How does the way that we live contribute to a nonviolent society? As the pace of society speeds up, fewer and fewer people are finding fulfillment in the promise of a world that is based on advancing technology, consumerism and depersonalization. Yet there are pockets around the world who are experimenting with community life as a solution to our society’s ills. While this does not mean that there will not be any conflicts (remember, conflict is natural — violence is not), or that the experiment is perfect (for Gandhi, all was an experiment, a learning opportunity), it is precisely in community living infused with high ideals like those of the nonviolent path, that we can see ourselves and our human potential more clearly.
In this episode of Nonviolence Radio we speak with Timothy Anderson, a full-time resident of a nonviolence-oriented community in the South of France, founded by Lanza del Vasto, an Italian follower of the Gandhian path.
In the Nonviolence Report, Michael Nagler makes the radical case for restorative justice because of the impact of retribution on the human psyche and our societal development; and Stephanie Van Hook shares an article from Waging Nonviolence by Robert Levering about Daniel Ellsberg’s conversion to nonviolence, and a press release from the Shanti Sena Network on their upcoming gathering, to which all are invited!
Stephanie: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook and I’m here in the studio at long last with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler. Today we’re going to be talking with somebody all the way from France who’s living in a nonviolent intentional community called “The Community of the Ark.”
And I have with us today on the phone, Tim Anderson. Tim is residing in an intentional/spiritual community in France, in Southern France, called “The Community of the Ark.”
And this is a community that was founded by a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi named Lanza del Vasto, also known as Shantidas. And as Tim reached out to the Metta Center for Nonviolence to find connection with those in the English-speaking world who are dedicated to nonviolence and collaborations in their work, I thought a great way to introduce him to our colleagues and to the English-speaking world would be through an interview on Nonviolence Radio. So, welcome to the show, Tim.
Tim: Thanks very much, Stephanie. Pleasure to be here.
Stephanie: Now, you were not born in France. You’re English-speaking. So, where are you from and how did you get connected to the Community of the Ark?
Tim: Yeah, it’s a bit of a life adventure, I guess. I was born in Sydney – Sydney, Australia. And I grew up there. But I went to work in London for many years. And I met my partner when she was coming down here for the first time from Argentina. And she came down here and said it was a great experience, and come down and have a look. And I’ve never been in community before, so I followed her down here. And we had a really nice time together and we started coming regularly. And eventually, we just started to move back here permanently.
Stephanie: And what kind of things did you do when you would come to the community? What was daily life like as visitors?
Tim: Well, it’s very much – it’s very much the place to kind of live nonviolence. So, there’s a lot of focus on producing the food to live by. We have our own bakery, a wood-fired bakery. Stone, wood-fired bakery. And we have a large garden. But we have a river source, so we can do all our washing by hand and all our maintenance within some sort of sense of simplicity, if you like.
So, it’s very much sharing the daily duties of preparing the meal and looking after the place, and really trying to live the nonviolence that Lanza del Vasto learned living with Gandhi.
Stephanie: That just sounds amazing and idealistic. And I can imagine how wonderful – it sounds like, hearing about it, that you get to really live off the land. And I bet you come and you don’t have the skills. Do you learn skills while you’re there?
Tim: Absolutely. I think – yeah, yeah. That’s one of the things that really, really brought me here. I think the first thing that struck me was that I didn’t touch my wallet, I think, for the two or three weeks that I came the first time. I didn’t even think about it. I was eating organic food from the garden and having a really great social time, meeting lots of traveling people and the like.
But yeah, I think just the practical skills on a daily basis, you’re really working. You’re working the land and you’re required to do maintenance. And we have animals. We had cows when I first came, but now we have chickens and sheep. So, yeah, if you want to work with them you can learn. And lots of specialists in different creative arts. We have potters and, well, the bakers, of course. Some people are involved in weaving and this sort of thing. So, yeah, lot’s of music. Lots of musicians and that sort of thing. So, always lots to learn.
