Gandhi – The Lighthouse

B S Tyagi

B. S. Tyagi

 ‘… Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest person whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj, freedom for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?” – Gandhi

   In fact, Gandhi, like Samkara or Kant was not a systematic academic thinker in metaphysics and political philosophy. He was a greatly inspired soul. He was akin to Socrates and Buddha coming out with his deepest feelings and realization of inherent truth. That is why his message has a universal appeal and is an inspiring force. The crux of his message is the stress on the eternal values of human being which can make life more meaningful on this planet. Today when humanistic structure is under severe threat of weapons of mass destruction and human sensitivity is waning fast, Gandhian approach which encompasses totality of life becomes more relevant and essential for a safe harmonious world. He ever listened to the silence of his soul rather than the din of the world. His basic ideal which he persistently pursued all his life till last breath, was to become a sthitaprajna – a person of steady intellect. In the Gita when Lord Krishnan describes the person with steady intellect, with which he can go beyond all ritualism, dualism and attachment for the results of actions, Arjun is keen to know more and asks Him:

Sthitaprajnasya ka bhasa, samadhisthasya kesava
Sthitadhih kim prabhaseta, kim asita vrajeta kim. 2/54
(What is the description of the man who has this firmly founded wisdom, whose being is steadfast in spirit, O Kesava? How should the man of settled intelligence speak, how should he sit, how should he walk?)

In this light of Gandhi’s character let me discuss a few of his ideas briefly but suggestively:
Gandhi inherited belief in God from his family, especially his mother who was a religious woman in traditional sense. God was a living force for him and this faith strengthened and deepened with the passage of time. So, he always felt His presence around him. He wrote, “I cannot recall a single instance when, at the eleventh hour, He (God) has forsaken me.” Such consistent faith he had! Later he said that Truth was God; it was more comprehensive idea. The existence of God can be denied but Truth cannot be shunned. The spiritual Truth, as he believed strongly, was to be realized by ‘spiritual experience, pure and disciplined holy life’. Actually, experience marks the beginning of the quest for the truth; it cannot be realized through intellect or reason or extensive study of scriptures. When heart is pure and pristine, inner experience springs forth resulting in ahimsa- non-violence. His faith in the basic concept of Truth stemmed from spiritual experience and intuition. He opined that he could live without food but not without prayer as it was the earnest expression of longing inherent in soul. His concept of ahimsa is a profound expression of compassion towards the whole mankind. Its practice brings close to all beings; simultaneously, it gives a deep sense of responsibility for their well-being. He held that ahimsa was required ‘not only in politics but in day-to-day’ life. Ahimsa needs tremendous courage as it urges man to resist violence without bitterness or hostility. Sangfroid must not be perturbed. It helps man to take a sanguine view of the situation. It is the very quintessence of moral courage which sustains human life on a higher plane of spirituality. Gandhi kept practicing and evolving it into ‘multi-pronged, layered strategy’ called Satyagrah; as a powerful weapon he used it in the struggle for freedom. It was a great experiment in politics as well as life. Actually, it was the inner energy that came from the realization of Truth. This very force inspired him to start mighty movements like civil disobedience, non-co-operation, Dandi March, Quit India et al. Besides, he was inspired by the Gita and its philosophy of detachment and selfless action. He firmly believed in what Lord Krishna wanted Arjun to imbibe in life -

Karmany eva dhikaraste, ma phalesu kadacana
Ma karmaphalahetur bhur, ma te sango stv akarmani. 2/47
(To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment.)

    Unlike his contemporaries Gandhi had a different approach to religion. He realized the creative force of religion in life which uplifts man above cults and creeds that confine him to rituals and ceremonies. He accepted spiritual aspect of religion that makes man more humane who works towards society with morality. No sooner does morality in life loses than one ceases to be religious. To quote Gandhi, “All religions are founded on the same moral laws. My ethical religion is made up of laws which bind men all over the world.” Religion ever gave impetus to his actions and words which had a ring of inner Truth. He professed that he was essentially a religious man in quest of Moksha – redemption of the soul from the clutches of Maya- illusion. But he never looked upon redemption as isolation; he seeks it while living in and through society doing his duty whole-heartedly towards mankind. In the spirit of the Gita he came to realize that redemption comes through Karmayoga. A karmayogi does all with complete detachment and disinterestedness. It eliminates evil forces occupying mind that degrade man from his divine nature. For Gandhi religion was a pilgrimage in search of truth. He kept searching all his life for ‘God as truth’ through selfless actions. It was his firm faith that Truth dwelled in individual at some deeper level if unearthed, it urges man to serve humanity; it is the greatest fruit of the divine spark latent in man. Truth becomes a guiding force through storms and stresses. No matter how powerful they are. Man acts fearlessly without losing calm.

