Gandhi’s Clarification of Satyagraha as Holding to Truth

“You asked me why I consider that God is Truth . . . I would also say with those who say that God is Love, ‘God is Love.’ But deep down in me I used to say that though God may be Love, God is Truth above all. I have now come to the conclusion that for myself God is Truth, but two years ago I went a step further and said Truth is God. And I came to that conclusion after a continuous and relentless search after Truth, which began nearly fifty years ago. I then found that the nearest approach to Truth was through Love.”
M. K. Gandhi


The Ripple Effect of Ahimsa: Gandhi’s Beliefs in Action

by Alex Supron

Editor’s Preface: The University of Rhode Island Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies holds an annual Gandhi Essay Contest for all Rhode Island eighth graders (c. ages 13-14). The essay below, by eighth grader Alex Supron of St. Michael’s Country Day School in Newport, Rhode Island, won first place in the 2012-2013 competition. His essay was selected from a field of 88 entries with 21 finalists. Please see the Editor’s Note at the end for links and further information. JG

Photo of Alex Supron; courtesy

“Service is not possible unless it is rooted in love and ahimsa. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.” This was a tenet of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest leaders in history. Gandhi believed that by living a life focused beyond your own personal needs you are able to better serve humanity and make the world a better place.

He was not alone in these beliefs. Many great leaders throughout history have touted the importance of serving others. Confucius said: “He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was greatly inspired by Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence and belief in the importance and satisfaction of serving. He felt that if the world were to change it would take the efforts of many: “ Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.”

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The Heart of Nonviolence: The Aurora Forum Interview with the Dalai Lama

by Rev. Scotty McLennan

Portrait of the Dalai Lama; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: This interview was conducted on November 4, 2005, at Heyns Lecture Memorial Church, Stanford University, under the auspices of the Aurora Forum. Scotty McLennan is Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. Please consult the note at the end for links concerning the Dalai Lama, and Aurora Forum. JG

Rev. Scotty McLennan: Why should one be nonviolent?

Dalai Lama: Why is there destruction? If we analyze its opposite — construction — we realize that we love creation and growth. Even something like a flower with no consciousness is a living thing, whenever we see flowers growing, we feel happy. Furthermore, we are a part of nature. Monkeys in trees still better. We prefer real flowers than artificial flowers. Therefore, we love living things. When we destroy living things, that’s violence. So we practice nonviolence.

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Popular Nonviolent Resistance in Bil’in: the Interfaith Peace Builders Interview with Ayad Burnat

by Douglas Kerr

Ayad Burnat speaking to Israeli soldiers in Bil’in; courtesy

Interfaith Peace Builders Preface: Bil’in is a small, peaceful Palestinian village 7 miles west of Ramallah. It has continued its struggle to maintain its existence by fighting to protect its land, olive trees, resources, water and liberty. Its population of 1900 live in an area of approximately 1000 acres or 4000 dunams. The residents of Bil’in depend on agriculture as their main source of income, but close to 60% of Bil’in’s land has been annexed to build Israeli settlements and Israel’s Separation Barrier, destroying more than 1,000 olive trees in the process. Israel began construction of the illegal Separation Barrier in April 2004 by appropriating 570 acres (2300 dunams) of Bil’in land. Residents resisted these injustices despite the increase in night raids by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), arrests and injuries of its residents and activists, and two fatalities. Indeed, Bil’in’s residents, joined by Israeli and international activists, have peacefully demonstrated every Friday in front of the Separation Barrier and the IDF have responded with both physical and psychological violence. Working side-by-side with international and Israeli activists, the people of Bil’in managed to achieve recognition by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2007, when it ruled that the route of the Separation Barrier was illegal and must be changed. The Israeli Defense Force, however, toughened its oppression by systematically arresting members of Bil’in’s Popular Committee, namely, those in charge of organizing the nonviolent demonstrations. In 2009, Abdullah Abu Ramah, coordinator of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Bil’in, was arrested in his Ramallah home. Despite his recognition by the EU as a “human rights defender,” he was found guilty of “incitement” and “illegal protest,” and imprisoned for 16 months. In June of 2011, in accordance with the 2007 Israeli Supreme Court decision, the Separation Barrier was re-routed and 300 acres (1200 dunams) returned to the village. The Wall and settlement projects to date (2015) still occupy 270 acres (1100 dunams) of Bil’in land. Bil’in’s residents continue steadfastly to demonstrate each Friday. They are the subject of the film 5 Broken Cameras, the 2013 Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary film, directed and narrated by Emad Burnat, brother of Ayad Burnat. R.H. Tracy

Douglas Kerr: How did the nonviolent popular resistance to the Occupation first start in Bil’in?

