Roerich-Bira Foundation Update

The event held at Ulaanbaatar’s Roerich Museum on 4 July 2015 was a remarkable success.  We at the Roerich-Bira Foundation were surprised at the wonderful turnout and the attention this event received.  Most remarkable was the energy and enthusiasm.  Everyone was excited to be there and it was quite obvious that there would be much support for the future of the Foundation and for our agenda.  Our colleagues from St. Petersburg drove all the way to Ulaanbaatar, traveling the difficult terrain and visiting the remote locations that were experienced by the Roerichs many decades ago.  Aleksei Bonderenko brought his daughter Lena and a team of committed and brilliant culture warriors in a pair of new UAZ vehicles emblazoned with the Roerich logo.  The “jeeps” were splattered with mud and we stood around them for some time in the hot afternoon sun admiring them, imagining their long journey and listening to accounts of the long trek.  Aleksei’s spirit and his manner infused our event with optimism and goodwill.  The Roerich Society is fortunate to have such a natural leader in St. Petersburg.

Their arrival validated our sense at the Foundation that our recent activities–i.e. the stupa restoration, our tree planting, our television interview with Khishigsuren, our writing and research–had increased the magnetism of the museum.  Only the week before, we had received colleagues from Siberia and Yaroslavl.  Their warmth, engaging conversation and passion for truth and culture had also substantiated this sense that our work and mission at the Museum is indeed gaining momentum.  The light and joyous spirit that hovers in and around our Museum seems to be growing brighter and that good fortune is attracted by this!

The St. Petersburg team had arrived two days before our event and we spent several hours in the Shambhala room of the museum sharing tea, coffee and cakes and engaging in lively conversation.  In particular, I shared with Lena my news from New York, specifically the 80th Anniversary of the Roerich Pact exhibition at the United Nations.  I told her that while it was an honor to be an American representing Mongolia, I couldn’t fail to notice that very few Americans were in attendance.  Lena and I talked about the dangerous state of global affairs that is now tragically marked by senseless conflict, orchestrated by the powerful few, in which the innocent lose their lives, their livelihoods and homes.   We agreed that the need to affirm and defend the realm of human culture is more urgent than ever.

On the 4th, I arrived at the Museum a half hour before our big event.  Preparations were underway in a congenial spirit of excited anticipation.  A small team of local young men who have only recently started a coffee roasting business arrived and began setting up a coffee station.  One of them, also an accomplished traditional Mongolian musician, filled the Shambhala room as the guests began arriving with the rich and haunting sound of his morin hoor, which is the Mongolian equivalent (and probably predecessor) of the European cello.  I took refuge in what was once Nicholas Roerich’s study in order to gather my thoughts for my speech.

In the cool, dark study, several Foundation participants were collating the gifts to be given out to our guests:  beautifully reproduced sutras provided in several languages that were placed in envelopes decorated with the image of its famous author, the lama Zanabazar.  The sutra (1696) is entitled “Jinlavchogtsol” and is a passionate call for peace between the east and the west of Mongolia.  It would be difficult to conceive of a more fitting present for our guests.  The Foundation recognizes the existential imperative of restoring sanity to relations between persons and peoples, and of finding common ground through cultural awareness.  We consider it our mission to facilitate the easing of tensions, promote development and the general uplifting of all human beings. More accurately, we find that we share the intuitive drive to promote understanding at the heart level.

The event got underway at about 3:30.  We felt most fortunate and grateful that so many of those we invited were indeed able to attend.  Officials from the Russian and Belarusian Embassies; Mongolia’s first president P. Ochirbat; officials from the Mongolian Ministry of Culture, Education and Science; our friends from the Russia Fund;  Mogi Badral, the CEO of the new media outlet “Cover Mongolia”, as well as Novosti Mongolia television . . . I am afraid it is not possible now to list the names and positions of all our guests!  Suffice it to say that we at the Foundation remarked to one another many times how incredible it was that we were able to assemble such an exciting group on such short notice.  Certainly the reputation of our founder Dr. Shagdaryn Bira could account for such a turn-out.  The devotion he inspires here in Mongolia is profound.  He is seen, rightfully, as a national father figure–the historian and Mongolist responsible for keeping alive the flame of Mongolian culture through times of nearly overwhelming challenges.

