The Seed and the Tree
A Reflection on Nonviolence
by Daniel A. Seeger
Pendle Hill Pamphlet 269
There are critical moments in history when it becomes necessary to take stock-times when we must refocus on the basic insights which inform our approach to social realities times to renew the gifts of the Spirit which alone can provide hope that our activities are authentic expressions of Truth.
The world-wide movement of people who seek to advance human affairs toward that condition of balance, order, harmony and peace which is the natural destiny of the Creation, and who know that this advancement will only be realized through programs of witness which are themselves just and peaceable, is now at such a critical juncture. It is a moment when the way of nonviolence has become blurred and its strategies uncertain.
In the aftermath of World War II, horror and revulsion at the carnage, coupled with admiration for the Gandhian movement and its achievement of national independence for India, gave an uplift to the idea of nonviolence. The inspiring leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. followed and further advanced the pacifist cause. At the present time, however, the nonviolent movement has faltered. The horrible experiences of World War II have grown dim in memory. The limitations of the Gandhian movement in transforming Indian society have become increasingly apparent. The struggle for full equality in the United States remains to be won. The conflict in Southern Africa has brought decades of tragedy and frustration. At the same time, revolutionary victories in Cuba, China, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, and Vietnam, the true cost and exact effects of which remain in large measure hidden from our eyes, have seemed at least to bring a relative deliverance to oppressed peoples, however glaring some of the new establishments' post-revolutionary errors might be.
Thus, the disordered character of contemporary history, with its struggles, its despair, its heroism, and its occasional triumphs, has sown uncertainty and confusion among many well-meaning people who long sincerely for justice. Among some it has inspired a complete change of heart and a new sympathy for armed revolutionary struggle. Indeed, for countless millions, the longing for justice is not only a desire for purity of heart, but is a life-and-death matter, a matter of practical survival for themselves, their families and their communities.
What can it mean to be committed to the way of nonviolence in the face of these extraordinary circumstances? Clearly, renewal and reflection, our proper duties in any age, are a particularly critical responsibility in our own.
The Skepticism Bred of Compassion
At a 1982 international gathering of people who considered themselves to be nonviolent social-change activists, a woman from South America spoke movingly of her recent visit to Nicaragua. She was deeply impressed with the results of the Nicaraguan revolution, particularly with the network of neighborhood councils that had been the Revolution's backbone and which still functioned. She spoke of having met poor women embroiderers who had invented a weapon called a "contact bomb." She spoke about a grandmother who had killed a soldier with a kitchen knife in response to his shooting of her twelve-year-old grandchild. The nonviolent activist related that she had wept a great deal during her Nicaraguan visit, and that she came to believe that not to pick up arms, not to exercise the basic human right of self defense, is in itself unethical. She explained to her fellow conferees that she now feels that she will persist nonviolently as long as she can, but that if there is a crackdown in her own country, still so badly in need of liberation, she will fight. And, with a touch of grim humor which perhaps revealed her own uncompleted reconciliation with the role of guerrilla fighter, she observed that she would be terribly dangerous with a gun, and would probably accidentally kill all her friends.
Another attender at the same conference has become so successful an organizer in his Latin American nation that he has achieved the status of a folk hero and media personality there. The following are some of the remarks he made to the gathering:
I myself could not kill a cockroach, and have always avoided violence. The meaning of nonviolence is different for people who are comfortable than it is for us. While we must find a way to avoid having the working class resort to violence, we must also prevent the violence of the power structure. Let us not only condemn the violence perpetrated by people in search of justice. True violence does not lie in the act of someone resisting oppression, but in the starving wage and in the expulsion of farmers from their land.
It is alright for us to desire nonviolence, but it has been more than one century that we have prayed, we have cried, we have died, and we are still waiting. All that is left for us is to have the courage to teach people how to resist.
Americans may criticize Fidel Castro, yet we can see that the people of Cuba are living better than are the people of my country. You may criticize Nicaragua, but we can see the new, bright, and promising future that has opened up for the people there, too.
For years the Church taught us not to resist, that we would achieve the Kingdom of God in heaven. We were taught that when a rich man dies his body stinks worse than that of a poor man. Today the Church is changing and is working with the labor movement to bring about justice. It is working with the farmers to save their land.
These two persons speak for some of the diverse voices in late twentieth-century history who want to rethink the meaning of a commitment to nonviolent social change. Clearly one of the most significant dialogues grows out of the encounter of the leaders and the people of the Latin American Church with the conditions of oppression in their countries, and the movement known as liberation theology through which they attempt to define the spiritual meaning of their struggle and to articulate its public strategies. A detailed reflection on this new theology of liberation from a Quaker perspective will have to await a future effort. But a brief look at published statements of a few key people will help root these particular speakers in a broad social movement of which people concerned for nonviolence must urgently take account.
Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns is Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the financial and industrial capital of that country. An interview with Cardinal Arns appeared in the October 12, 1981 issue of Sojourners. The article contains the following exchange:
Tyson: Dom Paulo, some people say that there can never be liberation in Latin American without armed struggle. Do you believe this is true, and if so, dues it make the nonviolent movement irrelevant?
Arns This is a very difficult question to answer because it doesn't depend on wishes or desires, either yours or mine.
In the first place, I would like to say that I agree with Engles that violence is the arm of the rich. If the poor have a knife or a rifle, the rich have bombs and planes and tanks. The real power of a revolution is moral, and if it doesn't have that the revolution doesn't even exist.
I would like also to say that violence isolates. A true revolution has to unite a country; violence always divides it. The hardliners become even harder in their views and always the moderates give in to one side or the other. I believe in a revolution based an respect, education, nonviolent struggle, and the faith and courage of the oppressed.
But this cannot lead us to forget or avoid a very real problem. I can say with Dom Helder Camara, and I do say it: "I would rather die than kill another human being." But I cannot and will not say when the poor and persecuted react to the violence of their oppressors in rural and urban areas: "I'd rather see you all dead than to have seen you defend yourselves with some form of violence."
If Latin America was what I would like it to be, in every city and rural area there would be people training other people in methods of nonviolence. But this is not so. The violence of the strong and powerful is widespread, and the poor are not prepared, as yet, for a united defense of their rights. Little land owners must defend their homes from not being burned so that big corporations can take over vast acres of land. If they have no training in nonviolent resistance, won't they be led to respond with violence? I think they will, and who will throw the first stone to condemn them? Who is so morally superior?
