What Would Gandhi Do?
A Lesson In Applied Spirituality
by Eileen Barker
Mohandas Gandhi was one of the most influential human beings in history. He successfully fought discrimination and political oppression on two continents, and inspired other great leaders of our time, including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Dalai Lama. How did this man of modest beginnings inspire so many and accomplish so much?
After studying law in England, Gandhi spent twenty years South Africa fighting institutionalized racism. Gandhi held fast to the truth that all human beings are equal. His strategy was simple: he refused to cooperate with inequitable laws. He helped organize fellow Indians living in South Africa, leading numerous marches, community meetings, and boycotts. He was imprisoned on numerous occasions and was steadfast in his willingness to sacrifice his freedom, and even his life, if necessary.
After negotiating a breakthrough settlement in South Africa, Gandhi returned to a hero's welcome in his homeland, India. His fellow Indians called him Mahatma, meaning great soul. He became an ardent leader for the rights and equality of all human beings, fighting to abolish the untouchable class in the Hindu caste system and advocating for equal rights of women. Above all, Gandhi committed himself to the legendary and successful campaign for India's independence from Great Britain which he pursued unwaveringly over the next thirty years.
In the face of his amazing accomplishments, It is stunning that Gandhi never held a political office or official title. He began his career as a lawyer, but later disavowed his profession and claimed as his occupation farmer and weaver. While others clamored for power and wealth, Gandhi chose a path of renunciation, choosing to live amongst the poor, and to serve them.
What is remarkable about Gandhi is not his accomplishments, although they are extraordinary. What is truly remarkable are the means through which Gandhi achieved these results. Gandhi was not a political ideologue, and he was not motivated by personal ambition. Rather, his life was devoted to a spiritual quest. Gandhi's sole goal was to come face to face with God. Everything he did was in pursuit of that goal.
Gandhi's gift to the world was in applying the spiritual truth of love and nonviolence to political and social struggles. He recognized that all of the ancient religions convey the same essential truths; that love, truth and nonviolence are synonymous with each other, and synonymous with God. Gandhi wrote in his autobiograph, aptly named "The Story of My Experiments with Truth: "My life consists of nothing but experiments with truth . . . .Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could do. Life and its problems have thus become to me so many experiments in the practice of truth and nonviolence. . . ."
As Martin Luther King , Jr. wrote in Stride Toward Freedom: 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. King concluded: If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. We may ignore him at our own risk.
Shortly before his assassination in 1948, Gandhi was asked by a journalist to sum up his message for the world. For years, Gandhi spent one day a week in silence, no matter how many people had come to meet him. This was a day of silence, so he grabbed a pencil, wrote a few words, and passed on the paper, My life is my message, it said. Mohandas Gandhi Essential Writings, Selected and Introduced by John Dear (Orbis, 2002)
Gandhi's life and teachings are as relevant today as ever, especially in the field of conflict resolution. Conflict resolution professionals have ample opportunities to apply the profound wisdom of Gandhi's teachings:
- To place ourselves in service to others, setting aside our own opinions, judgments and needs, including the need for recognition, influence, prestige, etc.
- To treat each person with utmost respect, recognizing that God is within each and every human being.
- To practice nonviolence in our thoughts, words and actions.
- To focus on our inner, spiritual development, including practices such as mindfulness and meditation.
- To be the change. To not ask of others that which we are not willing to do ourselves
Above all, Gandhi challenges us to apply our deepest values in all aspects of our lives and, in so doing, to explore what is possible as a result. He challenges us to test the power of love, to discover that love is the essence of life, and the essence of every human being. He calls upon us to conduct our own experiments with truth, love and nonviolence.
What is your experiment?
The only devils in this world are those running around in our own hearts,
and that is where all our battles should be fought.
You must be the change you want to see in the world.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing,
would suffice to solve most of the world's problems.
Eileen Barker © 2006, all rights reserved.