Satyagraha

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Righteousness (Δικαιοσύνη)

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sir-joshua-reynolds-justice-1779

1. CONFUSION about what ‘Justice’ means is a major source of psychological and social problems today.  The basic argument herein is that the cardinal virtue usually called ‘Justice’ in modern English is more accurately termed Righteousness.

2. It’s vital to understand that Justice itself is something much greater than mere retributive justice (punishment, revenge, etc.) or equity (treating all people equally). While Justice itself — like Truth and Beauty, to which it is related — can be experienced and intuited, it is not easily defined.  We should therefore try to look at it from various angles, hoping to reveal its true moral meaning meaning.

3. First we consider the etymology and cognates of ‘Justice’.  Doing so we notice a variety of words and phrases in which the root, just, has a meaning that refers not to laws, but to exactness and perfect measure.  For example, we routinely use phrases like ‘just in time,’ ‘just right,’ ‘just as I hoped,’ and so on.  Here is our first clue: that what we call justice might be more accurately called just-rightness, arightness, or the like.

4. We should also seek out ancestral wisdom on a matter of such enduring and central importance to human welfare as Justice.  Accordingly let us consult various sources.

5. In Greek mythology we find that Justice and retribution are distinct: the former is represented by the goddess Dike; and the latter by the goddess Nemesis.  These are two separate entities, and separate principles.

6. Justice/Dike is often represented as holding golden scales.  Justice is associated with scales not because ‘the punishment must fit the crime’, as some suppose; rather, a much broader and beautiful meaning is alluded to:  that, for everything in life, indeed for everything in the Universe, there is a perfect mean or measure — neither too much, nor too little — in which amount, it contributes harmoniously to the cosmic symphony.  In Egyptian religion, this cosmic meaning of Justice is even more apparent, where the counterpart of Dike is Ma’at, goddess of Measure and Balance.

7. Justice, as a personal virtue, is a main concern of the New Testament, where it is termed in Greek, dikaiosyne, and commonly translated into English as righteousness. An indication of the central importance of righteousness in the New Testament is that it figures prominently in not one, but two of the nine Beatitudes:

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Matt 5:6)

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)

8. A few lines later are these words:

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt 6:33)

Most Christians are familiar with the phrase, seek ye first the kingdom of God, but perhaps few realize that they are instructed as well to seek his righteousness — which we may understand as meaning to seek to understand and know what divine righteousness is, and to possess this virtue in our own life. This fits exactly with previous comments on the kingdom of God

9. But in equating Justice with righteousness, have we solved anything?  What does righteous mean?  There is some confusion here also, as indicated by the phrase, righteous indignation.  This phrase is internally contradictory: righteousness and indignation have little affinity for each other, and, in fact, are almost diametrically opposed.  A truly righteous person is more characteristically patient, long-suffering, charitable and meek — not indignant.

10. Thayer’s Greek Definitions, a definitive biblical reference, relates the primary meaning of dikaiosyne with “integrity, virtue, purity of life, and rightness and correctness of thinking, feeling and acting.”  It thus means a person who is right (in the sense of ‘just right’, well measured, or harmonized) with God, with him/herself, and with the Universe.

11. We find that dikaiosyne is a principle concern of St. Paul’s epistles as well.  He frequently emphasizes a distinction between legalism (slavish adherence to fixed laws) and righteousness — an ethical orientation in which ones choices are spontaneously guided by Conscience, our innate spiritual sense of rightness.  Seeing this helps us understand one of St. Paul’s most famous doctrines: that one is justified (i.e., made righteous) by faith in Jesus Christ.  This could be understood psychologically to mean that the act of turning ones heart to Jesus re-aligns ones moral apparatus, reconnecting one to ones spiritual Conscience — thereby permitting one to act and think in accord with God’s will, and putting one again in harmony with all creation; one becomes, that is, ‘aright’ again, regaining a state of natural bliss and attunement.

12. Plato devoted his greatest dialogue, the Republic, to the question, what is righteousness?; the ancient subtitle of the Republic, in fact, is ‘On the Righteous Man.’  That Plato wrote a lengthy dialogue on this topic indicates that he considered this question an important one, and that (as today), ordinary notions of what Justice means were confused or mistaken and needed clarification.  In the Republic, Plato explicitly rejects a definition of righteousness as mere equity (‘giving to each man his due’), in favor of a meaning of right measure that contributes to Harmony, Balance, Order and Beauty.