Dom Helder Camara, to whom Cardinal Arns referred, is archbishop of Recite at Olinda, Brazil, and was nominated by British and American Quakers for the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize. He is an eloquent spokesperson for spiritually based nonviolence:
To free ourselves from established violence without appealing to armed violence requires us to adopt positive, courageous, dynamic, effective nonviolent action . . . revolution as brought about by the Gospels . . . revolution in depth . . . but not a bloody revolution. The Christian's option is clear: nonviolence. Nonviolence is to believe more firmly in justice than in injustice; in love more than hatred; in truth more than falsehood . . . Nonviolence must walk with its eyes on heaven, but its feet on the ground.
I respect those who feel obliged in conscience to opt for violence - not the all-too-easy violence of the armchair revolutionaries, but that of those who prove their sincerity by the sacrifice of their lives. In my opinion, the memory of Camilio Tomes and Che Guevara merits as much respect as that of Martin Luther King.
Ernesto Cardenal began his life in religion as a priest and as a Trappist Monk. He regards himself as a student and a friend of the late Thomas Merton. Eventually he founded a lay intentional community called "Our Lady of Solentianame" on an island in Lake Nicaragua. The community was destroyed by the state police following a gun battle in which there were casualties on both sides. Up to that point Cardenal had been regarded as a charismatic nonviolent leader following in the footsteps of Gandhi, King and Merton. After the gun battle and the destruction of Solentianame, however, he joined the guerilla forces of the Frente Sandinista. After these turns of events, an interview with him was widely circulated in the United States social-change movement. In the article he describes how the contemplative community he founded was drawn into solidarity with the peasants of the area and with their political struggle. He goes on to say that:
At first we preferred (emphasis added) a revolution with nonviolent methods, although with disavowing the Church's traditional principles of the just war and the right of individuals and people to their legitimate defense. Later we realized that in Nicaragua a nonviolent struggle is not actually practical, and that Gandhi himself would be in agreement with us. In reality, every authentic revolution prefers nonviolence to violence. However, the liberty to choose is not always present . . .
It happened that one day a group of young men, some from my community, and also some young women, of Solentiname, for profound and well considered convictions, decided to take up arms in a guerilla action of the Frente Sandinista.
Why did they do it?
They did it for one reason only: for their love of the Kingdom of God, concrete and real, here on earth. When the hour arrived, the young men and women fought valiantly and as Christians. In San Carlos, when they attacked a police headquarters, they tried repeatedly to reason with the police by a loud speaker, so as to prevent even one gun shot. But the police responded to the reasoning with shooting, and much to the regret of the young people, they too, had to take up arms and shoot . . .
I rejoiced that these Christian youths fought without hatred in spite of everything, without hating the police, poor peasants like themselves, exploited. We would prefer that there not be fighting in Nicaragua, but this is not the fault of the pueblo, of the oppressed, who only defend themselves.
Peter Matheson is a lecturer in Ecclesiastical History a the University of Edinburgh. In 1975 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland concluded that the doctrine of "just war" is no longer relevant to the modern situation. Growing out of this conclusion was a project to discover new ways of relating the Christian faith to the task of creating and maintaining a peaceful and just global society. This project was guided by Peter Matheson, who took the fruits of the labor of some twenty people in three working groups and forged them into a coherent whole. He writes:
. . . There are certain things about which Christians . . . agree and others about which they disagree. They agree (a) that there are some forms of violence which are never justified whatever the end (torture, conquest, deliberate oppression of one group by another); (b) that churches and resistance movements alike have not explored adequately the strategies and effectiveness of nonviolence in the struggle for a just society; (c) that nonviolence should not be seen as a morally unambiguous, uncontroversial and apolitical form of action, or as one that necessarily excludes others. Multiple strategies are possible. A more sophisticated analysis is required of the nature, implications, and effectiveness of violent and nonviolent strategy and the reactions which follow from them .
. . . Some Christians in "revolutionary situations" eschew all politics and take a radically quietist position. The majority, however, are divided into two groups, of which one, possibly in some circumstances the larger group, accepts the concept of a "just revolution" and is ready to participate in it even though this will probably involve a limited use of violence; whereas the other, usually also a substantial group, believes that peace and justice cannot be obtained by violent means.
Such "apostles of nonviolence" as Martin Luther King and Helder Camara, are still convinced about the need for revolution, and bear witness to the revolutionary potential and utopian vision of the Christian gospel. Their "dream" is not just in the Heavenly Kingdom; they believe that Christians and other men are bound to work for peace and justice here on earth; they see the hand of God working in contemporary revolutions, even those which use violent means. They are committed to maintaining solidarity with their brothers (including Christian brothers) who see themselves inevitably involved in violence. They do not seek, in their personal commitment to nonviolent strategies, to keep themselves free from the stain of sin. Rather they believe that the Christian witness is to use means that are fully consistent with the ends desired, in order to ensure that the new society is indeed new and not just the substitution of the ruling group for another. In some cases their nonviolence is a provisional option and represents a conviction that violence can only legitimately be used as a last resort and that nonviolent options are still open and have rarely been used on a large and systematic scale.
The alternative view of revolutionary Christians who are prepared, in the extreme case, to sanction the use of violence for a just revolution is represented by various writers such as Camillo Torres, Richard Shaull, James Cone, and others; it is an option adopted by such contemporary Christians as Abel Muzorewa, Robert Mugabe, Julius Nyerere Kenneth Kaunda and other leaders in Southern Africa today. Those who take this position believe that their primary task is to work for a better society in certain precise and attainable ways and that the use of violence in strictly limited and controlled ways is necessary to attain the society, and to end unjust and violent situations. They do not maintain that this is the only Christian path, or that violence is always justified, nor do they forget the inevitable ambiguity of violent action, and the difficulty in practice of limiting it or restraining it.
It is important to note that these two options, far from representing extreme positions, are in some ways much closer to each other than earlier "pacifist" and "just war" positions. This is true ethically, in the sense that neither view is indifferent to the moral imperative of the struggle for justice, nor to the moral problem which the possibility of taking human life inevitably raises. In neither case is the ethical responsibility of the individual Christian removed by the simple application of the general moral law. It is true politically in that supporters of both positions can work together and respect each other's stand.
In this way the double standard of the medieval position (one law for the Christian layman and another for the clerical) are avoided. So, too, is the polarization characteristic of modern times when pacifists and non-pacifists have rejected each other's positions and sought to show that they were illogical or unchristian. Rather, the emphasis is placed on the positive aspect of each position. The divide is not an absolute one. The pacifist and the non-pacifist committed to the struggle for a just future should regard one another, on most issues, as allies. The pacifist respects the stand of the non-pacifist as a possible and conscientiously held alternative, and vice versa. A confessional chasm no longer lies between pacifists and non-pacifists, but between those on the side of liberation and those who support the oppressive structures of the status quo. It is the latter which is, for the Christian, the impossible alternative today.
