Archive | articles

Dag Hammarskjold and Chou En-lai


On Nov. 24, 1954, Radio Peking (in mainland China) announced that eleven US airmen, as well as two other Americans, both of whom were described as special agents of the CIA, had been convicted of espionage by a military tribunal in China and sentenced to prison terms from four years to life. The eleven US airmen, serving under the United Nation’s Unified Command in Korea, were crew members of a B-29 which had been shot down on January 12, 1953, while conducting leaflet-dropping operations over North Korea. The question before the US government was how to secure the release of the airmen imprisoned in China as Washington did not recognize ‘mainland China’ as a country and so did not have any diplomatic ties to Peking. “When in December 1954 the US – after trying many other approaches in vain – brought this question to the Ninth session of the United Nation’s General Assembly, the UN was faced with an apparently insoluble problem. It seemed unlikely, to say the least, that an organization that had excluded and rejected the government of the largest nation on earth would have much success in prevailing on that government to release hostile airmen who had landed in China and had already been convicted as spies.”(1)

On December 6 the permanent US representative to the UN, Henry Cabot Lodge, informed the United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, that Washington would like him to be personally involved in negotiating the release of the US airmen “since it was believed that he was more likely to get results than anyone else”…(2)

Hammarskjold had an all-night discussion with a trusted Swedish colleague, Sture Petren, before he made up his mind to accept the assignment if he was requested by the General Assembly to undertake a mission of this kind. He also decided that he would personally travel to Peking and approach the Chinese premier Chou En-lie directly. In doing this Hammarskjold was taking a very big diplomatic risk and putting himself in a very delicate position. As Lodge put it six months later, in offering to go to Peking Hammarskjold “put his life’s reputation as a diplomat on the chopping block”.(3) But Hammarskjold had come to the conclusion that only a bold move had any chance of success. “In the days just before passage of the General Assembly resolution on December 10th, he met with senior diplomats privately and saw to it that the resolution included language that gave him considerable latitude. Those key words authorized the secretary-general to undertake the mission “by the means most appropriate in his judgment””.(4)

On December 10 after receiving the formal request from the General Assembly of the UN ‘to seek the release of the eleven UN Command personnel captured by Chinese forces on 12 Jan 1953 as well as of all other captured personnel of the United Nations Command still detained’ Hammarskjold sent a message to Chou En-lai informing him of the General Assembly resolution and also stating that “In the light of the concern I feel about the issue, I would appreciate an opportunity to take this matter up with you personally. For that reason I would ask you whether you could receive me in Peking”…(5)

On Dec. 17 Chou En-lai replied, “in the interest of peace and relaxation of international tension, I am prepared to receive you in our Capital, Peking, to discuss with you pertinent questions”.

(At this point in our story it is worth taking a slight detour to take note of two very interesting observations Roger makes during this period in Hammarskjold’s life:
No doubt late in the evening of December 10th, when so much had already occurred, he found his way to the Book of Common Prayer and transcribed (into his journal) the concluding lines of Psalm 62, giving his own emphasis to words by which he must have felt especially addressed:
“God spake once, and twice I have also heard the same: that power belongeth unto God;
and that thou, Lord, art merciful: for thou rewardest every man according to his work.”(6)
At some point on the day of departure, December 30th, he took time to record in his journal, from Psalms, an expression of faith that could reach around the world:
“If I take the wings of the morning and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there also shall thy hand lead me.”(7) )

Along with his small team of experts Hammarskjold arrived in Peking on January 5, 1955. Between Jan. 6 and Jan. 10 four meetings were held. (In the midst of these talks Hammarskjold and his team also found time to go sight-seeing.) “From the very first Chou En-lai and Hammarskjold seem to have made a good impression on each other, and their mutual respect and understanding was an important factor in the subsequent talks.”(8) “Each was a mandarin of his culture. Prompted by ideals and a love of humanity that counted for more than mandarin fastidiousness, each had dived into the world of action. Henry Kissinger’s description of Chou many years after the Hammarskjold-Chou encounter could be of Hammarskjold: ”equally at home in philosophy, reminiscence, historical analysis, tactical probes, humorous repartee…[he] could display an extraordinary personal graciousness…One of the two or three most impressive men I have met””.(9)

By the end of the talks Chou and Hammarskjold did not see eye to eye on any point. They could not agree on any of the facts and their legal interpretations. Despite these disagreements Hammarskjold suggested that “there remained an option: in the interest of relaxing international tensions, to “trust that [China] will reach its final conclusion in a spirit of justice and fairness – before [its] own conscience”. At that level Chou could respond. Chou offered some assurance that a formula focused strictly on relaxing tensions might lead to early release, other conditions permitting. It was not a guarantee and said nothing about timing, but his assurance was crucially important to Hammarskjold”.(10)

