A remarkable confluence of wisdom traditions took place at the end of July 2021, when the Asian School of Wisdom was launched with an online ceremony from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
A central theme of the school is to nurture indigenous wisdom as an integral element of an inclusive global sensibility.
That synergy has been a long time in the making.
The school catalyses the movement towards the healing of modern society, evidently a critical need today, by recognising that harnessing indigenous wisdom is key to tackling global challenges that are threatening all life.
The Diocesan Social Action Committee and its research and training centre based in Chiang Mai laid the groundwork for the Asian School of Wisdom, with over four decades of participatory development work, according to a brief on the launching.
Importantly, the school recognises that indigenous people’s lives are inseparable from the practice of their worldviews “in which a living transcendent world permeates everyday affairs through rituals, routines and celebrations”.
Aptly, the launching began with shamans from indigenous Thai tribes conducting a ceremonial chant, invoking blessings from the ancestors, mystics and prophets.
This underscores the Asian School of Wisdom’s appreciation of the indigenous people’s sense of connection with all of nature, as the brief describes:
“A living cosmological culture governs the indigenous people’s everyday existence. Sacred songs and dances along with spiritually charged storytelling of folklores and myths communicate the ancestral wisdom that ‘everything is interrelated’ in mutuality and that the world is not only material but, more importantly, spirited and sacred.”
This culture, devalued by the technologically driven materialism of our times, is poised for a resurgence through the school.
In this connection, the school’s role is seen as being in tune with the observation of Pope Francis that “we are not living an era of change but a change of era.”
Giving a flavour of the institution’s proposed programmes, Prof Victor Karunan, a member of its international advisory board, highlighted courses and learning journeys like “ancestral wisdom of sacred sustainability”, “critical issues in de-colonising development” and “conscience and compassion studies”.
The Asian School of Wisdom aims to nurture “organic or public intellectuals” who are agents of change, through direct engagement with indigenous communities, its mission statement says.
In his welcoming remarks, the school’s convenor Jojo Fung, SJ described it as a shared learning space for indigenous wisdom that it hopes to capture and share.
The timeliness of the school’s founding was seen when many participants involved in social change in Asia expressed interest in collaborative work.
Some 87 participants from 12 countries took part in the launch. Apart from Jesuit representatives, the virtual gathering heard from thought leaders from many faiths, including Islam and Buddhism.
Striking the traditional gong to launch the Asian School of Wisdom, its pioneer-founder, the research and training centre director Fr Niphot Thienvihan noted the timeliness of the renaissance of indigenous wisdom in service of a holistic.
Rash Behari Bhattacharjee is a Malaysian journalist with an interest in sustainability issues