Gandhism Essay Examples

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Toward a World without War: Gandhism and the Modern World (National Museum Delhi, 1992)

This lecture was given by Mr. Ikeda at the National Museum in New Delhi on February 11, 1992.

It is indeed a great honor to have been invited to address such a distinguished audience here at Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, which represents and symbolizes the great spiritual heritage of India.

I would like also to express my deep and abiding respect for the important work carried out at Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, through which the immortal spirit of Mahatma Gandhi is being transmitted from the site where he lived out his life on into the future and to the entire world.

When Dr. Radhakrishnan visited Japan last autumn [in 1991], our talks at one point turned to the memory of our respective mentors and to the spiritual inheritance which is passed from mentor to disciple. It happens that today, February 11, is the birthday of Josei Toda, the second president of the Soka Gakkai and the man to whom I look as my personal mentor in life.

Born in 1900, Toda was some thirty years younger than Mahatma Gandhi. During the Second World War, at the time when Gandhi was engaged in his final struggles in prison, my mentor was also imprisoned for his opposition to the Japanese military authorities. Like Gandhi, Toda was a pacifist of profound conviction. He was also a leader of the people inspired by a deep sense of compassion. Finally, like Gandhi, he was a creative reformer who changed history. All of our activities for peace, culture and education stem from President Toda's efforts and from the spirit which we have inherited from him.

My mentor deeply loved and respected India. I know that it was his dream someday to visit India and hold in-depth discussions with the philosophers of your land. I am therefore overcome by the sense that, as I speak today, I am here together with, and on behalf of, my late mentor.

It is undeniable that our world has entered an age of momentous change--a period of transition on a scale that occurs perhaps once in a century, if that. We have seen the historical forces unleashed by the process of perestroika which Mikhail Gorbachev initiated surge forth, like waters bursting a dike or dam, to inundate and swallow their original impetus. And while it might be said that upheaval has characterized the final years of other centuries, the changes we have witnessed these past few years--from the collapse of the Berlin Wall to the dissolution of the Soviet Union--have far outstripped the expectations and predictions of any historian.

On the one hand, these events have lent credence to the idea that no form of authority or authoritarianism is capable of smothering the voice of ordinary citizens who aspire to their freedom. The other, equally undeniable aspect of these changes is that they threaten to set us adrift in new and uncharted regions of history, bereft of any guiding ideology or principle. The deeper the chaos that threatens, the more strongly I feel the need for us to lend our ears to the voice of Mahatma Gandhi, which quietly addresses and appeals to us, as if from the still depths that lie below the angry billows roiling the surface of history's current.

The following are the words that Gandhi addressed to Romain Rolland in December of 1931, when the latter was convalescent near Lac Leman in Switzerland:

"What is happening in Russia is an enigma. I have not discussed Russia very much, but I have a deep mistrust of the ultimate success of the experiment being carried out there. It seems to me that it is a challenge to nonviolence. It appears to be succeeding, but behind its success lies force, violence . . . When Indians are exposed to Russian influence, it leads them into extreme intolerance . . ." 1

For many of their contemporaries, sensing the approaching threat of fascism, the communist experiment in Russia appeared as a beacon of hope for humanity. At this time, the dark side of Bolshevism--its propensity to violence and terror--had not yet been exposed to the world; it is therefore not unnatural that even such an ardent pacifist as Rolland should see it as his mission "to be a link between the two Revolutions, Gandhi's and Lenin's, so that the two may come together at this hour to overthrow the old world and found a new order." 2

Given the historical circumstances and the limited information available to him, it is indeed remarkable that Gandhi should have been able to perceive, almost solely through the unique clarity of vision that was the product of his experience, the violence and intolerance which have since proved to be the inveterate afflictions of Bolshevism. Last August [in 1991], immediately following the failed coup attempt--the decisive event that led to the final collapse of the Soviet Union--the world saw the enormous statue of Feliks Dzerzhinskii, the founder of the KGB, being pulled down and trampled by the citizens of Moscow. As I watched that extraordinary image, I was once more struck by the sureness of Gandhi's vision which, unclouded by prejudice, enabled him to directly discern the essential nature of events.

