Sunday, August 31, 2008

AAA: Ahimsa And Anarchists

-dedicated to ND.

For years I've been drawn to the idea of anarchy. I have much to learn, but I do know, that though many reasonable factions of anarchism exist, the one that the media loves to dramatize, and the police love to hate, is the stereotype of anarchy that supposedly would go so far as to try to break up the RNC with balloons full of urine and heavy duty bike locks.

I have a heavy, industrial-strength bicycle lock... and a toilet. Should I be worried? Are those helicopters above for me or the RNC skyline?

Both sides will have a lot of explaining to do. I'm curious to see if this will be more of an embarrassment for the notoriously corrupt Mpls police (what institution isn't corrupt?) or members of the anarchist bent RNC Welcoming Committee.

Anarchy is both demonized by the mainstream and romanticized by its staunch adherents. I know that the true intentions behind anarchy are much more tame and admirable than the 5o'clock news would like us to believe.

Since I left the church, and Jesus, I have not allowed myself to join any group, whether mainstream liberal politics, or clandestine rebels with a cause... both of which have been a temptation. But whenever I attend something that has 2 or 3 ppl gathered in the Name of Something, I find myself back in church again.

Same shit, different venue.

I lied: I do carry a library card. And a yoga card.

I will follow and perhaps even pursue this story as it develops. I will continue to educate myself on not only anarchy (which is about as utopian as you can get) but the history of nonviolence.

When Jesus rip roared, crazy mad through the temple, tipping over the tables of money changers and cheap trinkets from the West Bank capitalists, Jesus demonstrated his anticapitalist tendencies.

Better yet, perhaps Jesus was not only an Anarchist, but his very own AntiChrist.

The following article is derived from a research paper I wrote for a yoga teacher program.


AHIMSA: Imagining the Future History of NonViolence

In the study of ahimsa one finds multiple translations of an ancient eastern idea offered to the modern western mind. According to Sri Swami Satchidananda interpretation of Patangali’s Yoga Sutras, “Himsa means to cause pain; ahimsa not to cause pain. Killing is different from causing pain. Causing pain can be even more harmful than killing. Even by your words, even by your thought, you can cause pain."

Gandhi offers a quick definition of ahimsa to Paramahansa Yogananda in Autobiography of a Yogi as “the avoidance of harm to any living creature in thought or deed."

The Chinese word closest to nonviolence from Taoism is “teh”: the virtue of not fighting. The Tao te Ching encourages the peaceful warrior: “The skillful knight is not warlike. The skilled strategist is never angry. He who is skilled in overcoming his enemies does not join battle."

Debates occur over the line between pacifism and nonviolence. In Mark Kurlansky's Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea, we're reminded that “most religions and philosophies that reject violence do not encourage passiveness but activism by other means – nonviolence." He clarifies the difference between pacifism and nonviolence in reference to Jesus’ teachings:

Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus Christ said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won
over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence. (*see footnote)

Gandhi created a new word to describe nonviolent action or “holding on to truth”: satyagraha. He said, “the first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating." This aspect of Gandhi’s philosophy and practice of ahimsa refers to nonviolent resistance or activism. In his exploration of satyagraha as a form of nonviolence, he drew heavily on the ideas passed down from the Jains, Jesus, and Tolstoy.

Ahimsa, as “the avoidance of violence” appears in the Hindu Upanishads around 800 BC. The Jains, an ancient sect of Hinduism, practiced ahimsa to the point of vegetarianism and veganism. Some Jains refuse to eat any plant that will lose its life if they were to uproot it such as onions and garlic. The Jains, who think of ahimsa as “the root virtue,” greatly influenced Gandhi.

Before Jesus presented the well-publicized Golden Rule, the idea of ‘doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you,’ had already transformed the minds of ancient philosophers. An earlier version of the Golden Rule is found in the following text: “This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you” (Mahabharata 5, 15, 17).

Yet another precursor to Jesus includes a Babylonian Jew, Hillel, who when provoked to prove his knowledge of the Torah responded, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. The rest is commentary on this. Go and study.” Finally, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount includes the oft quoted Golden Rule.

This one example of the history behind the Golden Rule provides one way to trace the roots of our modern comprehension of nonviolence. The history of nonviolence among early Muslims and Christians, include sects such as the Bogomills and others considered to be the first conscientious objectors.

