Articles that are relevant to the issue of religion.

The State of the Spirit, 2011

Note by HealthWrights staff

For the most part, in organized religion we see spirituality as it has has been co-opted and perverted by the powers of the world. In this article, on the other hand, we see a type of spirituality that would bring a healing influence to the earth. Certainly it is grounded in a reality that transcends our understanding, but it is focused not on escaping from the world but on transforming our way of being in the world so that the world itself becomes a place in which the health and well-being of all its inhabitants can be realized.

For another excellent article in the Tikkun magazine, from which the Klee picture below was taken, click here.

angelThe Angel of History

The bad news is that global warming will soon be irreversible and, by the end of the twenty-first century, large parts of the earth will be under water. China is emerging as the world's greatest superpower while continuing to regiment its people and repress democratic civil liberties and human rights. Just as today the West spends its energies fighting an elusive "war on terror" generated by its fantasy that its survival depends on dominating other countries to gain their fossil fuels, in the future Western elites of wealth and power may seek to create medieval-style enclaves surrounded by private Blackwater-style armies to prevent ordinary citizens from getting at their dwindling supplies of food and other goods. Most people will be encouraged to blame each other and fight each other for the decreasing sustenance left to the majority of the planet's residents.

All this is likely to happen gradually, as American power slips away and, with it, the particular opportunities that the citizens of this partial democracy fought to win in the past. Increasingly, we in the West may be taught to believe the "common sense" that people only care about themselves and that nations will always seek to dominate others to advance the interests of their own elites -- and that therefore domination, militarism, and cruelty are necessary for "us" to survive (though in fact, that "us" will be a smaller and smaller part of the entire population). And meanwhile, the pathetically inadequate safety net won through decades of citizen and labor union activism may be cut back in the name of economic frugality and keeping taxes low, at least for the wealthy who might otherwise cut back on investments and thus provide fewer and fewer jobs for the rest of us.

Meanwhile, most liberals and progressives will likely spend the next twenty years either supporting political parties that don't even begin to address these issues in a holistic way (and justifying that by pointing out that candidate x is really much less bad than candidate y), or putting their energies into building a community garden, alternative food store, or other intrinsically good local project or struggle that is satisfying because it is achievable. But these local projects will do nothing discernible to reverse our society's shift away from its founding democratic and human rights principles unless progressives embrace a larger vision to unify their local projects such as that of "The Caring Society -- caring for each other, caring for the earth."

With increasing numbers of people feeling disempowered and retreating into relative isolation in personal life (an isolation enhanced by technologies that offer endless games and opportunities to communicate with strangers online without risking the mutual recognition and deep ethical connection that face-to-face contact arouses, as Emmanuel Levinas and Peter Gabel have taught us), these larger changes in the society and in our world are unlikely to be challenged in any serious way, even by those suffering the most. Powerlessness coupled with endlessly creative forms of entertainment and disinformation threatens to yield individuals who can't imagine ever engaging in effective struggle to change the world.

The good news is that we have a good ten to twenty years to reverse this process, and, as an old Jewish joke would have it, ten more years to learn how to live under water.

What a Conscious "We" Could Accomplish

I don't want to minimize what we could accomplish if we could create a conscious "we" that understood what was needed. This has been the goal of Tikkun since we began in 1986: to foster a vanguard consciousness among tens of thousands of our readers who could understand the depths of depravity that global capitalism and the ethos of materialism and selfishness are creating, the great dangers to the planet and our human capacities, and the pressing need to build a political movement that transcends the narrow economistic legacy of the Left. This new movement must explicitly build itself around the goal of replacing the Old Bottom Line of maximizing money and power with a New Bottom Line seeking to maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur and mystery of being.

We need a "vanguard" (think: the Franciscans, the Quakers, the Sufis, the Ba'hais, the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, the Jewish Renewal movement, the women's movement -- all the kinds of vanguard I have in mind -- but not the communist party or the Weathermen or the Watchtower crew) that creatively reaches out to the rest of the world to help people acknowledge the way their own needs for recognition, love, and participation in a society that lends meaning to their lives is actually being thwarted by the very society which, for the moment, has provided us with unsatisfying substitute gratifications. If that vanguard could embody the love and caring that it talks about and effectively use the democratic process and the available means of communication to mobilize these underlying spiritual needs into an effective political movement, then all the disasters that otherwise seem inevitable might yet be vanquished and replaced by a humanity that serves its deepest self-interest by creating a world in which people are able to overcome the concern with narrow self-interest and instead build social institutions that reward rather than undermine our loving and caring capacities. Can we bring about this tikkun-ing of the world in our time?

Well, 3,200 years after Moses, 2,400 years after Buddha, 2,000 years after Jesus, 1,400 years after Mohammed, 200 years after Jefferson, 120 years after Marx, 70 years after Freud, and 40 years after the second wave of feminism, I'm prepared to say unequivocally: I don't know.

What I do know is that history itself is an ambiguous storyteller.

The Mixed Evidence from History

On the one hand, we can learn that throughout history tens of millions of people have contributed to advancing human knowledge and culture -- from cooking and farming or building to languages, creative arts, science, and a wide array of spiritual wisdom and traditions -- and have done so by sharing their knowledge and skills, learning how to cooperate, and acting on their own desires to live in a world characterized by freedom, consciousness, empathy, love, mutual recognition, and caring.

Human beings share a deep yearning to live in communities that provide a sense of purpose to their lives. Yearning to transcend the narrow visions of material self-interest, we long to connect to something of abiding value. We share a hard-wired empathy and love for others, as well as a deep need to be recognized, understood and loved not for what we can do or deliver for others, but for our own intrinsic worth (what the Torah calls being created in the image of God). And we have an irrepressible instinct to seek freedom; creativity; artistic expression; higher and higher levels of understanding and consciousness; love and caring for others; the creation and enjoyment of beauty and pleasure; and both joyous celebration of and awe-filled responses to all the wonders of life in this universe. These irrepressible elements of human nature provide an ongoing foundation for the utopian (that is, "unrealistic" from the standpoint of the present repressive "reality") hopes that we at Tikkun seek to nurture.

Harboring utopian dreams does not blind us to all of the violence in the world. We can simultaneously nurture big hopes and remember that, at least in the time of recorded history in the past ten thousand years, relatively small numbers of very determined men (sometimes aided by the women in their lives, and sometimes opposed by those women) have managed to enslave most of the human race -- whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually -- during each new era. In the last few hundred years they have become adept at convincing those whom they dominate or exploit that the world these elites have constructed is either the best of all possible worlds or the only one that is realistically possible. They have managed to foster widespread consent or -- where consent was lacking -- apathy, indifference, or despair about changing anything.

Over the course of these past thousands of years, there have been major advances. Despite slavery's persistence for several million people in the modern world, the percentage of people enslaved as they were in antiquity or tied through a feudal arrangement to the area of their birth and labor pool into which their parents had been born has dramatically decreased.

The effect of institutionalized religion throughout this history has been mixed. Judaism, Christianity, and some other religions originally generated excitement and adherents, not only by celebrating the grandeur and mystery of the universe, as all religions do, but also by challenging the economic and political arrangements of the existing oppressive social order, as well as the justificatory ideologies and consciousness behind them. Though each of those religions has eventually seen the majority of its practitioners abandon the liberatory vision and practices, a small "saving remnant" in each of them still preaches (and sometimes even practices) a commitment to healing, repairing, and transforming the world (in Hebrew: tikkun).

The Ambivalent Results of Liberating Movements

Over the past several hundred years we have also learned important lessons from the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and science, which have the potential to free our minds from many of the distortions resulting from our previous indoctrinations, as well as to create labor-saving, mind-expanding, and health-improving technologies.

We've had secular worldviews derived from the teachings of Marx, Freud, and the second wave of feminism, which have each contributed to the undermining of inherited forms of domination and control.

And we've had mass uprisings such as the American and French revolutions; the Russian, Chinese, and Vietnamese revolutions; the decolonization movements after WWII; and the second wave of feminism in the past forty years. In each of these, millions of people experienced the joy of partial liberations before the liberatory energies in these movements turned into something less liberating. Sometimes those retreats from what was most liberatory were forced upon these movements by external forces or conditions. For example the U.S., British, and French invasion of the Soviet Union in 1919 and their support for a civil war that lasted until 1924 contributed significantly to the destruction of the most revolutionary elements of the Russian working class and hence enabled the rise of Stalin and his repressive counter-revolution in the name of communism. And in a similar way, the U.S. economic embargo and continual harassment of Cuba has dramatically contributed to the evolution of the Castro regime from a genuine people's revolution to an oppressive state apparatus. But often the undermining of these struggles was enhanced by the limits of the activists' own vision, their failure to develop an ethos of love and caring seen as of equal importance to any other outcome, their reliance on violence and on demeaning others who were not part of their movement, and their failure to incorporate a spiritual dimension into their consciousness and daily practice. The failures and distortions of socialist, communist, democratic, New Left, countercultural, psychoanalytic, feminist, anti-racist, national liberation, and Zionist movements over the course of the past two hundred years (and particularly their inability to sustain an internal culture of love, caring, and deep recognition of each other's preciousness) has left a legacy of emotional depression and provided ammunition with which existing elites have beaten back the yearnings of the world's peoples for justice, peace, environmental sanity, love, and generosity.

Remember: Ruthless Elites Are Still Human Beings

The elites of wealth and power, and the corporations they run, have shared interests. They often collaborate and have fostered institutions and social arrangements to perpetuate their power and wealth. They allow into their circles and even share their wealth with some of the brightest and most creative people who can help them in their enterprise of retaining that power and wealth and of convincing the majority of people that these arrangements are either in everyone's interest or cannot be changed without taking personal risks that are not likely to pay off and in the meantime endanger their own lives, incomes, and the well-being of those close to them.

The priorities of education are oriented around the paradigm of a world of competing nations and corporations, so the task of a "good education" increasingly promoted by both liberal and conservative forces is to prepare one to compete effectively in the global economy. This orientation is then strongly reinforced when one enters the world of work, which is similarly organized to channel people into a global economy in which competition of all against all prevents rationally compassionate allocation of material resources or human skills and wisdom. It is an economy that results in the production of unnecessary goods that contribute to the looting, polluting, and destruction of the earth.