Peter Matheson's words give clear intellectual expression to an approach which became characteristic of a wide range of social activists in the 1970s. There is much that is humane, natural and good in the wish to regard violent and nonviolent social-change activists as collaborators in a great struggle for liberation who simply employ different methods. Nor could it be said that the soul which asks what method, in practical
terms, will reduce suffering and oppression most expeditiously, is without charity. The goal of the sections which follow, therefore, is not to refute these decent impulses, nor to reopen a "confessional chasm." Rather it is hoped that they might serve to extend our understanding of the true import of such generous instincts, and to clarify how in the future they may be authentically applied in the service of Truth and for the benefit of all humankind.
The Church and the Gospel of Peace
It is commonly accepted that the first Christians understood pacifism to be an integral part of their faith.
"You have learned how it was said: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away. You have learned how it was said: you must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your father in Heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:38-48, Jerusalem Bible).
This passage is only one of many which unambiguously sets forth a nonviolent ethic. All these passages, being much discussed, are well-known to people seeking a renewal of nonviolence within the Christian tradition. We need not further delay our considerations by reviewing them here, important as these exegetical issues are.
Nevertheless, we can state unequivocally that during the first two centuries after Christ's death people were not accepted into the Christian community unless they renounced not only a role in the army, and not only the use of what George Fox later called outward weapons, but also their roles as magistrates or other officers of the civil peace whose functions were ultimately enforced by weaponry.
All this changed at about the time of Constantine I, also known as Constant ine the Great (reign: 306-337 A.D.). Constantine issued a policy of religious toleration toward Christianity in 313 A.D., giving it an equality of status with pagan cults and terminating the previous policy of persecution. Later in his reign he bestowed upon the Christian clergy special privileges. He caused his sons to be brought up in the new faith, although he also maintained the imperial cult. The Emperor Julian, also known as Julian the Apostate (reign: 361-363 A.D.), sought to stimulate a pagan reaction. Finally Theodosius I (reign: 378-395 A.D.), who, in spite of his executions of thousands of innocent citizens on imaginary charges of conspiracy, is also known as "the Great," in 380 A.D. actually commanded all of his subjects to become orthodox Christians. A few years later he classified participation many of the pagan cults as an act of treason.
Thus was a fledgling spiritual movement co-opted by "the establishment" of an exhausted Empire in an attempt to regenerate itself.
The acceptance of this new status by the early Church obviously involved many shifts in perspective in the on-going process of Christianity's self-definition. The commitment to the way of peace was one issue caught in this adjustment, and this accounts for a certain schizophrenic character within the Christian community throughout its subsequent history. This schizophrenia has been expressed simply by dividing the clergy from the laity (a distinction unknown in the earlier Church), with the clergy tending to maintain a personal code of nonviolence in the imitation of Christ, while in un-Christlike fashion blessing the organized violence of diverse temporal powers during the course of Western history. Even when "just war" theologizing was at its strongest, and when Christian nations were involved in the most terrible violence with the sanction of the Church, the thought of a man of the cloth personally taking up arms has usually induced a certain horror in the Christian sensibility. This is true of Protestant as well as Catholic Christianity, and finds expression even in our own secularized age.
The prospect that the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America may now be shaking itself loose from a centuriesold collaboration with repressive oligarchies kindles the imagination. The Church was clearly in danger of losing all touch with most of its own constituents, for while perhaps 90% of all Latin Americans were technically members of the Church, vast populations had to be categorized as only nominal Christians. As the Church's base shrank, it became more and more congruent with the oppressive elites it usually supported. Great danger existed that it would some day once again become the baby that is thrown out with the bath water. At any rate, Vatican Council II, although not specifically focused on Latin American issues, provided a precedent for
reviewing the definition of the Church's mission in the contemporary world, a precedent followed by Latin American bishops in their own regional conferences held later.
The so-far limited and experimental recommitment to the people by elements of the Latin American Church, including some members of the hierarchy, cannot help but be an inspiration to all concerned with social justice. The fact that this recommitment is being advanced by nuns, priests and bishops of great courage and of a most beautiful humanity can only enrich our sense of a welcome turning of the ages.
But there are two paths down which the Church could conceivably proceed. It might undertake within itself two revolutions at once: a recommitment to its vast constituency of the oppressed poor, and a return to the Gospel of Peace as practiced in primitive Christianity. Or it could undertake only the first of these revolutions. While committing itself to the oppressed, it could simply translate its seventeen centuries of just war theory into a theory of just revolution, and continue the practice of a dualistic ethic wherein members of the clergy mimic Christ while sanctifying the violence of the rank and file.
We share the Church's enthusiasm for the realignment which seems imminent. Along with Church members, we want to believe that the movement for nonviolence is at last in a phase of rapid growth. We respect men and women of the cloth whose holiness, heroism and commitment to justice is awesome, and whose personal nonviolence is both deeply genuine and also quite consistent with clerical tradition. However, at this time in its witness for peace, the Church must be careful not to lose sight of the ultimate source of power for social change. It is tempting to canonize as nonviolent heroes persons whose approach is actually consistent
with seventeen centuries of the Church's practice of the just war theory. It is easy to misappropriate the good names of Gandhi, King and Merton and to choose selectively from their teachings. The full teaching and example of any of these great leaders and of the early Christians ask us to reconsider whether the use of violence can in any way further the cause of nonviolent social change.
Judgmentalism and Solidarity
A first step for developing a truly nonviolent sensibility is to stop being judgmental. Everyone is familiar with the advice "Judge not, that ye be not judged," and with the stricture against casting the first stone. Rarely do we think very much about judgrnentalism, and especially do we fail to understand its full implications. To end judgmentalism is to help realize nonviolent social change.
With Cardinal Arns, we must never sit in judgment of the poor who may react violently to the violence of their oppressors. This part of the "judge not" equation is usually readily accepted by American social-change activists. The more difficult part of the equation is that we must not sit in judgment of their oppressors, either.
During the Second World War many people who are still active in the American Friends Service Committee refused to participate in a violent crusade against an evil deemed paradigmatic of all evil, German and Japanese fascism. This writer was not of age at the time, but I imagine if I had been able to circulate among my older pacifist colleagues back in the early 1940s, I would have found that whether they were in Civilian Public Service Camps or in jail, they were not sitting in judgment of those of their fellow citizens who participated in the military effort. More interesting, I have been led to believe that they did not sit in judgment of the Germans or the Japanese either, and in fact, to the extent that the American Friends Service Committee spoke out during the war years, it was usually to try to counter the crude public stereotypes of the German and Japanese people that were being advanced by the official culture, even as members of the American Friends Service Committee worked valiantly to rescue Jews, and later, to rehabilitate communities devastated by the terrible destruction wrought by both sides in the process of the war. Condemnation has no part in a truly peaceable outlook.
