“People need a symbol…”

Bookshelves 003

Here is an excerpt from “Mission For Hammarskjold: The Congo Crisis” by Rajeshwar Dayal(Princeton University Press, 1976; p. 303-305), in which his wife Susheela Dayal shares her memories of Hammarskjold:

Quite early in my association with Hammarskjold, I sensed his interest in matters of the spirit, although it was not before the lapse of several years and episodes in which we were together involved that I began to get an inkling of the depth and nature of his involvement. Hammarskjold, with his sharp antennae, also became conscious of my commitment, as became evident from chance remarks that he made in the course of political and other conversations. In talking of politics, he would bring in spiritual formulations, emphasizing the need for absolute ‘integrity’ in action, a word to which he attached a deep esoteric meaning. He also spoke of ‘maturity’ of mind, implying a higher state of understanding. He would frequently refer to the bedrock of principle from which one could never allow oneself to be swept away, whatever the cost. And he would add that he need not say more as he knew that I understood the depth of his meaning. But Hammarskjold never consciously discussed spiritual matters with me; the closest he came to revealing his inner self was in conversations with my wife Susheela at the dinner table. She recalls their conversations in these words:

‘We are on the same wavelength,’ Dag Hammarskjold once said to us, many years ago in New York when he showed us that he knew we too were seeking the path to inwardness.

I remember one such time in the early fifties when, sitting next to him at a diplomatic dinner, the whole formality of the occasion slipped away from us as we were drawn into a conversation on Advaita, the philosophy of the Non-dual. Unknown to me, he was drawing on his own rare knowledge of the mediaeval mystics, for there is a passage in Meister Eckhart, singled out by Hammarskjold in Markings, that holds in it the essence of our conversation that night. ‘But how then am I to love God? You must love him as if he were a non-God, a non-spirit, a non-person, a non-substance: love him simply as the One, the pure and absolute unity in which there is no trace of Duality. And into this One we must let ourselves fall continually from being into non-being.’ Dag Hammarskjold adds, ‘God help us to do this.’

In 1958, when he came to Lebanon, Hammarskjold drove through the besieged, entombed city of Beirut. Coming to the hotel, he leapt out of the car in that characteristic, light and free movement, and hailed me, saying, ‘I bring you greetings from Lakshmi.’

I smiled, remembering the little statue of the goddess Tara that had been our present to him. She stood now in a niche in his New York office, her inturned glance flowing at one with her outward beauty. It was he who had renamed her Lakshmi, the goddess of auspiciousness and of wealth, the goddess of inner riches.

Even those who knew him slightly knew of his love of the beautiful, his love for literature, for painting. In a crowd, his eyes would travel beyond the people and come to rest on a small picture, such as the abstract painting we had, by Rudolf Ray. He would go up to it and stand before it silently, gravely. Turning to me he would say, ‘It has the quality of stone under water.’

Coming to visit us in the Congo, he brought with him a small round box made of moss-leafed stone. I remember his look as I thanked him for it. He replied, ‘I wanted to bring you something that had the feeling of stone under water.’

Yet I cannot recall a single personal thing that Dag ever said to me. I cannot remember a single familiar question he ever asked me. How were we in the Congo? Was I afraid? Was it difficult? No, he never asked. Meals were an extension of work schedules, though Dag would often cut across the immediate to place it clearly in its distant perspective–the point of the circle in terms of its circleness.

‘Are the hero and the saint identical?’ I asked him on one such occasion in the Congo, when our talk had moved from the day’s events in Kalina to the wider issues of a nation’s history. Dag answered that their likeness to each other lay in their view of themselves; that neither the hero nor the saint sees himself in terms of the world, but as instruments of the Principle (God) and are used by It. In order to fulfill their destiny, he said, ‘Some men become heroes, others saints, but both see themselves as instruments of the One. The hero and the saint perform their roles in relation to God alone.’

Yet, such was his shyness that it was not easy to say the very simple things to him. At the farewell luncheon that Dag gave for us when Rajeshwar had completed his mission to the Congo I took the opportunity of talking to him more closely, knowing that a long time might elapse before our next meeting. We talked of the inner direction of progress that a human being must make, away from the personal, which is the limited, to the impersonal, the limitless. The personal must not be rejected, but it must be contained in the impersonal, in the Whole, the One. That, Dag said, is one’s work in life.

Then, continuing to speak of the men and women serving under him at the United Nations, Dag said that his presence, his person, should not matter to them. It was the impersonal, the idea of the U.N. that was important, and it was into this that their idealism and their loyalty should be transcended. But, I replied, I had seen what his presence did to people; how it illuminated and inspired their spirit. It was not just the concept of a United Nations that they loved, it was him, the embodiment of that concept. I asked him, ‘Can you think of an abstract thing?’

He was quiet for a moment, and then he replied, ‘Of course not. People need a symbol, that is right.’ He added with grave honesty, ‘But if they must have one, then it should not be a person. Let them take the U.N. Building as their concrete symbol, not me!’

And speaking of that symbol, here it is in LEGO form – a Christmas gift from my dear husband!
United Nations Headquarters

Advertisements

One thought on ““People need a symbol…”

Comments are closed.