Martin Luther King’s Dream and Our Dreams

Martin Luther King’s Dream and Our Dreams

Discussion date: Thu, Jan 24, 2008 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Forty-five years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech here in Washington. This Thursday evening, after our sitting meditation, we will listen to the speech and then reflect on the dreams for a better world we carry in our hearts.

As I listened this week to speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., I was awed by his selfless courage. He knew what he was doing was dangerous, that it might end his life and the lives of those around him. And, he knew he needed to do it to—the movement he led could transform so much injustice.

In the tradition of mindfulness practice we associate this sort of selfless courage with the Bodhisattvas, the awakened ones who realize the inherent connection between their own suffering and the suffering of others. When we practice the The Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, we are taking steps along the Bodhisattva path.

Martin Luther King, Jr., also knew about the selfless devotion of the Bodhisattvas. In a 1950 theology school paper on Mahayana Buddhism he wrote about the Boddhisatva as a

earnest seeker after the welfare of others, who in unselfish devotion to his fellow creatures accumulates great stores of merit and dedicates it not to his own salvation but to that of all suffering beings.

King noted also that the Boddhisattva ideal was very similar to Christian conceptions of atonement.

In the rush of everyday life it is easy to limit our aspirations, to focus on the immediate tasks of taking care of ourselves and those around us. However, in the mindfulness tradition we are reminded again and again that our happiness is linked to the happiness of others. In the except offered below, another powerful dreamer for the world, the Dalai Lama, suggests we practice “wise self-interest,” that we “think of others also when pursuing our own happiness.”

You are invited to join us this Thursday for our meditation practice and our program on Martin Luther King’s dream and our dreams.

A video of King’s "I Have A Dream" speech is available on the web — Click here. King’s paper on "The Chief Characteristics and Doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism" is also available on the web — Click here.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Excerpt from "The Human Approach to World Peace",
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The premise behind this idea of universal responsibility is the simple fact that, in general terms, all others’ desires are the same as mine. Every being wants happiness and does not want suffering. If we, as intelligent human beings, do not accept this fact, there will be more and more suffering on this planet. If we adopt a self-centred approach to life and constantly try to use others for our own self-interest, we may gain temporary benefits, but in the long run we will not succeed in achieving even personal happiness, and world peace will be completely out of the question.
In their quest for happiness, humans have used different methods, which all too often have been cruel and repellent. Behaving in ways utterly unbecoming to their status as humans, they inflict suffering upon fellow humans and other living beings for their own selfish gains. In the end, such shortsighted actions bring suffering to oneself as well as to others. To be born a human being is a rare event in itself, and it is wise to use this opportunity as effectively and skillfully as possible. We must have the proper perspective that of the universal life process, so that the happiness or glory of one person or group is not sought at the expense of others.
All this calls for a new approach to global problems. The world is becoming smaller and smaller – and more and more interdependent – as a result of rapid technological advances and international trade as well as increasing trans-national relations. We now depend very much on each other. In ancient times problems were mostly family-size, and they were naturally tackled at the family level, but the situation has changed. Today we are so interdependent, so closely interconnected with each other, that without a sense of universal responsibility, a feeling of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, and an understanding and belief that we really are part of one big human family, we cannot hope to overcome the dangers to our very existence – let alone bring about peace and happiness.
One nation’s problems can no longer be satisfactorily solved by itself alone; too much depends on the interest, attitude, and cooperation of other nations. A universal humanitarian approach to world problems seems the only sound basis for world peace. What does this mean? We begin from the recognition mentioned previously that all beings cherish happiness and do not want suffering. It then becomes both morally wrong and pragmatically unwise to pursue only one’s own happiness oblivious to the feelings and aspirations of all others who surround us as members of the same human family. The wiser course is to think of others also when pursuing our own happiness. This will lead to what I call ‘wise self-interest’, which hopefully will transform itself into ‘compromised self-interest’, or better still, ‘mutual interest’.
Although the increasing interdependence among nations might be expected to generate more sympathetic cooperation, it is difficult to achieve a spirit of genuine cooperation as long as people remain indifferent to the feelings and happiness of others. When people are motivated mostly by greed and jealousy, it is not possible for them to live in harmony. A spiritual approach may not solve all the political problems that have been caused by the existing self-centered approach, but in the long run it will overcome the very basis of the problems that we face today.
On the other hand, if humankind continues to approach its problems considering only temporary expediency, future generations will have to face tremendous difficulties. The global population is increasing, and our resources are being rapidly depleted. Look at the trees, for example. No one knows exactly what adverse effects massive deforestation will have on the climate, the soil, and global ecology as a whole. We are facing problems because people are concentrating only on their short-term, selfish interests, not thinking of the entire human family. They are not thinking of the earth and the long-term effects on universal life as a whole. If we of the present generation do not think about these now, future generations may not be able to cope with them.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jan 24, 2008


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