Courageous Nonviolence

Nonviolence

Courageous Nonviolence
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Love is the strongest force the world possesses and yet it is the humblest imaginable. —Mahatma Gandhi [1]

Living a nonviolent life is no easy task; it is not simply pacifism. It requires courageous love, drawn from the very source of our being. As Mark Kurlansky explains, “Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence.” [2]

Thomas Merton writes, “Non-violence implies a kind of bravery far different from violence.” [3] Our dualistic minds see evil as black and white and that the only solution is to eliminate evil. Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that I am also the enemy and my response is part of the whole moral equation. I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself. I must embrace my enemy just as much as I must welcome my own shadow. Both acts take real and lasting courage.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) coined a new term, satyagraha, because “passive resistance” didn’t capture his mission. Satyagraha combines the Sanskrit word sat—that which is, being, or truth—with graha—holding firm to or remaining steadfast in. It is often translated as “truth force” or “soul force.”

To create peaceful change, we must begin by remembering who we are in God. Gandhi believed the core of our being is union with God. From this awareness, nonviolence must flow naturally and consistently:

Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. . . . If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. . . . Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. . . . If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken. [4]

Regardless of what name we call the divine, Gandhi believed that experiencing God’s loving presence within is central to nonviolence. This was his motivation and sustenance as he fasted for peace, as he embraced the untouchables (whom he called “Children of God”), as he advocated against nuclear weapons. Gandhi writes: “We have one thousand names to denote God, and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac.” [5] Practicing loving presence must become our entire way of life, or it seldom works as an occasional tactic.

Gateway to Silence:
Love your enemies.

References:
[1] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas, ed. Louis Fischer (Vintage Books: 2002), 179.
[2] Mark Kurlansky, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library: 2008), 6.
[3] Thomas Merton, “Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant,” Gandhi on Non-Violence, ed. Thomas Merton (New Directions: 2007), 21.
[4] Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi on Non-Violence, ed. Thomas Merton (New Directions: 2007), 36-38.
[5] Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, 199.

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