Very near the end of his final State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama said that the America he knows is a country “Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Unarmed truth. Think about it again: unarmed truth.
The President borrowed the line from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance address said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
I suspect that to Dr. King, a student of Gandhian philosophy, “unarmed truth” meant the principles of satya (truth), ahimsa (non-violence), and satyagraha (“firmness in truth”) or nonviolent resistance, which for Gandhi, were eternal principles. The Mahatma once wrote,
Mere non-killing is not enough. The active part of Non-violence is love. The law of Love requires equal consideration for all life from the tiniest insect to the highest man.”
Gandhi equated the law of love with the law of gravitity and said it will work whether we accept it or not.
We don’t use the word ‘love’ very much in Buddhism, rather we speak of loving-kindness (metta) or compassion (karuna), and yet as the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (one of the first people to refer to Gandhi as “Mahatma”) said that the way of the Buddha is “the elimination of all limits of love, the sublimation of self in a truth which is love itself.”
In Buddhism, true compassion consists of two aspects: empathy, to understand and care about the sufferings of others, and action, to remove the cause for suffering, to give peace and happiness. There is an element of sacrifice with love. There are great benefits, too. The greatest benefit is when we can benefit others.
Some people tell us the idea of universal compassion is too lofty, unrealistic. But what is the alternative? Love is not the cause of the turmoil in the world. Hate is the cause.
For others, compassion is not only the path to truth, it is truth, unarmed, unconditional, unlimited.
In his Autobiography, Gandhi stated,
The instruments for the quest of truth are as simple as they are difficult. They may appear quite impossible to an arrogant person, and quite possible to an innocent child. The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of truth.”
Only then will he or she have a glimpse of love.
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Gandhi quote at beginning from The Essential Writings, Mahatma Gandhi, Judith M. Brown,Oxford University Press, 2008, 115