From Clashing Civilizations to a Common Vision - Part III
Dr. Robert D. CranePosted Nov 3, 2003 •Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
Models of Spiritual Power
Cataphatic Theology and Meister Eckhart
The two basic opposites in Western thought are best mirrored perhaps in John Mill?s book Utilitarianism, published in 1861 just as the traditionalist movement in America was taking a nosedive, and the writings of Meister Eckhart, most of which were preserved as samizdat or underground writings and not published until 1886, more than half a millennium after his death.
Both of these giants of thought argued that in order to justify any course of action in personal or social life one must appeal to a basic principle or set of principles justifying one?s position. Saint Augustine argued a millennium before Eckhart that no-one can deliberately choose evil without justifying it by some principle in order to make it appear good. Both of these arguments may be over-generalized but they provide a useful key to understanding the human role in reality, for both good and bad.
Mill?s principle was that man?s sole purpose was personal happiness, and this can be measured only by increase in pleasure and decrease in pain. This solipsistic or self-centered perspective on man was buttressed by the coeval theories of Darwin that among what Maslow later argued were the five needs of man the dominant one was survival. Survival requires the avoidance of pain and the search for pleasure.
The opposite view, taught by all the world religions, is that every person by nature is philanthropic, based on the Greek words philos (loving) and anthropos (man), because every person was created to love God, Who loves every person. In other words, a person does not care about and help others in a selfish way simply because this makes him happy, but because this is everyone?s nature, and one can be happy only when one is true to one?s own nature and purpose created by God. This approach is reflected in the Islamic concept of infaq, which is the natural human inclination to give rather than take in life and is the basis of charity (sadaqa and zakah).
This view is quintessentially Christian, as well as Islamic. The early Christians used the word agape, the unconditional love for every person because God loves us first. In his new book, Agape: First and Foremost, Timothy P. Jackson writes that in early Christianity ?agape love is a metavalue, that virtue without which one has no access to other goods, either moral or non-moral.? He notes that this does not rule out self-fulfilling love, nor does it rule out justice, either divine or retributive. One function of love is to set limits on counter-violence through the doctrines of just war.
The primacy of agape gave rise over the centuries to what is known as cataphatic theology or what Meister Eckhart called ?Creation Spirituality,? which is the love and celebration of all God?s Creation. Ralph Waldo Emerson was attacked in the 1820s as a pantheistic atheist, which would mean that he worshipped nature as god, whereas he was at most panentheistic, which would mean that he worshipped God as expressed in and present in His Creation. Metaphorically, his followers said that nature is the body of God?s soul. Emerson himself called his new system of thought a ?metaphysics? proclaiming that nature, and by derivation physical science, is a theology of incarnation.
Meister Eckhart, who was born in 1260 and died in 1329, lived at a time very much like the present one, mired in decadence, corruption, extreme economic injustices, and violence. Barbara Tuchman?s classic and best-selling study, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century, was designed to show the extent to which the entire world today mirrors in its social sins and apocalyptic upheavals probably the worst century in European history.
His message was appropriate for his time and still is for ours. Meister Eckhart?s influence no doubt will reverberate down through the millennia. He influenced Saint John of the Cross, perhaps Western Christianity?s most revered saint, who served as the spiritual link for centuries between Muslim and Christian saints, since all his teachings in Andalucia had been well developed by Muslims centuries earlier. Meister Eckhart still serves as the counter-weight to Augustinian dualism, which presupposes an almost Manichean dichotomy between heaven and earth, the City of God being good, and the city of man being evil. Muslims exhibit this same dualism in the standoff between the Wahhabis, who claim that the material world or dunya is evil, ?nothing but a toilet,? and the Sufis, who generally claim that everything that God has created is inherently good and beautiful.
Major modern thinkers credit Meister Eckhart with deeply influencing their entire outlook on life. They range from the Hindu, Ananda Coomaraswamy, who represents the traditionalist movement among the educated Hindus; to Carl Jung, who credits Eckhart with giving him the ?key? to opening the way to grasp what liberation means for modern psychology; to Teilhard de Chardin, the paleontologist who introduced the concept of spiritual evolution; to Thomas Merton, who in his final years introduced the wisdom of Buddhism into Christian theology during the l960s and may still be the most influential single theologian in Christianity today.
