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Practical Spiritual Guidance from Martin Luther King

By Rudra Shivananda

A few days ago, we commemorated the life of a great leader for the freedom movement. Martin Luther King took up the mantle of Mahatma Gandhi and became a beacon of light not only for black Americans but for people all over the world. We need not discuss his heroic application of the principles of non-violence to restore the civil and human rights of a marginalized segment of the population because it is well-known and applauded by all unbiased peoples of the world.

However, I’ve always been impressed by his spiritual foundation and the wisdom of his words when applied to a yogic setting. It’s not that there is any lack of wisdom in the yogic literature or the words of the yogic Masters, but when someone from a different tradition shows his wisdom not only in words but his skillful deeds, then one must take notice.

Although I was not in the states at that time, MLK became a spiritual inspiration to me when he became the most prominent civil rights leader and his speeches were reported in newspapers that I read. It seemed to me that he actually walked his talk and his life and works were an application of his principles which were rotted in deep spiritual truths. I’m not familiar with his mode of prayer or meditation, but his strong faith shone through his words and actions. His were not the words of a philosopher but held practical significance because they came through his experience and that is what yoga is about – yoga is about personal experience.

Yoga does not stop when one has achieved higher consciousness – Yoga is about applying one’s higher consciousness to solve life’s challenges and to help others mired in darkness.

I took a small sample of the quotes [bolded and italicized] that were being tweeted about and chose the following to illustrate how his words can be applied to help yogic practitioners.

“Peace is more precious than diamonds or gold”

A great strength flows through spiritual seekers when they establish the correct value reference in their lives. Although we must live and support ourselves in this material world, we should not fall into the trap of making money or possessions the center of our existence. We should always keep an eye on our goal of personal and world peace so that we can prioritize our sadhana or spiritual practice over transient or frivolous desires.

“If this [peace] is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflicts a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

Love and non-violence are the keys to applied spirituality. It is not sufficient to mouth mere platitudes in our meditations if there is no difference in our actions towards others. The goal of applied yoga is to evolve our consciousness to a higher level so that we are no longer ruled by our lower instincts but guided by the experience of the unity of all beings. The development of love and non-violence is also critical to achieving higher consciousness because if our actions reflect negative attitudes, then we accumulate bad karma which become obstacles to yogic progress!

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude”

When we have peace in our minds and love in our hearts, we can forgive others for their misbehavior. If we engage in the negative karma of tit for tat, the greatest hurt is done to ourselves and to all of humanity. If we hold on to the negative emotions of anger or hurt, we lose our peace of mind and we cannot meditate.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are your doing for others?’”

It is not enough that we forgive others, we need to take positive action to help those mired in the darkness of their ignorance and are committing negative karmic acts. Of course, as seekers, we need to develop an attitude of compassion in order to be able to act in accordance with the universal law.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”

The power of yoga is to increase the light in our consciousness – yogis are filled with light and devoid of darkness. Decreasing negativity and increasing love helps to increase light in our lives and helps to integrate meditation into our everyday actions.

“The time is always right to do what is right”

Spiritual seekers are always wondering when they should do their practice – it is very clear – any time and any place is the right time and right place, rather than trying to find the perfect time or place. Of course, we counsel regularity and give guidance about the best times, but life is not always obliging and students procrastinate at the slightest doubt.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase”

You must have faith in your chosen practice and path to preserve in reaching success on the spiritual path. Remove doubts and replace with faith based on the teachings of the Masters.

“This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue to our forward stride towards the city of freedom.”

Have faith in your chosen practice and take courage to overcome your doubts about the fruits of meditation which sometimes seem to elude you or take so much time to make their appearance. Don’t give up – when you persevere, you will find the strength to overcome all your obstacles to reach the ultimate freedom of Self-Realization.

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