On September 21, the international day of peace, terrorists killed dozens of civilians in a shopping mall, including children and pregnant women. Most violence in the world is no longer in the news. Drugs murders in Mexico, guerilla wars in Congo. Violence always moves in circles. After the attack in Nairobi, the danger is that outbreaks of violence will occur against Muslims and people with a Somali background.
Today is also a ‘day of’, a ‘day of nonviolence’. A tribute to a great little man: Mahatma Ghandi. He was born 144 years ago. His life was characterized by the search for truth. In his work as a lawyer as well as in his personal life. He was vegetarian, celibatarian in a lifelong marriage, and strove to be without possessions. In South Africa he developed his strategy of nonviolent resistance. He later continued this strategy when he led India to independence from the British.
In his book about nonviolence, Kurlansky immediately makes the point that no language has a word to express this concept, except that it is ‘not violence’. This indicates that violence is fundamental to the human condition. The strategy of nonviolence requires more creativity, perseverance and most of all willingness to suffer. It is a method of resistance that refuses to harm human life, like Ghandi says:
It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers and thus to harm not only that being but with him the whole world.
War and terrorism arise when we divide ourselves in ethnicities, religions, countries. We should look for the antidote in the unity of humanity. Gandhi was among others inspired by Tolstoy, who wrote:
One thought constantly emerged among different nations, namely that in every individual a spiritual element is manifested […] that strives to unite with everything of a like nature to itself, and attains this aim through love.
Tolstoy poses the question: what if we would apply the law of love, that Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount, not only to our personal lives but to the level of society?
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.
The Dalai Lama, who mentions Gandhi as his political example, indicates the same thing when he talks about compassion. It stems from the belief that all people are the same: they want to be happy and they don’t want to suffer. If you see people in this way, especially your enemies, you can treat them as your brothers and sisters.
Gandhi made the ultimate sacrifice to his philosophy when he was assassinated by a political extremist in 1948. What is the sense of proclaiming all these ‘days of’, when apparently it has so little to do with reality? I do not think I have ever experienced from so close an amount of violence like I have lately. My instinctive reaction is to buy a gun to defend myself. But the circle of violence must be broken. We can only overcome evil with good. People like Gandhi are the stars in the sky that show that it is possible.
Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this love to anyone?
Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim the huge fluid freedom.
Quotes come from these books:
- Mark Kurlansky, Nonviolence: The history of a dangerous idea
- M.K. Gandhi, An autobiography: The story of my experiments with truth
- Leo Tolstoy, A letter to a Hindu (gratis op www.gutenberg.org)
- Jelaluddin Rumi, The book of Love (the poem)