13. Plato also considered Justice (righteousness; dikaiosyne) to be one of the four cardinal virtues, along with Courage, Temperance and Prudence.  Of these,  Justice is the greatest, as it is necessary for the others.  Each of the other cardinal virtues is a rightly measured mean between extremes. Courage, for example, is the right mean between cowardice and rashness.  We need dikaiosune to judge what the right amount of some specific virtue is that a given situation demands.

14. Plato concludes the Republic with Socrates confidently announcing that the righteous person is the most happy — where happiness means a certain divine state of mind.  This agrees with the Beatitudes, where we are told that the righteous person will attain the condition of bliss or blessedness (makarios).

15. Considering all the preceding — what may we infer?  We know that righteousness brings happiness, and that this righteousness is far removed from anything like revenge or retribution.  Likewise is does not consist in mere performance of social duties, including important ones like helping the needy — though these, of course, would usually be part of the life of a truly righteous person.  Specific actions are important —  but not as important as the very means by which we may discern what actions would be most truly beneficial, productive, beautiful, harmonious and ‘just right.’

16. Therefore while it’s clearly important to relieve the oppression, mistreatment, poverty, hunger and sickness of others, we should not, in the process of pursuing these things, whether through anger, indignation, agitation or disturbed thinking, disconnect ourselves from our own righteousness, nor act in ways that oppose Divine Harmony.

17. This true meaning of righteousness is conveyed in the following lines of Orphic Hymn 62, To Dikaiosyne (in Greek mythology, the goddess or spirit Dikaiosyne was righteousness personified, a daughter of Dike):

O Blessed Dikaiosyne, mankind’s delight,
Th’ eternal friend of conduct just and right:
Abundant, venerable, honor’d maid,
To judgments pure, dispensing constant aid,
A stable conscience, and an upright mind;
For men unjust, by thee are undermin’d,
Whose souls perverse thy bondage ne’er desire,
But more untam’d decline thy scourges dire:
Harmonious, friendly power, averse to strife,
In peace rejoicing, and a stable life;
Lovely, loquacious, of a gentle mind,
Hating excess, to equal deeds inclin’d:
Wisdom, and virtue of whate’er degree,
Receive their proper bound alone in thee. (Thomas Taylor, translator)

18. Occupying the deepest level of our moral consciousness, Dikaiosyne is potentially related to the symbols of the angel guarding the gates of Paradise, the Pythogorean Y at the entrance to the Isles of the Blessed, and the ancient mystical allegory called the Choice of Hercules.

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19. Let us not emulate the unvirtue of those who hold up angry signs at public demonstrations that say, “No Justice, No Peace!” or the like — making, in effect, a threat, and expressing a sentiment as far removed from the true meaning of Justice as it is from Peace.   We should, rather, remind ourselves, “No Peace, No Justice!”  Peace removes the mental agitations that distort our thinking and impede our ability to see the right course, and the way of Truth and Beauty.  Conversely, whatever opposes Peace, opposes righteousness, by producing discord, enmity, and disturbed and erroneous thinking.

20. To summarize, what emerges is that Justice/righteousness is a state of mind, a cosmic principle, and an attribute of Deity — one with much in common with Truth and Beauty.  Justice is the joyous and glorious Divine Harmony of an all-good God.  It is something which, the more we understand, the more we love.  Indeed one could easily argue that divine Justice and divine Love are virtually the same thing.

21. Well may we reflect on the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, where, in speaking of authentic charity (agape), he may just as well be describing the sublime virtue of righteousness:

[1] Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

[2] And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

[3] And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

[4] Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

[5] Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

moreau_gustave_-_hesiode_et_la_muse_-_1891

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Gandhi on Prayer

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Mahatma Gandhi crop

No act of mine is done without prayer. Man is a fallible being. He can never be sure of his steps.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 25 Sept 1924, p. 313)

As food is necessary for the body, prayer is necessary for the soul. A man may be able to do without food for a number of days … but, believing in God, man cannot, should not live a moment without prayer.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 15 Dec 1927, p. 424)

Supplication, worship, prayer are no superstition; they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real, all else is unreal.
~  Gandhi (Autobiography, p. 51)

