Gandhi

Guest Editorial: Truth And Nonviolence

by Arvind Sharma

Gandhi poster courtesy rishikajain.com

Truth and nonviolence are generally considered to be the two key ingredients of Gandhian thought. It is possible to pursue one without the other, possible, for example, to pursue truth without being nonviolent. Nations go to war believing truth is on their side, or that they are on the side of truth. The more sensitive among those who believe truth is on their side insist not that there should be no war but that it should be a just war. The most sensitive, however, and pacifists are among these, avoid violence altogether. But it could be argued that in doing so they have gone too far and have abandoned truth, and even justice. Although he was opposed to war, Gandhi argued that the two parties engaging in it may not stand on the same plane: the cause of one side could be more just than the other, so that even a nonviolent person might wish to extend his or her moral support to one side rather than to the other.

Just as it is possible to pursue truth without being nonviolent, it is also possible to pursue nonviolence without pursuing truth. In fact, it could be proposed that a disjunction between the two runs the risk of cowardice being mistaken for, or masquerading as, nonviolence. The point becomes clear if we take the world “truth” to denote the “right” thing to do in a morally charged situation. Gandhi was fond of quoting the following statement from Confucius: “To know what is right and not to do it is cowardice.”

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The Meaning of Truth

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

School of Andries Cornelis Lens, “Truth Protecting Us with Her Shield”, c. 1750; courtesy wikigallery.org

Editor’s Preface: “Truth”, “lies”, “alternate facts”, “post-truth politics”, etc., are terms very much in the air these days. Gandhi had much to say about Truth; the selection below is only a small sample focused on the root concepts behind his use of the term, and by application the root of his theory of nonviolence. This is the first of a series of articles we will be posting over the next few months on truth and truth in politics. Other statements on Satyagraha and Truth can be found on our Quotes and Sources page, via the link at the top of the page. JG

(I) The word Satya (Truth) is derived from Sat, which means ‘being’. Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. That is why Sat or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God. In fact it is more correct to say that Truth is God, than to say that God is Truth. But as we cannot do without a ruler or a general, such names of God as ‘King of Kings’ or ‘The Almighty’ are and will remain generally current. On deeper thinking, however, it will be realised, that Truth (Sat or Satya) is the only correct and fully significant name for God.

And where there is Truth, there also is true knowledge. Where there is no Truth, there can be no true knowledge. That is why the word Chit or knowledge is associated with the name of God. And where there is true knowledge, there is always bliss (Ananda). There sorrow has no place. And even as Truth is eternal, so is the bliss derived from it. Hence we know God as Sat-Chit-Ananda, one who combines in Himself Truth, knowledge and bliss. (1)

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A Discipline for Non-violence

by Richard B. Gregg

The Wheel of Integral Non-violence is courtesy of chico-peace.org

Editor’s Preface: This 1941 article, with its Foreword by Gandhi, continues our series of important historical documents on the theory and history of Gandhian nonviolence. Gregg here argues for the value of manual labor, as advocated by John Ruskin, and as practiced by Gandhi in his ashrams, where Gregg had lived. Gandhi considered spinning and weaving essential to the routine of a nonviolent community, yet this article is one of the very few to try to explicate this. Please also see the Editor’s Note at the end for more information about Gregg, and please also consult his other article, which we have posted here. JG

Foreword (by M. K. Gandhi): ‘A Discipline for Non-violence’ is a pamphlet written by Mr. Richard B. Gregg for the guidance of those Westerners who endeavour to follow the law of Satyagraha. I use the word advisedly instead of ‘pacifism’. For what passes under the name of pacifism is not the same as Satyagraha. Mr. Gregg is a most diligent and methodical worker. He had first-hand knowledge of Satyagraha, having lived in India and then too for nearly a year in the Sabarmati Ashram. His pamphlet is seasonable and cannot fail to help the Satyagrahis of India. For though the pamphlet is written in a manner attractive for the West, the substance is the same for both the Western and the Eastern Satyagrahi. A cheap edition of the pamphlet is therefore being printed locally for the benefit of Indian readers in the hope that many will make use of it and profit by it. A special responsibility rests upon the shoulders of Indian Satyagrahis, for Mr Gregg has based the pamphlet on his observation of the working of Satyagraha in India. However admirable this guide of Mr. Gregg’s may appear as a well-arranged code, it must fail in its purpose if the Indian experiment fails. (Sevagram, 24-8-1941)

A Discipline for Non-violence

For ages military discipline has won and held men’s faith. However crude, indiscriminate, and brief may be the results of organized violence, the world still has immense respect for its show of firmness and order. Much as we dislike war, when we begin to ask how we can attain justice and peace, we come face to face with this power of the military method. What is the secret of this power? Does it lie merely in men’s fear of violence?

