In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Most western students (I say most, not all), and interpreters of Mahatma Gandhi have understood him in a rather narrow sense. They have seen his non-violence, his Satyagraha and his pacifism in terms of war and resistance. They have ignored a very important section of his philosophy which is about the reconstruction of a peaceful society. War to him was only a by-product of our economic and political systems, a symptom of wrong relationships among human communities. There is no point in resisting war if we do not remove the causes of war. Therefore he gave a twelve point plan for reconstructing violence-free India. Resistance was only a very small part of his struggle. The major part of his work was devoted to the discovery of a relationship in which people do not want to dominate each other and resort to violence. It is too late when Hitler is already in power to go and show your resistance, although a Gandhi would resist any situation with non-violence and offer his fast, even faced with Hitler. But it is rather late to call a doctor when your disease is already a chronic disease. At that stage it is not right to blame the doctor and think that his medicine doesn’t work. We want to be better overnight. Years and years of unhealthy lifestyle, bad dieting, non-exercise, too much drinking, smoking, gives us cancer, then suddenly we want a medicine which will cure us instantly. That is what many people expect of Gandhi and his non-violence.
When there is a war in the Falklands, in Northern Ireland, in Lebanon, in Poland, in Afghanistan or violence in Brixton or Liverpool, people ask: “How does non-violence work?” That is not the time to ask. We have to create a society where our economic, social, political and cultural relationships are based on non-violence. That is why Gandhi was talking about the removal of untouchability. He said; if one day there is a class struggle, a war between the untouchables and the high caste, don’t blame me. It is the institutional violence, the structural violence, the economic, political and social violence, which has erupted into open warfare. If we don’t remove hidden violence, then open warfare breaking out is our own fault. So don’t blame Hitler alone for being a Nazi, organizing massacres and concentration camps, blame ourselves too, that we let it happen from the beginning. Don’t just blame the symptom which is at the end of the disease. Consider the cause of the disease. Were the Jews non-violent? Were the Germans non-violent? Were their economic conditions non-exploitative? Did the countries outside Germany, have a non-violent, friendly relationship with the Germans? Nobody would ask those questions. Everyone asks: “Oh, what do you do as non-violent pacifists when a Hitler is in power?” But we have to ask how did Hitler come to power at all?
Now, in Britain are we a non-violent society? Do we have non-violent relationship between workers and management? Between Tories and Labour? Do we have non-violent relationships with our neighbours? Do we have a non-violent relationship with ourselves? The answer to all these questions is No. And then we say non-violence doesn’t work.
Gandhi was not only marching against the British. Every single morning and evening he was praying in his Ashram, he was spinning, he was promoting rural industry, he was practising non-violence. When we see his life, how he behaved with other people, what kind of food he ate, what kind of relationship he had with his neighbours, then we will realise that non-violence for him was a way of life, it was his creed.
In Gandhi’s view, the industrial mode of production was one of the most violent activities. He attacked the very basis of industrial society, industrialism. Very few western students of Gandhi talk about industrialism because it is too uncomfortable. We are living in a mass-production, mass-consumption society and we don’t see that this is a violent system of production where workers are sent to factories en masse. They are standing there at a conveyor belt, pushing buttons. Thousands of workers in industries and factories are working but not enjoying their work. They do not find self-fulfilment or creative human expression in work. That is the greatest violence that we are inflicting every day upon our people in society, they do work which they don’t enjoy. We are forced to work by circumstances, by the way we have organised our economics. If we don’t work, how do we buy food? How are we going to pay the telephone bill, electricity bill and other bills? So we are forced to find a job.
There is a great deal of difference between employment and work. Work is when we are enjoying what we are doing and doing it with our own self-motivation even though we are exhausted after doing it. In real work we know what we are doing and why we are doing it. We are in control of our work. We are not slaves, we are masters in our work. We feel that by work, not only have we served our own needs, but we have served our fellow human beings too. We have been useful to our family. We owe a debt to society. We are born because of our parents. We are able to live because the rest of the members of society were building houses, making furniture, carpets, shoes and clothes, producing food. Whatever we are using is produced by other people, so we must contribute something whatever we contribute is our work. Employment has a totally different philosophy. Somebody else wants to get something done; pays us to do it. We do it mainly for money. We are hardly a human being; employment reduces us to a ‘labour unit’, a number in a factory. Work is our own, employment is given by someone else. We work because we have a sense of duty toward our family and society. We demand employment as our right. When we are at work, work is our being, our expression, our extension, our gift. When we are in employment we want to earn a pay packet. We want to achieve results. That is a violent relationship. If we have that kind of relationship there will be Brixtons, Northern Irelands, Lebanons and Afghanistans.
