Chapbook: Love Songs for the Prince Of Peace

I. Prelude: the Search

Your smile is warming and knowing;

It traps me like magnolias writhing

against a garden gate. You lure me,

in your promise of love lingering,

the greatness of love.

For you, the marshland sings with frogs,

Turning a sharp green at the last wane of dusk,

all quietly beckoning the truth of the lucid night;

when death’s boatmen roam and deal in their deathly trades,

remember,

beauty is a dark woman’s eyes

glowing

against the moon of the waning night.

II. Encomium: May I never stray far from your lotus feet, my Lord!

Dare I share my wrongest deeds with your privy ear, so that love once more beckons near: men fear seed sprouting, shaking itself into blossoming life,

these truths are chastened like my trespassing lips against the chastity of thine.

I loved you like petals struggling to stay open amidst late summer grasses,

if I have seen you in a blade of grass, I have also seen you in a lump of clay, And if I have seen you thus tightly coiled in nature, I have seen myself,

for I am one and the same, when found in the splendor of you.

now the time of letter-writing has passed and we are left with that haunting,

that pausing, heaving, that fever in the matter, that prayerful jaunting,

that chitter chatter and pitter patter,

of the voice that says thou shall not get caught,

the warm embrace of the law that says thou shall not be bought,

By the graves of the lost and in the arms of the longing, I sing this song:

Oh man, you are meant for greater things than war,

And so May I never stray far from thy Lotus Feet, my Lord.

III. Coda:

love is like the slow roll of a tabla gliding across a taal; in the monsoon,

it shakes itself free like a wet branch, sagging with the weight of rain,

in the winter it burrows underground,

like a rich vegetable vein

the pain of losing it escapes me,

a whispering wind in midnight forest, when sweet rapture cuts

like violin bow against supine string,

in perfect subjection shall I sing hymns of joy in the city of gods.

Like the seed sprouting in this Bitter Earth is your Love

ever

spring, purple like the cabbage in a secret garden,

ancient and new, it awakens long slumbering souls, shaking them to life with the passion of its bodiless consummation, its timeless consciousness.

Losing it is like

losing a needle in the haystack;

We are forever in search to stitch ourselves back together again.

Pattachitra art form, artist unknown

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Gandhi’s Gospel Of Love and the Shadow Puppets Of Western Civilization

Betrayal in the Garden

Amongst Indians and African-Americans who possess lived experience of the movement for peace and freedom in the twentieth century, the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1959 visit to India, the Land of Gandhi, persists. Upon his return, King emphasized that “the bourgeoise—white, black or brown—behaves about the same the world over,” and enjoins the Americans to support the Indian independence “in a spirit of international brotherhood, not national selfishness,” the spirit which undo reigns today in the relation of the West to the rest of the world.

However, it nevertheless also remains true that a great deal is being done to sever India’s ancient and modern ties to Africa and African-America in order to assimilate Indians–particularly in the West, though even in India, to white ideals and values. Even at this late date, we see new iterations of the white man’s burden in virtually every sphere of world society. As a result, Indians in the West or even in India are not fully cognizant today of the deep ties linking India and African-America politically, spiritually, as well as culturally. If we think about it, the Indian anti-colonial struggle would not have been possible without the recognition of Africans and African Americans, who were among the first believers of Gandhi’s gospel of love.