Stephanie: Wow. I’m drooling over here in the studio. That sounds just amazing and so much a solution for the hectic headache of our consumer culture. That people, you know, what is the way out? What is the way to get this to stop? And, you know, what this kind of capitalist consumer culture tells us is that we’re being released from all the things that you’re doing there, right? We don’t have to wash our clothes in a river. We don’t have to bake our own bread. We don’t have to learn music. We can consume it. We don’t have to make our own plates, we can buy them and just keep buying more and more.
So, talk a little bit about that internal shift that takes place. What kind of responsibility and accountability do you feel to the things that you use? Is there like a sacred – do things begin to take on a sacred quality?
Tim: I think they did. I think every generation here has sort of produced a different dynamic. They used to focus quite a lot on the simple life. And which I think of it as like a product of the spiritual search, if you’d like. Keeping things, breaking down your desires for more, being observant of where your desires are coming from for things that maybe you otherwise don’t really need.
What becomes difficult is that the simplicity is quite often inconvenient. And so, it’s a constant temptation to do things a little bit more efficiently or a little bit more productively, if you like. And that’s a constant challenge because it’s so easy to, for example, I think when we started – when I first came here, we were cutting wood all the way through winter by hand with a saw. And it’s very labor intensive and very slow.
And when you can get a chainsaw working for 20 minutes and do a week’s work of woodchopping, you know. So, it’s very hard to – it’s a discipline. I think one of the things that Lanza mentioned quite a lot, was that nonviolence is really like a spiritual discipline. You have to actively fight against the urge to take the shortcut. It’s quite difficult to keep lighting a fire to heat the water to do your washing when you’ve got a washing machine that can do it for you in 20 minutes or something, you know? It’s a constant struggle, I think, yeah. Every generation’s a little bit different dynamic.
Stephanie: But I want to bring out too – I mean you make it sound, you know, both dreamy and then hard and almost kind of terrible. Like why would I do it? So, do speak to what emerges. What is happening inside when you do take the route that does take a little bit more time and a little bit more effort and a little bit more creativity? Can you speak to what’s happening internally?
Tim: Well, I think one of the things – one of the most important things is that you start to fall into a more natural rhythm with nature. I think one of the big problems with city life or modern life is the insistence that we have to keep going faster. The efficiency and having access, having more is always going to be better.
And I think we’re maybe getting to the end of a cycle of realizing, “Well, there has to be limits.” We just can’t – it’s not good for our health to be constantly pushing ourselves faster and faster and faster and always demanding more and more from the natural environment. I think the more you slow down the more you sort of see the more – I think there’s a change in attitude. I think you start to discover that actually what is really nice about the simple life is that it produces an enormous amount of freedom.
Freedom from the need for more, because you find that actually you don’t need that much to actually have a really healthy life, to be living off the land and be living off really good quality food, and to be having good human relationships. It’s really fundamental in having a good quality life, I think. And I think once you – the slower you go, you realize that there’s a lot of free time around the rhythms of nature. And that produces – that makes you more at ease, more relaxed. You don’t want to change so much. And when you don’t want to change so much, you know, you’ve got more time. You got more time because you’re not – more time and more freedom. I think it sort of feeds back into itself. Yeah, so, it’s a struggle, but it’s a struggle worth it, I think.
Stephanie: Yeah. I think that’s beautifully put, Tim. Michael Nagler has a question for you.
Michael: Hello, Tim. This is –
Tim: Hi Michael.
Michael: Hi. This is Michael. Yeah. I was struck by an implication of something that you said, Tim, that reminded me immediately of one of the most profound comments that Gandhi made about living in an intentional community, an ashram. He said, “A man who does not grow his own food will not know who he is.”
Michael: And same with a woman, of course. So, you realize who you fully are. And it seems to me that that was pretty much what you were saying. Now, Tim, I’d like you to go from there to talk a little bit about the nonviolence aspect. Did you study nonviolence with Shantidas? Did you apply it?
