Practice non-violent thought – be the change

To find inner peace, learn to practice non-violence – to ensure non-violent thought – within you!
No one practised this better than Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthday it is today. He taught the world the power of courage, the courage of non-violence. And he didn’t talk only about physical courage or summoning physical courage. He championed non-violent thought. He truly celebrated the spirit of Ahimsa – which does not simply mean non-violence as the English translation suggests, but is about non-violent thought. Gandhi was, to be sure, the original Angry Young Man (much ahead of the venerable Big B on Indian celluloid) as Shyam Benegal’s classic The Making of the Mahatma (1996) portrays. Of course, through the famous railway platform experience of Pietermaritzburg of June 7, 1893, Gandhi’s anger against the British establishment had led him to pursue a path of confrontation with the Empire – and he launched his historic crusade then – but Benegal’s film shows how Gandhi understood his tendency to lose his temper and how he conquered rage, replacing it with non-violent thought. Incessant practise through his years in South Africa, through engaging himself in service and daily meditation, Gandhi became an embodiment of love and compassion. This is what led him to employ non-violent thought – Ahimsa – as a key weapon in uniting 300 million Indians, who were as disjointed then as they are now, without even the boon of technology we are all blessed with today, in the struggle against the British empire. 10 days before his assassination, on January 20, 1948, someone, believed then to be a Sikh youth, hurled a bomb at a gathering Gandhi was addressing. The bomb missed the target and Gandhi survived. A group of Sikhs called on Gandhi the next day to clarify that the assailant, who was by then arrested, was not a Sikh. Gandhi rebuked the delegation for playing the religion card. He said, irrespective of which religion the youth belonged to, he only wished him well.
There’s great merit – and an urgent need – to reflect on Gandhi’s Life and message today. Not that any of us, busy with our unpauseable lives, even has half-a-chance to change the world and make it more peaceful. But we can focus on ourselves. And change ourselves. Every time we find a violent thought rising in our minds, we can quell it. We can make a small beginning instantaneously and slowly build on it. For example, each day, subconsciously, when we swear to ourselves over the conduct of a fellow road-user or at the slimy machinations of a colleague at work or at the dishonesty that is prevalent in public Life or at an insensitive act of a neighbor – when we even say words like idiot or f@*$ or ba#@$*d – let us remember we are encouraging violent thought. The less violent we become in our minds, the more peaceful we will be in our souls. And the more peace we are within, the more peaceful our worlds will be. This cannot happen by merely wishing for change. This can happen by being, as Gandhi famously said, the change!

Weed out expectations to free yourself from anger

You have a right to be angry with people, circumstances and Life itself! But don’t let your anger consume you. For, as the Buddha has said, “You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by it!”

How many of us enjoy being angry? No one, in fact, does. Anger is one of the most wasteful emotions. It makes you lose your equilibrium and leaves you hurt, bruised, injured and grumpy. Yet we all succumb to anger almost all the time. Clearly, anger is our quickest, easiest reaction to an expectation not being fulfilled.

To deal with anger, understand its anatomy carefully. Go to its root. If you work on the periphery, at the symptoms, you will not be able to get over anger. By getting angry with someone or something, you are only transferring the energy released by your anger to someone else. Then that someone releases it on someone else. And so the ruinous chain continues. So, go beyond the periphery if you want to halt this chain reaction. You have to go to the cause of what’s making you angry with people and situations. When you go down to the cause, you will find that despite the contexts being different, all causes boil down to being the same __ you got angry with someone or something because what you expected was not done, delivered or did not happen. So, whether it was coffee being served cold at a restaurant or the long queues at security at the airport or a distasteful meeting at work or a showdown with your companion at home, at the bottom of all of these is the common thread of your expectations remaining unfulfilled. And this cause is what makes you angry in a myriad situations.

So learn get to the cause, the bottom, of your anger. Expunge all expectations from your Life. Understand this well. Wishing is not wrong. But the expectation that your wish will be fulfilled, simply because you wished it, is what is ruinous. Some of our wishes in Life will still remain unfulfilled when we die. Accept this reality. Then when the coffee arrives cold, your mind does not rush to think of a conspiracy by the restaurant. Or being in a long queue becomes an opportunity to drop anchor and meditate than to crib and lament. A distasteful meeting then becomes an opportunity to decide not to attend such timewasters in the future. And the showdown at home will never be because you will be more compassionate than complicated!

Don’t try to avoid anger though. That will be equally disastrous. Because anger is, interestingly, a natural response to and in Life. It is also an incredible amount of energy released and available for productive use. Avoiding it therefore will not help. Channelizing it well will instead result in bringing out lasting changes that make the world a better place__that’s what Gandhi did with his anger at being thrown out of that first class compartment in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa in June, 1893. At a deeply personal and everyday level, getting to anger’s root though, and weeding out the expectations that cause anger, is what will help us live more peacefully despite the people and circumstances in our lives. If we can use some of that energy available to make this world a better place, great. But even if we manage to make ourselves better, a wee bit, every single day, won’t the world already be a lot better than it is?