Meister Eckhart is influential today not so much directly, but because his cataphatic or hope-filled and joy-radiating Christianity fed the most significant movements of Western cultural and intellectual history. It has even been credited with the Protestant Reformation inaugurated by one of his followers, Martin Luther. Eckhart?s theology has served for centuries as the undercover yet highly influential counter to the apophatic or catastrophist theology that spawned Hobbes and Hitler and Osama bin Laden.
Eckhart?s creation-centered spirituality does not constitute worship of Creation but rather of its Creator. Its reverence for nature is a path to God. This contrasts with the view of the immensely influential theologian, Thomas a Kempis, who wrote in his The Imitation of Christ, Book III, chapter 42, ?If you look at the creation, the Creator withdraws from you.?
For Eckhart, compassion, agape, and its translation into social justice are more important than contemplation. Justice is essential to both order and freedom, and its practice is the key to happiness. Eckhart was a forerunner of the modern eco-revolutionaries because he held all Creation sacred, and he waged war all his life against institutional bigness, impersonalness, and hierarchical structures, whether internal or external, that interfered with the expansion of each person as the center of the universe.
In 1982, I was invited as a specialist in Native American religions to attend a conference of the Aspen Institute in Baca, Colorado, because my great uncle was the last of the fully and formally trained Cherokee religious leaders. According to the tradition of his Ani Waya or wolf-clan, the Cherokees? religion originated in a book from God, whom they call ?Ya Allah.? This was brought to them when they lived on an island without winters by a fleet of ships from the East. The time coincides exactly with the two great expeditions of da?wa launched by the Emir of Mali across the Atlantic six hundred years ago, never to be heard from again.
The conference organizer gave me five minutes to ask two newly arrived Tibetan monks what the principles of Buddhism are. They laughed and said they can explain Buddhism in one minute. Hinayana Buddhism teaches that one should distance oneself from one?s attachments to the world. Mahayana Buddhism teaches that, once this is accomplished, one should become aware of what is beyond the world, call it nothing, or no-thing, or the non-material, or nirvana; and Tantrayana Buddhism teaches that once one has done this, one will want to bring compassion and social justice to the world and everyone in it. I laughed in return, and remarked, ?You have just summarized Islam in thirty seconds.
The four-fold path of Meister Eckhart is nearly identical, except that he phrases it differently. Once one has experienced the divine in Creation, the first path is to experience God by letting go and letting be. The second is to experience God in breakthrough and giving birth to Self and God. And the third is to experience God by way of compassion and justice.
He taught that because of the goodness of God, the Word of God, which is Creation, is also good, which gives the cataphatic or ?yes? dimension to his spirituality. He redefined humanity and every human being as a blessing to others by way of creativity and compassion, and taught that other creatures on earth and throughout the universe bless the rest of us unconsciously, as the Qur?an says ?in ways you do not understand.? His key words for the nature of the universe are ?rejoicing? and ?celebration.? If we can let go of our fear of nothingness and our resulting tendency to grab, control, dictate, and possess, then we can ?sink? into the blessing and grace that Creation is all about, and into its Creator and even more deeply into the God beyond the Creator God who is the Godhead. In this he was reflecting the Islamic teaching that the three principal attributes of Allah, the Creator (Father), Compassionate and Forgiver (Son), and the All-knowing and Giver of Grace (the Holy Spirit) are just that, the essential attributes but not the Being of God, and that we, like God, can create and be compassionate. Creativity is the work of God within us, which we must let flow out of us so that beauty and blessing may be shared. Compassion, derivitive from God, involves ?mystical? consciousness of the interdependence of all beings, and the ?prophetic? birthing of justice. Perhaps the most well-known Roman Catholic theologian today, Hans Kung, has been forbidden to teach in any Catholic university because he teaches precisely what Meister Eckhart pioneered in Christian theology centuries ago.
Eckhart taught that to create justice one must have experienced oneness and mystical compassion. The spiritual journal is from creation to a new creation, from compassion as the source of our origin to compassion as our purpose for being.
For this we need what Eckhard called a Durchbruch or breakthrough, and Rabbi Michael Lerner calls the vision of a ?new bottom line.? Both of these spiritual giants call for prophecy with mysticism, that is, a compassionately oriented spirituality that leads to social justice along with a deep growth in consciousness. They invoke a deep reverence for the mystery and artist in us and in our midst, and for laughter and joy as core elements of spirituality. They call for simplicity instead of fanciful spiritual methods, and for a recognition that everyone, not only organized spiritual adepts, can be mystics and give birth to the divine. They call for what I call Franciscan spirituality, after St. Francis of Assisi, whose life mission was not only to revive Christianity in a disintegrating European civilization but to overcome the triumphalist crusading mentality of his era and seek God together with the Muslims.
Meister Eckhart emphasized nine major issues in the essence of spirituality and in the resulting practice of moral theology: the holiness of being, the basic goodness of creation, trust in human nature, the harmony of soul and body, the potential of human nature to develop, the equality and dignity of woman, the role of anger and moral outrage, both moral and institutional injustice as a sin, and the reconciliability of mysticism and prophecy.
He developed further Aquinas?s exploration of topics that earned Aquinas official condemnation by the Church at least three different times, namely, panentheism, realized eschatology, the divinization of humanity, creativity, and the marriage of being and consciousness resulting in compassion as the culmination of spiritual experience. He believed, as do the Muslim Sufis, that transcendence is not necessarily ?up? Olympian style as in Hellenistic Christianity, but rather within, as in the Celtic spirituality, expressed in one of the great ?heresies? of Christianity, Pelagianism, which stemmed perhaps originally from the Bhagavad-Gita in India.
Eckhart?s creation centered spirituality, which focused on creative birthing rather than on ascetic denial, was perhaps the opposite of the fall/redemption tradition focused on original sin, on cleansing from this sin, on actual sin (particularly in pride and lust), heaven versus hell, body versus soul, woman as temptress, introverted versus extroverted meditation, and contemplation versus action, especially commitment and action to provide alternatives to religious, political, and economic systems of injustice and oppression. He opposed equally Jansenist dualisms, Cartesian rationalisms, and emotional sentimentality.
Meister Eckhart inherited Thomas Aquinas?s chair at the University of Paris, who died just as Eckhart was entering the Dominican Order. Eckhart was a German populist at a time when the dry scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas?s early years, which he borrowed from the Muslim philosophers, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina, was becoming irrelevant to Europe?s deep societal crises. Only in his last months of life, did Thomas Aquinas understand Eckhart?s heartfelt invocation: ?I pray God to rid me of God.?
Like the mystic expressions of the Sufi saint, Hallaj, who was hung for associating himself with Allah, Eckhart?s language, or any language, is not adequate to express the inexpressable. Nevertheless, those who understand him can understand him. The great writer is said to be the one who can say what others understand but cannot express. Tragedy may befall the person who follows experientially-based thinking and theology and is only part way along a path, such as Hallaj, who was perhaps part way along the equivalent of the Mahayana path but in his wahdat al shuhud was blinded to a higher awareness of the infinite difference between the Creator and the Created.
All such dialectical thinking produces paradoxical and even oxymoronic language. Eckhart was condemned post-humously in the Inquisition by one of the Roman Catholic Church?s worst popes, because in matters of religion such language is shocking, especially to those who for their own personal gain dare to pose as intermediaries between man and truth. Considering the source, Eckhart?s condemnation was a great honor. Both the literalists and the rationalists of today react in the same way. And both are being marginalized by tens of millions of people who are arising from the margins and the bottom in every civilization in their search for what their own civilizations once already had but have forgotten.
Eckhart was deeply influenced by Jewish thinking, shared also by Muslims, in his reference to Jesus Christ as ?the Great Reminder.? The purpose of prophecy is to remind forgetful man of what he already knows. Baal Shem-Tov, the founder of the Jewish mystical movement, Hasidism, said, ?In remembrance resides the secret of contemplation.? Muslim contemplation or zikr is precisely this remembrance or awareness of Allah. Eckhart spoke often also about the ?spark of the soul,? a concept that was used by some of the greatest earlier Jewish philosophers and was central to the thinking of perhaps the twentieth century?s greatest spiritual leader, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 to 1935, Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook.
Tikkun and Abraham Isaac Kook
Both in Palestine and India, the temptation has been to counter violence with violence as part of a conflict of nationalisms, and to manipulate religion for secular, political ends. Most of the Muslim governments in the world are skilled in this hypocrisy, as are some of the groups and movements that seek their overthrow. They are exploiting and perverting their own religion.
