Author Archive: William J. Jackson

WILLIAM J. JACKSON is our Literary Editor and a regular contributor. He was born and grew up in Rock Island, Illinois, and studied at Goodman Theatre School at the Art Institute of Chicago, at Lyndon State College in Vermont's “Northeast Kingdom,” and at Harvard University where he earned his PhD in the Comparative Study of Religion in 1984. He is professor emeritus of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University. He was the first Lake Scholar (2005-2008) at the Lake Family Institute on Faith and Giving, Philanthropic Studies Center, Indiana-Purdue University. His academic specialties are the comparative study of religion, Asian arts and literature, South Indian bhakti (devotion) in the lives and works of singer-saints. He is also an authority on Fractal Geometry in the Humanities, that is, recursive patterns in music, literature, art, and architecture. His awards include a Research Fellow, Bellagio, Italy Research Center Rockefeller Foundation, 2000; and Contemplative Practice Fellowship Program, American Council of Learned Societies, 2000. Most recently Dr. Jackson has published a novel, Gypsy Escapades, New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 2012, on the themes of terrorism and satyagraha. Another novel also came out recently, The Singer by the River, an ebook available from Sruti magazine, Chennai. It is an historical novel about South India's greatest composer, Tyagaraja. Further information about Dr. Jackson is available on Indiana University’s website and at

Seven Reflections on the Enigma of a “Nobody” Making a Public Display

by William J. Jackson

Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to playing Los Angeles Rams in NFL game; courtesy Getty Images

(1) New forms of nonviolent protest, and renewed uses of old forms, are in the headlines; the kneel-in, for example, a protest that has recently spread among athletes. Many people are not aware of the history and the philosophy involved. Not knowing the background, some critics misunderstand and grow angry. Even the liberal and usually knowledgeable Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg called the kneel-in “dumb” and “disrespectful.” (Soon thereafter she took it back: “Barely aware of the incident or its purpose, my comments were inappropriately dismissive and harsh.”) Many people seem unable to put kneel-ins in a historical perspective. So I feel it might help deepen our understanding to look into the background, the meanings, and intentions of some of these practices. Maybe being better informed could help critics comprehend what is happening. (1)

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Salty Gandhi: Alchemist of Psyche

by William J. Jackson

Gandhi gathers salt and breaks law; courtesy

Why Symbolism of Salt to Understand a Trouble Dissolver?

Alchemy is a kind of learning, a repository of old wisdom. It includes observations about elements, experiments with materials and aspects of the universe, as well as studies about processes and psyches. The imagination of curious souls and observers of life, active over the centuries, has experimented and found meanings in chemical and psychic interactions and transformations.

Despite modern science’s new technologies and ways of learning about the universe at various levels—micro, macro, meso—there are still valuable lessons to be learned from the ideas gathered under the term “alchemy” over the centuries. Shakespeare and other great poets are still interesting 500 years later—his grasp of human nature, his use of metaphorical language, and his observations on experience are still valuable, and this is true also for the metaphors found in alchemy.

James Hillman’s Alchemical Psychology is a brilliant contribution to understanding the richness of alchemy. In this book he garners and examines some valuable insights from the explorations of alchemy, and relates them to the processes of the human psyche. Many of the ideas in this paper are derived from Hillman’s inspiring work. I quote some points directly, others I paraphrase and elaborate on, extending them with my own examples and explicating and exploring their implications. Relating these ideas to Gandhi’s work is my idea, not Hillman’s. (1)

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Gentle Persuasion

by William J. Jackson

Taoist compassion artwork; courtesy

The gently persuasive way—not beating others into submission, not bludgeoning, not eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth vengeance, but turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, giving more than is asked, killing the others’ “foeness” with kindness—is an ancient approach. It includes longsuffering, even self-sacrifice, loving your enemy, praying for those who persecute you. This is a Christian teaching, and is also ancient Taoist wisdom philosophy.

The Taoist classic text Tao Te Ching includes a number of lines about humility and not lording it over others, observations of patterns already recognized as very old wisdom 2500 years ago. TTC Chapter 68 is about the virtue of not contending; it speaks of “intelligent non-aggressiveness” and the “virtue of non-contention.” In Taoist philosophy one who accepts the “left tally, the debtor’s tally” (a symbol of inferiority in an agreement, getting the short end of the stick), humbly accepts the less prestigious position, which in the long run is the appearance the victor should have. To flaunt one’s victory sets a tone that brings resentment and reprisals. “Those who dispute are not skilled in Tao.” (TTC Chapter 81) Water flows downhill, and does not fight gravity. (1)

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Three Fairytales by Manfred Kyber