The major media are organized to provide the bread-and-circus element and to support passivity, alienation, false information, distortion of our collective historical memory, and a decreasing capacity to pay attention to any theme for longer than a few minutes. Meanwhile, the society's resources are misallocated to provide huge funding for global military bases and advanced military technologies, armies, navies, air forces, police forces, surveillance operations, intelligence operatives, homeland security forces, and mass imprisonment to back up laws, lawmakers, and judges who have proven their usefulness and loyalty to the established order of injustice, violence, inequality, poverty, suffering, and wars. And the funding priorities of the few wealthy people on the Left are usually oriented toward economistic or narrowly measurable outcomes -- not more visionary outcomes such as building a cohesive worldview or developing a new ethos of love and caring within social change movements or in the larger society.

Yet when we talk about these elites we risk failing to notice that they are human beings who are made in the image of God like the rest of us. A good guy-bad guy dichotomy distorts the far more complicated picture: that these people are engaged in the same struggle as each of us, the struggle between the voice of fear that leads us to believe that we are alone in the world and that our safety depends on our ability to get power over others, and the voice of hope that leads us to believe we could achieve safety, security, and the fulfillment of our needs through love and generosity and caring for others (what I have called "the left hand of God"). Just as many of us choose passivity or despair when the voice of fear becomes dominant in us, so many of those who are situated in circumstances where they can economically, politically, or socially dominate others choose that path because of fear that if they chose paths based on the possibility that love and kindness could prevail and provide them with fulfillment of their needs, they would be betrayed by those they trusted. So they imagine it is less self-destructive to rely on opportunities for power over others. Having a compassionate attitude toward these people does not in any way vitiate our righteous indignation at their actions or our commitment to transform the system that benefits them at the expense of the rest of the human race and the planet's animals, plants, trees, water, and air.

The Spirit Reasserts Itself

Despite all that, the Spirit of God (or YHVH, the Christ, Allah, Eros, the Shechinah, the Force of Healing and Transformation, the Buddha, the Goddess, species being, human essence, the Goodness of the universe, or however else you choose to language it) that is manifested in every human being continues to reassert itself in every generation. It will never be fully crushed, no matter how effective the technologies of domination become.

That Spirit, manifested through past struggles, will always be available to us and is pushing us toward liberation. Because of that, we ordinary folk have been able to create ideas embedded in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the charter of the United Nations, and institutions such as trial by jury, democratic elections, the right to put propositions or reforms of state constitutions on state ballots, the right to assembly, free speech, and freedom of religion. These laws are supposed to apply equally to everyone. When they are, they give citizens some (small but still very important) mechanisms for limiting the arbitrary use of power by the elites. Though those elites have used their vast array of resources to employ others to work constantly to limit and undermine these past victories, and those struggles continue on a daily basis both in the United States and around the world, we have something to celebrate in having achieved some important victories at very high costs. And we've been able to use those victories to limit the impact of sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other solidarity-destroying human pathologies.

But we have not been able to sustain a social movement with which all who seek to be fuller expressions of God and who yearn for peace, environmental sanity, justice, and a world filled with love could be part. We have not been able to sustain the conviction that we are part of a "we." Political movements have been formed around specific issue areas like higher wages, unemployment, immigration reform, environment, human rights, peace, and health care -- and yet most of the participants and supporters of these movements have been unable to see that their own success depends upon the success of all the other movements. As a result they have been unable to develop ways to share their resources, personnel, fundraising, and access to the media.

Why We Fail to Create the "We"

Crippled in part by their own need to show themselves to be "realistic" and tough-minded, many of these movements have rejected any spiritual consciousness; instead they frame their programs in the most narrow technocratic language. And in part because of a justified outrage at repressive elements in some streams of the religious world, most of these movements have not allowed themselves to learn from the wisdom that has been accumulated in the spiritual and religious worlds for the past several thousand years. Crippled by a pervasive religiophobia, our movements for liberation have rarely been able to create sustaining rituals that publicly express our values.

We've been narrowly focused on the present and have not given the energy needed to create enough schools and camps and youth organizations to prepare the next generation to continue the struggle. In large part because of the extreme individualism of the society, which all of us have internalized, few of us are willing to make a long-term consistent commitment of time and energy, or the serious commitment of tithing -- sharing materially -- to our movement. Raising money is absolutely essential if we are to sustain a new consciousness and bring it to our neighbors and friends. So, instead, we've relied on momentary upsurges of energy, like that which we could find at a large anti-war rally or during an election campaign. Those can be wonderful and important, but their impact has not lasted very long, particularly given the way the media ignores them unless they are run by the Right or by television comedians.

As we've pointed out before, the current emotional depression sweeping through much of our world today was fostered in part by the great hopes that were invested by tens of millions of people in Barack Obama, and by the subsequent disillusionment when Obama not only did not fight for what we had expected him to fight for, but did not even present policies that reflected the ideals he had himself articulated. He did not provide the indispensable element: a coherent worldview. Yet as Associate Editor Peter Gabel pointed out in an email we sent out after the elections in November, what we should have learned from this was something that past movements already understood -- that the kinds of societal transformations we hope for can only come through the building of a powerful mass movement that uses electoral politics as one of its expressions but not as the central and determining one. This is crucial because electoral politics feeds into the fantasy that we just need to elect the right person and then watch as our hero battles for us.

It simply never works that way -- the forces aligned against social change are overwhelming, and our elected officials only respond to democratic pressure when we are mobilized in an ongoing movement that has many other non-electoral dimensions and is working in a coherent and powerful way to change consciousness and institutions using every possible nonviolent method, including disruptive civil disobedience, to push forward its agenda and worldview. That is why we are still hoping that people will respond to the programs and worldview we've put forward in the Network of Spiritual Progressives, particularly our Spiritual Covenant with America, our campaign for a Global Marshall Plan, and our campaign for the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (please reread the details of all of these campaigns at

Of course, we recognize and honor the huge energies and efforts being made by millions of dedicated liberals and progressives working in movements and local organizing projects around the country. Yet we are convinced that these efforts do not yet build on each other and are not able to sustain themselves for very long or to move the consciousness of tens of millions of people not yet reached by them. They will not until large numbers of activists are able to unify around a shared worldview and leadership that has been empowered by them to articulate their views in the public domain.

Instead, most of these groups make themselves much less effective than they could be because of an unwillingness to unite with groups doing other kinds of work and to develop with those groups a shared worldview. They are hamstrung by a continuing anti-leadership and anti-intellectualism bias, and by divisions along the lines of class, race, sex, religion, and more. The triumph in the liberal and progressive world of "identity politics" was a short-term necessity to counter the destructive impact of racism, classism, homophobia, sexism, and anti-Semitism. Yet its abiding presence has also contributed to the difficulty so many people have in seeing beyond their own group interests to recognize that those interests will never be adequately addressed until we create a movement that speaks to the general interest of everyone, addressing the fundamental shared human need for love, caring, kindness, generosity, and ethical and ecological sanity, as well as for communities that enhance our capacity to recognize each other and our common aspirations.

The Movement We Need

Until that working together happens, all the liberal and progressive forces will appear to be little more than an assemblage of "interest groups" with no higher moral appeal than the interest groups of the Right or of the ruling elites themselves. It is only when that interest-group politics gets transcended by a politics that speaks confidently and powerfully about the needs of humanity as a whole, and does so with a language that evokes the deepest yearnings of the human soul that the Left has any chance of being heard by those who today experience us as just another set of groups clamoring for attention and power. We so desperately need a politics expressed with a spirit of generosity and sensitivity to what our ally Rabbi Irwin Kula calls "the sacred messiness of life." We need a Left that speaks with gentleness, humility, humor, and uses art, dance, music, and other creative forms.

We know that we need a political party or at least a powerful movement organization that can unite all the liberal and progressive forces, but our experience has taught us that there is no point in creating such an organization or party unless it is composed of people who feel unequivocally committed to affirming that they want a New Bottom Line of love, kindness, generosity, awe, wonder, radical amazement and behavior grounded in ethical and ecological sensitivity. That is why nothing short of a spiritual progressive party, the party of Love and Generosity, the party of Environmental Sanity, the party of Peace and Justice, or the party of Awe and Wonder (OK -- what name would you give it?) can possibly transform the contemporary mess in politics.

I hope you've read our critique of scientism in previous issues (particularly in the Science and Spirit section of the November/December 2010 issue of Tikkun). Because of the widespread unconscious allegiance that many liberals and progressives feel to scientism, with its belief that all these spiritual, ethical, and love-oriented commitments are not really substantial because they can't be measured or verified through methods deemed "objective" (which is to say, related to empirical sense data), such commitments are dismissed as having no legitimacy in our public life, and the idea of a spiritual progressive party is perceived as laughable or deeply mistaken or utopian. The result is that progressive movements are severely limited and unable to remain centered on love and caring or on helping each other manifest our creativity, beauty, kindness, and generosity. The very yearnings that lead people to progressive movements and that energize those movements are simultaneously denied if not disparaged by the official worldviews that dominate the Left.

Yet it is the deprivation of these central human needs in contemporary capitalist societies that is actually the central cause of pain in people's lives and the real source of human misery. Despite all the repetition of capitalism's mantra that "it's the economy, stupid," the truth is that many people who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s, or who came from other countries with materially far less than most people in the Western world have access to, report that the human solidarity that existed in those materially deprived circumstances provided people with a sense of mutual recognition and caring that yielded higher levels of satisfaction and happiness than they see in materially flourishing Western societies today.

How come? Because those who live in a society where people care for each other are far richer and far safer than many who have endless material riches and armies to protect themselves. Yet the Left remains stuck in the fear that it would discredit itself if it were to call for a society based on love and generosity. As a result it renders itself more powerless than it needs to be, even given its unequal access to media and money, etc. I describe these dynamics in detail in my book Surplus Powerlessness and some in my book The Left Hand of God, and have also analyzed them extensively in Tikkun for the past twenty-five years.

