Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Ahimsa: Love Is Your Nature
Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart. —St. Francis of Assisi
Christianity seems to have forgotten Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. We’ve relegated visions of a peaceful kingdom to a far distant heaven, hardly believing Jesus could have meant we should turn the other cheek here and now. It took Gandhi, a Hindu, to help us apply Jesus’ peace-making in very practical ways. As Gandhi said, “It is a first class human tragedy that people of the earth who claim to believe in the message of Jesus, whom they describe as the Prince of Peace, show little of that belief in actual practice.” Martin Luther King, Jr., drawing from Gandhi’s work, brought nonviolence to the forefront of civil rights in the 1960s.
Nonviolent training has understandably emphasized largely external methods or ways of acting and resisting. These are important and necessary, but we must go even deeper. Unless those methods finally reflect inner attitudes, they will not make a lasting difference. We all have to admit that our secret inner attitudes are often cruel, attacking, judgmental, and harsh. The ego seems to find its energy precisely by having something to oppose, fix, or change. When the mind can judge something to be inferior, we feel superior. We must recognize our constant tendency toward negating reality, resisting it, opposing it, and attacking it on the level of our mind. This is the universal addiction, as I say in the introduction to Breathing Under Water.
Authentic spirituality is always first about you—about allowing your own heart and mind to be changed. It’s about getting your own who right. Who is it that is doing the perceiving? Is it your illusory, separate, false self; or is it your True Self, who you are in God?
As Thomas Keating says:
We’re all like localized vibrations of the infinite goodness of God’s presence. So love is our very nature. Love is our first, middle, and last name. Love is all; not [love as] sentimentality, but love that is self-forgetful and free of self-interest.
This is also marvelously exemplified in Gandhi’s life and work. He never tried to win anything. He just tried to show love; and that’s what ahimsa really means. It’s not just a negative. Nonviolence doesn’t capture its meaning. It means to show love tirelessly, no matter what happens. That’s the meaning of turning the other cheek. Once in a while you have to defend somebody, but it means you’re always willing to suffer first for the cause—that is to say, for communion with your enemies. If you overcome your enemies, you’ve failed. If you make your enemies your partners, God has succeeded.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Mary and Nonviolence (CAC: 2002), CD, discontinued; and
Richard Rohr and Thomas Keating, Healing Our Violence through the Journey of Centering Prayer (Franciscan Media: 2002), discs 2 and 5 (CD).