It has been seventy years since Mahatma Gandhi departed from our midst. But his life and soul continue to animate humanity transcending national and international boundaries. His contribution to human development is far too great and varied to have been forgotten or to be overlooked. The world today recognizes him as a far more compelling social innovator than humanity ever realized.
The life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is a story of heroic effort to establish the values of Truth and Non-violence in human life. In pursuing this objective Gandhiji became a Mahatma from a mere ‘Monya’. He became a messenger, for the people of the world surrounded by fire of violence in the twentieth century. He also became ‘The Father of The Nation’. He saved India and Britain from mutual hate and revenge by resorting to the experiment of Truth and Non-violence in India’s struggle for freedom. This created an atmosphere which made it possible for other countries of Asia and Africa to free themselves without bloodshed from the hold of the European countries which had subdued them in the nineteenth century.
Being born in a middle class Vaishnava family and brought up in that atmosphere till he joined school and received instruction according to the system then prevailing, he lived, dressed and dined in the way all children of that class did. Later, he went to England for studies and changed his dress to suit the conditions of that country. But in food and certain other matters, he remained true to the lesson he had learnt early in life. On his return to India after being called to the Bar, he passed through difficult times as all beginners in the profession of the law have to do and it was as a lawyer that he went to South Africa to help a client. He had, however, to spend many years there as the condition of Indians and the treatment they received demanded that he should serve them rather than return to India. His struggle with the authorities brought about a considerable change in his life and by the time he returned to India, he had already become a Mahatma. His dress in India on his return was different from what he used to wear when he was practicing as a Barrister and conformed to the old Kathiawadi type.
If in South Africa it was the Railway Ticket Collector who paved the way for the birth of a Satyagrahi, in India it was a poor peasant from Champaran, Rajkumar Shukla, who provided him a platform to test the power of Satyagraha on the Indian soil. His campaign in favour of the non-co-operation movement brought about another change which identified his outward appearance with that of the humblest and lowliest of the land and he stuck to the loin cloth till he departed with the name of God on his lips.
Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned several times in his pursuit of non-cooperation and undertook many ‘fasts’ to protest against the oppression of the down trodden in India.
He invented the techniques of mass –civil disobedience in South Africa which were later emulated in India and across the world.
On January 30th, 1948, the assassin’s bullet ended the physical existence of Mahatma Gandhi and made him immortal who left an indelible legacy to the mankind –‘My life is my Message’.
As the contemporary society delves on the meaning of life amidst the plethora of complex problems it has to negotiate in their daily lives, the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi offer a powerful avenue to discern on what path to tread. Developing understanding of the multi-dimensional thoughts and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi offers great opportunities to negotiate the challenges of modern day society.
In the backdrop of the materialistic culture that dominates our world, Gandhi’s idea of simple living and strong faith in the power of truth and nonviolence can be the guiding light for a generation which more often seems to getting diverted from the road of values and ethics.
Mahatma Gandhi’s five pillars of nonviolence: respect, understanding, acceptance, appreciation and compassion are basic to our existence. These are simple habits and if we all start trying to nurture these, we could make a difference in the world. By inculcating these habits we can not only be happy ourselves but also make others happy. The Mahatma’s faith in the power of nonviolence can be reflected by this quote of his, “Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed.”
For the contemporary society, following the ideals of truthfulness is another important challenge. Here again the Mahatma’s prescriptions on the power of truthfulness gives us the direction of what path to follow. On the essence of truth, Gandhi had said, “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained.” This is an apt reminder for all of us to stand by truth by all means.
One of the greatest lessons we learn from Mahatma Gandhi was his deep faith in the goodness of every individual and his unflinching belief that humanity is proceeding towards well-being. His strong belief on humanity is reflected as, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
As the world is grappling the challenges of nature and climate change, it is time to revisit Gandhi’s cosmocentric approach to human beings. For Gandhi, we human beings are interconnected to all facets of the universe and cannot live in isolation. He stressed that all lives were sacred and gave immense importance to limit one’s greed. He had rightly said, “The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our fore fathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.” Deep understanding of the Mahatma’s cosmocentric approach to human beings are needed more than ever before to ensure contemporary society is able to find sustainable solutions to the ever increasing problem of biodiversity conservation and greed.