The purpose of this article is to address what is so evidently on many peoples’ minds. It is challenging to provide spiritual insight when the psychic tsunami sweeping the country and world vacillates between condemning or condoning riots and violence as a means to promote societal change.
Often cited are these remarks by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. In a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
Dr. King also said, “Every time a riot develops, it helps George Wallace.” (For those who don’t know, Wallace was a governor of Alabama and presidential candidate in 1968 who opposed racial integration.)
This is not about taking sides or being clever in justifying positions. Spiritual practices are deeper than the shifting circumstances of any group in any period of time. This isn’t the first time in history that inequity has existed, nor will it be the last. And, yes, individuals and groups have suffered grievously as a result. Nor is it a justification for such.
Note the following: “Whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate as an Avatar. In visible form I appear to destroy evil and re-establish virtue” (Bhagavad-Gita IV: 7-8).
Clearly the Divine is vested in the world drama. Yet, no World Teacher has counseled anything contrary to the laws of harmony and righteousness. All situations are platforms upon which individual spiritual battles must be fought, hence the reason for the Golden Rule, the 10 Commandments, the Yamas and Niyamas. Each addresses the need for right behavior, regardless of the hypnotic intoxication of world dynamics.
Spiritual principles reflect cosmic laws that don’t conform to situational application or human approval. This doesn’t minimize the desire to alter social conditions if one feels inwardly directed to do so. But, it changes how one acts, because there is a deeper foundation of higher understanding at play.
Lasting change involves self-control harnessed to practices that foster harmony, righteousness — and above all else — Self-realization. Without these remaining constant, all spiritual practices are but superficial window dressing that can be discarded if not deemed situationally convenient.