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 Historical and Philosophical Background of Modern Pacifism

by Harold F. Bing

Editor’s Preface: Harold Bing was chairman of WRI from 1949-1966. During World War I he was an “absolutist” conscientious objector, and received an unusually harsh sentence of three years imprisonment, while the norm was six months. He wrote pamphlets on pacifism, Palestine, and other topics. The Peace Pledge Union has an interesting article about him, at this link. This article is taken from War Resistance: Journal of the War Resisters, issue 39, fourth quarter, 1971. Please also see the archive reference information and acknowledgments at the end. JG

Drawing by a WWI British conscientious objector, courtesy

Although in origin the word Pacifism means merely ‘working for peace’ or ‘the creation of peace’, in recent years it has come to mean a code of conduct or a philosophy of life which rejects war of all kinds and relies upon nonviolence as a means of achieving both private and public ends. While, however, this interpretation of the word pacifism is relatively modern, the ideology which lies behind it is very ancient.

We know little about the moral code of primitive man, but there is considerable evidence to suggest that war, in the sense of organised conflict between groups of men specifically trained for that purpose, developed relatively late in human history and, in fact, coincided with the rise of private property in land and other primary sources of wealth and the division of society into classes differing in their privileges and possessions. The desire to secure economic advantages and social prestige, or to defend them if already possessed, led to armed conflict. Tools rather than weapons are found in the surviving remains of the earliest human settlements and no doubt a sort of communism characterised primitive human groups.

But as far back as recorded history goes, which is no more than some six thousand years out of the hundreds of thousand that man has been on the earth, mankind seems to have been troubled by wars and rumours of wars. At the same time there have been teachers, prophets and philosophers who have pointed out the evils of violence and suggested a better way.

Read the rest of this article »

The Auschwitz of Puget Sound: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 2

by Terry Messman

Poster art courtesy Ground Zero Center;

When Father Dave Becker came to dinner at the home of Jim and Shelley Douglass next to the Trident base, the first sentence he said after he sat down on the sofa was, “I want to understand from you what it means to be the chaplain of the Auschwitz of Puget Sound.”

Street Spirit: After Robert Aldridge alerted you that first-strike Trident nuclear submarines would be based near Seattle, what were the first steps in planning a campaign that could resist such an overwhelming weapons system?

James Douglass: Number one, every worker on the Trident nuclear submarine base is Robert Aldridge.

Spirit: A potential Robert Aldridge, meaning a person of conscience?

Douglass: Yes, potentially. Therefore we must respect, understand and grow in truth through dialogue with every worker, and every civilian military employee on the Trident nuclear submarine base. We lived alongside it and worked alongside it. So everything we did had to fulfill that purpose.

On the one hand, we had to block the system — that systemic violence we’re talking about. That’s the Trident system which could literally destroy the world through nuclear fire and radioactivity. We had to block that through nonviolent and loving resistance.

And secondly, we had to engage in dialogue and respectful relationships with the people who were involved in that system, just as all of us were, and are, involved.

We are all involved. That goes from paying taxes, which we all do, even those of us who are military tax resisters because they collect the taxes in other ways. And through our silence, which we all do to the extent that we all aren’t constantly out there speaking against the evils in our society. And the number one evil is our capacity to destroy all life on earth, since we are U.S. citizens with the most powerful arsenal ever devised.

So on the one hand, resistance. On the other hand, dialogue.

Read the rest of this article »

“We Non-Cooperated with Everything”: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 1

by Terry Messman

Protest Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 2015; left to right: Br. Utsumi Shonin, Father Bill Bichsel, Sr. Denise Laffin, Shelley Douglass and Jim Douglass; courtesy

One Trident submarine can destroy a country. A fleet of Trident submarines is capable of destroying the world. Jim Douglass explains how Ground Zero Center organized a visionary campaign of nonviolent resistance to confront “the Auschwitz of Puget Sound.”

Street Spirit: While you were a professor of religion at the University of Hawaii in the late 1960s, you became active in the movement to end the Vietnam War. What led you to become involved in antiwar resistance while teaching in Hawaii?

James Douglass: Before living in Hawaii, I lived in British Columbia in Canada for two years, writing my book The Nonviolent Cross. So I was out of it in terms of resistance in the United States since I wasn’t living there. Going to Hawaii meant beginning to teach in a context which was also the R&R center for the military in the Vietnam War.

