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Updated on July 6, 2016

Immigrants Made America Great

On July 4th Americans celebrate Independence Day. We broke away from the Brits and became a new nation in 1776. Our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence reflect the ideas and philosophy of the French Enlightenment and the governing structure of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Confederacy was a group of Native American tribes originally from New York. Benjamin Franklin was an admirer of the Native peoples and he incorporated some of their ideas into the Articles of Confederation. This document was a predecessor to the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. These two documents state that we are all created equal and are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

In the Gita Krishna states that we are all equals. He encourages us to be a friend to all, even our enemies and elements of nature.

It is true that America is a nation of immigrants. We have prospered because of our diversity and the greatness of our immigrants. Many started small and large businesses and brought their philosophies and traditions to America. We have been open to different ideas and have a love of innovation in America.

Some of our great writers and philosophers have been fascinated with Hinduism and India. Henry David Thoreau and his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, admired the Gita and other Hindu texts. Both read the Gita. Thoreau read other texts because an English friend in 1855 sent him a treasure chest of Vedic texts. He read the Laws of Manu, Dharma Sastra, Vedas, Sankhya Karika and Vishnu Purana. Thoreau mentions the Gita in various passages of his texts. Gandhi admired Thoreau and accepted him as a teacher.

A century later a great Baptist minister by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. studied the non-violent philosophy of Gandhi. He first heard of Gandhi at a lecture on the satyagrapha principle in 1950 presented by Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University.

Dr. King says of Gandhi, "Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction to a powerful effective force on a large scale. Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and non-violence that I discovered the method for social reform I was seeking."

Dr. King used the principle of ahimsa and non-violence which comes from Hinduism in his collective actions in the Civil Rights Movement. Ahimsa means first do no harm. Non-violence is at the heart of the philosophy. Jesus talks about this principle in the Bible when he says that even thinking ill of your neighbor causes anger. Jesus says that anger can cause violence.

We do know now that Jesus traveled to India, Nepal and Kasmir, which is the part of India near Tibet. He had a Hindu spiritual teacher there. A Buddhist manuscript was discovered by a Russian scholar, Nicolas Notovitch, when the scholar was in the Himis Monastery outside of Leh, capital city of Ladakh. Another Russian scholar, Nicholas Roerich, came to see this manuscript. A Hindu Swami by the name of Abhedananda, a disciple of Rama Krishna, also saw the document which described this teacher from Israel. The Tibetans called him St. Issa. Issa means lord in Tibetan. Parmahansa Yogananda also wrote about this in one of his discourses on the Four Gospels called the Second Coming of Christ.

So Dr. King combined the philosophy of Jesus and Gandhi in his actions for civil rights. He was very successful and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.

When I was studying social work, we studied several schools of social change and action. Gandhi, Saul Alinsky and Jane Addams are well known change agents. Many social workers and activists use Gandhi's methods of social change and activism today.

About 10 years ago another great social change movement was sweeping America. It was the Yoga Movement. It started with fitness and has developed into a spiritual path for many Americans. Practitioners started with the physical fitness part of yoga then discovered its spiritual roots. Now you have kirtans and lectures at yoga studios on the spiritual aspects of yoga. You will see how they have incorporated ecology into their studios. The Vedas is a text book on how the eco-system works, so it is no surprise that ecology is important to yogis and yoginis. The studios recycle, compost and also use natural cleaning products in their bathrooms. Ayurvedic Medicine is encouraged which incorporates diet, doshas and exercise. My guru, Pandit Munelal Maharaj, admires their dedication in living more ecologically than some Hindus who have grown up with the tradition.

They do not drink soda pop or smoke cigarettes. They have found something better: yoga, kirtan and meditation. The Beatles motivated Americans to start meditating. Now even some of the public schools have incorporated meditation into their school day. The results are amazing. There is less violence and less juvenile type incidents when a school starts this practice. Violence can be prevented through use of meditation, conflict resolution and yoga.

America has a choice to make: to encourage immigrants or put a wall around our country. Knowing our history of immigration, we would be wise to chose encouraging our immigrants to contribute to America. Hindus from all over the world came to America for a better life, but America became greater because of these Hindu immigrants and their philosophies.



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