History is not over, and we are all immensely blessed to live at a time when the possibilities for human liberation and the need for overcoming all forms of separation among the peoples of this planet have become a survival necessity. I hope you'll help us keep Tikkun and alive and growing in influence through the next twenty-five years. We owe that to ourselves, our children, and to the human race. I bless us all that we can participate together in good health and with much love and humor in creating the movement and the world we so badly need!

The Diaspora as a Spiritual Ideal

Jay Edson

Adequate solutions to conflicts of long standing generally have to begin with a new way of understanding the situation. My thinking about the meaning of a “diaspora” grew out of my reflections on the ideology and politics of Zionism. At the same time it is my hope that the idea of the “New Diaspora” that is developed later in the article will be seen to have a much broader application in the world today.


During the last Century Zionism dominated the theological and political life of Judaism. Zionism is both a religious ideology and a political movement. The basic tenet of Zionism was that the Jewish people, although they were scattered throughout the earth, constituted a nation, and as such they needed, and had the right to, a nation state of their own. Obviously the most salient obstacle in the way of accomplishing this goal was the fact that their ancient homeland in Palestine, as well as all viable alternative locations, was already inhabited.

Although many of the Zionist leaders were agnostics or atheists, the basic justification for wresting a homeland from its present inhabitants, who predictably would be reluctant to simply hand it over, was a religious one. God had promised the Jews this land, as it was recorded in the Torah. In addition to this religious motivation there was also a more practical one. To the degree that the Jewish people attempted to protect their own identity in the midst of other populations, they tended to become the target of persecutions – some of which were quite severe.

Prior to the second world war only about 20% of the Jewish people were motivated to support Zionism as a political movement. Some religious leaders felt that Zionism as a political movement was heretical, in that human beings were taking into their own hands what God was supposed to do through the action of the awaited Messiah. Many of the more secular Jews were undoubtedly disinclined to lend their support to the Zionist movement simply because they were fairly comfortable where they were, and were preoccupied with their daily concerns. Some opposed Zionism on moral or humanitarian grounds. They knew that trying to create a Jewish nation state in a land that was already occupied by other people would lead to bloodshed and suffering, and they felt that the Jewish people had no right to initiate such a conflict.

The Holocaust turned the tide in favor of the Zionist cause. It persuaded the majority of Jews that they would never be safe living as guests in other nations. It also aroused sympathy and support for the Zionist agenda from people all over the world. The political forces thus set in motion were decisive and by 1948 Israel was a recognized nation state.

This is not the place to detail the historical developments since 1948. Israel became a powerful and successful nation-state, but at a tremendous price both to the Jewish people themselves, and to the Palestinians whose land they took. The suffering, bloodshed and danger, as everyone is aware, continues to this day.

It is not my intention in this article to point my finger or to blame. Certainly one can understand the sense of urgency that compelled the Jews to pursue the Zionist agenda after the horror of the Holocaust. One can equally well understand why the Palestinians have been driven to extreme actions as they have attempted to cope with their many losses and humiliations at the hands of the Israelis. It is perhaps more difficult to sympathize with the Machiavellian policies of the United States in this situation. However, my intention here is not to blame anyone, but to seek a more adequate way of understanding of the situation.

According to an entry in the Wikepedia Encyclopedia, the term diaspora comes from a Greek word meaning “a scattering or sowing of seeds.” It “is used (without capitalization) to refer to any people or ethnic population forced or induced to leave their traditional ethnic homelands, being dispersed throughout other parts of the world, and the ensuing developments in their dispersal and culture.” The most common use of the term is to refer to the dispersion of the Jews who were exiled from Judea in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, and again from Jerusalem in 135 CE by the Romans. When it is used in this specific sense the word is capitalized.

Other well known examples of diasporas are the Africans who were taken into slavery, the Native Americans of north and South America, the Roma, the Irish as a result of the Potato Famine, the Buddhists from Tibet, and the Somalis who fled their homeland due to political turmoil in Somalia. This is not intended as an exhaustive list. It would seem that diasporas are both more common, and of greater historical significance, than is generally recognized.

The Tamils

Because of a violent conflict between the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Sinhala majority that continued for some decades, many Tamils felt it necessary to leave their homeland. In an article titled “Tamil Diaspora: A Trans State Nation” on the web site we read:

“The Tamil diaspora is a growing “togetherness” of more than 70 million people living in many lands and across distant seas, many thousands as refugees and asylum seekers. It is a togetherness rooted in an ancient heritage, a rich language and literature, and a vibrant culture. But it is a togetherness which is not simply a function of the past. It is a growing togetherness consolidated by struggle and suffering and, given purpose and direction by the aspirations of a people for the future - a future where they and their children and their children’s children may live in equality and freedom in an emerging one world.”

Two interesting points are made in this article. First, a nation need not have physical boundaries. The Tamil people scattered across the earth in many lands are still considered to be a single nation because of their “togetherness” with regard to cultural and spiritual matters. Second, they see their primary hope for the future in the equality and freedom that they will find in an “emerging one world.” This is the same “emerging one world” that Black Elk envisioned in the famous vision that came to him when he was in a near death state as the result of an illness at the age of about 10.

“I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”

The New Diaspora

Some become members of a diaspora because traumatic historical events have made them refugees. I do not wish to romanticize their situation, or suggest anything that might prolong it. Those who are refugees for any reason need to be helped to find places where they can settle and try to build new lives. Always they are faced with the problem of retaining what is good from their own cultures while adapting to the new environments in which they find themselves. This is never easy, and should never be forced on anyone. At the same time there may be a spiritual significance to what they are undergoing. In many ways these diasporas may be on the cutting edge of history. They force people in concrete ways to come to terms with what may be the most important issue in the world today – how do we find unity in diversity? The origin of the word is significant. A diaspora is a “scattering of seeds” a source of new growth.

Others become members of a diaspora because they have been excluded from full membership within the communities where they reside. Those with “deviant” sexual orientations, those who have been in prison for any reason, those labeled as “mentally ill,” and those with belief systems that vary too much from the norm, all find themselves excluded in varying degrees, and become a part of diasporas that await the day when we are able to create a world that excludes no one. These groups also are on the cutting edge of history. They disturb the sleep of acceptable humanity with questions that may some day awaken it: “Why do you choose not to see me as fully human?” “What can be done so that we will not fear each other so much?” “How can we be different yet not at war?”

Perhaps there are some who become dislocated from an easy identification with their nation states and their social groups simply because of their vision of a Promised Land of universal dimensions. Such people have been made homeless simply by their spiritual awakening. They realize that the old containers of sex, nation, social class, race and spiritual tradition are no longer adequate markers for their primary identification. These five containers must be broken. They are the “foreign lands” that hold us in captivity, and alienate us from who we might become, individually and collectively.

The whole earth must be the Promised Land, and it must exclude no one regardless of sexual identity, national affiliation, race, spiritual tradition, or social class. Social class, as an organizing structure superimposed over us, poisons our collective and individual lives and must radically dismantled. No person or group is entitled to hugely disproportionate degrees of either the world’s goods or social power. The other “containers” may continue to exist, but not as primary focal points for our identities. I am a citizen of the world first, and only secondarily a citizen of the United States or of Zimbabwe. I am a spiritual seeker first, and only secondarily a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu. I am a loving person first, and only secondarily a woman or a man or a homosexual or a heterosexual. I am a human being first, and only secondarily a member of whatever race I may choose to assign myself to. The New Jerusalem is not to be found in any nation-state, nor in any other grouping of people that sets itself up in opposition to other groups that it would exclude.

Teilhard de Chardin summed it up nicely. “We must give up our old prejudices and build the earth.” The New Jerusalem, the Promised Land, must be the whole earth, and all its people.

The New Diaspora consists of all those people whose Promised Land is the whole earth as a community living in harmony with each other – a harmony that is made possible not because diversity is suppressed but because it is celebrated. The ideal of the New Diaspora is diversity within unity – a community of people that is grounded in freedom, mutual respect, and civil liberties for all. Until we have arrived there we are “strangers in a strange land.”

Application to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

However understandable the Zionist political movement was, it would seem that it was a mistake. The mistake was essentially religious in nature. It was a matter of identifying the Promised Land with a nation state – with any nation state – when it must now be understood to be the whole earth. The future of the world is with the New Diaspora – with those who are only nominally, if at all, citizens of any nation state – those who await the arrival of the “New Jerusalem” – the Promised land – the great hoop that Back Elk dreamed of.

We cannot undo what has been happening for the last fifty years in Israel and Palestine, any more that we can undo slavery, or the genocide of Native Americans in North America, or the Chinese invasion of Tibet. But we can take things as they are now and ask, “what would bring this situation closer to the new spiritual ideal that we must now put forward – the ideal of an enriching diversity within the unity of the whole earth – the dream of all those who long for the only Promised Land that makes sense in the 21st Century.”

With regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, our analysis of the New Diaspora suggests that the only progressive solution to the conflict lies in the Israelis and the Palestinians learning to live together. As Todd May summarizes it, “the only politically and ethically viable approach to the problem of Israel and Palestine is to support a single democratic secular state that provides equal rights for all of its citizens.” (See the article, “The Emerging Case for a Single State in Palestine,” below).

Some would question how realistic it is to hope for a single state in which Jew and Palestinians can live together in relative harmony. In all probability, some less that ideal compromise will have to be accepted as a way of ending the violence and opening the way to a deeper resolution of the conflict. Eventually, however, a solution will need to be found that is based on the concept of a single, multi-cultural democracy, or on an arrangement that transcends the notion of a “nation state” entirely.

