Archive | May, 2008

Gandhi in the Mirror of Foreign Scholars – edited by J S Mathur

Gandhi in the Mirror of Foreign Scholars
Edited by J S Mathur
National Gandhi Museum and Gyan Publishing House 2007
ISBN 81-212-0961-7 HB pp383 Rs 720

This substantial volume contains 49 essays, written over a period of 35 years, which first appeared in either The Journal of Gandhian Studies (the older ones) or Gandhi Prasang, a journal in Hindi and English, both edited by Prof. J S Mathur. The authors come from Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain, United States, Australia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Ghana, Japan, and Finland and so the collection is an international one. Some of the authors are well known to readers of Gandhi literature such as Johan Galtung, Gene Sharp, E. F. Schumacher, Stanley Wolpert. The book contains several essays by the Nobel Prize winning economists Jan Tinbergen and Gunnar Myrdal.

The essays seem to cover two main issues: economics and development on the one hand, and peace, satyagraha and nonviolence on the other; a smaller number deal with more philosophical and multifaith issues. Gandhi is identified as an egalitarian but opinions differ on whether a core concept of his, namely trusteeship, can deliver this.

Myrdal praises his ‘integrated’ approach to economics, ie bringing in sanitation and health, nutrition, education, land ownership and so on. One of the essays I liked most is by William Stuart Nelson, a name I did not recognise. His essay is one of the most attractive expositions of Gandhian nonviolence I have come across. He was an African-American academic who visited India a number of times and was with Gandhi on
his tour of Noakhali in Bengal during the communal disturbances of 1947. He later gave strong support to Martin Luther King.

It is almost inevitable in a collection of essays that the quality will vary, and some disappoint with errors, but overall it presents a rich source of material by mainly non-Indian writers with expositions of many of Gandhi’s most important ideas.

George Paxton

Gandhi and Peace Studies – by David Maxwell

This article was first published in issue 96 of The Gandhi Way

What are Peace Studies ? They describe a new academic discipline first introduced in the second half of the 20th century. Peace Studies draw on subjects like anthropology, psychology, political science and ethics, but differ from them in stating a required outcome, Peace. In 1985 the idea of such a discipline drew flak from commentators like Roger Scruton who wrote in The Times newspaper :

“When the tide of drivel has swollen to such proportions that the University of Bradford can offer a first degree in a subject, peace studies, that does not even exist, it is surely time to ask whether there might be a better use of taxpayer’s money”.

Bradford replied:

“For the record there are university departments and research centres in the USA, West Germany, Canada, Holland, Finland, Sweden and many other countries.”

The first thirty years of Bradford’s Department of Peace Studies was a time of remarkable growth. When it opened in 1974 there were 5 staff and 20 students who believed that peace could be studied, violent conflict prevented or resolved, and, in the long run, war as an institution abolished. The first Professsor, Adam Curle, successfully mediated to end the war in Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War. His last work before he died was helping the war-traumatised in former Yugoslavia. By 2002, 20 Peace Studies students had grown to 200 a year. Many were postgraduates. The number of PhD students is currently about 100. The external examiners recently gave the Department top grades in everything they assessed.

Students come from all over the world. They go on to jobs with NGOs, as diplomats, journalists, and consultants. Others move to other universities and teach similar courses, sometimes with different names e.g. Conflict Resolution or Transforming Conflict. Andrew Rigby teaches Reconciliation and Forgiveness at Coventry University. Gandhi would have approved of that ! There are frequent attempts to get new courses going, and the number of books on peace studies listed on Google demonstrates the potential – 4,000 books, with 3,500 of them best sellers. However, finding the funding for academics to set up and students to attend new courses requires more money and effort than buying a few popular books. Those tempted to give up, can find inspiration in Gandhi’s life story. Note the decades of strenuous preparation that preceded each major breakthrough.

