By Homer A. Jack
Note: Excerpts from an address delivered on October 1st, 1989 at Union Square Park, New York at the culmination of a Peace March. Dr. Jack is a U.S. peace activist and Editor of “The Wit and Wisdom of Gandhi” and “The Gandhi Reader”.
Mohandas K. Gandhi was a great Gujarati. He was an outstanding Indian―the Father of his Nation. He was a noble Asian. He was a distinguished Hindu. More than all of these, Gandhi was a great human being.
Many so-called “great” men and women lived during the 20th century. In my estimate, and many others, Gandhi was―so far―the greatest, by almost any definition of “great”. Or who else? Churchill, Roosevelt? Lenin, Mao, Nehru? Einstein, Freud? Gandhi overshadowed them all, as a world citizen while he lived and as a continuing influence on dozens of movements and millions of people even today.
As we observe today, the 120th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth tomorrow, let us look briefly at the impact Gandhi is still making on our world, 41 years after his death in 1948.
Gandhi lives today in dozens of fields of endeavour. I will not use the term, Gandhism. In his life time, Gandhi warned: “If Gandhism is another name of sectarianism, it deserves to be destroyed. If I were to know after my death that what I stood for had degenerated into sectarianism, I should be sharply pained.” Elsewhere, Gandhi admitted: “I have no desire to found a sect. I am really too ambitious to be satisfied with a sect or a following.”
Gandhi is alive today wherever conflicts are being resolved, peacefully. Satyagraha, non–violent direct action of soul force was Gandhi’s great contribution to humanity. It is being studied and used in many parts of the world today. Since Gandhi’s death, there have arisen an American Gandhi (Martin Luther King Jr.), A South Korean Gandhi (Ham Sok Hon), a Palestinian Gandhi (Awad Mubarak), and several others. Gandhi’s name was mentioned during the student demonstration in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and non-violent direct action has been intentionally used against apartheid in the defiance campaign of 1952 and again in the last few months. (Gandhi devised these techniques during his 26-year sojourn in South Africa, ending in 1914.)
Gandhi is alive today also wherever people want to live simpler, healthier lives and more intentional ones. Gandhi’s ashrams in South Africa and India were experiments in simple living, prototypes to “small is beautiful.” Gandhi remains relevant for the growing Green movements throughout the world, for ecological awareness, for healthful foods (as well as vegetarianism).
Gandhi is also alive today where great world religions try to heal and not divide, where Hindus meet Muslims, where Christians dialogue with Jews. Gandhi’s prayer meetings have become a model for multi-religious meditation today. Also such international groups as the World Conference on Religion and Peace owe their origin, at least in part, to Gandhi’s concept of religious dialogue as well as to his inspiration.
Gandhi is, finally, alive in every deliberation or negotiation for disarmament and peace. Wherever war and violence is abhorred and questioned, Gandhi is present. He lived 29 months into the nuclear age, asserting, “unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.” He early demanded disarmament. His call for unilateral disarmament was, after his death, tried by Secretary Khrusuchev and President Kennedy, and then by President Gorbachev. His inspiration aided the great peace marches and demonstrations of our time, east and west, and his picture was often carried by those marchers.
Gandhi statues, Gandhi museums, Gandhi exhibits, Gandhi motion pictures, Gandhi plaques―all are important symbols so that a new generation can remember Gandhi. The Collected Works of Gandhi, now in 90 volumes, makes Gandhi’s word available to all. Many volumes continue to he published about Gandhi, worldwide, including children’s books. Thus his insights are alive in the hearts of countless persons of all ages, in all walks of life, in all climes and countries, perhaps as much outside India as in India itself.
We are grateful to the various Indian associations in New York metropolitan area, and to the Consulate of India in New York, for sponsoring today’s observance. Yet India cannot keep Gandhi for itself. He was a world figure; he remains one, the best the 20th century has produced.
Albert Einstein said it well: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”
We walk today upon his earth to do Gandhi honour. Let us preserve this earth, and humanity, through non-violence, to honor Gandhi, and posterity.
Mahatma Gandhi ki jai! Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!
Source: Darshan, Vol. Six, October 1989