The Past Inspires Our Future
I have always been a believer of ahimsa (nonviolence) and have made the study of yoga and Ayurvedic philosophy my life’s work. In these challenging times, I personally look for inspiration in two inspirational leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, who pioneered the power of nonviolence. I understand that many take issue with Gandhi and do not credit him for India’s independence, but I respect him for popularizing the Vedic principle of ahimsa (nonviolence) and inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For those two things, I am grateful.
In these challenging times, however, we all must follow our own hearts and beat to our own drum. As long as we relentlessly act and get involved to right the wrongs of this world and not stand by idly, we can change the consciousness of racism, greed, and bigotry around the world.
My personal beliefs in nonviolence do not stop me from wholeheartedly condemning police brutality, racial injustice, unconscious racial bias, or allow me to accept the current criminal justice system, where police have immunity from criminal actions. Along with the Black Lives Matter movement, I pray that we will finally right the wrongs of thousands of years of racial injustice around the world and, in particular, the 400 years of our country’s attempts to destroy the honor, integrity and dignity of black men, women, and children.
I share these writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in hopes they will inspire you as they have inspired me towards greater compassion and justice.
Dr. King’s Philosophy
Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of America’s greatest leaders. He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and unrelenting desire for truth. He read, studied, and critiqued the great philosophers from Kant and Heidegger to Nietzsche and Rauschenbusch. Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis left an indelible imprint on his thinking.1
He devoured books on liberalism, existentialism, and of course, Christianity. However, he felt the “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” philosophy was only valid for individual conflicts, whereas conflicts between racial groups and nations necessitated a different approach.1
The Influence of Gandhi on Dr. King
After Rauschenbusch, he came upon the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. He quickly became fascinated by his successful campaigns of nonviolence. About India’s successful push for independence, MLK wrote, “The aftermath of hatred and bitterness that usually follows a violent campaign is found nowhere in India. Today a mutual friendship based on complete equality exists between the Indian and British people within the commonwealth.”1
Gandhi’s nonviolent movement was called satyagraha (satya is truth which equals love, and graha is force; satyagraha thus means truth-force or love-force). Dr. King wrote, “As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”1
Transforming Belief into Action
In 1954, Rev. Dr. King was a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama, and drew on his Christian faith and Gandhi’s nonviolent method to lead his followers. He hoped to attain freedom and dignity for black people in the epicenter of the racist south.
He writes, “The Negro people of Montgomery, exhausted by the humiliating experiences that they had constantly faced on the buses, expressed in a massive act of noncooperation their determination to be free. At the beginning of the protest the people called on me to serve as their spokesman. In accepting this responsibility my mind, consciously or unconsciously, was driven back to the Sermon on the Mount and the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance. This principle became the guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.” 1
After the Montgomery bus boycott, he became fully aware that the journey was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. As both Jesus and Gandhi taught, a nonviolent campaign can transform and unmask an unfound strength, courage, and self-respect, while transforming the heart and mind of the oppressed and oppressor.
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Making Change Slowly
Dr. King writes, “I do not want to give the impression that nonviolence will work miracles overnight. Men are not easily moved from their mental ruts or purged of their prejudiced and irrational feelings. When the underprivileged demand freedom, the privileged first react with bitterness and resistance. Even when the demands are couched in nonviolent terms, the initial response is the same. I am sure that many of our white brothers in Montgomery and across the south are still bitter toward Negro leaders, even though these leaders have sought to follow a way of love and nonviolence. So the nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.”1
Dr. King’s journey and struggles only strengthened his relationship with God. He said that while surrounded by outer dangers he felt an inner calm and strength that only God could give.
When you read the words of Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., it becomes clear that the practice of nonviolence is a spiritual technique designed to open our hearts and the hearts of others. Nonviolence surprises the oppressors with love and they stand in awe of the self-respect, faith, and fearlessness that could only come from the “Love Force” or “Truth Force.”
We must all find our own way to participate in change. Today, we stand on the cusp of a global transformation and we all must participate. Find your way! Write to your senators, mayors, police chiefs; strike; boycott; protest; donate; or pray. If we all take action and don’t stop, we can achieve the dream!
Inspiring Quotes from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.3
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” —Stride Toward Freedom, 1958
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” —Strength to Love, 1963
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.” —”Letter From Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963
“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” —”I Have A Dream” speech, Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963
Inspiring Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi2
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
“The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.”
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
“Change yourself—you are in control.”
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
How will you express your Love Force?