Howard Thurman, “Knowledge . . . Shall Vanish Away”

There is a sense of wholeness at the core of man
That must abound in all he does;
That marks with reverence his ev’ry step;
That has its sway when all else fails;
That wearies out all evil things;
That warms the depth of frozen fears
Making friend of foe,
Making love of hate,
And lasts beyond the living and the dead,
Beyond the goals of peace, the ends of war!
This man seeks through all his years:
To be complete and of one piece, within, without.

Portrait of Rev. Howard Thurman

— “Knowledge . . . Shall Vanish Away,” in The Inward Journey

Mahatma Gandhi observing the leprosy bacteria, 1942, Sevagram Ashram

What is this? Where is weakness? Who is strong? What is great and what is small? What is high and what is low in this marvellous interdependence of existence where the smallest atom is necessary for the existence of the whole? Who is great and who is small? It is past finding out! And why? Because none is great and none is small. All things are interpenetrated by that infinite ocean; their reality is that infinite; and whatever there is on the surface is but that infinite. The tree is infinite; so is everything that you see or feel — every grain of sand, every thought, every soul, everything that exists, is infinite. Infinite is finite and finite infinite. This is our existence.

—Swami Vivekananda, Practical Vedanta

My art derived from a desire to find the common ground between the religions of the world, which all share an abiding faith in the possibility of love, truth, and peace in liberating humankind from the bondage to suffering. As a Hindu, who is a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda and Holy Mother Sarada Devi, I believe that God exists in us all and so, acts through us all. Sri Ramakrishna said that we must look for God in all for we are all His creations and in Him we are One. Accordingly, I believe that a work of art should strive to render this purity of the soul force, which is none other than God himself working through us.

Pictured below is a painting of Mahatma Gandhi, India’s apostle of peace, observing the leprosy bacteria under a microscope in 1942, rendered in oil, acrylic, and ink on a 16 x 20 canvas. Gandhi prophesied that the choice that we face today is not between nonviolence and violence but nonviolence and self-annihilation. Though our present pandemic affects all, the poor of oppressed nations are most debilitated by its economic and political consequences. I wondered as I painted this what Gandhi might say of our own times, a time where modern medicine has discovered marvelous remedies for all manner of ailments and yet, arguably, we are, on the whole, in poorer shape healthwise. As the world teeters on the brink of war and as our immune systems struggle against the stress of modernity, we might humbly return to his message of peace delivered not just to those seeking freedom from the brutalities of racial oppression under colonial rule but to all humankind seeking deliverance from its own brute nature, as we stumble and fumble our way towards God.

Howard Thurman – A Meditation on Thanksgiving

For all these I make an act of Thanksgiving this day.

I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:

The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;

The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;

The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;

The workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;

The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never reached for the highest;

The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.

All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,

I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,

Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.

Satyagraha: Gandhian Principles of Non-Violent Non-Cooperation By William Stuart Nelson

Reprinted from THE JOURNAL OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT Autumn-Winter Issue, 1957-1958

Bro. Nelson, center, as Dean of the Howard University School of Religion, Commencement 1944)

CHANGE in the social order today is proceeding often violently and is frequently being resisted just as violently. Our own country is caught in a strange conjunction of Christian and democratic principles, fanatical resistence even to the belated application of these principles, and grave uncertainty as to how best the victims, the victimizers, and the innocent can escape both moral embarrassment and physical pain.

Somehow, happily, men appear less reluctant than formerly to hear testimony to faith in non-violence, a testimony borne so urgently in the past by Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama Buddha, Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi is nearest to us in time, the problems he faced were extraor­dinarily akin to ours, and his experiments with non-violence in the presence of these problems were so unique in method and so revolutionary in result that we are constrained to ask what guidance he has for us. Moreover, he fell under the influence of those who went before, and in him their spirit flowered.

I have chosen to discuss the principles of Gandhi’s non-violent non­ cooperation. Those who wish to understand the practice of non-violence must understand both the principles and the methods of the Gandhian way. There is, however, a limit to what may be included in one paper.

Truth

Gandhi was a practical man, but a man whose practice was rooted in verities from which he was unshakable. Thus when he sought a name for his struggle he chose Satyagraha, which means literally firmness in truth, but translated from the vernacular into English means Truth-Force and is called also Soul-Force. All of these terms are completely applicable to Gandhi’s movement, for” the movement was equally the product of this firmness in truth and a demonstration of the power of truth and of the spirit.

What, in Gandhi’s view, was truth? In the answer to this question lies the first step to an understanding of Gandhi and Satyagraha, for Satyagraha is a method of pursuing truth.

“What then is Truth?” asks Gandhi, and he answers: “A difficult question, but I have solved it for myself by saying that it is what the Voice within tellsyouV Still again he says, “What a pure heart feels at a particular time is Truth.” We would say obedience to one’s conscience.

In Tallahassee, Florida, a few months ago I explained this Gandhian version of truth to some of the members of the Inter-Civic Council of that city and one member of the Council raised the very natural question as to whether this did not make truth a variable, dependent upon an individual’s interpretation, and thus not an absolute, fixed eternally in the heavens. Gandhi anticipated this question and answered it in this wise: “Well, seeing that the human mind works through innumerable media and that the evolution of the human mind is not the same for all, it follows that what may be truth for one may be untruth for another, and hence those who have made experiments have come to the conclusion that there are certain conditions to be observed in making those experiments. . . . Everyone should, therefore, realize his limitations before he speaks of his inner Voice.” For Gandhi, the experiment leading to the right to speak of one’s following truth must include the vow of truth, of purity, of non-violence, of poverty, and of non-possession.

What I wish here to emphasize is that Gandhi’s entire theory of non­ violent non-cooperation had at its center the principle of truth or obedience to one’s conscience, a consuming conviction burnished by the fire of a pure life. The true Satyagrahi (that is, one who fellows truth, Satyagraha, or the non-violent way) cannot be the tool of self-interest or the victim of prejudice or a moment’s emotion. He must be deeply convicted after long and humble self-searching. “One discovers Truth,” said Gandhi, “by patient endeavor and silent prayer. I can only assure friends that I spare no pains to grope my way to the right, and that humble but constant endeavour and silent prayer are my two trusty companions along the weary but beautiful path that all seekers must tread.”

