Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream in India

This year is the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to India, which he described as one … Continued

This year is the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to India, which he described as one of the most concentrated and eye-opening experiences of (my life).” A few weeks ago, Secretary of State Clinton sent an august American delegation including Martin Luther King Jr III, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, and musician Herbie Hancock off to India to commemorate King’s tour.

SPAN, a State Department publication, did an excellent piece on King’s experience in India, and the lessons he brought back to the United States. It discusses King’s dinner with Prime Minister Nehru, the parallels King saw between the treatment of blacks in the United States and Dalits in India, and of course the profound connection he had with Gandhi’s nonviolent approach to social change.

I am off to India next week on a State Department tour as well, and I’ll be focusing on a different part of King’s connection to the land of my birth: religious diversity. King of course knew that the inspiration for Gandhi’s “satyagraha” (or soulforce) movement came from his Hindu faith, but he had no idea how religiously diverse Gandhi’s movement – or indeed India itself – was. In fact, King was so in awe of this dimension of India, that when he returned to his pulpit in the provincial southern city of Montgomery, Alabama, he gave a sermon which included these words: “O God, our gracious heavenly father. We call you this name. Some call thee Allah, some call you Elohim. Some call you Jehovah, some call you Brahma.”

My schedule in India includes speaking at a conference of religiously diverse young people on the shared faith value of service, visiting a Muslim college interested in launching an interfaith program and meeting with leaders of different faith communities in three cities.

I’ll be writing from India next week, a nation that I think shares a great deal in ethos with the United States. Both nations have a history of opening their doors to persecuted communities – India’s welcome to Parsees, Tibetan Buddhists, Jews and Baha’is parallels our American narrative of the land of freedom, the melting pot.

The dream of India is the dream of pluralism, the idea of different communities retaining their uniqueness while relating in a way that recognizes they share universal values. It is the American dream also.

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  • Paganplace

    “The dream of India is the dream of pluralism, the idea of different communities retaining their uniqueness while relating in a way that recognizes they share universal values. It is the American dream also.”So simple to say, isn’t it? 🙂 Now, to live up to it. 🙂

  • ivri5768

    The trials of India’s gay community? The Dalit? Honor killings? Female feticide? Dowry deaths? Lookin’ forward to your consistently (dis)honest, nonassessment, and avoidance of things. Do yourself and us a favor, Eboo. Start reporting on the truth of things. The DALIT?

  • CCNL

    What MLK would say today:O Islam, Islam, violent Islam,O Islam, O Islam, violent Islam,O Islam, O Islam, violent Islam,Born, Bred, and Brainwashed too,

  • clearthinking1

    Eboo,The most important lesson you will learn in India as that the culture fo tolerance and plurality in India comes from Vedanta – the philosophical source of Hinduism.”India” as a political entity is new. But the underlying culture is very old and is called “Hinduism” by outsiders (Sanatan Dharma by insiders). It is hard to grasp what Hinduism means for people who have not seen it. They think it is just another religon, but it is much more than that. The beauty of Hinduism is that it has no founder. The knowledge and discussions (Upanishads) speak for themselves. There is no egocentric founder, and this is difficult to grasp for many. Hinduism is the source of Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. These belief systems are more understandable to the west because they have founders, similar to the Abrahamic religions. But the founders were Hindus who learned meditation and concepts such as Unity, nonduality and nonviolence. They then came up with new and creative ways to present these ideas, especially to people who need to follow a founder/messenger.Over the mellenia, Buddhists, Jains, Jews, Christian, Zorastrians, Muslims, Sikhs, and nonbelievers have found refuge among Hindus in India. It is the etenal truth of Hinduism and Vedanta, and it was written down in the Rig Veda (Book1,verse 64,hymn46) more than 7000 years ago: “That which is One, the sages call by many names.”It is a beautiful and inspiring story. Now, you will see a deluge of anti-Hindu statements on your blog. They will talk about poverty and social injustice and try to blame it all on Hinduism. Ask yourself what exactly inspires these people. Ask yourself if poverty and social injustice is in all societies and what is it’s cause. Peaceful and tolerant societies will always make progress.

  • clearthinking1

    CCNL,You have made a similar reference to cow worship previously, and I presume as critical or derogatory note. If you study or observe Hinduism, cows and all animal, plants, etc. are worshipped in the same sense. You can look at it as a primitive belief system or try to see it as a manifestation of a reverence of Unity (Brahma)within the context of an advanced monistic philosophy called Vedanta. Advanced monistic philosophy is difficult to disseminate to the masses but it is presented to the population partly with ideas such as reverance of all living things and vegetarianism. You can read the Upanishads directly if you would like. They do not contain any ritual or mythology, only philosophy.Hinduism is not God-centered in the sense of dualistic monotheistic philosophy in the west. It is monistic. The God concept is available at different levels of abstraction depending on the intelluctual maturity of the student/follower. Ultimately, Hinduism and Vedanta are clear – there is no separate god from consciousness, only Unity (Brahman).The caste system today is often a social injustice but it is being addressed. India has already had a Dalit President, and many affirmative action programs have been instituted. This will take more time. Part of the economic stratification in society is the result of a nation recovering from deep poverty after British Rule when the Industrial Revolution was bypassed. Fortunately, the information technology revolution is not being blocked from arriving in India.

