We know him better as Mahatma Gandhi, but Mohandas became the Mahatma, the Great-Souled One, only after going through a series of events that purified his soul and moved him to respond in loving nonviolence to the injustices around him.
When I was an undergraduate student, I came across Gandhi and Nonviolence, Thomas Merton’s selection of quotes from Gandhi’s Nonviolence in Peace and War.
What struck me then was Gandhi’s insistence that nonviolence is not passivity. Nonviolence – ahimsa – is an active response to injustice, even to the point of giving one’s life.
Gandhi insisted that it was not nonviolence to give in to injustice. For him it was better to resist violently than to let the violent continue their oppression and death-dealing. Of course, nonviolence is better and preferable.
As he wrote:
A non-violent man or woman will and should die without retaliation, anger or malice, in self-defense or in defending the honor of his women folk. This is the highest form of bravery. If an individual or group of people are unable or unwilling to follow this great law of life, retaliation or resistance unto death is the second best though a long way off from the first. Cowardice is impotence worse than violence. The coward desires revenge but being afraid to die, he looks to others, maybe to the government of the day, to do the work of defense for him. A coward is less than a man. He does not deserve to be a member of a society of men and women.
This insight has been important for me since I tend to avoid violence and conflict. But Gandhi makes it clear that true nonviolence – ahimsa – is satyagraha, holding on to truth – even at the cost of our lives.
And so today, remembering the birth of Gandhi, I feel called to reflect on courage and resistance to evil – out of love and intent on the truth.
It’s not easy. It’s a continual conversion, a continual letting go, a continual asceticism. It’s, for me as a follower of Christ, a way of following Jesus, who gave himself up even to the Cross – out of love.