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Book Review: Ajay Skaria’s Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance

by Thomas Weber

Cover art courtesy University of Minnesota Press; upress.umn.edu

As a university student with an interest in existential philosophy, I remember struggling with Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. At times there were even consecutive pages that made sense to me, but more often there were only single paragraphs separated by many pages of dense language and philosophical concepts that were beyond my comprehension. I was very thankful when I came across Sartre’s essay “Humanism as an Existentialism” and suddenly what he was trying to say came into focus and made sense. How much I lost by not comprehending the probably profounder text, I will never know. Readers of some of the latest scholarly offerings in the attempts to understand the life and thought of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi may find themselves in a similar position while waiting for the simpler more readily graspable versions to materialise. But then, weighty philosophical concepts are weighty philosophical concepts and possibly they are not meant for a wider audience that has little desire or ability to engage in deep theoretical philosophical discourse.

Once, writings about Gandhi were biographies, often hagiographical (for example by Louis Fischer); personal reminiscences, usually hagiographical (for example by his most well known British disciple Mirabehn); and selections of the Mahatma’s thoughts grouped in various categories, generally selected by those who were followers (R.K.Prabhu and U.R.Rao, Anand Hingorani, N.K.Bose and Krishna Kripalani come to mind). Of course there were serious attempts at analysing Gandhi’s campaigns through primary archival sources (for example by Judith Brown) and more probing attempts to make sense of his world view and what led him to have it (here one could list Gopinath Dhawan, T.K.N.Unnithan and Erik Erikson). During 1969, the Gandhi birth centenary year, dozens of books appeared. More recently, although there was the occasional controversy (particularly over the writings of James Lelyveld and Jad Adams), it has become almost fashionable to ensure that Gandhi scholarship can in no way be seen as hagiographical, with writers doing their utmost to undermine the “myth of the Mahatma”, by pointing out Gandhi’s inconsistencies, his youthful elitist and even racist attitudes (for example by Desai and Vahed), his older-age, controversial experiments in sexuality, and even labelling him as a traitor in the project of the creation of modern India (too many to mention). Even more recently, however, there has been another trend where scholars with a strong theoretical bent and deep philosophical knowledge have taken the Mahatma seriously and decided to turn their attention to his life and an analysis of his praxis (and here we could mention the writings of Vinay Lal, Faisal Devji, Isabel Hofmeyr and Tridip Suhrud among a growing cohort). Ajay Skaria’s Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016) is a prime example of this development.

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Book Review: Vandana Shiva’s Who Really Feeds the World?

by Tallessyn Z. Grenfell-Lee

Book cover art courtesy zedbooks.net

Humanity will always have a few basic needs: clothing, shelter, food. In the early 1900s, Gandhi saw clearly how imperialist colonialism had hijacked India’s sovereignty along with its ability to clothe itself, and he inspired a nation to reclaim the right to spin its own cloth. The people embraced homespun khadi and the spinning wheel, not only for their practical utility in reestablishing the independent foundation for a local economy, but for their deep symbolic significance in resisting the oppressive forces of racism, sexism, and classism perpetuated by imperialistic greed.

In her book Who Really Feeds the World (London: Zed Books, 2016) Vandana Shiva describes how India is again reclaiming another of humanity’s elemental needs from equally rapacious forces: the ability and right for a community to feed itself. This time, the symbol of communal empowerment is the humble seed, and Shiva’s Navdanya movement urges all Indians – and all peoples – to plant diverse seeds on every plot and balcony as a way to resist and reclaim food and seed sovereignty. Navdanya follows in the footsteps of Gandhi, employing Seed Satyagraha, or non-cooperation, to resist laws and policies that would allow large, trans-national corporations not only to convert local farms to industrialized, chemical-intensive practices, but also to outlaw ancient practices such as seed saving and sharing.

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Nonviolent Power in Action: The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict Interview with Dennis Dalton

by Richard Ricketts

Dustwrapper art courtesy cup.columbia.edu.

Editor’s Preface: Dennis Dalton is Ann Whitney Olin Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University, and a leading authority on Gandhi and civil resistance. Please see the note at the end for bibliographical information, and acknowledgments. JG

Richard Ricketts: Do you see resistance to Peace Studies as a field of study?

Dennis Dalton: That is a hard question. Many universities have institutes and centers that incorporate the word “peace,” such as the Institute of War and Peace at Columbia, but all they typically study is the war side of the equation. Peace is seen as a passive phenomenon, as an absence of war, so it is thought that there is nothing there to study.