Translated by William J. Jackson

“Wintertime”; illustration by Eduard Schultz, 1867; courtesy

Translator’s Preface: Manfred Kyber (1880-1933) was born in Riga, now the capital of Latvia, but then a part of Russia. His family was German and when he was still a small boy they moved back to Germany. He studied philosophy at the University of Leipzig and later moved to Berlin where he published a novel, poetry, and theater criticism. He married Elisabeth Boltho, a Theosophist through whom he met Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and mystic, and became associated with the anthroposophical movement, which Steiner led. Kyber was not only a pacifist but an outspoken early proponent of animal rights. As well as poetry and novels, he published several volumes of fables and fairy tales, many of which have been translated into English. See the note at the end for links and further details about the translation and translator. Please note that we have also posted three other fairy tales by Kyber. WJJ

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The Snowman

Once upon a time there was a snowman who stood in the middle of the deep snow-covered forest, and he was made entirely of snow. He had no legs, and his eyes were made of coal—that’s all he had, and that’s not much. And he was cold, terribly cold. That’s what the grumbling old icicle that hung nearby said too, though he himself was even colder. “You are cold,” he said reproachfully to the snowman.

The snowman was hurt. “Well, you’re cold too,” he answered.

“Yes, but that’s something else again entirely,” said the icicle with a superior tone.

The snowman was so offended that he would have gone away if he had had any legs. But he had no legs and so he remained standing there, though he did decide to speak no more with the unfriendly icicle.

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The Enlightenment’s Unfinished Business: Adding Gandhian Values to Nation-Making

by William J. Jackson

19th century print of the Enlightenment, courtesy

Tadd Graham Fernée’s new book, Enlightenment and Violence: Modernity and Nation-Making, causes readers to consider some timely issues. I will begin by mentioning some of the issues it has caused me to mull over and explore, questions the book raises both directly and indirectly.

Chronologically, the European Enlightenement ran from 1650-1800. It was a period of remarkable advances in rationality, science and technology, and also a time of new social theories and revolutionary acts of violence ushering in the modern age. Typical dictionary definitions describe the Enlightenment as an eighteenth century movement of philosophical thought which explored the potential of the empirical method in science, questioned authority, and developed new political theories. While many people think of the Enlightenment as dead and gone, it is possible, and reasonable, to see it in another way. It can be seen as a time of blossoming advances which are still bearing fruit, of ongoing intellectual probes and experiments still giving birth to new sets of viewpoints and refinements which are capable of being informed by non-Europeans now, long after the chronological period of the original phase of the Enlightenment has passed.

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The Little Fir Tree: A Fairy Tale

by Manfred Kyber

Editor’s Preface: Manfred Kyber (1880-1933) was born in Riga, now the capital of Latvia, but then a part of Russia. His family was German and when he was still a small boy they moved back to Germany. He studied philosophy at the University of Leipzig and later moved to Berlin where he published a novel, poetry, and theater criticism. He married Elisabeth Boltho, a Theosophist through whom he met Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and mystic, and became associated with the anthroposophical movement, which Steiner led. Kyber was not only a pacifist but an outspoken early proponent of animal rights. As well as poetry and novels, he published several volumes of fables and fairy tales, many of which have been translated into English. See the note at the end for links and further details about the translation and translator. Please note that we have also posted two other fairy tales by Kyber, “The Daily Work before Sunrise”, and “The Key of Heaven”.  WJJ

Illustration courtesy

Once upon a time, deep in a forest of firs, there was a little fir tree who yearned to be a Christmas tree. But that is not as easy as most things in the community of trees, because Saint Nicholas is very firm in regard to his policies, and allows only those trees which have been duly recorded in his book to go into towns and cities as Christmas trees.

The book is frightfully thick, as is proper for a good old saint, and Saint Nicholas takes it with him into the woods on clear cold winter nights and records which trees are to be chosen for the Christmas celebrations.

And the trees, thrilled that they have been chosen for Christmas Eve festivities, bow before him in gladness to thank him, and then the saint’s halo glows, and that is very beautiful, and very solemn.

Now this little fir tree deep in the forest of firs yearned to be a Christmas tree. But for many years Saint Nicholas, when passing by the little fir tree in the clear cold winter nights, had said nothing, absolutely nothing. The poor little fir tree had not been noticed, and so he became very, very sad, and began weeping and weeping, and all his branches trickled with tears.

When someone weeps so much that he begins trickling, someone is bound to hear it. Indeed, this weeping could be heard by a small gnome. He wore a green moss cloak, had a grey beard, and a flame-red snout, and lived in a dark hole.

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The Key of Heaven: A Fairy Tale

by Manfred Kyber

Perugino, “Christ giving Peter the Keys to Kingdom of Heaven”; Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

Once upon a time, there was a very great and powerful king who ruled over many lands. All the treasures of the earth belonged to him, and he sported daily with the precious gemstones of Ophir and the roses of Damascus. But with all his great wealth and his great kingdom, there was still one thing he lacked, and that was the key to the gate of heaven.