As we approach the end of this century of unprecedented war and violence, we seek as our common goal the creation of a world without war. At this critical juncture what can we--must we--learn from this great philosopher--a man whose spiritual legacy could rightly be termed one of humanity's priceless treasures, a miracle of the twentieth century? Today I would like to offer my personal reflections on Gandhism, focusing on these four aspects--his optimism, his activism, his populism, and the holistic nature of his vision.

I would like first to address the matter of Gandhi's relentless and unshakable optimism. Optimism has been the mark of virtually every outstanding personality, whether philosopher or statesperson, since ancient times. It is, however, perhaps impossible to find an example that compares to Gandhi, of a person whose every action and accomplishment bears the mark of a pure and refreshing optimism, untainted by the slightest hint of showmanship.

As he himself said: "I remain an optimist, not that there is any evidence that I can give that right is going to prosper, but because of my unflinching faith that right must prosper in the end." 3 And on another occasion, this "irrepressible optimist" stated: "My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop nonviolence." 4

As these passages suggest, Gandhi's optimism was absolute and not relative. It was never contingent on his analysis of objective conditions or a prognosis derived therefrom. His belief in nonviolence and justice grew out of his absolute trust in humanity. This was an unconditional faith which he came to through a rigorous process of introspection, probing the very depths of his being. The indestructible conviction which he thus gained was something which not even death could take from him. In this I observe what I would term the true essence of Oriental deductive thinking, which always begins from a reflective return to the self.

Because it is unconditional, his optimism knows no deadlock or impasse. So long as one adheres to conviction, one's optimism holds out the promise of unbounded hope, vision, and victory. He taught us that there is no such thing as defeat in nonviolence, but that violence inevitably ends in defeat. In the quietude of his words, we sense an indomitable self-confidence, the triumphant cry reserved only for the soul that has achieved true self-mastery.

I believe that his state of mind, forged in the crucible of so many trials, was like the perfectly pure blue sky that spreads unhindered above the dark and heavy clouds. I believe that he maintained this state of mind throughout--even as he fasted in prison; even as he was forced to face the difficult question of whether to confront the fascist threat with violence or with nonviolence; even as he sought resolution to the tragedy and horror of communal violence in Bengal and Calcutta. It was this spiritual condition that sustained his optimism as he attempted to share with the Indian people, not the cowardly or servile nonviolence of the weak, but the "nonviolence of the strong," which is based on courage. It is on this spiritual plane that we find the true essence of Gandhism.

Even if one were to garner some immediate success by deviating from this basic principle, succumbing to the temptation either of human weakness on the one hand, or of violence on the other, one would have adulterated Gandhism, and would end up with something no longer worthy of the name. Nonviolence was the very lifeline of this man who was, in Rolland's words, "religious by nature; a politician of necessity."5 To him nonviolence constituted proof of our humanity; the question of worldly failure or success was always of secondary importance.

At times, this intensely philosophical way of life was a source of perplexity for comrades and sympathizers such as Nehru and Rolland who were unable to attain such heights. And indeed, when viewed over the short-term, his advocacy of nonviolent resistance to the Nazis might seem idealistic to the point of being unrealistic. From the longer perspective, and looking back over the history of the postwar period, I think that we must acknowledge the truth of this "voice in the wilderness"--which he continued to cry out even during war--that nonviolence represents the only means by which liberty and democracy can be "truly saved." The mistrust and pessimism which beset our age make even more urgent the need for Gandhi's brand of optimism, for his kind of proudly declared faith in humankind.

The next aspect of Gandhi's legacy which I would like to discuss is his activism. Throughout his life, Gandhi was a man of action. Once, when a Brahman suggested that he enter a life of meditation, Gandhi is said to have replied that while his days were devoted to efforts to attain the spiritual liberation of enlightenment, he felt no need to enter a cave for that purpose. The cave, he said, was something which he carried about with him. The quintessentially Gandhian humor of this episode gives us a wonderful portrait of the barefoot saint. In terms of the range and scope of Gandhi's activities, they are incomparably greater and wider than that of other advocates of nonviolence, such as Tolstoy.

