Monthly Gathering for prayer, meditation and reflection
Saturday April 27, 2013 – 9AM-10:30AM at the Parish Center St John of Arc
Larry Thomas will facilitate
Chapter 1, page 1, 1st paragraph: Studying Gandhi’s writings and reflecting on his life’s work have changed the way I understand Jesus. When I read the New Testament I am thrilled and emboldened by the filled-with-compassion, brave, nonviolent Jesus I find there. Gandhi not only had a similar appreciation of Jesus but in his own life convincingly showed us that there is a way to live in this world actively working for the poor, taking on power structures and enduring violence without succumbing to violence oneself, his way of “satyagraha,” which means “firmly holding to the truth” in the midst of conflict while reaching out with nonviolent, suffering love. When I read the Sermon on the Mount I hear Jesus proclaiming the same truth, the same “way”: neither fight nor flight, but a third way of assertive, creative, nonviolent love even for our “enemies.” When I see a crucifix I can only do what Gandhi did in the famous scene caught on film when he happened upon a simple crucifix while visiting the Vatican—bow and be grateful to Jesus for showing us the way and the power of suffering love.
Chapter 1, page 24 [top] It disturbed him [G] greatly when he heard Christians put aside the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount as impractical or dreamy idealism or to be practiced only by those called to be monks or the clergy—the typical ways Catholics and Protestants make the Sermon on the Mount irrelevant to daily life or realpolitik. “For many of them contend that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to mundane things, and that it was only meant for the twelve disciples. Well I do not believe this. I think the Sermon on the Mount has no meaning if it is not of vital use in everyday life to everyone.”
Gandhi spent the whole of his life demonstrating that the Sermon on the Mount could be eminently practical politics. The unthinking acceptance of violence and wars as inevitable by Christians, even church leaders, greatly disturbed him. He felt it made a mockery of the New Testament, Jesus, and the clear teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. He wrote: “Christianity is no Christianity in which a vast number of Christians believe in governments based on brute force and are denying Christ every day of their lives.”
He saw the message of nonviolence and, as he came to call it, satyagraha, as desperately important for the future of humankind. He understood Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount to be the sacred truth that the world yearned for, the “wisdom hidden for all ages,” and yet it was taken so cavalierly by professed “Christians.”
Chapter 2, page 49 [last paragraph] In conclusion, an understanding of all that Gandhi held about truth illuminates even more clearly why there was a need for a brand new term to describe what he and his colleagues were about. They were not just protesting. He understood that unless they embraced truth and nonviolence as a creed they would quickly give up. Only a deep theological vision would give them the ballast they needed to persevere. Gandhi wrote: “[the satyagrahi] must have a living faith in nonviolence. This is impossible without a living faith in God. A non-violent man can do nothing save by the power and grace of God. Without it he won’t have the courage to die without anger, without fear and without retaliation. Such courage comes from the belief that God sits in the hearts of all and that there should be no fear in the presence of God.”
p.50, [1st paragraph] A belief in God as truth would put people in touch with the power that held the universe together. It was an unfailing source of strength that would allow them to endure prison bravely and even with good humor. This vision, that in fact, all humans are one with one another, would prompt action to remove the maya of separateness. It would ignite in the satyagrahi the commitment to fight and transform the causes of unnecessary human suffering. It would point out a way to stand up to violence without succumbing to the temptation to use violence in return. The practice of satyagraha flows from this theological vision. The vision is inseparable from the practice. The practice is made effective, creative, and enduring through the vision.
Page 51 [1st three paragraphs] Gandhi did not think conflict was removable from the human scene. He did think, however, that violence could be minimized, and that humans could achieve a predominantly nonviolent society. He understood the need for the state to have policing power for the maintenance of order. Such policing power was not to be equated however, with warmaking power, which he hoped could be eradicated.
Gandhi was not a patsy. He was a fighter. He constantly seemed to find the center of action. He taught that not resisting injustice and claiming to be nonviolent was actually cowardice.
Satyagraha is in fact a philosophy of conflict. By pursuing, through direct action, a fuller truth than that possessed by either party in a conflict, one tries to resolve conflicts, not through compromise, but through a higher synthesis.
Page 52 [1st paragraph and last two paragraphs] Satyagraha is a way of exerting power. Given Gandhi’s view that the world was bound to be riven with conflict, it is not surprising that what he liked about the term “satyagraha” was that it claimed a place for the assertive use of power. He understood the agraha component, translated as holding fast or holding steadfastly, to be part of the word that conveyed the notion of coercion, force and power. He wrote: “Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force.” . . . .
Gandhi did not refrain from using force, the intangible kind. Nor did he refrain from coercion when it was required—but it was always done nonviolently. Far from being people who do not engage the world, satyagrahis engage it full bore. Gandhi wanted satyagrahis to be as courageous and as powerful as soldiers—and as well trained and prepared to face violence.
Putting the two words, satya and agraha together makes “satyagraha.” It is fortunate that there is such a word. It communicates better than the pale, purely negative expressions that typically substitute for it, such as “passive resistance” or “nonviolence,” the fullness of what Gandhi had in mind.
Page 80 [first four paragraphs] In summary, Gandhi offered the world a “moral equivalent to war.” It certainly answered William James’s stipulation that an alternative to war would be found that preserved “hardihood.” Nothing could be more brave than a mass of people confronting an army outfitted with guns and tanks, a mass of people baring their breasts to bullets—as brave as any soldiers risking their lives in order to kill the “enemy.” Like war, satyagraha demands public spirit, organization, endurance, self-sacrifice, and discipline for its successful operation.
More important, nonviolent civil defense holds out the opportunity of ending international conflicts, conflicts between nations, with much less destruction than traditional wars. Gene Sharp has estimated that if India had used a full-scale war with traditional guerilla approaches, as had been done in Algeria, the death toll would have been “3 to 3.5 million versus the actual death toll from the nonviolent struggle of 8,000.”
Finally, as Gandhi reflected on the history of wars and violence, he posed the very practical question of effectiveness. For him, war never led to peace because it used means that were antithetical to peace. War always left behind the latent seeds of hate and retribution. Killing, especially in conflicts over ideology, led to mutual demonization.
Gandhi saw in satyagraha an alternative to war that would not continue or escalate the cycle of hate and retribution but would instead quench it. A people responding to violence with nonviolence would end the cycle just as surely in conflicts between states as it did in the conflict of a people trying to throw off an oppressive rule.