I can give my own testimony and say that a heartfelt prayer is undoubtedly the most potent instrument that man possesses for overcoming cowardice and all other bad old habits.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 20 Dec 1928, p. 420)

Not until we have reduced ourselves to nothingness can we conquer the evil in us. God demands nothing less than complete self-surrender as the price for the only real freedom that is worth having. And when a man thus loses himself, he immediately finds himself in the service of all that lives. It becomes his delight and his recreation. He is a new man, never weary of spending himself in the service of God’s creation.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 20 Dec 1928, p. 420)

There is an eternal struggle raging in man’s breast between the powers of darkness and of light, and he who has not the sheet-anchor of prayer to rely upon will be a victim to the powers of darkness. The man of prayer will be at peace with himself and with the whole world; the man who goes about the affairs of the world without a prayerful heart will be miserable and will make the world also miserable.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 23 Jan 1930, p. 26)

Prayer is the only means of bringing about orderliness and peace and repose in our daily acts…. Take care of the vital thing and other things will take care of themselves. Rectify one angle of a square, and the other angles will be automatically right.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 23 Jan 1930, p. 26)

It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 23 Jan 1930, p. 25)

Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 23 Jan 1930, p. 25)

I am giving you a bit of my experience and that of my companions when I say that he who had experienced the magic of prayer may do without food for days together, but not a single moment without prayer. For without prayer there is no inward peace.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 23 Jan 1930, p. 25)

Let every one try and find that, as a result of daily prayer, he adds something new to his life, something with which nothing can be compared.
~  Gandhi (Young India, 24 Apr 1931, p. 274)

There are many who, whether from mental laziness or from having fallen into a bad habit, believe that God is and will help us unasked.
~  Gandhi (Harijan, 28 Apr 1946, p. 109)

Silent communion will help them to experience an undisturbed peace in the midst of turmoil, to curb anger and cultivate patience.
~  Gandhi (Harijan, 28 Apr 1946, p. 109)

It should be the general rule that prayers must not be delayed for anybody on earth.
~  Gandhi (Harijan, 5 May 1946, p. 113)

True meditation consists in closing the eyes and ears of the mind to all else except the object of one’s devotion. Hence the closing of eyes during prayers is an aid to such concentration. Man’s conception of God is naturally limited. Each one has, therefore, to think of Him as best appeals to him, provided that the conception is pure and uplifting.
~  Gandhi (Harijan, 18 Apr 1946, p. 265)

Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.
~  Gandhi (Harijan, 14 Apr 1946, p. 80)

When the mind is completely filled with His spirit, one cannot harbour ill-will or hatred towards anyone and, reciprocally, the enemy will shed his enmity and become a friend. It is not my claim that I have succeeded in converting enemies into friends, but in numerous cases it has been my experience that, when the mind is filled with His peace, all hatred ceases.
~  Gandhi (Harijan, 28 Apr 1946, p. 109)

God answers prayer in His own way, not ours. His ways are different from the ways of mortals. Hence they are inscrutable. Prayer presupposes faith. No prayer goes in vain.
~  Gandhi (Harijan, 29 Jun 1946, p. 209)

Source: The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi: Encyclopedia of Gandhi’s Thoughts. Compiled & Edited by R. K. Prabhu & U. R. Rao. Ahmedabad, 1967.

Key:

Autobiography = An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth: M. K. Gandhi. Translated from Gujarati by Mahadev Desai. Ahmedabad: 1927 (vol. 1), 1929 (vol. 2); edition used: 1959.

Young India = Young India (1919–1932). English-language periodical; published bi-weekly from Bombay under Gandhi’s supervision from May 7, 1919; weekly from Ahmedabad with Gandhi as editor from October 8, 1919.

Harijan = Harijan (1933–1956). English-language weekly journal founded by Gandhi; published in Poona from 1942; suspended publication in 1940 during the “Individual Satyagraha”; resumed in January 1942, but stopped appearing during the Quit India Struggle; reappeared in 1946.

Written by John Uebersax

December 24, 2014 at 11:03 pm

What is True Charity?

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Charity

The other day a thought occurred to me which seems to clarify the meaning of Charity, as distinct from other related things like compassion and sympathy, generosity, kindness, etc. The definition: Charity is acting to love others for the sake of God.

At first glance this may strike you as prosaic – a mere formula, one in fact, found in traditional Christian teaching. Likely I had heard this formula someplace, yet it never quite stuck. This time, however, from my creative imagination, Muse, or call-it-what-you-will, there arose insight into the meaning, not merely the definition, of Charity.

To understand true Charity it helps to refer to Platonism.

A hallmark of Platonism is that God is identified as the source and very essence of Goodness. Plato’s defined God, in fact, as the Form or pattern of Goodness of which all individual good things partake, just as all triangles partake of the Form of a triangle. (This conceptual principle is a powerful and distinct asset to those who try to understand who or what God is – but that is a topic to take up another time.)

With this innovation, our definition becomes “Charity is the doing of good to others for the sake of the Good.”

How does this help? One way is with respect to the Platonic principle known as the unity of virtues. Because all virtues, and indeed all good things, are instances of the Good, a corollary is that pure virtue of any kind, i.e., pure Truth, pure Beauty, pure Justice, etc., must be compatible with every other pure virtue. One cannot, for example, act in a way that affirms Truth yet contradicts Justice or Beauty. This principle supplies a means by which we may test whether a given act is true Charity: the act must awaken in us an awareness of Goodness generally; contemplating or performing the proposed act should leave our mind ‘basking’ in the glow of the train of all divine virtues.

This has some very practical implications for modern social activism. It means that one cannot be motivated by Charity and yet act in a contentious way. Suppose a person is angry that poor people do not have adequate health care. This is certainly an important concern. But if this concern takes the form of hateful denunciation of other people – the greedy rich, selfish Republicans, whoever – then it is not a form of Charity. Because anger is not consistent, in fact it is incompatible, with the Virtues. This helps us see why St. Paul defined Charity as he did: Charity “charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.” (1 Corinthians 13 4–5)

The Platonic perspective also reveals four further attributes of Charity. First, it is it’s own reward. Plato had a name for that kind of experience where we suddenly we regain our ability to see truth: who we are, what really matters, what brings us happiness. He called it anamnesis, literally unforgetting (an = un, amnesis = forgetting). True Charity should have the quality of anamnesis: it realigns our mind such that we are again in touch with our true nature; we become properly oriented to ourselves, other people, Nature, and God.

Clearly this is much different from, say, sending money in a perfunctory way to a “charity” like Greenpeace. Sometimes such actions are performed out of a sense of mechanical duty. Other times they may be motivated by sentimentality – as when one feels sorrow at the plight of abused animals. There is nothing wrong with such actions. They are commendable, in fact, and may well constitute virtues in their own right; our only point here is Charity is something distinct and greater than these things, and to lose sight of the distinction is to risk losing sight of the full meaning and significance of Charity.

Second, the proposed definition shows how Charity is ultimately connected with our own salvation (understood in a broad, nondenominational, psychological sense). The truth is that, however much we may believe or protest otherwise, our ultimate instinctive concern is not with others, but for ourselves. Said another way, our first order of business is to help ourselves. History is full of examples of people who neglected their own moral development for the sake of busying themselves with other people’s problems. To such as these one might well say, “Physician, heal thyself,” or “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew16:26) We must be constantly aware, in whatever we think or do, or our own need of salvation in this broad sense. This is the meaning of humility. The moment we lose sight of our immense proclivity for error, much of which goes under the name of ‘egoism’, then our ego takes over and all manner of mischief is liable to occur. Unless God or the Good is in the picture, any action, even giving a million dollars to help others, will have a strong egoistic component.

Third, our Platonic perspective helps shows how Charity is contagious. If you act towards another with true Charity, the recipient knows, in their own soul, that your act is accompanied by your anamnesis. And since anamnesis always engenders feelings like trust, love, and hope, the person knows that you have gained a reward greater than any human being could give you.

This, in turn, produces a sympathetic anamnesis in the recipient. It reawakens in them a remembrance of what the important, the finer things in life are. And this is cause for them to affirm life and thank God – not so much for whatever charitable benefit they received, but because God made such a world where Charity itself exists. It may literally restore the other’s faith in humanity. Moreover, the recipient is presented with the fact that they too have the ability to show Charity to others. A quality of a truly Charitable act, then, is that it leaves the recipient in a frame of mind eager to show Charity to others. When you act with Charity to others, then, often more important than the physical gift to the other is the psychological gift.

