Gandhi as a World Citizen | The Background

Saturday, October 16, 2021

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Gandhi as a World Citizen

B. S. Tyagi

In today’s precarious times when the world is fraught with danger of death and destruction and human values, indispensable to sustain mankind, are under dire threats from terrorism all over the globe, Gandhi’s message needs to be stressed afresh. It has a universal appeal at the core for the simple reason the world has been nourishing for centuries a retaliatory view of life – “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” or satham prati  satham – to the wicked, be wicked but his great mantra was satham pratyapi satyam – even to the wicked be just, be loving. The message brings home the great truth inherent in human soul; so it needs to be grasped at the level of pure consciousness. His approach to human problems is spiritual and moral, making the never failing message more and more appealing. The dogmatic view or preoccupied idea of life forbids man to step out of his limits. So a spiritual view broadens the grooves of man’s understanding. Unless it is adopted, the world is far from its common goal- safe and peaceful world. As a moral genius Gandhi ever “tried to chasten himself first before trying to exert any kind of influence on other people.” In fact, his message contains fundamental truth of life realized in depth making him a world citizen.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan once asked him three questions:

1 What is your religion?

2 How were you led to?

3 What is its bearing on life?

Gandhi being awfully occupied with socio-political life with a little time for such intellectual exercise gave him brief but suggestive answers:

I used to say, “I believe in God”, now I say, “I believe in truth.” “God is truth’, that is what I was saying and today I say, “Truth is God.” There are no people who deny Truth. It is something which, even the atheists admit. Actually, truth is not something which a person gets or realizes all of a sudden; it requires an austere discipline of mind and body and ‘considerable travail of human spirit’. It is a life-long quest which cannot be fulfilled without attaining complete harmony between mind and body. After truth the ideal of ahimsa comes which cannot be practiced without being truthful and humble. In the presence of ahimsa ill-will or prejudice towards any creature melts into thin air. Only LOVE thrills life of such a person. He looks upon life as sacred or divine leading him to the purity of soul. As Kant holds, “Treat humanity in your own person and in every other person as an end in itself and not a mere means.” His two ideals – truth and ahimsa have ever been ways of expressing basic truth of life without which a peaceful world can’t be imagined. When Gandhi talks about ahimsa, he means a pure heart without any ill-will or evil or prejudice that degrades and depraves man. Ill-will or hatred mars the beauty of life and pushes the world into chaos. A pure heart is like flower scattering its fragrance all around.

To Gandhi ahimsa is a means of sarvodaya – the awakening of all. There should not be any kind of domination anywhere. When he saw pain, poverty, hunger, harassment, degradation, suffering and want which India was suffering from, he said in no uncertain terms, “I must fight this system. I must get rid of it.” Further he made clear, “A fallen and prostrate India will not be of any help to herself or to the world. A free and enlightened India can be of help to herself and to the world. I want my country to be free so that one day, if necessary, she may die for the sake of humanity.” This was the unique mission for which, he adopted unique means – truth and ahimsa to achieve it. Human factor has ever been dominating in his life. His firm stand on truth and persistent resolute efforts to realize the dreams of mankind stands him out in a crowd and it makes him a world citizen striving for world peace. In this arduous journey he had achieved calmness of spirit, integrated personality and humility. Unlike his contemporary nationalist leaders he looked like a sthitaprajn – a person of steadfast intellect, described in the Gita.

Prajahati yada kaman, saran parth manogatan

Atmany eva tmana tustah, sthitaprajnas tado ‘cyate. 2/55

(When a man puts away all the desires of his mind, O Partha (Arjuna), and when his spirit is content in itself, then is he called stable in intelligence.)

Humility of such a person does not mean crawling on all fours but it is a virtue necessary for other virtues to flourish in life. He was so humble that he never laid claim to righteousness or infallibility. He listened with patience to others, even his arch opponents but never lost his cool. He understood their point and gave a serious thought to it with a smile. It is the quality that helps a person to realize oneness with everyone on the earth. It plays a vital role in character building. A man of strong character walks steadily on his path, with no distraction.

