A Grain of Wheat
As we continue to resist and peacefully protest, I found myself rereading the teachings of Gandhi.
Five years ago, I was fortunate to attend a talk given by Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. I found myself rereading his book for the third time and drawn to certain passages as I went through the photographs I had taken this weekend.
Nonviolence is based on five essential elements — love, respect, understanding, acceptance, and appreciation.
Anger is good…Anger, you see, is to people what fuel is to an automobile. Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to any challenge, and life would be no more than mere existence. Anger is energy that compels us to define what is right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust.
Anger is also like electricity. Electricity is powerful — so powerful, in fact, that it can cause devastating destruction if it is mishandled or abused. But if channeled properly and intelligently, it is highly useful to mankind.
Passive violence includes waste, discrimination, oppression of any kind, name calling, gossiping — “in other words, any action that hurts others, consciously or unconsciously.”
When one person inflicts passive violence upon another person and thereby causes suffering, the victim of passive violence is likely, in time, to react in anger using physical violence. How can we put out a fire that we continuously feed with gasoline?
If we eliminate passive violence in ourselves, and strive toward influencing others wherever we can, we will generate a considerable decline in the amount of violence that prevails in our society today.
Human society, after all, is like [Gandhi’s] spinning wheel — an assembly of interdependent parts. When every piece is brought together and respectfully maintained, the machine works beautifully. But neglect the smallest wheel and the machine is useless.
Learning to tolerate absolves people of the responsibility of learning to understand different people, accept and appreciate their differences, and progress towards respecting them for who and what they are. It is only when we build acceptance between people that we will rid ourselves of the scourge of prejudice and liberate ourselves from violence.
We create divisions: Them and Us. This attitude contradicts the philosophy of nonviolence, which seeks to convert people through love and understanding rather than by building walls between them.
Political freedom will be meaningless so long as we continue to oppress our own people.
There will always be another point of view besides our own — sometimes right, sometimes wrong — and we must develop the capacity to pause calmly and evaluate. Then we can take a stand that is not aggressive but conductive to bringing about awareness and change. We must cultivate the humility to acknowledge when we are mistaken, just as we expect others to acknowledge their own mistakes.
For five years, I have hung onto a specific phrase: a grain of wheat. Gandhi would tell his grandson a story about a king who wanted to learn more about peace. The king is told to find a philosopher outside the kingdom. Upon meeting, the philosopher hands him a grain of wheat and says this is the answer. The king was stumped. He had no idea what it meant so he placed the grain of wheat in a gold box and every day, he would open the box and look for answers. Finally, when the sage returned, the king asked what it meant.
“It is quite simple, sire. As long as you keep this grain of wheat in a gold box locked up in your safe, nothing will happen. Eventually it will rot and perish. However, if you let the grain interact with all of the elements — air, water, sunlight — it will grow and multiply, and soon you will have a field of wheat.
“It is the same with peace,” the philosopher continued. “If we keep peace we have discovered in life locked up in our hearts, it will perish. But if it interacts with all the elements and all people, it will spread. And someday there will be peace throughout the world.”
A grain of wheat. It was a simple phrase associated to a big idea but most importantly, it was as a reminder. As we continue to resist against these violent [Gandhi’s definition] actions, always keep these principles in mind. After all, we are all human beings, “united by common aspirations and a common nature.”
All quotes taken from Legacy of Love: My Education in the Path of Nonviolence by Arun Gandhi. The quotes were either directly from Gandhi or explanations at the end of a story from his grandson. Photographs were taken in Seattle.