What Is Nonviolence?

Mahatma Gandhi is noted as the father of nonviolence.

Missy Crutchfield & Melissa Turner
Gandhi’s Be Magazine

Nonviolence 101

Nonviolence is more than just protesting peacefully or engaging a useful strategy for conflict resolution. It is a way of life.

When you consider your everyday thoughts, actions, and choices through the lens of nonviolence, it impacts your own life, your community, and the world.

Rev. James Lawson on Gandhi and Nonviolence

Reverend James Lawson was a leading force within the Civil Rights Movement and played a crucial role in organizing the Nashville Student Movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Since then, Lawson continues his passion for activism and serves as a university professor.

Lawson says, “What Gandhi, I think, was insisting upon is that nonviolence is an ancient wisdom though the term was never used until the Twentieth Century and [Gandhi] used it… And that it is always connected to strategies and blueprints for change, both in your own life, in the life of your family and your immediate community, and then in the kind of community that you develop that’s the extended family, and then in struggle to make changes.”

The Definition of Nonviolence

NONVIOLENCE noun /nänˈvīələns/ The use of peaceful means, not force, to bring about political or social change. The absence or lack of violence; state or condition of avoiding violence. The policy, practice, or technique of refraining from the use of violence, especially when reacting to or protesting against oppression, injustice, discrimination, or the like. Source: Google Dictionary

Inspiration for Nonviolence

Nonviolence has inspired some of the greatest social movements of all time. The philosophy of nonviolence has activated people around the world to “Be the Change you wish to see in the world” as Mahatma Gandhi said.

Jesus Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” inspired the philosophy of nonviolence and specifically the lives and work of two of the greatest modern leaders of nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi who led the Indian Independence Movement in the 1940’s and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who led the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.

From the ancient scriptures of Matthew chapter five:

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

The Beatitudes

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

CLICK HERE to read the entire “Sermon on the Mount” online.

Dr. King once said, “Christ gave me the message. Gandhi gave me the method.”

An important inspiration for the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi was Jesus Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount.” He studied it and the New Testament regularly alongside the Bhagavad Gita. The Sermon informed Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence as a way of life.

Gandhi perhaps would have become Christian, but witnessing the deeply penetrating racism and prejudice of modern the modern Christian church gave Gandhi pause for thought as he strived to live out Christ’s teachings in his own life and the public sphere of political revolution.

The story is told of how Gandhi once visited a Christian church in Calcutta where he was turned away at the door. He was told he was not welcome as the church was for high-caste Indians and whites only. It was this practice of racism, prejudice, and segregation that Gandhi knew was not “Christ-like” and he was turned off to the institution of Christianity.

Gandhi said, “I’d be a Christian, if it were not for the Christians.” And he also said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

However, inspired by Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount,” Gandhi continued to live the principles of nonviolence as he experimented in truth and love the rest of his life, eventually leading the greatest nonviolent movement in modern times. Gandhi led the Indian people to freedom from the control of the British empire through nonviolent means and his philosophy and its practice serve as the touchstone for nonviolent movements and revolution to this day.

For Further Reading:

“Mahatma Gandhi and the Sermon on the Mount” www.mkgandhi.org

“Voices of Faith: Why did Gandhi say, ‘If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian?'” www.kansascity.com

“Gandhi’s Daily Scripture Readings for Peace” www.ncronline.org

“The Sermon on the Mount: A Theology of Resistance” www.sojo.net

“The Weapon of Love: How Martin Luther King, Jr. Became Nonviolent” www.abc.net.au

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article18756585.html#storylink=y

