In Honor of MLK Day 2015 ~ Seeds, Roots, Branches & Fruits of a Nonviolent Ethos
“Much of what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount,” Gandhi said in a famous lecture to the YMCA in Ceylon in 1927.
“Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love.” ~ MLK
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I thought to trace the ethos of nonviolence — as expressed in our study of Nonviolent Communication/Consciousness — from its fruits, as imparted by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, back through its branches & trunk, roots, and finally its seeds. I do so as I had been applying myself to the study of Nonviolent Communication for many weeks before it dawned on me to inquire more deeply into its origin (as embodied in its name). This came about when I was watching a documentary titled, “You Can’t Be Neutral On a Moving Train” and while marinating a bit on what took place during the 1960s it first sparked my recognition that Marshall Rosenberg’s use of the term “nonviolent” was likely related to this same era of civil rights and nonviolent resistance. Later, after speaking with those who had known him, I discovered that during that period he had been married to a woman of color, which seemed to further underscore the poignancy that this movement, and its ethos, would have had for him (his conviction and tireless striving). For a summary of Nonviolent Communication, click: here.
So if the fruits of NVC have been plucked from the branches of the civil rights movement, and the inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from where did King’s inspiration stem?
Thankfully, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. provided an answer to this in his own words:
“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. The intellectual and moral satisfaction that I failed to gain from the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill, the revolutionary methods of Marx and Lenin, the social contract theory of Hobbes, the ‘back to nature’ optimism of Rousseau, and the superman philosophy of Nietzsche, I found in the non-violent resistance philosophy of Gandhi.” ~ MLK, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”
“Mahatma Gandhi has done more than any other person of history to reveal that social problems can be solved without resorting to primitive methods of violence. In this sense he is more than a saint of India. He belongs – as they said of Abraham Lincoln – to the ages. In our struggle against racial segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, I came to see at a very early stage that a synthesis of Gandhi’s method of non-violence and the Christian ethic of love is the best weapon available to Negroes for this struggle for freedom and human dignity. It may well be that the Gandhian approach will bring about a solution to the race problem in America. His spirit is a continual reminder to oppressed people that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence. The Gandhian influence in some way still speaks to the conscience of the world as nations grapple with international problems. If we fail, on an international scale, to follow the Gandhian principle of non-violence, we may end up by destroying ourselves through the misuse of our own instruments. The choice is no longer between violence and non-violence. It is now either non-violence or non-existence. Oppressed people can deal with oppression in three ways. They can accept or acquiesce. Under segregation they can adjust to it. Yet non-co-operation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is co-operation with good. The minute one accepts segregation, one co-operates with it. Oppressed people can, on the other hand, resort to physical violence, a method both whole nations and oppressed peoples have used. But violence merely brings about a temporary victory and not permanent peace. It creates ever new problems. Gandhi has come on the scene of history with still another way. He would resist evil as much as the man who uses violence, but he resists it without external violence or violence of the spirit. That is what Gandhism does. It is a method of the strong. If the only alternative is between cowardice and violence, it is better – as Gandhi said – to use violence, but there is another way. I myself gained this insight from Gandhi. When I was in theological school, I thought the only way we could solve our problem of segregation was an armed revolt. I felt that the Christian ethic of love was confined to individual relationships. I could not see how it could work in social conflict. Then I read Gandhi’s ethic of love as revealed in Jesus but raised to a social strategy for social transformation. This lifts love from individual relationships to the place of social transformation. This Gandhi helped us to understand and for this we are grateful a decade after his death.”
Which leads to the inevitable inquiry that if the roots of nonviolence began with Gandhi, stemming into the branches of MLK, what were some of its seeds? From what inspiration did Gandhi draw in the formulation of that which would alter the course of two nations?
Gandhi’s daily Scripture readings for peace
When writer Louis Fischer visited Gandhi’s ashram in 1942, he noticed a picture of Jesus on the wall — the only wall decoration around — with the caption, “He is our peace.”
“But you are not a Christian,” he said to Gandhi.
“I am a Christian and a Hindu and a Muslim and a Jew,” Gandhi answered.
“Then you are a better Christian than most Christians,” Fischer thought to himself.
Gandhi reportedly spent two hours in meditation each day — one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening — for more than 40 years. This became the bedrock for all his daily work for justice, independence and service. Most of his meditation time was in silence, but he always read from the Sermon on the Mount and the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu Scriptures.
