November 23, 2015
Teachings of Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi, a world-renowned peace activist, has affected the modern world through his teachings of non-violence and social equality. To this day, his legacy and what he has contributed can be found in all walks of life. The life of Mohandas Gandhi, his original name, spans from 1869 to 1948 to which he was a very prominent political activist in the Eastern Hemisphere (Molloy). From speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. to educational curriculums in higher institutions, elements from the teachings of Gandhi have integrated into almost every realm of society today. Out of all his teachings and legacies that are remembered, there is no doubt that his mentality towards civil disobedience through nonviolence means is the most prominent. The effects of what he has taught has sprouted many more movements and ideologies that have transgressed past his lifetime and into the lives of future generations.
Prior to discussing the effects of his teachings, nonviolence in its true essence, must be discussed. The concept of nonviolence can be captured in the meaning of ahisma, which is a philosophy of causing no injury or harm through means of words, thoughts, or deeds (Mayton 713). This word dates back to ancient Indian and Asian religious traditions that deem it as a way of life that one should uphold (Arapura 392). Although the existence of ahisma dates long before the time of Gandhi, he was the first to apply it on such a large scale during times of political upheaval in 20th Century India (Asirvatham). Molloy defines ahisma as, “nonharm” or “nonviolence” (Molloy). Walker claims that it is impossible for men to completely act in accordance with ahisma because men constantly engage in acts of violence with other men, animals, or even plants (Bajpai 148). Unintentional or not, because all men engage in acts of violence, man can only agree with it in principle while striving to achieve it in practice. Walker makes an interesting point when she claims that gunpowder, in its mere existence, totally defies everything that ahisma stands for because the primary utility of gunpowder is to engage in violence (150). Although man cannot practice ahisma fully, there are those who act in accordance with the principle more than others. In Gandhi’s weekly journal, the Harijan, he described non-violence as being, “the greatest force at the disposal of mankind” (Harijan 2). Gandhi added that it is the strongest weapon to utilize when change is desired; it is stronger than actual destruction of property or violent acts toward others (Harijan 1). In addition, man is defined as, “living freely by his willingness to die” (Harijan 2). This quote in the Harijan is especially important because it displays the type of mentality that a society must have in order for change to be enacted. Man must want something so much that he is willing to get hurt, go to prison, or to even die at the cost of his goals. Gandhi outlines the repercussions of violent acts and how they plant seeds of hatred in future generations when he says, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent” (Gandhi). In other words, violence is the wrong way to enact change because an infliction of violence on a person will cause a seed to hatred to be planted and an on-going chain of violence, stemming from vengeance, will ensue. Bose says that nonviolence requires courage whereas acts of violence are simply loud (Bose 161). He adds that nonviolence is very difficult to practice because it requires man to be forgiving; forgiving of the disservices committed to him and to relinquish any kind of animosity (161). Furthermore, Bose says that, “self suffering is the chosen substitute for violence to others” (161).
Gandhi and his teachings rooted from influences that dated back long before his birth. Influences such as Jesus, Thoreau, and Buddha played significant roles in shaping his teachings and they way he applied it during the Indian Independence Movement. Jesus in particular, played an enormous role in defining Gandhi’s morals as he was growing up. As a child, he would read the Christian Bible, specifically the New Testament, and found the content resonating (Bose 160). In his book, Gandhi on Christianity, Gandhi spoke on how the Sermon on the Mount message impacted him so heavily (Gandhi 34). What struck him the most in the Sermon on the Mount was Christ’s teaching on non-retaliation and how one should return good when evil is performed. This new mentality is something Gandhi had not been accustomed to, yet he found great value in the practice. Because Jesus was so successful in adopting new followers using this mentality, Gandhi was fixated on learning more about it and its applications toward the Indian Independence Movement. Ultimately, it was the passion and unconditional love of others by Jesus Christ that transformed Gandhi, so much so that elements of Christianity are found everywhere in the ideals shared by Gandhi.
