Tuesday, January 15, 2013
January 21, 2013 is the thirteenth year that Ananda in Seattle has presented a tribute to these two great men. We combine excerpts from their talks, writings, and biographies with the music of Ananda (written by Ananda’s founder, Swami Kriyananda). This program is free and begins at 7 p.m. at the East West Bookshop in Seattle (www.eastwestbookshop.com). We are planning to stream it live at www.ustream.com (search on AnandaSeattle on or around 7 p.m., Monday night).
Most people are generally familiar with their lives. This tribute to King and Gandhi emphasizes not so much their biographical facts or accomplishments but the spiritual foundation for their courage and inspiration. This aspect is often ignored or only given passing acknowledgement in community programs, books and documentaries.
The public inauguration of President Obama takes place on the day set aside for commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. and the President has announced that he will take the oath placing his left hand upon two Bibles: one owned by Abraham Lincoln and the other owned by Martin Luther King, Jr. This year our tribute includes a segment of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address, a short time before his assassination. I would like, therefore, to include Lincoln in my thoughts here.
There are many books on Abraham Lincoln but one of particular interest to me is Elton Trueblood’s, “Abraham Lincoln: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership.” This book seeks to reveal the spiritual life of a man otherwise an enigma even to his closest associates. But it is clear from this book, and so many others, that Lincoln wrapped his deep and personal relationship to God in a combination of humor and humility. The courageous acts he took were not born of pride or bluster but were weighed in the crucible of intense self-examination, painstaking attention to their impacts upon others, the highest interests of the nation as a whole, the framework of the U.S. Constitution, the duties of the presidency and the highest standards of ethics and idealism. All of these facets he looked to as indicators of God’s will. He offered up his deliberations for Divine guidance in the inner silence of his meditations. Lincoln trembled at the prospect of his own vulnerability to pride or ego and to the ease with which one could mistake guidance with desire, or subconscious prejudices.
Abraham Lincoln’s life of faith was rooted in humility and openness to a wisdom far greater than any man might hope to possess or confidently express. But this is precisely the entry fee for intuitive, divine guidance. The evolution of Lincoln’s decisions and policies during the Civil War reveal, in retrospect, the unfoldment of inspiration, calmness, and courage given to him as a divine grace and born of inner guidance. True prophets are keenly aware of their human shortcomings and their potential for self-delusion, more so in the glare of public acclaim or condemnation and more so on the cusp of decisions that can affect the lives of millions and change the course of history. Such examples, then, teach us that from caution and calmness spring the full measure of confidence and courage if born of true, spiritual insight and wisdom.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was thrown into his first civil rights campaign in Montgomery, Alabama by what could only be described as casual circumstances, aka divine destiny. In the mix of those who responded to the black community’s response to the arrest of Rosa Parks, people turned to King on the spot, with no prior background or planning. King showed that inner tentativeness and self-questioning which is like fertile soil from whence a seed sprouts and grows to a magnificent tree. This fertile soil knows that it must wait for the rain of divine guidance to prompt its emergence.
King, like Gandhi, held strictly to the call of divine love even while also fighting his self-styled enemies with cunning, with courage, and with intelligent strategic purpose. Both King and Gandhi were highly educated, extremely intelligent and deeply compassionate. They were unquestionably chosen by, and in time acknowledged, a higher Power to serve as an instrument of a higher Purpose. Each accepted their role but only as it unfolded. Often they would hesitate to act or speak if that inner guidance and inspiration failed to materialize.
The actions of prophets always confound supporters and enemies alike. King’s seemingly sudden interest in and opposition to the Vietnam War, for example, caused consternation among his peers and followers and earned the antipathy and opprobrium of the Johnson administration. Gandhi’s efforts to reassure the Moslem people of India of their place in the rising sun of a new Indian nation outraged Indian nationalists and ultimately was the cause of his assassination.
At the same time there exists the paradox that the realization by the prophet of his God-given role and responsibility clashes with his frail humanity and causes feelings of burdensomeness and even periods of discouragement and depression. In each of these three men: this “melancholy” is evident in their lives. A more ego-affirming person (image a dictator) would revel in his power and only his subconscious would undermine his egotism in an effort to balance him out.
At the end of their lives, especially Gandhi and King, this discouragement and loss of clarity of direction is evident. For Gandhi the communal violence that attended India’s independence and partitioning was, to him, a sign of the failure of his efforts. For King, the impatience of young blacks and their increasing interest in choosing violence over nonviolence, together with fractious in-fighting among civil rights leaders, added to government distrust of King, and lack of progress in his selected campaigns, caused King to doubt himself deeply. Lincoln’s agonies, by contrast, peaked during the losses and setbacks of the civil war. But by the time he was assassinated, he had just won reelection and General Lee had just surrendered. For the first time he felt a quiet sense of contentment. But the work of reconstruction was, he knew, going to be as difficult and, indeed, more complex than the war itself. Moreover, Lincoln had a premonition of his impending death. Nor was it in his nature to revel in victory.
