Memorial Service for Mahatma Gandhi, February 1, 1948, The Community Church of New York

January 30 marks the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Below is the program from the memorial service organized at the Community Church of New York by the Rev. John Haynes Holmes who was a disciple of Gandhi’s. Describing his first encounter with Gandhi in his memorial address, Holmes remarked, “How clearly do I remember the first time I saw Gandhi, in 1931, at Folkestone, on a cold, foggy and rainy day, when I waited with a few others on the pier to greet him, when, crossing the English Channel, he landed upon English shores to take his seat at the famous Round Table Conference of that day. I found myself talking with an English policeman, who suddenly pointed up the coast to the chalky cliffs of the channel, and said, “Do you know, just ‘round those cliffs, is the place where Julius Caesar came when he invaded Britain?” Then, after a moment’s silence, he turned in the other direction, and said: “Only a few miles down the coast there, beyond that fog-bank, is the place where William the Conqueror landed just before the Battle of Hastings.” Just at that moment, or so it seemed, the prow of the Mahatma’s ship came poking through the fog. And for once in my life I had an inspiration. I said within myself, “Here comes the third and greatest conqueror of Britain.” Gandhi conquered the hearts of humankind with love, truth, light, and life. He maintained throughout his life that the peace without began with the peace within. As he put it, “My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop non-violence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.”

Memorial Service in Honor of Mahatma Gandhi, February 1, 1948, The Community Church of New York

January 30 marks the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Below is the program from the memorial service organized at the Community Church of New York by the Rev. John Haynes Holmes who was a disciple of Gandhi’s. Describing his first encounter with Gandhi in his memorial address, Holmes remarked, “How clearly do I remember the first time I saw Gandhi, in 1931, at Folkestone, on a cold, foggy and rainy day, when I waited with a few others on the pier to greet him, when, crossing the English Channel, he landed upon English shores to take his seat at the famous Round Table Conference of that day. I found myself talking with an English policeman, who suddenly pointed up the coast to the chalky cliffs of the channel, and said, “Do you know, just ‘round those cliffs, is the place where Julius Caesar came when he invaded Britain?” Then, after a moment’s silence, he turned in the other direction, and said: “Only a few miles down the coast there, beyond that fog-bank, is the place where William the Conqueror landed just before the Battle of Hastings.” Just at that moment, or so it seemed, the prow of the Mahatma’s ship came poking through the fog. And for once in my life I had an inspiration. I said within myself, “Here comes the third and greatest conqueror of Britain.” Gandhi conquered the hearts of humankind with love, truth, light, and life. He maintained throughout his life that the peace without began with the peace within. As he put it, “My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop non-violence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.”

Observation of Vivekananda’s 157th Jayanti

Today marks the 157th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda was only 29 when he gave his address at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. As he put it in his lecture, “I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects…. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”

A staunch critic of Western imperialism, he railed against American Christian missionaries who traveled to India to “convert the heathens”: he remarked acerbically in one speech he gave while in America, “You train and educate and clothe and pay men to do what? — to come over to my country and curse and abuse all my forefathers, my religion, my everything. They walk near a temple and say, ‘You idolaters, you will go to hell.’ But the Hindu is mild; he smiles and passes on, saying, ‘Let the fools talk.’ And then you who train men to abuse and criticize, if I just touch you with the least bit of criticism, but with the kindest purpose, you shrink and cry: ‘Do not touch us! We are Americans; we criticize, curse, and abuse all the heathens of the world, but do not touch us, we are sensitive plants.” Like Gandhi and the vast majority of Indian people, Vivekananda recognizes that Christianity of the West was a bankrupt enterprise, deployed in the justification of slavery and empire.

Well versed in Western philosophy, logic, and science, and the greatest disciple of his master, Sri Ramakrishna, he sought to bring to the Western world the knowledge of the Vedas, the ancient learning of India. Though largely uncredited for his contributions, he, in fact, developed a new science of the mind. It was in America that he composed his major work, Raja Yoga. His role in the founding of modern psychology has been relatively unacknowledged. He had a profound influence on William James, who was one of W.E.B Du Bois’ professors at Harvard University. James met him in 1894 and again in 1896 when Vivekananda gave a lecture at Harvard, on the religions of India and comparative religions. Many of of James’s colleagues at Harvard (and Du Bois himself who drew on Hindu philosophy constantly in his own work) and the wider community of Cambridge, MA were drawn to the truth of Vivekananda’s teachings about religion, science, and the freedom of the soul. One sees the influence of Vivekananda in James’s 1902 work The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, particularly in the connections between religion and neurology, the reality of the unseen, and the fundamental unity of the self and the universe.

