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Gandhi: The Spring of Nonviolence

Monday, October 26, 2015

Modern Peace Makers

Gandhi: The Spring of Nonviolence
Monday, October 26, 2015

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

As I said last week, to create peaceful change, we must begin by remembering who we are in God. I believe this is why Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was such a powerful instrument of transformation. Thomas Merton writes of Gandhi that “the spirit of non-violence sprang from an inner realization of spiritual unity in himself. The whole Gandhian concept of non-violent action and satyagraha [literally, truth force] is incomprehensible if it is thought to be a means of achieving unity rather than as the fruit of inner unity already achieved.” [2]

Gandhi believed the core of his—and our—being is union with God. From this awareness, nonviolence must flow naturally and consistently. In his words:

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. [3]

Father John Dear, a wonderful New Mexico friend and a lifelong nonviolent activist, writes:

Gandhi’s legacy includes not just the brilliantly waged struggle against institutionalized racism in South Africa, the independence movement of India, and a ground-breaking path of interreligious dialogue, but also boasts the first widespread application of nonviolence as the most powerful tool for positive social change. Gandhi’s nonviolence was not just political: It was rooted and grounded in the spiritual, which is why he exploded not just onto India’s political stage, but onto the world stage, and not just temporally, but for all times. [4]

Gandhi said that he learned of nonviolence from Jesus (particularly in the Sermon on the Mount), the Bhagavad Gita, and the Koran. Gandhi didn’t think he was doing anything new: “Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could. In doing so, I have sometimes erred and learned by my errors. Life and its problems have thus become to me so many experiments in the practice of truth and nonviolence.” [5] This humble man learned from the greatest teachers yet wasn’t afraid to try living their truths in new and untested ways.

Gandhi wasn’t concerned with defining God, but with experiencing God’s loving presence within. This was his motivation 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.” [6] How do we “live humanly in our inhuman world?” John Dear asks. “Gandhi’s answer is always the same: steadfast, persistent, dedicated, committed, patient, relentless, truthful, prayerful, loving, active nonviolence.” [7] In other words, universal compassion must become your whole way of moving through life and not just an occasional additive to your gas tank.

Gateway to Silence:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” —Gandhi

[1] Mahatma Gandhi, edited by Louis Fischer, The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas (Vintage Books: 2002), 179.
[2] Mahatma Gandhi, edited by Thomas Merton, On Non-Violence (New Directions: 2007), 10.
[3] Ibid., 36-38.
[4] Mohandas Gandhi, edited by John Dear, Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings (Orbis Books: 2002), 17.
[5] Mahatma Gandhi, Mahatma, Vol. IV, Meeting of the Gandhi Seva Sangh, February 29 to March 6, 1936, section 139, as quoted by Krishna Kripalani, All Men Are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections of Mahatma Gandhi (Continuum: 1980), 43.
[6] Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, 199.
[7] Gandhi, Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings, 18.

Image credit: Abernathy children (Donzaleigh, Ralph David, and Juandalynn) march on the front line, followed by Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King, leading the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, Abernathy Family Photos.
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