On his return to New York on January 13, Hammarskjold was publicly saying that there must be “restraint on all sides” emphasizing that “the door was open and could remain open with due restraint”. But alas on January 17, US Senator Knowland attacked the mission as “a failure by any standard or yardstick”…Of the US attitudes that were now the central factor in achieving the release of the airmen, Hammarskjold wrote on January 25 to (Humphrey) Waldock, “I am afraid that their emotions have run away with their political wisdom”.(11)

On January 31 writing to a friend, the director of Swedish Royal Library, Uno Willers, about his recent experiences in Peking and with Washington Hammarskjold stated, “The mission to Peking was not only unique in diplomatic history but also unique as a human experience…The contacts with Chou En-lai and with this whole very foreign world made an enormous impression on me, and I would wish that other policy makers had got it…It is a little bit humiliating when I have to say that Chou En-lai to me appears as the most superior brain I have so far met in the field of foreign politics… As I said to one of the Americans: “Chou is so much more dangerous than you imagine because he is so much better a man than you have ever admitted.”(12)

(During this period Roger observes very insightfully “After Peking he returned to his fundamental truths. “Before Thee in humility, with Thee in faith, in Thee in stillness”, he wrote at this time in his journal, each element both a truth of his inner world and a gesture, an act of alignment.”(13) Hammarskjold must have made this entry in his journal sometime between January and March of 1955.)

In the months that followed after Hammarskjold’s return from Peking situations evolved in a way that made it extremely difficult for him to obtain the release of the eleven airmen. Sometime in mid-June Hammarskjold felt the possibility of failure more keenly than at any other time. “Difficulties,” he wrote to Lodge, “have piled up in a way entirely outside the control of the United Nations.”(14) In spite of delays and difficulties, Hammarskjold and Chou kept in touch with each other through private channels.

Sometime in early July, Chou through his charge d’affaires in Stockholm wanted to know what kind of gift Hammarskjold would like for his 50th birthday (which was on July 29th.). The reply was ‘the release of the eleven American prisoners would be by far the best gift’.

On August 1st Hammarskjold, who was holidaying at that time in south Sweden, received a cable from Peking informing him of the release of the imprisoned US airmen and it was clearly stated in the cable that “This release (of the US airmen) from serving their full term takes place in order to maintain friendship with Hammarskjold and has no connection with the UN resolution. Chou En-lai expresses the hope that Hammarskjold will take note of this point…Chou En-lai congratulates Hammarskjold on his 50th birthday.”(15)

On the successful conclusion of the Peking affair, Urquhart writes, “The success of his (Hammarskjold’s) mission established him once and for all as a major resource of the international community for dealing with difficult problems and as an important international figure in his own right…After August 1955 his style changed noticeably, as if, at the completion of the affair of the American prisoners in China on his fiftieth birthday, he had come of age as Secretary-General.”(16) The Peking affair also showed the member states of the United Nations that their Secretary-General was “an international negotiator of exceptional resource, daring, and competence, with the capacity to get positive results even out of the most apparently hopeless situations”.(17)


1) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 96
2) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 99
3) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 102
4) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 211
5) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 101
6) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 214
7) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 219
8) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 105
9) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 217
10) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 220
11) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 114
12) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 117
13) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 227
14) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 125
15) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 126
16) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 131
17) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 96



Dag Hammarskjold – ‘Markings’


‘Markings’ is Dag Hammarskjold’s private journal. It was found in his New York apartment on a bedside table. This journal was written in Swedish and the title on the front page was ‘Vagmarken’, which translated into English means ‘Trail Marks’. In one of his journal entries, Hammarskjold provides an interpretation of the origin and intention of his writing. He said: ‘These notes? – They were signposts you begin to set up after you had reached a point where you needed them, a fixed point that was on no account to be lost sight of’. Dusen explains, “The figure is from Hammarskjold’s experience in climbing…They were recorded to provide guidance for the author should he pass that way again.”(1) Hammarskjold also described his journal as “a sort of white book concerning my negotiations with myself – and with God.”(2) When publishing the English translation of this journal, the title ‘Trail Marks’ was modified to ‘Markings’. Markings was published in 1963, first in Swedish and a year later in English.