“I have not been able to see any difference between the Sermon on the Mount and the Bhagavad Gita,” he once confessed.
After my recent talk on Gandhi at the Wild Goose Festival, several evangelical Christians expressed surprise that Gandhi read daily from the Sermon on the Mount.
“I don’t do that,” they said to me.
“Who does?” I asked.
Gandhi was probably the greatest modern Christian “fundamentalist” because he took Jesus’ word seriously and strictly adhered to his fundamental teachings of love, nonviolence and compassion. Gandhi lived his life according to Matthew 5-7 and returned to that handbook on nonviolence every morning and every evening. In his private letters, he was puzzled why other Christians didn’t do the same.
“Isn’t it more important to do what Jesus wants us to do than to call him, ‘Lord, Lord’?” he wrote one friend, referring to Jesus’ lament in the last verses of the Sermon on the Mount.
I have spoken much on Gandhi’s devotion to the Sermon on the Mount and how those teachings helped him become an apostle of nonviolence… (continues: http://ncronline.org/blogs/road-peace/gandhis-daily-scripture-readings-peace)
For further exploration on ‘how to’ incorporate a ritual of meditation/contemplation — whether with scripture, as Gandhi apparently practiced, or with any other devotional literature which inspires, whether of the secular variety (poetry, etc.) or a sacred text, perhaps even an intermingling of the two, see: Praying with Scripture: Christian Contemplation and Meditation in the Ignatian tradition w/Fr. Timothy Gallagher
Philip Yancey on what living out the instructions of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7):
“The movie Gandhi contains a fine scene in which Gandhi tries to explain his philosophy to the Presbyterian missionary Charlie Andrews. Walking together in a South African city, the two suddenly find their way blocked by young thugs. The Reverend Andrews takes one look at the menacing gangsters and decides to run for it. Gandhi stops him. “Doesn’t the New Testament say if an enemy strikes you on the right cheek you should offer him the left?” Andrews mumbles that he thought the phrase was used metaphorically. “I’m not so sure,” Gandhi replies. “I suspect he meant you must show courage—be willing to take a blow, several blows, to show you will not strike back nor will you be turned aside. And when you do that it calls on something in human nature, something that makes his hatred decrease and his respect increase. I think Christ grasped that and I have seen it work.”
Although I have devoted a large part of my life to the study of religion and to discussion with religious leaders of all faiths, I know very well that I cannot but seem presumptuous in writing about Jesus Christ and trying to explain what he means to me. I do so only because my Christian friends have told me, on more than a few occasions, that for the very reason I am not a Christian and that (I shall quote their words exactly) “I do not accept Christ in the bottom of my heart as the only Son of God,” it is impossible for me to understand the profound significance of his teachings, or to know and interpret the greatest source of spiritual strength that man has ever known.
Although this may or may not be true in my case, I have reasons to believe that it is an erroneous point of view. I believe that such an estimate is incompatible with the message that Jesus Christ gave to the world. For, he was certainly the highest example of one who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient. I am sure that if he were living here now among men, he would bless the lives of many who perhaps have never even heard his name, if only their lives embodied the virtues of which he was a living example on earth; the virtues of loving one’s neighbour as oneself and of doing good and charitable works among one’s fellowmen.
What, then, does Jesus mean to me? To me, he was one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had… (continues: http://practicalspirituallife.com/jesus-means-mahatma-gandhi)
See also: Gandhi and Jesus
“What is this kind of love? It appears to me that Jesus and Gandhi and those of us following their tradition through the practice of NVC think of love as the full radical acceptance of the humanity of every person, regardless of how unhappy we are with the results of their actions. This love is a commitment to act in ways that uphold that humanity; to care for the wellbeing of the other person even when we are in opposing positions; even when all that we value is at stake.” ~Miki Kashtan,
“Trust is to a collaboration-based social order what fear is to an authority-based social order. Trust, then, is the glue that binds everyone together in a large-scale society or organization.” ~ Miki Kashtan
By Miki Kashtan
January 15, 2015
It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us. – Gandhi
Today is Martin Luther King’s birthday. I am happy to honor him today and every day by continuing to dedicate myself to a deep exploration of nonviolence.
I have written before about the idea of expanding what I called the Circle of Care, the collection of people in our lives that we care about. I suggested expanding it in two directions. One is to include ourselves as a way to overcome deeply ingrained habits that lead people to give up on their needs in relationships. Instead of caring only about the other person’s needs, expanding the circle of care leads to putting my own needs front and center while also caring for the other person. The other direction of expanding the circle of care is about including more and more people and groups within it.
More recently, I was struck by the connection I saw between this notion and my continued investigations into the implications of nonviolence. It now appears to me that one way of understanding nonviolence is as having an infinite circle of care: there isn’t any person or group that is beyond the pale.
This is a discipline, not a one-time decision. Our automatic, habitual reactions may persist, and our commitment to nonviolence continually invites us to pause and open our hearts again. And again. And again. As often as necessary until the habit shifts. It doesn’t mean we will always, or even ever, succeed in including everyone, truly everyone. It only means that when we don’t succeed, we know it’s our own heart or habit limitation. Mourning my inability to live up to my values at all times is, in itself, a big part of what my own commitment to nonviolence consists of… (continues)
By Miki Kashtan
“..I really want everyone’s needs to matter, these are not just words for me. It’s the only way I know, ultimately, to end the millennia-old cycle of violence, hatred, suffering, and separation in which we live.
In the meantime, I want to extend love to myself for a moment. It’s so demanding to make room inside me for everyone, so, so challenging. Some years ago, when Rabin was assassinated, I called a friend to work my way through the many reactions I had. I do not have God in my life, haven’t believed in a transcendent being in many decades. Nonetheless, among the many feelings I found, the one that surprised me the most was a moment in which I felt something I can only call compassion for God. I understood, in that moment, that God’s job, in that moment and in all moments, is to love everyone fully and equally, all of creation. And that meant loving the assassin. And I felt compassion for the enormity of what it would take. I am a mere mortal, and it’s taking all I have to even imagine it.
In conclusion, I want to be sure I clearly articulate that no amount of love and understanding for everyone is a substitute for action to bring about concrete and material results. The point of this love is to ensure that our actions are free of violence, hatred, and separation. So that we don’t end up where so many revolutions have in the past: recreating the very conditions that the revolution was seeking to change…” (continues)
“If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.” ~ MLK
As I’ve written about before (see: August 18, 2013 ~ On Not Holding One’s Tongue & December 8, 2013 ~ News as a “Spiritual Opportunity”), I wouldn’t consider myself to be a turn-0ther-cheek ‘fundamentalist’ along the lines of a MLK, Gandhi, nor even as an NVC pracitioner of the caliber of Miki Kashtan (and kindred spirits who have devoted their lives to this practice) in how with each of the aforementioned, their overarching life philosophy is exemplified by an ethos of nonviolence. Instead, I look to other role models such as Nelson Mandela who utilized nonviolence more as a tactic than a principle, as I too see different tools as being more or less effective in varying scenarios. I include this caveat, as it seems relevant to acknowledge that one can find value in apprenticing to NVC without dedicating one’s path to this end exclusively (something that one does not always sense in such circles). It’s seems relevant to note, as Benjamin Ginsberg’s “The Worth of War” has discussed, that MLK’s prevailing against a southern racist sheriff rested upon an appeal to the greater egalitarianism sentiments and military oppressive might of the FBI.
Via my post:
NVC as “True But Partial”
I recall seeing an interview by Richard Stengel, then Time magazine editor and the author of the book: Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage, earlier along in the arc of studying NVC. The fifteen lessons are summarized here.
At about the five minute mark of the Hulu clip beneath, Stengel points to one of Mandela’s lessons, discussing how “to have one overarching/core principle and view everything else as a tactic”:
Richard Stengel: He [Mandela] would say, and I’m going to say it in a plainer way than he would, ‘you have to have one core principle…everything else was a tactic.’ So even, for example, the ANC’s original embrace of nonviolence — from the Ghandi tradition — he would say, ‘that’s a tactic – that’s not a principle.’
Charlie Rose: So you can violate that.
Richard Stengel: Right. And he did. And when he became the leader of the ANC’s military wing, he violated that because he felt that to achieve his great goal, he needed to do that. And that was just a tactic. A lot us would say, ‘no, that’s a principle’; he would say ‘that’s a tactic.’