Archive | July, 2007

Burma’s Freedom – Violence or Nonviolence?

A debate has arisen among members of the GF Committee over the justification of the use of military force in a good cause. Here are some of the email exchanges.

The Editor would like to hear from readers also on this topic which is central to Gandhian thought.

John Rowley:

I take my view from the Buddha, Gandhi, Bhikhu Parekh, and Burmese friends.

The Buddha said that if you knew that there was a man in a boat with others who intended to rob and kill his fellow passengers, then it was justifiable for you to kill him if there was no other way of preventing the crime. Gandhi said, I think, that if your family or your country was violently attacked then it was justifiable to defend both with violence if no other course worked.

Bhikhu Parekh says in his Hansard Society booklet Intervention and Democracy that armed intervention on strictly humanitarian grounds is justifiable if all other means have been exhausted.

My Burmese friends (and The Burma Campaign) totally agree with Bhikhu, and Buddhists ask those who advocate nonviolence in all situations to come in and experience extra-judicial killings, indiscriminate torture, child exploitation, slavery of innocent women, children, the old, the disabled. A single bullet can kill an experienced satyagrahi as easily as a new-born babe – if no one ever hears of either, what is gained when the perpetrator continues to live ? And if the whole world hears, who is to distinguish between either ? And if the whole world hears and does nothing, neither prepared to risk their own lives nor that of those they pay to risk death (soldiers), once again nothing is gained. Sanctions have proved ineffective in Burma as well.

For the time being, I rest my case. I do not think that everything Gandhi said or did was right especially as we are 60 years on since his last breath and thousands of miles away. I would have supported the execution of Saddam Hussain if that could have been achieved without any other person being hurt. As it happened, and only because we are still seduced by this illusion of the nationstate, we have ended up being responsible for the death of over a million people in Iraq simply because we did not take the trouble to try to understand the culture, politics and social interactions of all the people living there or consult them on how best we could help.

David Maxwell:

The strong sense of injustice at the treatment of the democratically elected Prime Minister of Burma by the military junta, and now the harsh treatment of protesting Burmese monks, makes it difficult not to want tough intervention, as a last resort. John knows the Burmese situation so well and feels so strongly, his frustration levels are understandably high.

But where might a violent last resort lead? Would not a definition of satyagraha which includes force as a last resort, devalue it ? Gandhi’s search for truth firmness was looking for a way to be firm without doing violence to others. He was only human and wavered in that search at times, but in his last three years the overwhelming force of the atom bomb steadied him in his conviction that civilisation was impossible without nonviolence. There could be no ifs and buts.

I heard at this year’s Conflict Research Society AGM a story about a leading military man lecturing at Bradford on conflict resolution. He spoke knowledgeably and enthusiastically about negotiation, mediation, restorative justice, etc, but when asked by a student for his personal definition of conflict resolution said it was all these things but ended his definition with these words – “backed up with overwhelming military force”. That was his bottom line, and those he dealt with knew it. The iron fist in the velvet glove? They did not have much choice. Agree or else! 

Gandhi’s line if I understand aright, was that he personally could not be violent whatever the cost, and could not support the violent actions of others, unless you see ambulance work (which may enable soldiers to return to violence, but that is their choice) as violent. There is a world of difference between seeing nonviolence as a tactic to use when you are weaker than others, and those who see nonviolence as a principle to keep to even when other ways are at your disposal.

Graham Davey:

On nonviolence, I think Gandhi was a bit ambivalent and I am still not quite prepared to rule out military action in all circumstances. Gandhi supported recruitment to the Indian Army when Japanese forces threatened to invade India, and the Tanzanian army saved more than a few lives when Idi Amin was deposed in Uganda. Having said that, I think statements from the Gandhi Foundation should not mention military action as a last resort because all to often it is threatened or used long before other methods of conflict resolution have been exhausted.

David Maxwell:

I take your point, Graham, about Gandhi’s uncertainty during the Second World War. His proposals for dealing with Hitler had seemed ineffective too. However, after the dropping of the atomic bomb, his conviction that nonviolence had to be the way came back very strongly. Unpack the implications of “not rule out military action in all circumstances” and what do you get? The need for military force always at the ready, trained and equipped and eager to justify their role. Give them the chance to use that role, they are very reluctant to then modestly fade into the background until ‘needed’ again. The price of dealing with Hitler was the rise of the industrial military complex which now offers to solve the recurring economic crisis of over production by wars causing mass destruction. That raises the new spectre of environmental unsustainability.