Leaders of Nonviolent Movements

Mahatma Gandhi

  • October 2, 1869-January 30, 1948 (Assassinated)
  • Father of the Philosophy of Nonviolence
  • Leader of the Indian Independence Movement
1883: Gandhi and Kasturbai are married.
1888: Gandhi leaves for England to study law.
1891: Gandhi passes the bar exam in England.
1891-1893: Gandhi fails as a lawyer in India.
1893: Gandhi accepts commission to spend a year in South Africa advising on a lawsuit.
1894: Gandhi elects to stay on South Africa, and founds the Natal Indian Congress.
1896: Gandhi returns to India to collect his wife and children and then returns to South Africa with his family.
1899: Outbreak of Boer War (1899-1901) in South Africa. Gandhi organizes an ambulance corps for the British.
1901: Gandhi returns to India to attend the Indian National Congress. G.K. Gokhale introduces him to nationalist leaders.
1904: Nationalists found the magazine the Indian Opinion, and soon print it on Gandhi’s farm, the “Phoenix Settlement.”
1907: The Boer Republic Transvaal, now under the control of the British, attempts to register all Indians as members; Gandhi and others refuse to register. Their resistance efforts mark the first use of nonviolent non-cooperation by the Indian minority in South Africa, soon called satyagraha, or “soul-force.”
1908: Gandhi is arrested and sentenced to two months in prison.
1909: Gandhi travels to London, pushing for rights of South African Indians. The Transvaal registration law is repealed.
1915: Gandhi and his followers found Satyagraha ashram, the religiously-oriented communal farm where Gandhi, his family, and his followers will live.
1920: Gandhi calls for a period of non-cooperation across India.
1930: Gandhi publishes the Declaration of Independence of India.
1931: Gandhi warns the Viceroy of his intention to break the Salt Laws. Gandhi leads his Salt March to the sea. Gandhi is arrested for violating the Salt Laws; non-cooperation movements break out across India.
1932: Gandhi is arrested for sedition, and held without a trial. Gandhi fasts in prison to protest the treatment of untouchables.
1935: Government of India Act passes British Parliament and is implemented in India; it is the first movement toward independence.
1939: World War II begins, lasting until 1945.
1943: Gandhi fasts while imprisoned, to protest British rule.
1944: Death of Kasturbai
1946: British Cabinet Mission publishes proposal for an Indian state, without partition; Jinnah and the Muslim League reject the proposal.
1947: Lord Mountbatten arrives in India and hammers out agreement for independence and partition. Indian independence becomes official, as does the partition into two countries, India and Pakistan.
1948: India dissolves into chaos and killings, as Hindus and Muslims flee for the borders of India and Pakistan.
January 30, 1948: Gandhi is assassinated by Nathuram Vinayuk Godse, a Hindu nationalist.
Source: SparkNotes

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968 (Assassinated)
  • Leader of the American Civil Rights Movement

1947: Preaches his first sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
1954: U.S. Supreme Court rules school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education
1955: Rosa Parks arrested for violating Montgomery bus segregation ordinance. Dr. King and others begin bus boycott.
1956: U.S. Supreme Court ends segregation on public transportation.
1957: Becomes founding president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Featured on cover of TIME magazine.
1959: Travels to India to study nonviolent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
1960: Arrested in Atlanta sit-in.
1963: Writes “Letter from Birmingham Jail” after being arrested in Alabama protest. Delivers “I Have a Dream” speech at Lincoln Memorial during March on Washington.
1964: Named TIME magazine Man of the Year. Attends signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Wins Nobel Peace Prize.
1965: Protestors are beaten during Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. Under federal protection, Dr. King and 25,000 marchers finally reach state capital. President Johnson signs 1965 Voting Rights Act.
1967: Launches Poor People’s Campaign
1968: Leads 6,000 protestors through Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers. Delivers final speech on April 3, “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top.” Fatally shot in Memphis on April 4. Source: National Park Service

Other Champions of Nonviolence

Rosa Parks

Cesar E. Chavez

Kim Dae-Jung

Nelson Mandela

His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet

Examples of Nonviolence

Gandhi’s Salt March

The Dandi March, also known as the Salt Satyagraha, began on March 12, 1930 and was a crucial moment in the Independence Movement in India. Taking direct action and nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly in colonial India, Mahatma Gandhi led a 24 day, 240 mile march to the sea to produce salt without paying the tax. Over 80,000 Indians were jailed as a result of the Salt Satyagraha. This march influenced the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the American Civil Rights marches of the 1960s. Source: Wikipedia

Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery Bus Boycott played a pivotal role in the American Civil Rights Movement as a political and social protest against racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. The campaign began on December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks, an African American woman, was arrested when she refused to give up her seat to a white person. Other notable Civil Rights leaders joined in including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy. On December 20, 1956, the United States Supreme Court ruled Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses to be unconstitutional. Source: Wikipedia

Models of Nonviolence

Metta Center Roadmap

Metta Center Nonviolence roadmap-poster-18x24in

Learn more at www.mettacenter.org.

Learn more


Gandhi (1982) PG—191 min.


Mahatma Gandhi’s first television interview (Fox News MovieTone on April 30, 1931)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. interview: Nonviolence is the most powerful weapon


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