“Let no one say that he is a follower of Gandhi . . . You are no followers but fellow students, fellow pilgrims, fellow seekers, fellow workers.”
M. K. Gandhi


Book Review: Joseph Lelyveld’s Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India

by Joseph Geraci

Dustwrapper illustration courtesy Knopf; aaknopf.com

There is an old Indian saying that could very well have been intended for Gandhi:  “There’s no one more difficult to live with than a saint.” As portrayed in Joseph Lelyveld’s biography (1) Gandhi was indeed a difficult “saint”, husband, and father. He told his wife and children many times that community came first, and often lived apart from them, sometimes for years on end. His vow of celibacy (brahmacharya), he writes in his Autobiography, was taken in agreement with his wife, after he had already decided on it. When his second son Manilal wanted to marry, as Joseph Lelyveld reports, Gandhi was quite “crotchety” about it, inveighing that he could not “imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of man and woman,” not precisely the sort of remark one would hope a father would make to a son anticipating a wedding night. The eldest son, Harilal was unstable, alcoholic, and was accused of embezzling. In the 1930s he converted to Islam, only six months later to reconvert to Hinduism, as if torn between defying or pleasing his father. Gandhi surely must bear some responsibility for his son’s dysfunction.

Gandhi’s attitude towards nonviolence also has its contradictions. If from the beginning of his career as a lawyer in South Africa he was committed to nonviolent resistance, that is, satyagraha, persistence in the truth, he also in South Africa held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the British militia, if as a noncombatant. He famously wrote, “Where there is a choice only between cowardice and violence I would advise violence.” And later he was also to say, “I would risk violence a thousand times rather than the emasculation of a whole race.” Lelyveld questions whether Gandhi’s numerous satyagraha campaigns had any lasting effect. His attempts to change the plight of the untouchables, his efforts to prevent the division of India and violence between Muslims and Hindus, were largely unsuccessful. Many scholars have argued that satyagraha was only one of many factors that led to Indian independence. Was the idea of nonviolence a greater achievement than any result?

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Pacifist Communities in Britain in the Second World War

by Andrew Rigby

Peace Pledge Union poster courtesy hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk

If we got, say, a million voters actively insisting that they’ll never take part in any war,
the Government would have to begin to take notice
.” Dick Sheppard. (1)

Such was the optimistic hope and political strategy of Dick Sheppard, the founder and moving spirit of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), writing in 1936. His faith in the possibility of creating a pacifist movement of such a scale that no government could afford to ignore its influence was not totally unfounded at that time. The PPU had a membership of over 118,000, with some 300 local groups in existence, and a weekly newspaper (Peace News) with sales of approximately 6,000. The origins of the PPU date back to October 1934, when Sheppard published his Peace Letter requesting people to contact him who shared his pacifist determination to renounce war and never support or sanction another one. The burgeoning growth of the PPU in those pre-war days, as the New Statesman observed, lay in its appeal “not only to the convinced absolutist pacifist but to the large number of people with only slight political knowledge but with a recent realization of the fearful imminence of war, who are fascinated by the direct simplicity of the crusade.” (2)

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Beginning with Witness: An Interview with Mark Johnson

by Nathan Schneider

Peacebuilding illustration courtesy myzimdialogue.com

Preface: Mark Johnson was Executive Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (2007-2013), an organization that stood in opposition to two world wars and helped foster the civil rights movement’s ethic of nonviolence, in addition to being an early advocate for interfaith dialogue. Under his leadership, the FOR learned to find a place for itself amidst the proliferation of institutions—both religious and secular, governmental and civil—that claim the mantle of making peace. The interview was conducted in December 2009. Please see the notes at the end for further information and acknowledgments. NS

Nathan Schneider: Since its founding, how has the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) been involved in promoting peace around the world?

Mark Johnson: The Fellowship of Reconciliation began in 1914, when an English Quaker and German Lutheran agreed that they wouldn’t let the emerging war separate the fellowship they had established. A year later, one of their mutual friends, John R. Mott, invited them to form an organization at a conference in Long Island, and there, in 1915, the FOR was established. The early work, which helped frame FOR’s efforts through the Vietnam War era, had to do with the right to conscientious objection.