Likewise, Gandhiji’s ideas were foundational to the black freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi touched the lives of black intellectuals and leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois, Hubert Harrison, A. Phillip Randolph, Eslanda Robeson, Sue Bailey and Howard Thurman, George Washington Carver, William Nelson, James Lawson, and Howard Thurman as well as Dr. King the four decades between 1920-1960. Many black leaders visited with Gandhi from 1935 to 1937. These thinkers and leaders were building the necessary links between the black struggle and the struggles of oppressed peoples throughout the world  at the turn of the century, doing the heroic work of sowing the seeds for the civil rights movement to which the Gandhian method of satyagraha—the steadfast insistence upon the truth—was central. African-American satyagrahis, like Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Thurman, W.E.B Du Bois, Paul Robeson and countless others together waged the battle for peace. They saw the continuities as well as idiosyncrasies of their own oppression here in the United States, and that of the Indians in India, seeing parallels between racial caste here and caste and colonial oppression there. Several of Gandhi’s English and Indian followers, like Miriam Slade and Sarojini Naidu, met with African Americans in the U.S. and black universities became central to the dissemination of the Gandhian message of peace. A. Philip Randolph, the black labor leader who opposed segregation in the Americen workforce during World War II, began to assert similarities between his methods and those of Gandhi during the 1940s, while the Congress of Racial Equality and other groups also adopted Gandhian techniques. Dr. King would himself say that the Anerican civil rights movement was patterned after the Gandhian movement in India though with one crucial difference: while the Indian anti-colonial struggle sought to send the British back, the goal of the African-American freedom movement under the leadership of Dr. King was integration. Integration, however, was not assimilation; for Dr.King, it meant the end of segregation and the realization of God’s beloved community at long last. Gandhism did not gain mass appeal until Dr. King, who saw in Gandhi’s bhakti yoga (devotion), the gospel of Jesus Christ. Out of the lectures,  studies, hymns, and conversations organized by these individuals over the course of their many visits came a new synthesis of ideas, a new forging of history, a new epistemology, or way of looking at and knowing the world, and a renaissance in art and culture.

In the seventh book of Plato’s Republic, we find the allegory of the cave. An allegory is a story with a  double meaning, a second moral-political valence underlying the larger story. In the allegory of the cave, we find a group of prisoners who have been chained to one another in a cave facing a wall. Behind them, meanwhile, there is a fire and their captors carry on with their lives ignoring their suffering. So the prisoners can only see the shadows projected onto the wall by the firelight. At one point, one of the prisoners escapes to sunlight and sees the truth. When he comes back to save the rest of his comrades,  he is deemed a madman. Plato’s allegory is a good example of the ways in which ideas can hold us captive, particularly false ideations that inhibit human freedom. The work we are undertaking during the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi seems to dispel the shadow puppets of Western civilization, the chimeras which beleaguer us in the aims and ideals of Western imperialism. Gandhiji, like Dr. King, Paul Robeson, Dr. Thurman, and other leaders of the anti-imperialist movement recognized that independence and liberation would only come with the full and unabashed rejection of Western values and paradigms on the part of the oppressed.  Education was thus at the center of Mahatma Gandhi’s program for peace, prosperity, and truth, most importantly.

The historical continuities and unities between African-America and India have not received much attention because of the imperial record of history which predominates in the West. We know, however, that Asia has been linked to Africa through trade and civilization for millennia; these relationships were destroyed by European colonialism and slavery. One can observe cultural continuities between Asia and Africa, even in the culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose roots were Afro-Asiatic. The Greco-Roman gods, for example, are linked to the fertility cults of Western Asia and pharaonic civilization of Egypt as well as the culture of Africa below the Sahara. The knowledge, art and architecture of ancient Indian kingdoms in turn influenced the Greek and Roman empire. Sometime in the nineteenth century, however, when the world historical paradigm shifted to the “Aryan model” of history, we started seeing this all very differently argues Martin Bernal. The long history of contact between ancient Egypt and ancient India was rejected to accommodate the lie of black inferiority when Egypt was conquered by Napoleon and when the Europeans pivoted to direct colonialism in Africa and Asia. The influence of Indian and African culture on Greco-Roman culture as well as Persian civilization (and certainly vice versa) was omitted from the historical record, which became, in the mainstream, a defense of European rule over the vast masses of humanity.

Plutarch (46 – 120 CE), a Greek historian, biographer and essayist, who wrote Parallel Lives (an important source for Shakespeare’s history plays) describes the Greek encounter with India as follows

As for the Macedonians, however, their struggle with Porus blunted their courage and stayed their further advance into India. For having had all they could do to repulse an enemy who mustered only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand horse, they violently opposed Alexander when he insisted on crossing the river Ganges also, the width of which, as they learned, was thirty-two furlongs, its depth a hundred fathoms, while its banks on the further side were covered with multitudes of men-at arms and horsemen and elephants.

