Wendy Clarissa Geiger: Merton & Gandhi – Two Ways of Being Born Again

Friend Wendy Clarissa Geiger in Jacksonville, Fl.
Friend Wendy Clarissa Geiger in Jacksonville, Fl.

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.

“The Philosophers”
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.

Jan. 31: 65th Anniversary of Gandhi’s Death

Gandhi with textile workers in England, 1931

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the death of Mohandas K. Gandhi.

There is still so much we don’t know about the man and the political web that targeted him for assassination.

That great soul, however, and the soul-power he released on behalf of truth with justice, continues to inspire and provoke our conscience.

If you haven’t read Jim Douglass’ book on Gandhi, I highly recommend it.

Publishers Weekly Review of Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth by James W. Douglass

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.

Richard Rohr: Losing Nonviolence … And Finding It Again

“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)

Richard Rohr: Antidote To ‘The Dirty Rotten System’?

Police flank Dorothy Day, seated at a farm workers picket line in Lamont, California, in 1973.

“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

Adapted from Spiral of Violence by Richard Rohr

30 January: 64th Anniversary of Gandhi’s Assassination

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 on Radio Occupy Faith

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.

Beautiful description of Kol Nidrei and Isaiah 58 celebrated at Occupy Camps. You can listen to it here:   http://anoccupiedfaith.tumblr.com/

Jim Douglass: How a President Can Practice Satyagraha (Part 9)

The most important book for any American to read is JFK and the Unspeakable: Who Killed Him and Why it Matters by James D. Douglass.

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

Nonviolent Resistance and Gandhi’s Psychological Jiu-Jitsu

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.

Nonviolence: What About Hitler?

12whiteroseIn any in-depth conversation about the effectiveness of nonviolence as a strategy, this question always comes up: Would these nonviolent strategies have worked against the Nazis? What about Hitler?

Even the great Mohandas Gandhi – progenitor of modern nonviolence – knew that nonviolence against Hitler would cost many lives.

“The doctrine of Satyagraha works on the principle that you make the so called enemy see and realize the injustice he is engaged in. It can work only when you believe in God and the goodness of the people to see that they are wrong. As a satyagrahi, I  do believe that non-violence is a potent weapon against all evils. I warn you however, that the victory will not come easy- just like it will not come easy with violent methods such as fighting with weaponry.”

(Also read Gandhi’s 1939 letter Is Non-Violence Ineffective? on the actions of Martin Niemoeller and the Confessing Church.)

Jørgen Johansen, a lecturer in conflict studies, has led nonviolence trainings in Israel, Mozambique, India, and Chechnya. He recently posted an essay called Hitler and the Challenge of Non-Violence that briefly takes on this issue.

“What effect could nonviolence have had against Hitler?” says Johansen. “This is one of the most frequent questions I get when I lecture on nonviolence. And it is a good one. To answer we need to look at different phases of the conflict and recognise the complexity of a world war.”

Below is an excerpt:

The German army was well prepared to meet armed resistance, but less able to cope with strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts and other forms of nonviolent action. A famous example is when the Norwegian teachers were told to join the Nazi party and teach Nazism in schools or face the consequences. When 12,000 teachers signed a declaration against the new law, 1000 were arrested and sent to prison camps. But the strike continued and after some months the order was cancelled and they were allowed to continue their work. In a speech, Quisling summarised: “You teachers have destroyed everything for me!”  We can just imagine what would have been the consequences if many professions had followed in the footsteps of these teachers. Or if they had prepared such actions well in advance and even had exercises prior to the invasion.

Independent news is crucial for any opposition movement. That is why censorship is enforced when a regime wants to control the masses. Despite threats of brutal punishment, illegal newspapers were published by many clandestine groups in occupied territories during WWII. In France the first leaflet was published as early as September 1940. In Munich, the “White Rose” students initiated a leaflet campaign from June 1942 to February the following year calling for active opposition to Hitler’s regime. The original group was arrested and executed but later their manifesto was distributed in Scandinavia and the UK and even dropped over Germany from Allied planes. What would have been the result of such actions if they had been well planned and executed in most cities suffering under German atrocities?

Despite massive propaganda and brutal punishment for those who refused to take part, many opposed this genocide. In Denmark almost all Jews survived because they were helped by the resistance movement to escape to Sweden and avoid the gas chambers.

In Bulgaria most of the country’s 48,000 Jews were saved when leaders of the Orthodox Church and farmers in the northern stretches of the country threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This pressure encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country’s 48,000 Jews.

Even in Germany itself people opposed the arrests. In one famous example 6000 “Aryan” German women took part in a nonviolent protest in February and March 1943, outside the prison in Rosenstrasse in Berlin, to get their Jewish husbands and friends released. Thanks to these brave women 1700 prisoners were indeed released. These examples illustrate that some groups have more impact than others. It was difficult for the Nazis to attack German women.

Read Johansen’s whole article here.

The Repair Project: A Gandhian Approach to Ending Domestic Violence

Gandhi--Iofferyoupeace11mn5Male violence is not a new thing – but treating men for it (rather than only bandaging up the victims) is taking on a new look. The U.K. and Australia have launched a number of male-oriented violence-reduction programs that use Gandhian theories of nonviolence (ahimsa) to address issues of domestic abuse.

The Ahimsa Project in Plymouth, England, is a new breed of domestic violence projects (others include A Man’s Place in New Zealand and the Men’s Resource Centre in Lismore, Australia) that offer transformational programs in nonviolence rather than “correctional” programs for perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse. The REPAIR (Resolved to Ending Power and Abuse in Relationships) Project in the north of England grew out of the AHIMSA Project.

The current issue of Resurgence magazine has an excellent interview with Peter Rosser on his work with the REPAIR Project and his training in Gandhian nonviolence. Here’s an excerpt:

Why are we in denial about domestic violence which, in the UK, is on the rise? I’m talking with Peter Rosser. He turned his back on the Probation Service, fed up with, (old story), the paperwork, but also the absence of informed supervision, and the apparent inability of the Service to enable change in the violent men who were his clients – even those who wanted desperately to escape their propensity for violence. “So are we living in a violent society?” I ask him. He shakes his head and smiles dryly.

“The Press,” he says, “focuses on President Karzai’s legislation in Afghanistan, which it sees as tantamount to legalising rape in the home, when in Britain, according to The Independent, 300,000 children live with serious domestic violence. We are in denial – and the chief denial is that almost all violence starts at home.”

Ultimately, of course, what is billed as domestic violence is simply another aspect of the violence epidemic in the air that our human society breathes. “And the cause?” I ask. “Back to Cain and Abel?” Peter shrugs. “You tell me. What my experience tells me is that the effect is the cause: violence always furthers and fathers violence, unless some form of ‘repair’ intervenes.”

To look for the source is to become entangled in a loop of cause and effect: fear, alienation from our true nature, absence of belief, values, possible fulfillment. It is a climate of violence which humans currently are born into, and it constitutes in itself an abuse of the human child – abused by the first breath he or she breathes. And the poison of that abuse the child seemingly has no option but to take in, and then no option but to visit it on his or her own children.

Peter left probation to become the manager, facilitator and group worker of an alternative approach to domestic violence and abuse called the Repair Project. The programme is grounded in the work of Paul Wolf-Light [read Wolf-Light’s The Shadow of Iron John] and his Ahimsa project in Plymouth. Peter trained with Wolf-Light for two years, working primarily on himself. Ahimsa is a Gandhian practice, Jain in origin, and is based on four principles of nonviolence.  … —by John Moat

Read the rest of the article here.