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Being Peaceful Change
Being Peaceful Change

Nonviolence: A Spiritual Superpower

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Being Peaceful Change

Nonviolence: A Spiritual Superpower
Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Be the change you wish to see in the world. —Gandhi

My good friend, John Dear, is a devoted student of Mohandas Gandhi and has dedicated his life to the promotion of nonviolence through his activism and writing. John writes:

In his search for God and truth, Mohandas Gandhi [1869–1948] concluded that he could never hurt or kill anyone, much less remain passive in the face of injustice, imperialism, and war. Instead, Gandhi dedicated himself to the practice and promotion of nonviolence. He concluded that nonviolence is not only the most powerful force there is; it is the spiritual practice most neglected and most needed throughout the world.

“Nonviolence means avoiding injury to anything on earth, in thought, word, or deed,” Gandhi told an interviewer in 1935. But for Gandhi, nonviolence meant not just refraining from physical violence interpersonally and nationally, but refraining from the inner violence of the heart as well. It meant the practice of active love toward one’s oppressors and enemies in the pursuit of justice, truth, and peace. “Nonviolence cannot be preached,” he insisted. “It has to be practiced.” For fifty years, Gandhi sought to practice nonviolence at every level in life, in his own heart, among his family and friends, and publicly in his struggle for equality in South Africa and freedom for India. It was the means by which he sought the ends of truth; in fact, he later concluded that the ends were in the means, or perhaps they were even the same. In other words, the practice of nonviolence is not just the way to peace; it is the way to God.

Gandhi’s nonviolence was a religious duty. It stood at the center of his spirituality, all his spiritual teachings, and his daily spiritual practice. Gandhi concluded that God is nonviolent, and that God’s reign is the reign of nonviolence. “Nonviolence assumes entire reliance upon God,” Gandhi taught. “When the practice of nonviolence becomes universal, God will reign on earth as God reigns in heaven.” After years of studying the various religions, Gandhi concluded too that nonviolence is at the heart of every religion. It is the common ground of all the world’s religions, the hidden ground of peace and love underlying every religion. . . .

Gandhi thought that the force of nonviolence was more powerful than all nuclear weapons combined and that if we all practiced perfect active nonviolence, we could unleash a spiritual explosion more powerful than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. “I am certain that if we want to bring about peace in the world,” Gandhi told a group of visitors a few months before his death, “there is no other way except that of nonviolence.”

“Nonviolence is the greatest and most active force in the world,” Gandhi wrote. . . . “My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop nonviolence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.”

Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings, ed. John Dear (Orbis Books: 2002), 94–95.

Epigraph: Gandhi as quoted by Arun Gandhi in The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi (Jeter Publishing: 2017), 9.

Image credit: Self-Portrait (detail), Malvin Gray Johnson, 1934, Smithsonian American Museum, Washington, DC, USA.
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