MAHATMA GANDHI – A GREAT SOUL OF OUR TIMES
Gandhi Jayanti 2017
Every year not only India, but also the world, celebrates the birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi, a man of small stature, experimented with his thoughts and ideas and gave to the world a philosophy for all of humanity. He not only preached the tenets of ‘satyagraha’ but lived and acted them. He showed by actual examples how these basic principles could be transformed to make the world a better place. Mahatma Gandhi made his thoughts and ideas more powerful than empires. According to one writer who stated, “If Gandhi had lived in India thousands of years ago, his life would have wrapped in myths and miracles.” But Mahatma Gandhi was a great soul of our times, “which shows that his origin was ordinary, his childhood normal, his student days uneventful and his early professional career unsuccessful.” Such was the description for this great soul who became a statesman not only for India, but also for the world.
From about the fifteenth to the eighteenth century Britain and other powerful nations of Europe, had intensified their quest for empire building, and as a result expeditions were sent out to conquer lands and people, and to take whatever wealth they gained back to Europe. Whether it was gold or silver, silk, tea, sugar or spices, they were taken to Europe to finance wars, beautify the women and enhance the exotic tastes of Europeans. With such aims in mind, certain countries became prized possessions for the foreigners. India was one such country.
Beginning with trading posts that opened up trade with India, Britain eventually gained political control over India. The conscious ‘foreign’ element was always in the mind, if not in all, but in a majority of Indians. According to one historian who states, “from the time the British took political control over India, Indians whatever their religions, castes, or regional origins may have been were immediately conscious of the ‘foreign’ character of the white Christian sahibs who ruled their land.” With foreign minds alien to the Indian social, economic and political conditions, one sees the influx of missionaries, English education replacing the Indian education, and trade with the outside world as a process of British unification and modernization. Such changes only served to intensify Indian perceptions of their ‘native’ differences, cultural, socio-economic and political, from the British rulers. Under such conditions men like Surendranath Banerjee, Rande, Gokhale, Phadhe, Mehta, Naoroji and others began to emerge. Later men like Basu, Tagore, Roy, Tilack, Nehru, Patel, Bhave, to mention only a few, rose to rally with Mahatma Gandhi not only to free India from foreign domination, but also to kindle a re-awakening of the deeply rooted thoughts and ideas found in the ancient Indian philosophical system. As the famous Martin Luther King in describing Gandhiji said, “Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving towards a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”
Professionally, failures in India caused Gandhi to accept a post in South Africa where he was legal counsel to a leading Indian entrepreneur. It was when he was there that racism awakened his consciousness to national identity. He developed the unique system of ‘satyagraha’. ‘Satyagraha’ according to one writer, is a non-violent method of non-cooperation and civil disobedience, and tapped the deepest roots of India’s cultural heritage. His ideas of ‘satyagraha’ further expanded to include ancient yogic powers of truth, ahimsa (non-violence to any living things in thoughts, word and deeds), meditation, fasting and silence. It is therefore a force born of truth and love. Such thoughts of Gandhiji gave him a tower of inner strength to stand against the might of the foreign power that ruled India, to be honored with the title of Mahatma, to bring social changes to India, and to be ranked amongst the statesmen, not only of modern times, but of all times.
Mahatma Gandhi was a man with inner wealth, and allowed an insurance policy on his life to lapse. When his wife was given an expensive piece of jewellery as a gift in South Africa, he stayed awake all night thinking about its safety. Eventually, all the expensive gifts given to himself and his wife were sold and the money was used for the establishment of a fund for the benefit of the Indians in South Africa. His simple attire of loincloth, wooden chappals, a bowl and a walking stick were the possessions of this politician cum saint. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Bhagavad Gita became his spiritual dictionary that probably exercised the greater single influence on his life. Aparigraha (non-possession of material wealth) inspired Gandhiji so immensely, that it was not surprising that he did not see material wealth as the answer to his problem, nor the problem of humanity. By his action one cannot deny the fact that he was a Karma Yogi.
The word ‘truth’ which forms the basis for Gandhiji’s experiment, is derived from the concept that nothing exists in reality, except ‘Truth.’ Truth is God and God, Truth. Gandhiji sees God as an “indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything.” Furthermore, Gandhiji sees God in everything around him and though everything is ever changing and ever dying, there is underlying all that, that change is a Living Power which is changeless, which holds all together that creates, dissolves, and re-creates. This Living Power is God (Gandhiji). His thoughts on the Unseen Power transcend the senses. He stated that for God to be God He must rule the heart and transform it. If Gandhian concept of God – which is universal – is realized, then the transformed heart will transform the world.
In honoring Gandhiji today, let us pay homage to this politician who became a saint of modern times, and always reflect on his teachings for the good of humanity.
Urmila Das (My Wife)