Why the current explosion of interest in Peace Studies ? Consider this change. When Gandhi was born, wars were fought with footsoldiers and cavalry and no weapon more destructive than a cannon. Remember Tennyson’s poem of that period ? The Charge of the Light Brigade. By the end of Gandhi’s life one atom bomb dropped from one plane could wipe out a whole city. Gandhi, horrified by the atom bomb, wrote that it convinced him even more strongly that the way forward had to be a nonviolent one, not a military one. Gandhi’s greatness lay in a lifetime of actual experiments in nonviolence. He challenged us all in his dictum:

“Be the change you want to see.”

It is no accident that Peace Studies was first introduced as an academic discipline in its own right in 1950 in the Universities of Michigan and Oslo. Both Kenneth Boulding in Michigan and Johan Galtung in Oslo were admirers of Gandhi. After two atom bombs had abruptly ended World War II, far-sighted people could see the danger later so narrowly averted in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Studying International Relations as if war and peace were equally valid ways of conducting diplomacy had begun to seem questionable when large scale nuclear war could destroy life on earth. The new discipline of Peace Studies was about conducting international relations without resorting to war.

In the 50s the Rev Martin Luther King Junior studied Gandhi and took his nonviolent experiment further. His success showed that Gandhi’s method did not depend solely on the charisma of Gandhi himself or the Indian context of nationalism versus imperialism. Successful resistance to segregation by the black churches in the Southern States of the USA still had in common with Gandhi’s satyagrahas three major factors: disciplined nonviolence, religious conviction by those who made major personal sacrifices, and sympathetic support from wider public opinion fed by media reporting. The effect of the Civil Rights Movement was to add an ethnic relations dimension to Peace Studies.

I would like to talk briefly about the current job of one graduate who wrote his PhD at Bradford on Gandhi, Timmon Wallis. After working abroad as a peaceworker he currently trains and assesses peaceworkers for International Alert. Gandhi would have been delighted at the concept of training peace workers. His name for what he called a ‘peace army’ was ‘shanti sena‘. Gandhi insisted that peace requires the same courage and trained discipline as war. Peaceworkers need training in courage and discipline. Gandhi tried in his Ashrams and through his Constructive Work to provide some training so that people could go into nonviolent action fully prepared and supported. Peaceworkers UK currently provides five levels of competence in peace work and assesses responses of students by simulations of real situations.

A current development in the Peace Studies course at Tuft University, USA is that students are being asked to commit themselves to the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath which doctors make. They are required to promise to follow their studies by going into an ethical job and to make ethical choices in their future lives. Gandhi, who made solemn vows at key moments in his life including the vow to resist Indian Registration in Africa, would have approved of that. But reading of Tufts’ requirements does raise the question of how few ethical demands are made by academia generally of students. Gandhi vowed vegetarianism when he studied in London. He persuaded 3,000 to vow nonviolence in 1906. When he read Ruskin’s Unto This Last on a train journey in South Africa, it led to a dramatic personal change in lifestyle. It would be interesting to know whether some military sponsored students currently at Bradford University will complete the course able to feel that peace studies and military strategies can be mixed or tried in turn, or whether there is a whole religious or moral ethic behind peace studies, dependent on trust, dependent on consistency over time. The concept of mixing peace studies and war studies seem as dubious as trying to mix oil and water. Peace Studies ultimately respects life, whereas the bottom line in War Studies would appear to be the death of the less powerful.

Gandhi’s Diagnostic Approach Rethought – by Margaret Chatterjee

Gandhi’s Diagnostic Approach Rethought: Exploring a Perspective on His Life and Work
Margaret Chatterjee
Promilla and Co/Bibliophile South Asia: New Delhi  2007
Rs495   ISBN 978-81-85002-81-1

Few scholars match Margaret Chatterjee’s outstanding contribution to Gandhi studies. We are all in her debt, for example, for her Gandhi’s Religious Thought (1983) so it more than a little sad to learn that this text will be the last of its kind.  With her roots in both South Africa and India she was always ideally placed to be Gandhi’s interpreter.  She has brought so many skills to bear in the task, maybe most strikingly as a tantalising historian of ideas, together  with an expertise in the comparative study of religions.  She is a formidable moral and political philosopher.  Not all will be able to keep up with her breathtaking if often allusive reference – in a kind of shorthand – to so many thinkers, those of the classical world, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, James Mill, Henry Sidgwick, William James, Max Nordau, Simone Weil, so many more, but surely it is an intellectual journey well worth undertaking.