If there is any doubt as to the hold of truth upon Gandhi, one need only recall that he identified God with truth. “I have come to the conclu­sion,” he said, “that for myself God is Truth.” Then, he added that he had gone a step further and was prepared to say that truth is God.

Having heard this from him, that truth is one’s own and deepest inner voice and that this is God, it is at first unsettling to hear him say also: “The very insistence on Truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise. . . . But Truth is hard as adamant and tender as a blossom. The golden rule of conduct, therefore, is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall see Truth in fragment and from dif­ ferent angles of vision. Conscience is not the same thing for all. Whilst ividual conduct, imposition of that con­ duct upon all will be an insufferable interference with everybody’s freedom of conscience.” None, thought Gandhi, can realize truth perfectly “so long as we are imprisoned in this mortal frame,” but men do have the obligation to experiment in their search and they have the right to err. He said “com­promise,” but he did not mean compromise on fundamentals.

Here then is a central principle upon which Gandhi built his program— truth or conscience, the voice of God itself, but a principle which never prevented him from, indeed, which led him to endless, tireless effort to reach agreement with those who differed with him.

Non-Violence

The second great principle of Gandhi’s program was non-violence. “And,” says he, “when you want to find Truth as God, the only inevitable means is Love, i.e., non-violence, and since I believe that ultimately means and ends are convertible terms, I should not hesitate to say that God is Love.”

In this, two very important ideas are apparent: the first, that non­ violence is equated with love; and second, that truth and love are the twin pillars upon which Gandhi’s great revolutionary program rests.

Let us now take a further look at the nature of non-violence as Gandhi saw it. Repeatedly, Gandhi made it clear that non-violence is not to be confined to physical action but that it involves also words and even thoughts: “One had better not speak it,” he said, “if one cannot do so in a gentle way, meaning that there is no truth in a man who cannot control his tongue.” This does not suggest, he makes clear, that one should be deterred from telling a truth which may for the moment appear harsh or unpopular for fear of wounding susceptibilities.^The intention never to do violence must be controlling.

For Gandhi, in the second place, non-violence is non-violence of the strong and not of the weak. At the beginning of his mission, he was offended by South African interpretations that this method was devised for the weak, and toward the close of his life he was hurt beyond words that his own people had never learned the lesson that non-violence was of the strong and not of the weak. What virtue is there in a man being non-violent when he possesses no weapons? “Non-violence,” he says, “presupposes the ability to strike. It is a conscious, deliberate restraint put upon one’s desire for ven­ geance.” He rejected the use of the term “passive resistence” because of its being interpreted as a weapon of the weak. Moreover, he said, “Non­ cooperation is not a passive state, it is an intensely active state.”

Again non-violence makes a distinction between evil and the evil doer, and a Satyagrahi must never forget the distinction. He must not habour ill- will or bitterness against the latter (that is the evil doer). He may not even employ needlessly offensive language against the evil doer however un­ relieved his evil might be. No attack upon character should be made and no word should be spoken that will do lasting injury, lead to later regret, and make reconciliation impossible, remembering that the purpose is always to convince and correct, to reconcile and not to coerce. “. . . It is an article of faith with every Satyagrahi that there is no one so fallen.in this world but can be converted by love.” Gandhi was glad to contrast his attitude toward the colonial policy of the British Empire and his determination that not even the hair of one Britisher should be harmed.

Said he, “I hate the system of government that the British people have set up in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India. . . . But I do not hate the domineering Englishmen. … I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me. My non-cooperation has its roots not in hatred, but in love. My personal religion pre-emptorily forbids me to hate anybody.”

We are led immediately to an idea so fundamental that to fail to under­ stand it is to fail completely to grasp the spirit and method of Gandhi. I repeat these words from Gandhi: “For it is an article of faith with every Satyagrahi that there is no one so fallen in this world but can be converted by love.” Without this faith there can be no non-violence in the Gandhian sense. Read Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth. Follow him day by day along the torturous path of bringing an empire to bay or making “untouch­ ables” “Children of God,” and you will see not only the persistence in him of his faith in human beings but its near miraculous power.

“If I am a follower of ahimsa (non-violence),” says Gandhi, “I must love my enemy. I must apply the same rules to the wrong-doer who is my enemy or a stranger to me as I would to my wrong-doing father or son.” This is hard but it is the price which Gandhian non-violence exacts. “Having flung aside the sword,” he says, “there is nothing except the cup of love which I can offer to those who oppose me. It is by offering that cup that I expect to draw them close to me. I live in the hope that if not in this birth, in some other birth I shall be able to hug all humanity in friendly embrace.”

The Exaltation of the Means

I come now to a third principle of Satyagraha, the relation of means to ends. Milovan Djilas, the Yugoslav writer, whose recent book, The New Class, has created such a sensation, states that “nothing so well reveals the reality and greatness of ends as the methods used to attain them.” There is still, however, a subtle and dangerous fascination in the doctrine that “the end justifies the means,” and no doubt many a well-intentioned person has fallen under its allurements. Gandhi wrestled strenuously with this problem for his was the need of fashioning means for the attainment of certain over­ riding ends and he was forced to make his choice in the light of a principle or court moral chaos. He defined his position unmistakably. He wrote that men often say, “Means are after all means.” He said, “Means are after all everything. As the means so the end. There is no wall of separation between means and end. . . . Realization of the goal is in exact proportion to that of the means. This is a proposition that admits of no exception.” He went on to compare the seed to the means and the end to the tree, and to quote the maxim, “As is the God, so is the Votary.” He says one would scarcely speak of worshipping God by means of Satan. “We reap exactly what we sow.”