How far do we carry this in the present day? Contemporary social activists, including pacifists, are often willing to heap condemnation on others, not only on prominent individuals in political life, but on whole categories of humanity: the oppressor class, the military industrial complex, the Establishment.
To develop an effective nonviolent witness it is not enough simply to obey the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." The emotion of hatred can in its own way be as deadly as the act of killing. We may pretend to ourselves that it does not matter what our emotions are as long as we act rightly, but when the test comes we always betray ourselves, for our thoughts and emotions control our acts. If our minds are full of hatred and condemnation, this ultimately will be expressed in acts of violence and destruction and murder. We will eventually find that we seem to have no other choice.
The avoidance of judgmentalism, a key to the development of a nonviolent character, involves more than eschewing the condemnation and hatred of others. For passing a sentence on others is not the only form of judgmentalism there is; self-congratulation for having found the truth one tries to live by is judgmentalism in another form. A feeling of pride at having come to understandings which are not yet widely grasped is corrupting; it disables us as instruments of Truth. For how can one take credit for the experiences one has been given, the persons one has encountered, the emotional and intellectual makeup one has inherited and been nurtured into, all of which have led one, finally and at last, to grasp, probably imperfectly, some splinter of the truth which has been proclaimed by sages since the beginning of human history? Can we be sure that if we were in another's shoes we would not have the same opinions and be behaving exactly the same way that he or she is doing?
The sparks of truth we find in others and in ourselves are occasions for joy and for thanksgiving, but no more than we are to condemn those of less perfect understanding are we to congratulate ourselves or each other for superior wisdom. Such an attitude would be fatal to the fabrication of a truly nonviolent witness. It is always the mark of true prophets that they never take personal credit for the wisdom it is given them to speak; they always have a finely developed sense of appreciation for the element of grace which underlies all achievements of insight.
Guilt is another form of judgmentalism which is equally fatal. It is judgmentalism turned inward on ourselves. Often, social-change advocates who are free in their condemnation of others are also mountains of guilt; consequently, their witness, rather than resulting in a clearminded attempt to help a social-change process, is often warped by subliminally generated programs of expiation which are useless.
It is not necessary to feel guilty for not having been tortured. It is not necessary to feel guilty for having been born an American citizen. It is not even necessary to be morosely preoccupied with one's own past lapses from virtue. As all great spiritual teachers have made clear, one's soul is inevitably colored by what one thinks. Wherever our thoughts dwell, so do we gradually become. Whether we are preoccupied with the condemnation of others or of ourselves, we dwell in baseness. Our spirits will grow coarse, our hearts stubborn, and we will be overcome with gloom. George Fox and the early Friends preached the good news that we can triumph over sin, but we do not achieve this triumph by brooding over the evils we ourselves have done. Rather, we must turn wholly away from evil, not dwell upon it, and do good.
What, then, are we left with as we choose not to criticize others, congratulate ourselves or feel guilt? We are left with an overwhelming feeling of solidarity, to use a contemporary term, or love, to use a scriptural one. It is not solidarity only with union organizers in Brazil, with peace activists in America, with the Red Guards or the Black Panthers, or with whatever other group may have captured a passing fancy. Indeed, we are no longer the narrow-minded person who thinks and says, "This individual is one of us, this one is not. This one is a stranger." Rather, we begin to get a glimmer of the whole of humankind as but one family. We begin to approach the unhesitating and unpremeditated solidarity with all huntan beings which is an essential ingredient of a truly nonviolent approach.
Such a love of humanity can be very abstract, and it is not real unless it is given concrete expression in the way we behave toward the specific individual human beings whom life brings across our path. To the extent that we can develop genuine human rapport with priests who have joined guerrilla undergrounds, with the directors of mufti-national corporations, with people who work with us on a day-in, dayout basis, we give concrete expression to the larger principle of human community.
This sense of love of neighbor, of solidarity with all other human beings, is the basis not only of the teachings of Christ, but also of all other great spiritual teachings. For example, the Hasids expressed and practiced the teaching that love arises naturally and inevitably from the recognition that the same Lord lives in everyone. For them, one loves one's neighbor as oneself because, ultimately, the neighbor was oneself. "He who thrusts away his comrade," says the Besht, "thrusts himself away. He who thrusts away a particle of the unity, it is as if he thrusts away the whole." Marcus Aurelius wrote, "It is humankind's peculiar distinction to love even those who err and go astray. Such a love is born as soon as you realize that they are your brothers and sisters, that they are stumbling in ignorance, and not willfully; that in a short while both of you will be no more; and above all, that you yourself have taken no hurt, in that your own conscience and honor have not been made a jot worse than they were before" (Meditations: Chapter 7, verse 22). In the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text of Hinduism, we find the passage: "Who burns with the bliss and suffers the sorrow of every creature within his own heart, making his own each bliss and each sorrow: him I hold the highest of all sages."
Does loving everyone mean assenting to everything they say? Does it relativize our search for Truth?
The Discernment of Truth
Ceasing the practice of condemnation and self-congratulation, and developing a bond of solidarity with all people, does not mean that one fails to discern truth from error, or greater truth from lesser truth, nor does one cease to act vigorously for the realization of the principles of truth in human society.
To disagree with a person is not to interrupt our solidarity with him or her, to thrust her away, or to judge ourselves better than he is. Once it is clearly established in our awareness that our love for our fellow human beings is not a function of their beliefs and attitudes, it no longer becomes necessary to betray the truth by pretending that the diverse ideas of everyone within some arbitrarily defined "in-group" (sincere advocates of the liberation of the oppressed, for example) are equally valid. While the ideal lived by Jesus Christ of perfect love combined with perfect Truth may be beyond our capacities at a given moment, at least we know the goal for which we must strive.
The practices of avoiding judgmentalism and of affirming solidarity with all our fellow creatures have a liberating influence in terms of our search for Truth. We know that the human order which surrounds us is but a disorder, and that the reason for this disorder lies in confusions of intellect and spirit which are widespread. At the same time, our healthy instinct not to be "holier than thou" or to isolate ourselves to a very small, elect company of the pure and virtuous tends to cloud our own hearts and minds, so we search for Truth halfheartedly, wishing not to separate ourselves from too many other people. This clouding is subversive of any hope we might have that humankind can construct its way out of its present quandaries. The task of fabricating a credible alternative to the spiritual and intellectual conditions which exist is fundamentally compromised. The nonviolent sensibility believes in a credible alternative to the spiritual and intellectual conditions which exist; the task is to create it, not compromise it.
