The Servant of Peace

Lanza del Vasto was a disciple of Gandhi, founder of the Community of the Ark, in France. Gandhi gave him the name “Shantidas,” servant of peace. He died on January 5, 1981.

In the 1980s I ran across his tale of his spiritual journey,  Return to the Source, where he relates his trip to India. In his search he encountered Gandhi and eastern sources of thought. He returned to Europe a Christian, but with a nonviolence that opened him to all peoples and religions of the world.

He and his wife, Chanterelle, founded a Gandhian style community in France that embraced nonviolence, simplicity, use of simple means to live (avowing much technology and using almost no electricity.)

I visited L’Arche in France in 1973 at the end of a summer bicycle tour/pilgrimage throughout Europe. I was impressed by the community but it is so much of an alternative to the world – almost an interfaith activist Amish community – that it has never been large. But its influence has been great, particularly in some parts of Latin America. The Mexican who has mobilized the anti-violence campaign was influenced by L’Arche and Lanza del Vasto.

Lanza del Vasto’s writing are often quite esoteric, especially some of his scripture commentaries but I appreciate much of what I’d call his basic wisdom of the ages. A number of them can be found in his book of short sayings, Principles and Precepts of a Return to the Obvious. Here are a few examples.

“Learn that virile charity that has severe words for those who flatter, serene words for those who fight you, warm [words] for the weary, strong for the suffering, clear for the blind, measured for the proud, and a bucketful of water and a stick for the sleepers.”

“Science can lend itself to any use; the conscience cannot. Intelligence can lower itself to any scheme; wisdom cannot. Power can stoop to anything; self control cannot. Money can be put to all kinds of uses; honesty cannot. Courage can defend any cause; charity cannot. Power can be used to any purpose, but nonviolence or the Power of Justice can serve only Justice.”

“Whoever fasts becomes transparent.
Others become transparent to him.
Their suffering enters him and he is defenseless against it.
So take care to stop up your sense by eating well
if you don’t want to be devoured by charity.”

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