Statement for the Jewish Post
By Arun Gandhi
Respect for all people of the world, my grandfather, Mohandas K. Gandhi, believed can only come through the respect of all religions. Consequently, ever since my birth in 1934, I participated in universal prayers offered in a simple room at home with just an oil lamp in the middle of the circle of worshippers. We offered prayers from every major scripture of the world and grew up learning about the Saints and myths of each.
Our form of prayers came to be known as "Gandhian Prayers" and while grandfather was alive every morning and evening at 5 public prayers were held in whichever town or city he was visiting. This was widely known by all in India so that thousands congregated at the appointed time. Among the congregants were Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and the many other religions represented in India. It was through this daily practice that grandfather sought to bring about a quiet - a nonviolent - revolution among the people of India.
Now, more than fifty years after his death when India is devastated by religious strife people ask why was Gandhi not more forceful in transforming the people of India? Why wasn't a law passed? Or, did he really make an impact on the people of India with his universality or was it just another meaningless exercise in futility? To find answers to these and other related questions one needs to understand the philosophy of nonviolence which was the core of his life.
In nonviolence force of any kind is anathema. Grandfather always maintained: "We can change people's hearts only by love, not by law." The best way to express love is through sincere practice. In other words, living what we want others to learn.
In spite of his attempt to transform through love he did attract opposition from the rabid and rigid among the majority Hindu community. Members of the Hindu Mahasabha (Conference), which shares the philosophy of intolerance with the currently ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, made multiple attempts to assassinate Gandhi, a clear indication that grandfather was making a difference in the Indian society.
Grandfather often said: "A friendly study of all the scriptures is the sacred duty of every individual." He made the "friendly study" of all scriptures and found that while all of them contained gems of wisdom none of them could claim to have the "whole Truth."
As children growing up in his shadow he often told us a story from the Upanishads (Hindu Scripture) of six blind men who were asked to describe an elephant by feeling it. Each had a different perspective of the elephant because each was feeling a different part of the animal. Clearly, they were able to gain just a fraction of the Truth, yet what little they learned was not entirely untrue.
Our understanding of religion and its role in helping believers attain the Whole Truth or Salvation has a bearing on this story. Like the six blind men we have a fragment of the Truth and in our arrogance we mistake it to be the Whole Truth. It is this arrogance that leads us to believe that we "possess" the Truth as against grandfather's belief that we can only "pursue" the Truth. "Possession" leads to competition and strife, while "pursuit" leads to cooperation and understanding, the only way peace and understanding can prevail in the world.
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