“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Did you know that in 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to India to study Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of non-violent social change? Even though Gandhi had been assassinated 11 years prior, Dr. King was able to meet with many leaders in India to learn about these principles. And these principles stemmed from the teachings of Yoga.
You see, the Bhagavad Gita is considered to be one of the main (if not THE main) yoga texts in the world. And Gandhi studied the Bhagavad Gita regularly. He often turned to this text when he dealt with the struggles of fighting for independence.
The Bhagavad Gita describes the four paths of Yoga, and how each helps you on your journey towards greater understanding of your Self. One path is not necessarily better than another; ultimately, a balance between the four is optimal, but you may feel drawn towards one path more than the others. Here is a brief description of the four paths:
- Raja Yoga – The path of meditation. On this path, you learn how to slow down an overactive mind, and to let go of attachment and ego.
- Jnana Yoga – The path of deep inquiry to the nature of the Self. This is sometimes considered to be the most difficult path because it moves beyond intellect and requires the mind to be both rational and open.
- Bhakti Yoga – The path of devotion. It’s the path that deepens your personal relationship with the Divine.
- Karma Yoga – The path of selfless service. It’s the yoga of action, which spurs you to act selflessly in service of others.
When you reflect on these yogic paths, it’s easy to see that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. most definitely lived the life of a yogi – he was one who pursued truth, who examined himself deeply, who was devoted to God…and most notably, his constant selfless acts in service of others.
His main yogic path, I believe, was the Karma path. He not only dedicated his life to the service of others, but he also knew that the suffering of one is the suffering of all, and that when you harm one person, you are also harming yourself and all others.
He may not have practiced yoga in the way most westerners think of it — I can’t swear on it, but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have found him on a yoga mat and moving through the Sun Salutations, but who knows? However, the four yogic paths involve the mind, not the body. The physical practice of yoga was created to help in being better able to access and train the mind. And Dr. King was the embodiment of a mindful Yogi by practicing Karma Yoga every single day of his life.
Namaste and Have a Sparkling Day!