I'd like to bust one more myth about Gandhi's non-violent action. This one is held both by many of Gandhi's critics and by many of his admirers. In fact, the misunderstanding is so common and so basic that I have to say that many-maybe most-admirers of Gandhi's methods really miss the point.
Just as I did when I began my study of Gandhi.
Prior to that study, most of my experience with political activism had been with Marxists, and I had pretty well absorbed their worldview. But later, after exploring several spiritual traditions, I felt I could no longer endorse the Marxists' methods.
How then to oppose injustice and reform society? I hoped that Gandhi held the answer. It seemed to me he had meant to work out just what I was looking for a way of defeating and overthrowing the oppressors of the world, but by moral means.
That was my myth about Gandhi; that was my filter. I had to read an entire book and a half about Gandhi before it struck me-and it struck me hard-that Gandhi was not talking about defeating or overthrowing anyone.
Satyagraha-Gandhi's non-violent action-was not a way for one group to seize what it wanted from another. It was not a weapon of class struggle, or of any other kind of division. Satyagraha was instead an instrument of unity. It was a way to remove injustice and restore social harmony, to the benefit of both sides.
Satyagraha, strange as it seems, was for the opponent's sake as well. When Satyagraha worked, both sides won.
That concept did not pass at all easily through my filter, and I understand why so many others miss it entirely. But it is, really, the essential difference between Gandhi's Satyagraha and so much of the non-violent action practiced by others.
You may wonder, how did Gandhi himself come to this amazing attitude? He said it this way: "All my actions have their source in my inalienable love of humankind."
You see, love for the victim demanded struggle, while love for the opponent ruled out doing harm. But in fact, love for the opponent likewise demanded struggle.
Why? Because by hurting others, the oppressor also hurts himself.
Of course, the oppressor isn't likely to be aware of that. He may be thoroughly enjoying his power and wealth. But beneath all that, his injustice is cutting him off from his fellow humans and from his own deeper self. And when that happens, his spirit can only wither and deform.
Now, that's not obvious, and if you don't believe it, I don't know any way I might convince you.
But if that does pass through your filter, you may be well on your way to understanding Gandhi.