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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mahatma Gandhi Today

Mike Ghouse, October 2, 2007

Mahatma Gandhi is one of the five humans on the planet who has impacted my life profoundly. He was a messenger of peace; his language nourished reconciliation, and his actions encouraged co-existence. Whether it is the conflict between Hindus or Muslims or with the British Raj, his words mitigated conflicts and directed one's thoughts and actions towards solutions.

He was one of the most powerful leaders we have had in the last two centuries. He did not want anything for himself, nor did he want to control anything or lead any one. All he wanted to do was create a society of mutual respect and co-existence. Every one always wonders how did he get to make people listen to his message of non-violence? The answer is simple; People knew, he gained nothing from what he does, but instead they gained from his effort. Indeed, those who are un-selfish have invincible moral strength. Nothing frightens them or cows them down. You will find the same commitment and moral strength in Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Rama, Buddha, Zoroaster, Mahavira, Confucius, Nanak, Baha'u'llah, Mother Teresa and so many other great souls. Muhammad is my other mentor who had all the power on the earth during his life time but lived a simple life, and told his own daughter that she ain't going to get a free pass to God, she has to earn it by doing good deeds, i.e., doing things for other's good. Every one of the above teacher's strength lie in one simple thing: Their sense of justice was strong as a mountain and they were absolutely un-selfish.

Mahatma Gandhi's non-Violence movement is a model that will last for centuries to come. Every great teacher listed above has taught the same message over and over again. The idea is that there is a balance of energy in every human, doing bad things deflates that energy and doing good things recoups it. You may have experienced the elated feeling of having a great day, when you helped someone in dire need. Non-Violence is a belief that the tyrant is blessed with the same energy, but is not aware of it and we have to help him realize it after enduring the suffering. Fighting out may bear the result for short run, but in the long run, the fighting and the avenging continues. Whereas the non-violence method of achieving the objective is sustainable, justice ultimately brings lasting peace, and non-violence sustains it, violence disturbs the balance.

I have a special connection with the Mahatma, and am making this disclosure for the first time in public. I have met the Mahatma twice in my dreams; first time was way back in 1971 when the Mahatma, the Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University Dr. Narsimaiah and myself were talking over a meal and he gave a pat on my back and told me that I have a lot of work to do. Then again in 2005, I saw him smiling at me encouraging me to continue with the work of Pluralism.

My message on this day is watch what you say; does it conflagrate the dialogue, does it make the opposing parties dig in? or does it propel people to work towards solutions. You can apply this formula at your work, home or any situation and see the difference. Be a winner, by making the others a winner too.

Mahatma Gandhi probably would have endorsed my view that, if we can learn to accept and respect the God given uniqueness to each one of seven billion of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge. That is the mission of the foundation for pluralism.

Today, October 2nd is Mahatma's birthday, may this day make our leaders think, and believe that there is a greater joy in creating peace. Here is a message from Arun Gandhi, Mahatma's Grand son. I am also honored to have shared the conference space with Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi as a co-speaker at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2006.


A Message from Arun Gandhi
Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi on Gandhi's birthday

Mahatma Gandhi would be disappointed -- and troubled -- by the growing religious intolerance here in America and around the world.

Yet, my grandfather would be a source of inspiration, guidance and strength -- as he would sit down with you -- to humbly offer his suggestions for meeting these difficult challenges.

Because in every part of the world: religious hatred and polarization are increasing. And extremists are fanning the passions of intolerance and fear (and sometimes outright violence) in the name of God -- and in pursuit of their narrow political agenda.

Here in America and elsewhere in the world, religious extremists have been quite successful in manipulating their view of religion for political and economic gain.

Like you, I have been disappointed to hear Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell misuse religion - by damning their political opponents, by claiming the partisan support of God, and by polarizing America with their extremist political agenda.

Meanwhile, some national leaders in Washington DC are now trying to divide the world according to religion - by oversimplifying and demonizing other religions and people.

As a board member of The Interfaith Alliance, and as an American, I've put a lot of thought into the problems we face as a people and as a country. You see, I have personally faced severe religious intolerance in Tennessee and elsewhere in America. And I've seen too much injustice and violence -- meted out in the name of God -- to allow these developments to go unchallenged.

