Gandhi: The Power to Change the World
At the end of February 2012, I was fortunate to attend a lecture on the life of Gandhi given by a young philosopher Parth Doshi. Prior to the lecture I knew very little about Gandhi. We all have heard that he was a great person, who freed India from the British with the movement of non-violent resistance. But how did he do that? How was this man able to put the values into practice? This was the topic of Parth’s lecture. The lecture started with an outline of major events in Gandhi’s life. We were taken back in time to witness those events with a help of fragments from the movie Gandhi (1982). We saw his challenges in South Africa, heard his wise speeches, and observed his calm and patient nature. “..there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill,” Gandhi says. Then, he proposes a resistance, but in a peaceful way: “… I am asking you to fight! To fight against their anger, not to provoke it.” Thus, he asked his people to disobey the unjust law and to obey the just. This non-violent revolution took a long time, but eventually (15 years later) the British realized that their laws were unjust. After this success, Indians start calling Gandhi “Mahatma”, which means “great soul”. Gandhi goes back to India, but here he faces greater challenges than in South Africa. The country has 700,000 villages and he needs to ensure that they challenge the British as one nation. To learn more about his country, he travels across India to gain the understanding of her people. He sees a lot of inequality among Indians, both economic and social. Caste system represents a big problem. How can he bring people together when there is so much injustice? Still, Gandhi is true to his values and persists with his movement of non-violent resistance. It takes 32 years until India becomes free from the British rule.
We saw that Gandhi possessed an incredible persistence, patience, confidence and courage. But how did he become this great soul? Perhaps, he was just born this way? According to Gandhi’s autobiography, he was a very fearful and shy child, he had to drop out of school in India, and when finally he received a law degree from England, he was a failure as a lawyer, and left India in hopes to find a better luck in South Africa. But what did change between this fearful young Gandhi and the courageous Gandhi we encountered in South Africa?
An important event takes place during his studies in England. In 1889 Gandhi discovers philosophy by meeting the founder of the Theosophical Society. He starts questioning the meaning of life, reads different religious teachings, and comes to realization that they all carry a universal idea. However, reading was not enough for Gandhi. He slowly starts putting the teachings into practice. This is when he goes to South Africa, and instead of running away from challenges (what he was doing for his entire life), he decides to take a stand.
At the end of the lecture, Parth shared with us a model that Gandhi used for his human development, and which all of us can follow. In order to develop as human beings, we should become scientists of our own character; we need to explore how to become better as human beings. What do we need to do for that? We need to study different philosophies and extract teachings that we feel are valuable. Then, we need to put this teaching into action to see if the teaching holds true. Every time we put the teaching into action, we would have an experience. Then, we should reflect on our experiences (Reflect on how you feel about your actions and how people react to your actions. Ask yourself why you react in certain ways in certain situations). After reflection, we should come back to the teaching, and thus, start this cycle of Study → Action → Experience → Reflection again to verify the meaning of this teaching.
In the modern world, we tend to be stuck at the stage of studying and thinking and we never end up putting the teachings into actions and bringing ideals into life. Putting teachings into action is very important. It can help us overcome our fears and move further on a path of human development.
To change the world, “you must be the change you want to see in the world” (Gandhi). Of course, it will take lots of effort. But doesn’t everything that we strive to achieve in life take take effort? It is important to reflect on our own life, to ask ourselves: “what are we doing as individuals on a daily level to develop our inner being? Are we simply acting in our external life? Are we taking an inner journey?”
The lecture was a great success. Many young people came and were inspired by the journey of Gandhi. Hopefully, they will remember to feed the fire of their idealism with philosophical teachings and most importantly, philosophical actions.