What Gandhi Said About Resistance

What the experts say about deciding your method of resistance. 

In This Article

America Today

With all of the upsetting news and injustice in the world, we felt compelled to revisit the words of one of the world’s most impactful change makers.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Philosophy 

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) inspired the world when he ended over 200 years of British occupation without violence. His nonviolent movement was called satyagraha, from the Sanskrit words satya (truth) and āgraha (holding firmly to). 

gandhi

Sat, meaning being, suggests actions based on one’s true self: uninhibited to love fully and care deeply for others. The word sattva in Ayurveda comes from the root word sat and employs diet, behavioral, and lifestyle modifications to live in, as Gandhi put it, satyagraha

Gandhi describes satyagraha this way: “Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement satyagraha, that is to say, the force which is born of truth and love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase ‘passive resistance.’”5 

In his book Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha Movements, David Traboulay writes, “Gandhi found the principal source of his idea of nonviolence in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain teaching of ahimsa, and also in Christianity, especially in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi’s definition of nonviolence signified not only not harming others physically, but also not violating their essence and respecting the truth in them. Nonviolence also embraced the larger notion of love and compassion. As an instrument in political struggles, satyagraha meant the readiness to suffer injury, but not to inflict injury.”7  

Gandhi believed that to practice satyagraha, we must act on the true meaning of ahimsa or nonviolence. We must do more than inflict no harm; we must find the truth (satya) and love those who trespass against us. We must, through compassion, see and feel our enemy’s pain and act with love and understanding. 

Gandhi Speaks on Truth 

In these times where truth is not always respected, Gandhi’s view on the matter is especially relevant. He taught that nothing is or exists in reality except truth. In the context of satyagraha, truth includes:  

lifespa image, ancient book, graphic, birds flying
  • Truth in speech, as opposed to falsehood 
  • What is real, as opposed to nonexistent 
  • Good, as opposed to evil or bad 

This was critical to Gandhi’s understanding of and faith in nonviolence: “The world rests upon the bedrock of satya or truth. Asatya, meaning untruth, also means nonexistent, and satya or truth also means that which is. If untruth does not so much as exist, its victory is out of the question. And truth, being that which is, can never be destroyed. This is the doctrine of satyagraha in a nutshell.”9 

See also Podcast Episode 096: Buddhism + Love with Elephant Journal’s Waylon Lewis

Truth + Ahimsa (Nonviolence) 

Without ahimsa (nonviolence), it is not possible to seek and find truth. Ahimsa and truth are so intertwined, it is practically impossible to disentangle and separate them. They are two sides of the same coin.  

Ahimsa is the means; truth is the end. Ahimsa is our supreme duty.9 

Gandhi’s Influence 

Gandhi’s message of nonviolence inspired some of the great civil rights leaders of our time, including Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., In Martin Luther King, Jr.’s autobiography, he wrote about Gandhi’s influence on his thinking: 

“Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read, I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. I was particularly moved by his Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts. The whole concept of Satyagraha (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform.  

It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking. Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the long ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love, for Gandhi, was a partner instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months.”6 

Gandhi’s Ahimsa Rules for Nonviolent Protest 

Gandhi proposed a series of rules for satyagrahis to follow in a resistance campaign:9 

  1. Harbor no anger. 
  2. Suffer the anger of the opponent. 
  3. Never retaliate to assaults or punishment; but do not submit, out of fear of punishment or assault, to an order given in anger. 
  4. Voluntarily submit to arrest or confiscation of your own property. 
  5. If you are a trustee of property, defend that property (nonviolently) from confiscation with your life. 
  6. Do not curse or swear. 
  7. Do not insult the opponent. 
  8. Neither salute nor insult the flag of your opponent or your opponent’s leaders. 
  9. If anyone attempts to insult or assault your opponent, defend your opponent (nonviolently) with your life. 
  10. As a prisoner, behave courteously and obey prison regulations (except any that are contrary to self-respect). 
  11. As a prisoner, do not ask for special favorable treatment. 
  12. As a prisoner, do not fast in an attempt to gain conveniences whose deprivation does not involve any injury to your self-respect. 
  13. Joyfully obey the orders of the leaders of the civil disobedience action. 

India’s Independence 

On August 8, 1942, the Indian Congress passed the Quit India Resolution, where under the nonviolent leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, congress would not quell rebellions against British occupation.  

After more than 2,000 days in jail and months of near-death fasting, Gandhi led India with peaceful and nonviolent protests to its first independence in over 200 years.1, 2 3 

As you think about the state of the world today, how will you stand up for what you believe in? 