To find a way out of the present impasse will require a calm and lucid pursuit of Truth, unencumbered by sentimentalism, guilt, false programs of expiation, the wish to be fashionable or the desire for warmth and comradeship at the expense of honesty. Because all that we see, know and talk about has proceeded from one Word, we are in a condition of solidarity with all that exists, particularly with our fellow human beings. The injunction to love and not judge our neighbors is predicated on this truth, not on the sharing of the same opinion. Thus we are liberated to pursue Truth on its own merits.
Seeking the Truth with impartiality, trying to live the Truth as clearly as we know how, and speaking the Truth without ego investment, condescension, hostility, or selfish involvement, is always a service. It means that we can collaborate on specific projects with people who do not understand fully what we know, and that we need not "preach" at people in the unhelpful way which is so justifiably and widely feared by nonviolent advocates. Given our understanding that the present state of the human condition is fundamentally rooted in issues of spirit, and that it will ultimately be bettered in the realm of the mind and heart, we should move forward with a new confidence that to pursue Truth is the first and noblest objective, and second is to encourage the sound of Truth.
Pragmatism in Perspective
Is it from its practical results that nonviolence derives its essential meaning, truth and value? Does one believe in nonviolence simply because it "works better"? Is our commit went to nonviolence the result of our rational calculation, or our intuitive estimate, that it provides the least costly way to get from some present social situation to an improved one? Or, on the contrary, is nonviolence a lofty spiritual value to which the practitioner holds in the interest of maintaining his or her own moral purity, regardless of its consequences in the realm of practical affairs?
In assessing the usefulness of pragmatic arguments on either side of the question of pacifism, let us consider what happens when people try to compare the costs and the results of violent and nonviolent programs, for it can often be observed that a profound bias creeps into the discussion.
For example, against a risky, bloody, imperfect, and perhaps even unsuccessful violent crusade, nonviolence will be expected to prove itself neat and foolproof in order to be credible. If the existence of 59 guerrillas in a Brazilian province draws down the wrath of 20,000 troops who decimate the countryside and slaughter hundreds of peasants, few seem tempted to the conclusion that violent resistance does not work, nor are they inspired to undertake a relentless study of nonviolent alternatives. Rather, people say, "We will try a more clever violent strategy under different circumstances some other time." Yet, people arguing for nonviolence often appear to be on the defensive if they cannot demonstrate to skeptics' satisfaction that, in pragmatic terms, the recommended course of nonviolent action will work as if by magic and be without human cost.
The futility of having substituted Stalinism for Czarism, the risks to all of human civilization in the current arms race, the awful horror of World War II while it was in progress, and the evils growing out of it with which we are still struggling, are apt scarcely to weigh on people's minds when they are objecting to the admitted difficulties of a nonviolent course of action. So, the first thing we must do when dealing with the pragmatic aspects of nonviolence is to recognize at the outset the biases that allow for loss of life in weighing the effective use of violence and prohibits any when judging nonviolent strategies.
People of a nonviolent sensibility are wary of the fashionable in appraisals of pragmatic results. They see the working out of causes and effects as extraordinarily long-drawn. For how long was the Soviet Union heralded in some quarters as the arrival of the brave new world before the truth became apparent? One need not reach back very deeply in one's recollection to remember the enthusiasm in the air for Maoism or Castroism or for the North Vietnamese. All these gods, it seems, ultimately fail. At the time of this writing the relentless search by social-change activists for the successful violent revolution which will point the way to a utopian future is centered on the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. We are encouraged to believe that one more peasant and worker uprising, perhaps in Brazil, will make the world a more liberated place.
One of the difficulties we face in conducting pragmatic appraisals is that it is impossible to run through history twice. The same situation cannot be addressed one way under controlled conditions, and then another way under equally controlled conditions, to see what "works best." We still do not even know the true costs and benefits of the Cuban revolution as it was conducted. It is hardly possible scientifically to demonstrate what would have been the long and short term results if similar sacrifices and heroism had been devoted to a liberation movement based upon the principles of love and nonviolence.
Given this impossibility of experiencing the same historical situation several times in order to measure the results of different strategies and to appraise their effects, arguments based upon pragmatic considerations are apt to degenerate into wishful thinking on the part of all discussants. People easily can devise for themselves convincing scenarios depicting how their favorite methods would work. Even so penetrating a thinker as Karl Marx led himself into fantasies about the collapse of capitalism. The culture of militarism, particularly, is replete with visions of glory which are rejected in disgust by those who find out what war is really like. Imaginings about revolution promise now to become the new opiate of the oppressed. Nor are pacifist armchair philosophers immune from the "rose-colored glasses" syndrome. It was interesting to see how many emerged from the film Gandhi astonished at the amount of bloodshed they saw depicted on the screen -a rather elementary sort of test, certainly. Indeed, pacifists' exercise of fantasy can be unleashed even more readily than that of those who might be opposed to them. With nonviolence having been tried relatively infrequently, the facts of real experience are much less available to encumber the imagination.
Even if it were possible to conduct controlled empirical experiments, and to assess the results, could we achieve any more certainty regarding our convictions based upon pragmatic considerations? What can we conclude merely from the discovery that a massacre at Amritsar produces, mysteriously, a different effect than one at Sharpville? And who would enter into a calculus to assess a struggle process which must inevitably unleash the sort of violence which killed the nieces and nephews of Mairead Corrigan, one of the founders of the Peace People of Northern Ireland? How much liberation and of whom, could justify such deaths? Is not the willingness to attempt such a calculus the central spiritual malady of our time?
The nonviolent sensibility which concerns us here is not one which waxes and wanes. It does not allow for the possibility that its patience will be exhausted, that everything else having been tried, it is eventually time to resort to arms. For in this sense, all people except the insane are "nonviolent," and the term loses its meaning. Few people resort to violence except insofar as they perceive that they have no other choice. Throughout history people have varied in their readiness to resort to arms and in their creativity in perceiving alternative courses of action before a resort to violence appeared inevitable. Of such pragmatism is the usual business of history made.
A convinced pacifist need not apologize for adopting a way of life which retards social progress in the interest of maintaining the practitioner's moral purity; she or he is confidently aware that sensitively developed nonviolent responses are always the best alternative in both practical and spiritual terms. Yet the pacifist also understands that the arena of social utility assessments is an inadequate one in which finally to secure one's convictions either for or against nonviolence.
And so it is beyond pragmatism that nonviolent people locate the well-springs of their commitment.
The Reality Of The Spiritual Realm
The universe we see, the world of things and motions which we can touch, feel, analyze, and even predict, is but a series of tokens representing a deeper reality, a reality of spirit and meaning, a reality of oneness underlying diversity, a reality of love to which the orderliness and lawfulness of the Creation gives expression. The truly nonviolent sensibility knows that we live in a layered creation, and the layer we know as the spiritual realm is real and of pre-eminent importance.
