The Spirit of Nonviolence

“There is another element in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community. The tactics of nonviolence without the spirit of nonviolence may become a new kind of violence.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.




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Environmental Thoughts of Gandhi for a Green Future

by A. S. Sasikala

Poster courtesy greenpeace.org; artist unknown

We live in a world in which science, technology and development play important roles in changing human destiny. However, the overexploitation of natural resources for the purpose of development leads to serious environmental hazards. In fact, the idea of development is itself controversial, as in the name of development we are unethically plundering natural resources. It is rather common to encounter high dam controversies, water disputes, protests against deforestation, and against pollution. Eminent Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva argues that development is actually a continuation of colonialism. Borrowing from Gustavo Esteva she argues that, “development is a permanent war waged by its promoters and suffered by its victims.” (1)

It is true that a science that does not respect nature’s needs, and a development that does not respect people’s needs threatens human survival. The green thoughts of Gandhi give us a new vision to harmonise nature with the needs of people.

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Remembering Vincent Harding: An Enduring Veteran of Hope

by Ken Butigan

Vincent Harding, c. 2013; photographer unknown.

Historian by profession and relentless nonviolent advocate by calling, Vincent Gordon Harding died on Monday, May 19, at the age of 83. The author of a series of books on the civil rights movement — which he called the Southern Freedom movement — he not only wrote history, but also played an active part in the struggle to make and remake it.

Harding worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Mennonite House in Atlanta, an interracial voluntary service. As part of the Albany, Ga., movement, he was arrested for leading a demonstration at the city hall in 1962. He became a strategist for the movement, and drafted Martin Luther King’s historic 1967 anti-war speech “Beyond Vietnam,” which King delivered at Riverside Church in New York City one year to the day before his assassination.

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Creative Nonviolence

by Pace e Bene

Peace flag by and courtesy of paceebene.org

Editor’s Preface: This continues our series of purpose statements by our nonviolent movement groups. We have already posted those by the Metta Center for Nonviolence, and the Gandhi Information Center in Berlin. Our own purpose is to build an archive of record on the history and culture of nonviolence. Please consult the Editor’s Note at the end for further information and links. JG

Transforming Power

Creative Nonviolence transforms our lives and our world by unleashing our capacity for connection, compassion, and cooperation. It can help us discover: nonviolent options in the face of the conflicts and challenges we deal with every day; tools for nurturing peaceful relationships and tapping healing power in our lives, and ways to mend the broken circles in our communities and in our larger world.

Through this organized love creative nonviolence can:

  • Break the cycle of violence
  • Free ourselves and others from destructive fear
  • Struggle actively for change
  • Create a more even playing field
  • Celebrate differences while affirming the interdependence of all beings
  • Discover constructive and sustainable ways of life

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Book Review: My Life is My Message by Narayan Desai.

by Orient BlackSwan

Cover art courtesy orientblackswan.com

Editor’s Preface: Narayan Desai (b. 1924) was the son of Gandhi’s personal secretary and closest advisor, Mahadev Desai. Raised and educated at Gandhi’s ashrams, Sabarmati and Sevagram, he has remained committed to the Gandhian movement and to Gandhian principles his entire life. After marrying he joined Vinoba Bhave’s community and later became a leading figure in the Shanti Sena, Peace Army. He founded Peace Brigades International, and was also chairman of War Resisters International. This four-volume biography of Gandhi, written in Gujarati, has long been considered a staple of Gandhian research and this first English translation is a welcome addition to the literature. The text that follows is the publisher’s description of My Life is My Message (tr. Tridip Suhrud), 4 vols., Gandhi Studies (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009). Please consult the Editor’s Note at the end of the article for further information. JG

Most biographies of Mahatma Gandhi tell the story of a great political leader who led India to freedom. But for Gandhi, his politics was a part of his spiritual quest. Swaraj means self-rule and not merely political autonomy; Gandhi’s struggles were meant to aid the quest for individual self-perfection. Everything he did—the Dandi salt march or his fasts for self-purification—was part of this struggle for self-realisation.

