Like most of us, Gandhi struggled with finding the perfect word for nonviolence. Immediately people hear it and wonder, for instance, why is it defining itself by what it is not instead of what it is? So he offered other expressions, such as soul-force, love-in-action, passive-resistance (quite misleading), even the great invention satyagraha, ‘holding fast to truth,’ but still, each one requires some knowledge and explanation.
In the Vedic religions, there is a concept of seeking God through the path of Knowledge (instead of say, devotion or selfless service), meaning that one sets about realizing what God is not on the path to realize who God is. It is called “jñana yoga” and the term that goes with it is “neti neti,” not this, not this — systematically rejecting everything in the phenomenal world so that only what transcends that world (hopefully) remains. We might say the same about the (apparently) negative term, nonviolence: we can point to what it is not very easily, but to describe it well requires both metaphor and experience, and even then we don’t quite express it fully, but we do our best.
At Metta, we have adopted a spelling consistency, to help distinguish what we mean by nonviolence, where the word, unhyphenated, stands for the positive state of transforming the destructive aspect of our basic drives like fear and anger into constructive channels, while non DASH violence means the kind of actions taken where perhaps physical means were not used to hurt or intimidate, but the actor’s words and thoughts and general messaging can be far from loving towards one’s perceived opponents.
Learn the word for nonviolence in two other languages.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 email@example.com