Tim: No. Shantidas, he died in the early ‘80s. So, no, it was before my time here. But there’s certainly people who lived with him during that time who have stayed in the community for 40, 50 years. We had three ladies here who were in their late 80s and early 90s who were still living with us up until a couple of years ago. They were great sources of inspiration and teachings.
Yeah, I think one of the nice quotes I like from Lanza del Vasto was that you can’t create peace around you without having peace within you first or creating that peace within you first. And I think this is really sort of the real root of the nonviolent community or the root of the Ark, is this return to soi in French which means a return to self. Come back to yourself. Have a look at yourself and understand the human condition.
I think the point of understanding the human condition which we’re all experiencing, through that we can have an empathy for other human beings who are experiencing something similar if not exactly the same. So, I think in that sort of sense, that empathy, we can develop a better appreciation of what it means to be a human being, what sort of things drive us to do the things that we do. And to just become more conscious of it.
Stephanie: Tim – well, for those of you just tuning in, we’re speaking with Tim Anderson from France and is living in an intentional community in the south of France called, “The Community of the Ark,” founded by the world-renowned Gandhian discipline, Lanza del Vasto, otherwise known as Shantidas. And these communities are really providing, you know, there’s pockets all over the world of people who are living in a way that can help us overcome the greatest challenges that we’re facing in terms of consumerism and the climate and, you know, mass consumption and all of that.
So, Tim, I imagine that you have a daily schedule or that there’s things that your community does at least, you know, by themselves or you go off and work on different things. But are there times when you come together? And do you come together for meals or for meditation or prayer? What kind of community life is there?
Tim: Yeah, certainly. I mean the first thing we do, we have a meditation together in the morning. And we have a long history of singing here at the Ark from different traditions. So, we generally have a fairly short meditation, but then we’ll sing a couple of songs and maybe read something from a sacred text or something that we found that was beautiful or interesting from the spiritual life.
And then we prepare the lunch together. Someone is designated to do the lunch. And we’ll prepare lunch together. And the work is organized. Most people, a lot of people go down to the garden. We’ve got some carpenters and we’ve got people working in the bakery and there’s a lot of maintenance and people coming and going through the hotelery. So, there’s always that sort of work.
We come together for lunch. We have lunch together. There’s a couple of hours in the afternoon off, and then we come back to work for a couple of hours. There’s an evening meditation. There’s groups that do singing and contact dance and different things, depending on who’s here. Yoga. We’ve been privileged to have some yoga teachers staying with us long-term. So, it depends on the evening and it depends on the group.
But yeah, we have a traditional dance every Saturday night, for example. So, yeah. We have lots of common activities. And then we have specific celebrations throughout the year. Round about the solstices and the big traditional Easter and Christmas. Yeah, we have some special celebrations as well. Shantidas’s birthday and that sort of thing.
Stephanie: And so, Tim, thanks so much for joining us today on the show. I wonder as we’re closing up here, if you could tell us how people can get in touch with you, find out more about the community? And so, they could even – now that, you know, lockdown is ending and people are able to travel again, how they can come and visit and stay in the community.
Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I mean we have a website. You can go through a search engine and find Lanza del Vasto, the Community of the Ark. The “Ark” and “Nonviolence” usually comes up with our connection. There’s a link to all our communities on the website, including here at La Borie Noble. This is the first community and the biggest community in the main size. We have about 400 hectares, so it’s a huge place. But the other communities are smaller, but some of them are just as beautiful. So, they’re kind of nice.
But you can contact us by email or we are also on WWOOFing, Working On Organic Farms program. So, people can contact us through that. We’ve done some student programs, some ERASMUS programs. We can be contacted through various, various means, I guess.
Stephanie: And if people come to the Metta Center’s website to read the transcript of this show, we will definitely link to – we’ll provide a link and contact information for your community so it’s easier to find. So, that’s at mettacenter.org.
Tim Anderson, thanks so much for your time. And I know it’s late over there in France, so thank you so much again for taking time to join us today.
Tim: No, problem, Stephanie. Thanks very much. Nice to meet you Michael. All the best.