Markings contain a little over six hundred individual ‘notes’, These notes are of varying length, anywhere from a single phrase to a page and a half at most. Most of these notes were written in prose and some in blank verse. Towards the end of the journal the form of the notes was similar to that of the Japanese haiku. Commenting on the nature of these notes Dusen writes,” the collection in its entirety treating of the whole gamut of themes which claimed his interest – from delight in natural beauty and excitement in hazardous sport to merciless scrutiny of interior motives, from caustic exposure of unreality and hypocrisy in others’ conduct to unflinching confession of his own inconsistency and self-concern, from direct comment upon events of world import to a charming ‘Elegy’ on the death of a pet monkey. And yet, with all the wide sweep and variety of these meditations, they are held in unity by two dominant objectives: the achievement of absolute self-honesty and of a life-commanding faith.”(3) According to Roger these notes “revealed a person whom scarcely anyone had known: a religious seeker taking his lead from Albert Schweitzer for ethics and from medieval Christian mystics for the conduct and direction of inner life. He proved to be Pascal-like in his critique of self and society, Montaigne-like in his questioning, Augustine-like in his need and willingness to chronicle his hard journey.”(4)

Sometime in 1925 as a student of Uppsala University, Hammarskjold got into the habit of writing down brief notes often in prose and sometimes in the form of poetic free verse. These notes were written with the intension of going back to them in future and reflecting on them. Even in his early twenties when he was highly successful as a student, the thoughts he expressed in these private notes were that of an earnest spiritual seeker trying to fathom the depths of his own existence and his true mission in life. For instance a couple of his earliest entries are as follows:
“Smiling, sincere, incorruptible –
His body disciplined and limber.
A man who had become what he could,
And was what he was –
Ready at any moment to gather everything
Into one simple sacrifice”.
“Tomorrow we shall meet,
Death and I –
And he shall thrust his sword
Into one who is wide awake.”
“At every moment you choose yourself. But do you choose your self? Body and soul contain a thousand possibilities out of which you can build many I’s. But in only one of them is there a congruence of the elector and the elected. Only one – which you will never find until you have excluded all those superficial and fleeting possibilities of being and doing with which you toy, out of curiosity or wonder or greed, and which hinder you from casting anchor in the experience of the mystery of life, and the consciousness of the talent entrusted to you which is your I”.

Later in life when he was working at the United Nations Hammarskjold travelled all over the world from the Middle East to Far East to Africa. In his travels he met people who were deep thinkers and intellectuals of high caliber. It is through these interactions that he was introduced to the culture, literature and spirituality of these non-Western nations. This immensely broadened his spiritual views. He was influenced by early Chinese classics, Buddhism, the Bhagavad Gita, Judaism, and Sufi poets such as Rumi. These influences are reflected in some of his journal entries.

On days that were of importance to him in his private life such as his own birthday (July 29), Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, and Whitsunday, year-end and New Year, Hammarskjold turned to inner reflection and this he expressed in his journal notes. For instance on New Year’s Eve for the year 1950 he quotes a line from the final stanza of a Swedish hymn:
‘How vain the worldling’s pomp and show,
How brief his joys and pleasures!
The night approaches now, and lo!
We leave all earthly treasures.’

Then in the year 1953, probably on New Year ’s Day, Hammarskjold once again quotes from a Swedish hymn:
‘For all that has been – Thanks!
To all that shall be – Yes!’

It also becomes clear from the journal that during Hammarskjold‘s time both in Swedish government service and his service at the UN, the journal entries were a direct reaction to specific events in his public career. An entry in Markings sometime in 1952 reads, “‘Only he deserves power who everyday justifies it’. This was a concern that remained with Hammarskjold, recurring in still richer form in 1955, some two years into his service as secretary-general: ‘Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated’”.(5)

Of Hammarskjold‘s ‘Markings’ Dusen draws a breathtakingly insightful conclusion, “Indeed, beyond its astonishing intrinsic worth, just here lies the marvel of this work – that reflections on life and destiny, fate and faith, which would merit enduring recognition had they issued from monastic retreat and prolonged meditation, were, in fact, hammered out during the contemporary world’s most urgent business… Hammarskjold himself declares the secret: ‘In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action’.(7)His life is the proof. His ‘Road Marks’ are the evidence.”(6)


1) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. Van Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 33
2) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 8
3) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. Van Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 32
4) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. Xi
5) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 82
6) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. Van Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 37
7) Markings, p 122, year end, 1955



Dag Hammarskjold – Background


Dag Hammarskjold came from one of the oldest and well-known families in Sweden who for more than three centuries provided the nation with civil servants and soldiers, many of whom attained high rank. Dag’s father, Hjalmar Hammarskjold, was the Prime Minister of Sweden, through the tense war years, from 1914 to 1917.

