A common space for harmonic peacemakers
Non-violence : In Tune With The Infinite
I do not believe that the spiritual law works in a field of its own. On the contrary, it expresses itself only through the ordinary activities of life. It thus affects the economic, the social and the political fields. Mohandas K. Gandhi
For Mahatma Gandhi, non-violence was at the center of his life and thought. “If you have really understood the meaning of non-violence, it should be clear to you that non-violence is not a principle or a virtue to be brought into play on a particular occasion or to be practiced with reference to a particular party or section. It has to become a part and parcel of our being.”
For Gandhi, non-violence was an expression of spiritual law, the way in which the spiritual energy of the universe manifested itself in physical form. “There is a soul force in the universe which, if we permit it, will flow through us and produce miraculous results.” There were three aspects of life in which Gandhi was particularly concerned with the expression of the spiritual law of non-violence. The first was his own personal atunement with the spiritual energy, which he sometimes called ‘God’ or ‘Truth’ or ‘Love’ but often left unnamed. He also believed that this spiritual atunement had to be followed by the persons working closely with him — a view which often led to difficulties as many of his followers saw non-violence as an effective technique against English domination and not necessarily as a guiding principle of life.
The second area for non-violent action was the ‘close-at-hand’, the economic and social conditions of where he lived or was visiting. This aspect, Gandhi called “the constructive programme” — an effort to prepare India at the local level for when political independence would come. The “constructive programme” was symbolized by spinning, the khadi effort, which was an effort at self-reliance – swadeshi. Gandhi was concerned with land ownership issues, the level of rents paid by the landless to landholders and especially by the impact of unjust caste regulations, especially untouchability. “None can be born untouchable” he wrote “as all are sparks of one and the same Fire.”
Gandhi’s third area, the one for which he remains best known, was his non-violent struggle for the independence of India from British colonial rule. “Non-violence in its dynamic condition does not mean meek submission to the will of an evil-doer, but it means the putting of one’s soul against the will of the tyrant.”
Much of Mahatma Gandhi’s thinking about spiritual law as the framework for the manifestation of spiritual energy comes from the spiritual and intellectual contacts that Gandhi had as a law student in London and which continued through his years as a lawyer-non-violent activist in South Africa. Edward Maitland – a founder of the Esoteric Christian Union in 1891 – had the most influence of these friends. (1) It is probably Maitland who introduced Gandhi to the writings of the American, New Thought writer Ralph Waldo Trine. Ralph Waldo Trine was a New Englander, and his parents named him after Emerson.
It is from Trine’s writings that Gandhi received the term “soul power or soul force “ – the term Gandhi used as a translation into English of the Indian term satyagraha. Satyagraha is more often translated today by the term non-violence, but there was already in use in India the term ahimsa— a meaning non and hinsa, violence. Gandhi wanted another term that was more active, and he took from Trine the term soul force.(2)
As Kathryn Tidrich notes “All Trine’s books contained the same message: spiritual power – also termed ‘thought power’ and ‘soul power’ – could be acquired by making oneself one with God, who was immanent, through love and service to one’s fellow men …The Christ he followed was one familiar to Gandhi — the supreme spiritual exemplar who showed men the way to union with the divine essence. Trine promised that the true seeker, fearless and forgetful of self-interest, will be so filled with the power of God working through him that ‘as he goes here and there, he can continually send out influences of the most potent and powerful nature that will reach the uttermost parts of the world.’
Gandhi seems to have remained interested in Trine. He read his My Philosophy and My Religion (1921) in Yeravda jail in 1923, and in 1933, as he recovered from his 21-day fast for self-purification, he observed that the fast had sprung from “a yearning of the soul to merge in the divine essence. How far I have succeeded, how far I am in tune with the Infinite, I do not know.” In Tune with the Infinite was the title of Trine’s best known book.
For Trine, thought was the way that a person came into tune with the Infinite. “Each is building his own world. We both build from within and we attract from without. Thought is the force with which we build, for thoughts are forces. Like builds like and like attracts like. In the degree that thought is spiritualized does it become more subtle and powerful in its workings. This spiritualizing is in accordance with law and is within the power of all.
“Everything is first worked out in the unseen before it is manifested in the seen, in the ideal before it is realized in the real, in the spiritual before it shows forth in the material. The realm of the unseen is the realm of cause. The realm of the seen is the realm of effect. The nature of effect is always determined and conditioned by the nature of its cause.
“The great central fact in human life is coming into a conscious vital realization of our oneness with this infinite Life, and the opening of ourselves fully to this divine inflow. In just the degree that we come into a conscious realization of our oneness with the Infinite Life, and open ourselves to this divine inflow, do we actualize in ourselves the qualities and powers of the Infinite Life, do we make ourselves channels through which the Infinite Intelligence and Power can work. In just the degree in which you realize your oneness with the Infinite Spirit, you will exchange disease for ease, inharmony for harmony, suffering and pain for abounding health and strength.”
Another theme which Trine stressed and which Gandhi constantly used in his efforts to build bridges between Hindu and Muslims in India was the idea that there is the same basic principle in all religions.
“There is a golden threat that runs through every religion in the world. There is a golden thread that runs through the lives and the teachings of all the prophets, seers, sages, and saviours in the world’s history, through the lives of all men and women of truly great and lasting power…The great central fact of the universe is that the spirit of infinite life and power is back of all, manifests itself in and through all. This spirit of infinite life and power that is back of all is what I call God. I care not what term you may use, be it Kindly Light, Providence, the Over-Soul, Omnipotence or whatever term may be most convenient, so long as we are agreed in regard to the great central fact itself.”
As Trine stressed, one must prepare in an inner dimension the images and the strategies which will later be manifested externally. Thus Gandhi always prepared himself and his close fellow activists through meditation and fasting prior to a non-violent action. Not every request for non-violent protest could be met. For Gandhi, there had to be an inner preparation, a self-purification, an atunement with the source of energy.
We need to remember that non-violence, to be truly meaningful, is not a technique but the manifestation of a channel of the Infinite
1) For a good analysis of these early intellectual influences on Gandhi in London and South Africa see Kathryn Tidrick Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006, 380pp.)
2) R.W. Trine In Tune With The Infinite or Fullness of Peace, Power and Plenty (New York: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1899, 175pp.)
For a follow up essay of Trine’s political and social ideas, see R.W. Trine In The Fire of The Heart (London: George Bell, 1907, 360pp.)
The thinking of Trine is analysed as ‘The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness’ in William James The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902, many editions).
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens