Monday, January 16, 2012
Today, January 16, America commemorates the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 2012 marks the tenth annual tribute to Rev. King and to Mahatma Gandhi by Ananda Sangha in Seattle & Bothell, WA. This evening's program was cancelled due to snow, and postponed until this coming Sunday, January 22, 10 a.m. at the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell. Ananda Bothell website
Over ten years ago I had the inspiration to create a tribute to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. ("MLK") and Mahatma Gandhi ("MG") using quotes from their writings and speeches. It was deeply inspiring to me and has proven to be so to many hundreds who have attended the tribute both here and in Mountain View, CA and other places where it has been presented.
The text has changed over the years, partly to keep it fresh and partly to follow new insights. At first it was strictly limited to inspirational quotes drawn equally from MLK and MG. In the last two years we've quoted mostly from MLK in keeping with the national holiday and American interests and have emphasized more of the drama of actual events in MLK's life.
There are, however, some salient aspects of their lives that are not commonly emphasized in most public tributes or documentaries. The most important of these is the inner, spiritual life of each of these men. Another is the dynamic relevance their lives, message, motives, and methods hold for the world today. In anticipation of Sunday's presentation and owing to today's official commemoration, I would like to share some of these salient aspects with you in this blog.
As revered as both men are throughout the world, we find that it is not necessary to have them be perfect or all together saintly. Their relevance to our own, personal lives comes from the simple but life transforming fact that each aspired to "know, love, and serve God." For each of them, their divine attunement came through serving and giving their lives in the cause of racial, political, and economic freedom and justice.
While the public generally is aware of their political victories, most are only dimly aware that each had a deep inner life of prayer from which they sought, received and followed (to their death) divine guidance. It was not that they did not know fear, or were unaware that their actions placed them constantly in danger of assassination and violence. It's that the inner divine sanction they sought and received gave them the comfort and the strength to carry on in spite of their very human shortcomings. What a lesson for each and every one of us. We do not need to be public servants or heroes or martyrs. Unseen by any, we can carry on what is right if we, too, will live for God alone.
The night before his assassination and in the face of multiple threats to his life, MLK declared that he "had been to the mountaintop" and was not afraid of any man. That it did not matter now, for God had shown him the "promised land." And, while he would yearn for a long life like anyone, that was secondary for he wanted only "to do God's will." In fact, that afternoon, alone and on the verge of despair and despondency for the challenges that faced his work, his life, his family, and his reputation and influence, he prayed and, I believe, had a spiritual experience from the heights of which he spoke those ringing words. Most hearing him then and now believe he was referring to the promised land of desegregation. And who would argue, and why not? But prophets of old and new and scriptures of all lands speak on many levels of meaning. And I, and others, believe that what he was "shown" was far more than that. What he experienced gave him the courage and faith to do what he had to do and to give his life in doing it.
Few people know that MLK travelled to India in 1959, after his first victory in Montgomery, Alabama with the now famous bus boycott prompted by Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger who had just boarded. King spoke on All-India Radio urging India to lead the way to universal disarmament (India subsequently did not). Dr. King and Coretta and travelling companions were veritable celebrities in India where the bus boycott had been followed in newspapers throughout India.
MLK was more than a southern Baptist preacher. His religious views were liberal, in the most elevated sense of the term. He was more than an eloquent black speaker from the south. He was an intellectual who grappled with the issues of twentieth century western culture and was well read in philosophy, scripture, and history. Had his calling not been towards civil rights his own inclinations would have led him to stay in the north and become a professor, writer and lecturer. In college he felt the presence of God in nature and spent many hours alone, out-of-doors, day and night.
MLK was a "disciple" of Mahatma Gandhi who saw that Gandhi resolved what King thought was the gulf between the "love thy neighbor as thy self" teaching of Jesus with the compelling need to fight injustice. MLK said that Jesus gave the teaching of love but Gandhi gave the method to make it applicable to social causes. King followed Gandhi's understanding that resistance was anything but passive. Nonviolent resistance required as much courage, self-sacrifice, and strength as that required in battle for a soldier.
MLK like MG was not only assassinated but both felt that their efforts had been unsuccessful: Gandhi, due to the communal rioting that followed the great victory of nonviolent freedom from the British, and King, in the rising militarism of younger, up and coming civil rights leaders. MLK took considerable heat from his anti-war stance on Vietnam. He was harassed by the FBI and Johnson administration and hounded by rivalries among his own civil rights associates.