Gandhi stressed on the religious basis of politics. He said that politics bereft of religion are a death trap. Religion encourages man for dynamic life full of activities and boundless love for all. The lives of Buddha and Christ, he said, were ‘inspired by the synthesis of active work and deep love.’ Thus, Gandhi’s concept of Karmayoga is founded on the teachings of the Gita and it singles him out as a man of mighty actions. He made it a tool to transform society and human life as well.  His religion included justice, equality, fraternity, peace, harmony - the whole gamut of human life. Gandhi averred in no uncertain term, “To try to root out religion itself from society is a wild-goose chase. And were such attempt to succeed, it would mean the destruction of society.”

Last but not least, the most pertinent Gandhi’s concept is his way of life. He stressed on the ‘return to simplicity and plainness of nature.’ It is the direst need of today’s society, particularly the society we are living in where luxuries and pretentiousness have taken a toll on our way of life. He believed that hankering after riches and precious possessions had led man to exploitation which creates a gulf between individuals or nations. His concept of living has addressed other questions like inequality, injustice and exploitation in today’s global society. He wants a change in human nature and behavior. In the present context his way of life is the need of the hour when the whole world is worried about environment. People are hell bent on destroying nature in the mindless pursuit of development even when its pernicious effects are clearly visible everywhere. His well-known aphorism given long ago, “there is enough in the world for everyone’s need but not for every man’s greed” is a hard slap on the face of the greedy world. He was of the opinion that man must take from nature as much as can satisfy his basic needs. He knew it well that unbridled ambition of man would play havoc on natural resources. He wrote in Hind Swaraj man’s mind is like a ‘restless bird’ moving round and round in its cage and “the more it gets, the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied.” Man needs rigorous discipline to control mind which is restless all the time. He had foreseen ecological catastrophe that the world, India in particular, is approaching fast. The UN has to lay stress on the need for saving the earth. Recently the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has addressed the world leaders over the climate change at the UN. It was an eye opener and chastening address. Her deep concern ‘has won her millions of admirers’ all over the world. This is the gravest problem the world is facing today. The activists almost in all countries are spreading awareness about climate change. Extinction Rebellion (XR) has launched a ‘Satyagrah on climate change across the world’s major cities’. The youth have come on the streets with their demand of better future. The organization has requested the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate, India and the Indian Prime Minister ‘to declare a climate emergency’ in the country. Such is the concern of the youth!

   Gandhi has answer to all these ills of today like climate change, water shortage, bad air quality, high PM2.5 levels the world is suffering acutely from. These grave problems are making this planet unlivable. Gandhian way of life addresses all these ills.  Discipline and restrain in day-to-day life with moral outlook towards nature can hit the problems. He demonstrated austere discipline through his lifestyle ha had practiced during the last twenty five years of his life. He firmly believed and practiced in life what the Gita preaches:

Yuktaharaviharasya, yuktacestasya karmasu
Yuktasvapnavabodhasya, yogo bhavati dukhaha. 6/17
(Restrained in his actions, whose sleep and waking are regulated, there ensues discipline (yoga) which destroys all sorrow.)

  Thus, Gandhi is today’s need we must understand it. He is the need of each and every man. Actually he is total; he cannot be taken in parts as per convenience. He is above celebrations, election campaigns and elaborate establishments and lectures. Mere lip service to Gandhi will do no good. He is a living message to mankind. He has to be accepted as a whole to improve the world. His philosophy includes every aspect of life; only then a drastic change with moral revolution can be brought about in society. Like Gandhi our invincible faith in the ‘nobility of human nature’ and spirituality can save the world from the danger of nuclear war looming large besides nature’s fury.

1 comment :

  1. "He is above celebrations, election campaigns and elaborate establishments and lectures. Mere lip service to Gandhi will do no good. He is a living message to mankind."

    A timely piece on Bapu. Your critical piece has indeed enriched our favourite journal.


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