the ongoing climate, food and energy crisis, and the fact that basic human rights are denied to many people on the planet, this all shows that too many in power are not willing to change the course of history. Too many in power do not respect the inherent dignity every sentient being deserves unconditionally. Too many fear overcoming short termism and egoistic interests. Too many still think that you can force or persuade people into a certain ideology or even religion.

On top of this, we live in times where human made complexity and stress is dominating our lives. We all face it daily. And more complexity is added because it is becoming difficult to distinguish facts from fakes. We are prone to being misguided probably like no other generation before us. This is also true in the realm of religion. So “decolonising the mind” – unpadea we call it in our tradition – is part of the art we all might need to cultivate even more. This entails that more people and nations dare to embrace long-term engagement and partnerships along the motto “Unity in Diversity”.

PaRD is such a space where diverse experiences and perspectives can be shared respectfully, and where new ideas are born out of listening to each other. Not only today but in Working Groups and initiatives throughout the year. Without PaRD we would simply not gather here today. It is precisely this added value of connecting people and learning on a long-term basis at equal levels, which is the ideal of this wonderful partnership. PaRD helps nourishing the inspirational and practical power of religion and spirituality for the good of all. PaRD helps finding a common language across sectors, disciplines, geographies, and entities – including governments, multilaterals, academia/research, faith and other civil society actors. 

Timeless spiritual wisdom, Gurmat, which is at the heart of Sikhi, reminds us in line with Einstein and other outstanding personalities: “We cannot solve a problem at the same level it arose.” 

It is my hope that PaRD can also play a role in helping us overcoming linear and growth-driven thinking and developing an openness for a circular understanding of life. A way of life, where the well-being of all sentient beings is the key indicator of success and not primarily economic growth, which may even be achieved by exploiting human beings, animals, and nature.

Your engagement is mission critical for the success of PaRD. I encourage all of you, also those joining virtually, to share your ideas and wisdom in this Annual Forum. 

I would like to take the opportunity to thank BMZ, the German government, for being the core-funder of PaRD since its inception in 2016 along with many others who have contributed in different ways to the success of PaRD. Without your support, we could not have gathered here today under the hashtag #PaRD22. I was requested by my team not to forget to mention our hashtag #PaRD22. 

I warmly thank everyone, who helped in shaping this forum. I thank the leadership of the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development for their ongoing support and trust. I am grateful to the Indonesian Government, especially the Ministry of Religious Affairs, for being so supportive as a cooperation partner of our Annual Forum. Soon we will have the privilege to listen to the keynote of His Excellency Minister Qoumas. And of course, I want to say thank you to my teammates at the Secretariat, the GIZ colleagues here in Indonesia and at the headquarters in Germany, the event organiser and the hotel staff for their ongoing commitment and all the hard work they put in to make this event possible. 

Some people think that humour does not go hand in hand in gatherings with religious people. We have proven differently in PaRD. So allow me to end on a lighter tone: If offered, I would not deny Indonesian citizenship. So that I can come here to Bali more often to work remotely – and to also have a nice time while walking at the beach. We can certainly talk this through later. The Indonesian government is well represented, and something could be done hopefully. The first steps I have hopefully taken to qualify for citizenship by trying to learn Bahasa Indonesia:

Saya yakin akan selalu ada hal yang baru yang diperoleh dari setiap dialog! I’m sure there is always something new to be gained from each dialogue! If you are not a member so far, please consider becoming a member of PaRD. I cordially invite you to do so.

I wish us all fruitful dialogues. Thank you.