Ahimsa Center- k-12 Teacher Institute Lesson Plan

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Ahimsa Center- K-12 Teacher Institute Lesson Plan

Title of Lesson: The Way You Dream: Gandhi and King’s Visions of Nonviolence

Lesson By: Christian Bracho

Grade Level/ Subject Areas:

High School: 9-12 Social Studies or Language Arts

Class Size:

Any Size

Time/ Duration of Lesson:

2 Hours

Goals/ Objectives of Lesson:

  • Students articulate the fundamental philosophies of ahimsa.

  • Students draw parallels between Gandhi’s ahimsa and Dr. King’s nonviolent resistance.

  • Students discover new possibilities for “love” in relation to ahimsa.

  • Students describe the potential of satyagraha to transform people and societies.

Lesson Abstract:

Students read Gandhi’s “Ahimsa, or the Way of Nonviolence,” and Dr. King’s “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” to discover the meaning of ahimsa and satyagraha. Students also discuss Gandhi and King’s visions of love, exploring the notion that true nonviolence requires love for all people, including (and perhaps, especially) one’s enemies.

Lesson Content:

Teachers incorporating nonviolence into the academic discourse of their classrooms will find Mohandas K. Gandhi’s essay, “Ahimsa or the Way of Nonviolence” and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” accessible texts that facilitate student discovery of ahimsa.

Gandhi sets a foundation for his principles of ahimsa, using passionate language to describe the transformative potential of nonviolence. One of Gandhi’s most compelling arguments is that “we are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of non-violence.” Gandhi’s nonviolent struggles in South Africa and India can be viewed as manifestations of his own “dreams” of the “seemingly impossible”—i.e., transforming society through satyagraha (soul-force).
Gandhi writes that “the first condition of non-violence is justice all around in every department of life. Perhaps, it is too much to expect of human nature. I do not, however, think so.” Teachers may prompt students to ask themselves if and how justice is possible in “every department of life.” Perhaps Gandhi’s affirmation that human nature is indeed capable of universal justice belongs in the realm of “seemingly impossible discovery”; he challenges the reader to discover within him or herself the capacity to create justice in all aspects of life. Only if one has accepted this truth can one be prepared to do the work of nonviolence.
With this first condition met, Gandhi once more challenges the reader with the notion that “it is no nonviolence if we merely love those that love us. It is non-violence only when we love those that hate us.” Although this concept of loving one’s enemy is universal in many religions and spiritual traditions, students today have a difficult time understanding this in real terms. Students need to be walked through the reality of Gandhi’s nonviolence in these terms. What does it mean to love those that hate us? Why can we only be truly nonviolent when we love those that hate us? Can students imagine a world where one loves his or her enemy—making the ultimate sacrifice to achieve non-violence?

Gandhi later adds to this concept when he writes:

If I am a follower of ahimsa, I must love my enemy. I must apply the same rules to the wrong-doer who is my enemy or a stranger to me, as I would to my wrong-doing father or son. This active ahimsa necessarily includes truth and fearlessness… A man cannot practice ahimsa and be a coward at the same time. The practice of ahimsa calls forth the greatest courage.
In this passage, Gandhi asks the reluctant reader to think of his or her enemy as a family member, suggesting that the same love we practice with our families must be extended to friends, enemies, and strangers alike- i.e., we must greet all people with equal compassion and soul-force. Gandhi’s assertion that ahimsa requires great courage may surprise students who understand “courage” in violent terms. How can one be courageous without using violence? That question is central to understanding the power of satyagraha.
Dr. King’s essay “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” is an excellent companion to the Gandhi reading-- both provide a map for nonviolent activism that is grounded in love for one’s enemy. Indeed, Gandhi’s “Way” and King’s “Pilgrimage” share in their titles a sense of journey, a metaphor that teachers will find useful in building curricular connections between these diverse civil rights leaders.
“Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” plots King’s academic journey through philosophies about violence and nonviolence, naturally leading him to Gandhi. King describes his first encounter with Gandhi:

Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. […] I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.

King argues here that Gandhi’s vision of love as a force for nonviolent resistance makes it the only available method for the subaltern who wishes to maintain integrity as he or she seeks liberty. The notion that violence cannot be used to end violence is rooted in ahimsa, in the power of soul-force. By refusing to commit violence, an oppressed person is morally and spiritually elevated, able to win over his or her opponent through spiritual integrity rather than brute and misguided force.
King did not realize that his “pilgrimage” through Gandhi would eventually bring him back to Gandhi during his 1954 civil rights campaign in Alabama. He writes that:
When I went to Montgomery as a pastor, I had not the slightest idea that I would later become involved in a crisis in which nonviolent resistance would be applicable. I neither started the protest nor suggested it. I simply responded to the call of the people for a spokesman. When the protest began, my mind, consciously or unconsciously, was driven back to… the Gandhian method of nonviolent resistance. […] Living through the actual experience of the protest, nonviolence became more than a method to which I gave intellectual assent; it became a commitment to a way of life. Many of the things I had not cleared up intellectually concerning nonviolence were now solved in the sphere of practical action.

