Aug 28, 1963 is forever etched in history as the day when one extraordinary leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the world famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he called for an end to racism in the United States. He appealed to the conscience of fellow Americans and reminded them the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, to fight social injustice through non-violence.
Sixty years ago, there was violence in America. In 1959, amidst those troubled times, Dr.King decided to take a trip to India to deepen his understanding of Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings on non-violence. Dr.King spent five weeks traveling across the vast country, meeting with India’s civic leaders to learn how Mahatma Gandhi used non-violence to overthrow the colonial oppressors.
After the trip, Dr. King referred to Mahatma Gandhi as ‘‘the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.’’ Upon his return, Dr. King wrote “I left India more convinced than ever before that the method of non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity. In fact, there is no other lasting way. I have returned to America with a greater determination to achieve freedom for my people through non-violent means. As a result of my visit to India, I believe that my understanding of non-violence is greater and my commitment deeper.”
The trip to India had played a transformative role in shaping Dr. King’s understanding of India’s ancient “Ahimsa” or “non-violence” principles. It was clear that something had deeply moved him in India. Interestingly, that transformation was not from meeting Mahatma Gandhi, because Gandhi had died almost a decade earlier. The two legends had never met!
Sixty years later, the senseless violence in America continues – Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Dallas, Newtown, Oakland, Baton Rouge, Milwaukee – the list goes on. How can we stop the violence and be part of the solution to help restore harmony in America?
As a meditation instructor, I know that violence arises from fear, hatred and lack of trust. Today, violence can affect everyone regardless of one’s socio-economic status and political affiliation. For instance, a mass shooting can happen in our child’s school. A disgruntled employee might start shooting at the work place or at a Starbucks location while we are enjoying our latte.
Our country is desperately looking for solutions to end the systemic violence and bring back peace in our communities, neighborhoods and cities. It is high time that we reinvigorate our commitment to the principles of non-violence taught by Dr. King.
In March 2016, six Americans who were affected by violence embarked on a pilgrimage to India with me, in search of solace, healing and transformation. Through this pilgrimage, we followed the intent behind Dr. King’s trip to India in 1959. The experience was transformative and is now being converted into a feature documentary film.
If Dr.King was alive today, I think he would make yet another trip to India to rejuvenate himself. He would probably meet with India’s civic leaders who are successfully keeping Gandhi’s legacy of non-violence alive. My guess is that he would come back with new insights to apply India’s wisdom of non-violence to the unique social challenges in America. The principles of non-violence are just as relevant today as they were 60 years ago. Don’t you think?