Monday, August 31, 2009

Chautauqua Institution Spotlights Compassion

by Amy Novogratz
August 17, 2009 02:26 PM

When Karen Armstrong won one of the three 2008 TED Prizes, we knew her wish -- to create a worldwide Charter for Compassion -- was a powerful one with the potential to develop into an innovative and international movement. As the final document is being crafted, we are starting to see the word spread about its message of compassion, universal justice and respect.

Since Monday, the Chautauqua Institution, a not-for-profit, educational center in southwest New York, has offered five days of afternoon discussions centered on Armstrong's wish to establish the Charter. Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, Director of the Institution's Department of Religions, and a member of the core Charter for Compassion team, put together the sessions, based on the theme, "Imagine a World of Peace through Compassion." The discussions culminated Friday when Armstrong was the featured afternoon speaker.

And as part of the week's events, TED worked with the Department of Religion on a special, one-hour program for the Charter for Compassion. Rev. James Alexander Forbes, Jr., Robert Thurman and Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati each gave an 18-minute talk Wednesday afternoon for the audience. The talks were filmed and will be edited, translated and distributed by TED and the Charter for Compassion team. They will then be released on the Charter for Compassion website, and as part of the TED Partner Series.

All three speakers are powerful voices for peace through compassion. Dr. Forbes, Senior Minister Emeritus of Riverside Church, New York City, is co-chair of A Partnership of Faith, an interfaith organization of clergy among New York's Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim communities. Robert Thurman holds the Jey Tsong Khapa Chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University. He has studied Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism for almost 30 years as a personal student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati, acclaimed throughout the world as a spiritual leader and Vedantic teacher, convened in 2001 the first World Congress for the Preservation of Religious Diversity in Delhi, inaugurated by the Dalai Lama.

The Chautauqua Institution was founded in 1874 as a training camp for Sunday school teachers. Today it is a summer center that encompasses the arts, education, religion and recreation, where some 7,500 people are in residence on any day during its nine-week season. The Institution's Abrahamic Program endeavors to teach about and build relationships among the Family of Abraham: Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Karen Armstrong has been honored around the world especially as an intercessor among the Abrahamic faiths. We've watched as her TED Prize wish to establish a document that would bring attention back to Abrahamic principles of universal justice and respect has expanded into a multi-faith, multi-national movement.

We've posted here the many ways people can help to promote the Charter and Armstrong's amazing work, including expanding contacts with the spiritual leaders who have inspired our readers' thinking the most. We hope that thousands of leaders from all religions, will agree to the Charter for Compassion, add their signatures and address their congregations on compassion during the week following the Charter launch on November 12.

The afternoon lecture series at the Chautauqua Institution was a great way to introduce the Chautauqua community to TED. And it's a terrific example of how, through the TED Prize, Karen Armstrong's wish is reaching new audiences and inspiring important, positive action on expanding justice and respect for all the world's communities. Look for the official launch of the Charter for Compassion this November.

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