Lesson
2

Shakyamuni Buddha

10 of 12

Exemplars of bodhisattva Shakyamuni

Mohammad Ali

In terms of abandoning kingship for spiritual values, Muhammad Ali is one of the best-known contemporary cases. As boxing's heavyweight champion of the world, he first risked his title to change his name from Cassius Clay for the sake of his spiritual beliefs as a Muslim. The brash and colorful young boxer was already a controversial figure who had offended many establishment commentators by his lack of simulated modesty and by his pride in his skill, predicting his own victories in versified proclamations. We may recall the cocky pronouncement attributed in Buddhist legend to the infant Siddhartha soon after his birth, that "I alone am the World-Honored One." The young Ali similarly announced to the world, how "pretty" he was, and claimed, "I am the greatest."

Ali's adoption of Muslim beliefs and forms was highly unpopular. His faith was politically controversial, as it strongly upheld values of self-esteem for African Americans at a time when the civil rights movement was under threat. Ali's spiritual values were far from frivolous or fabricated. From early in his career up to the present, Ali has not forgotten his roots and the suffering of others. He frequently has used his financial resources and his social position to assist altruistic projects, while avoiding unnecessary publicity and praise for his charitable endeavors.

A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he'll never crow. I have seen the light and I'm crowing.

Ali's renunciation of his "palace" was fully enacted when he refused to fight in what he considered an unjust war in Vietnam. Ali was stripped of his world championship by the boxing authorities in 1967 for claiming conscientious objection against the war. He did this at a time when protest of the war was still unpopular, and when his stand damaged his reputation in the African American community and threatened him with a long jail term. But Ali was adamant that he would rather go to jail than fight in what he insisted was not his war. He said that he had no desire or reason to go across the world and kill Vietnamese people who had done him no harm. Ali's affirmation of spiritual principles over worldly acclaim clearly exemplifies the important aspect of spiritual choice in the Siddhartha archetype.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.

Ali continues his caring involvement and genuine friendliness with people of all stations, even while dealing with Parkinson's syndrome. He has written about the theme of healing, and he speaks to high school students from diverse backgrounds about the value of love and tolerance and of overcoming the wounds of racial hatred and prejudice.