The Sanskrit word ahimsa does not contain a negative or pas-sive connotation as does the English translation “nonviolence.” The implication of ahimsa is that when all violence subsides in the human heart, the state which remains is love. It is not something we have to acquire; it is always present, and needs only to be uncovered. This is our real nature, not merely to love one person here, another there, but to be love itself. Satyagraha is love in action.
“A Satyagrahi bids goodbye to fear. He is therefore never afraid of trusting the opponent. Even if the opponent plays him false twenty times, the satyagrahi is ready to trust him the twenty-first time, for an implicit trust in human nature is the very essence of his creed.”
“In Satyagraha, it is never the numbers that count; it is always the quality, more so when the forces of violence are uppermost.
“Then it is often forgotten that it is never the intention of a Satyagrahi to embarrass the wrongdoer. The appeal is never to his fear; it is, must be, always to his heart. The Satyagrahi’s object is to convert, not to coerce, the wrongdoer. He should avoid artificiality in all his doings. He acts naturally and from inward conviction.”
“Satyagraha is gentle, it never wounds. It must not be the result of anger or malice. It is never fussy, never impatient, and never vociferous. It is the direct opposite of compulsion. It was conceived as a complete substitute for violence.”
“I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have creased for over forty years to hate anybody. I know this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility.
But I can and do hate evil wherever it exists. I hate the system of government that the British people have set up in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India even as I hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible. But I do not hate the domineering Englishmen as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus. I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me. My non-cooperation has its roots not in hatred, but in love.”
For centuries, millions of people in India had been subjected to great cruelty and discrimination by the higher classes in the name of the caste system. Gandhi, having learned from personal experience the great truth, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” saw the deep underlying connection between India’s exploitation of these impoverished millions and Great Britain’s exploitation of the Indian people. One of the first steps he took to restore India’s self-respect and unity was to begin the liberation of these lower classes. The former name for these people-a terrible one in Sanskrit-means “those who cannot be touched.” The name itself perpetuated their sense of inferiority and shame. But Gandhi began to change this status overnight by giving them a different title: harijans, the children of God.
Wherever Gandhi went he collected money for the Harijans. Middle-class Indian women, particularly in the villages, used to wear every gold ornament they owned, and there was a saying that a man’s best bank is his wife’s neck. Gandhi found this a little ostentatious when so much of the country was near starvation, and he took every opportunity to appeal to such women to give up their gold necklaces, earrings, and bangles to be sold for Harijan service. Not even children were safe from this prince of beggars. He was so irresistible that whenever his train pulled into a station, no matter what time of the day or night, great crowds of people of all ages would be waiting to press their money and jewelry into his outstretched hands.
Gandhi, who dramatized his unity with the poor by sharing their way of life completely, always preferred to travel third class on these campaigns.
This is the heart of Gandhi’s approach. He taught, above all, by personal example. He went and lived with the Harijans; and to encourage them to improve their health and sanitation, he himself became their servant. Hundreds of his followers made their homes in poor villages throughout India, living with the people, teaching and encouraging them by their own example to release themselves from the bondage of ignorance, squalor, superstition, and the utter poverty which followed three hundred years of foreign exploitation.
It is easy, Gandhi used to say, for the strong person to become nonviolent. It is the weakling who finds it impossible. For nonviolence means the capacity to love those who hate you, to show patience and understanding in the face of the most fiery opposition. This is the most difficult discipline one can learn in life, and it is for this reason that Bhagavad Gita says that if you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred.
“By detachment I mean that you much not worry whether the desired result follows from your action or not, so long as your motive is pure, your means correct. Really, it means that things will come right in the end if you take care of the means and leave the rest to Him.”
As Gandhi developed it, Satyagraha is not simply a technique or theory, but a way of life. All of Gandhi’s ideas bear this imprint, that they achieve their potential only in their application, “only by living them.” Gandhi did not invest Satyagraha, he discovered it; Satyagraha, he said, is “as old as the hills.” Gandhi defined its principles and applied them on as large a scale as possible to show their efficacy. But all the white he made it clear that the practice of satyagraha had to begin with the individual, “at home.”
Satyagraha means many things to different people, and Gandhi himself uses the term broadly. When reduced to its essentials, Satyagraha is neither a movement for independence nor a technique of political action, though, in fact, it comes to mean these at different times. Satyagraha is, simply enough, a spiritual force-a potent, viable source of energy that belongs to all individuals, though few are aware of it.
In 1908, in South Africa, Gandhi deliberately coined the word “Satyagraha.” He had a precise force in mind and sought equally precise language to define it, particularly to free it from association with the term “passive resistance.” In his account of the South African struggle he defines Satyagraha this way: “Truth (satya) implies Love, and Firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement ‘satyagraha’; that is to say, the force which is born of truth and love or nonviolence….”
Ahimsa is the bedrock of Satyagraha, the “irreducible minimum” to which Satyagraha adheres and the final measure of its value.