Nonviolence, Spiritual Growth, and Real Security: David Kupfer Interviews Nonviolence Guru Michael Nagler.(Interview)
Kupfer, David, Whole Earth
Michael Nagler came to UC Berkeley as a grad student in comparative literature in 1960, just as the Free Speech Movement was heating up. After earning his Ph.D. in 1966, he joined the faculty. His life took a spiritual turn the following year when he met Sri Eknath Easwaran, a visiting scholar who was teaching meditation, and became Michael's mentor. Studying and meditation led to an interest in Mahatma Gandhi.
I was introduced to Michael's work twenty years ago, when I read his 1982 book America without Violence (out of print, but can be downloaded at www.mettacenter.org/publications .html). I was so impressed with his knowledge, spiritually based focus, and intensity that I traveled from Davis to Berkeley twice a week over the following year to attend his course on nonviolence. At that time he was the only instructor on the subject in the entire UC system. He is the founder and chairperson of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Berkeley. Now professor emeritus of classics and comparative literature, he continues to teach courses on nonviolence and meditation. He is the author of numerous articles on classics, myth, peace, and mysticism.--DK
DAVID KUPFER: Can you tell me about the Peace and Conflict Studies Program (PACS) at UC Berkeley?
MICHAEL NAGLER: PACS at Berkeley is one of the 500 or so programs worldwide that teach the analysis of conflict and the theory of developing peace. We are a fairly large program (about sixty undergraduates) and offer a degree--a B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies. But our main importance is probably our location: in the contentious, highly visible, and undservedly considered liberal campus of UC Berkeley. PACS, one of the first such programs in the nation, was founded on the premise that war and other forms of violence are neither inevitable nor ineradicable, despite their omnipresence in human history.
DK: You've just written a history of nonviolence. Why is our culture so unaware of that history?
MN: Western civilization, which is now modern or industrial civilization, is, as far as I know, the most materialistic civilization that has ever existed. We are rooted now in the belief that all reality is physical. Or, as Wendell Berry recently said, we believe the human being is a "machine." That's the heart of the problem. Nonviolence, being nonphysical, becomes invisible in such a "civilization."
DK: What is the origin of the word "nonviolence"?
MN: It seems to have been coined early in the twentieth century, and now serves as an inadequate translation of ahimsa in Sanskrit. It's inadequate because the Sanskrit word actually denotes a positive force that is deployed when all desire to injure has been converted. I define nonviolence as "the creative force unleashed by successful struggle with a negative drive."
Of course, I'm talking about what's called "principled nonviolence," as opposed to merely "strategic nonviolence," which is undertaken only provisionally, for a specific end. In my view, principled nonviolence is the only kind that's going to make a difference in the long run. Notice the crucial importance of the individual in this definition. Corporations don't struggle with their emotions; only people do.
DK: You say that you believe that anything we do to reduce violence anywhere will do something toward reducing violence everywhere. Why?
MN: This follows from my Gandhian understanding of nonviolence as non-physical (i.e., a spiritual force), residing in consciousness. True nonviolence is, as an Indian theoretical physicist puts it, something not located in space-time. That's why, as Gandhi said, it is "all-pervasive in its effects." An important corollary to this is that nonviolent actors tend to put their faith in the long-term effects of their acts, which may not be very obviously connected to immediate results. By contrast, violent folks focus only on immediate, direct results. …