It was suggested to Gandhi that the English had attained certain ends by brute force and that it was possible for the Indians to do likewise. To which Gandhi answered that surely Indians did not want that—the very kind of subjugation from which they were then struggling to be freed.

Or, as he said to me on the eve of India’s freedom, “We could have killed the British and perhaps have had our freedom but it would not have been this way.” By “this way” he meant that of the British leaving peace­ fully without the outward sign of animosity and the prospect of the two nations living not only in peace but in friendship. Twenty-five years earlier he had said, “Let there be no manner of doubt that Swaraj (freedom) estab­ lished by non-violent means will be different in kind from the Swaraj that can be established by armed rebellion. . . . Violent means will give violent Swaraj. That would be a menace to the world and to India herself.” For him, it was not the immediate but the enduring result which mattered.

The application of Gandhi’s philosophy of means and ends can be seen clearly in what he held to be the relationship of non-violence] to truth. Truth is the end. Non-violence is the means. To take care of the means, to keep them pure, is to reach the end sooner or later. Ultimate victory is assured.

Constructive Service

Gandhi’s program of non-violent resistance or non-cooperation is often associated solely with his efforts to free India from British rule or from any one or more of the oppressive aspects of that rule. It was more than this. It involved intra-Indian conflicts and included numerous constructive movements within Indian life which in Gandhi’s view were essential to the winning of the freedom sought more directly by forms of non-violent resistence.

Untouchability was a curse in Indian life which Gandhi could not abide, and against this institution he fought relentlessly and against great odds. “My idea of village Swaraj,” he said, “is that it is a complete repub­ lic. . . . There will be no castes such as we have today with their graded untouchability. Non-violence with its technique of Satyagraha and non­ cooperation will be the sanction of the village community.” He said further, “I have put untouchability in the forefront because I observe a certain remissness about it. . . . We can never reach Swaraj with the poison of un­ touchability corroding the Hindu part of the national body. Swaraj is a meaningless term if we desire to keep a fifth of India under perpetual sub­ jection and deliberately deny them the fruits of national culture. . . . In­ human ourselves, we may not plead before the Throne for deliverance from the inhumanity of others.”

Gandhi did not simply speak and write against untouchability. He threw the full force of Satyagraha and his very life against it. In 1924 and 1925 Satyagraha was undertaken in Vykom in the Province of Travancore, South India. Its purpose was to obtain permission for “untouchables” to use certain roads about the temple in Vykom. Gandhi was not present in Travancore, but from a distance he sent advice and encouragement. The importance he attached to this episode is seen in the following statement which he made in Young India, the paper he was editing at that time: “The Vykom Satyagrahis are fighting a battle of no less consequence than that of Swaraj. They are fighting against an age-long wrong and prejudice. It is supported by orthodoxy, superstition, custom and authority. Theirs is only one among the many battles that must be fought in the holy war against irreligion masquerading as religion, ignorance appearing in the guise of learning.”

In September, 1932, Gandhi was in jail after his threat of a civil dis­ obedience campaign against the passage of certain oppressive ordinances by the British. From newspapers he had learned that the new constitution for India proposed by the British was to grant separate electorates for the “untouchables,” that is, that these members of the so-called “Depressed Classes” would have both a vote as Hindus and a vote as “Untouchables.”

Previously the British had made a somewhat similar provision for both Moslems and Hindus. To Gandhi this would be unbearable. He could not suffer these people to be separated from other Hindus in this statutory manner. As he wrote to Prime Minister MacDonald, it was a matter of pure religion, for it would arrest “the marvellous growth of the work of Hindu reformers who have dedicated themselves to their suppressed brethren in every walk of life.” The decision of the Government, therefore, he must resist with his life, in a fast unto death. This fast, he said, “is aimed at a statutory separate electorate, in any shape or form, for the Depressed Classes. Immediately that threat is removed once for all, my fast will end.” Since the British had stated that any different and mutually satisfactory agreement reached by the Hindus and “Untouchables” would be satisfac­ tory to them, this fast, according to Gandhi, was “to sting Hindu conscience into right religious action.” Such an agreement was reached and on the sixth day the fast was ended. During the period of the fast “a spirit of reform, penance, and self purification swept the land.” Hundreds of temples were opened to “untouchables,” thousands of the orthodox who had never received food from “Untouchables,” did so: villages, towns, and cities, or­ ganizations of many kinds, resolved to stop discrimination against these people. The fast has rightly been called the “Epic Fast,” and it was directed by Gandhi at his own people.

Another acute internal problem which haunted Gandhi was that of the unhappy Hindu-Moslem relations. The causes were both ancient and new and very deep. But Gandhi knew that tragedy for India was the price of continued failure to solve the problem. The freedom of India, he felt, depended upon Hindu-Moslem friendship. In 1919 he was given an oppor­ tunity to take a step toward reconciliation. The Moslems of India were deeply distressed that the Armistice of November 11, 1918, following the defeat of the Central powers, provided not only for the overthrow of the Turkish Sultan as temporal sovereign but as the Caliph or religious head of Islam, in spite of the promises made by Lloyd George, British Prime Min­ister, that the suzerainty of their religious head would be respected. This was a source of deep distress to the Moslems of India who organized a powerful opposition movement called Khilafat. Gandhi sympathized with the Moslems of India and persuaded the Congress, which was the organiza­ tion for the mobilization of Indian opposition to foreign rule and oppres­ sion, to engage in a movement of non-cooperation on behalf of the Moslem position. This non-cooperation provided for a boycott of British exports, British schools, British courts, British jobs, and British honors. Unhappily for Indian Moslems, Kemal Pasha (Ataturk), the powerful leader of the new Turkey, deposed the Caliph and left the Moslems in India without a cause. But Gandhi had attempted one more contribution toward the strengthening of Hindu-Moslem relations and toward the freedom of the Indian people.

