On Tuesday, April 26, President Barack Obama addressed America and once again brought to light the underlying issues that have sparked unrest and riots in Baltimore. We were all reminded that it is time for society to ask, “What can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity?” Until then we are not going to address the underlying issues. We must address the cause to make lasting change, not the effect. The current actions in Baltimore are continuing to uncover the layers of pain, neglect, and oppression still felt in America by our black sisters and black brothers. Baltimore is far from the only place where these underlying issues in our race relations have been neglected or ignored.
The President’s address resonates with our vision at Centers for Spiritual Living, of a world where personal responsibility joins with social conscience in every area of the political, corporate, academic, and social sectors. Unfortunately our society seems to continue to focus on the differences in people which correspondingly causes us to fear each other. We continue to vilify and demonize others for expressing their pain and sense of oppression. Every spiritual teacher and tradition reminds us that we have a responsibility toward the oppressed, the poor, the unfortunate, the sick, the lame, the elderly and our children.
This unrest, like the unrest in Ferguson, continues to bring serious and necessary questioning into the public zeitgeist about justice, equality and social conscience. It is worthy to note the number of similar incidents made public in the last 24 months, and as distressing as it is, it is also somewhat heartening. Heartening because we are being forced to wake up to the suffering and to question what the underlying issues are. Heartening also, in what is appearing obvious: that those oppressed and disempowered are finally refusing to sit passively while this continues. And as a result bringing into the public eye a question that has begged to be answered for decades if not centuries, “How can we respond in a way that is built on the realization that every life matters?” Until we learn to respond with love and peace to the pain and suffering of others, even when that pain and suffering is erupting in violence, we all suffer.
It is noteworthy to remember a case of oppressed people who resorted to violence and civil disobedience and looting, who became heroes and eventually the ruling class of a great nation – the colonists who began the American Revolution. Since then we have continued to hear terms like “thugs and punks,” as the protesters in Baltimore have been called, which is reminiscent of President Richard Nixon calling the peace protesters “thugs and punks” during the Vietnam war era, and we know how that turned out.
I do not believe that the many efforts to bring compassion, understanding, justice and peace to bear on this issue (the vast majority of which are not visible) are in vain. I believe that each incident awakens us to the realization that this is no longer an acceptable or tolerable way of seeing and dealing with each other. My hope for us is that we will take to heart President Obama’s call to deep soul searching, and that we will abandon any enemy-images we may have created in our minds, and join with the members and friends of Centers for Spiritual Living across our nation and our world in contemplating and working toward peace and justice for all.
Our founder, Dr. Ernest Holmes wrote, “It is quite a burden lifted when we realize that we do not have to move the world – it is going to move anyway. This realization does not lessen our duty or our social obligation. It clarifies it. It enables us to do joyously, and free from morbidity, that which we should do in the social state.”
Our teaching holds – there is only one, and it is comforting to know that we are not alone in this tenet:
“Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people’s suffering. On these lines every religion has more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal.” Dalai Lama
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat 31a (Judaism)
“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18 (Buddhism)
“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.” (Islam)
“Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien (Taoism)
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12 (Christianity)
It is times like these that call deeply to all persons of faith to practice what they believe. Dr. Holmes also wrote, “To desert the truth in the hour of need is to prove that we do not know the truth. When things look the worst, that is the supreme moment to demonstrate, to ourselves, that there are no obstructions to the operation of truth.” We are one, and I for one will not abandon this truth. What is occurring is the evolution of freedom, equality and peace and it is now up to us as individuals to recognize and empower it.
Dr. Kenn Gordon
Centers for Spiritual Living