Stephanie: I’m Stephanie Van Hook and you’re at Nonviolence Radio. Nonviolence is happening all over the world, though it’s underreported in the mass media. Our next segment is the Nonviolence Report with Michael Nagler. Michael is the president at the Metta Center for Nonviolence, author of the “Third Harmony, Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature,” as well as the “Nonviolence Handbook.” He’ll share news, events, and analysis which might even inspire you to take action where you live. Let’s tune in.
Michael: I wanted to talk a little bit about some thoughts that have been stirred up by the Chauvin trial. I noticed a number of kind of contradictory responses which I think are appropriate.
You know, on the one hand people were very happy that justice was served in this case. And I’m not disputing that in the least. But there were a number of voices including those of Black intellectuals like Fania Davis and [Daria Moore] pointing out that, as Fania Davis put it very simply, “Verdicts don’t heal.” And Moore said, “This is actually responding to violence with violence.”
And so, that brought up the whole question in my mind of retributive justice and restorative justice. You know, it’s not like we don’t have an alternative to responding to violence with violence. We can also respond to violence with nonviolence as, you know, across the board. And this is a very good example of how that works.
And I’d like to point out there are two major institutional forms of nonviolence that are operating in the world today. The one that’s most developed by far is restorative justice. I wanted to just say a word about that. The other one is something that we’ve talked about a lot because it’s in a much more intense sector of human affairs. And that is the sector of war. And that is the institution of unarmed civilian peacekeeping. It’s gone by various names down the years. But that will be, again, for another time.
So, this morning I want to talk about restorative justice, what both Fania and Moore called for, even in this extreme case. I mean people might well feel that if we subjected or provided a restorative process for someone like ex-officer Derek Chauvin, that we would be quote, “Letting him get away with it.” But as they pointed out, Moore and Fania Davis, it’s not that easy to go through a restorative process.
When you commit a crime and society punishes you, at best, you may feel – though I think this is unfortunately rare – you may feel that you’ve got what you deserve and you feel better about it and now things are adjusted. You know, the moral balance is restored in your person. But I don’t actually think that happens very often. And the evidence is that it does not.
There was one inmate, who in a recent study, who was asked, you know, what his prison experience was like. And he made a very telling remark. He said, “We became exactly what they told us we were.” In other words, you take people, put them in cages, and tell them that they are bad and they have to be punished, they become like animals and bad and deserving of more punishment. I think, you know, every parent is aware of this. And society should be aware of it too.
But in restorative justice, you are treated as a human being, no matter what you did, it doesn’t fully define what you are. And the first move in a restorative process is very interesting. You know, you think it might be like mollycoddling and patting the person on the shoulder and saying, “Now, now. That’s all right. You know, we all have our little lapses.” But no. That would be humiliating, actually. The first act is to restore the dignity of the offender. And you do that by allowing him – most of the time it’s him – to take responsibility. And the process is not going to get any further until he says, “You’re right. I did something wrong. What can we do about it?”
And then the main effort that follows is reconciliation. And that often involves ending up in some kind of compensation. You know, we’re remembering an interesting case of our friend who is so famous for practicing restorative justice in Brazil, who had a case there where a kid had stolen a car. And the car was all that the owner of the car had for making his living. And so, it was devastating for the victim.
And then the kid went and wrecked the car up after he had stolen it, which unfortunately is very common. Because you know, they drive wildly, carelessly. So, what kind of recompense could be worked out? Well, the young man volunteered to give this person his bicycle. You know, a bicycle is not, quote, “worth a car,” in terms of money, but the bicycle was all that that young boy had. And so, it was the personal equivalent of all that that his victim had had.
So, and then the final move in restorative justice is to rebalance and heal the community. So, you know, you’re healing – the individual is involved. Both the victim and the offender, if it’s an individual or a group. And then when they have come to some kind of agreement that something will close the loop and make them, you know, rebalance the relationship. Rejoin, re-heal their relationship. And then after that, you go to the community and try to bring peace.
Or as Moore put it, “To bring peace and nonviolence where Chauvin brought violence.” So, it’s not a question of how much the offender deserves. It’s a question of what’s the best way out of this situation.
