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Quote of the Week: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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January 15 would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 81st birthday. I wonder what the world might be like today had he not been assassinated in 1968.

Dr. King’s teachings and politics were more radical than the Disney-fied version of him that tends to be put forward on the commemoration of his birthday. When he was only 23, he wrote to his wife-to-be, Coretta Scott: “I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic.” His ability to link apparently disparate issues like race, economics, war, and technology, as well as to build bridges between groups of people, made him a potent leader. In fact, after King’s 1963 speech at the March on Washington, FBI Assistant Director Louis Sullivan charged that King was “The most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.”

Although Dr. King was himself a Baptist minister, he developed a relationship with, and a deep respect for, Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh; King nominated Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. And the heart of King’s teaching transcends any one religion – it’s a clear testimony to the truth of our interconnectedness and the power of love to overcome hate. Which sounds quite a bit like the basic teachings of the Buddha, actually.

Rather than try to summarize Dr. King’s amazing life here, here are a couple of good sources to learn more about him:

I could have chosen one of Dr. King’s many quotes on our interconnection – that would make sense for a Buddhist blog, and many have highlighted those quotes. Instead, here’s one that fully exemplifies his passion for peace and justice, as well as his love for his country. The quote is from a speech given on February 25, 1967:

Those of us who love peace must organize as effectively as the war hawks. As they spread the propaganda of war, we must spread the propaganda of peace. We must combine the fervor of the civil rights movement with the peace movement. We must demonstrate, teach and preach until the very foundations of our nation are shaken. We must work unceasingly to lift this nation that we love to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a bodhisattva extraordinaire.

Quote of the Week: Thich Nhat Hanh

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Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, now 83 years old, is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist teacher, author, poet, and peace activist. During the Vietnam War, he started the School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS), a neutral corps of Buddhist peaceworkers who went into rural areas to establish schools, build healthcare clinics, and help re-build villages. Because he refused to take sides during the war, he was subsequently exiled by the Vietnamese government. Later, in 1967, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

My introduction to Thây, as he is often called, was in 1996, when I transcribed some of his talks for Parallax Press. At first I could hardly understand a word he said, but after a while I began to attune to his accent and found the act of transcribing his words became a meditation in itself.

This quote comes from one of his first books, Peace Is Every Step (Bantam Books, 1991).

We must be aware of the real problems of the world. Then, with mindfulness, we will know what to do and what not to do to be of help. If we maintain awareness of our breathing and continue to practice smiling, even in difficult situations, many people, animals, and plants will benefit from our way of doing things. Are you massaging our Mother Earth every time your foot touches her? Are you planting seeds of joy and peace? I try to do exactly that with every step, and I know that our Mother Earth is most appreciative. Peace is every step. Shall we continue our journey?

Bat Nha Monastery: The Latest News

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Since June, 400 monks and nuns at Bat Nha Monastery in Vietnam have been harassed by the government. The situation has gotten worse of the past few months, with more than 300 of the monks and nuns (many of them followers of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh) violently expelled from the monastery in September. More background on the situation is available here.

According to a press release issued on November 26, “the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the violence against Bat Nha monks and nuns and calling on Vietnam to curb its violations of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly and respect its human rights commitments and Vietnam’s own Constitution.”

If you want to take action on this issue, take a look at this page from the Help Bat Nha Monastery website.

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