As a consequence of these lapses in the historical record, many shadow projections keep Indians and other dark nations tethered to the false ideations of Western history and scholarships. For instance, Indians in America are inured to the notion that we are a people of Indo-European descent rather than part of a civilizational complex with extensive networks of trade and culture with Africa, where humanity originated, as well as to Europe. W.E.B Du Bois is perhaps the most crucial figure in dispelling these myths, showing in his pathbreaking scholarship that the foundations of Indian civilization are black– not “Aryan” at all, but Dravidian. He further explores this thesis 1928 novel, Dark Princess, embodying the political unity of Pan-Africa and Pan-Asia in the struggle against imperialism in the romance between Matthew Townes and Princess Kautilya Of Bwodpur, a fictional Indian kingdom.  Kautilya falls in love with Matthew, an African-American doctor patterned after Du Bois himself in many ways. Matthew flees to Berlin, where he meets the Princess after he is barred from medical school examinations by the Dean due to the color of his skin. Those of us who escape the allegorical cave where our senses are dimmed and manipulated have a responsibility to enlighten those who are still held in captivity, the novel reminds us, to become teachers of teachers.

Dr. Du Bois made an inestimable sociological and political contribution in his scholarship, showing us like Gandhiji that in fact, Indians can join African-Americans in their struggle for peace here in the United States, with the understanding that in doing so they advance the freedom of their brothers and sisters in India and Africa. This is where our unity as the darker races should emerge today and this is where the hope lies: in recognizing the true significance of our common bond and discovering what it means for us to relate in the twenty-first century in fraternity and common struggle, for as King said, “we are wrapped in a single garment of destiny.”

Gandhiji’s philosophy of nonviolence was anchored in the principle of ahimsa, the negation of violence, and satyagraha, holding onto one’s soul force in the struggle for truth and the battle for peace. India, he warned, should not focus her efforts on marshaling arms but on achieving peace in the world. The pursuit of war was antithetical to the aims and ideals of Indian civilization, he correctly recognized–a betrayal of the truth underlying by the plurality of faiths that have flowered in southern Asia. Gandhiji incorporated both of these concepts, ahimsa and satyagraha, into his political philosophy and led a number of national strikes using methods of non-violent non-cooperation to achieve his mission of swaraj, or home rule.  His thought, however, cannot be limited to Hinduism as he was influenced by all of the world’s religions, particularly the example set by Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus, which he cherished towards the end of his life, when he was betrayed like Christ in the Garden of Gethsamane. Du Bois presaged these ideas in his poem “Hymn To the Peoples” wherein he remarks

The Buddha walks with Christ;

And Al-Koran and Bible both be holy!

Gandhi studied the New Testament closely and was particularly drawn to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in the Gospel Of Matthew. Like Christ, he sought to drive out the money-changers from the temples of Jerusalem. When Jesus commanded his disciples to love their enemy he was telling the disinherited to love the Romans who would turn around and crucify him. Jesus said in his sermon,

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God…Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

“I have not been able to see any difference between the Sermon on the Mount and the Bhagavad Gita,” Gandhi once confessed. He would write at least six commentaries and translations of the Gita and was constantly interpreting the text, which appears to most of us as a manual for warfare, given what Krishna asks of Arjuna; however Gandhiji correctly  understood it as a handbook of nonviolence. The Gita reveals the contradictions of the human heart. That is why God is infinitely greater than frail humanity. As Gandhiji said in his interpretations of the Gita

If Arjuna had forgotten the difference between kinsmen and others and had been so filled with the spirit of non-violence so as to bring about a change of heart in Duryodhana, he would have been another Shri Krishna. However, he believed Duryodhana to be wicked.

It is not uncoincidental that Matthew–recalling the Book of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount–is also the name of the protagonist of Du Bois’ novel, Dark Princess. Du Boisian nomenclature is nothing if not multiply symbolic and allusive in its significatory range. Gandhi would also say that the Qu’ran was the most beautiful and perfect work of literature in Arabic. Humanity is beloved because we are children of Allah, his most perfect creations. As he put it,

“Truth is the first thing to be sought for, and Beauty and Goodness will then be added unto you. Jesus was, to my mind, a supreme artist because he saw and expressed Truth; and so was Muhammad, the Koran being, the most perfect composition in all Arabic literature – at any rate, that is what scholars say. It is because both of them strove first for Truth that the grace of expression naturally came in and yet neither Jesus not Muhammad wrote on Art. That is the Truth and Beauty I crave for, live for, and would die for.”