Ayad Burnat: It is now nine years, in December 2004, since we started nonviolent resistance, when the Israeli bulldozers started to destroy the land, the olive trees of the farmers. All of the people went outside, without prompting, to try to stop the bulldozers from destroying their land. Bil’in is a small village with a population of around 1900 and about 4000 dunams [c. 1000 acres] of land. The Israeli government confiscated 2,300 dunams. This land is full of olive trees. It is the life of the farmers in the village, and most of the people in the village are farmers. This land is their life. We started our nonviolent struggle in Bil’in when we saw these bulldozers destroying the olive trees, and we continued. Between December and February 2005, there was a demonstration every day.

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Gandhi’s Religion: A Few Thoughts

by Vinay Lal

Illustration courtesy

More so than any other major political figure of modern times, Mohandas Gandhi was a man of religion – though perhaps not in the most ordinary sense of the term. No political figure of the last few hundred years brought religion, or more properly the religious sensibility, into the public domain as much as Gandhi. He concluded his autobiography, first published in 1927, with the observation that those who sought to disassociate politics and religion understood the meaning of neither politics nor religion. Indeed, the most pointed inference we can draw from Gandhi’s life is the following: the only way to be religious at this juncture of human history is to engage in the political life, not politics in the debased sense of party affiliations, or the politics that one associates with being conservative or liberal, but politics in the sense of political awareness.  After Gandhi, we must clearly understand, as did Arnold Toynbee and George Orwell, that the saint’s religiosity can only be tested in the slums of life.

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Gandhi and the Ecological Vision of Life: Thinking Beyond Deep Ecology

by Vinay Lal

Cover art courtesy

In a lecture given in 1993, the Indian historian Ramachandra Guha proposed to inquire whether Gandhi could be considered an “early environmentalist”. (1) Gandhi’s voluminous writings are littered with remarks on man’s exploitation of nature, and his views about the excesses of materialism and industrial civilization, of which he was a vociferous critic, can reasonably be inferred from his famous pronouncement that the earth has enough to satisfy everyone’s needs but not everyone’s greed. Still, when ‘nature’ is viewed in the conventional sense, Gandhi was rather remarkably reticent on the relationship of humans to their external environment. His name is associated with innumerable political movements of defiance against British rule as well as social reform campaigns, but it is striking that he never explicitly initiated an environmental movement, nor does the word ‘ecology’ appear in his writings. Again, though commercial forestry had commenced well before Gandhi’s time, and the depletion of Indian forests would persistently provoke peasant resistance, Gandhi himself was never associated with forest satyagrahas, however much peasants and rebels invoked his name.

Guha also observes that,  “the wilderness had no attraction for Gandhi.” (2) His writings are singularly devoid of any celebration of untamed nature or rejoicing at the chance sighting of a wondrous waterfall or an imposing Himalayan peak; and indeed his autobiography remains utterly silent on his experience of the ocean, over which he took an unusually long number of journeys for an Indian of his time. In Gandhi’s innumerable trips to Indian villages and the countryside — and seldom had any Indian acquired so intimate a familiarity with the smell of the earth and the feel of the soil across a vast land — he almost never had occasion to take note of the trees, vegetation, landscape, or animals. He was by no means indifferent to animals, but he could only comprehend them in a domestic capacity. Students of Gandhi certainly are aware not only of the goat that he kept by his side and of his passionate commitment to cow-protection, but of his profound attachment to what he often described as ‘dumb creation’, indeed to all living forms.