The Hammarskjold family lived for more than a quarter of a century in a massive Castle in the city of Uppsala. Dag lived with his parents in this castle from the age of two through his student days at Uppsala University. In the fall of 1930, when his father retired, he moved with his parents to an apartment in Stockholm.

For young Dag the massive ancient castle of the Vasas was a wonderful playroom where mysterious passages ran between massive walls; in the towers were circular banquet-rooms and, at other places there were dark dungeons. Dag often led his young friends on thrilling explorations into the winding passages of the fortress. But it was the grounds and the gardens of the castle that became young Dag’s botanical-zoological workshop. “Beginning to learn the Latin names of plants by the age of six, as one of his brothers admiringly reported, he became a clear-eyed explorer of all things that grew or padded, hopped or crawled within sight of the castle.” (1). Often Dag spent his time collecting animals from ditches and making cages for larvae & feeding them greenery. Because of this habit of taking care of larvae, his mother, Agnes, fondly started calling him “my little larva”.

Of his father and mother once Dag wrote to a friend, “Where the one was light, the other was warmth.”(2). Dag’s father, Hjalmar, contributed immensely towards his development as a political leader and a social thinker. It was from his father that Dag learnt an exacting and unflinching devotion to duty, love for his country, sympathy for small nations, and dedication to the realization of an international order based on justice. His mother Agnes “surely gave Dag the internal basis for a caring emotional life, for sharing with others the good and the bad, for daring to view the human condition with the mind and heart of faith.”(3) Of his mother Dag once said, ‘…She had the qualities I admire most: she was courageous and good.’(4). Reflecting on his relation with his mother many of Dag’s friends have admiringly said, “In all her charitable interests and activities, her son Dag was a loyal, though sometimes amused, companion and lieutenant. ‘Every Sunday he accompanied her to church, and he would patiently wait while she chatted with friends or acquaintances she chanced to meet in the street, whether the Archbishop or a poor shoemaker whom she had recently rescued from bankruptcy’. And he ‘accompanied her on her visits to people in distress’. In European society of that day there was often the ‘stay-at-home daughter’ who remained to look after her parents, which prompted one of Dag Hammarskjold’s oldest and most admiring friends to suggest: ‘Dag was the Hammarskjold family’s stay-at-home daughter. The fantastic thing is that at the same time he could be a boy with the others, pass exams as brilliantly as he did and make a great career’.(5)

Dag was very devoted to his parents. When he was in Stockholm, in spite of mounting and increasingly demanding responsibilities as Under-Secretary of the Finance Ministry and Chairman of the Bank of Sweden, “it was his (Dag Hammarskjold’s) unfailing practice unless prevented by special circumstances to leave the Ministry in good time to dine with his parents, stay on for an hour of conversation, and then be back at his desk by nine and work on in solitude until near daybreak. And, in later years when he was much in Paris at the Organization for European Economic Cooperation, again unless held there by urgent tasks, he regularly took a late Friday afternoon plane to Stockholm for a weekend visit with his father, then in his late eighties.(6) He often brought a fresh bouquet of flowers to his mother.

Dag was an exceptionally brilliant student both at school and at the university. At the age of seventeen he matriculated from Uppsala University and completed his B.A. in two years majoring in history of literature, philosophy, French and political economy. Dag’s intellectual interests were not just limited to academic disciplines. “A wide acquaintance with both classical and modern literature which was to broaden and deepen across the years had its foundation in student days. He read Joseph Conrad, Thomas Wolfe, Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann, among others. And ‘he tried to make his fellow students appreciate Emily Dickinson and Katherine Mansfield’”.(7)

Many of Dag’s university contemporaries and friends have fond memories of him. . Jon Soderblom describes him as ‘not only the most gifted in his class, but a good comrade who remained unswervingly loyal to his friends all his life. As a boy, he was completely natural, an amusing playmate and an entertaining friend’. ..’He was a rather strong boy, outstanding in gymnastics, and while he didn’t take part in our escapades we liked him’, reports another school companion.(8) A writer and close friend of Hammarskjold, Sven Stolpe, writes, “…to a person of any observation it was clear that he carried an inner world within him, to whose echoes he listened eagerly, but about which he seldom found opportunity to speak…I noted in my diary that I had met an exceptional young man, a character of unusual integrity and brilliant understanding, as well as chivalrous, courteous and serious. Never before in Sweden had I encountered a young man of these qualities.(9)

