Why Gandhi is relevant to your personal transformation today!
For Happiness, violent thought in you must cease
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.
What I learnt from Gandhi, The Man
Gandhi taught us the power and value of living intelligently!
A friend’s Facebook post caught my attention yesterday and set me thinking! My friend announced that he would unfriend anyone who made racist or unqualified remarks about Gandhi. And sure enough he did what he promised – he promptly unfriended those who shared unfounded sentiments about the great man! I liked my friend’s in-the-face approach. Over the past couple of decades, I have been noticing a disturbing trend. People seem to revel in Mahatma-bashing. From calling him names to questioning his ideology to even doubting his relevance, it almost seems like it is fashionable to shred Gandhi.
I have obviously not met Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. But I have studied him – not the Mahatma, not the Father of the Nation, not the political master strategist, but Gandhi, The Man.
My study of Gandhi almost never happened. Way back in 2007, there used to be a bookstore called Connexions opposite my office in R A Puram, Chennai. This was basically a gift store, with a collection of books that the owner personally curated. One afternoon, while browsing through the store, I found Eknath Easwaran’s Gandhi, The Man, staring at me. I liked the way the book defined its purpose – ‘to tell the story of how one man changed himself to change the world’. Around that time I was embracing mouna, the practice of observing silence for an hour daily. I had begun an inner journey, to understand my Self better even as I was asking several existential questions of me, of Life. While the book interested me, I did not pick it up. I had not heard of Eknath Easwaran then. And I didn’t think then that there was anything new a book could tell me about Gandhi, that I didn’t already know!
But just the next day, I read a newspaper interview in which Rajnikanth, yes – the Tamil film Super Star, named two books that changed his Life. One was Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama and the other was Eknath Easwaran’s Gandhi, The Man. I had known of Rajnikanth’s spiritual side, but didn’t quite imagine he would read books. Nor did I ever expect that he would name a rather unheard of book, that I had just stumbled upon the previous day. I rushed back to the bookstore and found Easwaran’s book still there. I bought it!
The book changed my Life.
I had for long been dealing with anger. People on my team called me chiefscreamer – punning on my title, chiefdreamer! That’s how lousy my reputation was. Reading Gandhi, The Man, helped me realize that anger was energy, which when channeled, could be deployed very constructively. I also learned from the book how beautifully Gandhi separated the issue from the people connected with it. He famously said, “I don’t hate the English, but I hate the way the English rule my country.” In a way, he practiced ahimsa, not just as non-violent action, as is popularly perceived, but as non-violent thought. But all of this, I realized, Gandhi ingrained in him thanks to his meditations of the Bhagavad Gita. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita ends with unveiling the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Krishna, replying to Arjuna, says (presenting here only the relevant extract that Easwaran too shares in Gandhi, The Man):
“…He lives in wisdom, who sees himself in all and all in him,
Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed
Every selfish desire and sense-craving
Tormenting the heart.
Not agitated by grief,
Nor hanker after pleasure,
He lives free from lust and fear and anger.
Fettered no more by selfish attachments
He is not elated by good fortune,
nor depressed by bad.
Such is the seer….”
Gandhi, according to Easwaran, meditated on this verse for 50 years every morning and night and devoted all his life to translating it into his daily action. This was the key to his self-transformation.
I have internalized the essence of this verse too. And I have seen myself transform from being stressed out, angry, worried and insecure, to being centered, anchored and at peace with myself and my Life. I am happy with what is. I work daily on continuing to remain unmoved and unfrustrated about all that which happens to me, around me. I owe this transformation in me to Gandhi for leading the way and to Easwaran for telling me, through his book, how Gandhi changed himself first before attempting to share his way of Life with the world. Just for this one reason alone, though there surely are several other reasons, I feel none of us must ever question Gandhi. We don’t have the right to do that unless we have achieved what he had in his lifetime – which is, to be the change that we wish to see around us!
More on why, when and how to “walk away” and the art of “non-suffering”
Don’t allow anything – or anyone – to make you suffer.
My blogpost of yesterday, and a similar point I made in another post from last week, that dealt with “walking away” from a confrontational or a debilitating situation, has elicited more queries from some readers. One felt that it is important for us to try and convince others of our point of view – while giving them airtime to voice their own. Another opined that “walking away” is a sign of weakness, that if we disagree with someone, we must have the “courage” to face them and debate the issue. Yet another wondered if not enjoining in a debate served any purpose at all – “what is the point of having a view if you can’t share it; perhaps someone will benefit from it, won’t someone’s view of Life change if you can convince them?”
So, let me use this opportunity today to further share my understanding and learnings here on why, when and how to “walk away”.
There are two kinds of people in the world. One who are mature, open-minded, constructive and non-combative. The other kind are those who are closed to others’ views and who are rabid to the point of being controlling and hostile. The first kind are simple to deal with. You can share whatever you feel like with them. And you can choose to disagree with them. They will debate only the issue and never get either personal or rabid with you. The second category, even if they are have a strong argument, do not know how to present it constructively, without affecting the dignity of the others concerned with the issue. They make every discussion a debate and every debate eventually ends up being a slugfest. It is this category of people that we must avoid wasting our time – and energy – on. It is from them that I advise walking away. Because, if they are going to disturb your inner peace, make you restive, anxious, angry and agitated, then it is not worth engaging with them at all. Bottomline: your inner peace is your responsibility – protect it, because nobody else ever will.
Therapists and counsellors advise a process called constructive confrontation in matters where people have divergent views. It is a very healthy method that allows both parties – let us say people in a divorce situation – to have an opportunity to present their views without being emotional about it, to listen to the other point of view, agree to agree or agree to disagree, and amicably settle matters or move on. But what do you do when the other party is unwilling or is simply incapable of being constructive? Why would you waste your emotions, your energy and a precious chunk of your lifetime on unproductive confrontations? It is in these contexts that “walking away” is a practical and intelligent response.
Of course, as it always turns out, not just people, sometimes even situations can be very debilitating. Now, when I say, “walk away”, I am not saying give up at the slightest sign of a challenge. I am only saying if you are suffering with something, with someone, in something, please don’t suffer, choose to walk away. Take my own case here. I have been, with Vaani, battling an enduring bankruptcy. But we refuse to give up. We face it every single day. It is very, very painful. Yet we are not walking away. And we are not suffering either. So, if you can deal with a tough situation or a hostile, abrasive or controlling individual, without suffering, by all means hang in there and keep plowing on. But if you are suffering, if your inner peace is disturbed, then remember, you do have an option to just walk away.
The key here is to be non-suffering. This is an art that can be learnt over time. I have learnt this too, the hard way though, and believe now that the best way to win any battle is not to fight at all. It is on this principle that Mahatma Gandhi based, and so successfully executed, our Independence movement way back in the early 1900s. He called it ahimsa. To be sure, ahimsa is not non-violence – it is the complete absence of violence even in thought. His famous line was: “I don’t hate the English. I hate the way the English rule my country.” So, in effect, “walking away” really means choosing to not suffer, by getting away from the source of negativity or debilitation, yet refusing to run away from the issue, facing it and taking it head-on. Like most spiritual concepts this is downright simple, easy to hold and practice. But if you analyze it and try to intellectually dissect it, you will never understand its value or soak in its essence. The best way to see how – and if – it works is to let go and let it work!