He had sent out a thousand messengers to search for the key of heaven, but none could bring it to him. He had asked many wise men who had come to his court where one might find the key of heaven, but none of them had known the answer. Only one, a man from India with strange eyes, who smiled, pushing aside the precious gems of Ophir and the roses of Damascus with which the king sported, said to him: “All the treasures of the earth may be received as presents, but each person must seek individually for the key of heaven.”

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The Daily Work before Sunrise: A Fairy Tale

by Manfred Kyber

Cover art for Kyber’s fairy tales; courtesy

Once upon a time, there was a blacksmith’s workshop and a blacksmith who labored there each day.

This blacksmith was unique, because his daily work was finished before sunrise.

It is a very difficult kind of daily work, which this blacksmith does. A person doing this kind of work becomes weary and sad. And one becomes calm and patient because of it, too. This kind of labor takes a lot of strength. Because someone who does this kind of work lives alone, and hammers in the twilight.

Now it was night, and the blacksmith was not at his forge. The fire-spirit in the chimney slept too. Only the fire-spirit’s breath faintly glowed off and on, glimmering under the ashes, and now and then scattering sparks around in the darkness. But the sparkles soon went out. Only a small gleam of light remained, and when it flickered, it cast glowing light beams that seemed to hurry here and there on the floor and walls, as if wandering and seeking something in the darkness of the smithy.

The relaxed bellows let its great stomach hang in plain glum folds, though when it is folded it becomes slimmer. It reminds us of how a stout master can grow skinny all of a sudden. One could have laughed about this, but in the smithy there was no one who understood how to laugh.

The anvil turned his fat head with its sharp pointed nose slowly in each direction, and looked at the old pieces of iron which would be hammered today. It was not much to look at. Only a few worn pieces huddled together. They lay in a corner, and they were dirty and dusty, like folks who have a long and difficult journey behind them.

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Reflections on Nonviolence and Forgiveness in Action

by William J. Jackson

Ahimsa logo; artist unknown; courtesy of

Examples of Nonviolence in Action

Ahimsa (the Sanskrit word meaning the practice of “being un-hurtful,” the way of “harmlessness” or “non-violence”) is an ancient yoga practice. Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, around 2200 BCE wrote that “Refusal of violence, refusal of stealing, refusal of covetousness, with telling truth and continence, constitute the Rules” of the practice of Yoga. (1) A translator of the Yoga Sutras, Swami Purohit, commented that, “refusal of violence is love for all creatures.” In the text this sutra follows a discussion of karma, and the problem of an individual creating impediments to his liberation, as well as a discussion of the wisdom of avoiding the future misery entailed by actions of violence, a teaching, which is part of the beliefs about karma.

The Yoga Sutras text also states that, “When non-violence is firmly rooted, enmity ceases in the yogi’s presence.” (2) This ancient teaching reminds me of the last part of Gandhi’s life, when he traveled from village to village in parts of India where there were disturbances caused by communal conflicts. He had long before vowed to take the pacifist path, and his gentle presence inspired villagers to have faith in the power of nonviolence.

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Book Review: Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine by David Shulman

by William J. Jackson

1. The Activist Author

Around a decade ago I would see American news programs showing ambulances at a scene of broken glass and chaos, caused by a Palestinian suicide bomber targeting Israeli civilians. Those scenes made me wonder what life must be like for ordinary Palestinians and sympathetic pacifists among the Israelis.

Cover image courtesy Reuters/Corbis & University of Chicago Press

Dark Hope (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007) is a poignant book about Israeli activists’ outreach efforts to befriend and support Palestinians whose homes and fields had been impinged upon by settlers and security measures. The author belongs to a voluntary group named Ta’ayush, Arab-Jewish Partnership, formed in 2000. This alliance is “dedicated to the pursuit of peace, to ending the occupation, and to civic equality within Israel proper.” (p.1) Israeli members of Ta’ayush go out of their comfort zones to publicly take a stand to support endangered Palestinian villagers.

Of course, Ta’ayush is not alone in this work. There are similar Israeli groups, such as Rabbis for Human Rights, The Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, Bar Shalom, Gush Shalom, Kids4Peace, etc. Shulman writes of Ta’ayush: “We follow the classical tradition of civil disobedience in the footsteps of Gandhi, Thoreau, Martin Luther King.” He says the goal is “to construct a true Arab-Jewish partnership” and he quotes Ta’ayush literature: “A future of equality, justice, and peace begins today, between us, through concrete, daily actions of solidarity to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve full civil equality for all Israeli citizens.” (p. 11)

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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