The Nonviolence of Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh

The Nonviolence of Martin Luther King Jr.

Discussion date: Thu, Jan 23, 2020 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will celebrate the birth, life, and continuing inspiration of Martin Luther King Jr.

In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition a person who combines great moral vision and courageous moral action is a bodhisattva, an awakened human being. A bodhisattva has gone beyond his or her own likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, to embrace the suffering and joys of others, and to embrace all of life.

Born in 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. was an American bodhisattva whose vision and actions opened hearts, recast minds, and guided movements of peace and justice around the world. Thich Nhat Hanh writes in Living Buddha, Living Christ: “The moment I met Martin Luther King Jr., I knew I was in the presence of a holy person. Not just his good work but his very being was a source of great inspiration for me.

We will begin our program by watching a television interview with Martin Luther King that took place 11 months before his death. During the interview, he frequently rephrases the questions and eloquently explains his own and the civil rights movement’s guiding vision, strategies, and goals. (Interview available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xsbt3a7K-8.)

After the video we will read a few paragraphs on the true meaning of Nonviolence written by Kazu Haga, a contemporary Kingian Nonviolent trainer and activist. (The excerpts, from Haga’s recently published book, Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm, are below.)

In our Dharma sharing we will explore together how we have been inspired and challenged by Martin Luther King’s vision and actions.

You are invited to be with us.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner


Non-violence and Nonviolence
by Kazu Haga, from Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm

In Kingian Nonviolence, a philosophy developed out of the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., there is a distinction made between nonviolence spelled with a hyphen, and nonviolence spelled without a hyphen. “Non-violence” is essentially two words: “without” “violence.” When spelled this way, it only describes the absence of violence. As long as I am “not being violent,” I am practicing non-violence. And that is the biggest misunderstanding of nonviolence that exists.

I live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Oakland, with an equal mix of black, Latino and Asian residents. One day, I was taking a nap in my apartment when I was woken up by a couple yelling at each other below my second-story window. I decided to get out of bed and look, and I saw a woman on the ground being beaten, crying and screaming for help. I jumped up, put on my shoes and ran downstairs. By the time I arrived, about 15 of my neighbors had also come outside, but they were just watching this woman get beat, doing nothing to help. I managed to break up the fight and get the two to walk away from each other, one fuming with anger and the other in tears.

My neighbors who were just watching this were practicing “non hyphen violence.” They weren’t throwing punches or kicks. They were explicitly being “not violent.” So, you see how, from a Kingian perspective, what a difference that little hyphen makes. You see how big of a misunderstanding it can create if we think that nonviolence is simply about the absence of violence. If we define nonviolence as “not violent,” then we can hide behind the veil of nonviolence while still condoning violence.

It’s easy to be a bystander. We see rising homelessness, and we turn the other way. We see unarmed black folks being killed by police, and we blame the victim. We hear about high suicide rates among LGBTQ youth, and we do little or nothing about it. We read reports on the climate crisis but leave it to the next generation to deal with. We watch our communities and the earth being assaulted every day, and we just gather around and watch.

Nonviolence is not about what not to do. It is about what you are going to do about the violence and injustice we see in our own hearts, our homes, our neighborhoods and society at large. It is about taking a proactive stand against violence and injustice. Nonviolence is about action, not inaction.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Jan 23, 2020


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