As human beings we have a still imperfectly developed capacity to experience the spirituality underlying and permeating all that we know with the senses -a capacity unique to our nature as humans and not specifically realizable on the mineral, plant or animal levels of the Creation. This mysterious human capacity to know spiritual Truth should not be confused with our capacity to solve differential equations, to make cost-benefit analyses, to build bridges, or to explore the moon while people starve; it should not be confused with that part of us which is so adept at manipulating the merely material layers of reality, a talent for which our own civilization has developed a unique expertise.
Rather this special layer of being has to do with areas of reality which are uniquely human and which do not now have, nor never will have, intellectually precise delineation! E. F. Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful and A Guide for the Perplexed, points out that this arena of human experience is most frequently defined by pairs of opposites: freedom and order, growth and decay, justice and mercy ("Justice without mercy," said Thomas Aquinas, "is cruelty; mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution."); tradition and innovation; public interest and private interest; planning and laissez-faire; stability and change; grace and spiritual selfhelp; free will and determinism. These dichotomies offend the logical mind, which wishes to remove tension by coming down on one side or the other of them; but the same dichotomies provoke, stimulate, and sharpen the higher human faculties without which the human being is nothing but a very clever animal. Dealing with these matters demands not cleverness or intellectual virtuosity, but wisdom and love.
Whether this special human level of functioning be called self-awareness, or wisdom, or enlightenment, or compassion, it is a capacity without which the human race clearly will not survive. It is a capacity for which the practice of violence is uniquely disabling, for violence arises from that part of us which seeks final solutions for spiritual problems, solutions of a sort which address problems involving only the material world.
The peacemaker knows that the good will never be assured once and for all by one heroic act, or by one final war to make the world safe for democracy. The fabric of society is never finished; it is always becoming. We must become awakened again and again; the good must be recaptured over and over. Nonviolence takes account precisely of this dynamic and nonfinal state of all relationships. It recognizes the precarious state of awareness which allows us to transcend in higher wisdom the problems peculiar to humankind's spiritual world. The employment of violence, aside from the resulting death and suffering which are evil enough in themselves, advances a process in which the victors are disabled from carrying out the precarious balancing act which is humankind's peculiar vocation. War drives whole populations to one side or the other of the above-mentioned insoluble dichotomies. In the process of war even the thought of tolerating a hesitant crusader who, momentarily, doubts the total evil of the enemy he is about to eliminate, becomes criminal. In warfare such tolerance is already complicity and guilt; fortitude, then, equals fanaticism. The most awful tyranny is that of the proximate utopia where the last evils are currently being eliminated arid where, tomorrow, there will be no more sins because all the sinners will have been wiped out. Indeed, today, we seem prepared to wipe everybody out. Thus is violence humankind's descent to the lower levels of being. It is an attempt to achieve a finality conceivable only in subhuman terms. It is this realization that again and again has brought the Gospel of Peace to a central place in all great spiritual teachings.
Being peacemakers is essentially an affair of the heart, rather than of the mind. For whether a person decides to use the energies of his body and mind for building weapons and thinking the unthinkable, or whether a person dedicates herself wholly to a search for peace, is probably ultimately determined by a quality of the heart for which the mind is but a servant. It is unlikely, therefore, that we shall debate each other, or our fellow citizens, into the ways of love. For we touch people's hearts not by what we debate with them about, but rather by the quality of our being-by who we are, and by how we live, and by what we do. Thus, all of our merely verbal efforts in education or politics have meaning only insofar as they spring out of our own very direct experience of joyfully seeing what love can do in practice.
Indeed, there is a profound sense in which the higher capacity of human nature, the part that can transcend with compassion the dichotomies which are insoluble on the merely intellectual level, is beyond the power of manipulation. We cannot devise legislative programs, military campaigns, or rational debates to awaken in people these higher capacities; there is absolutely no way we can force others, whether our contemporaries or those in future generations, to be better human beings. No revolutionary campaign we can devise will assure that the people of the future will be more "awake," more virtuous, than we are. It is said that a senior devil, hen counselling an apprentice, advised: "It is God's intent to keep people concerned with the quality of what they do now. Our hope for victory is to keep them theorizing about how to affect the future." Such devilish delusions are what seduce us into making false muscular efforts to seize that which can only be freely given.
The past is but a memory; the future but a dream. The present moment is every person's equal possession. Each moment affords a choice between life and death, between good and evil. All to which we aspire can find expression in time present. Indeed, there is no time but this present.
When one sees Eternity in things that pass away and Infinity infinite things, then one has pure knowledge. (Bhagavad Gita)
No Time But This Present
In our society, where worth is equated with productivity, patient action is very difficult. We tend to be so concerned with doing something worthwhile, with bringing about changes, with planning, organizing, structuring, and restructuring, that it often occurs that to be busy, "where the action is," and "on top of things" often become goals in themselves. It is easy for activists to forget that their vocation is not to give visibility to their own powers, but to give witness in a free, joyful, and grateful way to the power of Truth. This involves the constant choice not to run from the present moment in the naive hope that salvation will appear around the next corner.
A nonviolent sensibility avoids involvement in schemes for a new world which are an expression of unhappiness with the present. Thomas Merton called this "organized despair."
The nonviolent sensibility lays aside inner restlessness, nervousness and tension connected with worries about an unknown future. Work for the future is not based on anxiety, but on a vision worthwhile in the present.
"The sufi," says Jalal'uddin Rumi, "is the child of time present." Life is lived in the moment-the life not of a subhuman creature, but of a being in whom charity has cast out fear, and in whom vision has taken the place of schemes.
There at times comes into vogue a simple Epicurean faith which posits that we must "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die." This is not a very noble, nor even a very realistic kind of morality. But it would seem to make a good deal more sense than the revolutionary ethic: "Die (and kill), for tomorrow someone else will eat, drink and be merry." The prospect of such future merriment is extremely unlikely, for the process of wholesale dying and killing creates spiritual conditions that practically guarantee the revolution against the achievement of its benefits at the end.
Thus, the nonviolent sensibility will steadfastly renounce a calculus which weighs the absolutes of death and destruction in the present against the uncertain promise of relative social advancement sometime in the future. It understands that the very commonplace act of entering into such a calculus is the cause of the tragic disorders that we face. It finds eternity in each present moment by seeking joyfully to give expression to those timeless and eternal truths upon which all right living is based. It seeks to find anew that nonviolent spirit which inspired the citizens of Le Chambon, France, who, during the dark hours of the Nazi domination of Europe, joined neither the French resistance, nor the Vichy government, but with quiet courage nonviolently organized an escape for Jewish refugees.