His activism, however, should not be confused with mere action, something of which even animals are equally, if not more, capable. His activism, which contains many aspects of a spiritual "practice," is inspired by the inner urging of conscience. It is to do what must be done, and then to examine, with love and humility, one's accomplishments, to see where they have fallen short or gone too far. While he was a man of courageous and resolute action, he had the humility always to recognize reality and was entirely free from the kind of arrogance that seeks to monopolize all legitimacy. And although he was a person of unshakable conviction, he never sought a basis for that conviction in mere theoretical or logical consistency. He sought its basis in the depths of his own soul; thus the generosity of spirit and tolerance that enabled him to embrace all people.

"Good " he said, "travels at a snail's pace."6 On another occasion he wrote: "Nonviolence is a plant of slow growth. It grows imperceptibly, but surely." 7 The weight of these words, the profound impression which they leave with us, derives from the fact they are the quiet expression of the credo of a man whose beliefs and actions were in complete accord.

The image we have of Gandhi the activist stands in marked contrast with that of the revolutionary, the child of the radical ideologies that have held sway over so much of the twentieth century. Bolshevism, for example, has produced in great quantities the kind of hot-blooded revolutionary who, while dedicated and idealistic, has been given to narrow-mindedness and dogmatism. All too often such revolutionaries have not hesitated in their resort to violence when they have felt that it was required to realize their beliefs. In his most well-known work, Doctor Zhivago, the Russian poet Boris Pasternak denounces the apostles of this kind of radical ideology saying that they "have never understood a thing about life . . . have never felt its breath, its heartbeat." 8

Saumyendranath Tagore, nephew of the poet, was apparently a tragic example of this malady. Although originally an adherent of Gandhism, he later became a communist and came to criticize virulently, and work against, Gandhi. In his diaries, Romain Rolland describes the young man who had visited him thus: "He is without doubt a generous idealist, very sincere and ready to sacrifice everything for his faith. Which makes it all the more sad to see these fine forces, intelligent and pure, hurling themselves against the greatest and purest of Indians. The fatal madness afflicting the souls of individuals swept up in the whirlwind of revolutions! "9

There are those who, observing the process of the Soviet Union's dissolution, remarked that the Russian people had brought the process that started with the French Revolution to its conclusion. And in a certain sense, the death of communism can be termed the death of the ideology of radical rationalism which began with the French Revolution and was inherited by the Russian Revolution. Gandhi was quick to see the underlying weakness of this kind of ideology. "Rationalists," he wrote, "are admirable beings; rationalism is a hideous monster when it claims for itself omnipotence."10 Against this background, we are all the more struck by the deathless nobility of Gandhi's life of gradualist activism.

The third point I would like to discuss is Gandhi's populism, his extraordinary communion with the masses of so-called "ordinary people." In our increasingly democratic world there are great numbers of leaders who invoke the name of "the people." How many of them, however, could be truly said to be working on the side of the people and for their benefit? It is not going too far, I think, to say that the greater part of these leaders are in fact merely "playing the crowd," whom they secretly despise and whom they seek to use for their own purposes.

Gandhi, in contrast, was a genuine friend and father to the common people. His selfless and devoted life, lived in the very midst of the Indian people, whose joys and sorrows he made his own, his perfect and natural grasp of the popular mind--all these earn him the title of "saint." He asked himself: "Why should He have chosen me, an imperfect instrument, for such a mighty experiment? I think He deliberately did so. He had to serve the poor, ignorant millions. A perfect man might have been their despair. When they found that one with their failings was marching on towards ahimsa (nonviolence), they too had confidence in their own capacity."11 The overflowing love and willingness to suffer with the people which this passage gives voice to provokes in me a powerful emotion which I find impossible to restrain.

Nichiren Daishonin, the founder of the Buddhism which we practice, was born the unknown son of a fisherman. It was rather, however, with pride in his origins that he raised aloft the banner of his Buddhism of the common people. Gandhi's attitude toward the common people strikes me as bearing a profound relation to the Bodhisattva Way that forms the core of Mahayana Buddhism.

And yet, Gandhi's relationship with the people was not limited to what might be termed the "maternal" aspects of affection, love and compassion for the suffering of oppressed people. We cannot ignore the sternly paternal love with which he recognized the need for training and discipline to enable the people, by truly understanding nonviolence, to overcome their weakness and realize their own strength. This was no doubt the conviction which sustained him as he unhesitatingly committed himself to the oceanic masses of the common people.