The leitmotif of the text is of Gandhi as doctor manqué, his role as diagnostician of the sicknesses of India (and the world ?), diseases of oppression, racism, injustice, exploitation, and of its chief canker, violence.  Gandhi had thought of training as a doctor and certainly took every opportunity to put his nursing skills to the test.  It’s an attractive way through the many expressions of Gandhi’s mind though a disease metaphor has its tricky side.  Might you risk infection if you borrowed ideas from outside ?

I think the big question she is raising is, just how morally intransigent was Gandhi ?  Did he succumb to the Gregers Werle complex that Ibsen explored in The Wild Duck, that Truth must be revealed at whatever the human cost ?  What did Gandhi intend by Truth when he identified it with God ?

She writes of “reflection on Truth (as) almost an obsession with him”, of Gandhi as an unmasker of the deceptions of ‘civilisation’ in the same mould as Darwin, Marx and Nietzsche.

Yet her answer is just a little surprising.  Gandhi emerges often on the side of moral compromise.

Her constant theme is of Gandhi the pragmatist, “a relentless and sometimes ruthless sense of the priorities of the moment.”(p113) Gandhi, she acknowledges, had “a soft corner for inconsistencies”. (p133)

Given that some of we Gandhi commentators have been uncomfortably aware of the very strict moral regime he imposed on his two elder sons and some of his closest followers, it is worth quoting her acerbic comment,

“as often happens in saying anything about Gandhi the man, exaggerations and one-sided assessments tend to cloud the view taken.” (p189)

Firstly the text addresses some of the non-Indian influences on Gandhi, with special reference to the Russian and in the shape of Mazzini, the Italian.  The big idea he learnt from the Russians, and this embraced both Madame Blavatsky and Tolstoy, and one that he could not have learnt from his own culture, was brotherhood.

One completely new name she introduces is that of Timofei Bondariev, a peasant who converted to Judaism during the pogroms of the 1880s and set up Jewish agrarian communities.  Was this the origin of Gandhi’s idea of bread labour ?  She also speculates that Gandhi may have taken the idea of the oceanic circle from Peter Kropotkin.  Had Henry Salt taken him to hear the Russian anarchist lecture in London ?  Of course Gandhi as a religious man differed from the Russian populists with their secular often atheist agenda, but there was much in common in the ways they addressed the needs of the Russian and Indian peasantry and there still remains a great book to be written on the comparative histories of those peasantries.

Mazzini as a man of God is far closer to Gandhi.  The fascination of early Indian nationalism, above all in Bengal, with the Italian is of course well known – I traced it myself in an essay Congress and the Risorgimento: A Comparative Study of Nationalism, published in The Indian National Congress: Centenary Hindsights edited by D A Low (OUP1988) – but Chatterjee rightly reminds us that Mazzini looked beyond the nation to ‘the good of all’.  My concern is whether both Mazzini and Gandhi overprivileged the role of religion in politics.  Chatterjee also wryly acknowledges that modern Indian admirers of Gramsci use just the same Gramscian critique of Mazzini’s failure to endorse a genuine social revolution in Italy to fault Gandhi’s to do the same in India.

Chatterjee now turns to the more metaphysical aspects of Gandhi’s thought and in highly original chapters explores his attitudes towards vows, deception and war.  This is where his readiness to compromise comes under review.  Gandhi clearly was wedded to the taking of vows – think of those to his mother, to brahmacharya or celibacy, to what was to prove to be the birth of satyagraha in the Empire theatre in Johannesburg in 1906.  I detect some ambiguity here.  Curiously Gandhi was very impressed by Charles Bradlaugh’s refusal to take a vow except on his own terms when elected an MP and even attended the funeral of this outspoken atheist.  Yet he was less than sympathetic to Charles Andrews who rued the day he had taken a vow to believe in the 39 articles on becoming an Anglican priest.   When it comes to Gandhi’s attitudes to war, she speculates that he may have come up with the idea of ‘a moral equivalent to war’ in nonviolence from William James.