Most appalling, however, is the past century of spiritual perversion by the exclusivist ideology of secular Zionism, which has become a parody of everything that is truly Jewish. No other religious people have ever perverted their own religion as have the Jews, and they have done so repeatedly for thousands of years.
The traditionalist Jewish mission is best expressed by Rabbi Michael Lerner and his magazine, Tikkun. The word Tikkun in Hebrew means to heal, repair, and transform the world. He says that all the rest is commentary. His mission is fourfold: to help overcome American selfishness and materialism; to help heal the inner wounds of the Jewish people, so that they no longer assume that danger lurks everywhere and no longer see the world only through the prism of the Holocaust; to help support peace between Israel and the Palestinian people in a context of security, social justice, and the full rights of both peoples to self-determination; and to help build a new bottom line of love and caring, ethical, spiritual, and ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe.
The only alternative to dark visions of a twenty-first century holocaust is dialogue between Jews and Muslims designed specifically to transform the self-identity of each, as suggested in Dr. Laura Drake?s article, ?Reconstructing Identities: The Arab-Israeli Conflict in Theoretical Perspective,? Middle East Affairs Journal, Winter/Spring 1998, pp. 39-92. The goal of the Jews must be to return to the spiritual core of their religion, best exemplified by Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook, in which Zionism is the return to God, and Israel is the song of God bringing sparks of wisdom, mercy, and love to all peoples.
The goal of the Muslims must be to return to the spiritual core of their religion. The spiritual core of Islam includes the centrality of justice and the articulation and implementation of its inner essence of love, which demands respect for all Jews and for the Jewish nation, so that all the peoples of the Holy Land can enjoy justice.
American Muslims must struggle to support the enlightened Jews who understand their own religion, because Zionism has corrupted both the Jewish people and the political process in America. It has thereby imposed a heavy guilt on Americans for bringing the Jewish people in the Holy Land perhaps eventually to the brink of extinction and exposing tens of millions of Muslims and Christians in the Middle East and America to a fiery death.
In order to understand the true dynamics of conflict in the world, we must be aware that the suffering in the Holy Land is the result of a conflict between two civilizational paradigms, one the spiritual, which automatically serves as a bridge among cultures, and the other, the secular, which sees material power as the only variable in the world and automatically breeds war.
This conflict has been the governing theme throughout the five-thousand-year history of Palestine. In the first half of a masterly work of 700 pages by Roger Garaudy, which I spent three months editing from the French into English in 1994 but could never publish, he explores five millennia of Palestinian history and demonstrates that the historical role of the many peoples that enriched the population of Palestine was to serve as a catalyst for religious and cultural enrichment. Their location at the intersection of three of the world?s five continents, and their Semitic languages, which are best suited of all languages to express the subtleties of divine revelation, may explain why the common message of the revealed religions was given through prophets in this pivotal part of the world.
Unfortunately, however, the millennia-long history of Palestine reveals that for relatively short and limited periods, Palestine served not as a civilizational conduit but as a block against civilizational interchange and as a source of rivalry and warfare between hostile empires. The destiny of Palestine has been to accelerate both cooperation and clash among civilizations. Today it serves both roles simultaneously, and its future will determine the future of humanity.
The great spiritual leaders of the world have long perceived that justice in the Holy Land, and especially in the ecumenical capital of the world, Jerusalem, is the pivotal issue for all of humankind. Their warnings speak universally to all religious communities in all times and places, though their words might be directed in the first instance at their own peoples.
Perhaps the greatest such leader was Abraham Isaac Kook, who was Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 until the beginning of the first great Palestinian national-liberation movement in 1935. He taught that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion, because humans are free to divert their worship from God to themselves. The greatest evil is always the perversion of the good, and the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins. Rebbe Kook?s wisdom has been collected in Abraham Isaac Kook, The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, translation and introduction by Ben Zion Bokser (Paulist Press: N.Y., Ramsey, Toronto, 1978), published in The Classics of Western Spirituality: A Library of the Great Spiritual Masters under the supervision of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Fazlur Rahman, Huston Smith, and others.
Although the fundamentalist Gush Emunim invoke Rebbe Kook as their mentor, they make the sacrilegious error of turning his spiritual teaching into a call for secular nationalism of the most extreme kind. Abraham Isaac Kook?s entire life spoke his message that only in the Holy Land of Israel can the genius of Hebraic prophecy be revived and the Jewish people bring the creative power of God?s love in the form of justice and unity to every person and to all mankind. ?For the disposition of the Israelite nation,? he asserted, ?is the aspiration that the highest measure of justice, the justice of God, shall prevail in the world.? Universally recognized as the leading spokesman of spiritual Zionism, Rebbe Kook went to Jaffa from Poland in 1904 to perfect the people and land of Israel by bringing out the ?holy sparks? in every person, group, and ideology in order to make way for the advent of the Messiah.
This was the exact opposite of ?secular Zionism,? which resulted from the assimilationist movement of 19th century Europe, compounded by the devastating blow of the holocaust to traditionalist Jewish faith. Thus alienated from their own culture, and vulnerable to modern nationalist demagoguery, a growing portion of the Jewish nation came to elevate control over physical land to an ultimate value and goal, and therefore to transform the land of Israel into a golden calf.
As a Lurianic Cabbalist, committed to the social renewal that both confirms and transcends halakha, Rebbe Kook emphasized, first of all, that religious experience is certain knowledge of God, from which all other knowledge can be at best merely a reflection, and that this common experience of ?total being? or ?unity? of all religious people is the only adequate medium for God?s message through the Jewish people, who are the ?microcosm of humanity.?
?If individuals cannot summon the world to God,? proclaimed Rebbe Kook, ?then a people must issue the call. The people must call out of its inner being, as an individual of great spiritual stature issues the call from his inner being ? this is found only among the Jewish people ? whose commitment to the Oneness of God is a commitment to the vision of universality in all its far-reaching implications ? and whose vocation is to help make the world more receptive to the divine light ? by bearing witness to the Torah in the world.? This, he taught, is the whole purpose of Israel, which stands for shir el, the ?song of God.? It is schlomo, which means peace or wholeness, Solomon?s Song of Songs.
But he warned, again ?prophetically,? that, ?when an idea needs to acquire a physical base, it tends to descend from its height. In such an instance it is thrust toward the earthly, and brazen ones come and desecrate its holiness. Together with this, however, its followers increase, and the physical vitality becomes strikingly visible.? Each person then suffers: ?The stubbornness of seeking spiritual satisfaction in the outer aspect of things enfeebles one?s powers, fragments the human spirit, and leads the stormy quest in a direction where it will find emptiness and disappointment. In disillusionment, the quest will continue in another direction. ? When degeneration leads one to embrace an outlook on life that negates one?s higher vision, then one becomes prey to the dark side within. ? The spiritual dimension becomes enslaved and darkened in the darkness of life.?
Rebbe Kook warns that ?the irruption of spiritual light from its divine source on uncultivated ground yields the perverse aspect of idolatry. ? It is for this reason that we note to our astonishment the decline of religious Judaism in a period of national renaissance.? ?Love of the nation,? he taught, ?or more broadly, for humanity, is adorned at its source with the purest ideals, which reflect humanity and nationhood in their noblest light, ? but if a person should wish to embrace the nation in its decadent condition, its coarser aspects, without inner illumination from its ancient, higher light, he will soon take into himself filth and lowliness and elements of evil that will turn to bitterness in a short span of history of but a few generations. ? This is the narrow state to which the community of Israel will descend prior to an awakening to the true revival.?
?By transgressing the limits,? Rebbe Kook prophesied, the leaders of Israel may bring on a holocaust. But this will merely precede a revival. ?As smoke fades away, so will fade away all the destructive winds that have filled the land, the language, the history, and the literature.? Always following his warning was the reminder of God?s covenant. ?In all of this is hiding the presence of the living God. ? It is a fundamental error for us to retreat from our distinctive excellence, to cease recognizing ourselves as chosen for a divine vocation. ? We are a great people and we have blundered greatly, and, therefore, we suffered great tribulation; but great also is our consolation. ? Our people will be rebuilt and established ? through the divine dimension of its life. Then they will call out with a mighty voice to themselves and to their people: ?Let is go and return to the Lord! And this return will be a true return?.?
At the same time, professed Rebbe Kook, who always sharply defended the validity of both Christianity and Islam as religions in the plan of God, ?the brotherly love of Esau and Jacob [Christians and Jews], and Isaac and Ishmael [Jews and Muslims], will assert itself above all the confusion ? [and turn] the darkness to light.?
