America in 2020
It seems our country is at a turning point. After the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbrey, and Breonna Taylor, racist police brutality has once again shown itself to be a very real and pervasive problem in America.
I am sure everyone has heard of the protests, both violent and nonviolent, occurring in cities all over the country. Below are some thoughts that may help you decide your method of resistance.
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).
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:
- 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
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
Martin Luther King, Jr. + Nonviolence
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
Dr. King took this concept one step further in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. He wrote it is possible to resist evil without resorting to violence. He believed we must oppose evil itself, without opposing the people committing evil.
He also wrote that people who practice nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliation: “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him.”8
Dr. King studied nonviolence in seminary, where he first learned about Gandhi and saw the connection between Christianity and Gandhi’s work. This gave new meaning to the words “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”8
Gandhi’s Ahimsa Rules for Nonviolent Protest
Gandhi proposed a series of rules for satyagrahis to follow in a resistance campaign:9
- Harbor no anger.
- Suffer the anger of the opponent.
- Never retaliate to assaults or punishment; but do not submit, out of fear of punishment or assault, to an order given in anger.
- Voluntarily submit to arrest or confiscation of your own property.
- If you are a trustee of property, defend that property (nonviolently) from confiscation with your life.
- Do not curse or swear.
- Do not insult the opponent.
- Neither salute nor insult the flag of your opponent or your opponent’s leaders.
- If anyone attempts to insult or assault your opponent, defend your opponent (nonviolently) with your life.
- As a prisoner, behave courteously and obey prison regulations (except any that are contrary to self-respect).
- As a prisoner, do not ask for special favorable treatment.
- As a prisoner, do not fast in an attempt to gain conveniences whose deprivation does not involve any injury to your self-respect.
- Joyfully obey the orders of the leaders of the civil disobedience action.
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 While most of India remained peaceful, riots broke out in the days after the resolution, against Gandhi’s wishes.
There were minimal casualties: one thousand Indian civilians died. Compared this to India’s First War of Independence (1857), where more than one million Indians and thousands of Europeans died, or the American Revolution, which took almost 24,000 American lives (while America had a fraction of India’s population), and you can see how successful Gandhi’s ideas were.3
I think we all know that love and truth win! Now it is time for us to practice what we all know. How will you stand up for what you believe in?