1869, northwest India.
A boy is born.
A timid and fearful child:
at night, scared of ghosts coming from one direction, thieves from another and snakes from a third!
At school, a mediocre student
So shy, he’d run straight home – he couldn’t bear to talk to anyone.
When he grew up, he studied law, but still his shyness crippled him:
he couldn’t even speak in court.
Struggling to find work,
at last he got a job in South Africa.
24 years old, the ship arrived at Durban,
He bought a first-class ticket and boarded the train.
A “coloured“ person in the first-class carriage?
The conductor ordered him to a lower class.
He refused, & was thrown off the train.
Then a stage coach ride to Johannesburg.
Inside with the white passengers?
The driver said: no way
He complained, & was beaten.
Ironically, these two acts of racist violence, rang the death knell of racism around the world
1930, he was Time magazine man of the year.
1999, Time’s second equal runner-up person of the century.
You may have guessed I speak of Mahatma Gandhi.
What transformed this shy timid youth to a bold leader,
liberator of India, inspiration of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela?
As I’ve read about Gandhi over the summer, two things stand out:
integrity and love.
Or to use his words, truth and nonviolence.
Gandhi’s whole life was a quest for truth.
He wrote “I live and move and have my being in pursuit of this goal.”
His autobiography “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” describes how
He observed, and experimented like a scientist,
and when he decided something was morally true, he did it.
Most of us read countless self-help books, it’s so inspiring, but we never put it into action
Gandhi read little, but lived what he read.
He was a man of his word
In his youth, he promised his mother to never eat meat.
Later, sickness threatened his life.
The doctors said he’d only recover if he drank meat broth.
But for Gandhi “a vow is a vow, it cannot be broken.”
So his language was simple and direct, with no deceit.
No secrets – When he made a mistake, he publicly apologised.
He practiced what he preached
A mother brought her son to Gandhi.
“Tell my boy to stop eating sugar”
Gandhi replied “bring him back in two weeks”
She did so; Gandhi told him “stop eating sugar”
Mother asks “why didn’t you say that two weeks ago?”
Gandhi: “two weeks ago, I still ate sugar myself.”
For Gandhi, the basis of the search for truth was
non-violence or harmlessness toward all living things.
A Hindu concept, but for him much more than just being vegetarian.
It meant non-violence & love in heart, mind, and all of life.
Most of us, when hurt, want to strike back: an eye for an eye.
British rule in India was often violent and unjust.
Many Indians wanted violent revolt
But Gandhi realised “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
In Jesus Christ on the cross, he saw the power of suffering love to change people for good.
And in Jesus’ teaching, he found a new way to fight for justice.
Jesus said “when your enemy strikes you on one cheek, don’t hit back, but turn the other cheek.”
Gandhi’s new tactic of “truth force” did just this
It fought brute force with soul force.
Gandhi believed those who enslave and oppress others physically,
enslave and oppress themselves spiritually.
So his fight was not just to free India, but to free Britain as well.
Truth-force loves your enemy.
Your opponent strikes you on the cheek,
By non-violence, you strike his heart, touch his spirit, wake his conscience.
This is not the way of the coward, but of the strong.
Yet 1000s followed Gandhi in peaceful, non-violent resistance.
They were beaten, arrested, imprisoned.
But they didn’t fight back.
They didn’t hate.
Amazingly, it worked.
This desperately shy youth, now a little old man in a loincloth, moved the world.
In 1947 India gained her independence.
Mahatma Gandhi, the Great Soul, is often revered as a guru.
But Gandhi always said anyone could achieve what he had.
“I am but a poor struggling soul yearning to be wholly good
– wholly truthful & wholly non-violent in thought, word, and deed…
I have nothing new to teach the world.
Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.”
1869, northwest India.