Satyagraha and the Badshah Khan
If Rebbe Kook was the greatest spiritual leader of the twentieth century among Jews, this role among the Muslims was played out in history by Abdul Ghaffar Khan. If Rebbe Kook was the spokesman for divine guidance in the pivotal area of the Holy Land, where the three continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa intersect, Abdul Ghaffar Khan was the spokesman in the so-called ?pivot of Asia,? the homeland of the Pathans. This area is now known as northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, where the great empires of Russia, China, and British India collided throughout the 19th century and well into the twentieth, and where in the twentieth-first century the ?sole superpower? is orchestrating a balance of power among rival claimants in order to create or maintain a stabilized vacuum.
Abdul Ghaffar Khan was a master of the three jihads, the two mentioned in the ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad, namely, the jihad al akbar or greatest jihad to harness one?s nafs or unruly self; the jihad al saghrir or lesser jihad to apply physical force in defense of human rights; and the jihad al kabir or great jihad, mentioned in the Qur?an, which is the intellectual effort to bring the wisdom of tradition to bear on the current issues of conscience everywhere in the world.
Abdul Ghaffar was known as the Badshah Khan, or Khan of Khans, because he was also a master of yet a fourth jihad, the spiritual jihad to transform entire nations in the course of battle against oppression by applying spiritual power at the level of interaction among communities and nations.
He gained fame at an early age by building a network of schools to counter the destructive blood feuds among his people?s clans and with other tribes. He preached the Qur?anic message that evil can be overcome only by personal transformation, and then, and only then, by structural changes to defective political and economic institutions.
He taught that personal transformation can come only from awareness and loving awe of God, known in Qur?anic Arabic as taqwa. This makes possible and even irresistible one?s loving submission to the divine mission entrusted to oneself and to all of humankind. Both awe and loving commitment reside in the human heart, that is, they are not purely intellectual. The human person consists of the jism or material body, including the brain, the nafs or mind as the decision-making power, and the ruh or spirit, which has resided in the presence of God from before the creation of time and space.
The Badshah Khan?s principal contribution to spirituality was his teaching that the power of the spirit resides not only in the individual person but in entire communities and that this power in the right circumstances can triumph over all opposition. His life as a leader of the war-like Pathans and as probably the twentieth century?s greatest Muslim mujahid or warrior, is recounted in Eknath Easwaran?s book, A Man to Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, Nilgiri Press, 1984, 240 pages.
Mahatma Gandhi stated that without Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Badshah, his own liberation mission against British occupation of India could never have succeeded. The Mahatma taught that passive resistance by the weak is weakness, but non-violent resistance by those who have proven themselves through armed combat in reliance on spiritual power can be stronger than any opposing force, because this force, which Gandhi called satyagraha, is not passive and can be irresistible.
In the spring of 1930, the inhabitants of Peshawar protested the British occupiers? closing of the Badshah?s schools and the arrest of some of the Badshah?s lieutenants in his well-organized and well-disciplined army of non-violence. The entire populace declared a general strike and thousands of supporters massed in the town center, the Kissa Khani Bazaar.
The British troops fired at the crowd, which refused to leave. More volleys ensued, but the Badshah?s followers, who had been trained in his army of spiritual power, the Khudai Khidmatgars, stood their ground as one front row fell to the bullets only to be followed by another front row of people who moved up to replace them. According to the account of this decisive battle by Gene Sharp of Harvard, ?When those in the front fell down wounded by the shots, those behind came forward with their breasts bared and exposed themselves to the fire, so much so that some people got as many as 21 bullet wounds in their bodies.?
According to the official view, ?this state of things continued from 11 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon? (Easwaran, pp. 122-123). When some of the elite Indian troops in the British army refused to fire any more, they were hand-cuffed, and imprisoned, and one was sentenced to banishment in an overseas penal colony for life.
The impact of this daring battle of non-violence was so great in Britain that some historians say it spelled the death-knell of the entire British Empire.
