Sunday, April 27, 2008

Generosity, Non-Violence & Non-Cooperation

Having escaped Bombay I'm now in Rishikesh, where this morning I was listening to an old lecture by Jack Kornfield over a second cup of mediocre coffee.

He was discussing the roots of generosity and what that force looks like when turned loose in the greater world. Specifically, he talked about how at its root generosity requires an embrace of all hardships in this world as well as all joys, and it is only through that embrace that we can see and change the greatest of the world's ills. To quote,
"...abundance means the willingness to open to life as it is, to face injustice and suffering. As Martin Luther King (Jr.) wrote, 'We will soon wear you down with our capacity to suffer in the struggle for the rights of others, and with that suffering we will win our freedom and (yours along with it)."
To wear down an oppressor with a capacity to suffer is something worth considering in the context of our current social struggles - from the protests over Tibet, to the war in Iraq and the reality of global warming. The truth of today is that we blame a complacent public, unresponsive governments and a corrupt media system for turning deaf ears to the troubles of the world while each one of us places the preservation of our own comforts and lifestyles before the suffering of the world around us.

Consider the description below of Indian citizens staring down the barrels of British guns during the Quissa Kwani bazaar massacre of the independence movement:
When those in front fell down wounded by the shots, those behind came forward with their chests bared and exposed themselves to the fire, so much so that some people got as many as twenty-one bullet wounds in their bodies, and all the people stood their ground without getting into a panic. . . . The paper of, which represents the official view, itself wrote to the effect that the people came forward one after another to face the firing and when they fell wounded they were dragged back and others came forward to be shot at. This state of things continued from 11 till 5 o'clock in the evening. When the number of corpses became too many, the ambulance cars of the government took them away.
Can we even conceive of such a whole hearted embrace of a cause beyond ourselves?

The fault isn't our own, it simply points to the next great state of embrace required in order to face the problems of a global community and the global solutions we need. The movements led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were ones involving nations and race. The challenges of today - from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the one threatening Iran; to the global issue of climate change - require a new embrace of ourselves first as global citizens and then as citizens of the Earth itself.

Protests of today are seen by the public for what they are, staged events performed for a known audience where all performers - whether activists or police - go home to their televisions and lives after the sun goes down. Our complacency of response is not a social disease. It matches the level of involvement of those who design these displays of non-violence.

We need to understand that in embracing non-violence as our mode of protest, we have abandoned its sibling non-cooperation, and that estrangement is the primary reason for our current failures. At its heart, non-violence smacks of passivity and a passive action can only lead to a passive result. Gandhi himself said that if faced with a decision between passivity and violence he would choose violence every time. Protesting the wrongs of society needs to directly affect the perpetuation of those wrongs. Any action different from that is, by its very nature, passive.

What would happen if the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government in exile, and the 100,000 Tibetans living in India joined with those who remained in their ancestral home to march upon Beijing itself for the opening of the Olympic games? What if, like that sole protester in Tiananmin Square, they put their lives in the way of Chinese police and guns to peacefully assert their rights over what is theirs?

What would happen if those employed by Exxon, BP and Shell walked out together from their well paying jobs to demand that the people who issue their pay cheques also act in accordance with their desire for a safe and healthy planet?

What would happen if those employed by the US State Department and Defense Department left in unison until the government that offers them the security of employment, also offers their children the security of a safe world?

The answer is that these institutions would be brought to their knees within moments, and it is this power that is the right of all people, that is at the heart of Satyagraha, and forms the greatest fear of the powers that be.

These are not the only possibilities. The solutions for our problems are as limitless as the imaginations of those who conceive of them. However, the common thread is that our actions must match in scope the problems they are meant to solve. Actions must directly affect the problem, those actions must stem from a sense of self and community as large as the challenges they face.

Many will disagree with this, and that is actually a good thing. The difference between the suffering of the world and our resistance in embracing that suffering - that is, to put our own personal safety on the line - defines the growth we need to achieve in order to create the world we desire.


E. R. Dunhill said...

Write a book, please.


ONNO said...

This was a beautiful post. It grounded me back to a reality I had been away from too long. I have been passive in my actions to accomplish small things like recycling in the town I live in. Very insightful and moving. Thank you.

Dagny McKinley
organic apparel

Odiyya said...

Most welcome. And thank you both.

Marlon Paine said...

Wow, I have never thought of it that way. I have always agreed that peace is the solution; peaceful protests instead of riots and such, but the things that you have just mentioned are things that have never came into my head before. What are some other solutions that you see possibly happening in the future to create peace instead of more violence in our societies? The world is getting more violent, and we need more Gandhi's and people to risk their lives for peace, who do you think has the power to do these things?

Invisible G. said...

We forget the power within ourselves and blindly say "yes" to the current power structures. Here, here write that book already will ya....

Fernando said...

The problem of the powerful taking advantage of the weak is an age old dilemma. Has the problem been solved, not yet. Is there a solution? Maybe. Are we really fighting for our civil liberties and our personal freedoms. Or is there a larger picture. Individual enlightenment is the path to an enlightened society. There has always been war and unrest in the world and in our hearts. Each of us has a destiny and the fulfillment of that destiny is all that matters. Policies and mechanisms , constitutions and governments are only as good as it's people. I for one do not like to suffer and yet I suffer a great deal. I have suffered things that I don't want to suffer again hence I don't look for more suffering. My suffering is a load I carry while trying to show my love not through peace but through work, for work is love.