See also The Science of Sattva (and Giving)

References

  1. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/speech-brought-india-brink-independence-180964366/ 
  2. https://books.google.com/books?id=ChVT_HJOETYC&pg=PT100&lpg=PT100&dq=leopold+amery+quit+india+announcement&source=bl&ots=xAkxfCUJs_&sig=bmA9gc8wB_p4Oi4wtjPicYhehHo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwib3uyynL7VAhWBZCYKHaSdBmEQ6AEISDAE#v=onepage&q&f=false 
  3. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/american-revolution-faqs 
  4. M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South AfricaNavajivan, Ahmedabad, 1111, pp. 109–10. 
  5. https://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/44-gandhi-explains-satyagraha 
  6. https://books.google.com/books?id=qW-NYdIefPgC&pg=PA478&lpg=PA478&dq=Like+most+people,+I+had+heard+of+Gandhi,+but+I+had+never+studied+him+seriously.+As+I+read+I+became+deeply+fascinated+by+his+campaigns+of+nonviolent+resistance&source=bl&ots=68mUxwTs1Z&sig=ACfU3U19hju_geQyMYUX14b5WyZNAs_ueg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjGuujS_ePpAhXIZs0KHfTXBLoQ6AEwAHoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=Like%20most%20people%2C%20I%20had%20heard%20of%20Gandhi%2C%20but%20I%20had%20never%20studied%20him%20seriously.%20As%20I%20read%20I%20became%20deeply%20fascinated%20by%20his%20campaigns%20of%20nonviolent%20resistance&f=false 
  7. https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=si_pubs 
  8. https://www.biography.com/news/martin-luther-king-jr-gandhi-nonviolence-inspiration
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyagraha 

22 thoughts on “What Gandhi Said About Resistance”

  1. Hello Dr. Douillard,
    Haven’t we Americans been here before? Over and over and over. Each time invoking Ghandi and MLK. This moment feels different for me. I hope that white americans in particular are called to respond differently. Beyond whether or not the protests are violent or peaceful. What will we DO after the protests. What actions will we take collectively to dismantle the unjust criminal justice system. What dharmic actions are necessary? How can we hold ourselves accountable for seeing this through, and not going back to sleep. Not doing anything could be considered a form of violence. Ahimsa could also mean direct action against racist power structures.

    Reply
    • Sandra,
      I’m so glad you said this. I feel like Dr. Douillard’s response above totally misses the point and does nothing to create more awareness and understanding. It’s a distraction from the real issue at hand. I’m quite disappointed because I expected more. Though I do understand that the systematic racism and white privilege are still tough for many to see and acknowledge. I hope his eyes are opened one day.

      Reply
      • I found this a lovely reminder from a time I didn’t live through – the only reactions I’ve seen in my lifetime are violent ones. How is it a distraction? What white privilege is Dr. D missing when offering suggestions about how two great peaceful leaders of color inspired change? And before you start name calling, I’m a brown person, not a “sleeping” white person, as you seem to view them.

        Reply
        • The US is very capable of peacefully protesting. We’ve seen beautiful examples of this in the past few days, thanks to the precedents set by MLK and Ghandi. My fear is that focusing on the tactics misses the opportunity take a hard look at the reason we find ourselves here in the first place. And why we keep returning. Many people will take part in these marches and rallies, and then return to life as normal believing they have done their part. True peace requires confronting and questioning with courage and confidence all the lies we’ve been told about the history of this country and the ways in which the lie continues. With Ghandi, there was a clear opponent to resist against. In the US, we are ourselves (white people) complicit in ways that are so easily ignored. Hence the repeating of history.

          Reply
      • I don’t agree.
        You are saying let’s Go back to Square one!
        ( You want to Going Back to make change rather than Change oneself).
        The Truth always lies within

        Reply
  2. Race is a word I’ve always found flawed. Race, to me, belongs to the weapons of mass deception and not that of the absolute truth. Someone, somewhere, a long time ago coined the term race and we all believed in it without question. Personally I suspect we’ve been schooled and fooled into thinking it has merit. To me the word Race has become like a demon that continues to chase the divisive beliefs of one generation to the next.

    How vital is it to make reference to skin, hair and eye color? Are these catagories necessary in the first place? Us, them, you, me. Look how different we are. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that we have delightful variances; myriad shades of skin and textures of hair, as well as curious food, music, a symphony of culture, costumes and traditions.