Capitalism and Communism are both on the path of industrialism. They both believe equally in economic growth. They both believe in centralised production. They both believe in everybody getting more, more and more. Both systems have the same god; they worship the god of money and high living standards. Don’t think that we are holier than the Russians. Whether capital is owned by an individual or a state, there isn’t any real difference. What would make us different is our attitude; our relationship with other human beings, our relationship with Nature and animals, with trees, plants, rivers and mountains. Socialists do not respect their plants, animals and environment any more than capitalists. Capitalists do not love their animals, their cows and their land any more than socialists. This is only an illusion that we are better than they. Thinking that someone else is inferior to you is a certain symptom of inner insecurity and spiritual vacuum. We don’t have a sense of spiritual security within us so we try to find security in some kind of external ideology. Then we need propaganda every day telling us you are all right, you are living under a great democracy, you have freedom; or, you are living under a great socialism, you have equality. Both sides use propaganda to keep their citizens satisfied in one system or the other.
Well, Gandhi’s way was a much simpler way of life. Much less consumption, much more working with your body, uniting your head and hands together and living frugally. According to Gandhi this universe is God’s residence and we are his guests. If I am a guest in somebody’s house, I try to be a good guest. My host is most happy to have me and offers me whatever he has in his house. He shows me the bedroom and the bathroom. He gives me tea, lunch and dinner. He provides everything to make my stay comfortable. But I am not happy, I am still greedy and when my host is asleep or has gone out, I go to his cupboard and see what else he has got. I see some nice things in his cupboard and I put them in my pocket. That is what we are doing in God’s house. We see uranium tucked away and we dig it. Gandhi said: “If you are taking any more than your true need, you are stealing in God’s house”. These are very harsh, very uncomfortable words; Gandhi called us thieves but that is the truth and truth is uncomfortable. Gandhi said that there is enough for everybody’s need in this world, because God has created everything in abundance, only we have created scarcity. God has created abundance of air, water, forests, seas, mountains, land and food. He has also given us an abundance of intellect, of thinking and imagination. There is no limit in God’s house, there is enough for everybody’s need, but not enough for everybody’s greed. The greatest challenge for our imagination is to know when enough is enough. The mysterious puzzle is that if we know when enough is enough, we already have enough, but when we don’t know when enough is enough, we will never have enough. However much we collect, consume and store in our house, we will still feel starved, because it is a spiritual hunger, it is an inner hunger. We have no sense of contentment within us.
Look at Britain and compare it with hundreds of poor countries in the world. We know that Britain is a very wealthy country but ask Mrs Thatcher, she doesn’t think that England has got enough wealth. She goes to Japan begging “Please bring your capital into our country, please invest more in our economy” as if Britain is really a poor country. Unwise economics — we are inviting Japanese to invest their capital in England but in twenty or fifty years time we will regret it. We will say, all the profit of our country is going to Japan. We English are working hard, day by day, morning to evening, and producing all these goods and who gets the profit? The Japanese, the foreign investors. We are left with nothing. This will sow the seeds of disharmony. This is not a wise economic policy. It is not economics of peace. It is the economics of war.
Unfortunately this style of economics is spreading throughout the world. India, Africa, China, everywhere this modernized, industrial thinking is spreading. People throughout the world are mesmerised with the idea that human hands need to do nothing, just push a button and everything should be provided. Humans need time to have leisure, to read, to write poetry, to watch T.V. or to play sports. Work degenerated into employment, and employment into drudgery. Now everything should be done by machines to reduce drudgery. As machines can make things faster, we quickly start to use up the non-renewable resources of the world. We begin to eat up the capital resources of the earth. If any of our sons or daughters inherited capital and decided to live on capital rather than live on income and earnings, we would think that our son or daughter is not sane, is not wise, they don’t understand economics. They are living on capital. But we are all living on capital, unrenewable resources which God has provided as capital, we are consuming them so that we can enjoy a bit more luxury, a higher living standard, a bit more comfort, a bit more convenience. But we don’t understand that by demanding such little comforts we are eating up our capital resources. In order to protect these capital resources we need armies because it is not only Britain and America who have a birthright to get oil from the Middle-East, the Russians want to get there too and therefore they want to push their frontiers slowly towards Afghanistan and towards the sea so that they can get nearer the Gulf. Then the Americans want to have a rapid deployment force, so that if they have to strike there, they can get there quickly. Now war is not to get new territories, it is for economic resources. It is the economic imperialism of east and west which is producing war. If we continue to partake in the economic exploitation of people and of natural resources please do not blame anybody if we have war because we are all party to it. We are all party to it because we are a link in that industrial economy which is creating this kind of tension in the world.
