Short Theological Presentation

Holistic Development: How to make it possible?

Holistic development, each word separately or together as a concept come with a history and challenge you as to its meaning and sense. Words such as ‘holistic’ and ‘development’ are in themselves as well as together difficult to grasp. They are filled with connotations and opinions, sometimes contradicting each other. They are intensely part of our time and many of their interpretations have been discarded along the way. Development begs e.g. the question, whose development? What is it to be developed and when is one considered developed? Who calls the shots? The concept is dense. It easily enters a trendy discourse. There is substance but it can also be void of precision. Defining is difficult. Holistic is often characterized by the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and the parts are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole. The sum of the parts together adds something that the parts alone do not have. This echoes the saying in Tao Te Ching:

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;

It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes, which make it useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there;

Usefulness from what is not there.

What does it take to unlock concepts like holistic development? And then for the real challenge, how does one make holistic development possible? In defining the concept, we risk ending up with congealed deep-frozen theories.

Marx had something to say about making shoes. The shoemaker makes a pair of shoes. He has a piece of leather and from it he makes the sole, the heel, the toe box, the heel collar, the tongue. He works on each piece and he is pleased when he holds in his hands a pair of the shoes he’s made. It is a different pleasure then when you are at an assembly line together with other workers and you make the sole, another makes the heel, etc. Shoes are made, one thing leads to another but it is different from when you are the one accountable for the making of a pair of shoes. There is a particular space of the parts taken together that is not there at the assembly line. Being a shoemaker and making a pair of shoes establishes a relation between the product and yourself. You see the product finished in a space of affirmation, relief, meaning, and pleasure. It is almost sacred. It is holistic and it is difficult to define.

I would like to talk about this additional space in the sum of the parts taken together. This space is substantial but it is not definite. It touches the deepest recess and it tells you that there is more to things than can be defined.

A Jewish tradition holds that a small corner of the home should always be left unpainted. The practice goes back to the time when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. One decided to keep one small portion of the homes unfinished as a witness to what had been lost, but above all as a sign that nothing is ever complete and that there isn’t anything that is perfect. The unpainted corner is a reminder of any project that it will never be finished. It is always there to be worked on.

As far as holistic development goes, there is always a dimension that is not a given, something that cannot be taken for granted. Holistic development cannot be prefabricated and it doesn’t come with assembling instructions like furniture from IKEA. There will often be one screw, one bolt or socket too few.

We don’t have the full picture, even if it is entitled ‘holistic’ and the chart, named development, that we hold in our hands, indicating the way from here to there is blurred and we are not even sure of the real whereabouts of there. We need more than ourselves to find the way. There is a story about a man who got lost in the forest. He didn’t know which path to take. He was bewildered and almost panicked. From afar he saw someone coming and he hid out of fear but realized that the stranger coming closer and closer was after all his only hope to find a way. And so he stepped forward and asked for directions. The other looked at him and said: “I am lost too. But I can show you what paths NOT TO TAKE. Together, we will find the way out.”

This story is about realising that we are lost and that a stranger brings some hope that all is maybe not lost and that there might be a way out. We trust this unknown person and walking together we face the unknown. Trusting is the result of meeting someone, who understands my predicament, because he or she is in a similar dilemma. Two strangers, each with their own language and story or narrative, meet in the forest. We are thrown at each other and we need each other. We are in it together. And we need for our survival to trust each other, although we are strangers to each other.

To discover affinities, when the other speaks a language we are not familiar with or consults a map, where the roads and pathways seem unfamiliar to our own ways of travel is a sacred breakthrough in relations. Given all the obvious boundaries around and between us, it is something of an inspired challenge to discover that the other in his or her otherness is a resource, not because we are almost the same but, quite the reverse, are different and therefore bring into a dialogue that which we couldn’t know and couldn’t recognise and therefore couldn’t benefit from. To break the glass ceiling of insularity and corridor-mentality is a creative revaluation of values and tenets. It should lead us all to a new listening, where we are not first of all thinking of how to answer. It may lead us to formulating an agenda, which is the result, not of a set menu, but of the discovery of common concerns helping us to articulate how to walk out of the forest, where we were lost. It may silence the automatic resorting to the ways of one or make quiet the cacophony of all. It may open up genuine paths of common considerations but along paths that have not been walked by anyone before. To me this is the necessary renewal of interreligious dialogue. It is entering a dialogue, which is not a duet. There is a difference here. A duet is composed by someone, the two voices in the duet may depart from each other and may come close to each other, almost touching each other or passing each other in a way that suits the composer. It is a set arrangement of two voices that has a beginning and an end. A dialogue is not programmed and can end in harmony but it is not a given. There is a challenge here and risk-taking, which goes beyond tea and sympathy, one that exceeds talking at each other about the ideals of our religions but seldom about the ills in society explicitly or implicitly associated with our religious traditions.

Today, when we see that many of the attempts to address the ills of our time, be they public or private, local or global, social or environmental, have failed, we need to look for such ways to find out of the forest.

