Satyagraha and the Mysterious Power of Gandhi’s Non-violence: Part 2

By Paul Sinclair (One World One People) 11/9/06
and revised on 29/9/10

Welcome back as we waste no time is shining the torch straight back on the past and see what interesting things are revealed!

How do we produce soul force and who is qualified to use it? Returning to the words of Mahatma Gandhi himself:

‘Non-violence is a power, which can be wielded equally by all – children, young men and women or grown-up people – provided they have a living faith in the God of Love and have therefore equal love for all mankind. When non-violence is accepted as the law of life it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts.’

‘Man and his deed are two distinct things.’…‘ “Hate the sin and not the sinner” is a precept which, though easy enough to understand is rarely practised, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.’

‘In its positive form, ahimsa (non-violence, positively the practice of love) means the largest love, greatest charity. If I am a follower of ahimsa I must love my enemy. I must apply the same rules to the wrong-doer who is my enemy or a stranger to me, as I would to my wrong-doing father or son.’

‘Non-violence to be a potent force must begin with the mind. Non-violence of the mere body without the cooperation of the mind is non-violence of the weak or the cowardly, and has, therefore, no potency.’

‘The essence of violence is that there must be a violent intention behind a thought, word, or act, i.e., an intention to do harm to the opponent so-called.’

‘At every step, he (the exponent of non-violence) has to use his discrimination as to what is ahimsa and what is himsa (violence).’

And what of emotions like anger that make the deliberate practice of non-violence very difficult?

‘It is not that I am incapable of anger, for instance, but I succeed on almost all occasions to keep my feelings under control. Whatever may be the result, there is always in me conscious struggle for following the law of non-violence deliberately and ceaselessly. Such a struggle leaves one the stronger for it. The more I work at this law, the more I feel the delight in my life, the delight in the scheme of the universe. It gives me a peace and a meaning of the mysteries of nature that I have no power to describe.’

‘Non-violence presupposes ability to strike. It is a conscious, deliberate restraint put upon one’s desire for vengeance…Forgiveness is higher still…The desire for vengeance comes out of fear of harm, imaginary or real. A man who fears no one on earth would consider it troublesome even to summon up anger against one who is vainly trying to injure him.’

‘…I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. Forgiveness adorns a soldier.’

‘A man cannot practise ahimsa and be a coward at the same time. The practice of ahimsa calls forth the greatest courage.’

‘Non-violence is the summit of bravery.’

‘No matter how weak a person is in body, if it is a shame to flee, he will stand his ground and die at his post.’

‘My non-violence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected.’

‘As a coward, which I was for years, I harboured violence. I began to prize non-violence only when I began to shed cowardice.’

‘Non-violence cannot be taught to a person who fears to die and has no power of resistance.’

‘The strength to kill is not essential for self-defence; one ought to have the strength to die. When a man is fully ready to die, he will not desire to offer violence.’

Gandhi goes into depth in many of his writings to explain that there are exceptions that allow for the use of violence, but qualifies this: ‘Perfect non-violence is impossible so long as we exist physically…Perfect non-violence whilst you are inhabiting the body is only a theory like Euclid’s point or straight line, but we have to endeavour every moment of our lives.’

‘Taking life may be a duty. We do destroy as much life as we think necessary for sustaining our body.’

‘Evil and good are relative terms. What is good under certain conditions can become evil or a sin, under a different set of conditions.’

‘For me, non-violence is not a mere philosophical principle. It is the rule and the breath of my life…It is a matter not of the intellect but of the heart.’

‘I must not suppress that voice within, call it conscience, call it the prompting of my inner basic nature’

The final elements that govern the behaviour of a successful practitioner of non-violence include: ‘A devotee of Truth may not do anything in deference to (that) convention. He must always hold himself open to correction, and whenever he discovers himself to be wrong he must confess it at all costs and atone for it.’

The principle of non-violence necessitates complete abstention from exploitation in any form.’

Finally, are their limits to the situations where non-violence can be successfully applied?

Gandhi explains:

‘…Non-violence, as I understand it, is the most active force in the world…Non-violence is the supreme law. During my half a century of experience, I have not yet come across a situation when I had to say that I was helpless, that I had no remedy in terms of non-violence.’

Gandhi maintained that the results of using the great principle were far-reaching: ‘…when soul-force is fully awakened in us, it becomes irresistible. But the test and condition of full awakening is that it must permeate every pore of our being and emanate with every breath that we breathe.’

‘The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might over sweep the world.’

‘…One who hooks his fortunes to ahimsa, the law of love, daily lessens the circle of destruction, and to that extent promotes life and love; he who swears by himsa, the law of hate, daily widens the circle of destruction, and to that extent promotes death and hate.’

What relevance does the science of non-violence have to modern times and the current conflicts raging throughout our world? Many clues can once again be found in his own words. It seems human beings may change but the laws of nature do not.

‘My experience, daily growing stronger and richer, tells me that there is no peace for individuals or for nations without practising truth and non-violence to the uttermost extent possible for man. The policy of retaliation has never succeeded.’

‘…my study of history has taught that hatred and violence used in however noble a cause only breed their kind and instead of bringing peace, jeopardize it.’

‘I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.’

‘From violence done to the foreign ruler, violence to our own people whom we may consider to be obstructing the country’s progress is an easy natural step. Whatever may have been the result of violent activities in other countries and without reference to the philosophy of non-violence, it does not require much intellectual effort to see that if we resort to violence for ridding society of many abuses which impede our progress, we shall add to our difficulties and postpone the day of freedom. The people unprepared for reforms because unconvinced of their necessity will be maddened with rage over the coercion, and will seek the assistance of the foreigner in order to retaliate.’

Finally, he warns of the folly of weapons of mass destruction and the arms race: ‘…The moral to be legitimately drawn from the supreme tragedy of the atom bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter bombs, even as violence cannot be by counter-violence. Mankind has to go out of violence only through non-violence. Hatred can be overcome only by love. Counter hatred only increases the surface, as well as the depth of hatred.’

I did not move a muscle when I first heard that an atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, ‘Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.’

‘I have an unchangeable faith that it is beneath the dignity of man to resort to mutual slaughter. I have no doubt that there is a way out.’

The way out is an obvious one. In the words of the great man himself: 'You must be the change you want to see in the world.'

The scope of this article is quite limited in content and can, as such, scarcely do justice to its noble subject. Therefore, before the reader declares agreement or disagreement with the principle of non-violence, it is wise to weigh the best available evidence in order to lift one to a reasonably comprehensive understanding of that evidence. In order to do this the viewing of Richard Attenborough's Film: Gandhi (1982) starring Ben Kingsley, is recommended to get a visual reproduction of the great man’s use of non-violence. (A trailer for the film can be seen here.) To get to the practical nuts and bolts of Satyagraha, Gandhi’s own comprehensive book 'Satyagraha in South Africa' is suggested.

UK Edition - US Edition

See also:

Our charity fiction book Shanti the Grass-Eating Lion: a popular and exciting tale that teaches children and young people about non-violence and forgiveness (coming soon)
Racism and How to Heal Racial Hatred
Volunteering for Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity to serve the Poorest of the Poor in Calcutta, India Part 1

© One World One People, 11 September 2006
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