Social Justice aims to create an equitable world for everyone. Spirituality lets us see everyone as equal. A core tenet of spirituality is that we are all connected. We are made up of the same consciousness. We are a part of each other.
Living, expressing and sharing spiritual values and practices is a central part of my life. Recent events have kindled my awareness around Social Justice. Looking at my own life & lives of those before me, I can't help but wonder, is spirituality an essential catalyst & support for social justice?
This article is an exploration of the intertwining of spirituality and social justice. I share stories of spiritual leaders who have catalyzed social change; and end with a few insights on how spirituality can support the movement for social justice.
I should say from the outset that my ideas and thoughts are still being informed. I am still learning. This is a reflection of where I am right now in my journey.
MLK day reminds us that the quest for a just world is far from over. Sharing this article is my way of honoring the legacy of a man of God, a man of people, and a man who continues to inspire us all.
~ Swami Shraddhanand ~
When I think of Spirituality and Social Justice being intertwined, the story of my own great great Grandfather- Swami Shraddhanand stands out. (Swami - an honorific title bestowed to one who has dedicated their life to wisdom. Shraddha - faith. Anand - Bliss).
Swami Shraddhanand was not born a saint. He was a lawyer practicing in India in 1880’s. He was an atheist in his young days. But later, deeply influenced by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, he joined Arya Samaj. The three core objectives of Arya Samaj are to eradicate Ignorance (Agyan), Indigence or Poverty (Abhav) and Injustice (Anyay). Over time, he became increasingly involved in uplifting the society through education, reform and activism, while living a life rooted in spirituality & wisdom.
He established centers for Vedic education called Gurukul, some of which exist even today. He started a reform movement which allowed Hindus to convert back to Hinduism (from Islam and Christianity). This brought relief to many Hindus who had converted to another religion because of external pressures, and now wanted to return back to their faith. Nothing like this existed before. This incurred him plenty of ire, which didn't stop him of course, but unfortunately led to his assassination in 1926.
He was a brave man. The only Hindu to speak from the pulpit of Jama Masjid, a prominent mosque in Delhi, India. Beginning his speech with vedic chants, he delivered a message of religious solidarity. And in 1919, after the massacre of Hindus by British in Jaliawala Baagh, Punjab, when no political leader would preside over the session of Congress there, he did.
Reflecting on his life, I realize that true spirituality is always valorous. Standing up for the ultimate inner truth, also means standing up for what's right in this world.
~ Guru Gobind Singh ~
Often we associate spirituality with peace and non violence. But there have been examples of Spiritual Masters who were also warriors.
Guru Gobind Singh- the 10th Guru of the Sikh community is a stellar reminder of spirituality translating as valor to serve the righteous cause. Guru Gobind Singh was a spiritual Master, a philosopher, a poet and a warrior. He became a Guru to the Sikh community at the tender age of 9 when his father was assassinated by the Mughals in the second half of the 17th century.
His Father Guru Teg Bahadur, sacrificed his life to save the Kashmiri Pandits, who sought his help against the Mughals.
Guru Gobind Singh penned multiple poems and spiritual texts. He wrote about his love for the Divine & living a life of wisdom in delicate and powerful words. Yet, the poet was also a warrior who fought his entire life to protect his people. He fought what is called the Dharm Yudh- a war that is fought not for gain, not for revenge but against injustice, to uphold human dignity and equality.
It was his spiritual faith that allowed him to carry on even when his two young sons were cemented in a wall by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who had declared war on the Sikh community. Guru Gobind Singh lost two more sons in battle, losing all 4 children to the noble cause.
~ Lord Krishna ~
Lord Krishna is revered as a Divine Incarnate. When his closest student and friend Arjuna dropped his weapon and sat down shaking in the middle of the battlefield, Krishna asked him to pick up his arms and fight. That message became the Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavad Gita is one of the most cherished spiritual texts and it was spoken in a battlefield. Can there be a more clear connection between spirituality and fight for justice?
What do these stories tell us?
These stories exemplify that Spirituality and social change are deeply enmeshed.
Many leaders who created social change in the past have been grounded in spirituality.
An unjust world drives us to seek solace within. Spiritual gatherings become a haven of peace, comfort, understanding & connection. Here, we connect with each other beyond the apparent differences, finding common ground through shared values and experiences.
Why we need a spiritual core in any social justice movement?
4 reasons come to mind.
Spiritual practices like meditation and breathwork energize us. Activism is driven by a passion to help others. But one must nourish oneself before assisting others. Taking care of ourselves through meditation can empower us for the long haul ahead.
Spiritual values provide an alternate value system to the one that we wish to replace. These values are based on commonality rather than separation. They celebrate differences and guide us to seek ways to honor life in everyone, everywhere.
Spirituality allows us to see the humanity in everyone. Even in those we disagree with, hate or rage against. Only by seeking oneness, can we truly find common ground and bring long term sustainable change that creates equity for all.
Spirituality provides faith in our darkest hours. The fight for Social Justice is not easy. There are dark days, failures as well as trauma that we need to process. When things seem dark, we can turn to the light inside to help us light the way outside.
I wish for everyone working for social change to find their core spirituality- whatever it means for them - so it becomes their source of valor, strength, fortitude and joy as they continue to work to create an equitable world.
The author also offers workshops for those engaged in social justice work to find peace & strength so they can sustain themselves in their quest for transformation, & bring all of themselves to their work. You can contact her @ firstname.lastname@example.org