Gandhi was deeply opposed to the use of alcoholIf beverages and to all the other evils growing out of the use of intoxicants there was the inability of those who were in their grip to contribute moral effort to Satyagraha. He urged especially that women take up agitation against the sale of liquors, and women who had lived the most sheltered lives were to be found in picket lines outside stores dispensing intoxicants. Moreover, they were enjoined to lay hold of the hearts of those given to drink by the provision of recreational facilities and other acts of loving service.

Dear to the heart of Mr. Gandhi was his movement called Swadeshi and Khadi. These too, he felt, were indispensable to the attainment of freedom. Swadeshi is the use of all home-made things, in so far as such use is necessary for the protection of home industry—more especially those in­ dustries without which India would become pauperized. Gandhi was so fervent about the importance of Swadeshi that he addressed huge meetings and asked those present to take off such garments as were foreign made and place them in a pile. He would then set fire to the pile. Inherent in the move­ ment is the sacrifice of a love for fineries and gladness in the wearing of coarse but beautifully hand-woven fabrics of India.

Khadi is this homespun cloth. Not only did Gandhi declare against the use of foreign-made cloth and for the wearing of homespun garments; he demanded that Indians make the garments themselves. Let every one be­ come his own spinner, he urged. Spinning he put in the center of the Satyagraha program, “no haphazard programme of spinning, but scientific understanding of every detail, including the mechanics and the mathema­ tics of it, study of cotton and its varieties, and so on.” “That,” he said, “is the mass constructive programme I want you to do, and that is the basis of the training for the non-violence of the brave.” In this program, Gandhi led, for he spun his cotton and he reduced his needs for clothing practically to a loin cloth.

Satyagraha had, therefore, what Gandhi called its constructive side. In this side he included many other programs but it is well illustrated by his determined efforts to heal the divisions of caste among the Hindus, to unite Hindus and Moslems, to break Indians away from intoxicants, and to unite the nation in the rejection of foreign fineries and in the making of their own necessary apparel.

Renunciation

I come now to the principle of renunciation, the final principle of Gandhi’s movement of non-violent non-cooperation which I shall discuss. Gandhi’s recurrent theme was “I must reduce myself to zero.” From the beginning of his program he almost achieved this in matters material. In England he knew how to play the English gentleman. All this was changed, however, by his bitter experiences in South Africa and his dogged determination to do what he could about them. To his son he wrote: “Remember please that henceforth our lot is poverty. . . . The uses of poverty are far sweeter than those of riches.,, At his Tolstoy farm, which was a kind of “co-operative commonwealth” for civil resisters, the members ground their own wheat, labored at construction work, and excluded every item of food above that necessary to health. Walking to the city, a distance of 21 miles, on any private errand was the rule, and Gandhi on one day walked fifty miles.

This was the beginning of nearly fifty years of austerity. It included the barest of clothing and food, the minimum of physical comforts of every sort; it included, at the age of 61, a walk to the sea of twenty-four days to break the law against the making of salt. Gandhi spent years in prison. At the age of thirty-seven, in marriage, he took the vow of sexual abstinence which vow he kept to the end of his life. His fasts were numerous. He died a martyr.

Why this renunciation and self-suffering on the part of Gandhi? He reminds us that sacrifice means to make sacred. He knew and he told those who would be leaders of the people that they must become one with the people. Said he of the people, “We must first come in living touch with them by working for them and in their midst. We must share their sorrows, understand their difficulties and anticipate their wants. With the pariahs we must be pariahs and see how we feel to clean the closets of the upper classes and have the remains of their table thrown at us. . . . Then and not till then shall we truly represent the masses and they will, as surely as I am writing this, respond, respond to every call.”

Or again he says, “The Satyagrahi s course is plain. He must stand unmoved in the midst of all cross currents. He may not be impatient with blind orthodoxy, nor be irritated over unbelief of the suppressed people. He must know that his suffering will melt the stoniest fanatic. . . . He must know that relief will come when there is least hope for it. For such is the way of the cruelly-kind Deity who insists upon testing His devotee through a fiery furnace and delights in humbling him to the dust.”

Leading India to freedom was a monumental achievement of Gandhi. But if freedom had never been attained, leading the Indian people by his own example to sacrifice themselves in the struggle for freedom would have been an achievement equally as monumental. Thousands upon thous­ ands of them entered the prisons and some died there, including Kasturbai, his wife. They were beaten; they were killed. Following his example they entered upon the simple life, even the formerly well-to-do. They spun and wore khadi; they foreswore intoxicants; they embraced the lowliest, lived among them, died among them. They reduced themselves, in their sights, to zeros. This was renunciation, the fifth great principle of non-violent non­ cooperation.

These are principles upon which the great Gandhian experiment was based: truth, non-violence, the exaltation of the means, constructive service, and renunciation. The experiment was determinative in the winning of India’s freedom. It altered the lives of countless Indians. But the experi­ ment is not completed. There is still oppression in the world, humiliation, and other offense. Well might we join in the wish of the President of India, Rajendra Prasad, recently uttered: “May some individual or nation arise and carry forward the effort launched by him till the experiment is com­ pleted, the work finished and the objective achieved.”

Bibliography

Nirmai Kumar Bose, Selectionsfrom Gandhi (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1948) M. K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiment With Truth (Washington, D. C., Public Affairs

Press, 1948)

M. K. Gandhi, Satyagraha (Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1951)

M. K. Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War (Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House,

1948)

Gopinath Dhawan, The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi (Ahmedabad, Navajivan

Publishing House, 1946)

Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi, The Last Phase (Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1956) D. G. Tendulkai, Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. 8 Vols. (Bombay, V. K. Jhaveri and

D. G. Tendulkai Publishers, 1951-1954)

Louis Fischer, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1950)

Martin Luther King, Farewell Statement for All India Radio, March 9, 1959 (Audio)

King_press conference in Madras_meets Swami Vishwananda_untouchability

Farewell Statement for All India Radio

Leaders in and out of government, organizations—particularly the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and the Quaker Centre—and many homes and families have done their utmost to make our short stay both pleasant and instructive.

We have learned a lot. We are not rash enough to presume that we know India—vast subcontinent with all of its people, problems, contrasts, and achievements. However, since we have been asked about our impressions, we venture one or two generalizations.