When he was introduced to speak, the room became deeply attentive and focused with love and admiration.  Dr. Bira spoke eloquently about the ongoing journey that is Mongolia, about Tenggerism and the legacy of Genghis Khan and the promise of tomorrow.  In my speech, which followed his, I welcomed our guests, remarked on the extraordinary good fortune of our Foundation in having such a successful inaugural event and called Dr. Bira, “the father of the Mongolian renaissance.”  The concept and actuality of this renaissance is the basis for our work at the Foundation.  The very real reinvigoration of spirit that will be directed toward substantive and evolutionary projects indeed owes its power to the flame that Dr. Bira has kept alive for many decades through his visionary scholarship and personal dignity.

After the speeches in the Shambhala room, we adjourned to our “music room” for some wonderful Russian music.  Our colleague from Ukraine, saxophonist Dima Tagan, kept us enthralled with his sonorous renditions.  We were also very lucky to have the very wonderful Russian singer Vlada who sang with taste, passion and depth.  Also, the very great Russian guitar virtuoso Alexander Saga played for us with astonishing power and enormous technical command.  It was my great privilege to be accompanied by him when I sang three Russian “war songs” during which nearly the entire room sang along.

The conversations continued for several hours after our music.  The feeling was celebratory and earnest.  Pledges of further support, ideas for collaboration and partnerships, and friendships were created.  Our little museum was buzzing with possibilities and potential.  And today we are still quite amazed at the success of our first event.

Formally, the event was intended to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Roerich Pact.  But we at the Foundation are very forward thinking people and very independent minded.  We believe that the best way to honor the Pact is to imagine and pursue its enhancement, to enlarge its mandate and to deepen the general understanding of its spirit and purpose.  And so our celebration was more forward-looking than commemorative.

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote of the Roerich Pact: “This treaty possesses a spiritual significance far deeper than the text of the instrument itself.”  It is the spirit, then, of the Pact that calls us to  action.  This spirit is commensurate with the very spirit of Culture, that pan-human phenomenon to which Roerich devoted his life energies.  His work was, by its nature, transformative.  It sought to bring to the attention of a brutal and wayward human species the necessity of protecting and advancing its cultural accomplishments.  His efforts in the promotion of culture were distinctly evolutionary in their intentions.  The transformation he sought, and we continue to seek, involves reconnecting the human race with Heart.  We must understand that it is a deficiency of Heart that permits the “inhuman”: the killing and exploitation of our fellows, the careless or deliberate endangerment of future generations, and the wanton destruction of our natural world.  I think we must agree that the only persons who might defend such heartless behavior as listed above are those complicit in their commission, directly or passively.  It is furthermore clear that we are facing such a degree of heartlessness that the future of humanity is indeed threatened.  And so a reconnection to the human heart is the only antidote to the progressive decline of humanity.  To those who may say that all good things must come to an end and that the demise of humanity may be a merciful and even natural outcome, we urge a closer look at what this decline would probably be like.  Is it likely to resemble a gentle, “benevolent” euthanasia?  Or is it not more likely to produce horrors upon horrors, each one prone to escalation, visiting increasingly intolerable cruelties upon the innocent.  Having pondered this question realistically, are we prepared to accept “inevitable decline”?

Writing in “The Power of Light”, Nicholas Roerich parallels Roosevelt’s acknowledgement of a level of truth that transcends ideology, political opinion and even “the word” itself: “The language of creativity is that pan-human tongue understood by the heart. And what can be more light-bearing, more mutually, appealing than the language of the heart, in comparison with which all dialects of sound are meager and elementary?”  Roerich goes on to assert that “Culture is the Heart,” that the heart is the very animating power of culture and is, indeed, its spiritual centre.  Finally, he pronounces that: “Only creativity in all its diversity introduces a peaceful, all-knowing stream into the entire constructiveness of life.  And he who, despite all difficulties which encumbered him, strives along the path of Light, fulfills the vital task of evolution.”