Finally, the Platonic perspective helps us to see that Charity is different from other forms of helping, giving, sharing, etc., in terms of epistemology. True Charity, because it is consciously aligned with God and the Good, opens the mind to an influx of higher thoughts – the mode of knowledge Plato called noesis. This is distinct from our usual form of rationalistic thinking, called dianoia, or reasoning. Thus, a characteristic of true Charity is that it is frequently motivated by inspiration, often more an act of spontaneous creativity than cold calculation. Again, this is not to say that we should avoid applying our logical minds to helping others – only that Charity is something distinct from rationality alone.

 

Ending Drone Attacks by Appeals to Conscience

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A news story today reports how activists in the Pakistan tribal areas have constructed a huge photograph of a child casualty visible to US attack drone operators.  The action is described at notabugsplat  [the meaning of ‘notabugsplat’ is that drone strikes are killing real human beings, made in God’s image and likeness; yet US policy dehumanizes them so thoroughly as to treat them as no more than insects.]

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I would like to commend those responsible for this idea.  They have rediscovered an important truth: that when one meets aggression with anger and accusations, the climate merely continues to be aggressive: the aggression not only continues, but the aggressor feels vindicated.

The most effective response, therefore, is to take the high road.  Change the rules of the game, the narrative, the context.  Appeal to conscience, and in so doing, force the aggressor to come to his or her senses.

This approach dovetails with a judicial response to drone strikes to produce maximum results.  Like the appeal to conscience, the judicial approach is a peaceful means that pleads the principles of the case in court.  This again places the entire problem in the light of higher reason, where solutions may be found.

Yet a third approach, based on similar principles and which complements the preceding two, is prayer for ones oppressors.

If Pakistanis in the affected areas were to hold public prayer meetings, asking God to forgive drone operators and commanding officers and to help them see their error, and then publicize this activity, it may well, in addition to meeting with God’s favor, mobilize considerable world public opinion against the illegal and immoral US drone attacks.

We can be certain that the consciences of drone operators and their superiors are devastated by their participation in drone attacks.  They genuinely deserve our sympathy.  These unfortunate men and women are the unwitting tools of the US political system.  Many will have mental difficulties later in life, and then their government will turn its back on them.

Written by John Uebersax

April 8, 2014 at 12:00 am

The Soul-State Homology

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Thomas Cole (1836) - The Course of Empire.  Part 3: The Consummation of Empire

The soul-state homology posits a close connection between the individual soul and political organizations like a city and state. The relationship is stronger than a mere analogy. Rather, soul and state are seen as two expressions of a common archetype ; or that the state’s affairs are outward expressions or materializations of the soul’s affairs.  The phrase, ‘as within, so without’ explains the notion succinctly. Whatever happens within your own soul is paralleled by events and processes at the societal level.

Expressions of this homology can be found in various spiritual and philosophical traditions. In the West, its most elaborate and articulate presentation is found in Plato’s Republic. The same general idea can be found in various Eastern religions, and elsewhere.

If true, the homology has important practical implications.

First, the it implies a distinct view of how one thinks of oneself in relation to society.  Today especially, idealistic people take a keen interest in the world.  The avidly read the news, identify problems, and remain in a state of irritation or outrage.  This easily becomes a preoccupation approaching an obsession with the world’s affairs and problems.

The soul-state homology, however, suggests a different, more appropriate response: if society has problems and is unjust, these same problems must exist within the personal soul.  The soul, not society,  is our first concern: because the soul is closer to us, because we are uniquely responsible for its cultivation and integrity, and because it is immortal.  If something should preoccupy us, then, it should be concern about the integrity and welfare of our soul. It is by tending to the soul that we find happiness.

Moreover, to the extent that disorders in a nation are manifestations of disorders of soul, then by concentrating our attention on self-knowledge and self-improvement, we are more likely to effect positive changes in society.

An extension of this principle is that the main purpose of the material world is to teach us about our souls.  Thus, if we look to politics and see strife and discord between ‘left’ and ‘right’, the purpose of that is to alert us and teach us about some corresponding internal conflict.

A second implication of the homology concerns charity.   At some level, all other people — at least insofar as we perceive and experience them — are manifestations of ourselves.  And since the ideal of a perfect soul is one where all elements are harmoniously ordered and united in concern for the welfare of the entire self, so this must also be true of society.

