By Dr. Kumarpal Desai
Mahatma Gandhi had given a talisman or mantra to Nehru. It was really a yardstick to use before making any decision. He told Nehru that before starting any work, think of the poorest man and keeping him in view, think whether your actions are going to benefit him in anyway.
This idea of Gandhi to help the poorest of the poor has brought about a peaceful revolution in the world. He has shown a way to this extremely materialistic, acquisitive, narrow-minded and selfish world. Today Gandhi may not be among us, but he manifests himself through many individuals in our society. Organisations like the Radical Party or the Greenpeace Party openly acknowledge that Mahatma Gandhi is their guide and they follow his path. Their policies are based on Gandhian principles.
When we think of manifestation of Gandhi thought, we instantly think of Martin Luther King Jr. Young King was greatly influenced by Gandhiji’s thoughts on Satyagraha. He used this tool effectively to fight racism in his own country. He was attacked when he led peaceful processions to raise his voice against racism, but he stood steadfast. Non-violence was a life style and non-cooperation a method of fighting for justice. Both Gandhi and King spent their lives in search of peace but were themselves victims of violence. Like Gandhiji’s, Martin Luther King’s assassination had caused worldwide sadness.
Similarly in South Africa, Nelson Mendela has referred to Gandhi’s influence on his life in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Dalai Lama, too, promotes Gandhi’s philosophy. Innumerable people all over the world swear by Gandhiji’s thoughts. The human rights activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel, impressed by Gandhiji’s philosophy, implemented Gandhiji’s concept of Gram Swarajya (governance by villages for themselves). Nobel Laurette Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991, after reading the autobiography of Gandhi, was influenced by his thoughts and inspired to fight for democracy in her country, Myanmar. Kyi who went to school in Delhi when she was in this country in 1961 for her mother’s treatment learnt about Gandhiji’s methods of fighting against all kinds of injustice and evil. Twenty-five years later, the foundation that she received at a young age enabled her to use non-cooperation and non-violent to establish democracy in her country.
Gedong Bagus Oka, born in Indonesia in 1921, after reading Gandhiji’s autography, got interested and started reading other writings by and on Gandhi. He felt that the people of Indonesia should learn more about Gandhi and that only by following his tenets can Indonesia prosper peacefully and find its true place in the world. Oka translated Gandhiji’s autobiography and distributed it to teachers, professors, students and social workers all over the country. As a result many people joined him in his quest. He established the Gandhi Ashram in Bali which was named Gedong Gandhi Ashram in 1970. [Originally named Ashram Gandhi Canti Dasa (pronounced Shantih Dasa meaning Servant of Peace - a play of words of the village name, Candidasa)] Only those who have understood the methods of peaceful resistance and committed to Gandhi thoughts are admitted to the ashram. They have succeeded in creating awareness among the people to lead a life of purity and peace, introspect on one’s soul, and the need to live in harmony with nature.
Tucked away in the windswept mountains of Languedoc in southern France, 1000 miles from Paris, is a small island of peace known as the Community of the Ark. Founded by Italy born Lanza del Vasto - often called Mahatma Gandhi’s “first disciple in the West” - the Ark is a model of a nonviolent social order, an alternative to the overt and hidden violence of our times. Those who go there are reminded about Gandhiji’s ashram as it has no electricity and land is tilled manually with the help of horses. Around 150 persons live there as one large family in one community. All members are vegetarians. They start the day with prayers, then clean the premises, attend to their farming, chop wood, make bread and take care of their cattle. Every hour a bell rings which is a signal for them to leave their work, come out in natural surroundings, stand silently and say a prayer after which they go back to their work.
Vasto was interested in social change from a young age. He realized that bloody revolutions cannot bring about change. Gandhiji’s readings also gave him the same message. He became more resolute in his goal, became a disciple of Gandhi, and even changed his name to Shantidas. As soon as he decided on establishing an ashram, he travelled to India to study ashrams in India, not only for their physical structures and set up, but their spiritual activities also. Vasto is no more; his remains lie under a tree in the ashram. An ashramite name Peter, who calls himself Mohandas has donned Vasto’s mantle. Many of today’s generation, fed up with the material world, pollution, and violence and disturbance all over the world, seek peaceful existence at ARK.
Learning from the experience of the ARK, other countries too are setting up places of peaceful existence such as Switzerland, Germany and the USA. Peter felt that the people of Germany should be made aware of Gandhi thoughts, so he took a lot of trouble to collect material from India, such as photographs, charkha, models of huts, maps and books, to exhibit in Germany.