  • CCNL

    A synopsis of Hinduism:Hinduism (from an online Hindu site) – “Hinduism cannot be described as an organized religion. It is not founded by any individual. Hinduism is God centered and therefore one can call Hinduism as founded by God, because the answer to the question ‘Who is behind the eternal principles and who makes them work?’ will have to be ‘Cosmic power, Divine power, God’.”The caste/laborer system and cow worship/reverence are problems when saying a fair and rational God founded Hinduism.” Current crises: The caste system and cow worship/reverence.

  • vikram3

    Please watch your step so that you may not step on excrement (human or animal) in India.And teach Indians on how to follow Gandhi’s philosophy of cleanliness, human dignity (clean air and water, no caste system and female foeticide) and also teach diversity to Indian Muslims who have massacred many innocent civilians including ethnic genocide of Hindus in Kashmir.

  • Indian51

    India never existed as a single sovereign country until the British took over. Before the British, India was a conglomerate of small kingdoms fighting with each other all the time. So the concept that a united India ever existed in the history is a sham. And the name Hinduism is coined by the British about 300 years ago. The words Hindu or Hinduism are not of Indian origin and they are not mentioned anywhere in any ancient Indian literature (Ramayana, Gita) which Rajaji, Nehru and other eminent personalities and historians called great novels or mythology. A Hindu (as per Arabs and Persians) is a person living along the Indus valley, and the Moguls called the non-Muslims in India Hindus. The British followed the same tradition and finally Hindu and Hinduism become a religion.

  • Indian51

    As for the self-confidence of Indians or the lack of it; I must say that the Hindu religion is responsible for it. In a world of logical monotheist religions, Hindus often find themselves confused as to why they worship icons created out of clays and stones into the shape of ridiculous half-animal half -human objects with weird stories associated with them. Hindus themselves cant understand how and why they worship the penis of Shiva or the vagina of Parvati; why the great king and lord of Hindus Mr. Ram allowed his brother Laxman to have sexual relationship with his wife Sita (as depicted in several works of art) how the great lord could be so stupid to spend 12 years preparing the army of monkeys, invade the abductors country, free his wife and then caste a doubt at her chastity (there are stories about the sex life of Ravan with Sita as well and that Luv and Kush were, in fact, Ravan’s and not Ram’s sons) then bury her alive.

  • Indian51

    Hindus and those who study Hinduism are also amazed how five men could keep one wife only because their mother blurted out something stupid and silly without knowing what she is talking about. How the epitome of virtue could gamble away everything he had including his wife (which by the way was shared by his other five brothers). It is also amazing how Krishna, the next avatar could so easily get away with fornication and rape of so many young girls and still get worshipped. How this conniving individual was worshipped despite his record as a sexual predator, a forgery master, a con artist and a troublemaker who incited hate and wars between brothers for debatable reasons.

  • Indian51

    In modern societies, a MYTH is treated as a MYTH, and indulge into that myth for the sake of fun. But Hindu kids are raised with all these myths and lies and when they see their parents doing the same and insisting them to follow what they are doing; sheer acts of stupidity combined with even more disgusting customs like sprinkling of cow urine on food etc. its enough to shake vigorously the mind of any straight thinking individual. And then you have customs like caste system, bride burning, prostitution in the name of Gopis of temples, etc, it’s enough to make a sane and sensible individual to a mental hospital for the rest of his life. I m sure if India is cured of this chronic disease of Hinduism, it will bounce back and line up with the rest of the world in progress and prosperity. I however see no hope for that because evil monsters like Narendra Modi are still worshipped in India and evil organizations like Bajrang Dal, RSS and Shiv Sena are still running well murdering innocent people.

  • CCNL

    When the lower castes of India no longer have to clean up cow and human dung and when cows are made in McD burgers then we may revisit the theology of Hinduism.

  • clearthinking1

    Indian51,You wrote a lot of angry and hateful things about Hindu mythology and Hindus, but the most revealing was the following:Logical? The hate and anger inside you towards Hindus suggests that you are insecure about something – perhaps your own monotheistic religion.

  • CCNL

    Again:What MLK would say today:O Islam, Islam, violent Islam,O Islam, O Islam, violent Islam,O Islam, O Islam, violent Islam,Save us from these Islamic FEMs,Born, Bred, and Brainwashed too,

  • Indian51

    I think Hindu fanatics like you are the most ungrateful, corrupt, cheating thieves in the world who treat their own people (untouchables and lower caste) like dirt. A survey by Transparency International, a global anti-corruption group, listed India on top of its Bribe Payers Index. This on top of the most corrupt nation in the world award. Some other facts: According to World Health Organization, about 770 million people in India defecate publicly. About 20 million fetuses were killed by Hindus in a ten-year period because they were females. Hindus are also the worst kind of racists. I see that every day. Remember, the racial bias law suit filed by the hotel staff in Boston because former Prime Minister Vajpayee did not want blacks to cook or serve for him when he visited the US. India is also on top of prostitution and sending women and young girls for immoral traffic to foreign countries. Here, we’re subjected to the ranting of superior Hindu culture. Give us a break.