Graham Davey:

I agree with all you say, David, but don’t think that the non-pacifist position inevitably involves all the damage and wastage of militarism. I would envisage Britain having only a territorial army for use only under the auspices of the United Nations. Perhaps Switzerland is showing the right direction for European countries.

Antony Copley:

Gandhi began to experience the limitations of satyagraha as he confronted interstate conflict – his advice to Viceroy Linlithgow in 1939 was to let Hitler overrun Britain – he told the Jews to practise nonviolent resistance, and then horror of horrors he had to face Japanese invasion in 1942. His response in the end was the Quit India satyagraha – the Japanese would have no occasion to invade if the British left. Even so, he also let it be known that he would not resist any British presence in defending India if India were free. As Gandhians we have to confront the limitations of nonviolence in such extreme moments.

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What do you think? Please write your comments below . . .

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The Search for a World Spirituality – by Diana Schumacher

We are living at a remarkable point in our global evolution. I believe that we are seeing a polarisation of opposites at a global level, and there is a growing need for spiritual world servers from every walk of life, to act together to counterbalance the widespread and reckless materialism which appears to be the result of much commercial globalisation.

We are all a mixture of spiritual and material forces. The polarisation is manifest when this delicate balance is concentrated into opposing forces. It is more important than ever before to try to understand the changing situation and to try to find out where we are as individuals and as communities.

Before we begin our search for a World Spirituality it is important to understand what we mean by the word ‘spirituality’ itself, yet it is difficult to find a common view. One definition that appeals to me is given in the Budapest Business Centre’s 10 year report:

“a search for meaning that transcends material well-being and focuses on basic deep-rooted human values and a relationship with a universal source, power or divinity.”

Spirituality is not to be confused with religion which evokes this spiritual essence through an institutionalised set of collectively shared beliefs and practices that vary from culture to culture. It is also important to make explicit the premise behind the Budapest definition. It is nothing less than the acceptance of the transcendent. As such it comes very close to the meaning acceptable to most mainstream religious traditions.

One feature all the main religious traditions have in common is that they all perceive spirituality primarily as a personal condition. They refer to a spiritual person rather than a spiritual collectivity. But while I believe that spirituality is personal in its incarnation, its presence is global and universal. Spirit is the connecting principle of life, the source of imagination, inspiration, communication, compassion, and wisdom. You have only to look at the global international response to the tsunami disaster, the massive earthquake in Kashmir, and the succession of hurricanes in America, to realise how very much a global spirituality exists.

In Desmond Tutu’s book God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (2004), the Archbishop points out that in the Nguni language of Africa the word ‘ubuntu’ expresses our personal connectedness to each other and to the universe. To say a person is ‘ubuntu’ is a mark of the highest esteem recognising his or her spirituality, connectedness, generosity and right living, not just with neighbourhood but also with the world of creation. I believe that one difficulty which is often experienced among people of different faiths is when this inherent creative spirituality is confined to formal religious ritual which then becomes disconnected from the inner source of spirituality.

One of the best analogies I have ever heard relating to our spiritual and global connectedness to one another came from Chiara Lubich, the Founder of the Focolare Movement. At an interfaith gathering which I attended in Rome Chiara explained:

“God (by whatever name), shines out universally like the rays of the sun with different rays lighting up different people’s understanding and spiritual pathway. The most important thing is to follow and walk along our own ray. The further we walk along our unique ray or pathway the closer these rays become before they unite in the great light of the sun or Universal Truth. Hence the closer we come to one another.”

In other words, the spiritual is both very individual and personal and also global and universal. I find this analogy very beautiful, as it indicates a growing sense of synthesis and unity no matter what direction we come from. Rather than emphasising points of contention and division between people, we must look on their differences as gifts to amplify and enrich our own understanding.

On the other hand, we must not overlook the fact that where there is light and love there also arises the possibility of the absence of light and love; that is darkness and pain. No discussion of spirituality can be complete without reference to the nature of evil and suffering. I believe that the only sure way of bringing about the fundamental transformation necessary to provide an antidote to the destructive forces which are so threatening to our modern society, is to turn again to the power of the spirit within each one, and also within each other.

We need to reconnect the spiritual universe with daily reality and what we do in our everyday lives and to the environment. By this, I mean demonstrating transcendent spiritual values in the fields of economics, social and environmental justice and, above all, in education, in our working lives, and in the search for peace at all levels. There are, thankfully many signs that this is happening, nurtured by small groups of committed spiritual people around the globe and from many different faiths and cultures.