It therefore becomes impossible or even absurd to deny the entitlement of any other person to ones love,  or to seek a social system that is not perfectly just and fair.

This, in turn, suggests that one function of society and social institutions is to supply an arena for action:  a field laboratory, as it were, for the soul’s alchemy.  By working to help other people or to make society more just, we simultaneously engage in a kind of healthy transformative medicine or magic in our souls.

So much, then, for theoretical speculation; ultimately, the soul-state homology is the kind of idea that will either appeal to one or not.  Either way, not much can be said here to make it appear more or less plausible than it already is.

Rather, let’s consider what the homology would imply today:

  1. Your soul is in crisis, and has been for about 10 years.
  2. War is threatening to break out between your inner United States and your inner Iran.
  3. An old order, based on money, materialism and social disparity is decaying.  A new order is emerging.
  4. You have some kind of internal government (with Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches).
  5. Your internal government has been co-opted by selfish special interests.
  6. A resistance movement has developed, but is currently poorly organized and lacks a clear vision of the future.
  7. You have the inner equivalent of news sources, but these supply false opinions, rather than true facts.   You have an inner Fox News, CNN, etc.
  8. Your inner citizens are polarized into two diametrically opposed camps: ‘progressives’ and ‘conservatives.’ Each camp demonizes and blames the other for everything wrong.
  9. This conflict is promoted by special interests, who use the inner government and inner news sources for this purpose.

We could go on, but this is enough to convey the general idea and sufficient food for thought.

What, then, would be the practical implications?  Clearly, if our individual souls are as troubled and messy as the outside world today, then we need to focus a great deal of attention on cleaning house!  The homology suggests we should redouble efforts toward self-improvement.   It also means that, while we can learn much from the world, we should retain the ability to be detached from it.  If we let worry over injustice or war upset our thinking, and place our minds under the control of fear and anger, rather than clear reason, then we are unable to focus attention on self-improvement, which is where our attention should be.

One further feature of the soul-state homology might encourage us. A standard tenet of religion is that, while one has a personal moral responsibility to apply oneself to self-improvement, ultimately improvement comes by grace from a Supreme Being.

This makes sense.  To the extent that we are fallen, or perhaps simply immature, we are not wise enough to direct our own spiritual and moral growth.  Help must come from a higher source.

Our attitude, then, must be one of humility.  While we intensely want to change for the better — if, for no other reason, than because our life is filled with frustration and unfulfilled hopes — this must not manifest itself as an egoistic striving, which only makes matters worse.  Our personal responsibility is not to change ourselves, as much as to choose to cooperate with grace for our self-improvement.

A similar humility, then, should govern our approach to the outside world.  We should believe that a higher power already has a benevolent plan; and we should trust and cooperate with this plan, chiefly by removing whatever obstacles we ourselves are presenting to its attainment.

Christian Satyagraha

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What is Satyagraha?:  Satyagraha and Christianity

Mohandas Gandhi called his philosophy of social change by peaceful means satyagraha. The word is derived from the Indian words satya (truth) and graha (from the same Indo-European root word from which comes our ‘grasp’, ‘grab’, and ‘grip’).

Satyagraha is more than a philosophical system; it is a metaphysical force. Thus it would be more correct to call Gandhi a discoverer of satyagraha than its inventor. We should be willing to extend and refine our understanding of it, and to adapt Gandhi’s principles to modern issues and circumstances.

Consider satyagraha the subject of a cumulative science — something we collectively experiment with and gradually improve our ability to use.

* * *

Gandhi said many times that he developed his ideas about satyagraha in large part from New Testament teachings. Yet he also, when asked what he thought of Christians, replied: “I don’t know; I have yet to meet a real Christian.” Together, these remarks remind Christians that (1) they may, potentially, learn more about what satyagraha is and how to use it by looking more to their own Christian scripture and traditions than to the writings of Gandhi, and (2) they should try harder to use the spiritual tools of their tradition to promote change in the world.

As evidenced by Gandhi’s life and writings, there is a link between satyagraha and suffering. The link is not spelled out; there is no definite metaphysical theory that explains the connection. We must rather infer it from various specific actions and indirect comments of Gandhi, along with other data.

There are clearly psychological mechanisms by which ones suffering may change the opinion of others. For example, oppressors may be moved by compassion to change oppressive policies and practices; or oppressors may become convinced of the others’ sincerity and good will by their acceptance of suffering.

