“Well I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like any man, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his last speech the night before he was assassinated.
All my life I have been deeply moved by the life, work and sacrifice of Dr. King. I am very happy there is a memorial to his life in Washington DC now. His work led me to study Gandhi, which led me into a whole lot of spiritual study and investigation this life is all about. Back in the day, I marched, I sat in, I attempted to live the peace and love and truth he spoke about.
Right in this quote there are several spiritual principles. As I look again at his speeches, I can see them filled with them, with the revelations that come from a deeply spiritual life of devotion. In the first sentence he says, “I don’t know…” I frequently help people into the Sacrament of Not-Knowing, making sacred what is through not knowing, through the open mind, the beginner’s mind as Buddhists put it. Leaving behind what is known in favor of what the Unknowable can reveal in the moment is the heart of spiritual practices. To not know what will happen is to be willing for our True Nature to reveal and manifest itself purely, without any input, intervention, direction, or idea from us about what we think we know needs to be. To be deeply attentive to what is right now without any filtering, obscurations of a mind that only sees what it knows, is how you get to the next few sentences: “difficult days” “…doesn’t matter…because I’ve been to the mountaintop…and I don’t mind.”
The experience of no mind is a profound gift of pure Being. To be given in profound states of direct spiritual experience that is beyond the conceptual to come to the heights of the transcendent is the mountaintop. From that vista, it is clear that nothing matters but “to do God’s will.” In the recognition that “He’s allowed me to go up…” brings us to the end of the doer. We are given to realize, we are given the determination to practice, we are given to read spiritually inspired writings, listen to talks that help us. Through those who’ve walked the pathway before us, who’ve walked the talk, the Truth keeps marching on in us through us as us. Nothing about a long life concerned him anymore. Only being available to God’s will was important. This is a life of surrender, letting be what is, opening ever deeper to see, to listen, to be moved by the life of Spirit.
In such a life is given the inner sight to perceive the promised land. In his vision, as in the vision of Jesus the Christ, as in Moses, as in the vision of all saints and seers, sages and mystics the world over, the seeing that “we as a people will get to the promised land” is the recognition of the most profound truth. It is the realization that the movement of life itself has but one destiny: the return from whence it came. However, to get there as a people requires everything of us, the giving up of everything but the one desire. As Papaji said, “Burn up all your desires in the one desire: to be free.” Destiny is not a free ride.
“And I’m happy…not worried…not fearing” is a testament to his realization. Happiness is our natural state, is the state of our Being. When there is no self, no mind, no doer, only the deep Peace and Freedom of our essential Being, there is only happiness without worry or fear. Dr. King had already survived one assassination attempt. Whether he knew another was coming, I don’t know. He very well may have, just as Gandhi and Jesus did, and even as Moses knew he wasn’t crossing the river Jordan to enter in with the people he led so faithfully. Each must find their own way across, finally. His great leadership, his passionate speaking of the spiritual truths he lived can only take followers so far. His being sacrificed as one so deeply loved, whose vibrant expressions as a vehicle of what is real and true lives on in us today.
In a class on Institutional Racism I took back in the ‘80s getting a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Denver, a speaker was brought in from the Iliff School of Theology, part of the University of Denver and where I also took classes. He knew Dr. King, worked with him, marched with him. He let us hear a little known speech, a tape recording of a speech Dr. King gave in Chicago. I was moved to tears in such love and truth being expressed. In our discussion afterward, I asked what had happened to the movement, where was the action? In the days of Reagan/Bush things were very quiet. He replied that though it had “seemed to go underground it was very much alive and would be seen in many surprising ways.” I took his statement on faith at the time.
As much as I knew, I still little knew what it means to have one’s eyes open to see the “glory of the coming of the Lord.” Every day I am given to see more clearly the endless glory of the eternal coming of the Lord. Back in ’91 I published a book of poetry, What Lies Beyond. A poem entitled, “Fettered Ones” ends with the line, “The Promised Land is at hand today”—right Here right Now! This phrase rings throughout my being all the time. “Let freedom ring!” It informs all activities, all I think, say and do.
“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
We speed up that day by letting it ring out and sing out through us! When we dedicate ourselves to living the truth every day, learning from our failures, deeply investigating our experience, being fully present with what is in our experience with compassion, with one another with “dangerous unselfishness” as Dr. King put it. The first writing in that book is a kind of emancipation proclamation. It’s called, “I choose…” It is the resolve of a life of living Truth, being Peace, embracing Love, adoring Freedom.
“We’ve been in the mountain of war. We’ve been in the mountain of violence. We’ve been in the mountain of hatred long enough. It is necessary to move on now, but only by moving out of this mountain can we move to the promised land of justice and brotherhood and the Kingdom of God. It all boils down to the fact that we must never allow ourselves to become satisfied with unattained goals. We must always maintain a kind of divine discontent.”
This freedom ringing within, from the depths of our Consciousness that is Freedom, keeps us in a state of divine restlessness. We know somehow that life can be something more, and that keeps us moving. Don’t settle, don’t be resigned to the way it seems to be, don’t be deceived by appearances or the lie of separation and isolation anymore. We are not free until every one of us is free. “We are all bound together in a single garment of destiny.” as Dr. King put it. The bodhisattva vow is one of return to life until every single being is free and brought Home in the Light of Truth. It is seen that it is already so, and we suffer a kind of “divine discontent” with anything less. So it is up to each and every one of us, not a single soul can be left out, to let freedom ring throughout our beings, and throughout all human Being, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”