In the strange tale this week of the Trumps’ visit to India, they stopped by Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. Trump forgot to mention Gandhi in his speech and in the visitor’s book.
However, Kartikeya Sarabhai, a trustee of the ashram, didn’t forget who Donald Trump was. The ashram chose a very special gift for the Donald. Sarabhai said the ashram gave Trump and engraved copy of Gandhi’s “Talisman,” which he wrote in August 1947.
“I will give you a talisman. 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 [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [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 Mohandas K. Gandhi
“A life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes shallow.”–Hannah Arendt
Roger Berkowitz (Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College) and Uday Mehta (professor of political science at CUNY) discuss “private” and “public” life in the context of Hannah Arendt’s writing and Mohandas Gandhi’s writing. They discuss the “virtue of reticence” and the importance of public-private boundaries in order to allow for public judgement and standards as well as for the development of individual or communal “spiritual depth.”
Length: 1 hour (first 25 minutes are Berkowitz’s and Mehta’s presentation)
When the right to security becomes a transcendent right, rather than one right among many that need to be balanced, then other rights become subservient to it. But for Christians, security is never a transcendent value. Our “security” comes from God.
Uday Mehta: For Gandhi, privacy mattered to him but not as a “right” provided to you by the state or anyone else. Gandhi does not think his bedroom life is “private” but there are somethings that are so important that they are only between the individual and God and this is private. But the state cannot infringe on this.
Arendt’s things that should be private:
1. Goodness can’t exist in the public sphere. If people know about your goodness then it dies. Friendship can be public, but love should always be private.
2. Birth and Death cannot exist in the public sphere. When you become of age as a public citizen, then the public should not ask about who you were beforehand.
3. Opinion/personal conversations should be kept private.
Uday Mehta: Gandhi’s perspective was that one should say nothing in private that one would not say in public. Because of this he never develops some of the pernicious aspects of “vanguardism.” Gandhi’s commitment to openness did not lead him to violate confidences.
Arendt: If privacy matters, then the only reliable safeguard for privacy is the right to private property, which might not be defensible on economic grounds, but is on privacy grounds.
If you try to balance privacy and security, privacy will always loses, because people will always choose security, convenience, and transparency. People don’t think that invasion of privacy takes away their dignity or autonomy and so they freely give privacy up.
Gandhi wanted to have a conversation between the Indian civilization and Western civilization (and he thought that Indian civilization was superior), but he did not want it to be a nationalist political struggle for sovereign rights.
I’m honored to be on the receiving end of epistles from Quaker Friend Wendy Clarissa Geiger, peacemaker, poet, planter, and purveyor of historical memory, who roots herself on her family farm near Jacksonville, Florida. Here is her note from yesterday:
… Friday, January 30th, 2015, is the anniversary of M.K. Gandhi’s assassination at the age of 78 in New Delhi, India, in 1948. “He became much more than there was time for him to be” is a line Vincent Harding was very fond of quoting regarding Martin Luther King Jr. Although it is from a Robert Hayden poem about Malcolm X, the line could, also, describe Thomas Merton whose 100th birthday is [January 31]. M.K. Gandhi wrote: “God is Truth.”
For some reason, this 100th birthday of Thomas Merton is celebrated with great silent exuberance within me. I delight in its significance for being rather insignificant in the scheme of things as angels pause, trees bow. And, I bow and pause at the enormousness of one life lived so completely written out on paper that I giggle at the truth of Jim Forest’s words about Merton that appeared in a “Fellowship” magazine quoted in PEACE IS THE WAY, edited by Walter Wink: “Merton was a writer. He could not scratch his nose without writing about it.”