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A Campaign of Nonviolent Direct Action

by Claire Gorfinkel and Howard Frederick

Editor’s Preface: This previously unpublished article details the 1974 visit by the authors to the Palestinian villages of Kafr Bir’im and Iqrit, in Israel 4 kilometres south of the Lebanese border. Most of the inhabitants had been expelled in 1948 during an Israeli military campaign against the Arab Liberation Army and Syrian forces, Operation Hiram. A few stalwart villagers remained to protect their ancestral homes, and the article vividly details their struggle. A small Malkite Greek Catholic church was also kept open in Iqrit and crops planted in both villages, every year uprooted by Israeli settlers or army. The authors met with the Malkite Archbishop Joseph Raya (1916-2005), who was one of the leaders of a joint Palestinian-Israeli nonviolent peace effort. In 1965 he had also been made Grand Archimandrite of Jerusalem. Further textual and biographical notes appear at the end of the article. JG

Ruins of Kafr Bir’im; courtesy

Kafr Bir’im and Iqrit are Arab Christian villages, located in Israel just south of the Lebanese border. The villagers’ story is a simple one. Israeli Jews and Arabs have verified its authenticity. Prior to the 1948 war the inhabitants of Kafr Bir’im and Iqrit had good relations with their Jewish neighbours. (1) They had helped illegal Jewish immigrants cross the Lebanese border, and they welcomed the new Jewish state. The fighting never directly involved the villages, and when the Israeli army arrived at the end of October 1948, the villagers, unlike many Arab Palestinians, did not resist or flee. Based on their long friendship with Jews, they welcomed the Army with traditional bread and salt.

Two weeks later, the army asked the villagers to leave their homes for a short time. Chroniclers have disputed the reasons for this request. Some say that an Arab counter-offensive from Lebanon was anticipated, but others say that was only a pretext to get them off their land. In any case, the villagers were assured that they would be allowed to return in a fortnight. Today, twenty-six years later, these loyal citizens of Israel are still denied permission to live in their ancestral homes. Their campaign to regain their land has been a classic nonviolent struggle.

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Guest Editorial: Nonviolence, A Gaping Hole in Postcolonial Thought

by Vinay Lal

Cover art courtesy Vinay Lal

The enterprise of making a nation is fraught with violence. People have to be not merely cajoled but browbeaten into submission to become proper subjects of a proper nation-state. Overt violence may not always play the primary role in producing the homogenous subject, but social phenomena such as schooling cannot be viewed merely as innocuous enterprises designed to ‘educate’ subjects of the state. One of the most widely cited works to have put forward this argument with elegance and scholarly rigor is Eugen Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen, where one learns, with much surprise, that even in the Third Republic, “French was a foreign language for half the citizens.” The making of France entailed not only the modernization of the rural countryside but creating, often with violence, proper subjects of a proper nation-state. The making of the United States offers another narrative of the role of violence in the production of the nation-state, with the extermination of Native Americans long before and much after the ‘Revolutionary War’ constituting the most vital link in the long chain of violence that marked the emergence of the United States.

Postcolonial thought, attentive as always to the politics of nation-making and nationalism’s complicity with colonialism, bestowed considerable attention on the various phenomena that can be accumulated under the rubric of violence; however, it had almost no time to spare for a pragmatic, ethical, or even philosophical consideration of nonviolence. The violence of the nation-state may have always been present to the mind of postcolonial theorists, but generally this was reduced to the violence of the colonizer. One thinks, of course, of Fanon, Cesaire, Memmi, and many others in this respect. In those works that have underscored the complicity of nationalist and imperialist thought, a principal motif in the work (say) of Ranajit Guha, the violence of indigenous elites also came under critical scrutiny. (See, for example, Guha’s Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1999) It is characteristic of most social thought in the West that it has been riveted on violence – here, postcolonial thought barely diverged from orthodox social science, mainstream social thought, or the general drift of humanist thinking. Nonviolence is barely present in intellectual discussions. We see here history’s continuing enchantment with ‘events’; nonviolence creates little or no noise, it merely is, it only fills the space in the background.