Some sects tended toward beliefs in reincarnation and vegetarianism, a Buddhist style of Christianity. Other famous western groups who advanced the practice of nonviolence include the Cathars, Anabaptists, and Quakers. Early American colonists practiced creative, nonviolent resistance. Some Abolitionists approached slavery through nonviolent activism.

Following in these footsteps are many great movements: the Suffragists; Civil Rights; PETA; the downfall of the Soviet Union; the end to South African Apartheid; examples of countries refusing to persecute the Jews during Nazi rule; and individuals such as Tolstoy, Bayard Rustin, Dr. King, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Petra Kelly, and perhaps even Cindy Sheehan.

In Thomas Merton’s introduction to Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolence, Merton suggests that “to punish and destroy the oppressor is merely to initiate a new cycle of violence and oppression."

Kurlansky documents the destruction of 1960’s nonviolent groups such as the SDS and Civil Rights movements as they branched off into the Weather Underground and Black Panthers, movements that turned their backs on nonviolent approaches:

First there is the lesson that violence always comes with a rational explanation and that explanation, usually expressed in lofty terms, is only dismissed as irrational if the violence fails… But another lesson from the Weather Underground is that violence is a virus that infects. Both the movements and their enemies understand that if violence could be planted in a group, it would spread and eventually destroy the movement.

Westerners have been brought up to believe that humans are prone to violence and therefore should not expect to live in a nonviolent world. But in responding to these old patterns of thinking preached from the pulpit or argued by western philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, Kurlansky asks the question, “is the source of violence not human nature…. but a lack of imagination?”

The beat poet Diane di Prima answered in her poem “Rant”:


As a solution to violence, there are many examples of how ahimsa worked, followed by many examples of the suppression of nonviolent activism. Gandhi did not expect all people to be capable of always reacting in a nonviolent manner to violence.

My understanding of Gandhi’s response, is that not everyone can approach all situations of injustice with a pure, loving heart, though that should be a goal of the dedicated satyagrahi, someone dedicated to living nonviolently. He suggests that love will stand up to and is capable of defeating evil.

He doesn’t expect everyone to have the capacity to practice such a pure level of nonviolence. He leaves no question that someone who approaches ahimsa or satyagraha in a hypocritical manner will not experience the benefits of such a practice. Gandhi suggests that the heart must be pure in its intent before nonviolence will work effectively.

Phillip Moffitt’s Yoga Journal article on “Violence Against Self” provides an excellent foundation to approach ahimsa from the inside out. Instead of looking for ways to discourage nonviolence in the larger world, we have to learn to replace inner/personal violence with multi-faceted ahimsa.

If the individual doesn’t practice ahimsa on her self, she can not be expected to share ahimsa effectively with her community.

Thinking of groups like The Weather Underground, I ask myself, in what way is violence “planted” in our minds and goes on to infect our bodies?

I was brought up to believe that humans are incapable of anything but screwing things up, especially those who don’t have Jesus or the Hebrew God on their side. My upbringing argued that it is natural to be violent and evil and only Jesus’ love can reverse that hellish tendency. The argument goes that once we destroy all decency and moral barriers by rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, things will get so gory that the only solution will be for him to come and start things over from scratch. Countless prayers and sermons end with, “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

Increasingly, as I unlearn and discard old patterns of belief and pessimism, I turn to the unforeseeable future with less fear and more optimism. It is a poor choice to wait around for things to get so bad that someone special has to come along and fix it all.

I believe it unwise for people to excuse violence and abuse, or overlook harm to people or the environment as an inevitable trend. I believe it is unwise to bury anger, frustration, helplessness, and powerlessness deep in the core of our bodies until it screams to be let out by any means necessary.

Buried himsa, violence hidden away in our bodies, push people to either the point of implosion, or explosion. Sometimes innocents get hurt.

I believe we are destined to find creative, honest outlets to our anger. I believe we, as individuals, as a human gene pool, are capable of finding effective nonviolent solutions to fear and anger.

Gandhi points out the connection between violence and fear when he says, “he who has not overcome all fear cannot practice ahimsa to perfection.”

What would it take to teach each generation new ways to not internalize other peoples’ anger and fear?

*citations and bibliography available upon request

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