The True Measures of Greatness

One of my favorite speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King is a sermon he gave called, “The Drum Major Instinct” in February, 1968 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In this sermon, Dr. King defines the “drum major instinct” as the universal desire to stand out, to be recognized, to be praised. He cites a passage from the New Testament where James and John ask Jesus if they can sit in honor next to him at his right and left hand. Jesus answered them that it was not up to him who would sit by his right and left hand but that honor would be determined by their own actions. Jesus continued by saying to them, “Whosoever is great among you, shall be your servant. And whosoever is chiefest shall be servant of all,” emphasizing to them that ones greatness is directly attributed to the service we render. 

Dr. King describes this ambition of James and John to sit with Jesus in his glory as the Drum Major Instinct, and says that this instinct is not a bad one if it is used for good.  Dr. King said, “We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade; and that the greatest issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. The Drum Major Instinct is a good instinct if we don’t distort and pervert it.  Don’t give it up!  Keep feeling the need for being important.  Keep feeling the need for being first.  But I want you to be the first in love.  I want you to be the first in moral excellence.  I want you to be the first in generosity.”   Dr. King then closed his sermon by emphasizing that he did not want to be remembered solely for his Nobel Peace Prize, awards, praise and accolades, but as someone who helped his fellow human beings.  

Love, moral excellence and generosity are the measures of true greatness. Our current culture values power, money and fame, and Dr. King’s wise reminder of the Drum Major Instinct is deeply moving and I’d say so needed within our present Culture. These are the qualities and attitudes that we develop in our Meditation and Buddhist practice which are ultimately expressed through our Service.  We don’t develop them because we “should” or because an authority tells us to, but because we see that love, moral excellence, generosity and service to one another make us feel like we lived a life worth living.  

Melissa began her path of meditation in 1998 with a small group of dedicated practitioners in Oakland, CA with her beloved, though not known, teacher named Barbara Janus who introduced her to the teachings of Sayadaw U Pandita of Burma. Her first retreat was with Sayadaw U Pandita and the profound changes she saw in herself gave her a strong faith and dedication to the practice. She practiced with Sayadaw and his monks at centers in the U.S. and Burma.  She met Bhante Khippa Pano of Vietnam in 2000 and he became her main teacher.  She continues to attend intensive meditation retreats yearly and has trained for over 10,000 hours… READ MORE

Join Melissa for:
(Hybrid: In-Person) Boundless Heart Metta Retreat Online and In-Person at Benedict Canyon Retreat House on February 9th, 2024

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