Metta’s Opinion

Re-organizing the future

I ordered “Gandhi the Organiser” along with some other books last year when I was asked to give a talk at a Stanford leadership conference. The book arrived long after the conference and was not at all what I expected. Instead, it was one of the best, most inspiring books on Gandhi I’ve ever read.

Back when I taught Gandhi in my nonviolence class at Berkeley I always had the students read some standard texts — Eknath Easwaran’s “Gandhi the Man” for the spiritual dimension, B. R. Nanda’s “Mahatma” for the “history” (that is, the political history) — and I also urged them to read one of the day-by-day diaristic accounts by Tendulkar, Mahadev Desai, or others because something qualitatively different emerges when you encounter the sheer intensity of the Mahatma’s daily life and activities. If it had been available at the time I would certainly have recommended “Gandhi the Organiser” for that purpose. But it is much more.

Author Bob Overy, an independent researcher based in the United Kingdom, has produced an excellent in-depth study of the critical phase of the freedom struggle that saw Gandhi’s transition from a force to reckon with in his home state of Gujarat to a national leader. Overy studies this process in insightful detail, piloting his course between “Gandhi the saint” and “Gandhi the freedom fighter” to bring out the gripping story of the Mahatma’s shrewdness and his indomitable will, how he pushed through apparent “failures” with an unstoppable drive that gives credence to his claim that in satyagraha there is no such thing as defeat. Gandhi comes alive in these pages with rare force.

The title may therefore be as misleading for others as it pleasantly surprised me. This book is not like, say, “Gandhi CEO” or others that apply some principles of Gandhian organization to business leaders. The difference, of course, is that Gandhi was not organizing a corporation; he was organizing a revolution, and not just a political upheaval but what we might call an “existential” step forward in human evolution.

Before reading Overy I knew that Gandhi came to put more and more reliance on constructive programme, or CP, and bemoaned the fact that most modern theory and practice tries to get along without this crucial dimension, but I had no idea how nuanced the Mahatma’s approach was to the complementarity between CP and direct resistance, or what I have come to call, as Overy does, constructive vs. obstructive action. Depending on whether you were dealing with a regional or a national issue and whether you were working on a specific issue like the Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 or the ultimate goal of independence, swaraj, Overy is able to identify no less than five positions ranging from situations where CP is not essential and civil disobedience can be effective by itself to those where CP is essential and civil disobedience need not occur at all. (Gandhi even states “civil disobedience, mass or individual, is an aid to constructive effort,” not the other way around).

Fascinating and inspiring as this book is, with its insight into Gandhi’s drive and sagacity, into his lofty vision of human nature, for many of us the most practical part will be the final section where Overy applies what he’s discovered to the problems and possibilities facing activists today. Along with giving constructive program its full meed of attention, he addresses directly the difference between what’s usually called strategic and principled nonviolence. I could not agree more when he writes that, “It appears to me that the attempt to separate the technique of action (i.e. strategic nonviolence) from the background of beliefs and social initiatives which supported it, (the more principled view) has diminished our understanding of the technique.” Or when he adds, “it helps us to understand Gandhi’s technique …as a method of social struggle informed by strongly held positive values, with rules about how we approach people and present ourselves and with the vision of how life could be better, virtually all of which may have some relevance for us.”

By and large, activists and scholars have pretty much stopped talking about the strategic/principled difference because those conversations were getting us nowhere, but there is a way to look at the difference that’s very useful now in terms of a related development, the slowly emerging “paradigm shift” away from what’s often called the “old story,” that frame of reference (still prevalent in political science circles and elsewhere) in which people tend to be seen as rational cost-benefit calculators locked into competitive relationships in a random, essentially material universe. Strategic nonviolence is nonviolence looked at through the lens of this old story. You coerce people into changing their behavior by putting pressure on them, not by awakening their sympathy for the harm they’re causing you. Conflict is still a win/lose proposition, not an opportunity for reconciliation and reunion. Unfortunately, there is no room in this view for what Overy correctly calls “Gandhi’s ultimately religious concept of satyagraha, a force acting on society in mysterious ways” — those “spooky actions at a distance” that even Einstein had a hard time accepting.