Swami Vivekananda, Religion and Science

Sw. Vivekananda, Dec 2019

Experience is the only source of knowledge. In the world, religion is the only source where there is no surety, because it is not taught as a science of experience. This should not be. There is always, however, a small group of men who teach religion from experience. They are called mystics, and these mystics in every religion speak the same tongue and teach the same truth. This is the real science of religion. As mathematics in every part of the world does not differ, so the mystics do not differ. They are all similarly constituted and similarly situated. Their experience is the same; and this becomes law.

In the church, religionists first learn a religion, then begin to practise it; they do not take experience as the basis of their belief. But the mystic starts out in search of truth, experiences it first, and then formulates his creed. The church takes the experience of others; the mystic has his own experience. The church goes from the outside in; the mystic goes from the inside out.

Religion deals with the truths of the metaphysical world just as chemistry and the other natural sciences deal with the truths of the physical world. The book one must read to learn chemistry is the book of nature. The book from which to learn religion is your own mind and heart. The sage is often ignorant of physical science, because he reads the wrong book—the book within; and the scientist is too often ignorant of religion, because he too reads the wrong book—the book without.

All science has its particular methods; so has the science of religion. It has more methods also, because it has more material to work upon. The human mind is not homogeneous like the external world. According to the different nature, there must be different methods. As some special sense predominates in a person—one person will see most, another will hear most—so there is a predominant mental sense; and through this gate must each reach his own mind. Yet through all minds runs a unity, and there is a science which may be applied to all. This science of religion is based on the analysis of the human soul. It has no creed.

No one form of religion will do for all. Each is a pearl on a string. We must be particular above all else to find individuality in each. No man is born to any religion; he has a religion in his own soul. Any system which seeks to destroy individuality is in the long run disastrous. Each life has a current running though it, and this current will eventually take it to God. The end and aim of all religions is to realise God. The greatest of all training is to worship God alone. If each man chose his own ideal and stuck to it, all religious controversy would vanish.

Rev. Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Litany and Words in Memoriam

7 April 1968

San Francisco, Calif.

We thought it rather important that at a time when all of the thought and imagination of people around the earth will be concerned about the image, the contribution, the lifestyle of this very remarkable human being that it would be well for us in our simple service in memory to call attention to the children. So that it is with this intimate, primary, personal touch that I invite you to read with me the litany. I am sorry that there aren’t enough for everybody who is standing but those who have them have them.

We want a special part of this service dedicated to you. During these days you will be hearing over and over again how great was your father and how truly wonderful are your mother and all the rest who make up the house of Martin Luther King. But we in San Francisco think of the four of you in this moment and send warm love and appreciation.

[All:] We send warm love and affection to Yolanda, Martin III, Dexter, and Bernice Albertine.

[HT]: We thank you for being your father’s children, for without you he could not have sustained his inspiration to struggle on so courageously. You were secure in his thought at all times. Remember when he spoke of building a better world for you in the picture of his dream that day, August 28th, before the thousands assembled in Washington.

[All:] For your sake we rededicate ourselves this day to the imperative to make the dream come true.

[HT:] He would want his eldest to greet the sunrise each morning. You, Yolanda, are lovely, kind, and beautiful. We need so much of what you are in our world today. Your father will be so happy to see you developing year after year into a full-blown rose. Each day we will think of you with the rising sun.

[All:] We shall think of you each day with the rising sun.

[HT:] Martin the III has a wonderful heritage. His face shines with optimism and goodwill. He loves people and makes friends. He was so proud that his father could go so many places and in his son’s own words, “continue helping people all the time.” Whatever your life work happens to be, young Martin—your father would want you to choose any field that you like best—you will carry on in this worthy tradition of loving and helping people.

[All:] And we shall continue to join you, Martin, in this tradition of loving and helping people.

[HT:] Dexter, named for the church in Montgomery, Alabama where your father’s work began. Like your father you were born in the first month of the year and you are a very special person, too. You will have rich seven-year-old memories of things your father left for all people which his death cannot destroy. Keep a singing heart that the future is ever bright for you just as your father made it.

[All:] We join to make the future brighter for you, Dexter, and for all children everywhere.