1920 born Charles Walker could also be counted among the many Gandhi ambassadors. He detested violence from a young age and was a strong opponent of World Wars. He was jailed for his views. At this time he expressed his faith in Gandhi and started serious study of Gandhi literature. He became renowned as a Gandhian revolutionary. He played an important role in peace, human rights and other movements dealing with humane causes. His organizational skills were discernible while organising agitations against the establishment. In the context of relevance of Gandhi in today’s world, he has penned several books on the principles and practice of civil disobedience, violent agitations and social change. He is the founder of the World Peace Brigade and Peace Brigade International. Both these organisations are working actively for cause of peace.
With no money in his pockets, Satish Kumar, in 1962, walked on foot through Moscow, Paris, Washington, and London, the four capitals of nuclear arsenal. He teaches Gandhi thoughts to students at the London School of Non-violence. He has established a school called ‘Small School’ in a place south west of England which is run on Gandhian principles. In addition to formal education, the children here learn to cook, garden, clean, other physical activities, and social work, including taking care of the environment. Eight such schools in London today impart comprehensive education giving students a wide worldview.
Marie Thogar was brought up working on the farm like any ordinary farm child. This upbringing made her think about the upliftment of her people. She was an admirer of Gandhi and Vinoba. During her visit India for an UNESCO program in 1952-53, she studied the functioning of Khadi Gram Udyog, and from then on she started using their products. Being an environment conscious person she met Radha Bhatt and others and got involved with the Chipko movement. She participated in the Silent Valley movement in Kerela. More than her involvement in causes in India, she is active in peace movements in Denmark and other countries. Her work and her books are becoming more and more popular world over. Her writings on peace and human societies are being seriously studied.
Prof. Adolfo De Obieta, known as the Gandhi of Argentina, an essayist, novelist, and a thinker adopted Gandhian ways of living both in his personal as well as public life. He also received the 1996 Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India. Just as his Christian values of non-violence are obvious in his writings, he is credited for the increasing appreciation and admiration of Gandhian ideals of truth, peace and non-violence. He not only propagated truth and non-violence but also measures up to Gandhi’s standard of life style. Thanks to Obieta and his efforts, people in Argentina appreciate the greater need, more than ever now, for peace and non-violence. Without any pomp and show, or hypocrisy, with full self-confidence he walks on path shown by Gandhi.
No one can match Srimati Kamala for promoting Gandhian values outside India. Her original name is Sally Slack, but after being totally captivated by Gandhian thought, she changed her name to Kamala and dedicated her life to the interpretation of the spiritual heritage of India, and the life of Mahatma Gandhi. She is an active member of Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Foundation and Gandhi Memorial Centre in Washington D.C., USA. She guides over 50 volunteers of which 30 are ashramites who run the centres. Kamala started with launching a correspondence course based on Gandhiji’s life and his message. Students from as far as Johannesburg and Hungary appear and pass her course. From 1976 onwards, every year, New York’s Bharatvaani Radio broadcasts her lecture given on Gandhiji’s birth and death anniversary. Her speech given at the Gandhi Centre on the occasion of Gandhi’s death anniversary is recorded by the Voice of America to be broadcast in India. She has written several books on Gandhi’s thoughts and publishes a quarterly called Gandhi Message. In recognition of her outstanding contributions in representing India's spiritual heritage, the Association of Indians in America (Washington, 1980) felicitated her with the title of Ambassador of Indian Philosophy and the Ideals of Mahatma Gandhi in the USA.
Mary King of the USA, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and Dr. Yung Sik of Korea have all devoted their lives to Gandhi and his principles. Isn’t Mahatma Gandhi still here among us!
Whenever human kind has found the need to express its inner voice of the soul, they have to go to Mahatma Gandhi because the Mahatma’s life is a struggle to find the almighty. He said, “My life is my message”. A great truth is hidden behind this message and that is a unity or oneness between theory and practice; practising what one is preaching. In his search for truth Gandhi travelled from knowing his own soul to finding the almighty. His life is a manifestation of how an individual, by walking on the path of truth, can achieve a state of completeness.
The world is in the grip of destructive violence today. Only the power of Gandhi’s weapons of peace and non-violence is capable of shaking the souls of human beings to bring about a transformation cutting through international borders, space and time. It is worth recalling an incident noted by Narayan Desai, a Gandhi thinker, on Gandhi’s relevance today. He narrates, “My host in New Jersey had put me up in his son’s room. Tacked on a board in that room was a write-up for which his son had received A+. His son had written a letter addressed to dear Gandhi, which said, “Why were you born so early, your need is for the present times, but never mind, we are here and we have your message and advice and like you we will learn to experiment with the truth”.
This is the relevance of Gandhi today.
Article is translated from Gujarati by Hina Manerikar
Courtesy: Sarvodaya Press Service, Vol. 295, 1st June 2016.