First, we think that the spirit of Gandhi is much stronger today than some people believe. There is not only the direct and indirect influence of his comrades and associates but also the organized efforts that are being made to preserve the Mahatma’s letters and other writings, the pictures, monuments, the work of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, and the movement led by the sainted Vinoba Bhave. These are but a few examples of the way Gandhiji will be permanently enshrined in the hearts of the people of India.

Moreover, many governmental officials who do not follow Gandhi literally apply his spirit to domestic and international problems.

Secondly, I wish to make a plea to the people and government of India. The issue of world peace is so critical that I feel compelled to offer a suggestion that came to me during the course of our conversations with Vinoba Bhave.2

The peace-loving peoples of the world have not yet succeeded in persuading my own country, America, and Soviet Russia to eliminate fear and disarm themselves. Unfortunately, as yet, America and the Soviet Union have not shown the faith and moral courage to do this. Vinobaji has said that India or any other nation that has a faith and moral courage could disarm itself tomorrow, even unilaterally.

It may be that just as India had to take the lead and show the world that national independence could be achieved nonviolently, so India may have to take the lead and call for universal disarmament. And if no other nation will join her immediately, India may declare itself for disarmament unilaterally.3

Such an act of courage would be a great demonstration of the spirit of the Mahatma and would be the greatest stimulus to the rest of the world to do likewise.

Moreover, any nation that would take such a brave step would automatically draw to itself the support of the multitudes of the earth, so that any would-be aggressor would be discouraged from risking the wrath of mankind.

May I also say that since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.

Many years ago when Abraham Lincoln was shot—and incidentally he was shot for the same reason that Mahatma Gandhi was shot for, namely, for committing the crime of wanting to heal the wounds of a divided nation. And when he was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by the dead body of the great leader and said these words: “Now he belongs to the ages.” And in a real sense we can say the same thing about Mahatma Gandhi and even in stronger terms: “Now he belongs to the ages.” And if this age is to survive, it must follow the way of love and nonviolence that he so nobly illustrated in his life.4

Mahatma Gandhi may well be God’s appeal to this generation, a generation drifting again to its doom.5This eternal appeal is in the form of a warning: “They that live by the sword shall perish by the sword.”6We must come to see in the world today that what he taught and his method throughout revealed to us that there is an alternative to violence and that if we fail to follow this we will perish in our individual and in our collective lives. For in a day when Sputniks and Explorers dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war.

1. Earlier in the day King read a version of these remarks during a press conference at the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi. His typescript included two introductory sentences: “Our much too brief pilgrimage to India has regretfully come to a close. I wish to thank everyone for the way your doors and hearts have been opened to me, my wife and Dr. Reddick” (King, “Farewell statement,” 9 March 1959; see also “Need for Universal Disarmament,” Hindustan Times, 10 March 1959).

2. On 3 March, King walked for several miles on a padayatra (walking tour) with Vinoba, a disciple of Gandhi and founder of the Bhoodan movement, an effort to convince landowners to give land to the poor. King questioned Vinoba about his strategies for change and the future of India. For Vinoba’s replies, see “Dr. Martin Luther King with Vinoba,” Bhoodan 3 (18 March 1959): 369-370; see also Bristol to Johnson, 16, 17, and 22 April 1959.

3. At the press conference this suggestion provoked a flurry of questions from reporters. When asked if he meant that the Indian army should disband, King told the press that he favored the elimination of “all major weapons of destruction” (“Need for Universal Disarmament”).

4. King underlined the following passage in his copy of missionary E. Stanley Jones’s Mahatma Gandhi: An Interpretation (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1948), p. 154: “When Lincoln was shot for the same reason that Gandhi was shot, namely, for the crime of wanting to heal the wounds of a divided nation, Secretary Stanton said as he stood beside the dead leader, ‘Now he belongs to the ages.’ Of Mahatma Gandhi it can also be said, and said with deeper meaning, ‘Now he belongs to the ages’; for if there are to be any ages to come for man on this earth, we will have to apply his way of truth and nonviolence.” Edwin M. Stanton was Lincoln’s Secretary of War.

5. Jones, Mahatma Gandhi: An Interpretation, p. 159: “So Mahatma Gandhi is God’s appeal to this age—an age drifting again to its doom.”

6. Cf. Matthew 26:52.

Source:  Gandhi Centennial Radio Program, 1968. The Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project, Stanford University

The Moral Government of the World: On Faith, Reason, and Truth

I. THE SOUL-FORCE IN HISTORY

In his spiritual message to the world, notable because it is one of the rare extant speeches Mohandas K. Gandhi gave in English, the satygrahi remarked that

There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything, I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.

God is indescribable and ominpresent for Gandhi, capable of being sensed without manifesting physically. Love is perhaps the most important illustration of this truth: one cannot see love, one cannot grasp it in one’s hands; it lodges itself in the deep recesses of memory and time to be reawakened in each epoch by resurgent forces that seek to preserve it. We can thus see, equally, what is not loved for where there is no love, there is loss and war, war with self and war with the greater family of humankind. To the Western empiricists who demanded proof that Indians were deserving of their freedom, all the while beating, jailing, and exploiting them, Gandhi effectively replied: I cannot show you, but I can assure you that I feel a deep love for my downtrodden countrymen and for you, because you have not yet been discovered by God’s love.