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Arne Naess and Gandhi

by Thomas Weber

Arne Naess c. 2005; courtesy deepecology.org

The important philosopher of deep ecology and Gandhian philosophy, Arne Naess, died in January 2009. (1) Not one Australian newspaper or media outlet referred to this event. The news did not even make it into the obituary columns of such global weeklies as Time magazine (although, as usual, many sporting and film personalities did). Naess’s life was a significant one, and his philosophy still is. While environmentalists may know something about Naess’s thought, they tend to know little of its Gandhian antecedents. Those interested in Gandhian philosophy generally tend not to know of Naess’s contribution, but should. In short, Arne Naess should be remembered and his work examined.

A Personal Background

During 1996, as a Gandhi researcher and teacher of peace studies, I spent a few weeks as a visiting fellow at the Oslo Peace Research Institute. While in the city, I had decided to look up Arne Naess. I knew that in Norway he was an icon and that probably he had more environmentalists beating a path to his door than he needed. I, however, wanted to visit him because he had written one of the best (but least known) analyses of Gandhian nonviolence available in English – Gandhi and Group Conflict: An Exploration of Satyagraha. (2)

As a Gandhi scholar, I knew the Gandhi literature reasonably well and was often amazed to see learned articles on Gandhian philosophy that overlooked his book completely. Of course, this is the result of coming from a small out of the way country and having your landmark tome published by the Norwegian University Press. When I called on him, he was polite but seemed a little world-weary until I told him that I wanted to talk about the Mahatma because of his major contribution to Gandhi scholarship.

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Observations on Contemporary Indian Views of Gandhi

by Thomas Weber

Poster art courtesy mkgandhi.org

I first went to India in 1975 as a young person with a strong interest in the country and its most famous son. I returned in 1979 specifically to find Gandhi and have been back on Gandhi quests about a dozen times since. I have now spent something over three years of my life there, much of it at Gandhi ashrams or in the Gandhi archives of various libraries, or talking to old Gandhians, many of whom I had the privilege of calling friend before they passed away. Hopefully this gives me some small claim to make comments on the status of what may be termed “Gandhism” in India. And, as an outsider, I have no political axes to grind or profit to make from taking any particular stand.

At about the time that I was preparing to return to India in July 2013, I saw a notice for the setting up of yet another Gandhi research centre in India, this time at relatively out of the way Jalgaon. My immediate reaction was: isn’t this great, there must be a lot of interest in Gandhi. But then a question also came to my mind: How many such institutions of good quality can India accommodate? With the opening of yet another research centre, my mind has been playing with the thoughts of what all these centres mean. What is the quality of the research that comes out of them? Do they indicate a genuine resurgence in Gandhi scholarship or are they merely a sign that various universities or those high up in the Gandhian firmament had their own personal needs that have to be filled? That they cannot be seen to be lagging behind the competition? Are we trying to compensate for disappearing Gandhians by endowing Gandhi institutions? And are these institutions lulling us into feelings about the health of Gandhism in the country while Gandhian activists fade away with us hardly noticing?

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Satyagraha and Interpersonal Conflict Resolution

by Thomas Weber

Cartoon poster courtesy mkgandhi.org

Satyagraha, as used in interpersonal conflicts, often depends on the degree to which its values have been internalised rather than on a conscious adoption of tactics. Gandhi claimed that “there is no royal road” to achieve this. It will only be possible “through living the creed in your life which must be a living sermon”. This “presupposes great study, tremendous perseverance, and thorough cleansing of one’s self of all impurities”, which in turn requires working through “a wide and varied experience of interior conflict”. These interior conflicts, for example the questioning of one’s own motives and prejudices, the sincere attempt to see if in fact the other’s position is nearer the truth, and if need be admitting one’s errors, are in some measure alternatives to wider conflicts.