Gandhi saw war as ‘quite literally dehumanising’ and against the law of our being, and yet on several occasions went along with war as a member of an ambulance brigade – “one must be ready to be killed but not to kill” – and still saw India as bound to support the King Emperor in the First World War.

Gandhi she sees as engaged in “a strenuous wrestling with the feasibility of nonviolence” (p120) and satyagraha as “a science in the making”, “a way of life which could find expression in day to day living.” (p144)  Gandhi indeed had an acute understanding of just how difficult it would be to win mankind over to an alternative to violence.

The text ends with chapters on Gandhi’s larger vision, on the oceanic circle, on the tension between tradition and modernity, on resolving religious difference.  The oceanic circle, which he wrote about at the end of his life in 1946, is seen as Gandhi’s mode of  ‘gathering in’, an ever widening collective, one that transcended nation and became universal, yet still enhanced the individual.  In one of her arresting associations in the history of ideas she points to affinities between Adam Smith’s ‘inner voice’ and his views on the affective power of sympathy and Gandhi’s outlook.  She rejects any simplistic categorising Gandhi as traditionalist or modernist: “I do not think Gandhi can be classified under any of the usual rubrics”. (p175)

Gandhi had a highly subversive interpretation of dharma, loathing as he did distinctions between purity and pollution, between clean and unclean labour.  And he saw moksha in this-wordly terms, a realisation of “a transformed society”. (p188)  For Gandhi tradition “was not a repository of inviolable norms but a place of considered criticism, change and development.” (p191)  Up against the communal divide Gandhi met the seemingly insuperable.  He himself “was unfazed by otherness and in fact he was often attracted to it”. (p217)  He believed in multiple identities.  Nonviolence was seen as common to all religions and religion as praxis should work towards a fair society.  But he could not staunch the holocaust of partition.

She concludes by emphasising “the extraordinary range of his acts of healing”.  “What he sets out”, she affirms,” not through exhortation but through action, is his ideal of what it is to be civilised.” (p227)

The Promilla/Bibliophile press list of books on Gandhi and related topics is impressive, and this clearly should be known to the Gandhi Foundation, but my worry is that the author’s searching epitaph of her Gandhi scholarship may not become as well known to a wider readership as it so richly deserves.

Antony Copley

Nonviolence and the Self-Cherishing Mind – by David Edwards and Matthew Bain

This article was first published in issue 96 of The Gandhi Way

On 2nd December 2007 Media Lens were presented with the Gandhi International Peace Award by Denis Halliday, former UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq and himself a recipient of the award in 2003.  Here Matthew Bain, a Friend of the Gandhi Foundation, asks David Edwards about the relationship between Media Lens’ work and the Gandhian principle of satyagraha.

Bain: In his struggles against oppression, Gandhi sought to break down the barriers between oppressors and oppressed, seeing them all as victims.  Whereas the oppressed often suffered from physical or economic degradation, the oppressors suffered from moral degradation. Is this theory relevant to Media Lens’ work ?

Edwards: The great Buddhist sage Shantideva said the “ancient enemies” of living beings, the real enemies, are greed, hatred and ignorance.  These are the three causes and effects of the self-cherishing mind.  It is greed, hatred and ignorance that lead people to believe their own suffering and happiness matter more than everyone else’s.  This leads us to put ourselves first and to ignore the consequences for others.  Many of the miseries of the world are rooted in this fundamental willingness to subordinate the interests of others to our own.

It’s tempting to see particular groups of people as the cause of all problems. But actually we’re all afflicted by the “ancient enemies”.  So, for example, people are outraged if someone expresses racist or sexist prejudice – these are rightly seen as sources of immense suffering.  But there is a far more deep-rooted prejudice – the bias whereby we see ourselves as far more important than all other people.  Geshe Lhundub Sopa does a good job of explaining what we know but don’t really recognise in ourselves:

“We think everything should focus upon us – all services and good things should be for me. Then of course we try to gain enjoyment, fame, wealth, and everything else that we feel is necessary for this me.  We become angry if we see that something might prevent us getting those things or if anyone else gets something better.  These feelings make us think, act, and speak in negative ways.  Everyone is subject to this problem: we all act from selfishness.” (Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Steps on the Path to Enlightenment, Volume 3, Wisdom Books, 2008, p.111)