Part of Gandhi’s turn to nonviolence towards all human beings and living entities was profoundly influenced by the belief that all matter is life, a scientific discovery confirmed by Indian biophysicist, Jagdish Chandra Bose, who presented his experiment on the sensate faculties of plants at the Royal Society in 1901. Bose, who Gandhi references in this speech, would invent the crescograph to detect whether or not plants were able to feel and respond to external stimuli like members of the animal kingdom by sensing microscopic movements. This proved that a flower was capable of feeling pain, like a man. Humans, in Gandhi’s eyes, had a much higher purpose: to overcome the need to inflict pain and suffering on other beings. The putative progress of Western science had outrun its moral progress in prescribing the very opposite, Gandhi understood, like Martin Luther King Jr.,

Finally, Gandhi’s critique of Western science recalls W.E.B Du Bois’s critique of scientific positivism, the philosophy of science advanced by the Comteian school, which held that the human world could be studied like its physical counterpart, a perspective which could not fathom the infinitude of human decisive and creative power. Consciousness of the world and the struggle for life creates conditions for improbabilities that deviate from the expected trajectories and outcomes. These improbabilities are what we call history, which is nothing more than the words and deeds of humankind. Gandhi also said, like Marx, that struggle is the mother of history. History, Gandhi argued

is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul. Two brothers quarrel; one of them repents and reawakens the love that was lying dormant in him; the two again begin to live in peace; nobody takes note of this. But if the two brothers, through the intervention of solicitors or some other reason, take up arms or go to law-which is another form of the exhibition of brute force-their doings would be immediately noticed in the Press, they would be the talk of their neighbours and would probably go down to history. And what is true of families and communities is true of nations. There is no reason to believe that there is one law for families and another for nations. History, then, is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul force, being natural, is not noted in history.

The soul force transcends history. It is the energetic residue that persists in the world after every physical incarnation of life, taking new form and life at every new interval. History interrupts the soul’s unfolding unto the cosmos because it creates divisions reinforced over time. Thus, Gandhi argues, we can see that what is true of family quarrels is also true of national conflict for it is the contending desires and wills of large units of people that then lives on in human memory. Consider, for example, the history plays of Shakespeare, the story of Abraham’s family, the fraternal conflict between Cain and Abel. Nowhere is this more true than America, where an unnatural color line persistently fragments the human family and suppresses the human soul-force.

Faith transcends reason because it returns us to this cosmic journey of the soul force to be free of earthly suffering. The belief in something higher than oneself, has been central to the development of human civilization for millennia because it forces consideration of the larger aims and ideals of civilization itself–of how human beings ought to live with one another. Thus, the greatest practitioners of all of the world’s religions have evolved a culture of peace, which overcomes our understanding, that is, our reason. And yet, faith without reason can degenerate into fanaticism. This faith in the power of the human mind and heart in its “upward reach for God,” to recall Dr. King, pervades Du Bois’s critique of Western science as it does Gandhi’s in his spiritual message to the world, which declares that all matter is life, and so, infinite in its relational and regenerative capacities.

Du Bois asserted that human behavior and society were not merely governed by fixed natural laws as claimed by Comte and others; rather, there was something fundamentally incalculable, and thus unknowable, about humanity and to accept a positivist dialectic would negate the truth of human reality, which is the mirroring of past and future against the present, each side existing simultaneously The infinitude and incalculability of human possibility grows in direct proportion to one’s faith in God which is why faith is the salvation of the oppressed, the Disinherited, to recall Howard Thurman. Faith confers to the disinherited the belief in their humanity in the face of dehumanization. Under such circumstances, faith deepens one’s own capacity to evolve to greater ends. It creates power, through self-love and communal affection, in the face of powerlessness, giving significance, substance, and continuity to one’s life. The love of the people for their civilizations, which were destroyed by imperialism, fired the freedom movements of the twentieth century, which sought to sever Europe and white America’s chokehold on the development of oppressed races and nations.

It is not historically insignificant that the last thing Du Bois entrusts his literary executor Herbert Aptheker with a book of poems called Prayers For Dark People before taking leave to Ghana. Du Bois, like Thurman and King, recognized the capacity of oppressed humanity to reach super-humanity through love, friendship, and material cooperation. The human will in both epistemologies is a decisive force. Thus, history and philosophy–the force of the human will to wrest destiny from a bitter Earth–could not be studied objectively in a natural vacuum, as the positivist averred. Rather, history was a contention of contesting wills struggling for the realization of self and people. This epistemology was indispensable to Du Bois because for too long, the black working-class was studied as an adjunct of American history rather than a shaping and determining force in the history of human relations on this continent.

II. THE PENALTY OF DECEPTION

To arrive at the truth one must face the truth about oneself. James Baldwin said in No Name in the Street that Western civilization is caught in the lie of its pretended humanism. Until whites reckoned with the psychological consequences of their investment in color prejudice, they would remain fundamentally severed from their own humanity. They cannot love their black childhood playmate, their initial care-providers, their very own children and siblings. And they cannot stop lying to themselves about who they are and how they arrived upon their identity, which is a founded upon a series of lies and distortions about black peoples all over the world.

Deception can only culminate in an eternity of guilt. The guilt of deception is overwhelming, robbing relationships of their sincerity and productivity. Howard Thurman writes that deception has particularly dangerous consequences for the development of humanity and the progress of civilization. As a consequence, Life becomes a meaningless series of events manipulated into a narrative that suits the liar’s interests, canceling out all moral distinctions and discipline. The internal lie of the liar persists such that he or she is inhibited from arriving at a sober distillation of the truth. As he observes in Jesus and the Disinherited

The penalty of deception is to become a deception, with all sense of moral discrimination vitiated. A man who lies habitually becomes a lie, and it is increasingly impossible for him to know when he is lying and when he is not. In other words, the moral mercury of life is reduced to zero. Shakespeare has immortalized this aspect of character in his drama of Macbeth.

To face yourself, you must first know love. Thurman refers here to William Shakespeare’s play about the Scottish king, Macbeth, because though driven by purpose and a great sense of his destiny, Macbeth is ultimately defeated by his political ambition because he sought the love of power rather than the power of Love. If you cannot love others, you cannot love yourself and this has tragic consequences– psychological and physical–for Macbeth. He is consumed with guilt and paranoia, indeed paralyzed from ruling, his initial aspiration. The original sin of Duncan’s murder begets new sins and crimes Macbeth and his wife must undertake in order to stabilize their power over the realm, which ultimately results in their descent into madness and death.