And, so, today’s offering about Truth and Beauty brings a chuckle. “The Philosophers” was written by Thomas Merton in 1940-42 and is published on page 145 of IN THE DARK BEFORE DAWN – NEW SELECTED POEMS OF THOMAS MERTON, with preface by Kathleen Norris and edited by Lynn R. Szabo.
by Thomas Merton
As I lay sleeping in the park,
Buried in the earth,
Waiting for the Easter rains
To drench me in their mirth
And crown my seedtime with some sap and growth,
Into the tunnels of my ears
Two anaesthetic voices came.
Two mandrakes were discussing life
And Truth and Beauty in the other room.
“Body is truth, truth body. Fat is all
We grow on earth, or all we breed to grow.”
Said one mandrake to the other.
Then I heard his brother:
“Beauty is troops, troops beauty. Dead is all
We grow on earth, or all we breed to grow.”
As I lay dreaming in the earth,
Enfolded in my future leaves,
My rest was broken by these mandrakes
Bitterly arguing in their frozen graves.
Fifteen years ago, Douglass began investigating the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. His award-winning JFK and the Unspeakable (2008) is now recommended reading for those seriously investigating political assassinations. While researching Kennedy, Douglass learned from Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Indian liberation leader, that his grandfather had been killed by a conspiracy involving powerful nationalist forces within the Indian government—not a lone gunman. This led to Douglass’s rigorously investigating thousands of documents on Gandhi’s 1948 murder. He now provides readers with a slim, elegant volume containing explosive insight into who conspired to assassinate the father of modern nonviolence and why. “Gandhi’s murder, followed by the repression of its truth,” writes Douglass, “forms a paradigm of killing and deceitful cover-up that U.S. citizens would soon have to confront in our own government.” No other contemporary writer is exposing the mechanics of assassination as methodically and bravely as Douglass. But because he is a Catholic independent scholar and activist most well-known for his writings on nonviolence and suffering, this book is more than a fresh look at historical circumstances: it’s spiritual spelunking into the depravity of unchecked political power.
“I’m told that the word “nonviolence” did not exist (at least in the English and German languages) until the 1950s. There’s a reason for that: the notion didn’t exist in our consciousness. We didn’t create a word for it because we didn’t get it yet! When Gandhi came along, he pointed out that every religion in the world knows that Jesus of Nazareth taught and lived nonviolence except one religion—Christianity. In very short order, after Gandhi, this became obvious to many wise people throughout the world.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was the one who most influenced our American culture regarding nonviolence. That’s why I speak of it as a recovery of nonviolence. We had it, but we couldn’t hear it, especially after Christianity became the imperial religion. When you’re imperial, you can’t hear any talk of nonviolence. You have to be violent to be an empire. So after 313 AD, we pretty much lost the nonviolent teaching of Jesus and it was not recovered until the twentieth century. It’s sort of unbelievable, but in between, nonviolence was almost universally forgotten, denied, or ignored as Christianity needed to justify its own violence.”–Richard Rohr, OFM (Adapted from Fr. Richard’s teachings on his lineage)
“We are all complicit in and benefitting from what Dorothy Day called ‘the dirty rotten system.’ That’s not condemning anybody; it’s condemning everybody because we are all complicit and enjoying the fruits of domination and injustice. (Where were your shirts and underwear made?) Usually the only way to be really non-complicit in the system is to choose to live a very simple life. That’s the only way out of the system!
Thus most of the great wisdom teachers like Gandhi, Saints Francis and Clare, Simone Weil, Dorothy Day, Jesus and Buddha—lived voluntarily simple lives. That’s almost the only way to stop bending the knee before the system. This is a truly transfigured life in cultures which are always based on climbing, consumption, and competition (1 John 2:15-17).
Once we idealize social climbing, domination of others, status symbols, power, prestige and possessions, we are part of a never ending game that is almost impossible to escape. It has its own inner logic that is self-maintaining, self-perpetuating, and self-congratulating as well as elitist and exclusionary. It will never create a just or happy world, yet most Christians never call it into question. Jesus came to free us from this lie which will never make us happy anyway, because it’s never enough, and we never completely win.”–Richard Rohr, ofm
Today marks the 64th year since Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated.