Politics As A Spiritual Path

Politics As A Spiritual Path

A Personal Reflection


Yoga means union. The aim of any form of yoga is union with the Absolute. I use the term the “absolute” to refer to the Divine Ground of all reality – the One from which we come, and to which we return – the Divine that is at work in creation – that which is ultimately beyond both logic and language. We encounter the Absolute within time and space in the forces of evolution that seek to create and intensify values that can only be achieved in duality – love, beauty, adventure, knowledge, creativity and growth. We also encounter the Absolute as that point of ecstatic stillness beyond time and space – as the unmoving, self-sufficient One. A complete or integral yoga will reflect this duality. It will seek the incarnation of the Absolute in ever more satisfactory ways. The person who chooses an integral yoga will seek moments of stillness, in which to know the Absolute in that form. However, based on this experience of Oneness, he or she will not seek to disengage from the world but to transform his or her manner of being in the world. In this way s/he will seek the transformation of the world itself, so that it becomes a more beautiful, loving, place where collectively and individually we can learn, grow and create. Understood this way, then, yoga becomes politics.

The aim of a politics of yoga is to embody the light and to bring it to others. Plants, through photosynthesis, take the light of the sun into themselves and transform it into the living energy that is the foundation for all life on the earth. In a similar manner we can take the light of the absolute into ourselves where it becomes a living energy for creative and loving action.

Light Laughs and Plays

What then is this light
That presents equally as an object,
And as a wave of nothing in particular
—This not this not that
—This limit to our rushing?

In the Raven light is swallowed up.
In his bleached bones on a pebbled beach
It is given again.

A pion dies into two gamma rays.
Shall I too
When I throw off my mass
Spin off effortlessly
Like two skaters racing across the ice
In time to each other and to a larger melody?

To the scientist a problem –
To the artist a mistress –
To the blind an unrequited love.
But what is light to itself?

What can I say, I who am not light?
Only that it laughs on the rippled surface,
And plays in the plumage of birds.

The Incarnation of Light

The embodiment of the light takes place in the social groups around us – in our immediate circle, in society as a whole, and in the ecology of the earth. The person for whom politics is a path is informed and energized by the light he or she encounters from the outside as well as that which comes from within.

The Christian myth tells of a wrongness that has entered into creation. The ultimate cause of this wrongness is unknown. It would seem to have been a collective wrong choice of the human race. We see it manifest in three ways: In the hatred of Eros, in the will to dominate others, and in the will to claim for oneself a disproportionate share of the worlds resources. These are the knots that have entered into creation – the knots that must be unraveled if we are to survive. In the self these knots are created when love goes out into the world and there encounters hostility and rejection. This love then turns back into the self where it creates psychic entanglements that prevent the free flow of love between the self and others. This, for example is what creates what in psychoanalytic terms is called the “sadistic super-ego.” Similar knots are found in society on all levels.

From time to time we find ourselves in a Camelot situation. Things are pulling together with a creative synergy. Our aims dovetail with the aims of others with whom we are connected. Life seems good. Central to the story of Camelot is the idea that the seeds of its destruction are present at it’s inception. Guenevere and Lancelot were attracted to each other from the beginning. Whether something akin to this is always present in real life situations is difficult to say. But for a variety of reasons no created form can last forever. The person who has chosen politics as a path does not seek to establish fixed Utopias; rather he or she attempts to facilitate the continuous creative unfolding of life.

Life processes do not move forward in a simple continuous motion, but through a rhythm – a continuous movement between reflection within the realm of potentiality and action in the world of external reality. Always that which has been encountered, enjoyed, endured or created in the external world of action is taken into the self where it is assimilated. This is followed by a re-emergence into the external world of action where the aims and knowledge of the living organism function in a modified, and ideally, an enlarged, more knowledgeable and more skillful manner. The rhythm can be seen most clearly in the waking and sleeping rhythm that we experience on a daily basis. It also occurs on a minute by minute basis during the day when we do something active on a project, pull back and contemplate what must be done next, and then move out into action again. On a larger scale one sees it in the passing of the generations. The older ones attempt to pass on what they have learned to the younger, who invariably modify it for their own purposes, and carry it forward in a new way. If re-incarnation is in some literal sense true, then we would have a natural extension of this rhythm through many lifetimes. In David Bohm’s terminology, we are constantly moving back and forth between the implicate and the explicate order of things. Death and re-embodiment. This is the central rhythm of all living systems.

The person who choses politics as a path must select his or her task. Often it seems rather like the task comes to the person. In any case our task is found at the interface between what we most love and the needs we encounter in the world around us. Each person is positioned in a unique way where certain possibilities are open to him or her that may not be open to others. Each person is also motivated by loves and interests that are unique, and is enabled by a particular set of skills. The political task is the point around which everything that we are – both in the implicate and the explicate order of things – and everything we encounter in our full range of experience, becomes a unifying process and a loving and creative force in the world.

Politics and the Triple Path

In “The Synthesis of Yoga” Aurobindo speaks of “the triple path of devotion, knowledge and works.” When pursued together in a coherent manner these practices form an “integral” yoga. The yoga of politics is also an integral yoga. It is centered on four practices:

1. Meditation. Through any of a number of practices, the individual attempts to find the unmoving center within him or herself. In doing so one connects with a source of power that is beyond the time/space within which creation is embodied.

2. Action. Finding the unmoving center need not lead to a withdrawal from action in the world. Rather, one finds within the experience of that which is beyond time and space a source of comfort, peace and strength from which to confront the uncertainties and real dangers of the world with concerted and skillful action.

3. Love. The mainspring for a yoga of action is Love. But it is not a love that is composed merely of sentimental feelings about the hungry, the sick and the imprisoned. Nor is authentic love satisfied with mere “charity.” Rather it is a compassion that is motivated to alter those social, economic and political realities that lead to people starving, to unnecessary sickness and to the need for prisons.

4. Understanding. Knowledge is a form of power. If conditions are to be changed for the better, many different forms of knowledge may be needed. Study is an aspect of any political path. Knowledge of many different things may be relevant. Deepened understanding of both the self and the world are crucial. Knowledge of science, literature and spiritual disciplines are all relevant.

End times.

“End times” can mean many different things. We all face the fact of our own death, and for any of a number of reasons this may be an immediate rather than remote prospect. We also experience the loss of relationships, of groups, or of communities to which we belonged. These are all experienced as deaths. Our nation may be faced with destruction or with being transformed into something unbearably ugly and oppressive. At the present time science as well as religion is telling us that these may be the end times for the earth. It is important not to allow ourselves to succumb to a self fulfilling prophesy. It is necessary to do everything within our power to prevent this untimely end of a beautiful and fragile planet. Yet even the prospect that we may fail in this should not lead us to despair. The yoga of politics does not become irrelevant in the end times, regardless what form the end is taking for us. Within the scope of our lifetimes we see the destruction of much that we love and care for, but the Creative Power behind evolution takes up whatever good that has been accomplished, and moves it forward in new embodiments.

Death is a part of the creative process. We encounter it in personal death, in the death of our social forms, and perhaps in the death of the earth itself. The faith of the person who is practicing the yoga of politics is not grounded in the wisdom and power either of the self or of some revered leader or teacher, but in the Absolute. It is the faith that those things which have been truly good will be taken up and will serve as starting points for new creations.

The Emerging Dalit Theology

Introductory Note by HealthWrights staff

This highly informative article places “Dalit theology” in its larger historical and cultural context. We are shown both the uniqueness of Dalit theology, and its relationship to other liberation theologies – especially those of Central and South America. At the center of Dalit theology is the issue of liberation. Perhaps the manner in which various religious traditions deal with this matter of “liberation” is the most revealing point of comparison between them. The Hindu tradition tended to see liberation as an escape from duality – from history itself. In Dalit theology, on the other hand, it is the historical meaning of liberation that is emphasized. Oommen points out that there are two aspects of this historical quest for liberation. First, in involves liberation from “historically oppressive structures – both religio-cultural and socio-economic.” But he points out that it is equally important to liberate people from the “slavery of self-captivity.” This “self-captivity” has to do primarily with the internalization of oppression through taking into oneself the identity images provided by the larger culture.

The Emerging Dalit Theology --
An Historical Appraisal

by George Oommen, 2000.06.01

“Liberation” by Escher

The Rev. George Oommen, Ph.D., received his doctorate at the University of Sydney, Australia. He is Chairperson and Professor of History of Christianity and Dean of Graduate Studies at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India. This article originally appeared in Indian Church History Review, Vol. XXXIV, Number 1 June 2000, pp. 19-37.

Dalit Theology is a new strand which has emerged in the Asian theological scene. This theology began to take shape in the early 80s when A.P. Nirmal, then a faculty member at the United Theological College, floated the idea of “Shudra Theology.” But now, Dalit theology has come of age and it stands by its own uniqueness and creativity.

At the outset it is appropriate that I explain the term “Dalit” because it has come into popular use in India only very recently. The etymology of the term “Dalit” goes back to the 19th century when a Marathi social reformer and revolutionary Mahatma Jyotirao Phule used it to describe the “outcastes” and “untouchables” as the “oppressed and crushed victims of the Indian caste system.” In the 1970s the Dalit Panther Movement of Maharashtra gave currency to the term “Dalit” as a reminder that they were the deprived and the dispossessed section of Indian society and as a means of rejecting other names given to them with a paternalistic attitude.

“Outcastes” in India have been known by different names such as: “Harijan,” meaning children of Han (God) given by Gandhi; “Avarrias” meaning casteless; “Panchamas” meaning fifth caste; “Chandalas” meaning worst of the earth; “Depressed classes” given during British Colonial days, and Scheduled Caste given by the Indian Constitution. Recent Dalit protest movements in India have increasingly used the term Dalit to demonstrate the rejection of derogatory names given by outsiders and further, to refer to their pain, suffering and hope for liberation.

James Massey, a prominent Dalit theologian captures the wide usage of the term Dalit as follows:

“Dalit is thus not a mere descriptive name or title, but an expression of hope for the recovery of their past identity. The struggle of these “outcastes” has given the term dalit a positive meaning. The very realisation of themselves as Dalit, the very acceptance of the state of “dalitness,” is the first step on the way towards their transformation into full and liberated human beings.”1

Dalits who constitute almost 20% of the Indian population (200 million), were considered untouchables as a result of the Hindu understanding of “ritual pollution and purity.” Dalits were not included in the four fold varna categories. At the top were the Brahmins, who considered themselves as the most ritually pure. Beyond the pale of society, “outcastes” were considered extremely polluted and were assigned occupations such as removal of dead animals, scavenging and cleaning of the village. They were also landless agricultural labourers and tanners. They were barred from using village water tanks and public roads. Temple doors were closed on them.