In the UK, as well as the recognised NGOs there are also very many spiritually-based business and commercial organisations such as the Forum for the Future (set up by three of my fellow co-founders of the New Economics Foundation); and there is Sustainability Ltd, a commercial organisation set up by John Elkington to put into practice the renowned “triple bottom line”. There is a rapidly increasing emphasis on social and ethical investments as witnessed by growing numbers of subscribers to the UK Social Investment Forum and numerous ethical trusts. There is the Schumacher Circle, and the Environmental Law Foundation where committed lawyers give their time, expertise and energies freely to defend local communities from environmental injustice.

In education, spiritual values are emphasised by such organisations as Schumacher College; the recently formed University of the Spirit, and the Human Values Foundation to which more than 1200 primary schools have subscribed. There is also the World Futures Council being set up by Jacob von Uexkull (who established the Right Livelihood Awards).

What movements or people exist today which embody the universal or global spirituality and which search for this transcendent truth whilst acknowledging the validity of the religious practices of other faiths? 

Perhaps the Baha’i Faith is the most universally prominent religion. There are, however, very many global spiritual movements and persons working in the field of interfaith dialogue and worship – Gandhians, members of the Focolare, the Sufis from the Muslim faith, and the Brahma Kumaris from Mount Abu in India, to name but a few.

I was honoured to be invited to give a paper at the Parliament of the World Religions in Cape Town in 1999 and what struck me most was the amazing colourfulness and diversity of so many different religions and religious expressions. The Zulus, for example, expressed their worship in drumming and wild dancing. I am reminded of what Gandhi meant when he said:

“Everything I have personally experienced, and that also has been expressed by the leaders of the great religions points to the fact that a global spirituality already exists and was intrinsically there from the start as God (by whatever name) is one and is indivisible – everywhere outside time and place.”

Christ’s last prayer was “that all may be one” – not that all may be the same – we should not all eat Nestle products, buy Nike shoes, and study Nietzsche! There is great biodiversity in humanity as well as in nature. I believe that since humans are born as a part of the divine plan we are all spiritual beings, whether we like it or not. The manifestation of this spirituality lies in our response to translating the spirituality into everyday life and action.

Summer Gathering 2007 – by Denise Moll

How does one catch a moonbeam, or a passing week of laughter, learning, sharing, healthy food, cleaning, walking in the hills, staying up late to chatter? As I reflect, my heart is full of sights and sounds of the week just passed and a welling up of gratitude for this oft-repeated event and especially to Graham Davey who has held it all together for over 10 years, making arrangements in the calm, measured way I have come to expect from Quakers.

This was my first full week of being there, and I found it quite a difference from “popping in” for a couple of days! It was our first visit to the Bilberry Hill Centre in Lickey, outside Birmingham, in a large Youth Centre, unattractive at first glance, but providing masses of space, single bedrooms, large communal areas and an easy-to-work-in kitchen. There is a group who attend the Summer Gathering year after year and it’s fun to watch their children growing up and contributing much to the Gathering.

New Friends came too and one person joined on the spot – that we love to see! At the first session we heard excellent talks from David Maxwell, Stephen Petter, Trevor Lewis & Graham about “Gandhi and: Interfaith, Social Justice, Education, Health, Simple Living and Non-violence” – putting us in the right frame of mind to take Gandhi’s thoughts and way of living into the week, however imperfectly. Main sessions thereafter were led by Susan Denton-Brown, along the following lines: understanding our sense of self and our roles in life; our spirituality and how we develop and express it; the wider community – helping create unity in diversity; transforming conflict through nonviolence; healing and sustaining Creation and the environment (with contributions from others too). Susan is producing a course for schools, based on scenes from the Gandhi film, not finished but already drawing interest from educators in the UK and abroad [see Projects page - Ed.].

The pattern of the day goes something like this: 7 am Yoga, led this year by Kala Gunness, 8 am Breakfast, 9 am a gathering of all for Silence, followed by thanking, information, difficulties, hopes for the day; 9:30-11:30, the main session (see above). Shramdana (giving work voluntarily) follows, and in teams we clean, tidy, hoover and cook a simple lunch of tasty soup, salad and fruit. The afternoons are for craft work, walking, taking the youngsters to play tennis or swim and, for some of us, resting! The Shramdana team prepare a delicious supper of, e.g. rice and a massive vegetable casserole, apple crumble, under the competent eye of Ken Scott, overviewing meals. And then we are ready to start evening activities around 7:30 pm.

