Contributed by http://www.peacemakersguide.org/
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No other modern peacemaker comes close to the stature of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the little man who led the people of India to independence from British rule through sacrifice, self-denial, civil disobedience, imprisonment, fasting, and always, the power of nonviolent love to all. He first learned the power of nonviolent action while fighting against racism in South Africa. In 1915 he returned to India to serve his people and fight for the rights of the poor and oppressed. After India was liberated in 1947 he tried to quell the violence between Muslims and Hindus that was tearing apart the new country, but was assassinated in 1948.
Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to freedom for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.
One of the last notes left behind by Gandhi in 1948
The Gospel of Nonviolence (excerpts)
I have been a ‘gambler’ all my life. In my passion for finding truth and in relentlessly following out my faith in nonviolence, I have counted no stake too great.
I learned the lesson of nonviolence from my wife, when I tried to bend her to my will. Her determined resistance to my will, on the one hand, and her quiet submission to the suffering my stupidity involved, on the other, ultimately made me ashamed of myself and cured me of my stupidity in thinking that I was born to rule over her and, in the end, she became my teacher in nonviolence.
The doctrine that has guided my life is not one of inaction but of the highest action. I must not flatter myself with the belief nor allow friends to entertain the belief that I have exhibited any heroic and demonstrable nonviolence in myself. All I can claim is that I am sailing in that direction without a moment’s stop.
Nonviolence affords the fullest protection to one’s self-respect and sense of honor, but not always to possession of land or movable property, though its habitual practice does prove a better bulwark than the possession of armed men to defend them. Nonviolence, in the very nature of things, is of no assistance in the defense of ill-gotten gains and immoral acts. Individuals or nations who would practice nonviolence must be prepared to sacrifice (nations to last man) their all except honor. It is, therefore, inconsistent with the possession of other people’s countries, i.e., modern imperialism, which is frankly based on force for its defense.
Nonviolence 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 nonviolence is accepted as the law of life, it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts.
It is a profound error to suppose that, whilst the law is good enough for individuals, it is not for masses of mankind. For the way of nonviolence and truth is sharp as the razor’s edge. Its practice is more than our daily food. Rightly taken, food sustains the body; rightly practiced, nonviolence sustains the soul. The body food we can only take in measured quantities and at stated intervals; nonviolence, which is the spiritual food, we have to take in continually. There is no such thing as satiation. I have to be conscious every moment that I am pursuing the goal and have to examine myself in terms of that goal.
The very first step in nonviolence is that we cultivate in our daily life, as between ourselves, truthfulness, humility, tolerance, loving kindness. Honesty, they say in English, is the best policy. But, in terms of nonviolence, it is not mere policy. Policies may and do change. Nonviolence is an unchangeable creed. It has to be pursued in face of violence raging around you. Nonviolence with a nonviolent man is no merit. In fact it becomes difficult to say whether it is nonviolence at all. But when it is pitted against violence, then one realizes the difference between the two. This we cannot do unless we are ever wakeful, ever vigilant, ever striving.
[A living faith in nonviolence] is impossible without a living faith in God. A nonviolent 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. The knowledge of the omnipresence of God also means respect for the lives even of those who may be called opponents…
Nonviolence is an active force of the highest order. It is soul force or the power of Godhead within us. Imperfect man cannot grasp the whole of that Essence–he would not be able to bear its full blaze, but even an infinitesimal fraction of it, when it becomes active within us, can work wonders.
The sun in the heavens fills the whole universe with its life-giving warmth. But if one went too near it, it would consume him to ashes. Even so it is with Godhead. We become Godlike to the extent we realize nonviolence; but we can never become wholly God.
The fact is that nonviolence does not work in the same way as violence. It works in the opposite way. An armed man naturally relies upon his arms. A man who is intentionally unarmed relies upon the Unseen Force called God by poets, but called the Unknown by scientists. But that which is unknown is not necessarily non-existent. God is the Force among all forces known and unknown. Nonviolence without reliance upon that Force is poor stuff to be thrown in the dust.
My nonviolence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach nonviolence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes. Nonviolence is the summit of bravery. And in my own experience, I have had no difficulty in demonstrating to men trained in the school of violence the superiority of nonviolence. As a coward, which I was for years, I harbored violence. I began to prize nonviolence only when I began to shed cowardice. Those Hindus who ran away from the post of duty when it was attended with danger did so not because they were nonviolent, or because they were afraid to strike, but because they were unwilling to die or even suffer an injury. A rabbit that runs away from the bull terrier is not particularly nonviolent. The poor thing trembles at the sight of the terrier and runs for very life.
Nonviolence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of nonviolence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with nonviolence. Translation from swordsmanship to nonviolence is possible and, at times, even an easy stage. Nonviolence, therefore, presupposes ability to strike. It is a conscious deliberate restraint put upon one’s desire for vengeance. But vengeance is any day superior to passive, effeminate, and helpless submission. Forgiveness is higher still. Vengeance too is weakness. The desire for vengeance comes out of fear of harm, imaginary or real. A dog barks and bites when he fears. A man who fears no one on earth would consider it too troublesome even to summon up anger against one who is vainly trying to injure him. The sun does not wreak vengeance upon little children who throw dust at him. They only harm themselves in the act…
If one has pride and egoism, there is no nonviolence. Nonviolence is impossible without humility. My own experience is that, whenever I have acted nonviolently, I have been led to it and sustained in it by the higher promptings of an unseen power. Through my own will I should have miserably failed. When I first went to jail, I quailed at the prospect. I had heard terrible things about jail life. But I had faith in God’s protection. Our experience was that those who went to jail in a prayerful spirit came out victorious, those who had gone in their own strength failed. There is no room for self-pitying in it either when you say God is giving you the strength. Self-pity comes when you do a thing for which you expect recognition from others. It was only when I had learned to reduce myself to zero that I was able to evolve the power of Satyagraha in South Africa.
Mahatma Gandhi Research and Media Service
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