Dalit Christians

Although Christianity is an egalitarian religion, the caste system found its way into it in India. Dalit Christians within the church were discriminated against and were denied powers within the ecclesiastical structure.

Although Dalit Christians constituted approximately 70% of the Indian Christian population they were marginalized and ignored until recently. To illustrate this let me quote what Archbishop George Zur, Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to India said while inaugurating the CBCI (Catholic Bishops Conference of India) in 1991:

Though Catholics of the lower caste and tribes form 60 per cent of Church membership they have no place in decision-making. Scheduled caste converts are treated as lower caste not only by high caste Hindus but by high caste Christians too. In rural areas they cannot own or rent houses, however well-placed they may be. Separate places are marked out for them in the parish churches and burial grounds. Inter-caste marriages are frowned upon and caste tags are still appended to the Christian names of high caste people. Casteism is rampant among the clergy and the religious. Though Dalit Christians make 65 per cent of the 10 million Christians in the South, less than 4 per cent of the parishes are entrusted to Dalit priests. There are no Dalits among 13 Catholic Bishops of Tamilnadu or among the Vicars-general and rectors of seminaries and directors of social assistance centres.2

The situation in the Protestant Church is no different except that some Dalits have been elevated to Bishopric and other positions of power recently. Many Dalit Christian leaders refer to the thrice-alienated situation of the Dalit Christians in India, namely, discrimination within the Church, discrimination by Hindu culture and discrimination by the State as they are denied Scheduled Caste status in the Constitution, and the related privileges which come with that status.3

At the outset it should be noted that the emergence of Dalit Christian Theology in India is intrinsically linked to more recent and significant developments within the Dalit Movement in India from the 70s.

But before we go into that, a word about the history of Dalit Movement in India is in place. Dalit protest and resistance movements seem to have gone through several phases. Bhakti movements within Hinduism between 14th and 16th centuries symbolised low castes’ aspiration for an egalitarian society and religion. The Bhakti movement stood for transformation of Hindu society and used religious resources to push forward the basic ideology that all persons were equal before God. However, the dominant castes co-opted it and transformed it into a reform movement within Hinduism. Moreover the British Colonial system dealt a decisive blow to the growth of the Bhakti movement.

The destruction of the Jajmani system, communal ownership of landed property, by the British and introduction of legal land relationship changed the situation of Dalits for the worse. Jajmani had used traditional caste relationships for division of labour and had provided some material security for them, although it was an exploitative and unjust system.4

The entry of colonialism enabled Dalits to search for new means of protest and liberation. Some Dalits integrated themselves into the colonial system by joining the army or by serving as indentured labourers in British colonies. Others chose Sanskritization as a means of upward mobility. Self respect movements and religious and social reform movements for educational and political rights in South Indian analysis of the Kamataka situation in Godwin Shin, The Plight of Christian Dalits: A South Indian Case Study. Bangalore: ATC, 1997.

States were expression of this self assertion movement. This took place at the turn of the 20th century.

However, mass conversions to non-Hindu religions were the most prominent means of Dalit protest which began during the second half of the 19th Century. Many historians, such as John Webster, say that the modern Dalit movement was begun in and through the Christian conversion movements. 5

Several opinions are expressed regarding the reasons for Dalit conversion to Christianity. They range from the spiritual to socio-economic. But there is a general consensus among scholars that, “the underlying motivation was the search for improved social status, for a greater sense of personal dignity and self respect, for freedom from bondage to oppressive land owners.”6 A complete break with the past was impossible for Dalit Christians. But it is beyond doubt that Dalit Christians initiated a movement of Dalit power and cultural changes through conversion movement which included “alterations in perceptions of self and the world, in life-style, as well as the acquisition of enhanced resources for self-improvement and self-empowerment.”7

Dalits in post-Independent India sought new avenues of liberation. One of the best examples of this new wave of Dalit emancipatory movement was the Dalit Panther Movement in Maharashtra which popularized the use of the term Dalit. The Dalit Panthers saw caste as the major source by which their “humanity” was being virtually reduced to a state of “being no people.” 8 However, class analysis also was used as an effective tool to understand the plight of this downtrodden people. 9

Further there was a surge in the Dalit literature in 1960s. This literary tradition had a distinct anti-caste message. It embodied the Dalit search for a culture of their own and developed a counter culture parallel to the “Great Tradition” without being co-opted into the Sanskritic tradition. This literary movement created a Dalit folklore with the assertion that they have had a culture of their own and that they do have one which is not in any way inferior to any other traditions of India.10 Dalit literary movements were considerably influenced by Black American Literature and there were direct references, although in passing to the Blacks’ situation in America in these writings. The following is an interesting one:

The words “a peculiar institution” describe the untouchability created by the caste system. The Negro should not change the colour of his hide, nor the untouchable his caste. There is no difference between the place of the Negro in America and the step or level of the Untouchable in India. And so, for a long time, both were caught in whirlwind of self-denigration and self-hatred. Both were confined in the prison of fatalism. To prolong this imprisonment, the whites found authority in the Bible’s myths and symbols, and the clean castes in the Vedas and Manusmniti! 11

Closely following the teachings of B.R. Ambedkar, the 20th Century symbol of Dalit power and protest, the Dalit asserted their separateness from other Hindus and demonstrated vehement opposition to classical Brahmanic Hinduism.12 However, it may be stated that Dalit movement in India is not yet homogenous and does represent diverse policies and means of liberation. However, a pan-Indian psychological solidarity was increasingly emerging in the 1980s.

A Counter-Theology

A Series of attempts and initiatives began in the early eighties to systematically articulate the faith in the context of the newly emerging Dalit aspiration for liberation. A.P. Nirmal, James Massey, M.E. Prabhakar, M. Azariah, K. Wilson, V. Devasahayam and F.J. Balasundaram are some of the prominent persons who figure in this theological movement.13 As theology predominantly became a vehicle to serve the elite interests, marginalizing the Dalits’ faith, Dalit theology manifested itself as a counter-theology movement. Re-formulation and re-visioning were the objectives rather than reconstruction and deconstruction. Both the European missionary movement and the traditional Indian Christian Theology of the 20th Century were rejected as metaphysical speculations having nothing to do directly with the history and existence of the marginalized majority within the Indian Church.

Dalit theologians felt the need to consciously reflect upon the oppressive situation of Dalits in India. “Thus, when Dalit theologians speak of Dalit theology,” says James Massey:”They are in fact making an affirmation about the need for a theological expression which will help them in their search for daily bread and their struggle to overcome a situation of oppression, poverty, suffering, injustice, illiteracy and denial of human dignity and identity. It is these realities of Dalit life which require the formulation of a Dalit theology. The highly philosophical schools of thoughts such as Gnana Marga, Karma Marga and Bhakti Marga were of no liberative and theological value to Dalits.”

Many felt that the theological task of India need not be the preserve of the “Brahmanic Tradition” within the Indian Church, which had always used “intuition, inferiority oriented approach” to theologising.14 Dalit theologians were of the opinion that the theological and cultural domination of Brahmanic traditions within Indian Christianity, ignoring the rich cultural and religious experience of the Dalits had to be ignored, if not rejected completely. 15

It is relevant to note here that sacred texts of the Hindu religion such as Vedas and Mantras were not accessible to Dalits as a rule. They could perceive the same tradition continuing within Christianity in theology. In that sense Dalit theological movement was also an expression of appropriating a sacred mode from high caste theology. Thus Dalit theological movement was a corrective to the institutionalization of inequality and inaccessibility within the theological field. “To sum up, then,” Nirmal says;

Whether it is the traditional Indian Christian theology or the more recent third-world theology, our theologians failed to see the struggle of Indian Dalits for liberation a subject matter appropriate for doing theology in India. What is amazing is that fact that Indian theologians ignore the reality of the Indian Church. While estimates vary, between 50 and 80 percent of all the Christians in India today are of scheduled-caste origin. This is the most important commonality cutting across the various diversities of the Indian Church that would have provided an authentic liberation motif for Indian Christian theology. If our theologians failed, to see this in the past, there is all the more reason for our waking up to this reality today and for applying ourselves seriously to the “task of doing theology”.16

Thus, essentially, Dalit theology was a liberative action in itself, in the sense that its coming into being created space for the development of a Dalit Christian voice.

Major Affirmations and Features

1) The primary affirmation of Dalit theology is that it is a theology about Dalits, for Dalits and originated from them; “the theology which they themselves would like to expound.”17 They alone are the authors of this articulation. Almost closely following the Dalit literary movement, Dalit theology promotes an exclusiveness in the doing of theology. Defending this methodological exclusivism, the chief architect of this theology writes, “This exclusivism is necessary because the chief tendency of all dominant traditions - cultural or theological - is to accommodate, include, assimilate, and finally conquer others. Counter -theologies or people’s theology therefore need to be on guard and need18 to shut off the influences of the dominant theological traditions.

In fact it is the very Christian character of “Dalitness” which will justify this primacy given to Dalits and the methodological exclusivism. Some Dalit theologians say Dalit theology can be done only by the Dalits who have experienced sufferings and who understand the pain of people.

However, not all Dalit theologians accept this approach of virtual exclusion of others from doing Dalit theology. Balasundaram, a departmental colleague, says, “Dalit theology is not and can’t be exclusive. A theology that is exclusive can’t be Christian. Dalit theology is pursued for others’ liberation also.”19 Further, acknowledging the very inclusive structural nature of sin, in this case the caste system, and the role both the oppressed and the oppressors have in this., K. Wilson challenges the exclusive methodological approach. Non-Dalits’ expression of solidarity with Dalits also is seen as an inevitable component of the ultimate liberation of Dalits. K. Wilson expresses it is as follows: " Christian Dalit theology does not forbid Christian Dalits from working with non-Dalit authentic Christians, the renascent Hindus, the reformed Muslims and humanistic forces from various other faiths and ideologies, on a common human platform and thus hasten the process of establishing a human and humane culture which is why the Word became flesh.