Henrik Klackenberg, a colleague of Hammarskjold at the foreign ministry, says, “I remember chiefly his moral stature and incorruptible justice, his integrity and whole-hearted commitment, and his never-failing sense of responsibility vis-avis the task. Yet emphasis on these traits should not suggest an eternal, forbidding morality. On the contrary he had devastating charm. His colleagues readily became his personal friends. But least of all in the portrait of Dag Hammarskjold should one lose sight of the gentle considerate, somewhat diffident friendliness.”(10)

Hammarskjold’s boss at the Ministry of Finance, Ernst Wigforss, observed, “His ability to convey in a clear and concentrated way the essential of a message made it a pleasure to follow his presentation of reports – if you were alert and interested enough to follow him. But it was as with the study of mathematical truths. If you hadn’t understood the preceding part, there wasn’t a great deal to be enjoyed in the continuation… The balanced judgment, the balance between different aspects of a great natural talent, is possibly the greatest impression I keep from many years of cooperation with Dag Hammarskjold.”(11)


1) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 29
2) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 19
3) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 28
4) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 18
5) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 17
6) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 19
7) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 23
8) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, H. P. V. Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 24
9) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD A Spiritual Portrait, Sven Stolpe, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966, Pg. 33
10) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 51
11) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 47



Dag Hammarskjold – an exceptional man highly gifted


Dag Hammarskjold was the second Secretary-general of the United Nations. He served as Secretary-general for more than eight years (1953-61). A few months after he joined the United Nations as the Secretary-general, while speaking to an audience in New York, he said, “We cannot mold the world as masters of a material thing… But we can influence the development of the world from within as a spiritual thing.” All through his life even in the midst of a brilliantly illustrious career where he was engaged at the highest level of diplomacy in world affairs, in Hammarskjold there was this deep, silent inner space where dwelled the seeker of truth, the student of peace probing the fundamental questions of human identity and the ‘maturity of mind’. It is from this large inner world of his where “new thoughts and glints of possibility could knock around freely and find a pattern that led on”(7) that Hammarskjold drew inspiration and strength to not only understand but also find solutions in highly trying and difficult circumstances. Manuel Frohlich rightly pointed to the two sides of Hammarskjold’s legacy – ‘the externally focused statesmanship and the internally directed inquiry into human being.’ (1)

Dag Hammarskjold’s academic career was amazingly brilliant. At the young age of thirty he was not only the chairman of the Governors of the Bank of Sweden but also the Under-Secretary of the Swedish Ministry of Finance. His work at the Swedish Ministry of Finance was extremely demanding. He worked at the Ministry for almost ten years before he accepted his position at the UN as Secretary-General (Hammarskjold was forty-seven years old). At the Ministry he had the opportunity to develop the necessary self-discipline that helped him enormously, in undertaking the huge responsibility at the UN. Commenting on Hammarskjold’s work at the Ministry of Finance one of his friend Sture Petren wrote: “Thus, for long periods, Hammarskjold was able to manage with very little sleep, he was able to absorb at breakneck speed the content of documents and books and possessed the gift of retaining the overall view of the principle lines in a large complex of problems while seizing on isolated details of it. He was however, also able to screen off what occupied him at a given moment, so that at that time this emerged for him as of paramount importance. Taken together, these traits endowed Hammarskjold with a crushing efficiency, a concomitant of which, however, was a certain disinclination to delegate work to others. The mode of life Hammarskjold had developed also required, apart from unfailing health, the absence of family life. On the other hand, he became the natural center in the circle of his closest collaborators, whose society he sought also for his scant leisure time and to whom he became, by the radiation of his personality and the multiplicity of his interests, a superior and friend of rare inspiration and stimulus. Also in his relations to staff in general, he was an esteemed and even loved boss by virtue of his natural kindness and personal interest.” (2)

Hammarskjold wrote and spoke fluently English, French and German. He was a man whose cultural interests were wide-ranging. He was highly knowledgeable in the history, literature and culture of more than six nations. He was “an ardent and highly literate connoisseur of drama and music, painting and sculpture, both classical and contemporary, himself a poet and translator of poetry, a lover and interpreter of Nature, a mountaineer, withal ‘the best of comrades’, all his life surrounded by admiring companions of the most diverse types and outlooks and cosmopolitan interests – in sum, a Renaissance man at mid-twentieth centuary.”(3)