For Gandhiji, God is truth because he is love and because he is love he is light which in turn gives birth to life, like a flower growing towards the beaming sun. Life, he argued, was sacred and the British had decimated Indians of all faiths by this point through  lynchings, torture, war, starvation and all manner of unspeakable crimes. In the face of such widespread violence, Gandhi could only conclude from his study of the law, the world’s religions,that non-violence was the only moral way forward in the face of persistent bloodshed and savagery. In the face of rioting and needless violence on the eve of Independence Gandhiji insisted that India  was the home of all of the world’s religions, a land held together in the creative and syncretic tension of its diverse peoples, civilizations, and landscapes.

On the whole, Western Christianity has been cruel to the spiritual life of the darker races, making a mockery of our faiths and so that Hindus, Muslims, and even Indian Christians  during independence naturally distrusted the white missionary. Christianity arrived to India in the third century and evolved in a distinct way. This is what Howard Thurman discovered upon traveling to India, Sri Lanka, and Burma. Thurman, a theologian, minister, Professor, and Dean of divinity at Howard University saw that there was a great interest amongst Indians to understand African-American Christianity and its political significance in the struggle against lynching and segregation in the US. During a brief three-hour conversation with Gandhi during his Pilgrimage of Friendship to India with his wife Sue Bailey Thurman, Rev. Thurman asked Gandhi, “ I wanted to know if one man can hold violence at bay?“ to which Gandhi replied,  if he cannot, you must take it that he is not a true representative of ahimsa (nonviolence). So from this prophecy we learn that the principle of ahimsa (nonviolence) is none other than the law of love, which Jesus held as the supreme commandment, and Gandhi also recognized. This is perhaps why King said that “And it is one of the strange ironies of the modern world that the greatest Christian of the twentieth century was not a member of the Christian church. (…) that this man took the message of Jesus Christ and was able to do even greater works than Jesus did in his lifetime.”

When Gandhiji’s centennial was celebrated in the United States in 1969, many distinguished guests, including Coretta Scott King, Marian Anderson, A. Philip Randolph, William Nelson, and others got together to create centennial committee, which planned various activities and celebrations aimed at furthering Gandhi’s message of peace. However, fifty years ago, the conversation about Mahatma Gandhi was strikingly different. Today, there is a growing trend among Indian intellectuals who are celebrated by the Western intelligentsia of discrediting Gandhiji’s accomplishments and his vision for a free and independent India, which parallels recent efforts to smear Dr. King’s reputation and legacy. Both efforts go hand in hand with the various programs launched by U.S. intelligence agencies to suppress the civil rights movement and inhibit black freedom. Similarly, our Mahatma has recently been charged as a racist; he has been vilified by very cultural nationalists, who assassinated him; and his statue was recently toppled in Ghana, whose father, the great Kwame Nkrumah, once professed his great admiration for Gandhiji. Gandhiji’s influence on Nkrumah’s leadership of the Gold Coast independence conveniently forgotten, his leadership of the struggle against the identity pass in South Africa dismissed; his eclectic and radically universal interpretation of Hinduism and solidarity with Indians of all faiths suppressed; and his message to Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman in 1936 buried: that “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of non-violence will be delivered to the world.” As such, we must ask: why is a man, who was revered by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Howard Thurman, all of whom took inspiration from his leadership of the Indian Revolution, so reviled by the mainstream literary establishment today and does this actually say something about us? Does it beg for a return, now more than ever, to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, to the injunction Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you?