There is much talent within the group, and we heard some fascinating accounts of a charity ‘Treelink’ which plants trees worldwide for social change and development; about shared community living to help bring healing to society; ‘Swaraj (self-rule) on Mars’ by a member of The Mars Society and how to plan in advance for a nonviolent way of life when the time comes for people to live there!; some moving poems, read by his father, from the son of Nat Sharma, who died prematurely; pictures of two Muslim weddings and a Montessori school in Leh, Ladakh, India; what the Life Style Movement is currently up to; a walk, against Trident, from Glasgow to London, undertaken by Bernie Meyer, also known as ‘the American Gandhi’, and his adventures en route; the Interfaith Seminary by recently ordained Interfaith Minister Mirabai Narayan; and much on the environment, global warming and the work of the Green Party to help right many of the wrongs. Each evening ended with Circle Dancing led by David Maxwell and a final 15 minutes of Silence.

On the last night, following tradition, we threw a sparkling Party, with many contributions of poems, songs, stories, card tricks, games and the young people performing a dance, a puppet show and a play, written and performed by them, about Gandhi on the train in South Africa and his assassination in Delhi. An evening to remember with delight.

Because the Bilberry Hill Centre is outside a residential area there is no collection of recyclable materials. We collected all food waste, cans and bottles, which were taken to the Woodbrooke compost bins and local recycling points. We produced relatively little rubbish and most of that was picked up on the Lickey hills during our walks!

I came away with memories crowding in on each other: conversations, light, serious and teasing fun; scientist Habib Ahmed’s dedicated sharing of carbon information for the next generation; Sarathi’s beautiful, illuminating smile; a window banner made by the young people: “Remember Hiroshima” and later “Nagasaki”; hugging friends; greetings / ‘au revoirs’ and promises of “next year” wherever that might be.

The GF believes this week is of central importance to its work and ethos, helping boost its funds a little, whilst at the same time being of reasonable cost to participants, and the selling of literature to those who genuinely want to know more about Gandhi: “man for our time”.

Down on the 21st Century Pharm – by Bill Palethorpe

In India, millions go hungry yet 37 per cent of arable land is used to grow animal fodder for animals for export. Just imagine that you are one of a party of six people from various backgrounds and countries going out for the evening. You enter the restaurant complex and the Head Waiter noting the chauffeur-driven car you arrived in and your smart clothes directs you to the luxury restaurant serving the best food and wines with the décor to match.

Meanwhile four of the other guests are being allocated to different grades of restaurant with the food and drink ranging from reasonable to not so good. Also the maintenance of the rooms varies from quite pleasant to rather run down and shabby.

Finally the last person is rather patronisingly shown to the queue for the basic soup kitchen. The food and water when available is of questionable quality and never enough for the men and particularly the women and children who desperately travel long distances on foot to reach it. When it rains the roof leaks whilst at other times the sun beats down on the rusty corrugated roof.

Multiply the numbers by one billion and that approximates to human life on God’s beautiful and abundant planet today. How on earth have we got ourselves into this situation where people are increasingly crying “we must save the planet”? One thing is for sure – the planet will adapt and survive; some say much better without us. It is us who rapidly and drastically need to change our lifestyle if our species is to survive.

I remember when I was growing up in the 1940/50s witnessing the hay making in the late summer; visiting the local farm and seeing the chickens scratching around in the farmyard. Amazingly my grandchildren’s farm books still show these scenes. Ducks swimming in the duck pond; cows grazing in the field and pigs foraging in the woods.

The truth is that first of all slowly but then more rapidly, insecticides, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides were applied to the land. Animals were regularly dosed with antibiotics and hormone growth injections. Then the animals were increasingly ‘factory farmed’ and out of sight. Try asking to look around a factory farm or an abattoir today and the negative reply will probably be excused by quoting the all encompassing ‘Health & Safety’ legislation.

In the 1950s I used to spend some of my school holidays on the Lincolnshire and East Anglian coast. There I watched in amazement at the fleets of fishing boats bringing ashore huge catches of herring, mackerel, cod and haddock. Today all of these species have virtually disappeared by over fishing. Later in that decade I joined the Merchant Navy; my voyages included trips to the west coast of South America. Here I witnessed hundreds of ships fishing for anchovy. These highly nutritious high protein fish were ideal to feed the poor of South America. However after being processed ashore they were shipped on to vessels bound for the USA and Europe where the fishmeal was incorporated into animal feed and pet food. Incidentally Scottish salmon farms now displace the same amount of waste as 9 million humans, i.e. almost twice the Scottish population, and 25% of deep sea fish caught are wasted not eaten.

In 1962 I was aroused and concerned to read Rachel Carson’s classic thought-provoking book Silent Spring. Although St Augustine said that “We live between the beasts and the Angels” the beasts are virtually innocent in the desecration and desertification of the planet whereas we are culpable in our destructive actions.

