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In 2006, Dadi Janki, renowned spiritual leader in India and a dear friend, turned ninety. As one of the leaders of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, she has been traveling widely, speaking at conferences, and sharing spiritual wisdom with thousands of people on all continents for many decades. Because she is a friend to so many around the world, there were birthday celebrations in many places—on stages in London, in tents in Oxford, in halls in India, and everywhere in between. In early 2004, anticipating this auspicious occasion, two of us proposed that we would like to create a book in her honor—a book on greatness. She listened politely and then declined, saying she had no interest in a book in her honor. Undaunted, we proposed a book dedicated to what she has given her life to—a book dedicated to those who serve the world. She considered the idea and gave her consent.
We shared the idea with our friend, Tex Gunning, who offered to support the book project. Tex, who is managing director at the Dutch company AkzoNobel, is a passionate lecturer, writer, and speaker about the role of business in society and about the need for collective leadership to tackle the world's biggest challenges.
We decided to begin with a search for those who have dedicated their lives to world service. We thought about what it is that makes Dadi Janki so unusual in the world—so inspiring to so many. From this churning, we created a list of criteria that described what we were looking for.
We ran the list of criteria by Tex; Peter Senge, MIT lecturer and author of The Fifth Discipline; and Humberto Maturana, a friend and world-renowned biologist who specializes in the biology of cognition. We polished the list and refined it a bit and prepared to begin a formal search for candidates with 'something beyond greatness.' The result looked like this:
A Search for Those with'Something Beyond Greatness'
At this fragile time in the world, there are many who are moved to make a difference. However, there are certain special souls who are called to go beyond making a difference and who surrender their lives to humanity, touching all of those they meet. We are undertaking a search to try to understand the quality of character that defines these 'world servers,' people like Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work with the poorest of the poor in India. What is it that causes them to live the inspiring lives that they do?
We believe these people can be found on all continents, on all religious paths, and in different generations. However, regardless of the differences, we believe they share certain qualities. We are seeking to find and interview people who appear to have the following qualities or characteristics:
• A quality of mind that is characterized by those who know him or her as stable, peaceful, and compassionate.
• His/her service is dedicated to improving the life and/or awareness of others with no self-interest.
• He/she explains their work in the world as coming from a higher power or source: they understand themselves to be an instrument and have the quality of humility that comes from that understanding.
• Their own life is characterized by the same principles they stand for in the world: their inner life and their outer life are completely integrated.
• They seem to others to be tireless, drawing on a deep well of energy that appears to give them endless endurance and unlimited patience.
• They have an elevated vision of those they serve, seeing their capacity for renewal, recovery, and progress so clearly that those they serve find strength they didn't know they had.
• Their convictions about what they are doing are so strong that they are unfazed by limitations in funds or support from others.
• They have a quality of lightness in their life and work and are surprisingly available in the moment—even though they are heavily scheduled and have immense responsibility.
What is most interesting about those who have this ineffable quality we are referring to as 'beyond greatness' is that while each has done important and transformative work in his or her life, it is the quality of their being that seems to do the most service. People describe being transformed simply by being in the presence of those who have this character of 'beyond greatness.'
It is this way of being, as well as the moments of understanding and growth, that has allowed them to arrive at this quality of character that we aspire to convey in a book.
Next, we gathered a group of thinking partners, friends on all continents, who had greatness in them and who certainly knew people who they would consider great. We sent them this list of criteria, requesting they send names of people who would meet these criteria. We found someone who would help us with the sorting and vetting of the volume of names we anticipated, and then we waited. And waited. Finally, we heard from a couple of the thinking partners. One wrote from Australia to say, 'I have given a lot of thought to your request and to these criteria, and I just don't know anybody like this. If you find somebody, though, let me know. I would love to meet them.' Then we heard from the thinking partner in Brazil, 'Can they be dead?' Since we intended for the book to be based on interviews, we declined to include dead people, hoping to find 'greatness' alive in the world. Person by person, the responses came in—pretty much echoing the first two.
We called Tex and requested a meeting in New York. A few weeks later we were sitting together in the Meditation Center and Gallery of the Brahma Kumaris on Fifth Avenue, laying out the dilemma. We explained that there was virtually total unanimity on the names of certain historic figures, such as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. But when it came to finding this same quality of character in the living, people seem stumped—really having no idea who to suggest. We were feeling discouraged. Tex listened closely and then pronounced the situation to be promising. We were perplexed. What, we wondered, about this stalled project was he finding promising?
Carefully, he explained, 'The fact that everyone agreed on a few names suggests that we know greatness when we see it, which must mean that we have greatness—or the possibility for greatness—in us. Greatness must be intrinsic in each one. We just have to discover more about this.' He urged us to push ahead, saying it didn't matter how many people we profiled. It was more about the quality of what we found. So we persisted.
©2009. Judy Rodgers, Gayatri Naraine. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Something Beyond Greatness. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442