In the new story, in its fully developed form, where the world is seen as a field rather than a collection of separate entities — a field of consciousness — and human beings as interconnected nodes of that consciousness, or “evolving spiritual beings” as a friend of mine says, it is much easier to understand how, as Gandhian coworker Raihan Tyabji put it, “His consciousness grabbed hold of our consciousness and moved it to an incredible place,” or why Martin Luther King was able to say so beautifully that “All men (and women) are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. . . This is the inter-related structure of reality.” And this was before neuroscientists discovered, in 1988, that we are endowed with a network of “mirror neurons” that precisely reflect the actions, thoughts and intentions of others, evidently evolved in the brain to activate that mutuality, making the nonviolent effect or what Gandhi called “moving the heart” possible. Gandhi’s worldview, without understanding which it’s not possible to arrive at a just assessment of his nonviolence, was essentially that of the “new story;” though it was hardly new for him, being in his case largely an extension of the Vedantic worldview that had been taken for granted down the centuries in India’s spiritual traditions.

There is thus a reciprocal relationship between the development of nonviolence and the parallel development of the new story (a subject I go into in my forthcoming book, “The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature,”). This is of critical importance to us now since, as many are coming to believe, we cannot save the world from climate disaster or the threat of nuclear annihilation unless we change our prevailing paradigm. Trying to force people to stop using fossil fuels, for example, or animal farming without helping them see a new vision of who we are and what we need for our fulfillment will only create a backlash and simply fail or seem to change only to return at the next opportunity.

There are two insights in particular that emerge from this larger viewpoint. One, as mentioned, is the importance of constructive programme. Overy charges, I think justly, that in the West CP has been overlooked along with almost all other aspects of what he calls Gandhi’s religious outlook (and I call the new story): “the principal authorities on nonviolent action have neglected practically all these aspects – with the partial exception of the vow. In particular, the fundamental point that nonviolent action as a method and technique focused just as much on constructive work as campaigns of civil resistance, has been virtually ignored. Yet Gandhi’s success as an organiser cannot be understood unless it is recognized that at the base of every campaign of civil resistance – especially at the national level – was a programme of constructive work.” (Incidentally, that’s what Gandhi himself said: “My main politics is constructive work.”).

The other aspect, referred to in the first part of this quote, can be summed up, as follows: what Gandhi always wanted to do through whatever issue he was addressing at the time was to uplift humanity. To recover the human image that has been and still is so badly damaged by materialism and its commitment to separateness, competition, and violence. Overy quotes approvingly from R. Kumar’s “Essays on Gandhian Politics,” writing that “Gandhi’s romanticism rested upon his attempt to relate political aspirations to moral instead of material objectives; to the flowering of the character and personality of his countrymen rather than to the achievement of economic and social goals.” When Gandhi himself refers to the success of his fast to rally the striking Ahmedabad millworkers in 1918 he describes it as much more than a political victory, as Overy points out: “The sight convinced me… That Indians are still their true selves, capable of realizing the Self within and knowing its power.”

For Gandhi the “sun” of his “solar system” of CP was charkha, the cottage industry of spinning and weaving homespun cloth. Recognizing the full significance of CP for today’s struggles I and my colleagues at the Metta Center have devoted a great deal of thought to the possibility of a modern equivalent. Charkha would (if it had been fully mobilized) recover an industry that was at one time the pride of Asia, restore economic independence to his “starving millions,” and break the hold of the British monopoly on cloth which was among others (like the monopoly on salt) essential for keeping India in their grip. Charkha was also the way to unite the movement itself, as it could be done by everyone every day, whatever else they were working on. It was what I sometimes call a “stealth” weapon because the British didn’t fully grasp its revolutionary significance until it was too late to do anything about it. Indeed, since it was non-confrontational and technically legal (despite its subversive power) it would have been difficult to put a stop to even if they had realized it. A modern equivalent of charkha is a tall order!

We have not come up with anything as concrete as cloth, but we can recommend something that could be done by anyone and everyone, and in the end be just as subversive, we believe, to the prevailing order. As more and more people come to believe that our disastrous political, moral, and ecological situation is based on how we see the world, the vision of ourselves as evolving spiritual beings with the ability to pilot our own destiny in an extremely meaningful universe is taking on tremendous appeal. Hence our candidate for a modern charkha is that we familiarize ourselves with the essentials of the emerging new story and tell that story to whomever is willing to listen. Explain that you’re saving the coral reefs because life is an interconnected whole and you can’t damage any part without hurting the rest, that you are using nonviolence not only because it works but because it doesn’t ravage the human spirit the way violence does, explain above all that we can prevent the catastrophe of the climate crisis if we act in time (i.e. right now), because we are at least to some significant degree agents of our own destiny.