Hammarskjold had an intellect that was razor sharp, a mind that was ferocious & courageous and his political judgment was acute. With these grand qualities of the mind Hammarskjold, even though highly successful, was not content as a Swedish civil servant. So the opportunity to serve as the Secretary-General at the United Nations came to him as a blessing and at the same time he realized it was a heavy burden (for there were moments when he asked himself does he have to accept this responsibility). Nevertheless he accepted his new responsibility cheerfully. In the year of his death he wrote in his diary ‘Markings’ regarding the moment he accepted his responsibility at the United Nations – “From that moment stems the certainty that existence is meaningful and that therefore my life, in submission, has a goal. From that moment I have known what it means ‘not to look back’, to ‘take no thought for the morrow.’”(4)

When he was at the UN, Hammarskjold became a deeply admired public figure. He had “lightning-like” capacity to understanding difficult and complex situations and also had the foresight to see how these situations would evolve. “He was passionate about the search for peace and justice, passionate about creating dialogue among adversaries, passionate about crafting durable solutions to prevent what the UN Charter calls “the scourge of war.” But he spoke and wrote with deliberately dispassionate intelligence in his public role as chief servant of the Charter and the UN member nations.”(5)

In his book on Hammarskjold, Roger Lipsey writes, “..Hammarskjold was, for me, a model of virtue. I was inspired by his attack on life, his attack on himself, his need to clarify and ready himself to serve without self-serving. His example decisively confirmed values that had touched me from other sources as well. If there was to be some whole, and something like a whole view, he was part of it. After reading ‘Markings’, I could not forget him.”(6)

1) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 3
2) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 22
3) DAG HAMMARSKJOLD The Statesman and His Faith, Henry P. Van Dusen, Harper & Row, 1967, Pg. 4
4) HAMMARSKJOLD, Brian Urquhart, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1972, Pg. 23
5) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. 9
6) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. xiii
7) Hammarskjold A Life, Roger Lipsey, University of Michigan 2013, Pg. xiii


By The Bivouac’s Fitful Flame


When the Civil War broke out in the April of 1861, Walt Whitman was staying in New York and Brooklyn, writing some extended newspaper pieces about the history of Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Daily Standard. He began visiting wounded soldiers, who were moved to New York hospitals. Later he went to Washington, D.C., where he spent countless long nights in the poorly ventilated wards nursing thousands of injured soldiers, both Union and Confederate, in the makeshift hospitals.

Based on his experience of a real battle that Walt Whitman wrote his powerful Civil War poems. Following is one of those Civil war poems that he wrote when he was at one of the army camps.

By The Bivouac’s Fitful Flame

By the bivouac’s fitful flame,
A Procession winding around me, solemn and sweet and
slow – but first I note,
The tents of the sleeping army, the fields’ and woods’ dim outline,
The darkness lit by spots of kindled fire, the silence,
Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving,
The shrubs and trees, (as I lift my eyes they seem to be
stealthily watching me,)
While wind in procession thoughts, O tender and wondrous
Of life and death, of home and the past and loved, and of
those that are far away;
A solemn and slow procession there as I sit on the ground,
By the bivouac’s fitful flame.

In this poem the poet describes how one night when sitting in front of an army camp fire his mind calms down and becomes introspective. His thinking is slow, deliberate and reflective. He describes his thoughts as “A Procession winding around me”. During these quite moments Whiteman reflects on life and death, of home and loved ones. He found this experience “solemn and sweet”. It was the surroundings, the poet found himself in, that invoked this sublime experience.

Whitman also wants the reader to participate in this meditative experience he was having. So he deliberately gives details of the scene around him in the following lines:

“The tents of the sleeping army, the fields’ and woods’ dim outline,
The darkness lit by spots of kindled fire, the silence,
Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving,
The shrubs and trees, (as I lift my eyes they seem to be
stealthily watching me,)”

On reading the above lines and visualizing the scene ones’ own thinking slows down and one does get a certain measure of the experience the poet is having just like when a teacher of meditation leads you into a quiet, sublime meditation.

In an age where the media through its trends almost prevents one from thinking as individuals, it is these poems that help us to step out of this mass culture and, quoting Edward Hirsch, “put us in touch with ourselves”. Indeed, in this poem of Walt Whitman there is luminosity in his thinking and inspiration in his writing.


Inner peace and Facebook likes

When I was at university 1994-97, none of my friends had a mobile phone or internet access. If you wanted to meet up with a friend, you would walk down to the other end of the corridor and knock on their door. I have to admit it was sometimes a little inconvenient, you could knock on their door, and no-one was there; but I seem to remember we had a good time!

From a spiritual perspective, how does social media and browsing of the internet influence our meditation and spiritual practise? Is it a harmless side-show or does it make it harder to achieve real peace of mind?