    But what about the fundamental things we all have in common? Why are they so often overshadowed by our differences? Why don’t we stand up on a soap box and take to the streets to shout out our inherent unanimity? Tragically we don’t seem as invested in our similarities. Rather too eager, chomping at the bit and frothing at the mouth to exalt the differences as if they hold more validity than that which we all have in common. We perpetuate this fight every time we are willing to kill and die for that which has pitted human beings against one another throughout the history of mankind. Us vs. Them. He vs. She. Etc. The outcome and manifestation of this illusion being more division, prejudice, bigotry and hatred.

    Perhaps focusing, insisting and investing in our differences is what has caused the problem in the first place?

    Laws will be outgrown and overthrown. New Laws will be constructed – all to modify and govern behavior. Is this change? Superficially perhaps. Maybe some justice will be served.

    I’m not pretending to be color blind. I’m not asking people to abandon their cultures or turn the other cheek. But I don’t think the answer lies in an eye for an eye either. I mean how can anyone see the ignorance of their ways if they’ve just been blinded?

    So, what will lift our consciousness from the shadows of illusion? The government? Politics? Trump? Riots? Religion? Main Stream Media? Antifa? The Bible?
    Are we, each one of us, not the light that will individually and collectively guide us from the throes of confusion?

    If so, can we trust ourselves enough to start examining our own thoughts and motives? Our words? Most of which don’t even belong to us. Whether they were an inheritance from our parents, society, religion, education, or dogma, they were given to us, and agreed to by us, from something outside of ourselves.

    Truth is, there’s really only one race of people: they’re called human beings.

    Cara Tower
    06/05/2020

    Reply
    • Yes, modifying laws and overthrowing outdated systems of oppression will create real change. It’s all in the doing. If enough of us commit to this, it can be done. The trick is to not get distracted. Luckily there are many resources online with clear acton steps to take toward this goal. Understanding what whiteness is and where it came from can help bring a lot more clarity and resolve for direct action in solidarity with black americans. eg: Scene On Radio podcast: Seeing Whiteness

      Reply
    • I have not heard or seen anyone in this movement talk about “an eye for an eye” as the solution.

      The movement is about justice and equality. The policemen and police women who kill black and brown people should be held accountable. Justice should be served.

      https://mappingpoliceviolence.org

      You’re making it seem as though those who are asking for justice are asking for revenge and retaliation. That’s simply not true.

      Yes it’s true we are all fundamentally the same.

      Expect white men and women are responsible for the genocide of the native Americans.
      White men and women are responsible for the genocide of the aboriginal people in Australasian region.
      It’s was the white English men and women who would order and physically chop of the hands of the Ayurvedic doctors in India as way to impose their western medicine.
      White men and women are responsible for the violent and oppressive colonialism that would result in divide and conquer tactics that still to this day even after crush community and cultures

      Some of what you’ve said has merit. True there is no real good in pointing out our differences however
      Black, brown and anyone who isn’t white is always reminded that they are in fact black, brown or non white by white people, companies, leaders etc while going about regular day life.

      This is done through discrimination, oppression, and just flat out rudeness in everyday life.
      Being reminded of your skin colour. Whether it’s subtle or not is a terrible feeling.

      In Australia where I live, the Australian music awards, in 2019
      An African girl for the first time won and award in a category. A friend of mine.
      Also an Aboriginal girl won an award. I’m a fan of hers.

      We sat and watched. How proud we would all would have felt to see them accepting there awards. Sadly they went to and advertising break at both those precise moments. How gutted the families, friends, fans and communities at large must have felt. They were all reminded of the skin colour and differences on the largest platform. Compete utter disrespect.

      These were not minor awards. Also in the long history of the awards show. Never have they not televised those categories.
      Racism, discrimination and prejudice is very much alive.
      It hurts.

      Also the riots and looting are orchestrated by people not in the movements for peace and justice to make them look bad.

      Yes we are all humans however we can’t allow bad behaviour by some human against other humans to continue without peace and justice.

      Reply
    • Dear Cara Towers,
      What you are ailing for is Satyagra.
      Some of The other issues you mention are imbeded in society by The Old , old Testament.
      Hope A better world exits Tomorrow.

      Reply
  3. This is a great message for the police, policy makers and politicians at this time. I hope many are subscribers to your list.

    Reply
    • This is not, I say Not! directed to Police, or politicians.( It would be A useless n fruitile direction to achieve Anything that Gandhi or Martin Luther achieved).
      Read it Again Please!

      Reply
  4. Violence begets violence. Overwhelming nonviolence begets change. We have become too comfortable and complacent.
    I feel a tipping point. This current generation understands that there are many issues that have to be fixed and they will be! I’m optimistic.

    Reply

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