As Buckminster Fuller famously said, “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” That is more true than ever where the model in question is our vision of who we are and what we’re doing in this world.

Quarter Race: Tool for Teachers

This post is for educators who would like to bring social and emotional learning games and activities into their classrooms.

Created by Metta Center fellow, Matthew Liston. Check out our resource, Educators for Nonviolence, for more classroom support. 

Introduction:

This game emphasizes skills related to focus and body awareness. When students have the opportunity to focus on different body parts in a fun way, they build their awareness of how their body feels in a variety of environments. As they increase their understanding of their body and how it responds to different stimuli, students improve their ability to proactively respond to challenging situations.

Target Age: K-Adult

Materials Needed:

  • 8-16 quarters
  • Open space without chairs and tables like a hallway, gymnasium, or field.
  • Something to mark a start line and finish line about 10 feet away from each other (string, tape, pool noodle, stick, etc)

How it works

  1. Separate the students into 4 groups and have them line up at one end of the space, behind the ‘starting line.’
  2. Give the first student in each group 2 quarters, and tell them to place a quarter on the toe part of each shoe.
  3. Explain the rules: 
    • Students must walk to the finish line and back while keeping the quarters on the top of their shoes.
    • When they return to the start line, they give the quarters to the next person in line. The first group to have every member complete the race will win that round.
    • Students are not allowed to tuck the quarters into their shoelaces or hold them on their shoes with their hands.
    • If a quarter falls off their shoe, participants must stop moving, place the quarter back on the shoe, and then continue with the race.
  4. After the first round is complete, try different versions of the race by asking the students to balance the quarters on:
    • the back of their hands
    • forearms
    • forehead
    • chin
    • elbows
  5. Once students understand the basic premise of the activity, switch from a competitive to a cooperative approach. Instead of competing to see which group is fastest, ask the students to set a time goal for the entire group to complete the activity. If they meet their time goal, then the group can celebrate together and try again to meet an even lower time goal.
    • Each student chooses the body part that they want to use to balance the quarter.

Debrief Question Ideas:

  • What did you like/dislike about the activity?
  • What was hard/easy for you?
  • How was the cooperative approach different from the competitive approach?
  • What other ways would you like to try out this activity in a cooperative spirit? 
  • When are other times when you need to work together in order to accomplish a goal?



Planet Earth: Too Big To Fail

After centuries of neglect, we are now seeing a lot of useful writing about “the most powerful force at the disposal of humanity” as Gandhi called nonviolence. Its long neglect deprived us of a badly needed set of tools and way of being. Why, then, was it so long neglected? Not because of a mere perversity of human nature but something we can, with difficulty, change: the underlying paradigm or “story” that has dominated the consciousness of the West at least since the industrial revolution. Now, thanks in large part to Chenoweth and Stephan’s pioneering study, Why Civil Resistance Works, an outpouring of studies by nonviolence scholars and activists, from their respective vantage points, is adding to our tools to address that neglect —and even that outdated paradigm.

I would like to draw here on just two insights from this recent work. The first is from Rabbi Michael Lerner’s new book, Revolutionary Love. Lerner points to a critical fact of human nature (again, much neglected in the prevailing paradigm): we have deep spiritual as well as material and emotional needs, that are not only neglected, they are not even acknowledged by our present culture. Lerner then points out that these needs are “manipulated by the right and ignored by the left.” I cannot think of a better summary of our present dilemma. Whatever else we’re doing, it seems to me, whatever atrocity we’re trying to rectify, we would do well to ask ourselves, can I do this in a way that also addresses our deepest human needs? That addresses them so that they are no longer vulnerable to malicious manipulation.