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Guest Editorial: The Sexuality of a Celibate Life

by Vinay Lal

Book cover art courtesy

A celibate for the greater part of his life, Mohandas Gandhi continues to attract nearly unrivalled attention – often for the sex that did not take place. Even his friends and admirers, who revered him for bringing ethics to the political life, or for never demanding of others what he did not first demand of himself, were quite certain that Gandhi was unable to comprehend that a woman and a man might enjoy a perfectly healthy sexual relationship with each other. Nehru, seldom critical of the personal life of his political mentor, was convinced that Gandhi harboured an “unnatural” suspicion of the sexual life; and he deplored, as did many others, Gandhi’s strongly held view that sexual intercourse, other than for purposes of procreation, had no place in civilised life – not even among married couples.  The Marxists have long subscribed to the view that Gandhi was a “romantic”, a hopeless idealist and even hypocrite; to this a chorus of voices added the thought that Gandhi was an insufferable “puritan”.

Gandhi’s discomfort with the sexual life, according to one widely accepted strand of thought, commenced when his father passed away shortly after his marriage to Kasturba.  Though the young Gandhi liked to nurse his ailing father, one evening he was unable to contain his urge to share a night of ribaldry with his young wife. He had just withdrawn to the bedroom when a knock on the door announced that his father had passed away. Gandhi was, it has been argued, never able to forgive himself his transgression, and became determined to master his sexual drive. A more complex narrative links his renunciation of sex to his firm conviction, first developed during the heat of a campaign of nonviolent resistance to oppression in South Africa, that it compromised his ability to be a perfect satyagrahi.  Many commentators have pointed to his failure to consult with Kasturba before he took a vow of celibacy at the age of 37 as a sign of his cruelty and tendency to be self-serving.

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Nonviolence and Socio-Economic Revolution

by Thakurdas Bang

Peace News poster; courtesy

UNESCO’s famous opening sentence declares, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace must be constructed.” What shall be the nature of such a society or community where the defence of peace is firmly laid? Surely such a community would be homogenous and interpersonal. As Gandhi said, “We can realise truth and nonviolence only in the simplicity of village life . . . Man should rest content with what are his real needs . . . Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not for every man’s greed. No one will be idle and no one will wallow in luxury. It will be a community in whose management all members freely and fearlessly participate. It must have a unity and a sense of purpose. Such a community will surely be based on social and economic equality.”

If we examine the condition of the recently liberated Asian and African nations and especially of India on the basis of these criteria, what do we find? Although political liberation has been secured, political power is still highly centralised and has not filtered down to towns and villages. The people still look to the government for everything. Everybody talks of rights, and few lay stress on duties. The blind copying of the Western democratic structure with its paraphernalia of political parties and decisions by majority has transformed every village and town into a warring camp. Villagers do not meet to discuss their problems and participative democracy is still a distant reality. Economic equality is a long way off and people are in acute poverty: large numbers of the unemployed live side by side with the rich steeped in their luxury. Chinese Communism is knocking at the door of India, yet the Indian rich evade taxation, and any legislation that might set limits on land. Nobody lays a stress on duty. Education in self-reliance and mutual cooperation is the crying need of the hour. How to bring about this psychological change leading to the corresponding institutional change?

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Gandhi’s Concept of Freedom

by Devi Prasad

Gandhi’s “Swaraj Flag”, 1931; courtesy

Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of freedom is illustrated by that statement in which he clearly said that India would truly be free when freedom reaches the door of the most dilapidated hut in the poorest village of the country. He said that when the British leave the country, swaraj (freedom) will of course reach New Delhi, but until it goes to every hut, and every village feels freedom (swaraj) in his own life, it will not be of much meaning. What he meant was that until the common man of India lives a life of dignity and fearlessness, India will not achieve the freedom of his concept. He once stated: ‘One sometimes hears it said: “Let us get the Government of India in our own hands and everything will be all right.” There could not be greater superstition than this. No nation has thus gained its independence. The splendour of the spring is reflected in every tree, the whole earth is then filled with the freshness of youth. Similarly, when the swaraj spirit has really permeated society, a stranger suddenly come upon us will observe energy in every walk of life . . . Swaraj for me means freedom for the meanest of our countrymen. I am not interested in freeing India merely from the English yoke. I am bent upon freeing India from any yoke whatsoever.’ At another occasion he said: ‘Self-government means continuous effort to be independent of government control whether it is foreign government or whether it is national.’

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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