Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Martin, Gandhi and Occupy Wall Street

At this time of the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington and the reminder of this great soul who graced the earth and left such a huge imprint on so many of us, I am also reminded of one who inspired him and current day protesters who have in turn ( perhaps) been inspired by both of them.  And, I ask myself the question...what does Martin, Gandhi and Occupy Wall Street have in common?

One may ask, why include Occupy Wall Street? At least if you are Cain, or able-bodied and have a job or money or both and believe in boot-strap boot camp, then I hear you, that is, that those folks down there on Wall Street are disorganized ( don't have a 1-2-3 point message - according to CNN talking heads); therefore they cannot hold a flicker of light to MLK or Gandhiji and therefore should not be included in the same breath! But here's the deal, at least what comes to mind for me, on this most momentous day.

When Gandhiji fought for India's Independence and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commenced marches for the Civil Rights Movement, no one took them seriously either.  The British never dreamed that they would be defeated by non-violent protesters, and in the U.S., who would have thought the non-violent thrust of the Civil Rights movement would change the face of racism in America for ever! But such is the impact of satyagraha as was practiced by Gandhi in the early 1900s and later by Dr. King in the 60s with the Civil Rights movement. Occupy Wall Street is another satyagraha movement.

Satyagraha is a sanskrit word which according to wikipedia means (loosely) "soul force" or "truth force", or "non-violent resistance" " or "civil resistance".  The term coined by Gandhi comes from the sanskrit word "satya " meaning "truth" and "Agraha" meaning "insistence" or "holding firmly to", says wikipedia. Unlike "passive resistance" satyagraha is an active approach to non-violence in the face aggression or other negative behavior .  In satyagraha practice, the victim actually practices the yamas (abstinences) of satya and ahimsa ( non-injury) , precepts of the ethical social discipline teachings of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, toward his or her opponent . Satyagraha is a weapon of the 'strong' and unlike passive resistance, it holds to the truth of its principals.

In the article "Remaining Human: A Buddhist Perspective on Occupy Wall Street http://www.theelephantjournal.com/ ", Michael Stone says,

"This movement is also showing the power of non-violence.  Non-violence a core precept in my own Buddhist practice, is not an ideology. It's the power of facing what's actually going on in each and every moment and responding as skillfully as possible." 

In the Raja Yoga practice of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali ( as practiced by Gandhiji)  the practice of satya and ahimsa and upholding these virtues ( even slightly!) are no easy task.  When I speak to students about practicing ahimsa toward the door, and not slamming it, or satya toward any form of truth we wish to cover up, we begin to see the depth of these teachings  and when practiced as a group ( like a meditation)  how powerful they can be! Christian pundit, Thomas Merton, author of "Seven Story Mountain" , like Dr. Martin Luther King, reiterates this in the social justice teachings of Christianity and  the Bible which again emphasises  non-violence not unlike  those teachings of other major religions.  In "The Non-violent Alternative", Merton says,

 "The Christian is one whose life has sprung from a particular spiritual seed: the blood of the martyrs who, without offering forcible resistance, laid down their lives rather than submit to unjust laws.."

Michael Stone, in " Remaining Human: A Buddhist Perspective on Occupying Wall Street", says:

 " The people of Occupy Wall Street and now Occupy San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Copenhagen and 70 other cities...are trying ..to take over a space that's been wrestled from the people, and also hold to a new way of living". 

On the Rock here in Bermuda,  we are also feeling the ache of  space that has been wrestled from us and it is this rumbling that is beginning to shake us at our core in a way that we have never experienced before.

Bermudians are now seeing 8% joblessness of Bermudians,  in a country that once bragged about zero unemployment. Today young people come back to Bermuda with degrees earned on the maxed-out mortgages of their parents, only to learn that the "foot in the door"  is no longer a reality except in instances of perhaps nepotism. Those over 50 are seen as too old for hire, even with a Masters degree ( despite the fact that these folks represent the second largest segment of our society) ; and, as one frustrated graduate- degree over 50 unemployed woman said,

" the HR person doesn't call you back, doesn't acknowledge your application and gives no response for why you were not considered for the job, even if you are fully qualified! And then you meet someone at church, newly arrived to Bermuda who says they were one of 11 new non-Bermudian hirees at their company. "

Then there is the cost of health care, those who dare to get sick and those who are made to pay for it.  As a result of these and many more issues here on this steaming rock as old as its sister the U.S. of A., the air in the space that we inhabit is becoming stifled; and, corporate greed, economic inequality, and government lack of support for the poor and disadvantaged, is not to be discounted. If all continues, it is just a matter of time when Rise Up Bermuda, takes on a whole different flavor!!

In the end, the truths resonating with Occupy Wall Street, are intrinsic and truths that all of us get and feel deep in our bones. And like Occupy Wall Street, the Civil Rights Movement or the overthrow of the British in India,  satyagraha has that capacity to touch us at our tender most spots and cause to rise a shrill and an action to move mountains and change societies for good. Gandhi knew that, as did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Occupy Wall Street, if it remains true to form, will realize this also.

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