Find The Gandhi Within

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The tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida, an affluent suburb, was a stark reminder that violence in America is not limited to certain neighborhoods but can happen anytime, anywhere. The activism of the students that followed was humbling. The overwhelming support from across the country for their call to action #March4OurLives was soulful. It was a signal for us adults to come together, transcend our differences and take steps to stop the senseless violence and promote compassion and nonviolence.

This tragic event is yet another reminder that today an act of violence does not see our age, skin color, gender, sexual preference or our socio-economic background. We are all affected. Why not, then, we need to feel inspired to promote compassion and nonviolence, and not wait for an act of violence!

As we recently reminded ourselves of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr.Martin Luther King Jr., it is time to truly learn from his activism and his relentless dedication towards promoting love, compassion and nonviolence.

When Dr. King met Mahatma Gandhi

It is a well known fact that Dr. King was inspired and influenced by the teachings of nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi. It is less commonly known that in 1959, at the young age of 30, Dr. King had taken a five week trip to India to deepen his understanding of how the Mahatma had applied the ancient Indian principles of nonviolence (or ahimsa) to help free India from British colonial oppression.

Dr. King referred to his visit to India as a “pilgrimage” and often spoke of the pivotal role that it had played in his life. Upon his return he wrote “I left India more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity. As a result of the trip, my understanding of nonviolence is greater and my commitment deeper.”

Dr. King’s transformation during his India trip was so profound that it seemed that he had learnt directly from Mahatma Gandhi. However, Mahatma Gandhi had already died in 1948.

Perhaps Dr. King had found and met with the Gandhi Within?

“Ahimsa” in the ancient Indian Sanskrit language is usually translated to “nonviolence”. However, Ahimsa truly means the “absence of violence” on three levels — thoughts, words and actions. This state of consciousness would then be equivalent to being in “unconditional love”.

“Mahatma” means “great soul” — someone who has achieved a higher state of consciousness. If we are to aspire to promote nonviolence in the world, then we must look into what would have made Gandhi a “Mahatma”. Mahatma Gandhi was a “karma yogi” and had invoked his internal strength to become a beacon of truth, love, compassion and nonviolence. He had used these noble qualities to fight against injustice and oppression.

Now, nearly sixty years after the Civil Rights Movement, senseless violence still continues across the country. It includes suicides, domestic abuse, bullying in schools, opioid addiction and mass shootings. Each year, nearly 15000 people die due to gun violence, over 40000 people commit suicide and over a million cases of domestic abuse are reported.

It is time to find systemic solutions to stop the senseless and growing violence.

It is time for America’s civic leaders — Mayors, Educators, Police Chiefs to discover and implement new solutions that would stop the ongoing violence in the country and promote love, nonviolence and compassion. There is no higher calling and That would be a great legacy to leave for future generations and a true mark of respect for Dr. King.

It is time that we, as America’s leaders, #FindTheGandhiWithin

Finding inspiration post Olathe....moving from fear to nonviolence

The recent murder of an Indian-American has sent shockwaves of sadness and fear throughout the entire Non Resident Indian (NRI) community in the United States. The media reports of this tragic hate crime in which a 51-year old resident of Olathe, Kansas shot two Indian engineers Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani and good samaritan Ian Grillot who attempted to prevent the shooting at a local bar appear to record the first reported racial bias motivated fatality in the United States after the bitter Presidential election. Srinivas was only 32 years and has lost his life because of the erroneous belief of a fundamentalist!

The response from Hon. Minister of External Affairs Mrs. Sushma Swaraj has been commendable. The fundraiser set up by the well wishers of Srinivas has drawn support from so many kind hearted people. Many Indian organizations across the United States have also organized candlelight vigils this week to mourn the untimely loss of a member of the Indian community and to draw attention to this odious hate crime.

In the wake of this tragedy, I am reminded of a conversation that I recently had with Ron Davis during a pilgrimage that we had organized for victims of violence to India. Ron’s son, Jordan was brutally murdered few years ago, in a racially motivated shooting at a gas station in Jacksonville. He shared that, even while fighting to get justice for his son, he had set up a non profit foundation to provide young people with exposure to cultural initiatives through travel and education so they would have a broader perspective about life. To me, he is a shining example of nonviolence and love in action.

Race based violence is not new to the United States. However, today, as NRI’s we are shocked (and rightfully so) as now the act of race based violence has affected our Indian community. Yes, we need to be very concerned because given the highly charged social and political climate in America, such an act could happen anytime, to any one of us. What makes the sadness reverberate so much more in our hearts is the recognition that despite our contributions and love for the US, we are still unknown, untrusted and unsafe in our adopted home.

Today, as we mourn the loss of Srinivas, I hope that as a community, we can find inspiration and take concrete actions that would leave a lasting legacy for Srinivas and millions of others like him that are unfortunate victims of racial violence in America. Otherwise, we are paying the price of inaction and will have ourselves to blame.

In my humble opinion, as Indians, we are carrying in our DNA the seeds of peace and nonviolence. After all, wasn't it the trip to India that gave Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the spiritual strength and wisdom to fight injustice during the Civil Rights movement? Upon his return from India, Dr. King wrote, “I left India more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity.”

As Indians, we have to feel proud that our ancient culture and spiritual wisdom have something unique to offer, even today, to reinvigorate nonviolence in America. We need to put more effort to share our cultural strengths with the broader American population in this time of suspicion and fear that will take down the wall of ignorance that keeps distance between our cultures and our neighbors.

  • Isn’t violence of any sort not merely a sign of one’s inability to manage the mind, intellect, ego and emotions?

  • Isn't racial violence merely a sign of ignorance of scientific progress?

India’s ancient culture - our festivals and celebrations, our food habits, our family values, the science of yoga, ayurveda and meditation - are all deeply soaked in creating and promoting harmony - both within and around us - encouraging us to transcend our limited identities and to unite with everyone going beyond caste, color, religion or creed. Today, we know, as Bill Nye, the science guy explains that - we are all the same race - one human race. Our skin color is simply the "presence" or "absence" of a pigment in the skin called melanin! However, this wisdom was known to India’s sages thousands of years ago when they referred to the whole world as one human family - Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam.

We need to even more vocally and strongly share the science and social relevance (value) of different aspects of our ancient culture including festivities like Diwali, Holi, Raksha Bandhan, Navratri, and technologies like yoga and meditation.

As the senseless violence continues in America, we, Indians will need to play a bigger role in maintaining a vigil for peace and nonviolence in our neighborhoods and communities. While doing this work, we need to heal the hearts of those who have been unfortunate victims of violence and also participate even more in understanding and solving community issues - acting as catalysts for happiness, peace, love and nonviolence in the towns and communities where we live or even at our place of work?

I know that we can do it. If not us, who will…

Arise O India!
From India With Love

What would MLK do if he was alive today?

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.” 

If the whole world is a home, India has always been the prayer room – for reflection and transformation. This is the time for more prayers, understanding and mutual respect.

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?