I have been invited to represent Arigatou International, a Buddhist lay movement (, and it is an honour for me to be present at this INEB biennial conference and the community of Engaged Buddhists. I bring you greetings from the President of Arigatou International, Rev. Keishi Miyamoto. Already from the beginning Arigatou considered interreligious dialogue as a genuine way to find common language and seek common action facing common challenges. The child is at the centre of the work of Arigatou and “The Convention on the Rights of the Child” is the compass ( The child is relevant for all religious traditions. There isn’t a religious tradition that doesn’t value the child; the child is the future and it is as Tagore said: “”Every child born comes with a message that God has not yet despaired of humankind”. If nothing else could persuade a religionist, the child is the only guarantee that religion will continue into the next generation. But the child is not only a deposit for the future. The child is recompense already as a child and not only as someone continuing and receiving the baton. The child brings out the best in us, our willingness to stand up in defence of the vulnerability of the child; the child is reminding us of innocence, of truthfulness, of trust. The child gathers us whether we are religious or not, whether we are Buddhists or Christians or Muslims or Hindus. Truly, the wellbeing, safety and dignity of the child is a centre for interreligious concerns. Children are our common concern because we know that in our time children are exposed, locally and globally; they are trafficked, they are deprived of education because they are the victims of child labour, they are the child soldiers and they are the exploited and endangered street children. In the world of religion children are everywhere present. The presence of the child in family, in society, in the world and in religion makes children a common concern. Children are our common concern and should prompt our coming together, shouldering the common responsibility that we have in common action for all children. In this and in so many other ways it is legitimate to say that being religious today is to be interreligious. We need each other’s wisdom how our religious traditions can provide a holistic raison d’être in support of the wellbeing of our children, because it is with children that the cognitive, social, cultural, physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of human development are integrally interwoven. A holistic perspective is to provide all beginning with children with a sense of identity, meaning, and intrinsic reverence for and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the world, and to sustainable values such as respect, empathy, reconciliation and responsibility.

The Arigatou International thrust for the wellbeing and dignity of children is a thrust in and for a holistic development. The vision of Arigatou brought together a fellowship of people of all faiths, men and women, lay people and clergy, together with people of different organizations and networks, all devoted to the rights, well-being and security of children. Its four programs address such perspectives that together emphasize holistic vision.

The network GNRC (Global Network of Religion for Children, has encouraged people in quite a few parts of the world to seek ways to address issues of common concern in our various societies, be it the plight of children as street children or as child soldiers or children as excluded from or discriminated against, be it as victims of HIV/AIDS, disability or gender. Of particular concern is the present danger of religiously motivated extremism and violence among youth.

The focus on Ethics Education for Children ( has proved to respond to a need for value-based education, equipping children to better handle the demands and dilemmas of living together in a plural and diverse world as well as to discern in themselves and in others the spirituality that is intrinsic in every one of us, but so often silenced from early childhood on.

Prayer and Action for Children ( raises the issue of prayer as a dynamic presence in interfaith relations and it does so to strengthen our common commitment for the dignity of children. In the different ways possible, we state that prayer is at the core of our being together as people of different religions and that prayer is essential for our effort together to eradicate violence against children in all its manifestations. We lift our concern in prayer and meditation to the Ultimate Reality in the various ways of the numinous presence among us.

Through our being together, from various walks of society and all the corners of the world, we have come to realize that poverty affecting children is albeit in different ways an overall reality in all continents. The program End Child Poverty ( is a multi-faith, child-centered, global initiative that mobilizes faith-inspired resources to eradicate poverty affecting children. Poverty is draining the possibility of children and us all to stand up facing the future with hope.

Twin hopes constitute Arigatou, said Rev. Takeyasu Miyamoto, the founder of the Arigatou Foundation, “One to protect children—the inheritors of the Earth and the precious treasure of humanity—from armed conflict, deteriorating natural environments and other dangers. The other was to promote their safe and sound physical, psychosocial, and spiritual development.” The motto of Arigatou, “Prayer and Practice” has a bearing on the programs it has launched, the “Global Network of Religions for Children”, the “Ethics Education”, the “Prayer and Action” and the “End Child Poverty”.

The motto “Prayer and Practice” expresses that spiritual dimension that brings together heart and mind and allows space for the hope and vulnerability that children awake in us. It provides space for sensitivity and attentiveness to realise that there is more, always more, that we haven’t exhausted and can never exhaust.

The golden thread “Prayer and Practice” in Arigatou affirms religious experience that include given parameters and definitions and yet is open to go beyond. It is in openness that there are realisations of the holy, the sacred, the feelings of humility, a sense of gratitude, thanksgiving, an awareness of awe before anything that captures our attention, a sense of the divine, facing the ineffable; the sense of littleness before mystery; the quality of elatedness, the sudden awareness of limits and even powerlessness; an impulse to surrender and to kneel; a sense of the eternal and of fusion with the whole of the universe; yes, even the experiences of heaven and hell. Somehow or strangely enough, all of these experiences with different names suddenly seem as real by religious as well as by atheists.

I would like to end with these words, since they seem to point to that which we cannot easily articulate, cannot easily grasp, cannot easily define and which nevertheless constitute a part of who we are. Void of this “cloud of unknowing”, we would not be able to stretch towards that which we refer to as a holistic part of life.

Rev. Dr Hans Ucko
Co-chair of the Council, World Day of Prayer and Action for Children

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