Unfortunately, few Muslims nowadays remember the Badshah Khan, and the politically correct line among those who do is that he was a traitor to Pakistan. He opposed the British partition of India into competing Muslim and Hindu states, because he said that this would lead to repeated holocausts in future generations. Together with the Mahatma, who was assassinated for opposing the partition, the Badshah Khan insisted that the wisdom of traditional Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam called for a great post-colonial effort to embrace interfaith harmony. This can come, he urged, only from mutual understanding and cooperation, as a solution to the hatreds that would inevitably follow the exclusivist framework of competing state sovereignties. And he called for the federalization of Pakistan into autonomous provinces as a counter to the temptations and pressures toward dictatorship that might result from efforts to centralize all authority at a single level of human community. As a devout Muslim, he rejected the Western vision of state sovereignty as the highest and ultimate power in the universe.
The Badshah Khan was a modern ?prophet,? just as was Rebbe Abraham Isaac Kook, and they both called for a universal vision to address regional and local problems. They both opposed the exclusivism that infected their co-religionists and could bring only misery to everyone concerned and potentially to the entire world. They both called for the establishment of models of conflict resolution and cooperation in what seemed to be impossible circumstances. And they both suggested that such cooperation can become realistic only in the crisis of extreme circumstances when it appears to be impossible.
What is their message for the Holy Land today? Certainly the strategy of non-resistance would have no effect on Ariel Sharon, any more than it would have against Stalin or Hitler. But what affect would satyagraha or spiritual power wisely applied have on Americans, who have considerable influence on their own government and in turn on the course of events in the Holy Land?
Wisdom would require that a shift from counter-productive suicide bombings to spiritual power address first of all the highest priority issues of Jerusalem, the Israeli settlements, and the return of the dispossessed. The framework must be an effort to overcome exclusivism in solving each of these problems. No sovereign country should have the right to exclusive control of Jerusalem. The right of return must be acknowledged and implemented incrementally only in the course of economic development adequate to absorb those, probably relatively few, who want to return. And the right to live anywhere in the Holy Land must be accorded to all Jews and Muslims, but should not be permitted as a tactic to assert exclusive sovereignty over a future purely Jewish state.
The most decisive of all efforts must be the development of economic institutions that recognize sovereignty as the inherent human right of the individual person, so that access to the fruits of technology need not come from the redistribution of wealth from the top down but from expanding access to credit and to the resulting power of capital ownership from the bottom up. By broadening access to wealth during the production process rather than by redistribution afterward, political power is diffused upward rather than downward from the already powerful. This requires only a change in financial institutions so that credit is based not on past wealth in an imagined world of scarcity, but on the collateral of future wealth to be produced by broadly owned capital in a world of unlimited resources and potential.
A strategy of satyagraha would have to based on a vision of both economic and political democracy, which means that it would have to be profoundly revolutionary. This world is beyond the vision of most present-day Muslims, who are mired in an intellectual dead-end that focuses on an agrarian past, when wealth was produced by human labor, instead of on an industrial and post-industrial future, where wealth is produced almost entirely by tools, including the multinational corporation.
The possible future envisioned by an effective strategy of satyagraha must base its vision on the wisdom of all religions, including the verses of the Qur?an:
Wa tamaat kalimatu rabbika sidqan wa ?adlan (Surah al An?am 6:115). The word of your Lord is perfected in truth and in justice.
Wa min ma khalaqna ummatun yahduna bil haqqi wa ya?adilun.
And among my creations is a community that is guided by truth and
applies it in justice.
God tells us in the final Revelation, however, that evil can be overcome only by personal transformation, and then, and only then, from structural changes to political and economic institutions.
Ina Allaha la yughayru ma bi qaumin hata yughayruu ma bi anfusihim (Surah al Rad 13:11). Verily, God does not change men?s condition unless they change their inner selves.
Thalika bi-ana Allaha lam yakun mughayran ni?matan an?amaha ?ala qawmin hata yughayruu ma bi anfusihim (Surah al Anfal 8:53).
This, because God would never change the blessings with which He has graced a people unless they change their inner selves.
The ultimate requirement of the strategy taught by the greatest Jewish and Muslim spiritual leaders of the twentieth century is a common recognition that all persons and all religious communities share the same access to a power that has transcended every person, every nation, and every empire since the beginning of history. God has the ultimate sovereignty, but He exercises this through the individual person, who has the free will to respond. It is our responsibility as Muslims, Jews, and Christians in America to participate in the governance of our nation and of the world through our political, intellectual, and spiritual activism, recognizing that the best Planner is Allah.• Permalink