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Gandhi and the spiritual war between Good and Evil

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mahadevToday is the 60th anniversary of Gandhi’s death. In paying tribute to the Mahatma, Mahadev Shankar says that freedom fighters should not worry too much about the consequences of their righteous acts but rather leave the results in the hands of the Divine.

"I find it very hard to reconcile myself to the numerous statutes which now provide that ‘the decision of the Minister shall not be questioned in a Court of Law’. The ISA is only one of them. You can find similar provisions in  the Industrial Relations Act and, of late, even in the Private Health Care Act, which came into force this year.

"Has the immunity – or the impunity – thus conferred led us astray, especially when some Judges seem to have been contaminated with the same syndrome?"

Mahadev quotes Jack Kennedy in saying our success of failures will be measured by the answers to four questions:

"First: Were we truly men of courage…?

"Second: Were we truly men of judgment…?

"Third: Were we truly men of integrity…?

"Finally: Were we truly men of dedication?

"Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi undoubtedly was.

"Why can’t we?" wonders Mahadev.

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

 This first verse from Cardinal Newman’s hymn was Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite.

Since 95 per cent of the Universe consists of dark matter, the nature of light has always mystified me. The astronomers say many of the stars we see had already died light years ago. After their light comes into our eyes, does that quantum of light seen by us die also? Our empirical experience tells us that cannot be. Western minds think that light comes from some external source in a linear route to lead them in a straight line towards the ultimate destination. But even that must surely be wrong. A candle that is lit evenly sheds its beams all around it.

I have often wondered how the Mahatma must have viewed the source of the light that Cardinal Newman contemplated. The answer to that question could well give each and every one of us here the means to empower ourselves to deal meaningfully with today’s challenges. What the Mahatma did, we too should be able to do. 

The core prayer of the Hindus is the Gayatri which roughly translated comes to this: Lord let me meditate on that light within me which is but an indivisible part of your cosmic light which is brighter than a thousand suns.

This must have been a daily routine for Gandhiji both at dawn and dusk. And this act by itself is the source of a strength whose continuity transcends the human body.

The Divine empowers us

Gandhiji was pretty eclectic when it came to religion. He accepted all religions as routes to the same destination. Whatever other religions conceive God to be, the Hindu concept of the Almighty is an all enveloping Light, which we mortals are simply not equipped to absorb in His entirety. And so our Divinity is all inclusive regardless of race or ethnicity. God is for everybody.

Once we have established our link with the Divinity by meditating on his Light, the next step is to work out how that light can empower us.  Gandhiji’s Guru – Ralph Waldo Trine –  explained it thus. Take the chair on which you now sit. Would you dare disagree with me that it began as an idea in a human being’s head? So also the clothes you now wear, or the car in which you arrived for this lecture.   Every material thing which surrounds our daily lives from your pesky hand phones to the hydrogen bomb started there as an idea in a person’s head.

But how did that idea get there? The very next word that I am now going to utter, must also come from somewhere. Am I getting it across to you that we are surrounded with Power with a capital P?

We may not be able to see it. But we can surely feel it, and if we are in tune with the Infinite, we can use that power as the motivator for our daily thoughts and actions. So the Hindus say Tat Twam Asi. Thou art that.

The exposition of what that divine manifestation brings forth in all its myriad forms and substance is what the Bhagavad Gita is all about. And the Gita was Gandhi’s bible.

Don’t worry about the results

Gandhi was in the pits in 1920. Despite the tremendous sacrifice of Indian lives in the First World War, he was no nearer the realisation of Swaraj or Independence. Instead, the British Raj was offering “ersatz” in the shape of the Rowlatt Acts for partial representation in local government as yet another thinly disguised extension of the imperial policy of divide and rule.

The great powers had divided up the Ottoman Empire to the chagrin of the Islamic community world wide, and Gandhi made common cause with the Khilafat movement in India to restore the Ottoman Caliphate whom it regarded as its spiritual leader. It was a futile attempt on Gandhi’s part to initiate some Hindu-Muslim unity.

This, added to the massacre of Jalianwalla Bagh and the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh in contradiction of Gandhi’s adherence to Ahimsa, left him in the deepest depression.

It was in this dark mood that he turned to the Nagpur congress in December 1920, and inspired by Lead Kindly Light, told his audience,  “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” And he carried his message through.

The war for Independence had to be fought “without attachment to the fruits of action” – by which Gandhi meant fighting without desire or anger, acting without concern for self, and in a spirit of love and sacrifice. Indeed, he was able to get it across that freedom-fighters should not worry too much about the consequences of their righteous acts but rather leave the results in the laps of the Gods. This was the trigger which motivated the decisive support of the Indian masses for the non-cooperation movement.