The critics of nonviolence often attack the pacifist approach or justify not trying nonviolent solutions by posing the hypothetical case in which the satyagrahi is either himself attacked, or is witness to an attack upon another. It is unlikely that such an eventuality will occur in the lifetime of average individuals;  most human conflicts take place in quite different circumstances. Lanza del Vasto, therefore, warns against using such “extreme, exceptional, and overpowering” imaginary circumstances for formulating general rules or drawing conclusions from them concerning legitimacy of action. The striving for nonviolence, instead of planning for such possible eventualities, accepts that if they did occur they would be still taken care of somehow (just as if they had been planned for), while during the rest of one’s life, other, almost daily conflicts could be solved in more cooperative ways.

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Telling the Truth about War: The Street Spirit Interview with Kathy Kelly

by Terry Messman

Kelly with Afghan peace volunteers; photographer unknown; courtesy thestreetspirit.org

The people that threaten us are in the corporations and the well-appointed salons,
and they really threaten us. They make alcohol, firearms and tobacco,
and arms for the military.They steal from us, and they rob us. And who goes to jail?
A woman who can’t get an economic stake in her community
.” Kathy Kelly

 Street Spirit: You just returned from Afghanistan last month where you were living with the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Many people, even in activist circles, are no longer focusing on that war-torn nation. Why does Afghanistan remain such a critical focus of your work?

Kathy Kelly: I have a friend, Milan Rai, who had coordinated Voices in the Wilderness in the U.K. and is now the editor of Peace News. Mil once said, “One of the ways to stop the next war is to continue to tell the truth about this war.”

So how do we tell the truth about our wars? I think if the U.S. public understood the choices that are being made in their name — and if the public understood those choices outside the filter of the forces that are marketing those wars — eventually there might be a hope of non-cooperation with wars.

So Afghanistan is still very, very important in terms of the choices confronting the people of the United States. But also, just on the purely ethical matter of not turning away from people who are dying, we owe reparations to the people of Afghanistan for the suffering that has been caused.

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Kathy Kelly: Seeking Peace in a World of Imprisoned Beauty

by Terry Messman

Kelly with Afghan children; photographer unknown; courtesy thestreetspirit.org

Kathy Kelly’s vision of a world of imprisoned beauty reveals the countless lives caged behind bars, cast off into refugee camps, banished in homeless shelters, or left to die on remote battlefields.

While serving nine months in federal prison after her arrest for an anti-nuclear protest where she planted corn on top of a nuclear missile silo in Missouri, peace activist Kathy Kelly had a vivid awakening that she was living in “a world of imprisoned beauty.”

In prison, Kelly met women who were captives in this world of imprisoned beauty, women who could just as easily have been her sisters-in-law or her next-door neighbors. To this day, she cites the courage of the women she met in prison as a guiding light in her work for peace and justice.

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“Hug the Trees!” Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Gaura Devi, and the Chipko Movement

by Mark Shepard

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.
M. K. Gandhi

Chandi Prasad, 1978; photo by Mark Shepard

At the time of my India visit, I knew next to nothing about the rapid destruction of forests in Third World countries, or about its costs in terms of firewood shortage, soil erosion, weather shifts, and famine. Still, I was at once intrigued when I heard about the Chipko Movement, mountain villagers stopping lumber companies from clear-cutting mountain slopes by issuing a call to “hug the trees.”

So, one fall morning in 1978. along with a Gandhian friend, a young engineer, I found myself on the bus out of Rishikesh, following the river Ganges toward its source. Before long we had left the crowded plains behind and were climbing into the Himalayas. Thick forest covered the mountain slopes, interrupted only occasionally by terraced fields reaching dramatically up the mountainsides. Our bus bumped along a winding road halfway between the river below and the peaks above, as it followed the river’s meandering around the sides of mountains.

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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