In early 2006 I travelled to Kenya and was shocked to see the effects of the East African drought on people, their cattle and the wild life. Also the environmental problems caused by extracting unsustainable amounts of water from Lake Naivasha for intensive flower growing and crop irrigation; both of these items are then exported by plane virtually solely for the luxury European market.

One of my Kikuyu friends has recently found work in Europe and I quote from their correspondence “when I look at the family I am living with; the way they eat, it amazes me and makes me realise how poor Africa is. The breakfast table is always full of different types of cheese, sausages, bread, all cereals and fruits, different types of jam also butters plus tea and milk. Then there is lunch . . . so many meats and sausages and frozen foods . . . and then in their food store and refrigerator / freezer so much meat (especially pork and beef); tubs of ice cream; crates of beers; and all types of fruit juice. They were amazed when I said that I take my bread dry; they have never seen or heard of that. When I look at the layer of butter they apply on their bread . . . these people really eat!”

The earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for anyone’s greed. - M.K. Gandhi.

Furthermore we are also physiologically herbivores (Genesis 1:29). All of the great prophets and saints as well as other people of a religious faith and indeed many of none down the ages showed compassion to their fellow humans as well as the beasts of the field. Job also noted that a vegan animal like the hippopotamus “. . . eats grass like an ox. See now the strength in his hips, and the power of his muscles”. Note also the horse, elephant, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and donkey.

Strict vegetarianism (veganism) is an important part of reconciling ourselves with the rest of God’s world. Meat processing is so incredibly inefficient (e.g. beef production approximately 10%). The global demand for meat has increased more than five-fold since the 1950s and in 2005 over 55 billion animals were slaughtered. Sentient animals are actually competing with us for land, food and fresh water. They out-number us by 3:1 and they emit massive amounts of methane gas. Almost every environmental disaster you have heard of since the 1950s is linked to the meat, dairy and fishing industries. The dairy industry alone is currently worth £6bn a year.

A truly David v Goliath battle is taking place for hearts and minds. For example in May 2007 a leaked Government e-mail expressed sympathy with the environmental benefits of a vegan diet and that Defra was “considering recommending eating less meat as one of the ‘key environmental behaviour changes needed to save the planet”. It provoked an immediate response from the National Farmers Union who said the suggestion was “simplistic” and “a cause for concern”. (‘Go Vegan to help climate, says Government.’ Charles Clover, Environment Editor Daily Telegraph 30 May 2007).

Whilst millions are living at or below the official poverty level and dying daily of starvation and drinking polluted water millions of others are succumbing to obesity, diabetes, heart problems, cancer; liver and kidney disease caused by excessive eating, smoking and alcohol. An area of land the size of five football pitches (10 hectares) will support 2 people with meat, 10 with maize, 24 with grain, or 61 with soya.

I am reminded of one of my earliest and favourite Sunday School hymns:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

People have always turned to the bible for support and confirmation of their views. I am aware that like René Descartes some modern day Christian Evangelists consider that all other animals are provided by God for our use and enjoyment. Genesis tells us that God has given us fruits and seeds for our sustenance. There is no comparison today with two thousand years ago when Jesus was born in a stable and people lived much more in harmony with the land and their few domesticated animals.

In spite of the way modern Western humankind is ravaging the earth my faith tells me that this is the turning of the tide. This is a dangerous but adventurous and challenging time. By changing our lifestyle we can all help others in the developing world – the animals. To quote George Bernard Shaw:

they are my friends and I don’t eat my friends.

And we can help the incredible and complex world that God has entrusted to us and made us stewards of. To quote Mother Teresa:

We can do no great things . . . but we can do small things with great love.

If Jesus and Gandhi walked the Earth today what would they say and do my friends?

Notes:

(1) Bill Palethorpe is now retired but spent an interesting and varied working life in the Merchant Navy; then in banking & administration but mostly in the catering industry (he is a trained Chef and ex MHCIMA; MRSH; MRIPH) finally working for various charities including 6 years at the Vegan Society. A Quaker living in Eastbourne he is available to give talks & cookery demonstrations on veganism.

(2) Before adopting a vegan diet it is very important both for you and the vegan movement to get sound vegan nutritional information (B12;Calcium; etc) and advice.

(3) For further information please either e-mail Bill at hobdell@fastmail.fm or contact organisations including: Viva! & VVF; The Vegan Society; The UK Vegetarian Society; Hippo; Vegfam; Animal Aid; CIWF; QCA; MCL; WWF. Also books published by the internationally renowned Christian theologian Andrew Linzey.

(4) See also <www.vegansociety.com/html/people/lifestyle/faith.php> for a list of organisations that hold vegan and spiritual views.

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