Gandhi's Principles

Martin Luther King

My Theory

My Satyagraha

"Getting to Yes"

Gandhi's Principles of Satyagraha

This is my best attempt to distill Gandhi's principles of Satyagraha. I have commented on each, based on my theory of satyagraha.

1. Love your enemy

I do not believe you need to love your enemy for satyagraha to succeed. However, you do need to act kindly and courteously towards your opponent, and you probably need to care about your opponent.

Also, love would be a great way of naturally implementing the techniques of satyagraha (as long as your love for truth and morality is stronger). So loving your enemy is a good technique. Lacking that, you should try to understand your opponent well enough that you can be sympathatic to your opponent.

2. Always be truthful

The truth should be one of your strongest weapons. So if people find out you have not been truthful, your satyagraha is lost. You will not be believed. You will not be trusted. You will not win the hearts of your opponent or the spectators. And you cannot pretend to be working for an overarching goal of truth and morality. Even if your duplicity is never exposed, you will lose your own heart.

For the same reasons, you should always be moral.

3. Never use violence

By a strict criterion of violence, this is not true. In Vietnam, the monks burned themselves to death. This is violence on one's self. Gandhi made the British people feel badly about themselves. Does that count as violence?

Of course, gratuitous violence and unnecessary harm to the opponent are completely inappropriate. They undermine the basic principles of satyagraha. You win the hearts of spectators when you suffer and your opponent does not.

4. Try to win your enemy over to your side

This should be common to any battle. But you don't just argue your point of view, you also act virtuously, so as to make your opponent sympathetic to your efforts.

5. Don't be angry; suffer the anger of your opponent

Anger leads to the desire to hurt your opponent, which is against the goals of winning hearts. So you don't want to respond to your opponents anger with your own anger. Actually suffering the anger of your opponent draws attention to your cause, shows the strength of your commitment, builds sympathy from the spectators, and weakens your opponent's heart.

6. Wean your opponents from error with patience and sympathy

You do not put your opponents in a position where they have to defend their wrong view. That would be like saying you want to avoid a battle and then not giving your enemy a chance to retreat.

7. Establish the truth, not by infliction of suffering on your opponent, but by your own suffering.

Making your opponent suffer causes destruction, not awareness of the truth. Your own suffering signals your commitment to what you think is right, and it makes people think about what is right.

8. It appears to work slowly. In reality, there is no force in the world that is so direct or so swift in working.

The 10 years between Rosa Parks and the voting rights act probably went slowly for Martin Luther King. However, 10 years now seems remarkably quick.

The Term Satyagraha

Neither Gandhi nor King liked the phrase "passive resistance." They felt their actions were not passive. King apparently adopted (or created?) the term nonviolent protest, which of course assumes something to protest against.

The name satyagraha has problems too. According to Gandhi, it literally means "insistence upon truth". Truth is important, but just truth alone would not be satyagraha.

Gandhi combines satya with ahimsa, which I think is correct. Gandhi also translates ahimsa as meaning love. But ahimsa literally means harmlessness. Desikachar says that ahimsa implies concern and good will towards your enemy. I think the latter meanings better fit satyagraha.

So I have used Gandhi's term satyagraha, with the hopes that it has taken on a meaning of its own.