Due to influence of the “secular” Dalit movement in India and the liberation theology from Latin America, Dalit theology began the movement by accepting Marxian analytical tools. However, caste is now seen as the major socio-economic formative force in shaping and understanding the history of Dalits. Moreover the over-arching impact of Ambedkarism on all Dalits further seems to enhance the process of accepting caste as the sole source of the suffering of Dalits. Ambedkar was very forthright in declaring the separateness of Dalits from the caste system as the means of their liberation. Dalit theology seems to be totally in conformity with this position.

2) One of the major sources of doing Dalit theology is Dalit experience of suffering and pain.

The narration of the story of their pathos and their protest has a primary place in this. Dalit literary movement gives “expression to their anger against those who have made them Dalits.” And Dalit theology gives vent to the agony and pain of God’s people.

Thus it results in the recovery of their past and the memory of their rejection. This recovery of the collective memory of their “wounded psyche” has another purpose also. It helps Dalits and Dalit theologians to theologically reflect on the “subjugated and submerged” rich cultural identity of Dalits. There is a conscious effort made by Christian theologians to capture the growing awareness among Dalits that they were “members of an ancient primeval society disinherited and uprooted by the alien Brahmanical civilization.”20

Thus, history is fundamental to the theological task in this movement. History is not illusionary or unreal as Hindu metaphysical philosophy may make one to believe. First, history is fundamental in the sense that realization of Dalits as the “subjects” of history is essential towards recovery and recapture of their lost dignity. Secondly, unlike the classical Indian Christian Theology, or for that matter the Indian classical Philosophy of the high caste, which is based on the transcendental nature of the Ultimate Reality and a cyclical view of history. History is fundamental in comprehending Dalit humanity. Human experience and ultimate liberation which are integral parts of the “here and now” are primary to the doing of Dalit theology. This anubhava (experience) takes precedence over anumana (speculation).

James Massey expounds four layer of colonisation as the fundamental causes for the suffering and the submergence of the identity and culture of the Dalits. They are Aryan, Muslim, British and the high caste internal colonisations. 21 This is how he summarizes his position:

“The colonization of the Dalits, which began with their defeat at the hands of the Aryans, was internalized through religious myths and stories and finally by introducing a fixed social order based on a caste system dependent on one’s birth. Neither the centuries during which India was successively dominated by Muslims and the British nor the arrival of other religions, including Christianity, succeeded in overcoming the influence of this caste system; indeed, the effect of Muslim and British colonization was to strengthen the status quo. With independence, the rule of the country went back in to the hands of the so-called upper caste, the original colonizers of the Dalits.”22

3) The ultimate function of Dalit theology is two fold: to act in solidarity and to act for liberation. Liberation is envisaged as liberation of Dalits from the historically oppressive structures both religio-cultural and socio-economic. Hence, theological articulation is not only a faith expression but also a means for liberation. According to this school of thought, any theological expression that will not lead to action and the resultant liberation is futile.

The concept for solidarity has also emerged in this school of theology. Christian values of sacrifice, charity and commitment to others are all intertwined in this profound understanding of solidarity. Transcending one’s creed, ideology and religion a Dalit is invited “to lose oneself for the sake of the other.” Incarnational theology is the basis of such a two-sided solidarity with God and with fellow Dalits. According to James Massey the core of the act of the incarnation of God in Jesus was God’s “acting in solidarity with human beings, particularly the oppressed of this world.” 23 Massey sees in this solidarity of God with human beings a challenge for Dalit solidarity:

The model of solidarity we find in God’s incarnational act in history challenges us Dalit Christians to follow it, so that the experiences we share with the Dalits in general should become the basis of an authentic Dalit theology. . . . Being in solidarity with our fellow Dalits of different faiths and ideologies is a demand which the God of the Bible, through his own act of incarnation, places on Dalit Christians. This is an important factor for the authenticity of Dalit theology, enabling it to become an instrument of destroying the social and religious structures responsible for the Dalits’ historical captivity. 24

4) It is not merely the enslavement of the Dalits by the dominating groups which comes under the critical scrutiny of Dalit theology but also the enslavement of the Dalit psyche or “the inner nature of Dalitness.” James Massey describes it as “a self-captivity” of the Dalit community. Dalit theology seeks to liberate people from this slavery of “self-captivity,” “a slavery from which it seems almost impossible to be liberated.” 25 The psychological dimensions within the Dalit theological movement are far more significant than we see at the surface. This should be recognized as an important aspect of Dalit theology.

A Dalit God and Jesus the Dalit

The Christian God is a Dalit god, affirm Dalit theologians. This God who is revealed in the Old Testament and Jesus who sided with the Dalits of the world are the liberative paradigms for the doing of Dalit theology. It not only helps them to come to terms with their historical consciousness, which is submerged in pathos and protest, but also to comprehend a God who in Jesus restores “humanness” to Dalits.

The Exodus liberation paradigm which had tremendous implications for liberation theologies in Latin America has extensively influenced the thinking and articulation of Dalit theology in India. A.P. Nirmal particularly depended on the Deuteronomic account of the affliction, toil and the oppression of the foreparents of the Israelites to expound the movement of Dalits from a “no people” to “God’s people.”

Using the Deuteronomic Creed as model, Dalit theology can construct the historical Dalit consciousness which has to do with their roots, identities and struggle for human dignity and “for the right to live as free people created in the image of God.” Nirmal says:

The historical Dalit consciousness in depicts even greater and deeper pathos than is found in the Deuteronomic Creed. My Dalit ancestors did not enjoy the nomadic freedom of the wandering Aramean. As outcasts, they were also cast out of their villages. When my Dalit ancestors walked the dusty roads of his village, the Sa Varnas tied a branch of a tree around his rest so that he would not leave any unclean foot prints and pollute the roads. Nirmal concludes,

The Dalit consciousness should realise that the ultimate goal of its liberation movement cannot be the “land flowing with milk and honey”. For Christian Dalit Theology, it cannot be simply the gaining of the rights, the reservation, and the privileges.. The goal is the realisation of our full humanness or, conversely our full divinity, the ideal of the Imago Dei, the image of God in us. To use another biblical metaphor, our goal is the glorious liberty of the children of god.” 26

Fo Dalit theologians God is clearly a Dalit God. God, who reveals himself, both through the prophets and Jesus Christ, is a God of the Dalits. The servant God, a God who identifies with the servant-hood of Dalits, is perceived by Dalit theologians as Dalit God. The servant role that the ex-untouchable played in India was indeed a participation in this “servant-God?s ministries.” Thus, Nirmal says, “To speak of a Servant-God, therefore, is to recognise and identify him as a truly Dalit deity. 27 For Dalit theologians Jesus is the ultimate Dalit, the servant God whom God reveals. However, it may be noted here that some of the recent theologians underplay the use of this servant imagery as it evokes extremely painful memories. Moreover, they feel, this will only help perpetuate structures of domination and subservience within which Dalits are caught up even now.

Jesus’ tilt towards the poor and the marginalized, tax-collectors, prostitutes and lepers, according to Dalit theology, portrays Jesus as God incarnated as a Dalit. Devasahayam reflects as follows on Jesus’ image from a Dalit perspective:

Jesus reveals a free God, who is uncoopted and uncontained by those identified with religion This God is free to hear the cry of the outcasts against the guardians of religious society This God is not under the power of Brahman but is free to hear ones against Brahmans and other upper castes and side with the Dalits, who are ousted from the Temples and who are denied the right to study the Scriptures. 28

The Cross has a special meaning in Dalit theology. Both the liberative praxis and the Dalitness of Jesus culminates in the symbol of Gurukul, 1992.

“On the Cross, he was the broken, the crushed, the split, the torn, the driven-asunder man,” revealing his Dalitness. 29

The vision of a new community under God is also envisaged by some Dalit theologians. Here the emphasis is on the invitation of Jesus to a new fellowship in which all equally and fully participate. “The focus is not merely on the oppression and God option for the oppressed, but on the new community of freedom and fellowship, love and justice, which is the new people of the reign of God to which God calls all peoples.” 30 Theologians like Wilson feel that God’s plan is to transform Dalits into a community which liberates not only themselves but also their oppressors and thus gives a liberative dimension to their very dalitness.

The use of the Bible in Dalit theology needs a special mention. Dalit theologians entirely depend on Bible and Biblical examples. Dalit theologians are not essentially different from liberation school of theology. However, there is a conscious and deliberate attempt on the part of Dalit theologians to re-read the Bible from the perspective of the experience of the victims.

Future Directions

1) Dalit theology is part of the post colonial struggle of different communities for their distinct identity and space. In a largely homogenizing trend influenced by two processes namely globalization and Hinduisation, Dalits and Dalit Christians are still struggling for a Dalit identify of their own. Intra-Dalit conflicts and Dalit sub-groups still continue despite the striving for a common Dalit identity and solidarity. Therefore, the challenge for Dalit theology is to strike an ideal balance.

Hindutva revival/reform movements are trying to absorb Dalits into a monolithic Hindu fundamentalist culture. Their systematic propaganda concentrates on the message that Dalits had been truly part of the “Hindu” religio-cultural structures. Several Hindu organizations are involved in re-conversion efforts to drive home this ideology. Although it is a clear historical distortion, Dalits are caught up in a dilemma whether to declare their solidarity with Hindus or with Dalits. In fact Dalits are caught between Hinduisation and Dalitisation. This historic dilemma appears to have had its impact upon Dalit Christians and Dalit theological movement too. This may be the reason why this new strand of theology appears to be at a standstill right now.

However, the recent efforts to genuinely develop a constructive theological strand is a welcome change. The trend setting work of Sathiyanathan Clarke, Dalits and Christianity Subaltern Religion and Liberation Theology in India (1998) deserves special mention here, as it opens up new avenues for Dalit theology movement. . .

2) The almost total dependence on Biblical thought for. theological construction needs further reconsideration in the light of the historical experience of Dalits.