Like anything it can depend on how we use it, and also the inclinations of the user. A disciplined use of a work account a few times a week – is very different to those who find themselves spending hours everyday.

The influence of modern technology is definitely an interesting challenge for modern seekers. I now make a living from an economics website and regularly use email. However I constantly find myself (most weeks!) making New Year’s Resolutions to try and limit the time I waste on the internet. I don’t think I’m the only one in this boat either. Continue Reading →

Nivedita – Swami Vivekananda’s most rebellious disciple

The first time Nivedita met Swami Vivekananda was in London in 1895. It was an informal gathering at a private house in a west-end drawing room on a cold Sunday afternoon in November. The Swami was seated, facing a half circle of listeners. Nivedita describes the scene thus: “we were but fifteen or sixteen guests, intimate friends, many of us, and he sat amongst us, in his crimson robe and girdle, as one bringing us news from a far land, with a curious habit of saying now and again “Shiva ! Shiva !” and wearing that look of mingled gentleness and loftiness, that one sees on the faces of those who live much in meditation, that look, perhaps, that Raphael has painted for us, on the brow of the Sistine Child.” (1)

After the meeting most of the guests including Nivedita concluded that what they heard was nothing new. All these things had been said before. Later on Nivedita could not help revising her opinion. She said, “For my own part, however, as I went about the tasks of that week, it dawned on me slowly that it was not only ungenerous, it was also unjust, to dismiss in such fashion the message of a new mind and a strange culture. It occurred to me that though each separate dictum might find its echo or its fellow amongst things already heard or already thought, yet it had never before fallen to my lot to meet with a thinker who in one short hour had been able to express all that I had hitherto regarded as highest and best.” (2) From then on she took every opportunity that came her way, to listen to Vivekananda lecture whenever he was in London.

Even after listening to whole seasons lectures, Nivedita was awed and touched by the beauty of Swami Vivekananda’s thought but “could pass no judgment upon it, much less accept it”. Often she found what Vivekananda said was beyond her comprehension. She said, “…his system (of thought) as a whole, I, for one, viewed with suspicion, as forming only another of those theologies which if a man should begin by accepting, he would surely end by transcending and rejecting. And one shrinks from the pain and humiliation of spirit that such experiences involve.”(3) Yet, by the time Swami Vivekananda left England, she addressed him as “master”. She justified this by saying, “I had recognised the heroic fibre of the man, and desired to make myself the servant of his love for his own people. But it was his character to which I had thus done obeisance. As a religious teacher, I saw that although he had a system of thought to offer, nothing in that system would claim him for a moment, if he found that truth led elsewhere. And to the extent that this recognition implies, I became his disciple. For the rest, I studied his teaching sufficiently to become convinced of its coherence, but never, till I had had experiences that authenticated them, did I inwardly cast in my lot with the final justification of the things he came to say.”(4)

Nivedita came to India in January of 1898. A few weeks later a small group of Swami Vivekananda’s disciples from America arrived. Nivedita and this group of western disciples together began “the study of India, and something also of the home aspects and relationships of the Swami’s own life”. Then in the summer of 1898 Swami Vivekananda took them, along with a few of his Indian brother disciples, on a tour of northern India.

Up until this time Nivedita was skeptical of Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy even though she had accepted him as her “master”. She said, “My relation to our Master at this time can only be described as one of clash and conflict. I can see now how much there was to learn, and how short was the time for learning to be, and the first of lessons doubtless is the destroying of self-sufficiency in the mind of the taught.” (5) So, it was on this trip that Swami Vivekananda’s training began of “his most rebellious disciple”. He constantly rebuked her and attacked her thinking and line of reasoning which were her most cherished possessions. She said, “Suffering is often illogical, and I cannot attempt to justify by reason the degree of unhappiness which I experienced at this time, as I saw the dream of a friendly and beloved leader falling away from me, and the picture of one who would be at least indifferent, and possibly, silently hostile, substituting itself instead.” (6) Even though she was not prepared for this kind of treatment yet she did not retract her own proffered service to the master.

