Buddhist nun Gen Kelsang Varahi
Buddhist nun Gen Kelsang Varahi speaks Wednesday night on the campus of Montana State University for the 2011 Martin Luther King, Jr. lecture.

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Martin Luther King Jr. achieved incredible changes in American law and society, yet it all sprang from what was within his mind, a philosophy based on love, compassion and wisdom, a Buddhist nun told a Bozeman crowd Wednesday.

Gen Kelsang Varahi gave the annual Martin Luther King lecture at Montana State University, speaking to about 400 students, professors and community members.

Varahi, who wore long gold and rust colored robes and close-cropped hair, is a former doctor who became a Buddhist teacher. She now is resident teacher at the Vajrayogini Buddhist Center in Washington, D.C.

King was a hero, who led a movement that took America out of a "very shameful" position to one we can be proud of, she said.

"We can be like Martin Luther King," Varahi said, if we train our minds to react with compassion and wisdom.

King embraced Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance. That meant fighting racial segregation and hatred with peaceful bus boycotts and refusing to patronize prejudiced businesses. When his followers were attacked and jailed, King taught them to react without violence.

The key to the civil rights movement was, she said, "They did it with love."

King's use of the practical philosophy of nonviolent resistance showed, she said, "It worked. It showed us the power of love."

It's hard to love people, especially those who are harming you, she said. The way to do so is to train the mind to develop affection for others and to see that other people are just like us.

"Just like me, you wish to be happy," Varahi said. "Just like me, you wish to be free from suffering.... We are equal."

By practicing that insight, she said, we can "get to the point we actually help others, and develop world peace."

The way to train the mind to react with love instead of anger is through meditation, she said. "It is not tuning out, it's tuning in."

Even when someone is harming us, she said, we can decide to view it positively, that they are helping us, challenging us to be patient and compassionate, teaching us something, Varahi said. "It's a kindness."

King realized that you cannot separate the ends and means, she said. "Over time, violent methods do not result in peace."

Asked about how nonviolence would stack up against violent dictators like Hitler and Stalin who killed millions of people, Varahi said in the short term, it appears that such dictators are winning. But in the long term, violence does not pan out.

"All the dictators, where are their empires now? They're gone," she said. Nonviolence does not mean not taking risks, she added. King and Gandhi were assassinated. Still, she said, "Love has more power in the long term."

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.



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