All truly great people are those who defy categorization. The same is definitely applicable for the father of our nation who was called a Mahatma as he indeed was a great soul. Would one call him a saint, philosopher, social reformer, or politician? Actually, he was all of these and perhaps, much more than any of these. The greatest thing about Gandhi was that he practiced what he preached to others. In his own words, he said, “My Life is my Message.” This is indeed why he is still a role model to all.
In a fable from the Mahabharata, Guru Dronacharya went on a trip for about 10 days and asked his disciples to learn as many shlokas as they could during this time. When he came back, all his disciples except one narrated many shlokas, and he was pleased with them. The exception was Yudhishthira. He had learnt only one verse. The guru was furious and gave him a whacking. Yudhishthira stoically bore the punishment and did not utter a single word. When his anger had abated, the guru asked Yudhishthira how he could be so irresponsible. Yudhishthira answered, ‘The shloka I learnt asked one to control anger. It took me a full 10 days to do so but finally, I succeeded. I am glad I have truly learnt this shloka.’ Dronacharya was ashamed at his own lack of restraint and realized that true learning is in the application of what one has learnt.
This fable symbolizes the belief of Gandhi, who firmly believed that it is useless to preach something without practicing it. To him, practice always came first. Hence, when asked how his principles could be applied to something as complex as politics, his answer was, ‘I cannot isolate politics from the deepest things of my life, for the simple reason that my politics are not corrupt, they are inextricably bound up with non-violence and truth.’
In writing about the need for human relationships for spiritual growth in Sacred Literature of the World, Eknath Easwaran says, ‘Can we practice patience with a deer? Can you learn to forgive a redwood?’ The greatest challenge is in living a life where we apply our spiritual principles in this world each day, every moment.
Mahatma Gandhi took it to a phenomenal level, applying it to his personal as well as political life. He lived a life where his mind, thoughts and actions were always in synergy with the principles he subscribed to, the ultimate goal of spirituality.
It is the view of some that Mahatma Gandhi s policy of non-violence ultimately failed. We may have won our independence through ahimsa, but soon thereafter succumbed to a mad frenzy of violence during the country s partition. This, unfortunately, is the way of the world very often. Christ was betrayed by his own disciple and crucified publicly; however his message is all the more poignant as he prayed, ‘Lord, forgive them for they not know not what they are doing,’ even while he was on the cross. Similarly, even as the flag was being hoisted at Delhi, Gandhi lived in the slums of Calcutta, using his non-violent weapon of fasting to make people see reason.
Is Gandhi relevant today? This is like asking, ‘Is truth relevant today?’
Very often, many people, mostly the young ask, ‘I want to do something for India. But what can I do? There is so much corruption, so many problems, one does not know where to start.’ The fact is Mahatma Gandhi has given this answer long ago, to all Indians. He had said, “ Look at the poorest of the poor. If you feel what you are going to do would benefit him, then your action is worth doing”.
There is no doubt that the politics of today is corrupt and negligent, a constant game of power struggles and vote banks, driven by self-interest. Communal strife surfaces ever so often and is perpetuated by the people in power. That perhaps makes Gandhi s message more relevant than ever before. He crystallized his beliefs into two simple principles, coining the terms satyagraha and ahimsa.
The word satyagraha comprises two Sanskrit words – satya and graha . Satya means that which is, which is indestructible, or truth, and graha means holding on to something. So satyagraha literally means holding on to the truth. This truth is the eternal truth, that which never changes. ‘Truth is God’, was Gandhi s dictum.
The same is true for the grossly misunderstood word, Jihad . Jihad actually means a struggle for what is right. So, I do think Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha was a true Jihad.
Ahimsa, to Gandhi, was not mere physical non-violence, but its higher spiritual meaning which recognizes that all negative action crops from the seed of a negative thought. Hence, the ahimsa he strove to practice was destruction of all uncharitable thought, even in connection with those whom one may consider one s enemies. The core principle, when one offers non-violent resistance, is to oppose the injustice, but without losing sight of the human being inside the aggressor or the opponent.
‘We have to be the change we wish to see in the world,’ he said, firmly believing that through satyagraha and ahimsa, one could achieve anything. If we needed to fight an imperial power then, today we need to fight the evils that have permeated in our society.
The solution to this too is the same.
The enemy within our nation can be overcome only through ahimsa and satyagraha or true Jihad.