Hoosiers of many faiths in community

King’s Dream: Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama

King’s Dream: Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama

by Waddell Hamer

Recently, President Barack Obama was inau­gu­rated for his sec­ond term as President of the United States. As fate would have it, his sec­ond Inauguration hap­pened to fall on the national hol­i­day of Dr. Martin Luther King. The sig­nif­i­cances of the two events are obvi­ous and easy to point out for most peo­ple. Many peo­ple like to imag­ine that what we wit­nessed that Monday was part of what Dr. King was refer­ring to on the steps of the National Mall on August 28, 1963. It is a very inspir­ing and beau­ti­ful moment in our nation’s his­tory. It is some­thing that many who attended that event and many who watched it all around the world will never for­get, because for many, it’s some­thing that many thought they would never see in their life­time. But I would like to direct your atten­tion to a much smaller and much less pub­li­cized event that hap­pened two days later that more reflects the dream that Dr. King was refer­ring to on that day.

Two days later, on the 23 of January, because of my work through Americorps, I found myself in a small Tibetan tem­ple in Louisville, Kentucky attend­ing a press con­fer­ence for the highly antic­i­pated arrival of the Dalai Lama to their city. This is an event that was awarded to the city for being voted the most com­pas­sion­ate city in America, which was part of the plat­form of the city’s mayor when he assumed office in January of 2011. When we entered the room and every­one took off their shoes in respect of Buddhist tra­di­tions. We all gath­ered in the main tem­ple room and ate a lunch that was pro­vided by the cen­ter. Let me explain that this was out­side of Buddhist tra­di­tions as well. Usually in the tem­ple every­one sits down on the ground for wor­ship and other events and sel­dom is food allowed in the tem­ple. But there we sat in chairs in cir­cles talk­ing about our var­i­ous jobs and projects and other events of the day. It was the first beau­ti­ful sign of plu­ral­ity, com­pro­mise, and com­pas­sion; this was a theme that would be revis­ited through­out the day.

As the pro­gram began, it was opened up with a greet­ing from a local Monk who was a spir­i­tual leader of Tibetan Buddhists in the area. After him, var­i­ous local lead­ers from Louisville spoke, includ­ing Mayor Greg Fisher. Many of the speeches were the same. They all talked about why their par­tic­u­lar cen­ter and depart­ment was excited for the arrival of the Dalai Lama and what their cen­ter would be doing on and around the event. Nothing spe­cial, right? But fol­low­ing that were a few pho­tos of many of the lead­ers in the room. Again, most peo­ple aren’t too excited about that kind of stuff. But as you look at the photo, you see rep­re­sen­ta­tives from just about every reli­gion and cul­ture that you can think about. The pic­tures fea­tures lead­ers from the 3 Abrahamic reli­gions; Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.  Also included in that photo were lead­ers from other reli­gions, includ­ing Buddhism and Hinduism. Filling out the photo were assorted lead­ers from pol­i­tics and busi­ness in the com­mu­nity. In my opin­ion, this was the high­light of the event. This, more than any­thing that I had wit­nessed on MLK/Inauguration day, reminded me of the dream of Dr. King.

When Dr. King was refer­ring to his “dream”, I like to think he wasn’t refer­ring to a highly politi­cized event with a fig­ure that has sep­a­rated the coun­try to the lev­els of the 60’s. And I say this as a huge Obama sup­porter! But let’s be hon­est, while half of the coun­try was cel­e­brat­ing the re-election of the pres­i­dent, the other half was using this as a sign of the down­fall of the America as we know it. And as much as I think King would have been proud to wit­ness that event, he would not have been happy with all of the nas­ti­ness that is too com­mon apart of the polit­i­cal rhetoric of today. I do imag­ine that King would have been proud to sit in that event from Wednesday and to see the dif­fer­ent lead­ers from Louisville, includ­ing the mayor of the city openly talk about com­pas­sion and mak­ing sure that the cit­i­zens do what­ever they can to make their com­mu­nity a more com­pas­sion­ate com­mu­nity. I’d like to imag­ine that he would have just been another leader in that pic­ture, not try­ing to stand out or show off but to blend in. It would have been in an effort to show that it takes peo­ple and lead­ers from all cul­tures, reli­gions and nation­al­ity, a true plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety, to truly bring about what he referred to in his famous speech as an “oasis of freedom”.

The com­mon mis­take made by many peo­ple is box­ing Dr. King into the cat­e­gory as a leader for the civil rights of African Americans only. Nothing could be fur­ther from the truth. While he became famous through being a leader of the 1955 bus boy­cott in Montgomery, Alabama, his writ­ings, actions, and heroes reveal some­thing much dif­fer­ent. He read lit­er­a­ture from many dif­fer­ent reli­gions, ate din­ner with peo­ple from many dif­fer­ent cul­tures and races, and marched and risked his life with African Americans, Asian Americans, Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Africans, and any other nation­al­ity you can imag­ine. At the heart of Dr. King’s mes­sage and mis­sion, he was a plu­ral­ist and rec­og­nized that it would take peo­ple from all nation­al­i­ties and reli­gions and classes and cul­tures to finally bring about the American procla­ma­tion that all men are cre­ated equal. This is why I feel that he would have been right at home in that Tibetan Buddhist tem­ple on Wednesday, per­haps even more so than in Washington D.C. on this past Monday. I feel that about his speech and his work, he would say look beyond the glossy words and feel good mes­sages and pay atten­tion to the fact that he is call­ing for us to be a more com­pas­sion­ate nation to all around us and even to those we con­tinue to wel­come to the coun­try. Along with that he would say that it takes every last one of us, treat­ing human beings like human beings, to truly achieve this goal.

One Comment

  1. This is so true. I like where you speak about Dr. King’s inter­faith work. Many times we get stuck on what we’d like to believe and focus only on his civil rights move­ment, when he was in fact inspired by those of other faiths. Very insight­ful piece.

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