Read the rest of this article »

Satyagraha Versus Duragraha: The Limits of Symbolic Violence

by Joan V. Bondurant

Jacket art courtesy Princeton University Press

Every leader who seeks to win a battle without violence and who presumes to precipitate a war against conventional attitudes and arrangements, however prejudiced they may be, would do well to probe the subtleties distinguishing satyagraha from other forms of action also claiming to be nonviolent. There are essential elements in Gandhian satyagraha which do not readily meet the eye. The readiness with which Gandhi’s name is invoked and the self-satisfaction with which leaders of movements throughout the world make reference to Gandhian methods are not always backed by an understanding of either the subtleties or the basic principles of satyagraha. It is important to pose a question and to state a challenge to those who believe that they know how a Gandhian movement is to be conducted. For nonviolence alone is weak, non-cooperation in itself could lead to defeat, and civil disobedience without creative action may end in alienation. How, then, does satyagraha differ from other approaches? This question can be explored by contrasting satyagraha with concepts of passive resistance defined by the Indian word duragraha.

Duragraha means prejudgment. Perhaps better than any other single word, it connotes the attributes of passive resistance. Duragraha may be said to be stubborn resistance in a cause, or willfulness. The distinctions between duragraha and satyagraha, when these words are used to designate concepts of direct social action, are to be found in each of the major facets of such action. (1) Let us examine: (a) the character of the objective for which the action is undertaken; (b) the process through which the objective is expected to be secured, and (c) the styles which characterize the respective approaches. Satyagraha and duragraha are compared below in each of these three aspects by considering their relative treatment of first, pressure and persuasion, and second, guilt and responsibility. Finally, we shall have a look at the meaning and limitations of symbolic violence.

Read the rest of this article »

Fulfilling Foucault’s Dream: Gandhi as Modern Exemplar of Epimeleia Heautou and Parrhesia

by Max Cooper

Editor’s Preface: This essay is the second of three by Max Cooper comparing similarities between Gandhi and Michel Foucault. The first we posted 1 June and can be accessed via his Author’s Page, by clicking on his byline. Part Three will follow in a few days. Please also consult the Editor’s Note at the end for biographical information. JG

Cover art courtesy Semiotext(e)

We will here explore Foucault’s interests in the final years of his life in two particular ethico-spiritual practices native to ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy: epimeliea heautou, the care of the self, and parrhesia, fearless truth-telling. Foucault saw such disciplines as important foundations for an ethical life; lamenting that such foundations could not be found in the modern age, he wished to draw attention to these practices in the hope that they might somehow be revived. We will argue here that Foucault need not have looked back over two thousand years to the ancient Greeks and Hellenes for examples of these practices, but could have found virtually identical practices in the life of Gandhi in his own century. We will suggest ultimately that Gandhi represented precisely the modern practitioner of epimeleia heautou and parrhesia that Foucault was looking for.

Examining certain classicist scholars’ criticisms of Foucault on his interpretation of these practices, we will entertain the striking possibility that Gandhi may have come closer to exemplifying these ancient practices and beliefs than Foucault did to explaining them. Next, we will examine Foucault’s intriguing distinction between ancient and modern philosophy as pertains to the care of the self: most ancient philosophers, Foucault suggested, viewed the attainment of knowledge as possible only after one had performed painstaking preparatory work on oneself; this often took the form of particular “spiritual practices.” Foucault felt that modern philosophy since Descartes had lost this emphasis on preparation for knowledge, to its own great detriment. We suggest that Gandhi, through his rigorous programme of self-purification performed with the goal of realizing Absolute Truth, embodies almost precisely the characteristics of epimeleia heautou that Foucault drew attention to in his classical sources: again, Foucault could have taken heart in Gandhi’s example.

Read the rest of this article »

Guest Editorial: The Rhetoric of Relevance and the Graveyard of Gandhi

by Vinay Lal

Popular Hindi press representation of Gandhi’s assassination; courtesy Vinay Lal collection

As India marked the 60th anniversary [2008] of Gandhi’s death, the tired old question of Gandhi’s “relevance” was rehearsed in the press. Once past the common rituals, we heard that the spiral of violence in which much of the world seems to be caught demonstrates Gandhi’s continuing relevance. Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the Presidency of the United States furnishes one of the latest iterations of the globalizing tendencies of the Gandhian narrative. Unlike his predecessor, who flaunted his disdain for reading, Obama is said to have a passion for books; and Gandhi’s autobiography has been described as occupying a prominent place in the reading that has shaped the country’s first African American President. Obama gravitated from “Change We Can Believe In” to “Change We Need”, but in either case the slogan is reminiscent of the saying to which Gandhi’s name is firmly, indeed irrevocably, attached: “We Must Become the Change We Want To See In the World.” Obama’s Nobel Prize Lecture twice invoked Gandhi, if only to rehearse some familiar clichés – among them, the argument, which has seldom been scrutinized, so infallible it seems, that Gandhian nonviolence only succeeded because his foes were the gentlemanly English rather than Nazi brutes or Stalinist thugs.

