Why a rabbi, a Sikh foreman and six other spiritual leaders gather on a boat in the Biesbosch

Spiritual leaders from all over the world are calling for attention to the importance of clean water.Statue Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

On the top deck of the Z8 of tour company Zilvermeeuw, the wind blows in the orange robes of Hindu priestess Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati from Rishikesh, India. “Our bodies are water,” she says. “Water is physical life and water is spiritual life. Lack of clean water is the end of every life.’

The boat left at Drimmelen on the edge of the Biesbosch. British Sikh leader Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh is also aboard the Z8. The wind blows on him in a long white beard. ‘Water,’ he says, ‘is a divine gift. Things go wrong when divine gifts are not mistaken for divine. If everything is commercialized, if people want to go to Mars while they are plundering the Earth.’

Saraswati adds: ‘More people now die each year from lack of clean water than from all forms of violence combined – war, terrorism, you name it. In India, the situation is getting more dire every year. The mantra of commerce is: more, more, more, more.’

Threat to harmony and peace

The sun breaks through firmly on the water in the Biesbosch. A white turban keeps the Sikh leader’s head cool, the Hindu priestess covers her hair. They are part of the spiritual council of Living Peace Projects, a non-profit organization committed to clean water for all. “Lack of it,” the founders argue, “is the greatest threat to global harmony and peace.”

Sherlien Sanchez named her organization agency A Touch of Spirit and accompanies the special passengers on the boat in the Biesbosch on this day. “When you organize events for spiritual leaders, you feel a very different kind of energy than when you do it for business. There is no competition in the air, everyone is patient.’

At the cradle of Living Peace Projects were Zen master Brigitte van Baren and the late Johan Witteveen (1921-2019), former Minister of Finance and IMF chairman. Under the name Murshid Karimbakhsh Witteveen, he was the Dutch leader of the movement of universal Sufism, which embraces all religions.

water ceremony

Hindu priestess Saraswati tells about the water she brought to the Netherlands for this occasion from the source of the Ganges, which rises near Rishikesh. This boat trip is a kind of prelude to a water ceremony that the spiritual leaders will perform together in the Peace Palace in The Hague. In addition, water will be mixed from eighteen sacred water sources to create ‘living water drops’.

Few people can miss the symbolism: on a political and economic level you have elements that repel each other, on a spiritual level they flow together like drops of water. Enthusiasts can order a silver necklace with such a living water drop from Living Peace Projects, thereby supporting projects.

Hans van Ham is the helmsman of the Z8 of cruise company Zilvermeeuw. His employer did not cast him as a ‘spiritual mate’ especially for this occasion, but his motto is ‘collect moments, not things‘ is understood by all on board. Van Ham has such a passion for the nature of the Biesbosch that he spontaneously started to inform passengers, making him a sort of guide in addition to being a skipper. His English is still a ‘work in progress’, but he manages to draw the attention of all passengers sufficiently to special birds.

null Image Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

Statue Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

Everything a product

Sufi master Shabda Kahn of San Francisco immediately takes advantage of this by capturing a cormorant with his camera. “We should maintain a love relationship with the Earth,” he says. ‘We live on borrowed material, for most people it feels very natural to take care of everything that lives, but big business turns everything into a product.’

The parents of this Sufi master were German Holocaust survivors. In the hippie era he was a spiritual seeker until he attended a lecture by the universal Sufi master Murshid Samuel Lewis. “God is your lover, not your jailer,” he said. What finally convinced Shabda Kahn was an incident where a stubborn hippie approached Lewis and shouted, “I’m your spiritual master.” The Sufi master replied, “Okay, I accept that. But then you may point out to me someone in this room who is not my spiritual master.’ That stubborn hippie was perplexed.

Helmsman and narrator Hans van Ham interrupts the conversation. Downstairs wait the company’a nice lunch‘ and a ‘a big surprise† What that entails, all passengers see when a large table of vegan food rises from the floor of the ship, as if the helmsman has cast a spell. In the distance, a savings sluice looms ashore. ‘If all three savings locks in the Biesbosch are full of water,’ says Hans van Ham, ‘they can provide the entire southwestern part of the Netherlands with clean drinking water for three months.’