This evolution leads us naturally and of necessity to an Epoch of the Heart, when the Heart must play the dominant role in collective cognition which will result in an expansion of consciousness.  To paraphrase Einstein: “It is impossible to solve a problem while remaining at the same level at which the problem was created.”  Roerich’s prescient and visionary rallying cry of the Heart is nothing other than a corroboration of Einstein’s axiomatic observation.  The problems that now confront the planet are indeed amenable to the moderating effects of culture precisely because these problems are the pernicious outgrowths of brutality and the addiction to methodology.  The existential problems have arisen from a lack of heart and must be addressed from the level of culture.

The role of culture in human life is a vital determinant in the ways we view and relate to one another as well the ways we evaluate ourselves and our own actions.  Culture conveys its wisdom in the “pan-human tongue” of creativity which is “understood by the heart.”  The position of the Roerich-Bira Foundation is that the great transnational issues of our time require a heart-based discourse in the pan-human tongue of culture and creativity.  When the Roerich Pact came into effect in 1935, it offered an historically unprecedented degree of protection to culture.  Culture was to be protected from destruction during armed conflict, neglect in times of peace as well as from any and all dangers.  The dangers facing culture today include, most tragically, its diminishment.  What is considered culture in the still prevailing yet faltering paradigm emanating from the West tends to be limited to commercial spectacles, museums, grant art and the occasional archeological find.  There seems to be a programmatic effort to remove the more all-encompassing issues entirely from the “purview” of culture.  These issues have been commended to the heartless and destructive machinations of technocracy.  The Roerich-Bira Foundation has identified these issues as: economic, environmental and legal.  We maintain that these issues are best considered with the heart-based wisdom of creativity and culture.

Indeed, the very cognitive soil from which springs our ability to conceptualize best practices related to these crucial categories is the very same fertile ground we call Culture.  Economics, properly understood, reflects nothing other than a social contract that is conditioned by the pan-human experience of culture.  Our understanding and operative relationship with our natural environment is similarly a product of cultural development.  Likewise, our notions of law and peace find their sources in deep cultural repositories of reflection and experience.  In each of these existential significant categories, we have seen the heartless erosion of basic human values commensurate with the diminishment of culture and the accession of technocracy.  So it seems that the danger facing culture today is not “merely” the destruction of artifacts or the corrosive neglect by a consumerism that increasingly serves the interests of the very few, but the hollowing out of its basic significance with respect to the transnational issues that threaten to undermine completely the future of the species.  The wisdom of culture, as elaborated in the pan-human tongue of creativity, must be reintroduced to the presently impoverished discourse surrounding the most important issues of our time.  The wisdom of the heart will certainly restore empathy to matters of economic development, sensitivity and ingenuity to matters of environmental balance, and a vibrant commitment to higher justice with regard to legal systems.  And so the Roerich-Bira Foundation proclaims its mission as one that restores culture and heart-based wisdom to its rightful place as the primary evolutionary driver in the most crucial issues faced by the human society.

To this end and in this spirit, we propose a conference to be held in November that will address the fundamental need to reformulate the human approach to transnational concerns of existential significance.  The program will emphasize the constructive power of Culture to address these concerns.  Our Foundation posits three pillars of evolutionary development: economic fairness, environmental respect and non-aggression.  “Non-aggression” relates directly to the development of law–especially as it regulates the relations within and between societies–and functions as a basic directive and tenet of peace and stability.  These three pillars are, in fact, wound around one another, inseparable, forming a durable free-standing structure.  Evolutionary development depends on each to an equal degree.  Recent history provides us with a catalogue of instances which prove the inter-relatedness of  these three pillars.  We are unafraid to address them as a unity of concerns and to maintain that a heart-based approach to human society will do so as well.

