Friday, August 19, 2016

What does the term "Satyagraha" mean?

Satyagraha is an interesting term. Satya means purity of motive generally, but the root term sat refers to a foundation or a base, or more abstractly a principle. Satya then refers to a purity of context that comes from the disinterested and selfless motive of dedication to God.

Contrast that with "graha" then! We actually have that word in English from the same root language: our version is "grab". To grab and graha both refer to a hand motion in practical life, such as working at the weaving loom or digging in the fields (activities which Gandhi taught as expressions of satyagraha), but it also refers, again more abstractly, to the way the mind grasps, the grabbing act of the mind. (Here mind is referred to as the sixth sense organ, not the so-called higher mind).

So when we put the term Sanskrit words together into "satyagraha" we get the peculiar idea of "grabbing hold of purity of motive", or perhaps "grabbing hold of a pristine context of selfless actions" more generally. The real world of working with one's hands is used to grasp the spiritual dimensions of purity of motive and selflessness.

I think the inference of Satyagraha is very personal to Gandhi: by working for the Indian people selflessly he was practicing this action of grasping for purity. His inner work and outer work were joined together vitally and expressed a sublime purity that brought about the end of colonialism and the defeat and deconstruction of the British Empire. The fact that Gandhi worked practically as a lawyer, a speaker, a shoe maker, a weaver, and a food preparer for the Indian people was the physical expression of his pure motives; the reality that he was a Self-realised saint was the inner unfolding of his selfless karma yoga in service to the Indian people and to Divinity.

So it is a remarkable term, significant and personal, that Gandhi uncovered in Satyagraha.


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