Why Gandhi is relevant to your personal transformation today!


Why not practice ahimsa on social media?

It is a good way to make our digital space compassionate and heart-warming!

The vitriolic reactions on social media to Tarun Vijay’s purported statement about South Indians is disturbing. I too found his comment shallow. But I responded posting lyrics of famous Bollywood songs, celebrating dark-skinned people, on my Facebook timeline. “Hum Kaale Hain Toh Kya Hua, Dilwale Hain…” (Gumnaam), “Gore Nahin Hum Kaale Sahi…Humsa Ek Nahin…” (Desh Premee). Clearly, I don’t see the need for so many people to demonstrate so much angst against what can, at best, be termed an immature point of view. Tarun, to his credit, has clarified that he never intended to hurt anyone’s sentiments. But in all the social media din, his clarification has been drowned; it is lost in all the hate that’s being hurled at him.

Of course, racism in any form must be strongly condemned. So, I am not advocating that we condone it. All I believe is that we, as a people, as a society, seem to be investing so much of our productive time, energy and emotions in reacting on social media. And almost all reactions, at most times, are steeped in hatred and divisiveness. It need not be so. An eye for an eye is not called for at all. It will serve no purpose. I have learnt that ahimsa does not only mean non-violent action; it also means non-violent thought. And if we deploy ahimsa thinking in our social media posts, we can make our digital space so much more compassionate and heart-warming.


I don’t want to belabor this point by being preachy. But I do find a simple post that celebrates being human far more enriching to engage with than a well-argued, data-driven post that tell us what’s wrong with our world or than one that spews venom at someone who is unscrupulous or who does not know how to conduct themselves in public Life.

On our morning walk, we see gentleman who walks with a group of noisy men who opine loudly on the previous day’s political developments. The group’s pointless chatter can be heard from a street away. But the man walks silently in group. We don’t know him. He doesn’t know who we are. But every day, unfailingly, when he passes me and Vaani, he will make it a point to look at us and beam a big smile. In writing today’s blogpost, and in discussing the angsty behavior most people display on social media, I found it pertinent to point out the man’s smile in contrast to his group’s mindless cacophony.

I guess you now know what I am encouraging all of us to do.

The one who is angry is often helpless

Being angry with a situation and expressing your anger on everyone and everything around you is never an intelligent response.

I watched a beautiful Malayalam film the other day called Manjadikuru. Made by Anjali Menon (of Bangalore Days fame), the film tells the story of a family as seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy, Vicky. One of the protagonists of the film is a man called Raghu (played by Rahman). And Raghu is forever angry with his family – with his brother and his sisters. Raghu’s anger seems often irrational and habituated. As in one moment he could be complaining about his brother’s decision to turn a Naxalite, abdicating his family responsibilities, and the other moment he could be ranting about his sisters flocking together only to seek a share in the family wealth. So, Vicky, while narrating the story, concludes that his big learning watching Raghu’s bouts of anger is that those who are angry are often helpless.
Anjali Menon (who is also the writer of the film) shares a phenomenal spiritual insight there. Something that I can totally relate to. I used to be prone to senseless bouts of anger too. I once remember, as a 20-year-old, flinging my shaving razor at our television – which left it cracked – because I could not have a reasonable, logical conversation with my parents. Years later, when these anger spells had become far too frequent and had begun to ruin my professional stature, I discovered that each time I lost it, I was choosing to express myself in a violent sort of way only because I was unable to control what was going on or what others were saying or doing or because I was unable to convince someone. Bottomline: my helplessness was manifesting as anger.
Through diligent practice of mouna (daily silence periods), I learnt that your helplessness is nothing but a ego-based position. Why do you need to convince anybody? You have a right to your opinion. And they have a right to theirs. It is only when you try to force your view on someone and you fail, it is only when you try to control a situation and you fail, that you get angry. But the truth is that you never were in control of anything or anyone. Things just happen. People just behave the way they want to. So, just go with the flow. There is no need to be angry. And even if you do experience anger, channelize it constructively. Anger is nothing but the energy within you. Don’t squander it through violent thought, expression or action. Simply use it to drive change in a logical, legitimate fashion. This is what Gandhi did to practise ahimsa and help secure India her independence. This is what anger, when used constructively, can eventually yield.

So, if you are experiencing too much anger within you, pause and ask yourself if you are responding so only because you are helpless? In asking that question, you may well unlock the way to a lifetime of inner peace.

