In these days of bitter partisan politics and a war on terror, which is itself a bit terrifying; I feel greatly inspired by spiritual activists such as Aung San Su Kyii of Burma, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya, whom I had the privilege of joining on a September 11 panel at a church in Harvard Square a few years back. These are individuals we could do well to learn more about and hear more from.
Like Nelson Mandela said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, I think it is incumbent upon all of us today to grapple with and find just solutions for the great issues of our day, which Mendela had to face and fight in his own country of South Africa: the challenge of the dichotomies of war and peace, violence and non-violence, racism and human dignity, oppression and depression and liberty and human rights, poverty and freedom from want.
Moreover, he affirmed: “We undertake that we too will do what we can to contribute to the renewal of our world so that none should, in future, be described as the wretched of the earth. Let it never be said by future generations that indifference, cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals of humanism which the Nobel Peace Prize encapsulates.
Let the strivings of us all prove Martin Luther King Jr to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war. Let the efforts of us all, prove that he was not a mere dreamer when he spoke of the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace being more precious than diamonds or silver or gold. Let a new age dawn!” (Oslo, December 10, 1993)
More recently, Mandela gave a speech in London’s Trafalgar Square:
“I am privileged to be here today at the invitation of The Campaign to Make Poverty History. As you know, I recently formally announced my retirement from public life and should really not be here. However, as long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”
I think we all must look and see that as long as one quarter of the world goes to bed hungry at night and millions of children die each year from hunger, diarhoea and so on, that we have an obligation not just to kick back and retire to our own peace and comfort here in the Gold Mountain while the world tears itself to pieces in order to survive. (Gold Mountain is what Chinese immigrants of one hundred years ago used to call America, when they came over to build the railroad and find a better life.) Even in our rich country today, poverty– like illiteracy– continues to plague us, and is the source of a great deal of the violence and crime in our society.
Mandela’s ongoing mission to serve the greater welfare and the higher good reminds me of the Bodhisattva ideal of Buddhism, the highest spiritual ideal I know. A Bodhisattva– or awakening spiritual warrior– vows never to give up striving for the betterment of all, on every level– material and spiritual, visible and invisible, in this life and in all future lives. And the inclusive word “all” includes all beings, human, animal and otherwise.
As the Dalai Lama of Tibet, and exemplary selfless Bodhisattva, always prays:
“Only when the limits of space are reached;
Only when the limits of all sentient beings is reached;
Only when all are free from conflict and negativity
Will my vow have been fulfilled.”
That is called the Bodhisattva Vow: to dedicate this life and all possible lives to the betterment and ultimate liberation and enlightenment of all– without leaving even one single being behind.
From the Japanese:
“Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to liberate them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; we vow to transcend them.
Dharma teachings are boundless; vow to master them.
The Wisdom Way of Enlightenment is supreme; we vow to embody it.”