Martin Luther King Jr. is iconic for so many reasons. They are, to me, layered like an onion. At the top is the public figure, the courageous ambassador of nonviolence and American ahimsa-a word that comes from Sanskrit that means “non-harming”. Without his courage and leadership, the civil rights movement, which is really a human rights movement as it continues to this day, would have been diminished and very likely have taken far longer and a far greater human cost to gain acceptance.
Looking more deeply, we see a spiritual teacher. One face of this dimension of Dr. King’s is that of an ordained and practicing Baptist minister really ministering to his church family and working to live not the dogma but the practice of Jesus, his teacher. Another is the unqualified face of a true master, a master of the perils of taking birth-ego, grasping, aversion and delusion.
Even more deeply we see a visionary social scientist who was able to so clearly see and paint a picture of a future in which the ignorance and hatred of bigotry was overcome by the wisdom, intelligence and power of a rich and diverse world that he was able to make it real for millions. We see at his core a father, a son, a husband and a neighbor who suffered so deeply at the injustice, cruelty and insanity of segregation and prejudice that it literally broke his heart open and propelled him past revenge to healing saying “We will wear you down with our capacity to suffer, wining our freedom and your freedom in the bargain.”
Martin Luther King was the finest example of a Servant Leader that our country has produced in modern times. For me, although we are of different traditions, he has always been a spiritual elder brother. More poignantly, it is Martin Luther King who nominated my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh-a Vietnamese monk- for the Nobel peace prize and brought him to America in the heat of the Vietnam war to build a case for peace. Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is so often quoted out of context that it is worth your time to revisit it in whole-there are several version on YouTube. One of my favorite quotes of his however, echoes every great spiritual teacher from every tradition. It goes like this:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
Dr, King’s work, OUR work, is not done. It is not nearly begun. On this day of remembrance in this time of violent speech, violent actions and violent thinking, you and I could join James Taylor who has made the following excellent suggestion in a song:
“Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women, living on the earth
Ties of hope and love of sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children can grow free and strong
We are bound together by the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead we are bound and we are bound”