Gandhi on Non-Violent Socialism

Socialism is a beautiful word and, so far as I am aware, in socialism all the members of society are equal ― none low, none high. In the individual body, the head is not high because it is the top of the body, nor are the soles of the feet low because they touch the earth. Even as members of the individual body are equal, so are the members of society. This is socialism. In it the prince and the peasant, the wealthy and the poor, the employer and the employee are all on the same level. In terms of religion, there is no duality in socialism. It is all unity. Looking at society all the world over, there is nothing but duality or plurality. Unity is conspicuous by its absence…. In the unity of my conception there is perfect unity in the plurality of designs. In order to reach this state, we may not look on things philosophically and say that we need not make a move until all are converted to socialism. Without changing our life we may go on giving addresses, forming parties and hawk-like seize the game when it comes our way. This is no socialism. The more we treat it as game to be seized, the farther it must recede from us.

Socialism begins with the first convert. If there is one such you can add zeroes to the one and the first zero will account for ten and every addition will account for ten times the previous number. If, however, the beginner is a zero, in other words, no one makes the beginning, multiplicity of zeroes will also produce zero value. Time and paper occupied in writing zeroes will be so much waste.

This socialism is as pure as crystal. It, therefore, requires crystal-like means to achieve it. Impure means result in an impure end. Hence the prince and the peasant will not be equaled by cutting off the prince’s head, nor can the process of cutting off equalize the employer and the employed. One cannot reach truth by untruthfulness. Truthful conduct alone can reach truth. Are not non-violence and truth twins? The answer is an emphatic ‘No’. Non-violence is embedded in truth and vice versa. Hence has it been said that they are faces of the same coin. Either is inseparable from the other. Read the coin either way ― the spelling of words will be different; the value is the same. This blessed state is unattainable without perfect purity. Harbour impurity of mind or body and you have untruth and violence in you.

Therefore only truthful, non-violent and pure-hearted socialists will be able to establish a socialistic society in India and the world.

(MGP, II, 140-41)*

The Heroism and Courage of Satyagraha

Our heroes must be spiritual.

–Swami Vivekananda

What does the method and philosophy of Satyagraha reveal? It exposes the heart of human nature, in all of its contradictions. The law of satyagraha compels us to act with soul force, which necessitates activation of our soul memory, our spirit consciousness. If it follows that we were still born though we do not remember our babyhood, then it is also true that our soul-force stores memories from many lifetimes through which we have traveled. Just because we do not remember our babyhood, for example, does not mean we did not exist. This is the message underlying the Vedanta, the sacred text of Hinduism. This line of thought was illumined in the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and drove the pedagogy of Gandhiji’s satyagraha. It holds that the soul is infinite, a persistent energetic impulse perambulating the universe. It merely changes form as it morphs through time. Moksha, when the soul liberates itself from rebirth, is not unlike supernova. The soul achieves unity with space and time and does not need to resolve its contradictions in earthly life; it is free to join with Brahman. The soul-force or the Atman is our direct connection to the force we know as God or Brahman. This is why those souls who attain this unity with Brahman, mahasamadhi, escape the illusion of physical life and experience a perfect bliss. It is the peace of godly love, the peace which transcends understanding as posited in Christian doctrine.

In satyagraha, the soul force must be compelled to take refuge in this truth: that the soul being eternal, the body is merely a vessel, as frail as it is powerful. This realization gives the satyagrahi immense soul confidence, the authority to act with the superhuman courage that brings forth the great men and women of an epoch. The soul is time itself, for it bears a record of its rebirths and so is conscious of its antiquity and its future at the same time. The soul is a force in the universe comparable to other forces such as gravity. If it follows that the purpose of human civilization is to evolve a culture of absolute peace, in our progress from our primitive origins, then ahimsa or the way of non-violence that is revealed when one seeks the truth of the soul force is the only pathway forward in a time that desperately demands such soul-awakening.

Satyagraha is often portrayed as a weaker cousin of the “real” revolution. However, lest we misconstrue its true intent: satyagraha is entirely active if we take human will and conscience to be acting forces in nature. Satyagraha thus demands a fierce courage and loyalty to the call of soul-truth, which may necessitate imperilment even of the physical body in the fight, paradoxically, to save one’s soul. The satyagrahi’s consciousness of her capacity to renounce the law of self-preservation and embrace self-immolation creates the courage to sacrifice even the body if necessary in the pursuit of love, freedom, and justice. The soul is not free in conditions where untruth and decadence prevail.