Daniel Hunter sheds some light on this question with a vivid image in his timely and practical Climate Resistance Handbook, a superb resource he’s made available as a free download for anyone who has recently shaken off denial about climate change (the subtitle: Or, I was part of a climate action. Now what?). Hunter talks about a frustration many of us have experienced: how hard it is to get politicians to take needed action. A politician, he says, is like a balloon tied to a rock. You can blow them a little right or a little left (usually even less!), but this is rarely enough to make a difference. So what do we do? “Move the rock!” The rock is moved when you get people to act on their values, to “change what politicians think the political risks and possibilities are for them: what their base and the general climate of opinion will or will not stand for.” We can add to that image. The rock itself has, if you will, an underlying “bedrock.” This is the general paradigm or story I’ve just mentioned. As Donald Gerbner of the Annenberg School of Communication famously said, “Control the stories of a culture and you don’t need to worry who makes the laws.” And the late Mary Midgley, a brilliant British philosopher, referred to the time we’re passing through and the reason for inaction on climate as “a conceptual emergency.”

If you believe, often unconsciously, that other people are really “other,” that we are separate material beings who depend on competition and ultimately violence, it becomes possible to exploit people individually, systematically, and in time even structurally. And this belief is a fundamental tenet of the old story, which advertisers seize upon — ‘you have no inner resources, you need to buy X,’ and politicians manipulate — ‘you have no agency, and you’re surrounded by enemies who can only be kept away by force.’

The ‘new’ story that’s been trying to emerge for some time holds just the opposite view: we are evolving spiritual beings; all life is an interconnected whole — in reality, life is one. We and the planet are an interlocked system; we cannot injure others without injuring ourselves. I say ‘new’ advisedly because humanity’s wisest teachers have maintained this for as long as we have any records of what they taught, but today science is confirming it dramatically. To mention only one example, it is now known (since 1988) that our brain is endowed with “mirror neurons” that reflect precisely what we see others do or what we feel they are experiencing. As neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni writes, “We have evolved to connect deeply with other human beings. Among other things this means that although we commonly think of pain as a fundamentally private experience, our brain actually treats it as an experience shared with others.” If we could make this and other insights of the new story the ‘bedrock’ of our self-image it would inevitably render most of the harmful attitudes and policies causing such psychological, economic, political, and ecological damage obsolete. Let’s take a contemporary example.

The president is at the moment facing the prospect of his long-overdue impeachment. If/when it goes through we may begin to recover our national self-respect and badly tarnished standing in the world community. However, if people just make him the scapegoat for the catastrophic failures of a by-now deeply engrained system, it will neither be sufficient nor lasting. As Mike Lofgren has recently written in Truthout (Oct. 25, 2019), “Since about 1980, we could observe the culture industry patiently assembling him, piece by piece. The media barons grasped that his fabricated persona embodied the forbidden wish projections of millions of psychologically repressed and resentful individuals.” If he is driven out by impeachment it will at best move the balloon somewhat — until the opposite gust is delivered by the same reactionary elements, via the same media barons. But if enough Americans, not swept up in the current of scapegoating, go on to force more permanent changes that can reverse the attacks on democracy caused by Citizens United, vote suppression, voter fraud by foreign and domestic interference, etc. and can at least return us to the Paris Accords if not bring on the Green New Deal we will ‘move the rock.’

But let’s not stop there. I am a firm believer that even in emergencies, when we have to “stop the worst of the damage,” as Joanna Macy says, we should not forget to address the root causes of that damage. As I write this, I am sitting in smoke-poisoned air and out of power here in West Marin County: I am well aware of the need to stop the worst of the damage! But I still think we should also take the time to work on the really big picture, the prevailing paradigm.

The notion that we are made of inert matter in a random universe is hardly inspiring. But one thing we’ve learned about ‘paradigm shifts,’ an otherwise mysterious process, is that obsolete stories can only be challenged and replaced by a better one. As Buckminster Fuller says, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing obsolete.”

The essential ingredients of this new reality have now emerged in the new convergence of ancient traditions of both indigenous and “advanced” civilizations with the cutting edge of modern science. (For more on this fascinating development see, The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature (Berrett Koehler, March, 2020). They are:

1. The universe has a purpose — of which we are of course an expression.
2. That purpose becomes pretty obvious the moment one looks at evolution as more than a physical process: my teacher, Sri Eknath Easwaran, once expressed it beautifully as “the eons-long rise of consciousness from pure energy until the simplest of life-forms emerges and the struggle for increasing self-awareness begins.”
3. Our contemporary culture is violating that purpose, by degrading the human image. It has by now reached the point where, as religion scholar Huston Smith recently said, “we haven’t a clue as to who we are.”
4. “Suffering has a cause,” the Buddha would say: this degradation is the cause for the otherwise unthinkable fact that we are approaching self-annihilation. However . . .
5. Precisely because we ourselves are causing this, we can also reverse it. There is no reason to think that evolution is over or that we are incapable of influencing its direction.