We are also a link in world insecurity. The insecurity between east and west is only the tip of the iceberg. The real insecurity is in our hearts because it begins from our hearts and spreads further. If I am insecure, if you are insecure and if my neighbour is insecure and my neighbour’s neighbour is insecure, then the whole nation will be insecure. And if the majority of the people in our nation are insecure, that will culminate in national insecurity. Mrs Thatcher is only a mouthpiece of national insecurity. In truth we are all mini Mrs Thatchers with our own fears, our own insecurity and our own lack of fulfilment. If we do not start at the grass-root level, if we do not look after our own tree of life, how can we establish world security? The tree of life is in danger at the moment, if we do not nurture it and put some compost around it and give some more earth to it then the roots will become more and more exposed. We need some good manure and rich, life-giving soil to save this tree most urgently. There is no time for laziness or arguments or disagreements. My friends, the house is on fire and we need to act now. If we really think, we will quickly realise that we need not fear our neighbour, and we need not fear the boss or the worker. If there is no war between trade unions and management, there will be no war between England and Russia. If there is no war between Catholics and Protestants, there will be no war between America and Russia. Please see the connection. People don’t want to see that connection; they want to isolate the war between America and Russia. They wishfully think that if only Mr Reagan and Mr Andropov could get together in Geneva and sign a document declaring peace in the world, that there will be peace in the world. This is a total illusion; a dream that we are harbouring in our minds. Peace cannot come by treaties signed by one or two individuals. Therefore we need not wait for the Summit meetings. We can begin the process of peace here and now. When they started to build the Great Wall of China they had to put up the first brick. When they started to build the great cathedrals in Europe they started with one stone. They took hundreds of years to complete it, but they began with one foundation stone. Similarly we can place a new foundation stone at any moment to build a cathedral of peace. We have to begin and begin it now. Not think about it, not talk about it, just begin it. Thinking creates problems. The mind is the most efficient machine to create problems. It’s the speediest problem producer the world has ever seen. It needs no other raw material, just thinking is its raw material. So we need to stop thinking and start acting.
Do we have a non-violent relationship with our neighbours? Do we have a non-violent relationship with ourselves? . . . No. And then we say non-violence doesn’t work.
Do we have a non-violent relationship with our neighbours? Do we have a non-violent relationship with ourselves? . . . No. And then we say non-violence doesn’t work.
When we start acting, problems disappear. They disappeared for me when I went on a voyage for peace. In two and a half years I completed my walk around the world, and without a single penny in my pocket. I always survived, due to the hospitality of people. I would go to somebody’s house and say, “I am walking for peace, could I spend the night at your house? Is it possible?” Some said yes, some said no. If I was told “No” I would go next door, or to the next village and ask again. And if they said “Yes” I would stay just one night and next morning move on. If we travel with money, we can’t really meet people. We sleep in an hotel, we eat in a restaurant and keep travelling. If we have money, we don’t need people. But if we have no money, we will be forced to find a host who will provide hospitality, be kind and compassionate and share bread with us. So I was forced to find that compassionate host and for two and a half years every day, even in the Soviet Union where the communists live, even in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, Iran, where the Moslems live, even in America and Germany and England where the capitalists live — capitalist is a scare word in Russia — I was able to find good people. If I go as a Hindu, I will meet a Moslem; if I go as an Indian, I will meet an Englishman; if I go as a communist, I will meet a capitalist; if I go as a black man, I will meet a white man, but if I go as a human being, I will meet human beings everywhere and in truth I met them everywhere. They were so kind that they never talked about being Russians or Christians or Hindus or Jews or black or white or socialist or capitalist because that was not my problem. Even if some people thought of me as a foreigner and didn’t like foreigners I would say “If you don’t like me, that’s your problem. I was not born in your country, it is not my fault. It is God’s gift. I am what I am and you are what you are and you and I are not two. It is only an illusion that you are white and I am black, you are a Christian and I am a Hindu. It is only shorthand that you call me Satish, but I’m not Satish, you could have called me David, or Ivan or Ali or Timbuktu, it does not matter”.
