“True art takes note not merely of form but also of what lies behind.”
–Gandhi (The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 56)
The word ‘nonviolence’ can sometimes conjure up notions of austerity and discipline (I’m thinking of a toothless and tireless Gandhi post-fasting). But that discipline is only so that we can get still enough to perceive something, namely, that the world is a work of art — emphasis, of course, on ‘work’. Every tree, every cloud, the production and decomposition of life-forms in an endless cycle, the weather, every canyon and river, and the creatures living therein: all are artistic expressions of an underlying creative principle.
There is beauty everywhere; in everyone, in every creature, in every part of life. In all of this we can certainly appreciate what we see on the surface, but Gandhi asks us to see not just the form “but what lies behind.” See the work, not just the end result! And if you are really interested, ask yourself what is doing that work and whether it is working in you right now.
When we let our minds contemplate the work that makes life possible — the biological, evolutionary, and spiritual processes — directing it the way rivers flow to the sea, as the ancient Vedas put it, it can help to orient our perspective beyond ourselves alone to seeing ourselves within the whole creative eco-system. Perspective matters.
Human beings are a part of this great art, and yet behind us, there is that same power that lies behind all of life, conferring our dignity and an undeniable belonging and identity in relationship to the whole of life.
Experiment in nonviolence:
The next time you’re eating, for example, think about the work that made that food possible, from soil to plate.