The most difficult thing for well-meaning people to come to terms with is the reality that it may not be given to them to see or significantly to help with the final lifting of oppression from people to whom they reach out in loving service, regardless of whether they are willing to resort to the means of war and outward strife or not. Neither the efforts of the armed French Maquis nor those of the nonviolent Chambonnais averted a ghastly calamity. To the extent that giving expression to Truth is not perceived as a present good sufficient unto itself, but rather only as a strategy for achieving something else, it is irretrievably poisoned. Inevitably, untruthful means of seeking of the same results will seem seductive. Truth itself will be abandoned and the spiral of disorder will be resumed.
If we must learn to perceive the expression and practice of Truth as a good in itself, regardless of consequences, how do we develop our capacity for seeking and expressing Truth? Spiritual traditions in different ages and different cultures have developed different expedient means of cultivating the ability to apprehend Truth. However varied these different practices are, they have one goal in common, which is the cultivation of a capacity for impartiality. The nonviolent sensibility arises out of this capacity within each person, not only saint or sage, to be compassionate and to know solidarity without regard for effect. Nonviolent social change will grow as we learn to know this capacity for Truth.
Given the proper training and proper generalship nonviolence can he practiced by the masses of humankind. (Gandhi)
It is true that in the ordinary circumstances of the average egocentered life, the potentialities of spirit remain latent and unmanifested. If we would realize them we must fulfill certain conditions and follow certain practices which experience has known empirically to be valid. Practice may change our theoretical horizon, and this in a two-fold way; it may lead into new worlds and secure new powers. Knowledge we could never attain, remaining what we are, may be attainable in consequence of higher powers and a higher life, which we may morally achieve. (William James)
In their practice of inner silence, Friends employ a pure and simple means accessible to everyone for the cultivation of a sensitivity to Truth. In the meditative silence practiced in Quakerism, circling thoughts, inner conversations, and imaginings are laid aside. What Isaac Penington called "the wanderings and rovings of mind" are stilled. To the extent that those who practice inner silence can lay down their preoccupation with cravings, with transient concerns, with business, with their idiosyncratic likes and dislikes, and with all the accidental, phenomenal, and passing things which ordinarily distract us, they begin to make a space within themselves where universal and eternal things can be heard. Inner silence is a way of becoming poor in spirit, and becoming poor in spirit brings the practitioner closer to the Kingdom of Heaven. Through our silence we create a small space in our hearts where the seed of eternal things, which is already within each and every human being, can come to the fore and can establish the solid foundation on which all right living and true peace is based.
In the unfolding drama of the Creation, in the eternal working out of necessity and evil, salvation and grace, there is a useful part for everyone to play. The part that is held out to us is always suitable to our external condition and our inner resources.
There is no rich person who cannot give to the poor. Nor is there anyone so poor he cannot give to others. The best way to show love for God is to help your neighbor. Let no one say he has nothing and so cannot give. If he has no thing to give, he can give of himself. He can listen to his friends, his family, his neighbors. (Dom Helder Camara)
One of the functions of inner silence is to achieve stillness so that we can see our part clearly and not covet other peoples' roles.
God requires a faithful fulfillment of the merest trifle given us to do, rather than the most ardent aspiration to things to which we are not called. (Saint Francois de Sales)
There is no one in the world who cannot arrive without difficulty at the most eminent perfection by fulfilling with love obscure and common duties. ( J. P. de Caussade)
A Latin exercise or a geometry problem, even though they are done wrong, may be of great service one day, provided we devote the right kind of effort to them. Should the occasion arise, they can one day make us better able to give someone in affliction exactly the help required to save him, at the supreme moment of his need. (Simone Weil)
One attains perfection when his work is the worship of God, from whom all things come and who is in all. Greater is one's own work, even if this be humble, than the work of another, even if this be great, when one does work given by God. No sin can touch such a person. And one should not abandon one's work, even if it cannot be achieved in full perfection; because in all work there may be imperfection, even as in all fire there is smoke. When work is done as sacred work, unselfishly, with a peaceful mind, without lust or hate, and with no desire for reward, then the work is pure. (Bhagavad Gita)
We lament the removal of food-producing peasants from their land in order that cash crops can be grown for export, while simultaneously consuming coffee in great quantities. Not all of us are called to be tortured in a South African prison or to die in a Central American jungle, but could we reduce our recreational consumption of gasoline, or satisfy ourselves with good New York State apples, rather than with pineapples jetted in from the Philippines? Perhaps through silence we could discover that a quiet reduction in the rate at which we consume gasoline, undertaken in acknowledgement of the dangers of converting farmland to gasohol production, might be a more meaningful witness than a lifetime of angry inveighing against "the establishment."
The truth is to be lived, it is not to be merely pronounced with the mouth. There is really nothing to argue about in this teaching; any arguing is sure to go against the intent of it. Doctrines given up to controversy and argumentation lead of themselves to death. (Hui Neng, paraphrased)
One possesses only so much wisdom as he puts into practice. (St. Francis of Assisi)
Let your lives speak. (George Fox)
Everyone can ordain himself or herself to such speakingby-living. To do so is to express nonviolent values. It does not depend upon a great education, or the laying on of hands, or the solemn assent of assemblies. A truly nonviolent life is just as accessible to those in shanty towns as it is to those who live in gilded cages.
No matter what our situation, whether we are in rural Brazil, in a teeming urban barrio, or in Scarsdale, life presents, moment by moment, a succession of choices between life and death. Many of these choices may be subtle, and in our "sleep" we scarcely take notice of them, so they are made by default; but there is always among the range of options available one which is suitable to our present spiritual resources and our practical circumstances-one which affirms Truth. Many of these choices may not have earth shaking consequences, but we can remember with Meister Eckhart that there is no true thing, however small, which does not express all Truth. This is the miracle which no oppression can erase. It is only we ourselves who can become oblivious to it.
The Lawfulness of the Creation
The nonviolent sensibility sees the universe as one governed by law.
The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the ends as there is between the seed and the tree.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruitwherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Much confusion results, however, when this concept of lawfulness, of the belief that goodness breeds goodness, and that no effort is ever lost, is interpreted to mean that we can manipulate events for our own gratification, even if the gratification sought is an altruistic one, like the liberation of others. A close reading of the great prophets of nonviolence discloses that not only are they careful not to promise that those practicing the way of Truth will see concrete resultsthey even go further to say that the hope of short or long term vindication as a motivational source of action inevitably corrupts it. Salvation or nirvana may be promised; the reward of visible historical impact is not.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
The Pharisees asked him, "When will the Kingdom of God come?" He said, "You cannot tell by observation when the Kingdom of God comes. There will be no saying, `Look, here it is,' or `Lo, it is there.' For in fact the Kingdom of God is within you."