Fight the good fight, fight the issue, but forgive the person

When people behave irrationally, trampling upon you, it is time for you to practice forgiveness.
There is no point in grieving over others’ behavior. Because you have no control over them. What you can control is how you react. Forgiveness needs to and must be cultivated. This does not mean you give up your stand or stop being firm in a situation. Fight the issue, fight the good fight, be dogged about what you believe is right, including the way you want to be treated, but forgive the person.
The practice of forgiveness involves training your mind using three steps: 1. Give the situation love. Send peaceful thoughts and energy to that person. This may be initially difficult, because the very thought of that person may make you feel angry. But keep at it. Keep saying, “May everything that this person wants to achieve in Life, and with me, be possible and may there always be light, happiness and peace in this person’s Life”. 2. Find ways to communicate to the person what your stand or views on the issue you are fighting over are. Avoid getting even. Stick to the point. Text messaging or sending a simple email are good options for such a purpose. Remember a physical interface can only aggravate and lead to a verbal duel. 3. Work hard on not revisiting that hurt. Immerse yourself in what gives you joy. Music, children, work, nature…whatever; keep reminding your mind that you don’t want to think about the hurt.  The most important reason why you must forgive and move on__irrespective of your stand on the issue__is that you__and I__are created to be happy and not in grief. You may, however, stick to your stand on the issue itself, doing whatever it takes to right the wrong that you believe has been committed.
Gandhi led the way and his Life with this idea of forgiveness. He would always champion this in his practice of ahimsa: “I cannot hate anybody, least of all an Englishman. But I hate the way the English rule our country and will fight their way till the very end.”
Big learning there. Holding on to a resentful episode at a personal level means you are continuing to hurt. This will only chew you up, keep you unhappy and in pain. When you walk away, with forgiveness in your heart, from a hurtful, resentful situation, you are walking tall. And you are walking away happy. Doesn’t that matter the most?

Stop being a ‘thought terrorist’!

You are human first. Your gender, your religion, your nationality, your qualifications and your income come later and, quite honestly, don’t matter at all.
Misbah Quadri
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu
This morning’s Hindureports the shocking story of a 25-year-old young lady, Misbah Quadri, being denied accommodation in all of Mumbai just because she is a Muslim! “Mumbai – of all places?” I thought. If Mumbai has become so parochial, the rest of India may well be damned! But this is not an isolated story or occurrence. The other day I was at a friend’s place for dinner. And he openly acknowledged that he would never rent his apartment to Muslims. He confessed: “Call me conservative or anti-Muslim, I cannot simply trust people who belong to that religion.” My friend is educated, widely traveled, does business globally and yet he holds such a regressive view? Within my own family, I have someone who cannot refer to Muslims without using an expletive alongside. This is a sad trend and needs to be condemned with as much intensity as it is being propagated.
When I think about it deeply, dispassionately, I believe we are finding it convenient to generalize and to hide behind our insecurities and flawed assumptions. While it is true that most acts of terror in the world are conducted by Muslims, it is wrong to imagine that all Muslims are terrorists. Perhaps, people find it simpler to banish an entire community because they have never tried to – or wanted to – be discerning in their judgment. Another reason why people cannot understand or appreciate Muslims may be because of their inscrutable practices, rituals and traditions – from circumcision to Muharram to the ubiquitous burkha. But that is no valid argument. Every religion, the way each of us is raised, every community has its own idiosyncratic methods and beliefs. If you find a burkha restricting women empowerment, then you should find the Hindu practice of disallowing girl children from performing the last rites of a dead parent equally restrictive. A sandhyavandanam can be as banal as Muharram if you don’t understand the significance of either.
I think there are as many reasons to divide humanity in this world as there are people on the planet. We don’t need to invent newer ways or choose to alienate a particular community or religion just because we don’t know or understand someone or something. Those who think they are very smart in exercising options such as the ones my friend has chosen, or what building societies in Mumbai have chosen against young Misbah, are actually sick in their heads and hearts. The very thought that you can discriminate against someone just because he or she belongs to a particular community or religion is an act of violence. As Gandhi would say, it is himsa (violence) of the highest order. It is worse than the acts of terror that kill people around the world each year. We must drop this tendency to be violent in our thoughts, in our perceptions, that lead us to discriminate against fellow human beings – urgently and wholeheartedly.

Fundamentally, let’s remember that there are only two kinds of people in the world. Humans who practice love and compassion. And humans who indulge in hatred and violence. If you cannot immediately decide which category someone belongs to, it is fine. But don’t imagine they belong to the latter category just because they come from a community that you think is redoubtable. If you do that, in the absence of valid, irrefutable evidence, unfortunately, sadly, you will be indulging in himsa too! When you discriminate against someone, you are being violent in thought. And, to be sure, thoughts can kill – they are like cancer, chewing away humanity! So, unless you are one, stop being a ‘thought terrorist’! 

