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Center for Action and Contemplation

Cultivating Nonviolence

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Cultivating Nonviolence
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, first go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. —Matthew 5:23-24

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount describes unconditional love in action. Tomorrow we’ll explore Mahatma Gandhi’s appreciation for the Sermon on the Mount. Today Eknath Easwaran continues reflecting on how nonviolence flows from our state of being:

Gandhi’s mission was not really the liberation of India. That was a tremendous achievement, but India was essentially a showcase, a stage for the world to see what nonviolence can accomplish in the highly imperfect world of real life. . . .

In today’s language, Gandhi gave us the basis for a technology of peace. He gave us tools for resolving conflicts of all kinds, which anyone can learn to use. But it is urgent to understand his message that nonviolence is a way of thinking, a way of life, not a tactic, but a way of putting love to work in resolving problems, healing relationships, and generally raising the quality of our lives. We don’t begin on the grand stage he acted on; he did not begin that way himself. He began with his personal relationships, aware that he could not expect to put out the fires of anger and hatred elsewhere if the same fires smoldered in his own home and heart. His nonviolence is not a political weapon or a technique for social change so much as it is an essential art—perhaps the essential art—of civilization.

In other words, nonviolence is a skill, just like learning to read. Love is a skill. The transformation of anger is a skill. All these can be learned. We cannot say we aren’t capable of nonviolence; all we can say is we are not willing to do what is necessary to learn.

Finally, for spiritual seekers of all persuasions, Gandhi showed us that the spiritual life need not mean retiring to a monastery or cave. It can be pursued in the midst of family, community, and a career of selfless service. Even without reference to spirituality, if we look upon the overriding purpose of life as making a lasting contribution to our family and society, Gandhi gave us a higher image for ourselves, a glorification of the innate goodness in the human being, whose joy lies in living for the welfare of all. This is Gandhi’s ultimate message for us, and no sentence of his is more significant than when he says—and remember, this is a man who never let even a word stand if he did not know it to be true from his own experience—“I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.” [1]

[1] Mahatma Gandhi, “Heading for Promiscuity,” Harijan, vol. 4, no. 34 (October 3, 1936), 269.

Eknath Easwaran, Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World (Nilgiri Press: 1972, 2011), 22-23.

Image credit: The Peacemaker (detail), Ernest L. Blumenschein, 1913, courtesy of the Anschutz Collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9
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