Yet both men, to the end, maintained their faith in God and in the victory of good over evil. Both were practical idealists, eloquent speakers, gifted writers and astute organizers and negotiators. Possessing great will power, yet they were loyal to their own and forgiving to those who betrayed them. Both saw their religion and their politics as applicable to all humanity and for all time. Never did either succumb to sectarianism or nationalism.
Mahatma Gandhi was initiated into kriya yoga by Paramhansa Yogananda during Yogananda's one and only return visit to India in 1935-36. Yogananda, prior to leaving India for America in 1920, was asked by revolutionaries to lead the fight against British rule. Yogananda declined saying it was not his to do in that lifetime but that he predicted that India would win its independence by non-violent means: and this was before Gandhi had come onto the political scene in India and had come into his role as leader for Indian independence.
An earlier generation black leader for justice in America, W.E.B. Du Bois, invited Gandhi to come to America but Gandhi declined, saying it wasn't his role to do that and India was where he was needed. Du Bois predicated, however, that it would take another Gandhi to end segregation and uplift the American "negroes." How right he was.
The world today, and America especially, is in dire need of a voice of moral authority. Our nation seems polarized between extremes and has lost the dignity, compassion, and ideal-inspired reason to see our way clearly to the greatest good for the greatest number. We must find a way to affirm universal values, including spirituality, without sectarianism; to teach, model and encourage balanced, positive, and wholesome values and behaviors without censorship, discrimination, or coercion; to encourage self-initiative and personal responsibility rather than entitlement and victimization. To foster a hunger for knowledge, not mere profit, for sustainability, not indulgence, for cooperation not ruthless competition.
The law of survival and happiness is based on one and the same principle: self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice means the recognition that we are more than we seem and reality is bigger than our individual self. Self-sacrifice is the investment into a longer rhythm of sustainability that brings a wholesome prosperity, harmony with nature and with humanity, and lasting happiness rather than passing pleasure. "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends," as the Bible says. Few are called to give their lives for the lives of others, but all of us are called upon to become the "sons of God," meaning to live up to our own highest potential which is far greater than to live for the moment and for the senses and ego gratification.
As parents sacrifice for the good of their children (health, education, safety, comfort, and security), as soldiers sacrifice for defense of their country, as great artists and scientists toil to share inspiration and create a better world, so too each of us are called upon to harmonize ourselves in daily life with right diet, exercise, cooperation, compassion, knowledge, community service and wisdom. Such requires moral vigor and personal sacrifice of the desires of the moment for a greater reward.
Both Gandhi and King labored to instill these basic and universal values in their followers and to their people. Each understood that no victory over injustice could take place without the moral victory of an honorable, self-respecting, self-sacrificing, balanced, and compassionate life.
When and by whom do we see these values held up for honor in America -- not by words, alone -- but by example, by leaders in every field such as arts, entertainment, religion, business, science, and politics? Look at those whose lives we are fascinated by: celebrities whose lives of debauchery echo the lowest common denominator of humanity. Yet there are heroes here and there, and all around us. They don't necessarily shout and conduct public polls. But we need them now just as Dr. King was no less a prophet than those of the Old Testament, no less flawed than any one of us, but willing to give his life to something greater than himself.
Ananda's worldwide work is focused upon discipleship to the living presence and precepts of Paramhansa Yogananda. In this respect the example of Ananda may seem irrelevant to the world today. But it is not, for from a tiny seed a mighty oak can grow. We do not practice "Yogananda-ism." Discipleship for Ananda members means to attune ourselves to the truths that he represented, rather than to worship a mere personality. Ananda is anything but a cult, focused inward upon itself.
It is no coincidence that Yogananda initiated Gandhi into kriya yoga or that MLK was a "disciple" of Gandhi. The movement towards universally shared values such as "life, liberty, and happiness" and the equality of all souls as children of the Infinite is no cult but a powerful tsunami closing in towards the shoreline of modern society. The destructive aspects of this all consuming tsunami are felt only by those who stand fast in their sectarianism, racial prejudice, bigotry or other narrow-eyed identity. Kriya yoga symbolizes more than a meditation technique. It represents the understanding that each of us must find within our own center these universal values, our conscience, and our happiness. Much more could be said, but I have planted enough dots along the path for others to connect.
We celebrate the life of Dr. King because we celebrate the precepts he represented and the example of self-sacrifice that has been all but forgotten in the haze of modern materialism. If America, and other countries, are to survive the challenges we face, we must face them together with a sense of our shared values and essential unity.
Blessings to all,