Great crises demand profound change. That kind of change comes only from deep in our hearts and minds, from love and wisdom. Which means the profound change these times require, in each of us and in human society, must come through spirituality. It’s actually the only solution.
You don’t need me to tell you that humanity has entered a period of existential crisis. We are experiencing a trifecta of climate change, the pandemic, and dark forces that have been unleashed around the world. I write this in the third week of October, and if the unthinkable happens on November 3 in the United States, then each of these crises will become exponentially worse.
Four great moral leaders of our time—Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thich Nhat Hanh, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama—show us a way forward in this time of crisis, one based on love, wisdom, selflessness, and courage. What can we learn from these four about the kind of leadership the world needs now and what each of us needs to do—and be—ourselves? Here are a few things they have in common.
All are deeply religious. Three, in fact—King, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama—are renowned theologians. The message is that a sustained, sincere inquiry into what it means to be human and our obligation to others is the best foundation for the kind of profound changes we need—in ourselves and in society.
Each fought courageously against oppression. Whether it was colonialism, racism, war, or totalitarianism, each fought on behalf of their own suffering people before reaching global stature. It is not a coincidence they are all people of color. Great moral leaders do not often arise from positions of privilege; they are developed in struggle.
Their love is universal. While clear-sighted in their fight against what I am fine to call evil, even if they don’t, each of them preached and embodied a universal love, a beloved community of all beings, that included even their enemies. Their ability to see beyond differences and touch the common humanity in each of us is their great moral strength. And it can be ours.
Of these four great leaders, two are dead—both assassinated—and one, Thich Nhat Hanh, is felled by a stroke. That’s why today it is more important than ever to listen to the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. In this issue of Lion’s Roar, he urges us to develop a deep sense of personal responsibility for all beings and for the future of the earth. That is where profound change starts.
Great moral and spiritual leaders like Gandhi, King, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama will certainly appear in the future. Most likely they will be women this time, and people of color. Yet we don’t have to wait for them. We can’t. The love and wisdom that can change the world and meet these crises is in us now. May it blossom, for all our sakes.