King’s testimony shows that in a moment of real crisis, Gandhi’s nonviolence successfully resolved what appeared to be a “seemingly impossible” challenge. The story of King’s movement across the American South is compelling, providing students a tangible example of nonviolent resistance as a practical and viable strategy for social change. Teachers may want to point out that King’s assertion that nonviolence became a “way of life” directly connects to Gandhi’s “way of nonviolence”—that, for both these leaders, ahimsa is not only a strategy for nonviolent resistance, but a strategy for life.

Like Gandhi, King also argues that love for one’s enemy is a fundamental characteristic of nonviolence. King employs the Greek New Testament word agape, describing it as “disinterested love”:
[A]gape means a recognition of the fact that all life is interrelated. All humanity is involved in a single process, and all men are brothers. To the degree that I harm my brother, no matter what he is doing to me, to that extent I am harming myself. […] If you harm me, you harm yourself. Love, agape, is the only cement that can hold broken community together. When I am commanded in love, I am commanded to restore community, to resist injustice, and to meet the needs of my brothers.
Interrelatedness may be difficult for students to understand. Teachers will need to show students how violence against another is violence against one’s self. If all men are brothers, then we must love all men as we love our own families. It is love for all that will strengthen our communities and increase peace.
Gandhi and King both ask the reader to fundamentally alter their vision of love, to reframe it as a powerful weapon in our shared struggles to create social change. After reading these two texts, it will be up to the student and teacher to make ahimsa real as they continue on their own journeys, utilizing satyagraha
and agape to restore and re-energize their communities.

California State Language Arts Content Standards:

9-10th grade Reading Comprehension

2.5 Extend ideas presented in primary or secondary sources through original analysis, evaluation, and elaboration.

9th-10th grade Listening and Speaking Strategies

1.1 Formulate judgments about the ideas under discussion and support those judgments with convincing evidence.

11th-12th grade Reading Comprehension

2.5 Analyze an author's implicit and explicit philosophical assumptions and beliefs about a subject.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can nonviolence transform people?

  • What are the practical applications of ahimsa?

  • What does it mean to use soul-force (satyagraha)?

  • Why is love for one’s enemy a fundamental principle of nonviolence?

Lesson Context:

This material can be incorporated in a number of ways, depending on the teacher’s grade level and subject area. Language arts and social studies teachers will find the Gandhi and King readings useful as either primary or supplemental texts within a unit. Teachers of American literature or history may want to bring in Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience, which King mentions early on in “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” and look at all three texts within a unit.

Teaching Activities:

Reading Comprehension

  1. Read select portions of “Ahimsa or the Way of Nonviolence” and “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” with the class, stopping regularly to pose questions, allow student discussion, and facilitate comprehension of the “big picture.”

  2. Use graphic organizers that play on the notion of “journey” to map out their understanding of ahimsa as described by Gandhi and King.
  3. Students can work individually or in groups to develop questions that can be randomly selected to generate discussion. Alternatively, student groups may be assigned portions of the text to read and master, developing a short lesson for the whole class.

  4. Students can write imaginary correspondence between Gandhi and King using the texts as a script source. Some may opt to act out a conversation between the two writers.

Listening and Speaking Strategies

  1. Prompt each student to write responses to statements before and after reading the Gandhi and King texts. Ask students to draw on direct evidence from the readings. Have students work in groups or as a whole class to discuss their findings. Statements before the reading might include:

-“Nonviolence requires great courage.”

-“It is possible to forgive people who hurt me.”

-“I love all human beings, even my enemies.”

-“I believe justice is possible in every aspect of life.”

Possible statements after the reading:

-“Gandhi has shown that justice is possible in every department of life.”

-“I agree with Gandhi and King’s belief in loving your enemies.”

-“Gandhi and King are right that ahimsa requires great courage.”

-“Soul-force can change people and countries.”
Use of Digital Story

  1. Watch the digital stream for this lesson. Entitled “The Way You Dream,” the video briefly outlines the nonviolent work and philosophies of Gandhi, Thoreau and King, building a bridge between their unique forms of nonviolent resistance.

  2. After viewing, teachers can prompt students to respond to some of the statements within the video, particularly those in which Gandhi and King express a “dream.” While Gandhi’s dream is of an India void of class differences, King articulates a United States of America where race is irrelevant in respect to justice and civil rights. What future do students “dream” for their own country? Can ahimsa or satyagraha play a role in achieving that vision?

Extension Activities/ Enrichment

Teachers may ask students to do individual research on Gandhi and King (and possibly Thoreau), sharing their in-depth investigations with the class.
Students may also research Gandhi and King’s notions of love as understood in their respective spiritual traditions. How can an understanding of Hindu and Christian religions further our conceptualizations of love, nonviolence, and brotherhood?

All Men are Brothers. http://www.mkgandhi.org/amabrothers/amabrothers.htm.

(Use link to Chapter 4, “Ahimsa or the Way of Nonviolence.”)
Pilgrimage to Nonviolence. http://www.thekingcenter.org/prog/non/pilgrimmage.pdf

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