But these psychological mechanisms, while important, are not the only consideration. What of silent, private suffering? What of sacrifices made that others never directly observe? It seems a near-universal practice in spiritual traditions that one person may assist another by voluntarily accepting suffering on their behalf. In Christianity, Christ himself accepted suffering for the salvation of others — for undeserving others, in fact, as St. Paul points out (Rom. 5:7-10). Christians, whose model is Christ, are expected to similarly accept sacrifice both to help alleviate the suffering of the oppressed, and to promote the moral advancement of others, including ones enemies and persecutors.

* * *

Satyagraha, as “truth force”, involves truth; people lose sight of that too easily. Social activism undertaken in a spirit of militant self-righteousness or indignation is not satyagraha. One must first align oneself with truth. That is no easy task.

It is especially ironic, then, that so many people engaged in activism choose to distance themselves from traditional religions. For example, young people today are quick to follow Gandhi’s beliefs about social change; he is taken as a credible, authoritative source in that matter. But people pay much less attention to his support of traditional religion and spirituality. If his example is authoritative in the one case, why not in the other? Should one admire his political actions, even to the point of calling him a mahatma, which means great-souled, yet ignore his obvious support of traditional religion? That makes little sense.

To apply satyagraha one must align oneself with the truth. This means one must first seek out the truth — which is God, or comes from God, or is in any case closely associated with God — and then overcome the personal obstacles that cause one to prefer self-will, egoism, or selfish ends to God’s will.

Thus, the person who wishes to follow the methods of satyagraha effectively should also be a religious person, in the traditional sense.

Today when a person says such things it is thought strange; yet this is completely consistent with Gandhi’s teachings.

* * *

Various rules and principles of satyagraha as outlined by Gandhi and Christianity:

Love your enemies

* harbor no anger towards your enemies
* suffer the anger of the opponent
* do not insult the opponent
* do not trivialize the beliefs or intelligence of opponents
* forgive as you wish to be forgiven; hate the sin but love the sinner
* opponents are God’s children, made in His image and likeness
* defend your opponent against insult or assault
* look for God’s face in the face of others

Truth

* set an example of truth-seeking
* educate yourself, expand your perspectives, question your assumptions
* be honest with yourself; habitually examine your conscience and scrutinize your motives
* God is Love. God is Truth. When you stop loving you depart from truth.

Mental transformation

* do not stereotype any ethnic or cultural group or any person
* understand the dynamic of projection: what you do not like in yourself, you project onto others
* a strong, irrational attitude towards others implies projection
* first see if faults ascribed to others apply to you
* external conflict mirrors internal conflict

Personal virtue

* do not be angry
* do not curse
* patience is the foundation of all other virtues
* concupiscence is the enemy of patience; practice temperance; moderate and control appetites

Religion

* have a living faith in God
* have faith in the inherent goodness of human nature and peoples’ ability to change
* pray
* read scripture
* prefer God’s guidance to the voice of false reasoning

* * *

It is very ironic and counterproductive that many advocates of peace today express themselves in negative, hostile, and aggressive terms. If, for example, you preach peace but hatefully ridicule George W. Bush, people will pay more attention to your actions than to your words. Moreover, acting in so plainly counterproductive a manner, you will have lost touch with truth and the truth-force.

What is Satyagraha – A Parable

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What is satyagraha, or truth force?
It’s this:

A Buddhist parable

“While a small bird attempts to save a burning forest, engaged in a seemingly futile mission, she flies back and forth from the river dripping water from her beak. As the lone bird is running out of energy, the Buddhist gods, representing a compassionate function in the universe, see her desperate efforts and are so moved by her sincerity that they begin to cry. The “rain” of their tears extinguishes the fire and the forest survives.”

From:
http://www.cit-sakti.com/peace/peace-introduction.htm

Among other things, this helps show why it is so important that peace “activists” adhere to the principle of non-violence–not just in actions, but in speech. The bird’s efforts in the parable are efficacious because they elicit compassion by the “gods”. Here we may understand the gods to be the elements of compassion in the depths of the souls of other people, individually or perhaps, in some mysterious way, collectively. The bird does not elicit compassion if it chants “Impeach the president!”, etc.

Written by John Uebersax

January 17, 2007 at 12:14 pm