Stephanie: Michael, I want to raise a challenge because I know where you’re coming from, having – being so committed to the nonviolent path and to these alternatives, but I think that part of the challenge of restorative justice is that it keeps getting applied to white people. The prison system is disproportionately Black and Brown and Native American people. And in any other country that has a prison population, it’s always the Black and Brown and Indigenous people who are somehow the minorities who are the quote/unquote “problems.”
And restorative justice keeps, somehow, keeps getting focused on rehabilitating the white people who committed the crimes, not this other prison population. And it’s hard for me as a nonviolent person to believe that that is a respectful way of using restorative justice. And I think also, it’s triggering, in a way, to think in this situation, to have that conversation that somebody who committed cold murder and was convicted on three counts of murder, that they should be the first person to go through this process. That seems just too extreme, Michael. And I really feel that way.
Michael: You think I feel any different?
Stephanie: Yeah, I do.
Michael: Do you think it’s easier for me?
Stephanie: Say more. So, we were talking about like four arguments in favor of the elimination of retributive justice. Talk about that. Let’s take it away from this case, in particular, just for a minute to hold it because that’s part of the problem. Is that we say, “Restorative justice works. And it works in these horrible cases.” But we don’t even need to go there yet. Let’s start with, you know, the thieving. Or lets start with, you know, smaller crimes than murder. And so, let’s walk this back a bit, Michael.
Michael: Okay. Sure. I mean I’ve been walking backwards my whole life. Why not do a little bit more now? No. I do want to get back to that question, Stephanie, but this is a very good set of points that you’re raising. The problem with what we call retributive justice, you know, punishment that we practice today is first and foremost – you know, even the restorative justice advocates sometimes don’t get to point this out, but I think this is really the bedrock of the problem.
That retributive justice perpetrates the causal factors in society and in human consciousness that led to the crime in the first place. So, that’s why we see it. And statistically, it’s overwhelming that we see how retributive justice doesn’t work.
In communities – pointed out a long time ago, that in communities that reinstated the death penalty in a desperate move for getting deterrents on all the homicides, the homicides went up between 2% and 10%. And the recidivism rate, the rate at which convicted inmates go out when they’re released and commit crimes again, usually exactly the same kind, often taking retribution in turn against the people who incarcerated them. That rate can run around 70%.
I was in San Quentin one time talking about nonviolence to a bunch of convicts, inmates. They told me the rate in that group, which was, you know, serious offenders, was like 72%. So, I just want to emphasize that point. That you cannot get to a well-adjusted, balanced, long-term response by replicating the causes, the underlying deep causes of the problem. So, the cause that I’m talking about, just to repeat it, is the degrading, the dehumanization of the human image.
And the biggest trouble then with retributive justice is it starts from the assumption that the human being cannot be restored. That he or she has to be punished in some sort of abstract moral code has to be satisfied instead of satisfying human beings and human nature.
So, concretely then it’s been proven that retributive justice does not work. Restorative justice works fantastically well. And we’re talking now about just, you know, short term, individual cases of not infrequently people who have committed maybe even serious crimes, even lots of them, and have gone through a restorative process – which is usually, you know, a fairly formal thing that’s organized by state actors. They’ll, not infrequently, when they’ve gone through that, they turn around and become one of the best supporters. For example, if someone committed gang offenses, they do anti-gang work. They often go back into their neighborhoods and talk to the communities that they come from and try to address the problems that led to crimes.
So, that’s the last thing that you get to in a restorative process, is to look at the things that cause the crime in the first place. Was it a lot of poverty? Was it, you know, unequal job opportunities, racial discrimination? Whatever it was. So, A Number 1, retributive justice doesn’t work. I mean we’d being willing to forgive a lot of things if it did. Number 2, long-term, it perpetuates the problems that brought the crime into existence. Number 3, it’s extremely costly. And last but not least, it is almost always disproportionally racial, as you were pointing out.