Pre-existing/Christian egalitarian thoughts and struggle for equality and justice were evident in Dalit history and memory But the early Dalits had their own ways of protest and resistance. This is ignored by Dalit theologians.

Dalit theologians also need to widen the definition of “texts,” given the oral emphasis in Dalit Tradition By probing into Dalit folklore and songs they are likely to unearth extra textual sources for doing Dalit theology. This could also help create new hermeneutical principles unique to the Dalit theological movements. 31

3) Ancestral worship and female deities appear prominently in Dalit myths and songs. Dalit theologians could explore how the pre-existing religio-cultural ideas might have shaped their journey into Christianity and how they deal with such questions in their everyday life. All these could function as rich source of theologising and Dalit faith articulation in India.

4) While pathos, suffering and pain have found a place in Dalit theology, the rich Dalit traditions of celebrating life in the context of communitarian values seem to have been completely forgotten by Dalit theologians with few exceptions. The rich culture of the Dalit have a lot of egalitarian ideas. This needs to be further explored by Dalit theologians.

5) The “dialogue” and “accommodation” that take shape at the popular level of both Hinduism and Christianity need systematic consideration by Dalit theology. It appears that in a silent way people at the village level are moulding meaningful systems of interaction in a pluralistic socio-religious setting like that of India. If “the reality of the religion of a people can be studied only through the empirical enquiry into the meaning appropriated by them as persons and community of persons in their life situations,” 32 then Dalit theology needs to look carefully into popular level of Hindu-Christian religious encounter. Luke and Camian’s study reveals that religious boundaries at the level of belief systems and rituals are not so marked in the minds of the people in villages. In the popular worship context, there is mutual sharing of practices, symbols and values without so much fuss. 33 These marginalised spaces deserves systematic attention.


1. James Massey, Down Trodden: The Struggle of India?s Dalits for Identity, Solidarity and Liberation. Geneva: WCC, 1997, p. 3., See an edited volume on the issue of Dalit Identity, Walter Fernandes, The Emerging Dalit Identity: The Re-Assertion of the Subalterns. New Delhi: ISI, 1996.

2. James Massey, Dalits in India: Religion as a Source of Bondage or Liberation with Special Reference to Christians. New Delhi: Manohar, 1995, p. 82.

3. See Duncan Forrester, Caste and Christianity. London: Curzon, 1979. See a recent Dalit Movement in India

4. Walter Fernandes, “A Socio-historical perspective for Liberation Theology in India? in Felix Wilfred (ed.), Leave the Temple: Indian Paths to Human Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1992.

5. John C.B. Webster, The Dalit Christians: A History. Delhi: ISPCK, 1992, pp. 33ff.

6. Webster, The Dalit Christians, p. 57, See also G.A. Oddie (ed.), Religion in South Asia: Religious Conversion and Revival Movement in South Asia in Medieval and Modern Times. New Delhi: Manohar, 1991, George Oommen, The Struggle of Pulaya Christians for Social Improvement, 1993 (unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Sydney).

7. Webster, The Dalit Christians, p. 70.

8. Massey, Down Trodden, p. 2.

9. See Gail Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India. New Delhi: Sage, 1994.

10. Eleanor Zelliot, From untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement. Delhi: Manohar, 1996, pp. 267-333. See also Arjun Dangle (ed.), Poisoned Bread. Bombay: Longman, 1992.

11. Zelliot From Untouchable to Dalit, p. 281.

12. See for details, Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit, pp. 53-179. Paul Chirakarodu?s Massive volume on Ambedkar in Malayalam Ambedkar, Tiruvalla: Dalit Books, 1993 democrates the regional influence of Ambedkarism.

13. See Arvind P. Nirmal (ed.), A Reader in Dalit Theology. Madras: Gurukul, n.d., Arvind P. Nirmal (ed.), Towards a Common Dalit Ideology. Madras: Gurukul, n.d., Bhagwan Das and James Massey (eds.), Dalit Solidarity. Delhi: ISPCK, 1995, James Massey, Dalits in India: Religion as a Source of Bondage or Liberation with special Reference of Christians. Delhi: Manohar, 1995.

14. FJ. Balasundaram, Dalit struggle. . . . (unpublished manuscripts), pp. 2f.

15. Sathianathan Clarke, Dalits and Christianity: Subaltern Religion & Liberation Theology in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998, P. 40. See also Arvind P. Nirmal, “Toward a Christian Dalit Theology,” R.S. Sugirtharajah (ed.), Frontiers in Asian Christian Theology: Emerging Trends. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1994, p. 28f.

16. Nirmal, “Towards a Christian Dalit Theology,” in Sugirtharajah, Frontiers in Asia, Christian Theology, p. 30.

17. lbid., p. 31.

18. lbid.

19. Balasundaram, “Dalit Struggle. . . ,”

20. A.M. Abraham Ayroorkuzhiel, “The Ideological Nature of the Emerging Dalit Consciousness” in A.P. Nirmal (ed.), Towards a Common Dalit Ideology Madras: Gurukul, n.d.

21. See for details Massey, Down Trodden, pp. 12-28.

22. Massey, ibid., pp. 27-28.

23. Ibid., p. 60.

24. Ibid., p. 61.

25 Ibid., p. 25.

26. Nirmal, “Towards a Christian Dalit Theology,” in Sugirtharajah, Frontiers in Asian Christian Theology, pp. 33f.

27. Nirma1, “Towards a Christian Dalit Theology,” in Sugirtharajah, Frontiers in Asian Christian Theology, p. 35.

28. Devasahayam, Outside the Camp: Bible Studies in Dalit Perspective. Madras:

29. Nirmal, “Towards a Christian Dalit Theology,” in Sugirtharajah, Frontiers in Asian Christian Theology, p. 39.

30. Michael Amaladoss, Life in Freedom: Liberation Theologies from Asia. Maryknoll:Orbis, l997, p. 31. between plurality and solidarity without succumbing to the pressures of homogenisation.

31. See an attempt in this direction in Joseph Patmury (ed.), Doing Theology with the Poetic Tradition of India: Focus on Dalit and Tribal Poems, Bangalore, PTCA/SATHRI, 1996. Some books have appeared in regional languages; Paul Chirakkarodu, M. Sathyaprakasham, Abraham Ayrookuzhi, Dalit Kavithakal: Oru Padanam (Dalit Poems: A Study). Tiruvalla: CLS/CISRS, 1992. Abraham Ayrookuzhi & Paul Chirakkarodu, Dalir Saahizyam (Dalit Literature: A Study). Tiruvalla: CSS, 1995.

32. M.M. Thomas, “Foreword,” in A.M. Abraham Ayroorkuzhiel, The Sacred in Popular Hinduism. Bangalore: CISRS, 1983, p. vii.

33. P.Y. Luke and John B. Carman, Village Christians and Hindu Culture: Study of a Rural Church in Andhra Pradesh, South India. Lutterworth Press, WCC, 1968. See also Paul Younger, “Hindu-Christian Worship Setting in South India,” in Harold Coward (ed.), Hindu Christian Dialogue: Perspectives and Encounters. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1989.

The King of Kindness

Note by HealthWrights staff

This fascinating account of an Important Indian reformer cannot help but stimulate a great deal of thought, both about the appropriate goals of political action, and the most effective means of achieving them.

Excerpted and adapted from the book Gandhi Today: A Report on Mahatma Gandhi?s Successors, Simple Productions, Arcata, California, 1987, reprinted by Seven Locks Press, Washington, D.C., 1987

For additional information on Vinoba Bhave and similar matters go to Mark's Gandhi Page.

Vinoba Bhave and His Nonviolent Revolution

by Mark Shepard, 1986.11.30

“All revolutions are spiritual at the source. All my activities have the sole purpose of achieving a union of hearts.” – Vinoba

“Jai jagat! – Victory to the world!”

– Vinoba

Once India gained its independence, that nation’s leaders did not take long to abandon Mahatma Gandhi’s principles.

Nonviolence gave way to the use of India’s armed forces. Perhaps even worse, the new leaders discarded Gandhi’s vision of a decentralized society – a society based on autonomous, self-reliant villages. These leaders spurred a rush toward a strong central government and an industrial economy as found in the West.

Yet Gandhi’s vision was not abandoned by all. Many of Gandhi’s – constructive workers development experts and community organizers working in a host of agencies set up by Gandhi himself – resolved to continue his mission of transforming Indian society.

Leading them was a disciple of Gandhi previously little known to the Indian public, yet eventually regarded as Gandhi’s – spiritual successor: a saintly, reserved, austere individual called Vinoba.

In 1916, at the age of 20, Vinoba was in the holy city of Benares trying to come to a decision.

Should he go to the Himalaya mountains and become a religious hermit – Or should he go to West Bengal and join the guerillas fighting the British?

Then Vinoba came across a newspaper account of a speech by Gandhi. Vinoba was thrilled. Soon after, he joined Gandhi in his ashram. (An ashram is a religious community – but for Gandhians, it is also a center for political and social action.)

As Vinoba later said, he found in Gandhi the peace of the Himalayas united with the revolutionary fervor of Bengal.

Gandhi greatly admired Vinoba, commenting that Vinoba understood Gandhian thought better than he himself did. In 1940 he showed his regard by choosing Vinoba over Nehru to lead off a national protest campaign against British war policies.

After Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948, many of Gandhi’s followers looked to Vinoba for direction. Vinoba advised that, now that India had reached its goal of Swaraj – independence, or self-rule – the Gandhians – new goal should be a society dedicated to Sarvodaya, the “welfare of all.”

The name stuck, and the movement of the Gandhians became known as the Sarvodaya Movement. A merger of constructive work agencies produced Sarva Seva Sangh – The Society for the Service of All – which became the core of the Sarvodaya Movement, as the main Gandhian organization working for broad social change along Gandhian lines.

Vinoba had no desire to be a leader, preferring a secluded ashram life. This preference, though, was overturned by events in 1951, following the yearly Sarvodaya conference in what is now the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. At the close of that conference, Vinoba announced his intention to journey through the nearby district of Telengana.

