It began with a 1.5-hour Asana yoga session at 6:30am, and those of us who were willing or able to crawl out of bed so early were richly rewarded. I considered myself very lucky to have my first ever yoga lesson taught by an Indian instructor with a PhD, who works in a university in Mumbai and has been a professional footballer for many years. I particularly liked the way he taught us to enhance our awareness of the mind by focusing on our breathing. (He was to give a talk later in the day in which he demonstrated that he was as masterful in theory as in practice.)
The presentations began after breakfast, and participants fluttered across the rooms like butterflies. By the end of the day, our appetites were well whetted. Not only had we collected our fair share of pollen in the form of knowledge and inspiration about "Healthy Lifestyle Vegetarian Way", which was the theme of the congress, we were also treated to three excellent vegetarian meals at the resort restaurant where we got to mix with all sorts of very nice and special people from around the world.
India must be one of the best places in the world to host this congress, not least because it has the world's largest vegetarian population (220 million people according to 2004 statistics). If vegetarianism is, as the speaker in the opening address pointed out, "an expression of compassion" and "a way of life", it is only fitting that we come to learn from a country that is so steeped in history and culture and has so much to offer about spirituality and life.
At night, as I walked back to my room after seeing the Gujarat folk dances, I thought about the Biblical commandment "thou shalt not kill", and I asked myself what it is that we shall not kill. Is it just "people", as suggested in the Chinese translation we have been taught since childhood? Or does it have a broader meaning? I believed that maybe "reverence for life", a principle that was so clearly promoted in the congress, provides a clue to the answer.