A Baptist Preacher’s Buddhist Teacher
Dr. Lawrence E. Carter Sr., the founding dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College, discusses how his interfaith journey with Daisaku Ikeda made him a better Christian
In Middleway Press’ latest title, A Baptist Preacher’s Buddhist Teacher, Dr. Lawrence E. Carter Sr., the founding dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College, discusses how his interfaith journey with Daisaku Ikeda made him a better Christian. The book will be released on Nov. 1 for $14.95 at major bookstores, including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Please note that this book will not be available on the SGI website or most SGI-USA bookstores. The following is an excerpt from pp. 206–210.
Martin Luther King Jr. traveled far to learn about love, and he traveled far to put it into action. King did not just hear the call to love; he strove throughout his days to put it into practice, even in the midst of his most difficult social battles. When King walked into a room, he conferred love on all the people in the room. He knew the sacredness of all human life and decided to come from a place of love. His strategy was to live from the inside out, embodying the values he preached. When he did not see those values in the world around him, this only emboldened his determination to embody them and bestow them upon the world.
We have to be free of negativity in order to give love. But we must have self-love in order to do this. King made an intention to give love no matter what negativity or violence he met. He respected everyone’s humanity, even affirming the personhood of his oppressors.
In a famous sermon delivered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957, King asked, “How do you go about loving your enemies?” The answer he gave was: “In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self.
And I am sure that seems strange to you, that I start out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning with a look at self.”
For King, as with [Daisaku] Ikeda, the act of self-reflection is not some narcissistic act. It is an honest appraisal of ourselves and our motives and how our behavior has affected others.
. . . Loving our enemies requires us to respond to a higher moral calling. It requires us to reflect on ourselves and change our behavior. It is an act of self-mastery. In this sense, love, in the Kingian sense, requires action and courage. It was Carl G. Jung who said, “The world hangs on a thin thread; and that thread is the human psyche.” Our capacity to subdue hatred and to overcome violence in the world is first and foremost the effort to do this within our own lives.
When Ikeda and King talk about peace, they are talking about a world free of violence that is an expression of the effort within each of us to overcome our own impediments. What is the basis for genuine peace? It is total freedom, total inner freedom.
We humans cannot experience peace unless we are free: free of addiction; free of anger or grudge; free of anxiety, hopelessness, fear, or depression; free of victimhood; free from being unforgiving; free from wanting to exact revenge; free from self-deception; free from denial, projection and avoidance. Freedom means being free from self-imposed negative beliefs, from old stories that limit and confine us. When we are free of these things, all of life has the opportunity to manifest as love.
The totality of Ikeda’s commitment to this process and his firm belief in its capacity to effect peace in real and concrete terms is contained in the following quote in the preface to his novel The Human Revolution: “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.”
In other works, when Ikeda discusses what this “great human revolution” entails, he says that “our task is to establish a firm inner world, a robust sense of self that will not be swayed or shaken by the most trying of circumstances or pressing adversity. Only when efforts to reform society have as their point of departure the reformation of the inner life—human revolution—will they lead us with certainty to a world of lasting peace and true human security.”
What Ikeda refers to as self-reformation is another way of referring to our human aspiration to seek to live truest to what is best within us. But this effort to realize our fullest potential necessarily includes a call to help one another—our friends and neighbors, and even our so-called enemies, whom we are called to love just as we would love ourselves.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be; and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
In Ikeda and the SGI, I see the ultimate spiritual pragmatists, equipping people in all walks of life with the spiritual texts, tools and community to do the work that brings about personal realization of enlightenment, collective action and advocacy for peace. In so doing, they demonstrate a spiritual genius that I have not seen anywhere else. Through my association with them, I have been delivered from the days when I despaired over my inability to perpetuate the legacy of my mentor Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence.
One of the most significant things the SGI has done for the King Chapel is move with speed, urging me to overcome my feelings of powerlessness and regret to believe that now is the time to spread the good news of nonviolence, happiness, care, harmony, cooperation, justice, sustainability and peace. The SGI’s presence at the chapel is like the eagle who flew over the chicken yard: I felt the wind from its mighty wings. They lifted me from inertia and frustration, and propelled me into vibrant action. Daisaku Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai International gave my faith wings of renewed hope that peace, even in the midst of these increasingly terrifying, violent and war-mongering times, is a drumbeat worth marching to.