Time is long. And the words and deeds of humans persist so long as there is suffering. Faith is the sigh of the oppressed, the Disinherited. Faith itself cannot be proved by extraneous evidence Gandhi deduced in his message of peace to humanity. As such, the safest course, was the moral government of the world. A moral science of America reveals a deeply divided country with a profoundly fragmented psychic and social life. In a nation plagued by a profound spiritual emptiness, we must once again pose the question: what does a truly moral government of the world, a kingdom of heaven on earth, look like and what has it to do with the pursuit of love and faith in our common humanity?

© 2019 Divya Nair

Tagore on Scientific Inquiry and Self-Realization

Yet no one really believes that science is the one perfect mode of disseminating mistakes. The progressive ascertainment of Truth is the important thing to remember in the history of science, not its innumerable mistakes. Error, by its nature, cannot be stationary; it cannot remain with truth; like a tramp, it must quit its lodging as soon as it fails to pay its score to the full.

–Rabindranath Tagore, Sadhana

The Thurman Delegation in India, 1935-1936

Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman in India, 1935
Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman in India, 1935

Sue Bailey Thurman and Howard Thurman travelled to India, Burma and Ceylon, as part of the first African-American delegation to colonial India in 1935-1936, at the height of its anti-colonial struggle against the British Empire. Known as the Pilgrimage of Friendship to the East, the delegation was organized by the Student Christian Movement in the United States in tandem with Christian student organizations in India, Ceylon, and Burma. The leader of the Christian student organizations in southern Asia at this time was a man named Augustine Ralla Ram, who felt that a black Christian delegation would be more accepted than white missionaries who cooperated with the British Empire, as Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt discuss in their new book, Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African-American Nonviolence. He called the delegation because “Christianity in India is the oppressors religion” and that “there would be a unique value in having representatives of another oppressed group speak on the validity of the contribution of Christianity” (quoted in Dixie and Eisenstadt 70). An article in the Spelman Messenger reported Augustine Ram Ralla’s interest in “The social and class distinctions to which Negroes in America are subjected” which “seemed to parallel, to some degree, caste distinctions in India” (70).

The delegation was chaired by Howard Thurman, a renowned theologian and civil rights agitator who would become a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., introducing the young King to Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. The significance of their visit to furthering mutual understanding between India and African-America cannot be underscored enough as it was the first Black Christian delegation to tour India. The pilgrimage would also constitute an crucial dimension of Thurman’s 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited, a work of great spiritual striving and erudition, which King carried with him everywhere. Knowing this history is vital to understanding King’s oft-quoted remark that while he went as a tourist to other countries, to India he came as a pilgrim. In this book, Thurman would argue that

American Christianity has betrayed the religion of Jesus almost beyond redemption. Churches have been established for the underprivileged, the weak, the poor on the theory they prefer to be among themselves. Churches have been established for the Chinese, the Japanese, the Korean, the Mexican, the Filipino, the Italian and the Negro with the same theory in mind. The result is that in the one place in which normal, free contacts might be most naturally established – in which the relations of the individual to his God should take priority over conditions of class, race, power, status, wealth or the like – this place is one of the chief instruments for guaranteeing barriers. (Jesus and the Disinherited 98)

Thurman was King’s senior by thirty years, sharing the same birth year with his father: 1899. His proselytization, teaching, and scholarship at Howard University and Boston University, had a profound influence on the civil rights struggle and black leadership in the twentieth century. His philosophy emphasized the oneness of humanity and his theology emphasized communion with God and nature as a way of arriving at the truth about human existence. He saw the segregation of the Christian church in the United States as a great evil and his search for peace took him to India, where he and Sue Bailey Thurman, lectured widely and built relations with prominent figures like Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi.

Though Gandhi had embraced the teachings of Christ by the time the Thurman delegation came to India, most Indians were antagonistic towards Western Christianity given its repression of native spiritual traditions and saw great hope in African-American interpretations of Christ’s teachings. As Gandhi put it, he loved Christ, but couldn’t say the same about white Christians, who invoked the Bible to justify colonial violence against the darker races: “Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” King also drew attention to this central contradiction in Christianity, noting in a fiery 1956 sermon about “Redirecting Our Missionary Zeal“:

The paradox of it all is that the white man considers himself the supreme missionary. He sends [millions] of dollars to the foreign field. And in the midst of that he tramples over the Negro.

Gandhi began developing his own interests in Christianity as early as South Africa, after having come in contact with an English priest named Charles Andrews, who decried the white church’s treatment of Africans and Indians and lent his support to Gandhi who was there to study the condition of Indian laborers. In 1929, Andrews traveled to the United States and spoke on the theory of nonviolence at black colleges and universities. At the time, Gandhi was organizing the Indian people against the repressive imperialist tax on salt, which culminated in the great Dandi Satyagraha, where he marched more than. 150 miles from Sabarmati, with upwards of 60,000 Indians vowing to produce their own salt, in defiance of the British tax on the sale of salt. The act commanded the attention of the world to the struggle of the Indians, and was widely covered by the international press.

But Gandhi’s ambition was much higher than independence. “Through the deliverance of India,” he said, “I seek to deliver the so-called weaker races of the Earth from the crushing heels of Western exploitation in which England is the greatest partner” (seeIndependence vs. Swaraj, 12 January 1928). White Christianity was an integral part of Western exploitation. Like Thurman, Gandhi believed that the consequences of racial strife and Western exploitation were manifested them most tragically in the inner life of human beings, in the dilapidation of the soul, in the breaking of the spirit, in the negation humanity’s fundamental interconnectedness to each other as well as to God and nature.

As King put it later, we are all wrapped in a single garment of destiny and so responsible to the “cosmic partnership.” Western civilization, by contrast, had done great violence to this unity and oneness of mankind, valorizing in its wake man’s inhumanity to man. It was for this reason that Gandhi would refer to segregation as a “negation of civilization,” a thought that King would echo in his sermon, “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” whose allegorization and ventriloquization of the Apostle Paul as a character requires King to go into a dramatic monologue. Here, he impresses upon the Afro-Asiatic origins of Western civilization, like Gandhi, drawing attention to the fact that Paul would have been writing in Greek. The irony of reading this speech through a Gandhian looking glass tripled when we consider the fact that Paul is beaten, arrested, jailed, and beheaded by the Emperor Nero for his bearing and conveying the teachings of Christ, king of the Disinherited, as Thurman knew him to be.

