Following Through with Ahimsa

In 1993, after I had returned to Austin from the break I had taken from my undergraduate studies in school, I developed a strange habit. Long ago, in the dark ages before the internet and smart phones, iPods and even CD players, there were cassette tapes. I would attend college campus parties with my Walkman’s earphones and the record button on. A microphone was attached to my collar, and I would stand around listening to the conversations of my friends. Whenever anyone asked what I was listening to, I would say “This. Want to listen?” At first, they would be silent. Then their silence would give way to surprise and fascination. They would be surprised and fascinated by the immediate past, as well as being able to play it back. But, the moment they played it inhibited them from being able to keep recording it. To me, this helped to demonstrate the value of time.

In my studies of Permaculture I had been introduced to Bill Mollison’s various concepts of time. Most of us think of time as chronological only. But, Mollison desired to introduce new perspectives on the subject. He called one the phenomenological way of relating to time. Another, he referred to as opportunistic in nature. The one that fascinated me the most though was revelatory time. Simply put, revelatory time refers to one’s maturity. One does not necessarily mature as time passes chronologically. Rather, one matures based on the level of revelation one has the capacity to invite into awareness, and accept through cognition within the moment. To me, the value of time was that which allowed for something important to reveal itself.

One day at a laundromat, I decided to play a tape I had picked up from Half Price Books. It was a Martin Luther King Jr. speech “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution.” In it he mentions a number of ways people describe their experience of God. At the time, I considered the speech to be the best one of his I had ever heard. As we all know MLK Jr. was an activist and prominent leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. He aroused the world using nonviolent methods following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

He had traveled to India and it had deeply affected him. After returning, he wrote, "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.” The principle Gandhi had devoted his life to was “Ahimsa.” While sitting at the Kwik-Wash Laundromat, time had revealed something indeed.

The philosophical lineage, from which MLK Jr. hailed, -i.e., succinctly from Jesus to Tolstoy to Gandhi, is quite an interesting one. Tolstoy wrote a book called The Kingdom of God is Inside of You (1894). Gandhi read a particular section of this book wherein the author walks by an armed forces draft as it is being held along a Russian street. At the time Gandhi was a young protester living in South Africa. Then, in 1908 he read “A Letter to a Hindu,” also written by Tolstoy. He sought advice from Tolstoy and asked for permission to republish it in his native language. Many years later, he wrote in the series from the weekly Gujarati magazine Navjivan, which later became his autobiography, The Story of My Experiences with Truth (1925-1928), that the three most important modern influences in his life included Tolstoy. I realized that I aspired to be on a similar path.

The epiphany the author experienced, Gandhi claims, had deeply affected his outlook on life. MLK Jr. in turn was deeply affected by Gandhi. In his speech “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution,” he shares various perspectives on the definition of God. He says,“God is a process of integration, a principle of concretion. God is being itself- a process of wholism. And, whenever we think about God, we think of a being working towards bringing the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole.” Ahimsa is the first step with which the yogi begins his process of change. This change leads him towards Kaivalya, ultimately. But, without that first step, one cannot even begin this journey. 

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