All this brings us back to nonviolence, and especially, in my view, to Gandhi.

Everything he said and did, whether he was talking to a child at the ashram, a vast crowd, or the Viceroy of India, whether he was examining new technologies for village industry, getting arrested for “sedition,” or taking tea with His Majesty the King Emperor, his ulterior motive was to uplift the human image. When he said that all his activities derived from his “insatiable love of mankind,” this is one way that love was expressed. This was the motivation that drove him to activity in every sector of life, from spirituality to healthcare to political freedom. His “psychologically repressed and resentful individuals” were cowed into the illusion of helplessness under the British bayonets; ours are made to not believe in themselves by a degrading cultural narrative and the power-holders who deceitfully use it to what they think is their own advantage.

What can we do to carry on his project in our own setting?

This question has occupied me for some time. Decades back I came up with a list of five steps every individual can take. I received much encouragement from none other than the late Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication (which of course overlaps with nonviolence proper), and these steps were then fine-tuned in many conversations with friends and colleagues:

1. Exercise extreme caution with the commercial mass media. Today you can shun them entirely, as there are many alternative sources of news and entertainment that are much healthier.
2. The healthiest way to overcome their demoralizing message is to learn everything you can about nonviolence. This is why I mentioned at the outset of this article that there are vastly more resources now with which to do this.
3. Consider taking up a spiritual practice (if you don’t have one already). In my experience, and that of many others, meditation can give us a sense of purpose and a growing sense of our connectedness with the rest of existence. It gives us a tool, moreover, to convert negative drives like fear and anger to creative use — a sine qua non of successful nonviolent action.
4. Build community: be personal with everyone in all your interactions; resist the allure of social media that has driven us so far apart — a condition that oppressors love to exploit. (Steps 1-3 position you do this very successfully; then all four position you for what follows).
5. Find where your particular capacities answer to one or more of society’s pressing needs, and get active. Learning about nonviolence will help you do this successfully as well. And wherever you get a chance, explain why: tell your own version of the new story.

Paradigms don’t change by themselves, no matter how suffocating and dangerous they’ve become. They change when there’s an attractive alternative available and people here there and everywhere are quietly espousing it.

Educators For Nonviolence

Here at the Metta Center, we have a special fondness for teachers. Michael was a professor at UC Berkeley for over 40 years, and experienced firsthand how formal education was not fulfilling the potential of its transformative power. 

As the school year begins anew, we are pleased to announce the re-launch of Educators for Nonviolence (EFNV), our resource portal for educators that Metta first inaugurated back in 2004.

We have redesigned and updated our EFNV website, adding a host of new resources for creating harmony in the classroom and furnishing students with an age-appropriate introduction to that all-important, inspiring field of nonviolence. You’ll find tools and support across a wide range of topics including Restorative Justice and collaborative learning.  You’ll also find support for your own ongoing education in nonviolence.

As part of EFNV’s re-launch, we have also created a new online course specifically for teachers: Nonviolence 101: Crash Course for Educators. Completion of the course will qualify you for 1 CEU, and includes a 30 minute consultation with the Metta Center.

In developing the course, we surveyed teachers and discovered some essential information: most educators have no time for self-development, and many teachers are actively looking for ways to bring the principles of nonviolence into their classrooms.  We created our course with these things in mind. 

Nonviolence 101: Crash Course for Educators is teacher-focused.  The journey of nonviolence begins from within, and we frame the course around a teacher’s personal learning of nonviolence. We also provide practices focused on resilience and self-care, as we are aware of how much of themselves educators consistently give to others.  The course is also designed in bite-sized sections that can be completed quickly, with plenty of resources to come back to and explore further.

Finally, the course includes multiple lesson plans that correlate with each section of the course, so that teachers can bring the fruits of their own experiences with nonviolence to their students and classrooms.

If you are a teacher of any kind, know a teacher, or have a teacher, make sure to share these resources.  At the heart of this re-launch of Educators for Nonviolence is our commitment to creating community and being in shared dialogue together.