In India, this day is known as Martyr’s Day and the entire country observes two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. to remember when the prophet of nonviolence and Indian liberation “stopped three bullets.” (There’s an interesting commentary by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay in The AsianCorrespondent).
If you haven’t already, please read the just-released book Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth by Jim Douglass. It details the little-known history of who killed Gandhi, why, and how the repercussions continue to influence nuclear policy between Pakistan and India today.
Thanks to friend Art Laffin who sent this lovely reflection for the day:
Today is the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination. At our weekly Dorothy Day Catholic Worker sponsored Pentagon vigil this morning, I prayed in gratitude for Gandhi’s life–for all he did to show the world the transforming power of nonviolence and the use of nonviolent resistance as a means to bring about revolutionary change. Gandhi is best known for espousing the nonviolent philosophy of “ahimsa” (Sanskrit term meaning “nonviolence” or “non-injury” — literally: the avoidance of himsa: violence) and “satyagraha” (literally translated “insistence on the truth”), and for leading a civil disobedience campaign which ended British rule of India.
Gandhi’s commitment to nonviolence and resistance was deeply influenced by Jesus as evidenced by his belief that: “Jesus was the most active resister known perhaps to history. This was nonviolence par excellence.”
As one of the most influential figures in modern social and political activism, Gandhi considered the following traits (seven deadly sins) to be the most spiritually perilous to humanity:
Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Science without Humanity
Knowledge without Character
Politics without Principle
Commerce without Morality
Worship without Sacrifice
Living in a society and world where violence and killing have tragically become the norm, where the U.S. is the world’s preeminent nuclear superpower, the following quotes from Gandhi point the way to creating a culture of nonviolence. “The first condition of nonviolence is justice all round in every department of life.”
“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of (hu)mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”
“Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the human heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.”
“Nonviolence is the only thing the atom bomb cannot destroy…Unless now the world adopts nonviolence, it will spell certain suicide for (hu)mankind.”
“If there were no greed, there would be no occasion for armaments. The priciple of nonviolence necessitates complete abstention from exploitation in any form…Real disarmament cannot come unless the nations of the world cease to exploit one another.”
“My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to to develop nonviolence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world.”
Mohandas Gandhi, prophet of nonviolence, pray for us!--Art Laffin, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Washington D.C.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow interview with Interfaith “Occupy” Radio.
Discussing the Exodus as an example of a general strike, the dissolution of pharaoh’s power, the creation of “islands of decency” within the European Jewish ghettos, freedom of Soviet Jewry used Gandhian nonviolence, and the current coming together of “anti-pharaoh’s freedom values” among various faith communities.
Douglass’ investigation into the secret papers finally released during the Clinton era begin to uncover a deadly “family pattern” of behavior in the highest levels of political power. Now, Douglass has written an important article for Tikkun magazine that looks at how the pattern is being repeated again between President Obama, Gen. Petraeus, and Afghanistan.
Below is Part 9: How a President Can Practice Satyagraha
On the first day of school, September 8, 2009, at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, a ninth-grader named Lilly asked President Obama, “If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?”
The president said his first choice for a dinner companion would be Gandhi, “a real hero of mine,” adding:
If it hadn’t been for the nonviolent movement in India, you might not have seen the same nonviolent movement for civil rights here in the United States…. He ended up doing so much and changing the world just by the power of his ethics, by his ability to change how people saw each other and saw themselves. [Gandhi was able to] help people who thought they had no power realize that they had power, and then help people who had a lot of power realize that if all they’re doing is oppressing people, then that’s not a really good exercise of power.
Maybe we all need to sit down for a meal with Gandhi, one that would be, as President Obama told Lilly, “a really small meal because he [like the impoverished people he represented] didn’t eat a lot.” What Gandhi would say to us over that small meal he did say at the end of his life to a U.S. writer, Vincent Sheean, who traveled half-way around the world to question him on vital matters, anticipating that Gandhi was about to be assassinated — as he would be, in Sheean’s presence, three days later.