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Why Lawyers Fear Love: Mohandas Gandhi’s Significance to the Mindfulness in Law Movement

by Nehal A. Patel

Book jacket art courtesy mkgandhi.org

“As regards lawyers, the position is worse still. Have they overcome their infatuation for law-courts? … Have the lawyers realized that justice should not be costly? … Lawyers have not yet overcome the allurement of fat fees and, in consequence, the cost of justice continues to be counted in terms of gold and guineas … justice cannot be sold.”  M.K. Gandhi (1)

ABSTRACT: Although mindfulness has gained the attention of the legal community, there are only a handful of scholarly law articles on mindfulness. The literature effectively documents the Mindfulness in Law movement, but there has been minimal effort to situate the movement within the broader history of non-Western ideas in the legal academy and profession. Similarly, there has been little recent scholarship offering a critique of the American legal system through the insights of mindfulness. In this article, I attempt to fill these gaps by situating the Mindfulness in Law movement within the history of modern education’s western-dominated worldview. With this approach, I hope to unearth some of the deep challenges facing a mindful revolution in law that are yet to be widely discussed.

In Part I, I introduce the current mindfulness movement in American society. In Part II, I summarize the current Mindfulness in Law movement and the treatment of “Eastern” thought in modern education. I also describe the three levels of change discussed in academic literature: individual, interpersonal, and structural change. In Part III, I discuss how Mohandas Gandhi exemplifies all three levels of change. In Part IV, I offer critical appreciation of the Mindfulness in Law movement by highlighting Gandhi’s insights on structural reform. I conclude that a mindful application of Gandhi’s thought suggests that satyagraha be incorporated into a constitutional framework, thus making legally protected speech out of forms of public-state dialogue that are traditionally “extra-legal” and used disproportionately by marginalized populations.

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The Lonely Scholar Who Became a Nonviolent Warrior:
Gene Sharp (1928-2018)

by George Lakey

Portrait of Gene Sharp courtesy goodnewsmagazine.se

Once again I rang the bell at the brick row house in East Boston where Gene Sharp lived. When he opened the door I said proudly, “Today I drove here instead of taking the T.”

“You drove?” he said in mock horror. “Man, are you trying to get yourself killed? Haven’t you heard about Boston drivers? They show no mercy, especially toward Philadelphians!”

That was the Gene Sharp I knew, always loving to find a joke in the moment. So, I was sad to hear the news that he passed away on Sunday at the age of 90. (January 21, 1918-January 28, 2018)

When I had him speak at Swarthmore College he put on his distinguished scholar persona, adding the English accent he’d learned while studying at Oxford. When one of my students asked a particularly penetrating question, Gene, at the time associated with Harvard, peered over his glasses and said, “Hmm, it appears to be true: Swarthmore students really are brighter than Harvard students.”

Even though he charmed my students, he also relished the role of contrarian. Not easy, if your life mission is to bring into the mainstream an area of study previously on the intellectual margin.

I was 21 years old when I met him. I was studying sociology at the University of Oslo. One of my teachers there who knew of my interest in the peace movement said that I might like to meet someone at the university who was researching Norwegian nonviolent resistance to the German Nazi occupation in World War II.

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The Mahatma, Il Duce and the Crucifix: Gandhi’s Brief Encounter with Mussolini and Its Consequences

by Peter Gonsalves

Gandhi in Fascist Rome, 1931; courtesy alamy.com

After the second Round Table Conference (RTC) in London, (1) Mahatma Gandhi had to embark at the Port of Brindisi in Southern Italy en route to India. He decided to spend a few days in Switzerland as a guest of Romain Rolland, and then stop in Rome on Saturday, December 12, 1931, in order to meet Pope Pius XI. The note in his diary of December 12, states:

Arrived in Rome at 8.30 in the morning. Received letter to the effect that the Pope could not receive me. Three of us stayed with General Moris, the others in a hotel. Went to see the Vatican [Museums] in the afternoon. At 6 o’clock Mussolini. (2)

Barely a year earlier, Gandhi had shot to international fame due to the extensive American press coverage of his Salt Satyagraha. (3) He was on the cover of Time Magazine on two occasions within a span of ten months: first on March 31, 1930 and again as ‘Time’s Man of the Year’ on January 5, 1931. (4) His fame preceded him even in Europe. Whether at Villeneuve, Milan, Rome or Brindisi, people flocked to see ‘St. Gandhi’ in his strange attire. (5)

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Guest Editorial: Martin Luther King, Jr. and “The Year of Nonviolence or Nonexistence”

by John Dear

Poster art courtesy paceebene.org

It was early 1968. Since the previous spring Martin Luther King, Jr. had been pursuing a course that for many was unthinkable. He had deliberately connected the dots between the movement for civil rights and the struggle to end the war in Vietnam, and had paid the price. He was roundly criticized by the Johnson administration and the media, as well as by people in his own movement. From the right he was attacked for having the gall to question US foreign policy. From the left he was lambasted for losing focus and not keeping his eyes on the prize.