In Gandhi's mind nonviolence was not simply a political tactic which was supremely useful and efficacious in liberating his people from foreign rule, in order that India might then concentrate on realizing its own national identity. On the contrary, the spirit of nonviolence sprang from an inner realization of spiritual unity in himself. The whole Gandhian concept of nonviolent action and satyagraha is incomprehensible if it is thought to be a means of achieving unity rather than as the fruit of inner unity already achieved.
Indeed, this is the explanation for Gandhi's apparent failure, which became evident to him at the end of his own life. He saw that his followers had not reached the inner unity that he had realized in himself, and that their satyagraha was to a great extent a pretense, since they believed it to be a means to achieve unity and freedom, while he saw that it must necessarily be the fruit of inner freedom.
The first thing of all and the most important of all was the inner unity, the overcoming and healing of inner division, the consequent spiritual and personal freedom, of which national autonomy and liberty would only be consequences. However, when satyagraha was seen only as a useful technique for attaining a pragmatic end, political independence, it remained almost meaningless. As soon as the short term end was achieved, satyagraha was discarded. No inner peace was achieved, no inner unity, only the same divisions, the conflicts and the scandals that were ripping the rest of the world to pieces.
I have admitted my mistake. I thought our struggle was based on nonviolence, whereas in reality it was no more than passive resistance, which essentially is a weapon of the weak. It leads naturally to armed resistance whenever possible.
Mohandas K. Gandhi
The search for "political results" or "relevance" or "social change" has caused a grave erosion in the authenticity of nonviolent practice among activists in our time. Seeking a reward or justification in a chain of outcomes stretching into the future from our present action is a habit of mind which seems inevitably to lead to frustration, anger, desperation, extremism, and the abandonment of principles when they are seen as inconvenient in practical terms. A felt need for vindication in a future time seduces us uncritically to join in mass movements regardless of their character, especially if it seems that they will prevail in the foreseeable future. At the times they were martyred, both Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were in danger of being overwhelmed even by those among their own constituents who were seeking results rather than Truth.
This does not mean that we need abandon hope that the human order can be significantly advanced by actions conceived in Truth. Above all should we avoid allowing our work to lapse into the kind of formless, frantic, undisciplined activity which soothes only our self-image as pious, defeated revolutionaries drowning in the evils of others. There will be times when our work will affect the course of human events for the better in spectacular ways; there will be other times when the most clearly conceived and purely motivated works will appear to be submerged unnoticed by the wave of history; sometimes our actions will set in motion moral forces that work from individual to individual only, and which, in the words of William James, steal through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets. But whatever the case, the true nonviolent sensibility, on the level of its own inner spiritual motivation, finds satisfaction not from the results produced, but from the sense of the fitness of what has been done as an expression of first and last things. A truly nonviolent sensibility sees the stamp of eternity even in the smallest project, and this sense of appropriateness is immediate; it does not depend upon results, upon the completion of causal chains stretching into the future, for its realization.
In their book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, Donald P. McNeill, Douglas A. Morrison, and Henri J. M. Nouwen relate the following story about Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, when they were defeated after along campaign for Proposition 14, which tried to secure the right of farm workers to organize. "Instead of a sense of depression, there was a party. Instead of a sense of defeat, there was a sense of victory. A puzzled reporter wrote: `If they celebrate with such joyful festivity when they lose, what will it be like when they win?' What became clear was that Cesar Chavez and the many women and men who had joined him in the campaign for Proposition 14 were so convinced of the righteousness of their actions that the final results became secondary to the value of the action itself. There had been long days of praying and fasting to keep the campaign truthful and honest. There had been hours of singing, scripture reading, and the breaking of bread together to remind each other that the fruit of all action comes from God. And when finally the action failed and the desired result did not come about, people did not lose hope and courage, but simply decided to try again next time. Meanwhile, they had experienced a deep community with each other, had come to know many generous people, and had received a keen sense of God's presence in their midst. They felt that there were reasons to celebrate and to be grateful. So no one went home defeated. All had a story to tell, the story of the experience of God's compassion when people gather in his name."
On this inner, spiritual level, the nonviolent sensibility conceives its actions of witness to the Truth as the giving of a gift. In personal affairs, a gift is impure if it is proffered in the hope of currying favor, or in the expectation that the person to whom the gift is given will alter his or her behavior in a way favorable to the giver. We readily recognize such a gift as flawed; indeed, it is not an act of generosity, but is more akin to a bribe. That gift in personal affairs is pure which is given without expectation of results, but which is given because of the fitness of the gift at the time, in the place, and to the person involved. Such a pure gift does not corrupt either the recipient or the giver, and is consistent in every way with the beauty of ultimate things. In the inward being of the practitioner, nonviolent action has the character of such a gift, offered because of its fitness as an expression of Truth, and not as a stratagem for having one's way with the unfolding drama of existence.
Quakers are habituated to speaking about "that of God in everyone." Perhaps the overly frequent repetition of this truth anesthetizes us somewhat to its meaning. Let us consider, then, an expression of the same belief taken from one of the Eastern scriptures. Laying aside simplicity for a moment, let us revel in the abundant imagery of the Chandogya Upanishad:
There is a Spirit which is mind and life, light and truth and vast spaces. It contains all works and all desires and all perfumes and all tastes. It enfolds the whole universe, and in silence is loving to all.
This is the Spirit that is in my heart, smaller than a grain of rice, or a grain of barley, or a grain of mustard seed, or a grain of canary seed, or the kernel of a grain of canary seed.
This is the Spirit that is in my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven itself, greater than all these worlds. This is the Spirit that is in my heart, this is Brahman.
Knowing that there is no time but this present, the nonviolent sensibility stops to listen, to wait and look, to taste and see, to pay attention and to be awake. The nonviolent sensibility understands that there is no truly beneficial, liberating or healing politics which is not spiritual in quality, that religion and politics are one, that vision and action are one. The tyranny of past, present, and future gives way to a joyful awareness of the eternal now, of how universal and eternal things are revealed and can be fully apprehended in the present moment. It does not parcel out its good works like a merchant expecting repayment. Rather it is an unshakeable commitment to make of ourselves a free gift to that Spirit which is smaller than a grain of mustard seed and yet which enfolds the whole universe, and which, always abiding within ourselves and others, patiently awaits our discovery of its power and beauty.
THE SEED AND THE TREE:
A REFLECTION ON NONVIOLENCE
Daniel Seeger, Pamphlet 269