Stephanie: Michael, I wonder if you can also talk about this concept that you have helped name in nonviolence called, “Work versus ‘Work’.” Because I think that the retributive justice system fits into that model quite neatly just the way that violence does. So, explain to us, what does work vs “work” mean? And how can people who are listening then use this term in order to better, you know, deepen their understanding of, “Well, of course, I intellectually understand, that the retributive justice system doesn’t meet our goals in long-term and it dehumanizes us, but it feels good to see somebody who deserves to get, you know, a prison sentence, imprisoned.” So, what is that feeling?
Michael: You are so right, Stephanie. There’s a simple criterion that we almost never think of and we should always apply. And that is, what does this do to the human image? And by and large, you’ll find, every time, that it either enhances or degrades. And degrading the human image is going to make things worse no matter who did what.
Because in retributive justice you’re basically, as Moore pointed out in the case of Derek Chauvin, you are basically using violence to resolve violence. And now here’s where we talk about our famous model. And I wish this were television so everyone could see.
“Work” quote/unquote means it did what I wanted to do right in that situation. Work without quotes means it had a long-term beneficial effect on civilization and on society. Now, basically, violence and nonviolence are sort of equivalent with regard to “work” vs work because neither of them “works” quote/unquote perfectly every time. There are many examples of people who did things that were nonviolent and they didn’t get the result that they wanted.
Almost always – I would say, “Always,” because there was some flaw in their use of nonviolence. For example, you go out and protest Enbridge Pipeline. It doesn’t quote “work” unquote. But in this case, you stick with it. And people stuck with it for ten years. After ten years that pipeline was shut down by President Biden.
So, on the level of whether it succeeds or not, I’m willing to accept that they’re basically roughly equivalent. But on the basis of whether they do long-term good or long-term harm for all the reasons we’ve been discussing, they’re just exactly opposite. Nonviolence, when done reasonably well – and that’s challenging. That’s not very easy to do. But when it’s done reasonably well, it will quote “work” unquote part of the time – more than violence does.
But let’s just say, “Okay. Sometimes.” But in terms of work, you know, doing beneficial work every time, it will work. And there’s so many examples of this in history. Sometimes, you know, 20 years later you might discover – like I discovered 25 years later that a little grain bag project that I participated in as a kid actually prevented WWIII. There’s an incredible story in which I come out smelling like a rose, so I love to tell it sometimes.
Whereas violence, if you really look at all the results, that’s the trick. And say, “Okay, yes, a thief broke into my house. I had a handgun. I shot the thief, so I still have my watch.” But, you know, what else did you do? You made every householder in the neighborhood say, “Boy, I better have a gun to defend my family.” You made every criminal say, “When I go in there, I better be heavily armed and ready to use them.”
So, yeah, that’s the real difference between “work” vs work and being able to make that discrimination is critical. And often we think that nonviolence doesn’t work because it doesn’t, quote “work” unquote on the surface. But it always works.
Stephanie: Now Michael, what’s the way that the media influences our depth of capacity to imagine restorative solutions? We were talking at our office in Petaluma recently about the – you know, perhaps media tells the story of retribution over and over. That our entertainment in the mass media is about this person, you know, getting hunted down by the police and getting what they deserve. And the newspapers reporting, you know, this person did something bad. But why can’t we imagine a restorative future and what’s its relationship?
Michael: Yeah. Dutch historian by the name of Rutger Bregman has written a wonderful book called, “Humankind.” And he refers to the effect of the media as, “Our mediocracy.” That we basically are ruled by the images and by the vision, or lack of same, that we have in our minds because of the endless bombardment of the mass media. And I said very early on in this program that restorative justice is developing very nicely. And that’s both in schools and in the prison system. You know, juvenile and adult, but who heard about it?
You know, it will not get picked up. It will not get reported on. It doesn’t fit the, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Stephanie: Well, I mean I did see – I do sometimes see restorative justice in the mainstream media, but it’s usually when it’s being applied to a white person. So, that’s also, you know, again, that ruins restorative justice in a way because it looks like it’s a way of being lenient to white offenders.