"I have all along believed," he wrote, "that what is possible for one is possible for all . . . My experiments have not been conducted in the closet, but in the open."12 What he here refers to as "possible for one" is, needless to say, the nonviolence of the strong, a practice which, as he said, "implies as complete self-purification as is humanly possible."13 His struggle was always to make the lofty ideal of nonviolence "possible for all," and he ceaselessly urged and encouraged the people to be strong as he organized them into a mass movement without precedent or parallel. Einstein praised him as the greatest political genius of our age. But I think that it would not be excessive praise to substitute the words "human history" for "our age." His remarkable gifts were fully demonstrated in the brilliant success of the Salt March, carried out despite the skepticism and doubts of many. Underlying his political genius was his unique and penetrating understanding of the people.

One of those closest to Gandhi, and thus most able directly to observe these qualities, was his friend and ally Jawaharlal Nehru. In The Discovery of India, Nehru describes Gandhi's advent as "a powerful current of fresh air," "like a beam of light." The dramatic transformation which Gandhi effected in the public consciousness merits our particular attention. In Nehru's words, Gandhi "pierced the darkness and removed the scales from our eyes, like a whirlwind that upset many things, but most of all the working of people's minds."14

If the people were to be strengthened and reinvigorated, the first step must be to liberate them from the fear of authority created by long years of colonial rule, as well as the accompanying weaknesses of cowardice and resignation. Gandhi offers the following encouragement as to how the people are to gain and maintain their true strength. "Goodness must be joined with knowledge. Mere goodness is not much use. One must cultivate the fine discriminating quality which goes with spiritual courage and character."15 Goodness and strength must be joined to wisdom and intelligence if they are to have their full effect.

Nehru termed Gandhi's simple injunction "Be not afraid!"16 his greatest gift to the Indian people. It is the act of ordinary citizens freeing themselves from the fear of power and authority that heralds the dawn of a truly democratic era. In this sense, Gandhi's message will continue to illuminate future centuries as a gift not only to the people of India, but to all of the world's peoples.

Finally, I would like to touch on the holistic nature of Gandhi's thought and its larger significance for civilization. If one were to attempt to express in a few words the central flaw of modern western civilization, one would have to cite the sense of isolation and fragmentation which it has introduced in all areas of life and society. By this I mean the lines of separation that have been drawn between the human being and the universe, between humankind and nature, between the individual and society, between different peoples, between good and evil, between means and end, between the sacred and the secular, and so forth. In the midst of this ever greater fragmentation the individual human being has been forced into a state of isolation. Modern history, which on the one hand has been marked by the pursuit of human equality, freedom and dignity, has at the same time been the history of our increasing alienation.

Satyagraha: Essay on Gandhi’s Concept of Satyagraha!

Gandhi’s Concept of Satyagraha is an exceptional and novel way to resist evil. This is the heart and soul of the entire Gandhian theory and philosophy, and his exclu­sive contribution to the modern Indian political thought. Through this mechanism, Gandhi aimed at resisting any kind of unjust, impure or untruthful acts.

This concept also aims at furtherance of love and self-purification. Satyagraha can be regarded as a vindication of truth by taking self-suffering in the form of love. It is the weapon of the bravest and the strongest. It is an antidote for coercion. It was believed that Satyagraha enables elevation of spiritual and moral qualities of an individual.

The main function of a Satyagraha is not to injure the enemy by any means. It is an appeal to the enemy either through reason or by a gentle rational argument. It is something like a sacrifice of the self. Satyagraha has two positive features, viz., it showers blessings on those who practice it and secondly, it blesses those individuals against whom Satyagraha is practiced.

The concept of Satyagraha advocates that it is through suffering that there are achievements. For instance, just like a mother who takes all the suffering for the sake of a child, Satyagraha also takes all the pain for the cause of the fellow citizens.

This ideal also expounded that there is a direct relationship between the purity of the suffering and the extent of progress. It believes that the purer the suffering, the greater the material and spiritual progress. The theory of Satyagraha has three main purposes firstly, it purifies the sufferer; secondly, it intensifies favorable public opinion; and thirdly, makes a direct appeal to the soul of the oppressor.

Gandhi differentiated between the terms Satyagraha and Passive resistance. The former, according to him, is a moral weapon and the latter is a political weapon. The victory of the soul power over the physical force is reflected in the idea of Satyagraha. The former is dynamic, while the latter is static.

