Our world suffers for lack of leaders rooted in the traditions of nonviolence. When conflicts arise, many leaders teach us to wield threats, coercion, and harm. When unfamiliar perspectives disturb, many leaders rally us to certainty and defensiveness. When decisions must be made, many leaders encourage us to value self-interest, immediacy, and possession. As we follow these guides, the fabric of our community weakens, and life becomes more difficult for ourselves and others. For those who desire a different approach to social change, satyagraha offers a useful model.
What is Satyagraha?
Mohandas Gandhi, who famously experimented with the possibilities of nonviolence, coined the Sanskrit term satyagraha to identify a method of social change. Gandhi proposed that satya (truth) combined with agraha (firmness) creates a useful social power that does not rely on harming others. Gandhi often referred to this power as “truth-force.”
Satyagraha is an adherence to truth as it unfolds. Since many perspectives are necessary in order to see what is true, satyagraha offers a way to create change that recognizes both our incomplete understanding of any given situation and the wisdom that others have to share. It is a way of directly engaging with others to work out the difficult aspects of life without resorting to coercion, harm, or ill intention. Satyagraha is the social power which arises when we act with kindness, respect, patience, generosity, and selfless service.
Satyagraha and the Inner Life
Our habits of violence are driven by fear, hatred, self-centeredness, clinging, and similar interior strife. If we hope to create social change without leaving a broad wake of suffering, we must tend to these matters of the inner life. Clark Hanjian's small book, Satyagraha and the Inner Life, explores this work of demilitarizing the heart.
Satyagraha Institute (satyagrahainstitute.org) trains leaders in the traditions of nonviolence. The summer institute brings practitioners, teachers, and future leaders together in a relaxed setting conducive to building relationships and learning from each other. Resident faculty and a variety of visiting resource people guide the exploration of nonviolence in the traditions of Mohandas Gandhi, indigenous spirituality and culture, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, and various spiritual traditions. Training is also provided in conflict prevention and tools for conflict resolution.
Clark Hanjian is cofounder of Satyagraha Institute and currently serves as an advisor to the program.