that a city in the Middle East could
team up with a city in the United States
and the young people could have a sort
of electronic friendship—exchange
visits, exchange news so that some of
the misconceptions we have about each
other in our very dangerous world
could be eroded. But I’ve never been
able to persuade any of these cities to
do it. In the Middle East they’re ready
to do it more than they are in the
KK: I love that idea.
KA: I put this idea to one of our
leading mayors in the compassion
movement, and he just looked at me
and said, “I don’t see the return.” He’s a
businessman, and he sees a return for
himself if his city is compassionate, but
as for making friends with Amman, for
example, he doesn’t want to do that.
When I suggest this at a trustees
meeting, everyone puts on their
resigned faces and smiles politely
and then continues as if I hadn’t
spoken. I feel like some kind of broken
record grinding on about this, but to
me it seems essential. In a sense it’s
what’s wrong with our world that
we just want our own little enclave
to be compassionate.
KK: I have found that people fear what
they don’t understand.
KA: Yes, and there’s a lot of that in our
world today, a withdrawal into tight
little ethnic and national ghettos.
That’s reflected in the Brexit vote, for
example—a complete denial of the fact
that we are now a global society living
in a global world. We are profoundly
interdependent, whether we like it or
not. Our economies are entirely bound
up with one another. What happens in
Syria today can have repercussions in
London tomorrow. The nation state is
looking increasingly old-fashioned. Its
days are finished. Unless we get along
with one another better, we have no
hope of surviving.
KK: So are we becoming less
KA: No, but we are swimming
upstream. For example, when
newscasters warn viewers that
what they’re about to see might be
distressing so they have a chance to
turn off the television or avert their
eyes, this is a bad sign. God forbid
a terrible picture from Syria should
disturb our cocooned consciousness.
This is the result of the secularization
of society. Yet if we did allow these
things to disturb us, then our
discomfort can become a spiritual
opportunity to reach out to those in
need. Compassion can be like the grain
of sand in an oyster that eventually
produces a pearl.
I’m all for the separation of church
and state because in one respect
it stops religious people aligning
themselves with the injustice and
inequity of the state and its violence.
But should we therefore say our
prayers nicely while letting the rest of
the world go hang? Jesus would have
had a fit. Muhammad wouldn’t have
wanted this either. The prophets of
Israel would have been turning in their
graves. They had no time for people
who came to temple but neglected the
plight of the poor and the oppressed.
Even yoga has become a mere
physical exercise. It was designed
to eradicate the ego and raise
consciousness. Originally, before you
began to study you had to undergo a
moral training in which you behaved
with absolute equity and respect to
everybody, even the most annoying
monk. Until your guru was clear that
you had mastered this compassionate
attitude, you were not even allowed to
sit in the yogate position.
KK: Compassion certainly doesn’t
seem to be popular with politicians
at the moment.
KA: No, yet those with real moral
charisma—like Nelson Mandela, or
Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi—
have made a huge difference in the
past, even though they weren’t saints.
They did great things even though
they were not perfect, so don’t think
you have to be perfect before you
become compassionate. As the Chinese
scriptures say, any one of us can
become a sage.
I don’t think we’re ambitious enough
about our spirituality. There’s such a lot
of hatred currently taking place. Look
at all the school shootings you have, for
example, and the Islamophobia, which
is especially lethal in France.
No state has achieved equity, even
with all our fine talk about how equal
we’re going to be in our constitutions.
There’s massive inequity between rich
and poor everywhere on the planet.
London is one of the richest cities in
the world, but an unacceptably high
number of people living there sleep
on the streets. This is something that
the churches should be anxious about.
You’ve heard about the Grenfell Tower
fire, haven’t you?
KK: Yes, the public housing project
in London that burned down a year
or so ago.
KA: Seventy-two people died, simply
because the borough council provided
inadequate and dangerous cladding
for the building; it went up in flames
just like that. The residents were all
poor people, immigrants, many of
them Muslim. The local people came
forward to help them, but not the
council. One local priest opened his
church to the homeless, and people
gave food and clothing, but I didn’t see
the other church leaders responding.