[HT:] Bright-eyed Bernice, just five years old a little more than a week ago. You were the last of the children and you brought so much delight and happiness to your father and to his many friends.

[All:] We send our love and thoughts to all of you each day with the rising and the setting sun.

Now I’d like for us to sing as a part of this dedication, the hymn. The tune may not be familiar to you, so that those of you who have the text before you, sing with your hearts. It doesn’t matter what your voice sounds like. This is the mood and the spirit.

Behold a Sower! From afar

He goeth forth with might;

The rolling years His furrows are,

His seed, the growing light;

For all the just His Word is sown,

It springeth up I;

The tender blade is hope’s young dawn, The harvest, love’s new day.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness ‘til all our strivings cease. Take from our souls the strain and stress and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace. Amen.

The words in memoriam are divided into three parts. The first is a paragraph from a very remarkable book written many years ago by Gaius Glenn Atkins called Pilgrims of the Lonely Road and the paragraph has a very important insight to share.

Life does not grow simple with the passing years, but its deeper needs are unchanging. The secret of peace is not to be sought at the end of the road, but in the spirit in which we journey. It is to be sought in the consciousness of the sustaining love of a God who is committed to real participation in all our strife; who does not release us from the battle, but who shares the fight; who does not set us free from the possibility of pain and tears, but who feels the hurt of our wounds, the salt bitterness of our sorrow; who spends Himself, not only with us, but for us, and in the travail of redemptive passion anticipates the victories of the spirit. And finally whatever pilgrimage we undertake must be undertaken, in spite of the interior loneliness of all great spiritual processes. We are never to forget that we are all so tied up in one bundle that peace and reconciliation in which others are not involved are quite impossible. The note of service must be deepened and in our care for those who lie wounded or broken along the road we shall forget our own wounds and our own wearinesses. So conceived, so reinforced, life is never impossible, but does indeed become an adventure whose greatness is its own best justification and whose difficulties may become for the faithful and the discerning but stairs of ascent to radiant and to triumphant regions.

Now the second part is a statement which I shall read to you but which I prepared for the KPFK station in Los Angeles and it occurred there as a tape. But it summarizes what I wanted to

say and what I felt and I want to be sure that you have it because in part three I want to interpret certain facets of the impact of Martin Luther King’s legacy. So I’ll read this in toto:

Martin Luther King, Jr. is dead. This is the simple and utter fact. A few brief hours ago his voice could be heard in the land. From the ends of the earth, from the hearts of our cities, from the firesides of the humble and the mighty, from the cells of a thousand prisons, from the deep central place in the soul of America, the cry of anguish can be heard.

There are no words with which to eulogize this man. Martin Luther King was the living epitome of a way of life that rejected physical violence as the life style of a morally responsible people. His assassination reveals the cleft deep in the psyche of the American people, the profound ambivalence and ambiguity of our way of life. Something deep within us rejects nonviolent direct action as a dependable procedure for effecting social change. And yet, against this rejection something always struggles, pushing, pushing, always pushing with another imperative, another demand. It was King’s fact that gave to this rejection flesh and blood, courage and vision, hope and enthusiasm. For indeed, in him the informed conscience of the country became articulate. And tonight what many of us are feeling is that we—all of us—must be that conscience wherever we are living, wherever we are functioning, and wherever we are behaving.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to our time and to the creative process of American society is not to be found in his amazing charismatic power over masses of people, nor is it to be found in his peculiar and challenging courage with its power to transform the fear-ridden black men and women with a strange new valor, nor is it to be found in the gauntlet which he threw down to challenge the inequities and brutalities of a not quite human people—but rather in something else. Always he spoke from within the context of his religious experience, giving voice to an ethical insight which sprang out of his profound brooding over the meaning of his Judeo-Christian heritage. And this indeed is his great contribution to our time. He was able to put at the center of his own personal religious experience a searching, ethical awareness. Thus, organized religion as we know it in our society found itself with its back against the wall. To condemn him, to reject him, was to reject the ethical insight of the faith it proclaimed. And this was new. Racial prejudice, segregation, discrimination were not regarded by him as merely un- American, undemocratic, but as mortal sin against God. For those who are religious it awakens guilt; for those who are merely superstitious it inspires fear. And it was this fear that pulled the trigger of the assassin’s gun that took his life.