So to work they had the right – but not to the results thereof. The moral validity which he was able thus to bestow on his followers by branding them satyagrahis (truth’s martyrs)  was crucial to the preservation of their good conscience and for the provision of an inexhaustible stamina to see things through despite short term reverses. In the event, it took another 27 years for India to achieve Independence and one more year for Gandhi’s life to be ended by a fanatic Hindu assassin’s bullets.

A spiritual war

Which brings me to the second aspect of his philosophy. Gandhiji felt that there was a universal obligation to take part in the spiritual war going on between the forces of good and evil so that the forces of good must eventually triumph. This was the spiritual war forever going on within every individual, manifesting itself in the perpetual hankering after material wealth on the one hand and the yearning for spiritual fulfillment on the other. For Gandhiji this individual’s war had a cosmic significance because it was an integral part of the greater war between God and Satan.

For Gandhi, the means did not justify the ends. If the means employed were questionable the ends achieved would be corrupted. So the victory was contained in the struggle, and the means became an end in itself. Every one step rightly taken in pursuit of a just end was an achievement by itself.

It is against this backdrop that all of us in this hall today have to measure the contributions Gandhi made to the world. His mortal remains were cremated in Rajghat on 31 January 1948. The grief-stricken Nehru moaned that the light had gone out the lives of all those around him.

History, however, has proven that the eclipse was temporary. Gandhiji’s light has come back again and again relentlessly and undimmed to lead the way to the right path.

How can he inspire us in our daily lives? By kind courtesy of the family of H.H. Bhatt we have been able to exhibit a number of photographs of various events in his life. One in particular struck me with great force.

When Mahatma Gandhi arrived at the Round Table Conference on 12 September 1931, he was bare-headed, in open slippers, and clad in a cotton hand woven dhoti while the Englishmen around him were swathed to the eyeballs with winter woolies, hats and raincoats. How on earth did he not feel the cold?

Seven Deadly Sins: Its relevance

As for the relevance of his Seven Deadly Sins in this murky world we now live in, permit me to ask some questions against the back-drop of the banners which we have displayed around this hall.

Is that sadistic murderer of Canny Ong an isolated example or is his modus operandi becoming a pattern?  From the day I first met Razak Baginda, I felt he was destined for great things. What were the labyrinthine influences which have landed him in the dock in Shah Alam? Where did he go wrong?

When Science is galloping along world-wide to produce nuclear bombs in such number that we have now reached the stage where we can totally annihilate the world many times over, would it not be right to ask if Science is without Humanity?

As I examine today’s world through each spectrum of Gandhi’s  Seven Deadly Sins,  the monopoly of power that national governments have concentrated in their clutches stands in desolate contrast with their legitimacy and their moral authority.

Why the immunity for Ministers?

Getting to grips with this ideological void is the first step to initiating a turnaround.

With my lawyer’s hat on, let me say this.

Our Constitution contains an article that the prerogative powers of our Rulers are sacrosanct. That law was amended so that our Sovereigns can be sued in the Constitutional Court.

I find it very hard to reconcile myself to the numerous statutes which now provide that “the decision of the Minister shall not be questioned in a Court of Law”. The ISA is only one of them. You can find similar provisions in  the Industrial Relations Act and, of late, even in the Private Health Care Act, which came into force this year.

Has the immunity – or the impunity – thus conferred led us astray, especially when some Judges seem to have been contaminated with the same syndrome?

“Be ye ever so high, the law is above you,” was ever the hallmark of every true democracy. Rule of Law in other words – and not Rule by Law. I have often wondered why our Ministers don’t realise that the law is there also for their protection, and if they act within it society must respect and protect them.

If they put themselves above the law, why don’t they see that they have put their legitimacy at risk especially when it is so easy nowadays to accuse them of having a personal interest in the decisions they make.

The views I have expressed here tonight are my own and I take personal responsibility for them.

But as an adherent to the Gandhian precepts, my approach is that of  Abraham Lincoln after Gettysburg- Charity for all and malice towards none.

When a child cries, a mother gives it milk. Surely, it is good policy always to win over the discontents in our community by showing that the government also cares and shares.

Charities and NGOs can only do so much and no more. Government, however, has immense resources which can provide immediate relief.

Going to the aid of the needy can produces immediate results. Failure to do so can be perilously counter-productive. Is there a lesson for us to learn from the fact that so many of the victims of Hurricane Katerina were left with the feeling that they had been discriminated against by Bush’s failure to provide timely assistance just because they were born black?! 

As Jack Kennedy said: “to those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the High Court of History sits in judgment on each of us, recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the State, our success or failure in whatever office we hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:

First: Were we truly men of courage…?

Second: Were we truly men of judgment…?

Third: Were we truly men of integrity…?

Finally: Were we truly men of dedication?”

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi undoubtedly was.

Why can’t we?

Dato Mahadev Shankar is chairman of the Gandhi Memorial Trust. 

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