We are almost always massively prejudiced in our own favour. We feel virtuous when we have one or two compassionate impulses, but it’s actually shocking how many of our thoughts are concerned with squeezing just a little more pleasure into our lives.  Not into other people’s lives, into our own.  We want the best for ourselves; we’re the centre of the universe.  The human universe never was heliocentric, it has always been egocentric.  Racial and sexual prejudices are sub-divisions of this ultimate bias.

Shantideva delivered his amazing “J’accuse!” to his own selfish mind as far back as the eighth century (Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambhala Publications, 1997)):

“O my mind, what countless ages
Have you spent in working for yourself?
And what great weariness it was,
While your reward was only misery!

“The truth, therefore, is this:
That you must wholly give yourself and take the other’s place.
The Buddha did not lie in what he said –
You’ll see the benefits that come from it.” (p132)

He added:

“And so it is that if I want contentment,
I should never seek to please myself.
And likewise, if I wish to save myself,
I’ll always be the guardian of others.” (p.134)

Shantideva was here doing nothing less than rejecting his own favouritism towards himself !  And this was not some kind of gesture or stunt – his work, The Way of the Bodhisattva, is a precise, step-by-step guide to actually achieving this result.  When he advises that we “take the other’s place,” he means that we should work for the benefit of others as though it were our own, rather than working for our own benefit.

That this aspiration can emerge in a product of nature “red in tooth and claw” is astonishing.  In my opinion, Shantideva’s words constitute the ultimate revolutionary statement – the complete rejection of self-interest out of concern for the welfare of others.

Shantideva was not advocating this as a matter of righteous, hair-shirted stoicism.  His point is that we need to replace the inevitable misery of the self-cherishing mind, of the “ancient enemies”, with the almost unimagined happiness of the compassionate mind liberated from greed, hatred and ignorance.  Of course the self-cherishing that Shantideva rejected is at the heart of all individual exploitation and of all exploitative systems of power.  It is self-cherishing that causes us to build and participate in these systems.

The claim is that thoughts pretty much obey the laws of Newtonian physics – they build psychological momentum in the absence of an opponent force.  The more we are angry, the stronger our anger becomes. On the other hand, the more we are compassionate, the more anger dissipates.  There is a marvellous quote that sums up the logic of self-restraint in a discussion on training the mind to become more patient: “It is not productive to one’s practice to become impatient with those who are impatient.” (Sopa, op. cit., p.284)

What we’re trying to do is to increase compassion in the world, to decrease self-cherishing.  This is achievable when we perceive greed, hatred and ignorance as the enemy.  When we perceive particular individuals as the enemy, we tend to achieve the opposite result.

Bain: Gandhi named his active method to combat oppression ’satyagraha’, meaning struggle for truth.  Satyagraha looks for the moral levers in the oppressor’s own psychology or mythology, and then discovers a way to pull them.  Gandhi was successful in pulling the levers in the British psychology.  As rulers of India we considered ourselves to be upholders of righteous constitutional rule, so when Gandhi allowed himself to be imprisoned by us he forced us to look in the mirror and see that we were not acting in accordance with our own self-image.  Do you believe that there are elements of satyagraha in Media Lens’ work?

Edwards: In his book, Web Of Deceit, the historian Mark Curtis showed how the mainstream media promote one key concept above all others: “Britain’s basic benevolence.”

( This provides an obvious lever for challenging exploitative power – the challenge to live up to the hype.

For example, in 2002, journalists like David Aaronovitch and Johann Hari claimed their real concern was for the welfare of the Iraqi people.  So we investigated how this compassion has manifested itself during the subsequent catastrophic occupation.  We examined to what extent they have drawn attention to the suffering of Iraqi refugees, to the patients dying in hospitals for the lack of the most basic equipment, to the small children dying from a lack of basic sanitation, and so on.