The master’s training of the disciple continued and it seemed there was no end to Nivedita’s suffering. Finally one of the older ladies of the party, feeling that “such intensity of pain inflicted might easily go too far”, interceded with the Swami. Vivekananda silently listened and went away. He returned in the evening and told the old lady, it seems with the simplicity of a child, “You were right. There must be a change. I am going away into the forests to be alone, and when I come back I shall bring peace.” Then as he turned and saw the new moon in the sky he said, “See! the Mohammedans think much of the new moon. Let us also with the new moon begin a new life !” By this time Swami Vivekananda’s “most rebellious disciple” – Nivedita was kneeling before him. He lifted his hand and blessed her as she put it “with silent depths of blessing”. Later recollecting this incident Nivedita writes, “It was assuredly a moment of wonderful sweetness of reconciliation. But such a moment may heal a wound. It cannot restore an illusion that has been broken into fragments. And I have told its story, only that I may touch upon its sequel.. Long, long ago, Sri Ramakrishna had told his disciples that the day would come when his beloved “Noren” (Swami Vivekananda’s pre-monastic name) would manifest his own great gift of bestowing knowledge with a touch. That evening at Almora (a city in northern India where they were camping during that time), I proved the truth of his prophecy. For alone, in meditation, I found myself gazing deep into an Infinite Good, to the recognition of which no egoistic reasoning had led me. I learnt, too, on the physical plane, the simple everyday reality of the experience related in the Hindu books on religious psychology. And I understood, for the first time, that the greatest teachers may destroy in us a personal relation only in order to bestow the Impersonal Vision in its place.” (7)


1) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 6, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
2) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 13, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
3) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 15, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
4) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 16, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
5) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 136, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
6) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 137, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
7) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 139, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.

“Vivekananda came into the world in an age seething with rank materialism. Spiritual values were at a discount. He held the mighty torch of spirituality high. Exceptional was his clarion call to lead the life of the Spirit. The soul-stirring message of Sri Ramakrishna was embodied in him, in this lion amongst men. And as regards the message of India to the world, “Remember,” declares Vivekananda, “not the Soul for Nature, but Nature for the Soul.””~ Sri Chinmoy

Choosing peace over conflict


This is a thought-provoking aphorism on peace [Source] . What can we learn from it?

Peace is the most valuable quality

Without peace, all the material objects in the world will not give joy. It is peace which will make us inwardly rich, yet peace is often the thing the world lacks most.

“This world has everything
Save and except one thing,
And this peace has to blossom
From within.”

– Sri Chinmoy [2]

Don’t wait for tomorrow

If something is good to do, now is the best time. If we have a bad habit, now is the best time to break it. Sometimes, we can feel ‘maybe when I am an old man and retired, I will then have the time to give up bad habits and meditate on peace.’ But, if we keep delaying, we may surrender completely to the bad habit and wrong way of living. By the time we are old, we are stuck with our bad habits. If we can see a new approach to life which will bring more peace of mind and happiness, we should choose this path straight away – whilst we still have the enthusiasm and aspiration. To meditate on peace requires determination and sincerity, the sooner we start the better.

How to buy peace?

We can’t buy peace with money. We can only buy peace with our own inner attitude. For example, sometimes we have to give up our pride in order to gain peace in return. If pride comes to the fore, it makes us unwilling to change and we can persist in a wrong course of action. But if we lose the desire to be proved right, then we can gain inner peace. If we live in a state of desire and expectation, we will not experience peace because some desires will always remain unfulfilled and we will feel frustration. This is the price for attaining peace – giving up our desire and pride.

Escalation of conflict or choosing peace

In life we come across situations where we have a choice how to respond. One choice is to respond to an initial confrontation with escalating the conflict. If we have hurt feelings, the response of the mind and vital is invariably to retaliate. If we feel hurt, we subconsciously want to project this back onto others. But, this tit for tat attitude will make peace more distant and harder to achieve.

The other response is to invoke the heart and the quality of peace. Rather than retaliating, the heart can be sympathetic to the struggles of others, and we seek to be the one to let go of the unfortunate situation. This magnanimous attitude is often the best way of bringing the good qualities of others to the fore. If someone else is full of anger, we won’t diminish their anger by getting angry in response. But, if we remain calm and peaceful, they will respond in a better way. Through forgiveness and maintaining our inner peace, their conscience will come to the fore and secretly they will be inspired by our calm attitude.

No price is too great to pay for inner peace.

“No price is too great to pay for inner peace. Peace is the harmonious control of life. It is vibrant with life-energy. It is a power that easily transcends all our worldly knowledge.”

– Sri Chinmoy [3]

Choosing inner peace does not mean sacrificing principles and truth. It means we reject the negative emotions of jealousy and pride, but invoke a real and meaningful quality of peace instead. It means whatever happens in the outer world, we hold onto our inner peace.

This inner peace is more than just intellectual understanding. We have to pray, meditate and serve to gain a real sense of peace. The peace that comes from the heart is a powerful reality that will convince the mind.


Quotes on peace

The secret of inner peace by Sri Chinmoy

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

web analytics