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Exemplars of bodhisattva Samantabhadra (continued)

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. remains one of the great American exemplars of Samantabhadra in our time. Many brave people engaged in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, but Dr. King has most fully come to symbolize the struggles for social justice of that movement. With his indomitable spirit and willingness to speak of the truth and suffering of many people, he bravely persevered while facing numerous arrests and threats, culminating in his assassination.

All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.

Dr. King's example encouraged and galvanized many to live and act with hope for a promised land of justice and equality, which he saw in the distance, even if he could not enter it himself. He forged from his Baptist background a strong vision of a racially just world. His celebrated dream of a just and harmonious "pure land," in which the very mountains and valleys ring out freedom, included a vision of all people fighting for human rights, with nonviolence, dignity, and determination.

Mahatma Gandhi

Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.

Mahatma Gandhi, the modern Indian apostle of nonviolent action and liberation, expresses many aspects of Samantabhadra. Gandhi's nonviolent campaigns for social justice, freedom for all, and independence from colonial overseers demonstrated a deliberate, dignified approach to activism for benefiting the world. He set an example that has inspired and informed many other modern movements for social justice. With his focus on the power of truth, nonharming, and love, Gandhi introduced into modern politics the possibility of political and social action and even revolution based on spiritual vision and values rather than material concerns. From his protests against racial inequity in South Africa to his national campaigns for Indian independence, Gandhi was always informed by his spiritual values in exposing the nature of the oppression he was opposing. Gandhi's many specific campaigns, enacted focused vows, illuminate Samantabhadra's practice of vow. He underwent long fasts and austerities, as rigorous as the samadhi practices of Samantabhadra, for the sake of beings suffering oppression around him.

Gandhi wanted to educate the British about the injustices they were committing while reminding them of their underlying decency. His strategy was not to vanquish his opponents but to transform them by opening their hearts and minds. He was flexible and creative in his tactics, working with the present situation and calling off otherwise successful campaigns when they succumbed to factionalism or violence. Thus he followed Samantabhadra's criteria that bodhisattva activities work only when informed by principles of compassion.

Gandhi was also adamant about the universality of his vision of freedom and dignity. He insisted that he and his wife work side by side with Untouchables to demonstrate opposition to this entrenched Indian prejudice.