Tonight there is a vast temptation to strike out in pain, horror, and anger; riding just under the surface are all the pent-up furies, the accumulation of generations of cruelty and brutality. A way must be found to honor our feelings without dishonoring him, whose sudden and meaningless end has called them forth. May we harness the energy of our bitterness and make it available to the unfinished work which Martin has left behind. It may be, it just may be, that what he was unable to bring to pass in his life can be achieved by the act of his dying. For this there is eloquent precedence in human history. He was killed in one sense because mankind is not human yet. May he live because all of us in America are closer to becoming human than we ever were before.

I express my deep compassion for his wife, his children, and his mother, his father, and his brother. May we all remember that the time and the place of a man’s life on the earth are the time and the place of his body, but the meaning of his life is as vast, as creative, and as redemptive as his gifts, his times, and the passionate commitment of all his powers can make it.

Our words are ended, and for a long, waiting moment, the rest is silence.

That’s the end of part two.

Now for part three, which is more of commentary, I must look to see about the order because we had to combine this service into a regular worship service at the church.

If I were to use a text that depicts in my mind the impact of this man, it would include the words from Jeremiah which were read for you. But I would also add to it the line from the book of Hebrews characterizing the life of Abraham: “He looked for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God.”

I am one of a few and maybe the only person who was a member of the faculty of the Graduate School of Theology at Boston University when Dr. King took his doctorate degree, who did not have him in the classroom. I think that’s a mark of distinction. We had contacts, but our most primary contact was sitting around my television watching the World Series. That was . . . I’ve known him and his family, his mother and his father, for many years. And Mrs. Thurman and my relationship to those two young people was a personal and primary one. It was not involved in the light and the drama. My concern was about the state of his spiritual life all the time. And I felt that it was my relationship with him that gave me this right to do it, while Mrs. Thurman’s interest was always in the little things involving the children and the wife of a man who had to live so much of his private life in public. And this is a great agony. I understand from one of his biographers that a book that I wrote in 1949 was very influential on his thinking: Jesus and the Disinherited. But I did not hear this from him and I do not lay claim to it, but lest someone may know that it is in this biographical statement you will think that I am trying to be falsely modest by not mentioning it, so I’ve done it and now I can go on with my work.

Martin King, in my thought, has given a heritage to us in terms of moral leadership and this is very commonplace to say. And my—our—minds are so full of the agony of this and all the things that have been stirred up and are spilling over as a result of this act of violence that it is very difficult to have a sober mind and look at the role of this man in American society. For what we have lacked for so long a time in terms of the social struggle in America has been an authentic voice of ethical and moral awareness and responsibility that was not maudlin and sentimental and sticky.

Twice, in my lifetime, two presidents of the United States have had fateful moments to be the moral voice to—how to say this—to articulate a moral conscience that had been set up as it were, by the course of political and legal events. First, in 1954 when the Supreme Court decision having to do with public education in this country, when that decision was rendered and for the first time in the history of our country, the federal government, the Supreme Court of the United States, had said in clear, simple, direct language that the will of the American people was against the walls that separated and divided; that this is the true genius of the spirit of the American people. Up to that time it had been possible for a man to be a man of goodwill, to work carefully to improve conditions for the disinherited and for the underprivileged without ever dealing in himself with the question of segregation. Within the zones of agreement he could improve things and help and be very useful and in many ways redemptive without ever having in his own spirit to deal with the moral issue that was involved. But when the Court decided that segregation was against the formal will and intent of the country as expressed in its constitution, then a man who spoke on behalf of improving conditions had, before his voice could be heard, had to say where he stood on segregation or integration. So the liberal man in the South for instance, found himself in a pocket and he needed some voice that transcended the conflict, the pro-ing and the con-ing of the social issue, who could say clearly, this is the articulation of the formal will of the people and I as the representative of all the people, elected by the people; I voice that. And Mr. Eisenhower was silent. And into the vacuum two things happened. Liberals had to run to cover, and into that vacuum, bigotry, all the things moved. And a long trail of events flowed from that, the failure of the moral word. Petrarch in one of his letters says that if those whom it behooves to speak are silent then let any man speak that the voice may be heard; the voice of truth may be heard.

Now the second; I leap way ahead, the second happened very recently. When as a result of deep concern, the President of the United States appointed a commission and that commission worked hard—it had a cross-section of all kinds of American opinion on it, a cross-section of the sections of the country represented on it—and when the report was given and once again we needed a moral voice that transcended Republican, Democrat, black, white to say this statement in essence speaks for the soul of America. And it is the responsibility of all of us in America to relate its insight to our life on our street where we are functioning. And there was no voice for reasons that are personal and private or political. I do not know. I do not judge. All I know is that another vacuum was created and the future was betrayed again. And into that vacuum this time, something else moved, and that thing that moved was black power.