He even got it from a childhood friend who stopped by the house one afternoon to vent. “Why are you speaking out against the Vietnam War?” he carped. King put aside his customary oratory. “When I speak about nonviolence,” he patiently explained, “I mean nonviolent all the way.”

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Ahimsa: The Way of Nonviolence

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

Sufi Saint Pacifying the Animals; c. 18th century Persian miniature courtesy dharmadeen.com

Editor’s Preface: We have previously posted a compilation of Gandhi’s writings on satyagraha. Through these, and by using quotes from his work at the top of our Home page, collected under Quotes & Sources, we hope to provide focal points for discussion, if not statements of doctrine. Please also see the notes at the end for a comment on the texts, and acknowledgments. JG

Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. Destruction is not the law of the humans. Man lives freely by his readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him. Every murder or other injury, no matter for what cause, committed or inflicted on another is a crime against humanity. (MM, 49)

The first condition of non-violence is justice all round in every department of life. Perhaps, it is too much to expect of human nature. I do not, however, think so. No one should dogmatize about the capacity of human nature for degradation or exaltation. (MT, V, 344)

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For the Love of All: Ahimsa in Nonviolence and Radical Ecology

by Saskia van Goelst Meijer

St. Francis Preaching to the Birds; fresco by Giotto, courtesy wikiart.org

There is a difference here between proactive non-harming
and “doing nothing.”
 — Irina Aristarkhova (2012)

Our world is experiencing an ever-growing ecological crisis, which makes it necessary for humanity to reshape the way it is dealing with the planet. Grave challenges for the future of humanity and the earth as a whole have emerged as a result of ecological and economic conduct over the past few centuries. According to some, the environmental crisis is intertwined with other crises (financial, social, political), which has led both scholars and activists to call for a fundamental change in the global paradigm. Where socio-political change is concerned, part of this paradigm change has been attempted through nonviolence. Pioneered as a method in the early 20th century by Mohandas Gandhi for addressing injustice, it has since been taken up by many more individuals and organisations around the world. Nonviolence practices and notions can also be found in certain streams of ecology. One central element in the method of nonviolence is ahimsa, ‘the absence of the intention to do harm.’ In this article I will explore both ahimsa and radical ecology, to both explain the role and significance of ahimsa in nonviolence and to see if and how the two notions can clarify and supplement each other.

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By Giving Our Lives, We Find Life: The John Dear Interview with Cesar Chavez

by John Dear

Cesar Chavez poster art courtesy me.me/t/cesar-chavez?s=new

Editor’s Preface: John Dear conducted this interview in August of 1992, upon the occasion of the annual Pax Christi conference in New York, and just a few months before Chavez’s untimely death. Please see the note at the end for further information about Chavez, links, and acknowledgments. JG

Cesar Chavez lived his life in service of others. A servant of the poor, a servant of justice, a servant of nonviolence, he founded and led the United Farm Workers Union in their struggle for justice. A steadfast practitioner of nonviolence, he fasted, prayed, marched, picketed and boycotted his way to justice.

In April 1993, he traveled to Arizona to stand trial in a lawsuit against a grape-growing company. He also fasted privately for six days. At the end of the fast, on the evening of April 22, 1993, he retired to his room. He died quietly with a book in his hands. He was 66 years old.

Like tens of thousands of others, I journeyed to Delano for his wake and funeral at Forty Acres, the former UFW headquarters in the heart of California’s Central Valley. Fifteen thousand farmworkers viewed his body in an open pine wood coffin, made by his brother. They gathered for the evening vigil and rosary service under a huge tent with a large banner picturing Cesar. The prayers, scripture readings, testimonies and songs continued on through the night until the start of the march the next morning.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi