Nvc and the Legacy of Gandhi Nonviolence –Ahimsa and Satyagraha – positive meaning, transcending any inner limitations to opening our hearts

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NVC and the Legacy of Gandhi

1. Nonviolence –Ahimsa and Satyagraha – positive meaning, transcending any inner limitations to opening our hearts.

  • The simplest things have the knack sometimes of appearing to us the hardest. If our hearts were open, we should have no difficulty. Nonviolence is a matter of the heart. It doesn't come to us through any intellectual feat." (Gandhi the Man p. 116)

  • Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering.  It does not mean meek submission of the will of the evil-doer, but it means putting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant.  Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire’s fall or its regeneration.” (Golden Treasury p.33)

  • Not to hurt any living thing is no doubt a part of ahimsa.  But it is its least expression.” (Gandhi the Man. p. 155)

  • Satyagraha means ‘holding to the truth in every situation’.  This is ahimsa, which is more than just the absence of violence; it is intense love.” (Gandhi the Man p. 53)

  • The world rests upon the bedrock of ‘satya’ or truth. ‘Asatya’ meaning untruth also means non-existent, 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”. (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi online –henceforth CWMG-. Vol.34 Feb 11th, 1926. p.235)

  • We have developed a war mentality: we thought about war, we talked of war and nothing but war. Now we have to sing a different tune.” (Young India. Mar 19th, 1931)

  • It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us.” (Gandhi the Man. p. 108)

  • Woman is the incarnation of ahimsa. Ahimsa means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering.” (Mahatma Vol 5, p.227).

  • Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?”(Mahatma Vol 3, p. 33).

  • A woman’s intuition has often proved truer than man’s arrogant assumption of superior knowledge”. (Mahatma Vol 2, p. 51).

  • I have mentally become a woman in order to steal into her heart.” (Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, p.291)

  • A satyagrahi has infinite patience, abundant faith in others, ample hope.” (Young India. Mar 19th, 1931)

  • I do admit that the destructive energy is there, but it is evanescent, always futile before the creative, which is permanent. If the destructive one had the upper hand all sacred ties –love between parents and child, brother and sister, master and disciple, ruler and ruled- would be snapped”. (Is there no other way? The Search for a Nonviolent Future. –henceforth SNVF- p.41)

  • The force of love is the same as the force of the soul or truth”. (Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule –henceforth Hind Swaraj- by p.67).

  • Truth is like a vast tree, which yields more and more fruits the more you nurture it. The deeper the search in the mine of truth the richer the discovery of the gems buried there, in the shape of openings for an ever greater variety of service.” (Gandhi’s life in his own words. p. 34)

  • I have nothing new to teach to the World. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills.” (Hope or Terror? Gandhi and the other 9/11. p.6 + CWMG, online Vol. 91. p.221)

  • Things of fundamental importance to the people are not secured by reason alone but have to be purchased with their suffering…If you want something really important to be done you must not merely satisfy the reason, you must move the heart also.” (SNVF. p.125)

**Some stories in Annex B

2. Love, courage, and commitment, including putting one’s life on the line.

  • Of power there are two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love.” (SNVF. p.140)

  • I must obey, even at the cost of my life, the law of love.” (Golden Treasury p. 34)

  • Hate dissolves in the presence of love." ” (Young India 20-02-1930, Non Violent Resistance p.220)

  • The force of arms is powerless when matched against the force of love or the soul.” (Hind Swaraj. p.66).

  • What is gained through fear is retained only while the fear lasts.” (Hind Swaraj. p.60).

  • It is therefore meet that he/she should not do that which he/she knows to be wrong, and suffer the consequence whatever it may be, this is the key to the use of soul-force.” (Hind Swaraj. p.69).

  • Only a few days before the assassination, as if he had a premonition, Gandhi had said: "Should I die by the bullet of a madman, I have to do so with a smile. There must be no anger in me. God must be in my heart and on my lips".

  • “…if it cost me my life which, after all, at the age of seventy has no insurance value, I should most willingly give it in order to secure due performance of a sacred and solemn promise.” (Golden Treasury p. 57)

  • “He embraced the prospect of imprisonment with such joy and good humour that people all over the country began to laugh off their own fear.” – Easwaran (Gandhi the Man p. 72)

  • During the Hindu/Muslim civil war that broke out towards the end of the independence campaign, Gandhi (in his 70s) walked through the most dangerous and violent zones (Bihar state and Noakhali) to “live the truth he went to teach” (Gandhi the Man p. 90)

  • (On Gandhi’s assassination) “…as his body fell, nothing but the mantram which was deep within him came to his lips, Rama, Rama, Rama.  It meant ‘I forgive you, I love you, I bless you’” –Easwaran (Gandhi the Man p. 140)

  • Let hundreds like me perish, but let truth prevail.” (Everyman’s, July 7 – The Story of My Experiments with Truth)

  • Dead of Harbatsinh in Durban Jail, South Africa, Volksrust Jail 1914  "How could I help it, when you, your wife and even your boys went to jail for our sake?"  (Gandhi the Man  p.158)

  • It is not at all impossible that we may have to endure every hardship that we can imagine, and wisdom lies in pledging ourselves on the understanding that we shall have to suffer all that and worse” -Satyagraha in South Africa (Gandhi the Man  p. 99)

  • If man/woman will only realize that it is unmanly to obey laws [rules] that are unjust, no man’s tyranny will enslave him/her… So long as the superstition that men/women should obey unjust laws exists, so long will their slavery exist.” (Hind Swaraj p.70).       

  • A satyagrahi will say he/she will not obey a law that is against his/her conscience, even though he might be blown to pieces at the mouth of a cannon.” (Hind Swaraj p.71).

  • Satygraha is an all-sided sword, it can be used anyhow; it blesses him who uses it and him against whom it is used. Without drawing a drop of blood, it produces far-reaching results.” (Hind Swaraj p.74).

  • One who is free from hatred requires no sword.” (Hind Swaraj p.75).

  • The history of great deeds is the history of men/women who had the courage to stand alone against the World.” (Young India. Feb 28, 1929)

  • Fearlessness is a sign and symbol of self-purification.” (Gandhi and Mani Bhavan. p.24)

  • “…Those who have learnt the lesson of fearlessness and self-effacement need no leader.” (Young India. Mar 20, 1930)

  • One of the lessons that a nation yearning for freedom needs to learn is to shed several fears of losing title, wealth, position, fear of imprisonment, of bodily injury and lastly death.” (Young India. Apr 24, 1930)

3. Remembering the humanity of everyone, including our opponents – understanding human beings in terms of their needs.

  • The humankind is one big family.” (Harijan 22-10-1938, Non Violent Resistance p.363)

  • For a nonviolent person, the whole World is one family. She/he will thus fear none, nor will others fear her/him.” (Gandhi the Man p. 115)

  • All of us are one.  When you inflict suffering on others, you are bringing suffering on yourself.” (Gandhi the Man p. 56)

  • The whole world is like the human body with its various members. Pain in one member is felt in the whole body.” (Mahatma Vol 2, p.215).

  • I have no weapon but love to wield authority over anyone, and I can combine the greatest love with the greatest opposition to wrong.” (Everyman’s, September 7 – Thus Spake Mahatma Gandhi)

  • Although noncooperation is one of the main weapons in the armory of satyagraha, it should not be forgotten that it is, after all, only a means to secure the cooperation of the opponent consistently with truth and justice... Avoidance of all relationship with the opposing power, therefore, can never be a satyagrahi's object, but transformation or purification of that relationship." South Africa 1914 (Gandhi the Man p. 158)

  • During the Satyagraha offered in South Africa, employees of the Durban Municipality went on strike.  It was, however, a part of the Satyagraha that employees whose duties included caring for the sick or providing sanitation (i.e. jobs that if left undone would have harmful consequences for the society) should continue their work.  The distinction was clearly made that the protest was against the unjustness of the system – not the people within it.

  • A Satyagrahi never yields to panic or hesitancy, neither does she/he think of humiliating the other party, of reducing it to an abject surrender. She/he may not swerve from the path of justice and may not dictate impossible terms. He may not pitch them too low.” (Young India. Mar 19th, 1931)

  • In every step he takes, the Satyagrahi is bound to consider the position of his adversary.” Satyagraha in South Africa, p. 295

  • A student and follower of Gandhi describes the regard he always held for his opponents: “It was not forgiveness, buy whole-hearted acceptance by him of their standpoint as their truth which for the time being held the same place in their growth as his truth in his own, and thus entitled to equal respect.” (In Gandhiji’s Mirror, p. 10)

  • Both of Gandhi's letters to Hitler are addressed to "my friend". This is the starting of the second one: "Dear Friend, That I address you as a friend is no formality. I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind irrespective of race, colour or creed." (Letter in Mani Bhavan Musuem, Mumbai)

  • In the times to come the people will not judge us by the creed we profess or the label we wear or the slogans we shout but by our work, industry, sacrifice, honesty and purity of character.” (Mahatma, Vol.8, p.8)

  • “’Hate the sin and not the sinner’ is a precept which, though easy enough to understand is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the World. …Ahimsa is the basis of the search for truth.” (An Autobiography or The Story of my experiments with truth. p.337)

  • Every Congressman will cultivate personal friendship with persons representing faiths other than his own. He should have the same regard for the other faiths as he has for his own.” (Constructive Programme: It’s meaning and place.)

  • The Swaraj [independence] of my –our- dreams recognizes no race or religions distinctions. Nor is it to be the monopoly of lettered persons nor yet of money men. Swaraj is to be for all, including the former, but emphatically including the maimed, the blind, the starving toiling millions. A stout-hearted, honest sane, illiterate man may well be the first servant of the nation.” (Young India. May 1st, 1930)

  • I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on Earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over forty years to hate anybody. I know that this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility. But I can and I do hate evil wherever it exists. I hate the system of Government that the British people have set up in India. I hate the domineering manner of Englishmen as a class in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India even as I hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible. But I do not hate the domineering Englishmen as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus. I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me.” (CWMG Vol. 32, Jun 17th, 1925)

4. Appealing to the other’s humanity can transform the situation.

  • This is a remarkable bit of evidence from the foundational Satyagraha of our time, Gandhi’s great first “experiment with truth”, designed to recover the stolen dignity of the Indian community of South Africa. This is from a secretary to General Jan Christian Smuts, head of the South African Government in the Transvaal and Gandhi’s chief adversary in this struggle, and it allows us to glimpse what it feels like to be offered Satyagraha by committed, well-trained activists:

    • “I don’t like your people, and do not care to assist them at all. But what am I to do? You help us in our days of need. How can we lay hands upon you? I often wish that you took to violent like the English strikers, and then we would know at once how to dispose you. But you will not injure even the enemy. You desire victory by self-suffering alone… and that is what reduces us to sheer helplessness”. (SNVF. p.64)

    • Another testimony of Jan Christian Smuts, who after struggling against him for many years would come to feel that he was “not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man” as Gandhi. (Mahatma Gandhi: essays and reflections on his life and work. –henceford MGERHLW- p.226)

    • Smuts again: “For him it was a successful coup. Nor was the personal touch wanting, for nothing in Gandhi’s procedure is without a peculiar personal touch. In goal he had prepared for me a very useful pair of sandals… which… I have worn a summer since then. …Anyway, it was in that spirit that we fought out our quarrels in South Africa. There was no hatred or personal ill-feeling, the spirit of humanity was never absent, and when the fight was over, there was the atmosphere in which a decent peace could be concluded.” (MGERHLW. p.226)

  • What Satyagraha does in such cases is not to suppress reason but to free it from inertia and to establish its sovereignty over prejudice, hatred, and other baser passions. In other words, if one may paradoxically put it, it does not enslave, it compels reason to be free.” (SNVF. p.65)

  • “Suffering is the law of human beings; war is the law of the jungle.  But suffering is infinitely more powerful than the law of the jungle for converting the opponent and opening his ears, which are otherwise shut, to the voice of reason.” (Gandhi the Man p. 161)

  • Nonviolence in us ought to soften our opponent, it ought to strike a responsive chord in his heart.” (Everyman’s, August 20 – Harijan: May 13, 1939)

  • During the struggle for freedom in India, when unrest was building between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi encountered a crowd of 600 angry demonstrators.  Though advised to avoid them, Gandhi insisted on walking through the crowd, saying a prayer, and politely asked that one of the demonstrators be his only “protection”.  The others, shocked, made way for him to walk through unharmed.

    • Of this Gandhi said “This is the way of Satyagraha.  To put your head unresistingly into the lap of your ‘enemy’, for him to keep or make short work of you just as he pleases”. (In Gandhiji’s Mirror, p. 32)

  • Referring to the English Gandhi wrote: “I do not seek to harm your people. I want to serve them even as I want to serve my own. I believe that I have always served them. I served them up to 1919 blindly. But when my eyes were opened and I conceived non-cooperation, the object still was to serve them… If I have equal love for your people with mine it will not remain hidden.” (Young India. Dec 3rd, 1930.)

5. Solutions that work for everyone, not at the expense of the other, maintaining everyone’s dignity.

  • Satyagraha South Africa 1906. "Satyagraha seeks to liquidate antagonism but not the antagonists themselves."

  • “This is in essence the principle of nonviolent noncooperation. It follows therefore that it must have its root in love. Its object should not be to punish the opponent or to inflict injury upon him. Even while noncooperating with him, we must make him feel that in us he has a friend and we should try to reach his heart by rendering him humanitarian service wherever possible". (Gandhi the Man p. 156)

  • “The whole world is like the human body with its various members.  Pain in one member is felt in the whole body.  Rot in one part must inevitably poison the whole system” (Golden Treasury p. 45)

  • In the South African campaign against the “Black Acts”, Gandhi goes to the head of the Transvaal government General Smuts and says: “I’ve come to tell you that I am going to fight against your government”.  Smuts responds “Anything more?” Gandhi: “I am going to win”.  Smuts, laughing “How?”.  Gandhi: “With your help”. (Gandhi the Man p. 47)

  • “In a non-violent conflict there is no rancour left behind, and in the end the enemies are converted into friends.  That was my experience in South Africa with General Smuts.  He started with being my bitterest opponent.  Today he is my warmest friend” (Everyman’s, May 16 - The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi)

  • I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on the Earth…But I can and I hate evil wherever it exists…I hate the ruthless exploitation of India even as I do hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible.  But I do not hate the domineering Englishman as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus.  I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me.  My noncooperation has its roots not in hatred but in love.” (Gandhi the Man p. 56)

  • In the struggle against England Gandhi sees the British as his brothers: “We will not submit to this injustice – not merely because it is destroying us but because it is destroying you as well.” (Gandhi the Man p. 74)

  • It is to me a matter of perennial satisfaction that I retain generally the affection and trust of those whose principles and policies I oppose.  In spite of my denunciation of British policy, I enjoy the affection of thousands of Englishmen.  It is a triumph of non-violence” (Everyman’s, June 19 – The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi)

  • Gandhi leads a boycott of British cloth that causes the Lancashire textile mills to temporarily shut down, causing resentment from the mill workers.  Gandhi visits the workers and speaks to them, winning them over to his cause (Gandhi the Man p. 81)

  • Let us honour our opponents for the same honesty of purpose and patriotic motives that we claim for ourselves.” (Everyman’s, July 10 – Selections from Gandhi)

  • Democracy must in essence, therefore, mean the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all.” (Quotes in Mani Bhavan)

  • "The rich have excess supplies of the things they don't need, while millions live on the edge of hunger. If everyone would only own what they actually need, no one would have to live in poverty and everyone would be happy."

  • To call women the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman… If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior… If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman.” (Mahatma, Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi –henceforth MG- Vol 3, p.33).

  • Languages proclaim that woman is half of man, and by parity of reasoning, man is half of woman.” Mind of Mahatma Gandhi (Ed. Prabhu & Rao), p.297)

  • “Gandhi made it impossible for us to continue ruling India, but at the same time he made it possible for us to abdicate without rancour and without dishonour”. British Historian Arnold Toynbee. (SNVF. p.189)

  • The Earth has enough to satisfy everyone’s needs but not everyone’s greed.”

6. Focus on what we want to create, not just what we oppose (e.g. constructive program and vision implementation).

  • In the 1930 Salt Satyagraha (response to the law forbidding Indians to make their own salt) Gandhi leads a march to the sea to claim the fee salt – focus on self-sufficiency and independence, not just on boycott (Gandhi the Man p. 70)

  • Obstructive program: On July, August and September, 1921, were to be devoted to concentrate people’s attention on attaining complete boycott of foreign cloth. On July 31st, 1921 Gandhi ceremoniously celebrated the bonfire of foreign cloth in Elphinston Mill Compound in Mumbai. May women and men responded Gandhi’s call for boycott of foreign cloth by burning their choicest silk and finest foreign clothes. This marked the entry of women into politics and public life. He said: “Mumbai the beautiful lit yesterday a fire which must remain ever alive…”. (Gandhi and Mani Bhavan. p.11)

  • One day in 1940 a young Indian importuned Gandhi, “What will it really take to get the British off our backs?” Gandhi replied brightly, “Phenomenal progress in spinning.” (SNVF. p.177)

  • Constructive programme is a Solar System and the charkha [spinning wheel] is the Sun”. (SNVF. p.183)

The bonfire lit in Mumbai by Gandhi spread all over the land, along with tens of thousands of charkhas.

Gandhi’s most important contributions to the theory and practice of nonviolence social change is: CONSTRUCTIVE PROGRAMS (a.k.a. constructive work, constructive effort, and constructive activities, or social revolution). His fundamental concept was that the haves and have-nots could unite in constructive work, and in that join effort they would free themselves from social divisions and lead the nation to freedom.

In Gandhi’s own words: “The constructive programme may otherwise and more fittingly be called construction of Poorna Swaraj or complete Independence by truthful and non-violent means. Let us now examine the items which constitute the constructive programme:”


Everybody is agreed about the necessity of this unity. But everybody does not know that unity does not mean political unity which may be imposed. Unity does not mean political unity alone. It means an unbreakable heart unity. The first thing essential for achieving such unity is for every Congressman, whatever his religion may be, to represent, in his own person Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, Jew, etc.,

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