Michael: Restorative justice for retributive means. Yeah, and I think that’s the core of the problem. Namely, that we don’t recognize that a human being is body, mind, and spirit. And Martin Luther King spoke beautifully to this. And that as bodies, we’re absolutely separate. As minds, we have a lot in common. But, you know, never quite the same. And in spirit, we are one. We are absolutely identical.
And the idea that there’s such a thing as a spirit of one race or a spirit of another race, absolutely absurd. So, if we were to recognize that human beings were spirit, two things would immediately result. One, we would have to reckon with the fact that all human beings can be regenerated. No matter how much you obscure and cover up and violate and betray the spirit within you, it is still there. You cannot kill it and you cannot make it go away.
And the next thing – this is Point Number 2 – that it’s exactly the same in every single human being. In fact, it’s exactly the same in everything, but we don’t have to go there right now.
Stephanie: Well, Michael, thank you so much for your analysis on this topic. Do you have any – a couple of events that you’d like to share that are taking place in the world of nonviolence this morning?
Michael: Yeah. You know, Stephanie, I think I’d like to mention two major theaters of operation as they stand in our country right now.
Michael: One of them is pipelines – extractive industries. There have been a number of successes recently, including the Enbridge shutdown, which I mentioned. And the pressure is still on the president to get him to shut down Line Number 3. So, that is probably the most, to my knowledge at least, the most active theater of nonviolence engagement with the evils of the world in the United States right now.
There’s another theater which is, if anything, more important, because it causes the second one, and it’s been more difficult to see how nonviolence can get engaged there. And that is democracy. That is the, you know, overwhelming anti-democratic – almost overwhelming anti-democratic movement in our electoral politics and throughout society. And as I say, it’s not easy to see what you’re going to do with nonviolence. You can apply it to the symptoms.
So, for example, let’s say we were ready to do that on January 6th. And we had a bunch of people ready to lay down their life if necessary, standing in a perimeter around the White House saying, “If you want to get in that building, you have to step over me.” Yeah, and they might have died. But they would have made a very, very bold, brave, assertion of human dignity. And just as what Gandhi said about the impending, which never materialized, Japanese invasion of India during WWII.
But in addition to applying it after the fact to given symptoms, we could be – that’s why I like to talk about these two institutions. It could be built ahead of time. And most importantly, it could affect and alter and reverse our mediocracy from a promoter of violence to a promoter of nonviolence. That would bring heaven on earth.
Stephanie: Thanks so much, Michael. I actually have two things to share on this Nonviolence Report this morning too. You ready?
Michael: I’m ready.
Stephanie: All right. Well, the first one is that there’s a wonderful article on Waging Nonviolence by Robert Levering who was a Vietnam War anti-war organizer. Well, he wrote a wonderful piece for Waging Nonviolence about Daniel Ellsberg’s contribution to ending the Vietnam War. And the topic that he explores, the theme is that, how one person’s personal conversion to nonviolence can make a huge difference. And it talks about how all of these other people who have – who are like yourself, Michael, just vehemently, you know, or rather passionately anti-war, anti-violence, befriended somebody who wasn’t. And through those friendships, Dan Ellsberg was able to convert his thinking and start studying Gandhi and realized he needed to release the Pentagon Papers.
And so, I think it’s a wonderful story about the challenges of the personal conversion argument, whether they work or not. And in this case, personal conversion does work. And it just – it creates hope, I think, in the sense of by that idea that we befriend those who think differently and are not necessarily on the same path of nonviolence as we are. And we don’t ostracize and we don’t shame people for not believing in nonviolence. We can come together and learn something together and make the world a better place.
And the next piece of news that I have is from the Shanti Sena Network. And this is a press release – calls a summit meeting on Unarmed Civilian Protection in the United States and Canada. And this summit meeting is the first of its kind on Zoom. It will take place from Friday, June 25th to Sunday, June 27th. People can register – or must register for this free virtual event at metapeaceteam.live/shantisena. That’s Meta with one T. Peaceteam.live/shantisena.