Today, we can witness the emergence of alternatives to the degradation and deprivation associated with technocracy.  A case in point: we were very pleased to receive representatives of the Belarusian Embassy.  Recently, Belarus has instituted fundamental economic adjustments that have already begun to redirect economic benefits away from the international banking cartel and toward the average citizen.  Russia and China are forging new economic ties that will invigorate genuine broad-based development.  We, as Mongolians, cannot fail to notice our geographical and geopolitical centrality to the emerging Silk Road community and, as cultural internationalists, we regard as self-evident that our region will drive tomorrow’s world economy.  Also, we, as Mongolians, naturally desire to be at the vanguard of environmental understanding–due in part to the perils we presently face as well as to our cultural legacy of environmental respect.  With regard to law and peace, we recognize that present conduct in the  realm of human relations has degenerated to abysmal lows in terms of what is acceptable what may be expected.  We feel a desire to offer a forum wherein heart-based solutions may be explored.  Again, we feel that Mongolia is uniquely endowed to provide such a forum and that our mission obligates us to facilitate creative discourse on the subject of law and peace.

In short, we propose to assemble a panel of the very best thinkers and doers we can find who share our vision of Roerich’s “Epoch of the Heart”.  We intend that our conference should generate constructive speculation, new research as well as projects which address in a creative manner the existential issues of our time.  We regard the “expansion” of the spirit of the Roerich Pact to be the natural result of its evolutionary essence and we expect many wonderful results.  Indeed, if our event on 4 July can provide any indication of the efficacy of our mission, we feel confident in holding such expectations.

At the UN Roerich 80th anniversary exhibit in April, I was approached by a very intellectually accomplished and interesting man who introduced himself as a Freemason, who somehow knew who I was. He asked me what I knew about the Roerich Pact symbol.  My Bulgarian colleague who was standing next to me offered her expertise and told him that the circles indicate Religion, Science and Art.  She then offered an alternative interpretation: that the circles represent Past, Present and Future.  I, then, introduced them both to an interpretation that is apparently understood almost exclusively in the pan-Mongolian world, an interpretation that was introduced and impressed upon me by Dr. Bira: the three circles, which Roerich first saw in Mongolia inscribed on stones in ancient times, represent the essential concept of Tenggerism–a triad of Heaven, Earth and Humankind held in cosmic balance.  Neither my colleague nor this Freemason had ever heard of this interpretation and both seemed  surprised.  After a conversation of perhaps an hour during which time our Freemasonic friend attempted to interest me in his Order, I made a “counter offer” and did my best to induce him to come to Ulaanbaatar to join our cause.  He indicated a genuine interest, although I have heard nothing from him since then.  I continue to hope, however, that he will clearly apprehend that the Freemasonic agenda has reached a dead-end and that its traditional western territories are now rife with fear and despair and seem poised on the brink of chaotic demolition.

Having lived half my life in Freemasonic territory, I can attest to the liberating clarity that the Tenggerist triadic concept can bring.  Reading the works of Dr. Bira, one discovers that Tenggerism brought peace and stability to the world’s most successful international order: the Mongolian Empire.  Contemplation of the Tenggerist triad eases the mind and attunes one to cosmic harmony.  Beholding this elegant symbol, one can only marvel at the power of culture to moderate and dignify the human experience.  One can only feel profound gratitude to the ancient visionaries who apprehended cosmic truth and who formally encoded their discoveries in the symbols, artifacts, texts and monuments which we may now behold.  We must exert ourselves to bring this ancient cultural wisdom to bear on all current issues of great seriousness.  To do so requires ingenuity, energy and collaboration.  Our proposed November conference is calculated to augment all three of these.  What will be central to our exertions will be, of course, the Heart.

Many thanks for you attention and cooperation in this matter.

–J. Philip Jimenez
The Roerich-Bira Foundation