Another characteristic of these three great men was the universality of their religious faith. Of the three Lincoln kept his distance from orthodoxy even as he was notably a man of deep and earnest faith and prayer. King and Gandhi were more aligned with specific faiths but each had a view of religion that we, today, would call true spirituality, unfettered by sectarianism.
All three men viewed their efforts in two important and expansive ways: as benefiting their entire nation, not just the group of people for whose rights or upon whose side they struggled; and, each saw the benefit of their goals and victories as benefiting all peoples, far beyond their own nation’s borders. Each of them had the vision far into the future of the importance of their ideals and their methods.
Though each struggled against foes and self-styled enemies, each courageously expressed respect, friendship, love, and concern for them, whether as individuals or as a group. Lincoln was famous for bringing into his cabinet, administration, and military leadership his competitors.
Lincoln had an abiding faith and vision in the destiny of the United States to be an instrument of God’s will in championing a new way of life, liberty and pursuit of freedom and happiness. Mahatma Gandhi saw his work as an a new model for helping oppressed people find the means to effect freedom and justice without violence. King, similarly, saw that Lincoln’s work was not yet finished and that the well-being and destiny of the United States necessitated that the eradication of prejudice of race be overcome. He saw in the example of Christ, the unfailing power of love and the redemptive power of self-sacrifice. He, too, saw the importance for the United States to serve as an example to all nations and all peoples and understood that this required that the nation help black Americans be “free at last.”
The lives of these three great men are inextricably linked. King, as stated above, saw the civil rights movement as an extension of Lincoln’s emancipation of slavery and preservation of the Union. King was deeply inspired by the life and lessons of Mahatma Gandhi. King travelled to India in 1959 and received a hero’s welcome and a reception worthy of a head of state. People of color throughout the world followed King’s work eagerly. King quipped that he thought the Indian press gave more attention to his campaigns than did the white, American press.
King saw that Gandhi gave his beliefs the tools and means to elevate love for one’s enemies to a broader level than one to one. Lincoln held national days of prayer and fasting, asking the nation to acknowledge its errors and to make penance to atone for the evils of slavery and war. Although no writer than I know of viewed Lincoln as an advocate of non-violence in the Gandhian sense of this, it is clear from the testimony both of Lincoln and his biographers that he was deeply pained by the necessity to conduct an unwanted but necessary war.
There are connections, too, to the work of Ananda and to the life of our preceptor, Paramhansa Yogananda. In the practice of yoga, nonviolence is one of the core precepts that comprise the foundation for meditation and spiritual path and practice of yoga. In addition, Paramhansa Yogananda initiated Mahatma Gandhi into Kriya Yoga and thus created and established a deep and abiding spiritual connection between their two works. Yogananda, when a young man and before coming to the United States in 1920, was approached by Indian revolutionaries to lead them in their fight against the British. Yogananda declined, saying that this was not his work but predicting that India would find freedom through nonviolence during his lifetime. When coming to America in 1920 and becoming a resident (and later a citizen), Yogananda faced numerous instances of racial prejudice as a “colored” man. He spoke passionately about the colonial exploitations of the nations of Asia and Africa, people of color. He viewed World War II as a just war that would be the divine means of throwing off the yoke of colonialism.
The power by which these three changed the course of history has its roots in prayer and dedication to doing the will of God, as best as they could perceive it and doing so with faith and humility.
Courage, calmness and confidence derive not from ego-affirmation (for the ego is brittle and shallow, for self-involved and easily shattered by life’s many opposing egos) but from aligning one’s self with the Divine Will. Through prayer, meditation and right action, and by the habit of asking and praying deeply for divine guidance, we find the still, silent voice of God guiding us in all that we do. In this we feel divine strength, power and wisdom but at the same time we know that it isn’t ours and that we must “remain awake” at all times. Divine consciousness is eternally awake, omnipresent and omnipotent. Our consciousness, then, must approach the Infinite if we are to partake in the life and spirit of God.
This is a tall order but we begin right where we are. Lincoln studied the Bible from an early age and read it daily. King and Gandhi were intimately familiar with the words of their respective scriptures (Bible and Bhagavad Gita) as guidelines for daily life and right action. But it was the habit of meditation that brought each into the Divine Presence. This we, too, can do each and every day.
The testimony of the scriptures of east and west affirm that God is present and actively guiding the course of history through those who willing offer their lives to His guidance and will. Our world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace with dangers to life, liberty and health at every turn. God needs willing instruments. Gandhi termed the life he offered to such people Satyagrahis (expressing Satyagraha: dedication to Truth and Purity).
Those who are part of the worldwide work of Ananda see this living example in the life of Swami Kriyananda. He has been a spiritual warrior, standing calmly amidst calumny, physical suffering, opposition and seemingly impossible obstacles. His life of dedication to the work of Paramhansa Yogananda has earned for him a state of bliss — the grace bestowed upon those who live for God alone.
We don’t start by wanting to be heroes in the eyes of others. We begin, rather with humility and openness to God’s presence and guidance, taking life step-by-step, day-by-day. Meditation, selfless service, and fellowship with others of like mind are essential. Truth is not complex.
Let us then be Lightbearers in this world of change, danger, confusion, chaos, and ignorance.
See you Monday night at East West Bookshop!