“You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul.” -Mahatma Gandhi
In the early 20th century, when India was demanding equality and justice for its citizens from imperialistic parasites, Gandhi introduced the concept of Satyagraha. Satyagraha is both a Sanskrit and Hindi term, translated to mean “holding onto truth”. For Gandhi, this term embodied the nonviolent resistance, civil disobedience, and unwavering resolve of their freedom forces. This concept would later become a feature of the Civil Rights Movement and continues to influence activists worldwide.
Britannica reports that the practitioners of satyagraha “achieve correct insight into the real nature of an evil situation by observing a nonviolence of the mind, by seeking truth in a spirit of peace and love, and by undergoing a rigorous process of self-scrutiny.” Perhaps it is a measure of each of these tenets that often evades the modern-day activist.
As a lover of Truth and peace, and yoga teacher today, watching what is happening in the world militarily, politically, economically, financially, ecologically, and technologically, and sociologically, I have been feeling the need to revisit the three principles of this concept and determine for myself how best to live up to it or perhaps even redefine it according to the current crises we face. I approach them in reverse:
The Oracle of Delphi tells us to “know thyself”. Never has this been more important than it is today. Our unacknowledged fears and repressed traumas will continue to run our lives and continue to be mirrored in the world around us if we do not take the time to get to know them.
We have to understand what drives us, why we think and believe as we do, and we must decide whether some or any of it is aligned with actual Truth. We must also come to know our unique gifts and our true power in order to make a impactful difference in this world. To any extent that we are willing to keep our heads buried in the sand is the extent to which we are driven by delusion and separation; and that in turn is the extent of our suffering.
Truth and Peace
The Truth does indeed set us free. It sets us free of any externalized loci of power, placing it back where it belongs. It frees us from needing to know and understand everything “right now!” It frees us from fear that would otherwise have us performing superstitious rituals in the name of remaining safe from a death that will eventually find us anyway. It frees us from victimhood. With that Truth comes Peace.
We can finally let go of what we cannot control and relax as we go about changing what we can. It does us no good to belittle, demean, or mock those who have yet to see the light, for we are merely in essence perpetuating the delusion of separation. The spirit in which we pursue peace must be one in which respect for the dreams (belief systems) of others is upheld, but only to the extent that such beliefs do not break natural laws or bring genuine harm to others.
Ahimsa is the yogic principle of doing no harm. But this is not as simple a concept as it sounds. For one thing, we cannot help but bring harm to something or someone just by virtue of our existence (for example, stepping on an ant or two). Ahimsa is more so about our intent. We need to learn to walk this earth with a gentleness of Spirit, doing no harm whenever we are actually able…or intending no harm even when we know we must apparently cause some. This is no easy distinction but one that is made more clear in practicing the first two principles.
But this isn’t just an action extended to others. We must remember to treat ourselves with that same ahimsa, and further we must come to know this truth—that what we do to others, we do to ourselves. Humanity’s inability to live by this creed is based in pure ignorance of our connection, cells on one organism.
Britannica further states, “By refusing to submit to the wrong or to cooperate with it in any way, the Satyagrahi asserts that truth.”
It is this aspect of Satyagraha that calls out to me most. When we live in a world where mere words regardless of context are subject to censorship and taboo, when the mere questioning of a narrative can ruin one’s reputation or livelihood, when even the presentation of new facts makes no dent in the certainty of the iron-clad-ignorant, when even friends attack when one introduces another perspective or possibility, and when so many rules and laws seem to rise daily out of baseless absurdity, what is the duty of a Satyagrahi then?
The answer is, of course, to remain in Truth. For lovers of Truth, there is no other way. We must take it all on the chin as we always have throughout the ages when faced with ignorance and intentionally evil obstructive forces. We must remain in the luminosity of Truth, courageously speaking up as we will, unafraid, willing to look directly into the terrifying appearances before us. We must keep our hearts open and love those parts of ourselves mirrored in others who are so swept up and away by the grandest of illusions. We must find ways, after those purging moments of tears or rage, to reclaim our inner peace and try again.