(See: and

The claim of humanitarian intent is a very powerful propaganda weapon for systems of concentrated power, but it does allow dissidents to offer a challenge in that moral arena.  And power is under pressure to provide credible answers, to be seen to live up to its own claims.  The fact is that people in our society do need to be persuaded to support violent interventions on humanitarian grounds.  If these claims are shown to be bogus, then powerful interests have much greater difficulty in waging war – they can’t railroad the population completely; they can’t afford for democracy to be exposed as a total sham.

Government support for the Iraq war went ahead against overwhelming public opposition in several countries in 2003, but at a very high political cost to the likes of Blair, Aznar and Bush.  It’s fair to say that Blair’s career was ruined by his mendacious campaign to manipulate Britain into war – his reputation has been demolished.  It’s hard now to remember just what a source of optimism he was for many people (liberal journalists in particular) before 2003.

Bain: Media Lens can only do so much.  What other ‘moral levers’ are out there, that you would like other people to pull?

Edwards: Especially on the left, I think people need to look to the moral levers in themselves.  It’s so easy to place all our trust in facts and rational argument to win the battle of ideas, to convince everyone of the need for progressive change.  But as discussed, the self-cherishing mind is highly adept at simply deflecting these facts and arguments from awareness.  We should also be seeking to strengthen the capacity for kindness, compassion, love, patience and generosity in ourselves and others.  We need a compassionate revolution, as opposed to a bomb-throwing revolution.  Basically the left needs to start meditating on these subjects.

People often think this means sitting cross-legged on a cushion and emptying the mind of thoughts.  But fully one-half of Buddhist meditation is called ‘analytical meditation’.  This type of meditation involves simply reflecting on these issues exactly as we’ve been doing here.  What are the disadvantages of the self-cherishing mind ?  Have I ever felt self-obsessed, really greedy for pleasure ?  What was the impact of indulging these thoughts on my sense of well-being ?  Where did they lead ?  Have I ever felt coldly indifferent to everyone else who just seemed to be a damned nuisance ?  How did I feel in those moments ?  Have I ever been really generous ?  Have I given something to someone solely out of an intention to make them happy with no thought of reward ?  How did I feel in those situations ?  How did other people react ?

A good place to start in this internal analysis is Matthieu Ricard’s book Happiness (Atlantic Books, 2006).  Geshe Lhundub Sopa gives an idea of how the mind can be trained:

“The way to meditate on love is similar to the manner of meditating on compassion.  Where compassion is wanting sentient beings to be free from misery, love is wanting them to possess happiness, enjoyment, and bliss.  So here we look at sentient beings, beginning with our relatives, and see that they do not even have worldly happiness …  Go back and forth, first thinking that sentient beings lack a specific thing and therefore they suffer this or that type of misery, and then wishing that they have the cause of happiness.  Think this way again and again and you will come to feel like a mother whose dear child is in need of many things.  A mother wants her child to have the things that will make him or her happy; she sincerely desires to help her child obtain these things.” (Sopa, op. cit., p.89)

This kind of repetitive practice gradually moves the momentum of the mind away from ruthless, unrestrained self-cherishing, towards kindness.  We can sensitise our minds to the suffering of others, to compassion.

Many of us think we’re prevented from trying harder to help others because of indifference.  But this couldn’t be more wrong.  The problem is not indifference; it’s our passionate dedication to serving ourselves.  Our problem is not laziness but that we’re working so hard to satisfy our desires, to indulge our egos, to get everything we want.

But the response to the self-cherishing habit is not to somehow just try harder, to whip ourselves into being more committed people.  Our self-cherishing minds will certainly not tolerate this for very long – it’s far too much like hard work.  We might manage for a while but pretty soon we’ll decide all this suffering is deeply unfair – ‘It’s not my fault the world’s full of suffering, and anyway what can one person really achieve ?’ – at which point we’ll likely disappear off to have some fun.

The solution is to challenge the false claims of the self-cherishing mind and to investigate the liberatory potential of the other-cherishing, compassionate, mind.

And there are real surprises here.  The principal one being that focusing primarily on our own happiness guarantees suffering for ourselves and others. Curiously, happiness lies in exactly the opposite direction.


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