The United Nations designated October 2nd, as International Day of Non-Violence—marking the day that Indian independence movement leader and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence, Mahtma Gandhi, was born.  My own experience with non-violence has extended over many years, and, in honor of this day, I seek to share some of it with you.

 

Mahatma Gandhi said:  “The golden rule of conduct… is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see Truth in fragment and from different angles of vision.”  His approach to conduct was deeply rooted in non-violence.  The term Satyagraha, coined and developed by Gandhi, means the “power of Truth.”  Gandhi firmly believed that Truth has an inherent power to transform conflicts.  It enables groups and individuals to find common interests and start to think about working together to achieve common goals or, at the very least, respect and tolerate the differences of opinion and approaches, as long as violence and further discord are avoided.

My personal experience with non-violence began in the early 1960’s when I was privileged to march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Right Movement.  This experience continued to influence my life in the decades that followed, as I spent many years in and out of India seeking the inner path to peace.  During this period, I spent time at the Gandhi Ashram, meeting with and befriending people who had been with Gandhi and Nehru during the struggle for independence. It continues to this very day—internally struggling with the human desire to react and respond to inequities, the ravages of war, egos of tyrants, and the emotional aspects of meeting the consequences of human lack of compassion for other human beings, as well as the environment and all life.

The most profound lesson—and the hardest lesson—I learned and have to sustain is that practicing non-violence does not mean that there will be no violence, but that one must make a personal commitment to avoid using violence even in the face of conflict.  Along with this lesson was the realization that I could not just commit to non-violence as a philosophy or principle one time, but that it was and is something I have to recommit to each time action is needed.  After all, as human beings we seek the support and courage to maintain our faith, belief system, and social compact. 

To answer violence with peaceful means, we were taught to engage in passive resistance.

Gandhian non-violence is humane.  It is based on respect for the basic human rights of all people.  It could be called a ‘non-violation movement” because non-violent activities do not violate the essential rights of the people toward whom they are directed.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, 

We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force.  Do to us what you will, and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and as difficult as it is, we will still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators to do violence in our communities at the midnight hour—drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half dead as you beat us—and we will still love you.

 

I have always felt that non-violence is premised on the concept that human beings are compelled to seek out harmony, and feel most at ease and fulfilled when they live with a sense of courtesy and mutual respect; at peace with their neighbors, and able to fulfill their personal and community duties. To provide food, shelter, sustenance and opportunities for future generations.

This is the principle I have dedicated my life to inwardly and outwardly; in the daily soul searching and seeking and in the outer work of my international organization, Legacy International.  It draws like-minded, like-hearted individuals from around the world who are willing to meet the incredible challenges we face in the world today: employment opportunity, poverty, population displacement, genocides, wars, lack of water… Each issue can be address from a values based, non-violent approach. 

Non-violence also implies a struggle—at times even a heated struggle—and hence, is not passive.  Whether it is a political action (e.g. lying down in front of a truck or a debate on policy), they actively challenge the position of the ‘other’ person or ‘other’ side.  Mahatma Gandhi said that non-violence, “does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer. It means the pitting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant….” These words have as much value today in the world, in each of our countries, as it did 75 years ago.  In his view, a government can only function with the cooperation and submission of the people.  If the people do not cooperate, the government will be forced to change. 

The invulnerability of non-violence lies in its vulnerability. In situations where most people think there is weakness, there is strength. Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King saw it as a way of life. Gandhi said: “non violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.” I can attest that making this a reality is a life-long journey filled with failures and successes, affirmations and repentance. Non-violence is characterized by a thread of care, concern, and commitment to one’s fellow human beings: humane-ness and self-sacrifice.

One has to value not only their life but also that of all others, even their perceived enemy. One puts his or her values on the line and, at times, one’s life.  So it is imperative that the person of non-violence engages in intense self-examination and accounting both before, during, and after she or he commits to non-violence.  There is a saying: “Account for yourself before you are accounted for; weigh your actions before you actions become a weight upon you.”  Such a commitment surely will alienate you from some and may challenge culture and tradition.  Remember that a seeker of peace is also a seeker to the greater Truth.  Truth is not a thing but a process. Perhaps it is that which allows the development of human and societal potential. Perhaps it is that which gives perspective and meaning to our existence.

Mahatma Gandhi said:  “It has always been a mystery to me how people can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings.”  Listen to the rhetoric of today’s leaders who demean and insult others to elevate themselves in the eyes of their followers.  See how much work is left to be done—work that must begin with children at home and in school, building upon the natural inclination for love and friendship.  He also said: “Mankind (humankind) is one, seeing that all are equally subject to the moral law. All men (and women) are created equal in God’s eyes.  There are, of course differences of race and status and the like, but the higher the status of a man/woman, the greater is his/her responsibility.” And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We must find an alternative to violence. The eye for an eye philosophy leaves everybody blind…”

 

“Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.  Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life, love illumines it.