The enduring relevance and power of Truth and Ahimsa

Truth and Non-Violence are the only two real assets that you possess. Nobody can take these away from you. No recession can erode its market value. They are eternal, importantly, practical, assets that are as relevant today as they were in Mahatma Gandhi’s time.
In fact, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, an ordinary barrister at law, a man as trapped in worldly affairs as you and I are, transformed to become ‘mahatma’ (great soul) because he discovered these assets within him. These two transformational tools that are in our arsenal but we don’t deploy them because we think they are outdated concepts that don’t work. Wrong. I have lived, experienced and learned to report that they work. Big time. And are the only two weapons or resources that we need to survive the vicissitudes of Life.
Truth is not just about seeing, saying and doing the right thing. In fact, ahead of that, comes the realization that all Life is equal. This is the whole, the absolute truth. In front of this truth, all else pales in significance, everything is stripped naked. Apply this truth in real Life, in today’s world. You are plagued by worries of job security, of not getting a visa, of an unknown, scary future because you are out of job, of death because you are terminally ill. Now ask yourself why do you want this worry to cede, to go away? So that you can live in peace. To do what? So that you can die in peace. Now, therefore, if there is birth, you agree, you know, that death will happen sooner or later. If all of us have to eventually die, and we know that is inevitable in the future, why worry? Why wonder if we will have a job, a marriage, health and so on? Why not chooseto live in peace even now? The truth is that whoever you are comparing yourself is alsohuman. And so will eventually die too. When you awaken to the reality that all Life is equal, you start valuing Life and begin to live in the present.

Non-Violence is not just the absence of physical violence as Gandhi discovered. He found, understood, practiced and taught it as ‘ahimsa’. Which when understood from the original Sanskrit implies that ‘when all violence in the human heart subsides, the state that is arrived at is intense love’. None of us is physically violent at most times. We don’t go about hitting each other or killing people. But there is so much violence in our hearts. We hate people, we hate attitudes, we hurl abuses at each other, we swear on the roads, we wish pain and suffering to those who cause them to us. All this, Gandhi classified as violence. And pointed out that when we are filled with so much metaphorical, verbal, emotional violence__hatred__how can we go to our native state of love? From the neighbor who insensitively parks his car outside your garage to the colleague who plays petty politics at work to the tyrant boss who does not regard merit to the government official who demands a bribe from you to the guys on the street who eve tease your daughter, we are hating someone, somewhere, all the time. When so much instinctive, intuitive hatred fills our Life, where is the scope for love to prevail?
Gandhi was inspired by the Buddha’s teaching that ‘when one person hates another, it is the hater who falls ill__physically, emotionally, spiritually.’ Gandhi employed these two tenets of Truth and ‘Ahimsa’__intelligently to first transform himself and then the world. He called this process ‘satyagraha’__which means nothing but ‘truth in action’, and is certainly not some vernacular jargon for describing a protest methodology. Gandhi proved through practice that you can fight any battle, even an army, with just these two weapons. To be sure, he did notsay that we must not fight for our rights, for what is right or for justice. He only said that we fight it with non-violent means and while upholding the truth of our creation as equals. He explained this, in his context, thus: “I do not hate the domineering Englishmen as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus. But I can and do hate evil wherever it exists. I hate the system of government that the British people have set up in India.” Gandhi’s philosophy, then and now, remains a game changer.

I have learnt the futility of imagining that we are all created different__and grieving and suffering from comparing, from pining and from staying rooted to an I-don’t-have mentality. I have learnt that violence in the heart is more destructive, more lethal than all the arsenic and all the RDX in the whole world__it burns you day in and day out, and leaves you emotionally charred. I used to be called ‘chiefscreamer’ at work (my colleagues invented this, punning on my work title that says ‘chiefdreamer’) and my choicest vitriolic abuses were even compiled as AVIS-isms by some of my more creative colleagues. But when I discovered the potency of ‘ahimsa’, and practiced it, I now realize that getting angry is an option, not a necessity. And when I do get angry and agitated, an inner alarm goes away, calling me back to attention and mindfulness. These two tenets that Gandhi lived and taught have transformed me and my Life. They can do so to you too. As Gandhi himself claimed: “I have not the shadow of a doubt that any [one] can achieve what I have, if he would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.”