Please let us know how these resources are serving you! We’d love to hear how you and/or you friends and family are putting them to use. You can reach us at: info@mettacenter.org

Meditation and the Challenge of Peace


“It is because we have at the present moment everybody claiming the right of conscience without going through any disciplines whatsoever that there is so much untruth being delivered to a bewildered world.” ~M.K. Gandhi

Around Berkeley one often hears, ‘If we only had a million people out there at Livermore we could stop the arms race.’ What this assessment always makes me think is, what if we had one person who was a million times more committed?

Since the activism of the sixties an important section of the peace movement has been trying to understand and incorporate an insight which in a sense that movement foundered on in the early seventies: to what extent do human psychical or spiritual conditions affect the degree of peace or justice we can achieve? Why struggle for newer, fairer social arrangements when in the final analysis greed will only resurface through them the way neocolonialism pushed its way through the world order right after the old-style trappings of colonial power were exposed and largely disestablished? Or to look at this another way, what would a peace movement look like which rose to the challenge of the UNESCO Charter’s truism that war is born “in the minds of men and it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed”?

By the today, a considerable number of people concerned with peace and justice have come to feel that this interior dimension has been overlooked: it is in fact the problem – consequently, some recognize, it could be the solution. We can use the analogy of the “new physics:” As long as we thought of the physical world as separate bodies acting on one another primarily by collision we thought of the social world too as changed only by the mobilization of coercive forces. An individual could not change such a system except by votes, or money, or violence. But scientists, and their popular following, nowadays tend to think of the world as a field of forces. Some recognize that the mind too, is a field of forces, and it is much easier to see how the two might affect each other. It is not quite so fantastic that, as the Katha Upanishad says, “seated here in meditation, the Self moves all the world.”

It is, however, possible to misunderstand this powerful truth. Many groups have sat beaming peace thoughts at the Pentagon without noticeable results; veering, as it were from the apparent error of ‘politics only’ to the counter-error of ‘nice thoughts only.’ The fact is, it is not all clear how the mind and world interact or what we can do about it. Let me try simply for the moment to indicate my own view. 

Adolf Hitler once boasted that he had rescued the German nation from its economic dismemberment and humiliation at the hands of the allied powers at the end of the First World War singlehandedly in the space of fifteen years “by my fanatical will.” There is nothing occult about this. The demented power of his will communicated itself to millions of people; even many of his victims fell under its hypnotic spell. And at the same time, by the peculiar irony of the Twentieth Century, Mahatma Gandhi was moving hundreds of millions in the precisely opposite direction. When Gandhi fasted, even someone who considered him or herself unpolitical and not a volunteer in the great Satyagrahas would feel it a sin to eat. Once again, it was the Mahatma’s powerfully focused will which enabled him, in Martin Luther King’s words, to “lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.”

The fact is, most of our resources lie locked up in the unconscious. Just as genetic information has been carefully protected in the cell nuclei so that – until very recently, when we found out how to tamper with it – even the biggest manmade mistakes could only injure the outer organism and perish with it, so too most of the power locked up in the mind is not accessible to us by ordinary means of manipulation. This power is closely connected with what Shaw and others called the Life Force. Our daily life – all our appetites, desires, thoughts and activities –runs off the “interest” of our packet of this immense, largely unsuspected energy. By garnering carefully the energy available to him, as to us, Gandhi was able to break through into the “principle,” bringing untold resources to do good into his hands.

In a sense the mass media are like the new tools of genetic engineering, giving us access to deeper reserves of the mind’s power than has been heretofore possible, but since no wisdom and no particular goodwill underlies the process, making if you will little Hitlers of us, by degrading the human image which each of us carries within and which so very strongly determines how we think and act. (Hitler once told William Shirer, “Everyone has his price, and you’d be surprised in most of us how low that price is.”) This effect of the mass media goes far to explain why the peace movement is making so little headway, but in its negative way, it also demonstrates that the crucial human predisposition towards peace and justice is alterable.

Simply put, meditation would enable us to reverse that mass media process: what group folly, motivated by greed, is driving asunder, individual discipline can pull back together. Where the social currents are slowly sweeping us back to barbarism we can consciously wade forward, making us each in our own way little Gandhis – and perhaps some of us fairly big ones. As Storm Jameson, a British essayist wrote gazing at the coming clouds of the “second global conflict,” all of us wish for peace, but we do not will it. Through meditation, we can will it. We can slowly recapture our will and bend its immense power to the cause we consciously approve of.