The ultimate aim of Satyagraha is to achieve success, despite his extreme sufferings, with cheerfulness and love unlike passive resistance that is undertaken in a situation of weakness and despair. Ultimately, Satyagraha offers a substantial and effective opposition to injustice and tyranny in comparison to passive resistance.

Techniques of Satyagraha:

Some of the major techniques of Satyagraha are non-cooperation, civil disobedience, Hijrat, fasting and strike.

The following is a brief explanation of each of the techniques:

Non-cooperation:

Gandhi was of the opinion that injustice prevails in the society only when both, the government perpetuates and the people extend their cooperation. Once this cooperation is withdrawn, then the entire system paralyses. It is widely accepted that even the most despotic leader cannot continue for long if he lacks the consent of his subjects.

However, a despot seeks the consent through force. But if the people are firm in revolting against the despot, he remains nowhere. Non-cooperation is, therefore, one of the weapons of Satyagraha to force the unjust and immoral power to rectify his mistakes. The main goal of non-cooperation is to strike the imagination of people as well as the social ostracism or picketing.

Hartal should be occasionally used based on the non-violent and voluntary measures. The social ostracism is a kind of social boycott against those who defy public opinion. Gandhi suggested in a limited sense, picketing as another weapon that relies on the force of public opinion. Non-cooperation cannot be regarded as a negative creed, but it is very much a positive philosophy of constructive and social development.

Civil Disobedience:

According to Gandhi, civil disobedience is an effective and blood­less substitute for the armed revolt. This is another method of violating the established order of the state in a non-violent and peaceful fashion. However, necessary care has to be taken to make the entire act more sincere, respectful and principled.

It should never be carried out with ill-will and hatred. It needs careful planning and practice and without this the entire act might lose its vitality and significance. Those who practice civil disobedience, according to Gandhi, must ensure that the violence and general lawlessness would not break out as it could disturb the peaceful environment in society.

Hijrat:

Etymologically, the term implies voluntary exile from ones permanent place of habitation. One of the main reasons for the people to resort to Hijrat is when they feel oppressed either due to loss of self-respect or honourable living; they attempt to migrate permanently to other places. In simple terms, it is a protest against the oppressor. Gandhi suggested this measure to the Harijans mainly due to their oppression, especially by the dominant classes in some places.

The Chaura Chauri incident prior to independence was a valid example of the Harijans and the Dalits who have taken the route of permanent exile as a form of their protest. Hijrat is, therefore, another non-violent method of protest that attempts to make the oppressor realize his inhuman and unjust acts of behaviour against the poor, the weak, just and innocent people.

Fasting:

This was another strong weapon suggested by Gandhi in his non-violent struggle for freedom. However, he was clear that this act of fasting must not be used as and when, and at every occasion. He stated that unwarranted use of the device would lose its importance, and for this reason he suggested that it must be sparingly used.

Gandhi was of the opinion that those who are spiritually fit and have purity of mind and thought, humility, discipline and faith should alone undertake fasting. It should not be viewed as the physical stamina, but the spiritual content of fasting that gives it greater significance and credibility.

Gandhi also expressed the opinion that if those who have no moral character undertake fast for either legitimate or illegitimate purpose, they would only devalue the act. He, therefore, suggested that the technique must be used with great caution and restraint.

Strike:

The last device a Satyagraha uses is the strike demanding justice for legitimate cause as well as the redressal of grievances. Strike is considered a voluntary suffering undertaken for the transformation of the erring opponent. Gandhi was not in favor of Marxist principle of class war and forceful takeover of the means of production from the bourgeoisie.

He was of the opinion that a firm or an industry is like a trust either under the capitalists and the labour. A strike is meant to end injustice, inefficiency, corruption and short-sightedness of the capitalists. However, in strikes adequate care has to be taken to ensure that it remains non-violent as well as peaceful and makes their demands meaningful, just and feasible.

Therefore, it can be stated that Satyagraha is a weapon for justifying individual rights as against the oppressive, coercive attitude of the Britishers. Gandhi initially used this weapon in South Africa and owing to its success there, he applied the same in India during the freedom struggle. His firm belief in two mighty weapons, namely, Satya and Ahimsa, made it clear to the entire world that the path of righteousness and justice would one day make anybody or any nation powerful on the earth.

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