He couldn’t have picked a more troubled spot.

Telengana was at that moment the scene of an armed insurrection. Communist students and some of the poorest villagers had united in a guerilla army. This army had tried to break the land monopoly of the rich landlords by driving them out or killing them and distributing their land.

At the height of the revolt, the guerrillas had controlled an area of 3,000 villages. But the Indian army had been sent in and had begun its own campaign of terror. Now, many villages were occupied by government troops during the day and by Communists at night. Each side would kill villagers they suspected of supporting the other side. So most villagers lived in terror of both sides.

The government had clearly shown it would win, but the conflict wasn’t nearly over by the time of the Sarvodaya conference. Vinoba hoped to find a solution to the conflict and to the injustice that had spawned it. So, refusing police escort, he and a small company set off on foot.

On April 18, the third day of his walk, Vinoba stopped in the village of Pochampalli, which had been an important Communist stronghold. Setting himself up in the courtyard of a Muslim prayer compound, he was soon receiving visitors from all the factions in the village.

Among the visitors was a group of 40 families of landless Harijans. (Harijan was Gandhi’s name for the Untouchables, the outcasts from Hindu society. Literally, it means “child of God.”) The Harijans told Vinoba they had no choice but to support the Communists, because only the Communists would give them land. They asked, Would Vinoba ask the government instead to give them land?

Vinoba replied, “What use is government help until we can help ourselves?” But he himself wasn’t satisfied by the answer. He was deeply perplexed.

Late that afternoon, by a lake next to the village, Vinoba held a prayer meeting that drew thousands of villagers from the surrounding area. Near the beginning of the meeting, he presented the Harijans’ problem to the assembly. Without really expecting a response, he said, “Brothers, is there anyone among you who can help these Harijan friends?”

A prominent farmer of the village stood up. “Sir, I am ready to give one hundred acres.”

Vinoba could not believe his ears.

Here, in the midst of a civil war over land monopoly, was a farmer willing to part with 100 acres out of simple generosity. And Vinoba was just as astounded when the Harijans declared that they needed only 80 acres and wouldn’t accept more!

Vinoba suddenly saw a solution to the region’s turmoil. In fact, the incident seemed to him a sign from God. At the close of the prayer meeting, he announced he would walk all through the region to collect gifts of land for the landless.

So began the movement called Bhoodan “land-gift.” Over the next seven weeks, Vinoba asked for donations of land for the landless in 200 villages of Telengana. Calculating the amount of India’s farmland needed to supply India’s landless poor, he would tell the farmers and landlords in each village, “I am your fifth son. Give me my equal share of land.” And in each village – to his continued amazement – the donations poured in.

Who gave, and why?

At first most of the donors were farmers of moderate means, including some who themselves owned only an acre or two. To them, Vinoba was a holy man, a saint, the Mahatma’s own son, who had come to give them God’s message of kinship with their poorer neighbors. Vinoba’s prayer meetings at times took on an almost evangelical fervor. As for Vinoba, he accepted gifts from even the poorest – though he sometimes returned these gifts to the donors – because his goal was as much to open hearts as to redistribute land.

Gradually, though, the richer landowners also began to give. Of course, many of their gifts were inspired by fear of the Communists and hopes of buying off the poor – as the Communists were quick to proclaim.

But not all the motives of the rich landowners were economic. Many of the rich hoped to gain “spiritual merit” through their gifts; or at least to uphold their prestige. After all, if poor farmers were willing to give sizeable portions of their land to Vinoba, could the rich be seen to do less? And perhaps a few of the rich were even truly touched by Vinoba’s message.

In any case, as Vinoba’s tour gained momentum, even the announced approach of the “god who gives away land” was enough to prepare the landlords to part with some of their acreage.

Soon Vinoba was collecting hundreds of acres a day. What’s more, wherever Vinoba moved, he began to dispel the climate of tension and fear that had plagued the region. In places where people had been afraid to assemble, thousands gathered to hear him – including the Communists.

At the end of seven weeks, Vinoba had collected over 12,000 acres. After he left, Sarvodaya workers continuing to collect land in his name received another 100,000 acres.

The Telengana march became the launching point for a nationwide campaign that Vinoba hoped would eliminate the greatest single cause of India’s poverty: land monopoly. He hoped as well that it might be the lever needed to start a “nonviolent revolution” – a complete transformation of Indian society by peaceful means.

The root of oppression, he reasoned, is greed. If people could be led to overcome their possessiveness, a climate would be created in which social division and exploitation could be eliminated. As he later put it, “We do not aim at doing mere acts of kindness, but at creating a Kingdom of Kindness.”

Soon Vinoba and his colleagues were collecting 1,000 acres a day, then 2,000, then 3,000. Several hundred small teams of Sarvodaya workers and volunteers began trekking from village to village, all over India, collecting land in Vinoba’s name. Vinoba himself – despite advanced age and poor health – marched continually, touring one state after another.

The pattern of Vinoba’s day was daily the same. Vinoba and his company would rise by 3:00 a.m. and hold a prayer meeting for themselves. Then they would walk ten or twelve miles to the next village, Vinoba leading at a pace that left the others struggling breathlessly behind. With him were always a few close assistants, a bevy of young, idealistic volunteers – teenagers and young adults, male and some female, mostly from towns or cities – plus maybe some regular Sarvodaya workers, a landlord, a politician, or an interested Westerner.

At the host village they would be greeted by a brass band, a makeshift archway, garlands, formal welcomes by village leaders, and shouts of “Sant Vinoba, Sant Vinoba!” (”Saint Vinoba!”)

After breakfast, the Bhoodan workers would fan out through the village, meeting the villagers, distributing literature, and taking pledges. Vinoba himself would be settled apart, meeting with visitors, reading newspapers, answering letters.

In late afternoon, there would be a prayer meeting, attended by hundreds or thousands of villagers from the area. After a period of reciting and chanting, Vinoba would speak to the crowd in his quiet, high-pitched voice. His talk would be completely improvised, full of rich images drawn from Hindu scripture or everyday life, exhorting the villagers to lives of love, kinship, sharing. At the close of the meeting, more pledges would be taken.

There were no free weekends on this itinerary, no holidays, no days off. The man who led this relentless crusade was 57 years old, suffered from chronic dysentery, chronic malaria, and an intestinal ulcer, and restricted himself, because of his ulcer, to a diet of honey, milk, and yogurt.

As the campaign gained momentum, friends and detractors alike watched in fascination. In the West, too, Vinoba’s effort drew attention. In the United States, major articles on Vinoba appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker – Vinoba even appeared on the cover of Time.

By the time of the 1954 Sarvodaya conference, the Gandhians had collected over 3 million acres nationwide. The total eventually reached over 4 million. Much of this land turned out to be useless, and in many cases landowners reneged on their pledges. Still, the Gandhians were able to distribute over 1 million acres to India’s landless poor – far more than had been managed by the land reform programs of India’s government. About half a million families benefited.

Meanwhile, Vinoba was shifting his efforts to a new gear – a higher one.

After 1954, Vinoba began asking for “donations” not so much of land but of whole villages. He named this new program Gramdan – village-gift. Gramdan was a far more radical program than Bhoodan. In a Gramdan village, all land was to be legally owned by the village as a whole, but parceled out for the use of individual families, according to need. Because the families could not themselves sell, rent, or mortgage the land, they could not be pressured off it during hard times – as normally happens when land reform programs bestow land title on poor individuals.

Village affairs were to be managed by a village council made up of all adult members of the village, making decisions by consensus – meaning the council could not adopt any decision until everyone accepted it. This was meant to ensure cooperation and make it much harder for one person or group to benefit at the expense of others.

While Bhoodan had been meant to prepare people for a nonviolent revolution, Vinoba saw Gramdan as the revolution itself.

Like Gandhi, Vinoba believed that the divisiveness of Indian society was a root cause of its degradation and stagnation. Before the villagers could begin to improve their lot, they needed to learn to work together. Gramdan, he felt, with its common land ownership and cooperative decision-making, could bring about the needed unity.

And once this was achieved, the “people’s power” it would release would make anything possible.

Vinoba’s Gramdan efforts progressed slowly until 1965, when an easing of Gramdan’s requirements was joined to the launching of a “storm campaign.” By 1970, the official figure for Gramdan villages was 160,000 – almost one-third of all India’s villages!

But it turned out that it was far easier to get a declaration of Gramdan than to set it up in practice. By early 1970, only a few thousand villages had transferred land title to a village council. In most of these, progress was at a standstill. What’s more, most of these few thousand villages were small, single-caste, or tribal – not even typical Indian villages.

By 1971, Gramdan as a movement had collapsed under its own weight.

Still, the Gramdan movement left behind more than a hundred Gramdan “pockets” – some made up of hundreds of villages – where Gandhian workers settled in for long-term development efforts. These pockets today form the base of India’s Gandhian movement. In these locales, the Gandhians are helping some of India’s poorest by organizing Gandhian-style community development and nonviolent action campaigns against injustice.

As for Vinoba, he returned to his ashram for the final time in June 1970, after thirteen years of continual marching and five more of presiding over the “storm campaign.”

During his final years, Vinoba continued to inspire new programs – for instance, Women’s Power Awakening, a Gandhian version of women’s liberation. He also launched an ongoing campaign against “cow slaughter” to try to halt the butchering of useful farm animals, a practice destructive of India’s traditional agriculture.

In the mid-1970s, Vinoba and some close followers became estranged from Sarva Seva Sangh when he opposed the nationwide protest movement of fellow Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan against the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (no relation to the Mahatma). The “JP Movement” led to Indira Gandhi’s infamous declaration of Emergency and then indirectly to her temporary ouster from office. In the long run, the value of that movement’s accomplishments proved open to question, and much of Vinoba’s criticism of it was borne out.

Vinoba died on November 15, 1982. In his dying, as in his living, he was deliberate, instructive, and, in a way, lighthearted. After suffering a heart attack, Vinoba decided to “leave his body before his body left him.” He therefore simply stopped eating until his body released him.

Another Great Soul had passed.

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