Tuesday, January 18, 2011

From the Vedas to MLK: Tracing Back the Radiance

During a period of soul-searching, he had, in his words, "despaired of the power of love in solving social problems." At this point, he was coincidentally introduced to the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi in a sermon by Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University, who had just returned from a trip to India.

King was so moved that he immediately bought a number of books on the Indian nationalist leader. He read with fascination of the life of one who had successfully transformed the ethic of nonviolence into a political instrument against British colonial rule.

The impact they made on him is best described in his own words: "As I read, I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform."

[Gandhi's Influence on King, by Placido P. D'Souza]

"Russia gave me Tolstoy, a teacher who furnished a reasoned basis for non-violence. He blessed my movement in South Africa when it was still in its infancy and of whose wonderful possibilities I had yet to learn. It was he who had prophesied in his letter to me that I was leading a movement which was destined to bring a message of hope to the downtrodden of the earth."

[Letter to American Friends, Mahatma Gandhi, August 3, 1942]

"Do you know what this summer has meant for me? Constant raptures over Schopenhauer and a whole series of spiritual delights which I've never experienced before. I have procured all his works and have been reading them and still am doing so -- I have also read through Kant. And surely not a single university student ever studied so much and learned so much as I this summer. I do not know whether I shall ever change my opinion, but now I am convinced that Schopenhauer is the greatest genius of humankind."

[Leo Tolstoy, August 30, 1869, in a letter to Afanasy Fet]

"If I wished to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I should have to concede to Buddhism pre-eminence over the others. In any case, it must be a pleasure to me to see my doctrine in such close agreement with a religion that the majority of men on earth hold as their own, for this numbers far more followers than any other. And this agreement must be yet the more pleasing to me, inasmuch as in my philosophizing I have certainly not been under its influence. For up till 1818, when my work appeared, there was to be found in Europe only a very few accounts of Buddhism."

[Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Chp. 17]

"If the reader has also received the benefit of the Vedas, the access to which by means of the Upanishads is in my eyes the greatest privilege which this still young century (1818) may claim before all previous centuries, if then the reader, I say, has received his initiation in primeval Indian wisdom, and received it with an open heart, he will be prepared in the very best way for hearing what I have to tell him. It will not sound to him strange, as to many others, much less disagreeable; for I might, if it did not sound conceited, contend that every one of the detached statements which constitute the Upanishads, may be deduced as a necessary result from the fundamental thoughts which I have to enunciate, though those deductions themselves are by no means to be found there."

[The World as Will and Representation, Preface]