Gandhi’s vision of a Shanti Sena or Peace Army is being realized here in North America as multiple peace organizations from around the U.S. and Canada have joined together to form the Shanti Sena Network. As members of the Shanti Sena Network, they’re excited to announce their first ever virtual Shanti Sena Network summit meeting featuring veteran trainer in Kingian Nonviolence Charles Alphin and Paul K. Chappell, the Director of the Peace Literacy Institute.
And also, Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook will be there presenting on Third Harmony, Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature. Don’t miss it.
Stephanie: What is an ashram? What is the significance of Gandhi having an ashram?
Michael: Ashram as an ancient institution in ancient India. The term actually means a place of great effort, hard workplace. And these were the small communities, originally just not much bigger than a family, perhaps, that gathered around a spiritual teacher in ancient India. And there were different types of ashrams. There were sav ashrams for service, and sadhana ashrams for spiritual practice. And there’s several things can be said about the significance of that for Gandhi. It’s interesting that he had four communities that he started in his career. Two in South Africa, two in India.
The two in South Africa he did not call ashrams. It was Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm. But when he gets to India, it’s Satyagraha Ashram and Sabarmati Ashram. And I think he was signaling to the Indian people that he could be resorted to as a spiritual figure. This is interesting because he totally would deny that explicitly. And I think that it’s because he was playing a peculiar position there. He was occupying an unusual role. He definitely had the kind of God-consciousness, the kind of self-realization that a spiritual teacher had.
But as a karma yogi, as one who’s path was the path of action and one who had received a command, I believe, to liberate India from foreign domination through nonviolence, his emphasis had to be on the Freedom Struggle, not on his position as a spiritual teacher because in India, especially at that time as opposed to right now, that would have meant retiring from the world. And as he explains in another quote that we used in one of these little programs, “In order to find God he felt that he had to be engaged with the world.”
Now it also illustrates the fact that he set up ashrams illustrates something about his style which is really interesting, and a lot of people overlook it. And that is that in a way, there wasn’t anything that Gandhi did that was unique to him, that was original in our sense of the word. And if you were to read Joan Bondurant’s Book, “Conquest of Violence,” she’ll show that all of his techniques like strikes and things like that, and even khadi, you know, wearing homespun cloth. Someone wore homespun cloth to a British parliament meeting in India years before Gandhi was born.
So, although he – and he says, you know, “Nonviolence is as old as the hills. I haven’t invented anything.” But he certainly brought it up to date. He certainly articulated it with modern needs. So, you have this ancient institution. And incidentally, in ancient India, the gurus, the teachers, often did have a family and were accompanied by their wife and sometimes children. So, that’s not out of character.
But you have this very ancient institution with analogs in the west as well as in the east. But he turns it into something different. He turns it into the general headquarters for satyagraha. So, people were undergoing spiritual training in those ashrams, at least in the sense that they were following a rigorous self-controlled disciplined way of life. But they were also training for satyagraha for nonviolent resistance. And for Gandhi, satyagraha did – training I should say, did not mean first and foremost what we do today, like we have roleplays and we put people on hassle lines, and you learn how to control your emotions in those situations.
For him, training primarily meant your spiritual empowerment, your development as a human being which meant the progressive willed conscious elimination of your self-will in the cause of a higher nobler goal. At the same time these communities were staging stations. They were kind of conference centres. And they exhibited the ideal model village, how to live. Because people were trying to be as self-sufficient as possible in these simple communities.
If you ever have the opportunity to go to Sevagram, his last ashram, today in north central India, it’s inspiring just to be there and feel the simplicity and the tranquility of the place. But they sure weren’t tranquil at the height of the Freedom Struggle. So, that’s the significance. A, that he is located himself in the spiritual tradition. He’s revivifying India’s ancient spiritual culture. But he’s also adapting it directly for modern needs which meant basically in his case, for spiritual revolution.
Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank all of the staff and volunteers of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, and to all of our listeners, thank you so much for all of your support. Until the next time, please take care of one another.