I've also devoted my life to preserving my grandfather' s writings and furthering his tradition.

And I am absolutely convinced he would support the important reconciliation work of The Interfaith Alliance - which draws its supporters from over 65 faith traditions to work together to challenge religious political extremism - while promoting the healing role of faith in public life.

...I was fortunate enough to spend my teenage years with him, as Mahatma Gandhi calmed violent crowds - with only his frail body, famous walking stick, and words of profound wisdom.

In these difficult times, Grandfather Gandhi would remind us to:

1. Be open to the beauty of beliefs that are different than yours.

The Interfaith Alliance brings people from Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Catholic, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jewish traditions - to build better lines of communications and to point out the many things we all have in common - so we can peacefully address whatever may trouble us.

Resist the temptation to wall yourself off from all the fears in the world.

Don't play into the hands of extremists who say the best solution is to divide the world as well as people in America along religious lines.

Don't let the media and our current religious leaders scare us into mistrusting or hating our neighbors in the world - because they wear a head scarf, or speak a different language.

In this modern age, we are unavoidably connected to the world, and these futile attempts to wall ourselves off from people who disagree with us, is simply the wrong strategy.

2. A neighborhood is not a community.

A neighborhood is only a geographic distinction -- a place on the map.

In far too many neighborhoods, the residents don't even know the people on their block. And people who are different are often shunned, ignored, hurtfully misunderstood or harassed.

My welcome to Tennessee was also marred by harassing phone calls from a local preacher.

Every other morning for four months, a fundamentalist minister in the Religious Right would call my house at 5 or 6am - to tell me I was not wanted, I was an evil heretic, and that I should move from Memphis because of my beliefs and obvious dark skin. When you are faced with such ignorance and visceral agitation, I hope you too will find comfort, wisdom and strength in the teachings of my grandfather - and in the powerful examples of perseverance by people like Martin Luther King Jr., who was by the way gunned down in my town.

Likewise, I have not let this fundamentalist zealot silence me or stop me in my pursuit of a more just, fair, open, civil and peaceful community, country and world. Nor should they stop you!

My father was imprisoned many times in South Africa for his moral opposition to Apartheid, my cousin was assassinated by political opponents, and I've seen many decent, moral and good-hearted people spit upon, beaten up, ridiculed, banished, or even killed for their beliefs.

So, if I can do anything in honor of these enlightened souls, it's to encourage you not to despair.

Don't let the other guy win because he seems more powerful - or gets more media attention.

3. Popular support does not validate the "correctness" of our opponents.

Mahatma Gandhi spent most of his life (as have I) trying to defend the rights of persecuted religious sects or ethnic groups who were being ignored, discriminated against, or slaughtered.

Time and time again (as in America right now), the dominant forces believed in their moral superiority because of their apparent strength in numbers at that point in time.

Some Americans are even suggesting that proper morality or ethics can only be found in their narrow view of ultra-conservative Christianity or whatever extremist vision they're promoting.

But grandfather told us and showed us that the soundness and fairness of our ideas will ultimately prevail -- regardless of the size or power of the opposing forces - IF we show the required tenacity, inner strength and flexibility required for the longer struggle for justice.

And his storied life demonstrated the power of love, forgiveness, patience, conviction, nonviolent activism, polite discourse, and a search for common ground and better understanding.

That's why I hope and pray that you will support a citizens group here in America that is trying to carry forth my grandfather' s vision for interfaith cooperation. The Interfaith Alliance offers us an intelligent, sober and resourceful mainstream alternative for reconciling the religious animosities now plaguing us.

The Interfaith Alliance has also shown: there is much more that unites us here in America and around the world amongst religions, than divides us. And calmer heads like yours are needed. So, please help us to promote the positive and healing role of religion in public life and compassion, civility, and mutual respect for human dignity.

While grandfather would admit that, "Democracy necessarily means a conflict of will and ideas, involving sometimes a war ? between different ideas," he would also point out that claims of religious supremacy are dangerous - if not challenged by fair-minded intelligent souls like you.

Fundamentalists have created an explosive atmosphere all over the world.