As the two men paced a room together, Gandhi told his American visitor, with reference to World War II culminating in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “Your ends may have been good but your means were bad. That is not the way of truth.”
If Gandhi’s earnest conversation partner were Obama, not Sheean, and the time today, perhaps the next question would be: “What is the way of truth in Afghanistan?”
For Gandhi, truth was God. “Truth-force” was his term for nonviolence, satyagraha. Gandhi acted on the belief that there is nothing we as human beings can do that is more powerful, more transforming, than to live out the truth as we know it at the deepest point in our conscience.
In dialogue today with a powerful man who knows that “oppressing people is not a really good exercise of power,” Gandhi would say that hearing the truth and acting on it, regardless of the consequences to one’s power and one’s self, would be the way of truth in Afghanistan and in Washington. As politically confining as the White House is, it is for that very reason an ideal place to live out the truth, as President Kennedy did.–James Douglass, from JFK, Obama, and the Unspeakable
Last night I was reading reflections sent from Shelley Douglass at Mary’s House in Birmingham, Alabama. Shelley and Jim Douglass are long-time Catholic Workers, authors, activists, and practitioners of radical hospitality. In her note, Shelley mentioned a new book on Gandhi that she’s really enjoying. It’s called Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire by Rajmohan Gandhi (Mohandas’ grandson). Here’s a description:
This monumental biography of one of the most intriguing figures of the twentieth century, written by his grandson, is the first to give a complete and balanced account of Mahatma Gandhi’s remarkable life, the development of his beliefs and his political campaigns, and his complex relations with his family. Written with unprecedented insight and access to family archives, it reveals a life of contrasts and contradictions: the westernized Inner Temple lawyer who wore the clothes of India’s poorest and who spun cotton by hand, the apostle of nonviolence who urged Indians to enlist in the First World War, the champion of Indian independence who never hated the British. It tells of Gandhi’s campaigns against racial discrimination in South Africa and untouchability in India, tracks the momentous battle for India’s freedom, explores the evolution of Gandhi’s strategies of non-violent resistance, and examines relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, a question that attracted Gandhi’s passionate attention and one that persists around the world today. Published to rave reviews in India in 2007, this riveting book gives North American readers the true Gandhi, the man as well as the legend, for the first time.
Then today I came across Tom Hasting’s blog on nonviolence. I appreciate Tom’s emphasis on applied nonviolence and on highlighting those who are teaching nonviolence in the U.S. today. Tom also mentions Gandhi, along with social philosoper Richard Gregg, and Helen and Scott Nearing, the early “back to the land” pacifists in this post:
Richard Gregg was inspired to visit and learn from Gandhi in India in the 1920s. Gregg was a social philosopher who really began to translate Gandhian nonviolence into practical, explicable social organizing and conflict management models. He thought about the psychological aspects, calling what Gandhi did ‘psychological jiu-jitsu’, that is, using the power of the oppressor against himself, allowing the hatred and violence to expend themselves with far less harm than if those tactics (the oppressor’s strength) would have been countered with similar but asymmetrically weaker hatred and violence. Gregg really influenced the western analysis of why Gandhian nonviolence might work.
Gregg’s 1934 germinal work, The Power of Nonviolence, is still a classic, and the second edition, in 1960, included a foreword by the young Martin Luther King, Jr. Gregg also integrated the swadeshi philosophy in his own life, moving to a farm with Helen and Scott Nearing, who were quite influential in the nascent self-reliance movement in the US. Gregg coined the term voluntary simplicity and staked out an early claim toward our slowly developing notions connecting war to resource conflict to consumerism to ecological care to urban dependency to injustice. We are still learning this basic system of interlocking causes and effects.
Due to the fact that our God is one of hilarious surprises, you just never know when something new will pop up. Read more of Tom’s post here.