The soul force then is the voice within us that cries out for justice of God, an seething energy capable of defeating the evil lurking in the heart of man. it compels us to be killed rather than be moved to kill ourselves. We have been taught in Western civilization that the drives of human nature cannot be overcome, that we are victims of our natures, that the causes of our problems are due to external rather than internal factors. In this paradigm, desire becomes misconstrued as need and we are forever using this tragic misconception to justify the illusion of reality that keeps us trapped behind loveless masks. We are trapped because we are afraid to let go and because we are afraid to let go, we cannot love. We become stronger when we learn to discern the differences between one and the other, between genuine need and frivolous desire.

Western psychoanalysis holds that we cannot overcome our base instincts due to certain uncontrollable factors or complexes that mandate certain inevitabilities in our social relations to each other. Consequently, the allegories of Oedipus and Electra are invoked to justify certain sexual impulses in man. And yet, what of those who manage to transcend such impulses through the unity of mind and heart? We remain victims in this vision of reality and human nature because we are forever blaming forces beyond ourselves instead of taking charge of our inner drives, which more often than not lead us astray from the marrow of existence, which is the soul-force or prana. The psychoanalytic seems an impoverished view of the human personality to me; we are human precisely because we take responsibility, on our best days, for our actions. Human beings are also capable of transcending their conditions. A poor man can make something of nothing; genius overcomes struggle by gaining mastery of it; both a rich man and a poor man can be a slave to his nature.

Taking responsibility requires humility and patience with one’s limitations. It takes immense inner strength and willpower to say no to that which restricts one’s growth and well-being. It takes greater strength to exemplify in your response to this force, whose origin is the fiend who roams the world bloodlustily, that you will not mimic his behavior and dishonor your soul force by retaliating. In your resistance to evil, however, you must not resist and so this is why Jesus said resist not evil. Only the ancient sages and prophets have managed to detach from maya, the illusion that keeps us attached to the physical body. we must overcome these lower urges which today most tragically suffuse the values of a decaying Western empire.

Like the Buddha, Mohandas K. Gandhi saw the profound misery accompanying the self-indulgence of worldliness. He sought to educate, clothe, and feed the sons and daughters of India. He strove mightily to cure the blight of caste oppression. He fought to free the soul of India from the unbearable agony of three hundred years of imperialism, which had orchestrated immense suffering in India. Under the English, Bharat Mata was raped and exploited, her wealth looted, her education neglected and her future darkened. Pained by the condition of his people, Gandhiji began to ask himself how he could change the capricious heart of man. Slowly, he began to see that the only way he could change the world was by changing himself. This is why he renounced meat and other non-sattvic foods, sex, wealth, luxury, and other distractions which keep us attached to the illusions we tragically mistake for reality.

Like Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji’s renunciations awakened the West as the Buddha had awakened the East. In the United States, the African-American people who were making triumphs in their long march to freedom began to hear of Gandhiji’s political agitations in South Africa as well as India. Many African-Americans would make pilgrimages to study the Indian anti-colonial movement and the power of the soul-force in the progress of our struggle. They shared with Indians the spirituals of their church, many met with Gandhiji, others organized their people using methods they learned during their pilgrimage. Musicians like Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, and others riffed and improvised on the Eastern theme, awakening the slumbering spirit of the Afro-Asiatic sound. Black universities began teaching courses on satyagraha and Ahimsa as political tactics in the struggle for civil rights. In a manifestation of Gandhi’s prophecy to Howard Thurman that it would be through the American Negro that the the message of non-violence would bear fruit, black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama committed satyagraha by refusing to ride the segregated bus lines. And so, Sermon on the Mount united with the eternal Song of the Gita.

Usury

Quran 2:275] Those who charge usury are in the same position as those controlled by the devil’s influence. This is because they claim that usury is the same as commerce. However, God permits commerce, and prohibits usury. Thus, whoever heeds this commandment from his Lord, and refrains from usury, he may keep his past earnings, and his judgment rests with God. As for those who persist in usury, they incur Hell, wherein they abide forever