I hope I am conveying the difficulty of this task as well as the sense of hope it communicates. Thinking good thoughts is probably helpful, but certainly not the kind of force I am describing. The depth of psychological change I am referring to here cannot happen at an occasion. The battle has to be renewed every day – twice a day if one is going to be serious – and go on the rest of our life. It has little to do with pleasant thoughts or indeed any thoughts (as Sri Eknath Easwaran’s directions, here, will clarify) and many daunting ancillary disciplines have to be added to sustain this practice and realize its full effects.

In this conscious discipline, not only is immense personal power gradually added to us but the wisdom and compassion to direct it. Where would all of Gandhi’s charisma have gotten him without his uncanny shrewdness, the wonder of his friends and foes alike? By what he called conscious struggle to conserve his anger (thus converting it into compassion) he slowly brought his mind under control. This, I believe, gave him access to immensely deeper resources of psychological power; in Hitler’s case, they had access to him. Thus they propelled him onto a course that led inevitably to folly and extreme misery, while Gandhi was able to direct his ever-growing energies efficiently to good – to his own sublime happiness, of which he leaves abundant testimony, and the supreme good of society, which will become evident to us, I believe, when we gather the strength to develop the complex legacy of his many experiments. 

Meditation, then, bypasses the traditional dichotomy between contemplative and active modes; when systematically developed by dedicated individuals under the guidance of a competent teacher (indispensable, as far as my experience goes), it gives them the power and the judgment to overcome chaotic forces of the mind and of the world with equal effectiveness. I maintain that a movement leavened by lifetime meditators like this would change the balance of forces and win the peace – how soon would only depend on how many they were, and of course how good at it. 

What would such a movement look like? I predict it would: 1) devote much more attention to the devastating effects of the mass media, recognizing intuitively that unless we reverse the degradation of the human image that is taking place so universally we can never reverse the arms race or any other species of violence; 2) reverse the emphasis on confrontational style and obstruction (though it would not abandon them) to one of constructive action and education. 3) Its expressions would everywhere succeed much better at the fundamental Christian strategy of never confusing destructive policies with the people ignorantly responsible for them. In a word, its nonviolence power would be much more accurate in action and in general reconstruct the mental environment and the prevailing values fundamentally, so that all political changes would be more enduring and more positive. As Christopher Lasch recently wrote, “Empowerment would enable poor people to compete for the brokerage of political power on a more equal footing, but it would not change the definition of political power as brokerage.” A meditation-leavened movement would.

My analysis might be wrong, but in my view, only a deep change in key people who can exercise leadership – or similar small changes in all participants, or both – would direct our movement to the heart of the problem, and put in our hands the tools to correct it, permanently. Only so leavened, in other words, can we “change our way of thinking” fundamentally and create the “paradigm shift” towards a peace system before it is too late. And as far as I know at present, only meditation can give us the power for that change.

These are tall claims. I base them on my own decades’ long experience, however, and invite you to test them the only way that is finally possible – by yours.

This article is from the Metta Center’s deep archive, written by Michael Nagler on a type-writer and submitted, we believe, to a yoga journal. It still holds relevance for our current events, and so we gratefully share it here.

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“How can there be room for distinctions of high and low where there is this all-embracing fundamental unity underlying the outward diversity?”
-Gandhi (Young India, September 24, 1921) 

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Volunteer Spotlight: Astrid Montuclard

Astrid Montuclard (right) with Diken Patel, a social activist and heartivist. Here, they are cleaning up a communal area in Udaipur, India, to make room for a seating area in a cafe based on gift culture. Photo courtesy of Astrid Montuclard.

How did you find the Metta Center for Nonviolence, and what inspires you about our work?

I heard about the Metta Center through East Point Peace Academy in Spring 2018. Kazu Haga, its founder, advertised the Center’s 6-month online course to certified Kingian nonviolent conflict resolution students, and I jumped on the opportunity to learn more about nonviolence. I found the content of both Metta’s 6-month course and website striking with clarity, pragmatism, hopefulness, and vision, which are four qualities that I look for in my work.

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