In fact, Gandhi’s message lays stress on the ‘unification of emotions’ to avoid any sort of inner conflict and it can be achieved through creative non-violent spiritual life. Only then a person can help people, exasperated, unhappy and suffering from inner vacuum across the world. His spiritual faith has made him a champion of the masses. His life was an expression of the great message of the Bhagavadgita, a perennial source for him in his low moments. He felt inspired and shook the lethargic and depressing moments feeling full flow of renewed energy like sunshine clearing the dark clouds. He had unshaken faith in Truth and he never hesitated to try his faith in any situation. In 1947 his lonely journey to riots-torn Bengal was the toughest test of his faith in spiritual life. Thus, his devotion to truth and ahimsa was stupendous. No fierce storms or depressing moments in his life could shake his faith. These ideals are actually to be experienced spiritually to embark on the journey of such a wide mission. Like a true world citizen he says, “I will not hurt Germany or England for the sake of serving my country. That kind of narrowness, that kind of selfish patriotism would be unworthy of a truly civilized human being.” Gandhi feels oneness with every creature, happy or unhappy all over the world. His joy lies in the well-being of all human beings. His patriotism includes entire humanity; human suffering in any way is alien to his soul. He is fully conscious of his surroundings at the spiritual level. As he cannot go everywhere, his profound prayer in silence filled with truthfulness and love unites him with mankind. In fact, all Gandhi wanted was the inner transformation of man, a different individual who had capacity to look upon man as brother anywhere in the world. Such a man with the feeling of fraternity works for the whole mankind. For this change man has to scrutinize his own nature; only then he can become a different individual brimming with truth and love.

Thus, Gandhi’s message is more relevant today than ever before as the world is facing crisis of faith which has created great danger for mankind. Every nation thinks of its own safety; it is narrow patriotism, paling into insignificance in today’s time but Gandhi’s message of truth and ahimsa can forge the world into unity. He dedicated his whole life to this goal. He said, “I don’t want to live in this world if it doesn’t become united. If there is not the unity of the world on the basis of humanity, I do not wish to live in it.” His message urges all of us to ‘work for the building up of a world of humanity’ only then peace can prevail. Gandhi as a world citizen brings hope and inspiration to the world, so fragile and unsafe despite the tremendous material progress. He comes before the world as the greatest spiritual revolutionary to save humanity from annihilation in the wake of nuclear weapons.

Last but not least, American scientist Samuel P Huntington put forward his thesis – “clash of civilizations” in an attempt to answer ‘Why do they hate us?’ Many other thinkers too tried to answer the question in the light of their understanding and experience.  After the horror of 9/11, bewildered and outraged America began its audacious journey “war on terror” to end the “clash of civilizations” with full confidence. It was hoped the world would be safe and peaceful though the “a civilisational fight”– a phrase coined by the then President George W Bush, was opposed and criticized in most of the West. Liberal thinkers and ‘rights groups’ never favored the enterprise. But it went undeterred with might and main. After twenty years, America hardly pulled back its troops from Afghanistan when Taliban seized power and established its reign with its ideology, culture and civilization whatever it is. Today fears of religious radicalization and terror threats stare the world in the face though great minds are thinking how to meet the challenge. Ironically, today the world finds itself standing where it had stood twenty years before under fear and insecurity. No one can predict exactly about the shape of things to come. But fears, doubts and uncertainty are looming large over the world, for sure. In his thesis Samuel P Huntington had predicted that “most important distinctions among people (no longer) ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural.” True, irrespective of culture and civilization dark clouds have gathered on the horizon. The dream of a united peaceful world appears a crying in the wilderness.

Here comes Gandhi with his powerful message of truth and ahimsa which can alone bring people together and assure the world of security and peace, indispensable for survival. His words, soaked in his own experience and love uttered long ago, appear even today like sunshine for the battered world. The words must be echoed all over the world:

“Have no fear. He who fears, hates; he who hates, kills. Break your sword and throw it away. So fear shall not touch you. I have been delivered from fear and desire in such a way that I know the power of God.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Background.

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