I not only see such deep unity between human beings, I feel the same unity with animals. I live in Devon with two acres of land and I have a cow, whose name is Hazel, a beautiful Jersey, and she is truly like my sister. When I go to milk her in the morning, she is so happy, so relaxed, sometimes she goes to sleep. Sure, Hazel and I are not two, we are united by a deep bond. Whether we are Russians or Americans or Capitalists or socialists or pacifists or soldiers or whatever colours we have, we are all needed in God’s plan. Even a blade of grass is as important as an oak tree and none is more or less important. They have their right place, their right use. When I go out in the summer, in the sunny afternoon and lie down on the lawn the grass is more important to me. What can I do with my oak tree? But when I want to make a beautiful beam in a house, the oak is more important. What can I do with a blade of grass? It won’t hold up the house. The hair is beautiful on my head, but if it fell into my breakfast plate, it wouldn’t be right there. So in God’s plan every colour, every individual, every language, every nation, every religion, is beautiful. Accept it. The problem only comes when we don’t want to accept others and consider ourselves as pure and superior.
Once I saw Mother Teresa in Calcutta. She told me a story. In Benares the Sisters of Charity were looking after an elderly Brahmin lady who would not allow anybody to come too close to her. When Mother Teresa herself went to see her and wanted to touch her the old lady said “No, don’t touch me, don’t touch me”. Mother Teresa asked “Why, I want to feel you, I want to comfort you, I want to help you”. The old lady said “But I am a Brahmin, I am pure, I am a godly person. I don’t want any impure person to touch me”. Mother Teresa said, “Don’t worry, I am a Brahmin too. I believe in the same God as you do. Let me help you”. The lady looked in surprise, “You are Brahmin too? Then please do touch me”. Now Mother Teresa, a devout Christian, one of the purest souls in our land, a great saint, didn’t mind saying “I am a Brahmin too”. She didn’t say “I am a Christian, you are a Brahmin, I won’t touch you if you consider yourself a Brahmin”. She said “I am a Brahmin too”. You go and tell any orthodox Christian, catholic or protestant that Mother Teresa is a Brahmin and they will say “Has she gone mad?” So this is our illusion, that we are this and you are that. In reality we are part of a large whole. By transforming our individuality into universality we can create a peaceful world where our relationship to ourselves, to our world, to Nature and to the powers beyond this world will be based on harmony and mutuality. That relationship alone can create a peaceful world. Let us not put too much trust in big political leaders and let us not put too much trust in newspaper and television stories. They always condition our minds to think in a particular way. Let us trust ourselves, our own inner voice. Listen to it in the silence of our inner heart and we will know the real truth. We need not go anywhere to find the truth.
There is a little story of a deer who, in his bellybutton, has musk. The deer smells the musk, it’s a beautiful smell, and asks — where does it come from? He runs to the east and doesn’t find the smell. He runs to the west, north and south. He runs but doesn’t find the source of the beautiful smelling musk. Almost exhausted, exasperated and tired, the deer falls down and his nose goes near to his belly. There he finds the sweet musk. So, my friends, we need not run in the whole forest to find our musk. It is in us, in all of us. A touch of musk has been distributed to everybody. Such a kind, compassionate God. But we don’t stop to smell it. We go and read a book, watch television. Every morning we open the newspapers and try to find peace and information about it. But it is not there. If we listen to ourselves, we will find that we have no enemies. Gandhi did not see the British as enemies, that is why he was able to win their minds and change their hearts. The British put him in prison: still he saw God in them and loved them. That is why the British are welcome guests in India and they celebrate Gandhi and make films about him. We cannot make peace with our opponents if we see them as our enemies. This is the Gandhian way to peace.
This article is reprinted, with kind permission, from Resurgence, which I think of as THE SUN’S European sister. Subscriptions are $20 a year from Resurgence’s U.S. office [write Rodale Press, 33 East Minor St., Emmaus, Pa. 18049]. It’s a readable, worthy journal I’m always delighted to find in the mail; Satish Kumar is the editor.
© Copyright 1983 Resurgence