As is somewhat well-known, King came to the teachings of Gandhi during his time in Pennsylvania, where I am writing this from. He studied at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, where in a homework assignment, he recognized Gandhi for having revealed to him “the working of the spirit of God in bringing about moral transformation within the individual.” He confesses to becoming a disciple of Gandhi upon listening to a lecture given by Mordecai Johnson in Philadelphia, shortly after the Howard University president’s own trip to India.

Mirabehn (née Miriam Slade), an English disciple of Gandhi’s, played an important role in the concretization of the Thurman delegation’s invitation to India. Mirabehn who was christened as such by Gandhi himself, was a prominent British admiral’s daughter. Thurman, who had been searching for a way to organize a meeting with Gandhi, intercepted her during her visit to the U.S. As he writes of her in his autobiography, With Head and Heart

She was an Englishwoman who had given up her life in England not only to become a mere follower of Gandhi but also to live in his ashram as a member of the family community of which he was the center…Her situation was unique because she was a woman of the upper class And had given up her way of life, abandoning the goals of her peers, including wealth and status.

Now an Englishwoman who had renounced imperial Christianity, Mirabehn took it upon herself to defend Gandhi against his Western critics, leveraging her position as an upper-class white woman . By this time, Gandhi had transmuted the existing Indian National Congress into a mass movement clamoring for Indian self-rule through a constructive program, which included the boycott of British goods and cultural institutions, an act that led to the mass jailing of thousands of satyagrahis, as his disciples were known, including Gandhi himself who was arrested and jailed in 1922 for two years on charges of sedition.

After making many inquiries as to her whereabouts, Thurman arranged for Mirabehn to give a lecture at Howard University:

I told her as Howard was the only Negro university of its kind in the United States, her experience there could not be duplicated anywhere else in the world.

In her address, she analyzed the connections between Gandhi’s teachings and those of Christ. She emphasized, that Christianity had arisen in the Near East, remarking that “the greatest spiritual teachings of the world have all come from the darker races.” As Gandhian philosopher-poetess Sarojini Naidu, had put it, “Jesus was an Asiatic, like me.” Watching Mirabehn speak passionately about these matters, Thurman came to a new awareness of the interconnectedness of Negro and Indian spiritual striving. Grateful for the experience at Howard, Mirabehn assured Thurman that she would relay his interest in visiting Gandhi’s ashram and she made good on her promise for Gandhi wrote back to Thurman:

Dear friend… I shall be delighted to have you and your three friends whenever you can come before the end of the year.

British officials initially opposed the trip, seeing the political connection between Afro-America and India as a threat to white supremacy and the colonial government. Sue Bailey Thurman, who was also invited as an official member of the delegation (not simply in her capacity as Thurman’s spouse), served as an important adviser on African American affairs to Mahatma Gandhi. During the visit to Shantiniketan, Rabindranath Tagore’s University, she lectured on the historical and aesthetic development of Negro spirituals in America called “The History Of Negro Music,” after Tagore impressed upon her how much the Indian people found inspiration in African-American spirituals and traditionals. Coretta Scott King would discover the same sentiments amongst Indians, who had a great regard for the spiritual strivings of their black brothers and sisters in struggle. While in India, Sue Thurman taught local choirs how to sing spirituals and continued to develop these interests upon her return to the U.S. Thurman writes in his autobiography, “Sue delivered [lectures on the beauties of Indian civilization] at many campuses and communities in the United States and Canada on her return home.” She stayed at Shantiniketan longer than Thurman because “she wanted to learn more about India’s ancient musical instruments,” particularly the veena, a long-necked string instrument with a domed gourd on either end.

M.S. Subbulakshmi, known as one of Gandhi’s favorite singers, with a veena

The delegation only met with Gandhi about five months into their visit, two weeks shy of their return. Gandhi, realizing that their stay was coming to an end, wrote them a note inviting them to Bardoli, where he was resting, rather than the sevagram. Thurman was lecturing at the University Of Bombay at the time. In his autobiography, Thurman writes of their discourse:

Never in my life have I been a part of the that kind of examination: persistent, pragmatic questions about American Negroes, about the course of slavery and how we had survived it.

Mohandas Gandhi and Sue Bailey Thurman, India, 1936.

The conversation about slavery took them to the question of religion and civilization, namely the existence of hierarchies amongst worshippers in all world religions except Islam. Gandhi reserved the highest respect for the Muslim Faith, noting that

If you had become Muslim, Then even though you were a slave, in the faith you would be equal to your master.

Likewise, he argued that Hinduism had been corrupted by caste and that as Hindus, we have lost our self-respect not because of the colonizer, primarily, but because of the presence of untouchability in Hinduism, which was–and remains–the greatest hurdle to be overcome by modern adherents of the faith.

As their three-hour conversation drew to a close (The Thurmans had to catch a train back to Bombay), Gandhi requests a song of them, the spiritual, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” (see here for Paul Robeson’s rendition which Gandhi likely encountered):

I feel this song gets to the root of the experience of the entire human race under the spread of the healing wings of suffering.

Thurman remarks that his wife was the real musician, but that he and the others would accompany her and so they joined in song as “Gandhiji and his friends bowed their heads in prayer.” As they took leave, Gandhi bestows a basket of tropical fruit to Sue Bailey Thurman, at which point Howard Thurman requests of him a gift of his own. After gazing upon the spinning wheel which accompanied Gandhi everywhere, he asks for a piece of khadi, the revolutionary fabric that would set India free:

I would like a piece of cloth that you yourself have spun from the flax.

The gift arrived as promised a year later.

© 2019 Divya Nair