Another vital influence that shaped Gandhi’s teachings would be his parents. Gandhi always spoke highly of his mother and how devoutly religious she was (Dalton 2). During his childhood, Gandhi’s mother would practice fasting whenever the sun was not shining; she would claim that “God did not want her to eat today” (Dalton 2). In return, Gandhi and his brother would always run outside to check if the sun was out that day so their mother could finally eat (Dalton 2). Although never said explicitly, Gandhi would learn principles such as loyalty, self-control, and self-deprivation by daily examples from his mother (Dalton). With any child, the values they hold when they are adults are largely dependent on the values that are instilled in them as child by the parents. It is thanks to an accumulation of multiple influences that has allowed Gandhi to be the influential political and social activist that he is today.
Gandhi is most known for being a political reformer and activist through his actions during the Indian Independence Movement. A common misconception that arises from Gandhi’s actions in India is that he wanted independence for India. This is wrong; Gandhi wanted something known as swaraj, which translates into self-rule (Dalton 2). The concept of swaraj exists on two plains, the first being a political realm while the second being on a spiritual realm. Independence was freedom to do anything, which carries a negative connotation whereas swaraj means disciplined rule from within which carries a positive connotation (Dalton 2). In a political sense, having swaraj for India would mean India would be free from British imperialism and have complete sovereignty over itself. In a spiritual sense, the idea of swaraj can be found in The Bagavad-Gita where it teaches people to regain control of the ‘self’ (Dalton 4).
Specifically in his active role during the Independence movement for India, Gandhi taught people the correct way to fight injustice. Instead of retaliating with acts of violence, Gandhi implored his followers to only oppose an unfair act and never a person (Gerry 1). An element from Christianity that runs strong with Gandhi’s ideals is the principle of unconditional love. That is, to love your neighbor despite any injustices that he may have caused you. During his time in South Africa and from teachings by Thoreau, Gandhi learned of the power of strikes and protest marches, two powerful weapons that he utilized during the independence movement (Gerry 1). The power of nonviolent forces the opposition to look at themselves and the problems between the oppressed and the suppressors in a different light (Gerry). A principle that Gandhi instilled and emphasized to his followers was the fact that only love could drive out hate and stop the chain of animosity (Gerry 3). A specific instance of Gandhi’s practice can be seen during the Salt Protest in India in 1930 where salt was heavily taxed so Gandhi and his followers marched peacefully to the beach to pick up salt (Gerry 4). In doing so, Gandhi was arrested and put into prison. As a result, over 60,000 people, abiding by Gandhian principles, ‘turned the other cheek’ while the British attempted to stop their march (Gerry 4). This prime example of how 60,000 people followed the footsteps and practices of one man is a testament to amount of people Gandhi touched with his teachings.
Mahatma Gandhi is the cultivation of past iconic influences and will be seed of future leaders that will come and enact change in all realms of society. Through his teachings of nonviolent protest and unconditional love, Gandhi has touched the lives of many and because of this, society today and societies to come will still reap the benefits of the change he has enacted and the process by which one should combat injustice. His teachings have not only freed India from the British, but African-Americans have more civil rights because of Martin Luther King Jr., South Africans have been liberated from apartheid because of Nelson Mandela, along with many more leaders to come.
Bose, Anima. “A Gandhian Perspective on Peace”. Journal of Peace Research 18.2 (1981): 159–164. Web…
Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, New York: Dover Publications, 1983, p. 2
Ghandi, Mohandas K., “Ahimsa, or the Way of Nonviolence.” A Peace Reader. Ed. Joseph J. Fahey and Richard Armstrong. New York: Paulist Press, 1992. 171-174.
Dalton, Dennis. “Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action”. Columbia University Press (2012). 2-20.
Walker, Claire. “What Do We Mean by Non-Violence?”. The Journal of Religions and Psychical Research. Volume 17, Number 3. EBSCO Publishing, 2002. 146-149.
Parker, Clifton. “Gandhi’s nonviolent approach offers lessons for peace movements, Stanford scholar says”. Stanford Report, 2004. 1-3.
Asirvatham, Eddy. Political Theory. S.chand.
Mayton, D. M., & Burrows, C. A. (2012), Psychology of Nonviolence, The Encyclopedia of Peace Psychology, Vol. 1, pages 713-716 and 720-723, Wiley-Blackwell.
Bajpai, Shiva (2011). The History of India – From Ancient to Modern Times, Himalayan Academy Publications (Hawaii, USA), ISBN 978-1-934145-38-8; see pages 8, 98
Rev. Gerry Straatemeier, MSW. “Mahatma Gandhi”. AGNT, 2002. 1-4.