Read the rest of this article »

The Gandhi Everyone Loves to Hate

by Vinay Lal

Indian folk art representation of Gandhi’s assassination; courtesy Vinay Lal collection

Uniquely among the major public figures of the modern world, Mohandas Gandhi attracted an extraordinarily wide and diverse following and, perhaps oddly for someone who is customarily thought of in terms of veneration, an equally if not more diverse array of often relentlessly hostile critics. (1) The first part of this story is better known than the latter part of the narrative around which this paper is framed, (2) though much remains to be understood about the manner in which Gandhi, notwithstanding his rather strident views on modernity, industrial civilisation, materialism, sexual relations, indeed on everything that is ordinarily encompassed under the rubric of social and political life, drew to himself people from very different walks of life.

Among his most intimate disciples, who, it is no exaggeration to say, surrendered their life to the Mahatma, one thinks of the daughter of an English admiral, raised on the music of Beethoven in the lap of luxury and immense privilege; a Tamil Christian, trained as an accountant and economist, who was among the first Indians to earn a degree in business administration; a Gujarati villager, son of a schoolteacher, who was embraced by Gandhi when they first met in 1917 as something like a long-lost son; and an Anglican clergyman, arriving in India from Britain on what was destined to become a one-way ticket, who came to the realization that Gandhi was a better Christian than many who call themselves Christians. (3)

Read the rest of this article »

Two Experimenters in Self-Transformation: Mahatma Gandhi and Michel Foucault

by Max Cooper

Poster art, courtesy

It may seem surprising that no significant study has as yet compared the lives, works, and ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and Michel Foucault. (1) Foucault (1926–1984), a French political and social theorist, and Gandhi (1869–1948), the saintly Indian political leader, initially appear to have very little in common, and indeed strike us as intellectual opposites. Gandhi was a deeply religious man who committed at least an hour each day to prayer and meditation; Foucault was a committed atheist who resented his bourgeois Catholic upbringing and blamed religion for much of the malaise afflicting modern man. Gandhi believed that human society and relationships could be transformed through individual hard work, selfless kindness, and love; Foucault was concerned to draw attention to hidden motivations of power in all social relations, and emphasized the often powerless positions of individuals vis-à-vis larger institutional structures. Gandhi fasted regularly, never took food after sunset, and upheld a vow of strict brahmacharya (celibacy) for the last 38 years of his marriage; Foucault maintained a fascination with intense sensory experiences, ever seeking stronger sensations through drugs and sex, and explored his interest in sexual pleasure in his final and definitive works, the three volume History of Sexuality. The reader could be forgiven for thinking that two more different men could hardly be found.

Read the rest of this article »

Gandhi as the Father of Environmentalism

by M. P. Mathai

Tree hugging photograph; courtesy

The ecological crisis we confront today has been analysed from various angles, and scientific data on the state of our environment are readily available. Humanity has come out of its foolish self-complacency and has awakened to the realisation that over-exploitation of nature has led to a very severe degradation and devastation of our environment. Scholars, through joint studies and research projects, have brought out the direct connection between consumption and environmental degradation. For example, professor of planning and development, Inge Ropke, has raised pertinent questions in his paper, “The Dynamics of the Willingness to Consume”: Why are productivity increases largely transformed into income increases instead of more leisure? Why is such a large part of these income increases used for consumption of goods and services with a relatively high materials-intensity instead of less material-intensive alternatives?

Read the rest of this article »

Shanti Sena: The Peace Army of India

by Asha Devi Aryanayakam

Editor’s Preface: This article is taken from The War Resister, issue 92, Third Quarter 1961. We have posted a number of other articles on Shanti Sena, which may be accessed via our search function. Notes about the author, references, and acknowledgments are found at the end. JG

“Soldiers Painting Peace”; mural by Banksy; courtesy

The conception of a Peace Brigade or a Peace Army was first placed before the Indian people by Gandhi in 1938. He was then engaged in the great experiment of reconstructing Indian national life through nonviolence. The movement for political independence was only a part of the story. The monster of communal tension had just begun to rear its ugly head and the Peace Army was Gandhi’s answer to the problem. With his characteristic straightforwardness, he placed his proposal in down-to-earth practical terms without any philosophical introduction.

As he wrote, ‘Some time ago I suggested the formation of a Peace Brigade (Shanti Sena), whose members would risk their lives in dealing with riots, especially communal. The idea was that this brigade should substitute for the police and even the military. This sounds ambitious. The achievement may prove impossible.’

Gandhi then suggested qualifications for the volunteers, which are mentioned by Donald Groom in his contribution to this issue of the War Resister [posted below under this date]. As Gandhi wrote, ‘Let no one understand from the foregoing that a nonviolent army is open only to those who strictly enforce in their lives all the implications of nonviolence. It is open to all those who accept the implications and make an ever increasing endeavour to observe them. There never will be an army of perfectly nonviolent people. It will be formed of those who will honestly endeavour to observe nonviolence.’ (Harijan, 21.7.1940.)

Read the rest of this article »

“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