I suspect this line of thinking is encouraged, in part, by the large grants that are provided from the Department of Defense. Columbia, for example, has traditionally been funded very liberally by the Defense Department and the money is just not there for peace studies. That is why I was really interested in this program at Arizona State University. The founder of the program Ann Hardt was really committed to peace and peace studies. You need someone like that who can fund these types of programs.

When I went to the instruction/education board meetings [at Columbia], I was told the subject was academically soft, not rigorous enough. What they meant was that they deemed pacifism as a weak, effeminate subject.

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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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The Religion of Gandhi: The Wire-India Interview with
Ajay Skaria

by Omair Ahmad

Dustwrapper of India edition courtesy permanent-black.blogspot.nl

Omair Ahmad: It is rare to speak of ‘religion’ in the political domain these days and you mention your own difficulties in breaking out of the secular mould to read Gandhi in this light. Could you explain?

Ajay Skaria: I must confess that like most others who had come of intellectual age as part of the Indian left, I was for long suspicious of Gandhi because of his overt religiosity. Certainly, if you had asked me as late as 2000, whether there was any chance that I would work on Gandhi, I would have emphatically said ‘no.’ And I would have said so partially because both as a college student and later in my work in the adivasi tribal regions, I often encountered too many Gandhians running ashrams that effectively practiced an upper caste Hinduism. Even now, to my mind, his Hinduism as a social phenomenon arguably enabled the later rise of militant Hinduism, Hindutva.

I was drawn into Gandhi’s writings completely by accident. In 2000, I was teaching the English Hind Swaraj in an undergraduate class and a passage from it intrigued me. Since I happened to have the Gujarati text close at hand I consulted it. I had in fact just bought it during my trip earlier that year to Ahmedabad since the person I was then working with, Indulal Yagnik, was first a Gujurati associate and then a critic of Gandhi. There was considerable divergence between the Gujarati and English. As I read more, I realised that the divergences were quite numerous, and it became increasingly clear to me that Gandhi’s writing might be doing something quite different from what he may have intended it to do.

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Nonviolence Versus Capitalism

by Brian Martin

Martin Luther King banner at 2012 U.S. Republican Convention, courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

Nonviolent action provides the best hope for moving beyond capitalism to a more humane social and economic system. In the past, methods of nonviolent action such as strikes, boycotts, non-cooperation, sit-ins and alternative institutions have most commonly been used to challenge systems of direct violence, such as repressive governments. Capitalism is a more difficult system to challenge using nonviolent action because of the way it infiltrates people’s everyday thinking and behaviour. In order to develop a nonviolence strategy against capitalism, a careful analysis is required to pinpoint key areas for attention, spell out alternatives and highlight opportunities. At the core of capitalism is private ownership of the means of production, including land, factories and knowledge. This is backed up, ultimately, by the coercive power of the state. Problems with capitalism are well known, so only a summary is given here. Generally speaking, the system of ownership encourages individuals and groups to put special interests above general interests.

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Forgiveness and Conflict Resolution

by John Moolakkattu

Gandhi quote courtesy harshitkumargupta.wordpress.com

Scott Appleby, who has done extensive research on religion and politics, concludes that a new form of conflict transformation, namely religious peace building, is taking shape in and across local communities plagued by violence. (1) Since the end of the Cold War, there has been growing cooperation between nations and peoples in the Western hemisphere, and increasing number of apologies and acts of forgiveness throughout the world. This has prompted scholars of conflict resolution to shift their focus from conflict resolution to concepts such as reconciliation and forgiveness, concepts that reflect more correctly the spirit and practice of the new age. The power of forgiveness as a means of conflict resolution or transformation was emphasised by thinkers like Hannah Arendt, as it allows human beings to come to terms with their undesirable past, thereby changing the rule that governs the power relationship between the former victimiser and his or her victim. The application of ideas and beliefs that are relevant in the personal and religious realm to politics is however a project that many political realists would find difficult to accept.Forgiveness seems to represent the personal, the private and the spiritual. The sociologist and historian John Torpey writes that the influence of Holocaust consciousness is a factor contributing to the forgiveness discourse. (2) One can also see the direct influence of restorative justice practices such as criminal justice innovations and victim-offender mediation, often drawing on aboriginal justice. However, it is the encouraging results from the experience of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the revival of the Christian idea of forgiveness that also finds reflection in most religions in one form or the other, which made the concept popular in recent years. Some even see this as a sort of opportunity for national self-reflexivity and social healing. In other words, forgiveness, once dismissed as irrelevant in the field of conflict resolution during its technical phase of rational problem solving, has now become a theme of considerable import.

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hrule
“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