Now, Dr. King had a very deep feeling about what was at work in the souls of people that would cause them to seek quickly violence as a way for answering and dealing with their problem. He was very mindful of the statement written many years, perhaps even, I guess, yes, before he was born, by the Spanish philosopher Gasset when he talks about violence and what violence is and how violence belongs as a part of the human situation; he says that violence operates always on an ascending and descending scale in human life or in a man’s thought and reaction to the events of his life. And he says that the difference between the barbarian and the civilized man is that the barbarian resorts to violence as soon as his will is frustrated while the civilized man postpones violence until he has exhausted all other possibilities. But violence never leaves the horizon of human thought. Now this is, Dr. King saw this, and he felt that nonviolence as a metaphysic—and hear my words please, I realize I am talking too long but I can’t help it now—he realized that nonviolence could not become for him a metaphysical attitude; it could not become for him a technique merely for social change. And let’s think carefully for a minute about this. See, it is very simple—it is not very simple, it is possible—for a man to embrace love, to embrace nonviolence, and to establish within himself psychological distance between where he stands and this force that he is manipulating and use it as an instrument for effecting social change in attitudes all around him while he himself will remain untouched and uninvolved. I think that a man can project hate as a technique and not hate; I think a man can project love as a technique and not love.

Now, Dr. King saw this, so that he insisted that always coupled with nonviolence there must be the other words: direct action. There must be confrontation; there must be always the test, the checking out so that nonviolence would not degenerate either into a philosophy merely or into a metaphysic or even into a manipulating ethic.

Now, he may have been mistaken, you see, he may have been mistaken. But a man is under obligation to make of his life one thing. And this is what he did. And that is why he could speak to people of all kinds, and when he went among them they felt that here was a man who made it possible for them in their little world where they were, to be authentic human beings.

That’s all. This was his great gift. And it says to us, we cannot change the world by any single act that we do; it may be that we cannot even take the gun out of a simple, single man’s hand; it may be that we can’t. But one thing we can do. We can see to it that the things that we condemn in our society this morning do not live in us, in us, in us. That I may not be able to weigh much, but all that goes against community in my world will feel the stubborn inches of my thumb. This I can do where I am.

And then the second thing and I’m through now. The second thing is, all that you have felt and experienced of fellowship and love, of friendship, of community, of holiness in human relations—these things are still true. They are still true. It is so easy to forget that what you experienced in the light is no longer true because you are in the darkness. What you experienced in the light remains true and you must hold this until the light breaks again. And if you do that, you will discover in ways that you cannot quite understand, that it is the intent of life that we shall all be one people. For better or for worse we are tied together in one bundle and I can never be what I must be until you are what you must be; for better or for worse this is the only option. And to reject it is to reject life. And to reject life not merely is to deny the validity of the life of this tremendous human being but it is to make God repent that he ever gave us a chance to live. And let us not do that.

May we go forth from this place in the spot where we are, in the places where we live, [to] speak love; to hate if you can find the word. But search yourself until the word is born in you and then give it forth and thus you will see just over your horizon, or feel a spirit nudging you on the elbow, and this will be his spirit. And I thank God that those of us who are still living have something he didn’t have and that is the benefit of his example. This separates us and gives us the kind of opportunity unlike anything which he ever knew.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness ‘til all our strivings cease. Take from our souls the strain and stress and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace, Thy peace.

Howard Thurman, A Prayer For The New Year

Grant that I may pass through

the coming year with a faithful heart.

There will be much to test me and

make weak my strength before the year ends.

In my confusion I shall often say the word that is not true and do the thing of which I am ashamed.

There will be errors in the mind

and great inaccuracies of judgment…

In seeking the light,

I shall again and again find myself

walking in the darkness.

I shall mistake my light for Your light

and I shall drink from the responsibility of the choice I make.

Nevertheless, grant that I may pass through the coming year with a faithful heart.

May I never give the approval of my heart to error, to falseness, to vanity, to sin.

Though my days be marked

with failures, stumblings, fallings,

let my spirit be free

so that You may take it

and redeem my moments

in all the ways my needs reveal.

Give me the quiet assurance

of Your Love and Presence.

Grant that I may pass through

the coming year with a faithful heart.

(Meditations Of The Heart)