Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Taoist look at Nonviolence

I was just reading an article on nonviolence. Dr. Jane Hurst made me dig out my old Gandhi reading and think a bit more about this subject and the principle of nonviolent resistance in general, and from a Taoist perspective.

Jewish martyrs were recorded in 1 Maccabees. Jews died rather than worship pagan gods as required by Roman law, but not always peacefully. They rebelled quite often and it was an armed revolt against the Romans after Jesus' death, that finally led to the Jewish Diaspora from Israel and the renaming as Palestine. 
I once studied the history of Sikhism.
Who could not like a monotheistic religion that says that "Women are the conscience of men?"

Guru Nanak, who started Sikhism, was able to sing of the wonders of God and love while living under the brutal rule of Moghul emperors in the 1400's, a grossly unequal world with routine brutality. Human life was valueless. People died young in war or childbirth. Rich people bought whatever or whomever they wanted. And here Guru Nanak was talking about equality. It made me understand the world of Jesus better.
Large picture of white lilies with pink centers, the symbol of peace
Taoism holds that an excess of one thing always leads to an excess of its opposite. As Shakespeare wrote in King Henry the Fourth, Part I; "Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety." You can as easily change the words for "violence" and "love" and describe the teachings of Guru Nanak and Jesus.
Jesus preached peace, turning the other cheek and seeking out the kingdom of heaven, when Jews wanted badly to overthrow Roman rule. Yet, Christianity became the national religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD!

Historians would call this irony. Taoists would call it the Way. Take the story of Gandhi and the Indians struggling against their British overlords.This is how the British came to rule India in the first place.
Indian society itself had many problems-- feudalism, casteism, poverty. Mohandas Gandhi came to India, was hailed as the leader of the independence movement, and he said no, I need to learn Indian problems first. He worked on those, and preached nonviolent disobedience called satyagraha (truth power), urging people to ignore certain laws and die for it if need be. Satyagraha could not be undertaken with doubts. He led by persuasion and many chose to follow his example. Not all.
The infamous Salt March was the incident that shook the British Empire. Many civil rights battles since have followed this example of targeting a specific unjust law designed to oppress: Rosa Parks refusing to give up seats at buses, de-segregating lunch counters.
Violence continued. Indians rioted after massacres, and tens of thousands of Indians died in the struggles which took over 20 years. Gandhi himself halted his campaign of civil disobedience at least twice.
By WWII, Gandhi had started his final disobedience campaign-- "Quit India."

This time, Gandhi said, individual acts of violence would not stop the civil disobedience movement. Hmm. He also said himself that if there was a choice between violence and cowardice, he might recommend violence. India became independent after WWII, without any organized battle, unlike the American War of Independence, which had 6 years and caused less than 8,000 deaths in battle and perhaps 20,000-25,000 deaths overall.
Yet by the time the British ceded, there were over 100,000 political prisoners to be freed, and ten of thousands dead. Nearly 1 million would die during the partition of India and Pakistian.

Nothing is as simple as it looks on the surface. Extremes will chaotically oscillate to various extremes until a new balance is found. I end with a quote from the Tao Te Chung:


9. WITHOUT EXTREMES

"The cup is easier to hold
when not filled to overflowing.

The blade is more effective
if not tempered beyond its mettle. Picture of a chaotic equation as two interlinked golden filigreed figures on red, purple and blue background.

Gold and jade are easier to protect
if possessed in moderation.
He who seeks titles,
invites his own downfall.

The sage works quietly,
seeking neither praise nor fame;
completing what he does with natural ease,
and then retiring.
This is the way and nature of Tao."

-- Wilbrod, in the lotus position ;).

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