Whether it's Christian extremists here in America, radical Hindu nationalists in India, or Muslim fundamentalists in the Middle East or South Asia: these religious extremists have exploited their religion and followers -- to debase and misinterpret other religions and people.

And the violence and hatred they preach only leads to more destruction and polarization.

While we can be respectful in our protest and civil in our activism, we cannot afford to sit back and allow the Christian Coalition or any other group claim that our government should adopt one version of religious beliefs for its policies and laws.

Nor can we allow any fundamentalist group to claim that God supports their political agenda while your religious beliefs or political leanings are labeled "evil" or shameful in the eyes of God.
The violence in the Middle East is a visible reminder of the divisive power and awful human toll of religious disagreements when combined with politics.

These religious conflicts also point out the important role for voices of moderation.

So, won't you stand up with me for sensible dialogue and cooperation among religions?

...[We] need to remember the Golden Rule. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other powerful historical figures have likewise urged us to love our enemy. Mahatma also pointed out: "Love is the subtlest force in the world."

He said we need to respect people who may be different, and this requires much more of us than merely tolerating people's differences. With "tolerance," you could believe you don't need to like or even talk to the other person - the stranger, the foreigner, and the "infidel" -- and we all lose. The point is: showing respect requires much more effort, more humility and more understanding.

Respect only comes about when we learn more about one another - and this is one of the most important functions of The Interfaith Alliance - as it pulls together leaders and adherents from more than over 50 different faith traditions - for open dialogue and respectful cooperation.

Mahatma Gandhi learned many lessons from his long battles to end discrimination, to lift the standards of living for the Untouchables, to prevent violence, and to overthrow the strongest imperial power on the globe when India won its independence from Great Britain.

One simple reminder he left us is:

4. Listen to your inner voice ? and become the change you wish to see.

We all have a tendency to wait for the other person (particularly our opponent) to make the first move - to change before we are willing to change.

We also know the path of hate, retribution and a thirst for "an eye for an eye" justice will make the whole world blind.

And Mahatma Gandhi taught us that it's important to start with yourself in seeking the transformation you want to see realized in the world and in your community. He would gently remind you that we all have an obligation to do our part, no matter how difficult the task may seem.

Inspirational Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi

# There are times when you have to obey a call which is the highest of all, i.e., the voice of conscience even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear, and even more, separation from friends, from family, from the state to which you may belong, from all that you have held as dear as life itself. For this obedience is the law of our being.

# The test of friendship is assistance in adversity, and that too, unconditional assistance. Co-operation which needs consideration is a commercial contract and not friendship. Conditional co-operation is like adulterated cement which does not bind.

# Non-cooperation is an attempt to awaken the masses, to a sense of their dignity and power. This can only be done by enabling them to realize that they need not fear brute force, if they would but know the soul within.

# Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

# Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.

# It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.

# Democracy is an impossible thing until the power is shared by all, but let not democracy degenerate into mobocracy.

# They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.

# I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

# Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.

# Whenever I see an erring man, I say to myself I have also erred; when I see a lustful man I say to myself, so was I once; and in this way I feel kinship with everyone in the world and feel that I cannot be happy without the humblest of us being happy.

# I have but shadowed forth my intense longing to lose myself in the Eternal and become merely a lump of clay in the Potter's divine hands so that my service may become more certain because uninterrupted by the baser self in me.

# An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody will see it.

# Even as wisdom often comes from the mouths of babes, so does it often come from the mouths of old people. The golden rule is to test everything in the light of reason and experience, no matter from where it comes.
# Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

# Fear is not a disease of the body; fear kills the soul.

# The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems.

# An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

# Weeding is as necessary to agriculture as sowing.

# Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities.She has the right to participate in the minutest details in the activities of man, and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him.

Arun Gandhi, one of The Interfaith Alliance's Executive Committee Members at-Large, is a prolific author and co-founder of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis, Tennessee. The mission of the Institute is to teach and to apply the principles of nonviolence and resolve personal and public conflict. Mr.. Gandhi is the fifth grandson of Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi and grew up in South Africa during the system of apartheid. He learned from his parents and grandparents the importance of creating social change through nonviolent acts. Drawing on these lessons, he and his wife dedicated their lives to improving their Communities. In India, they designed and implemented programs that address social and economic depression reaching over half a million people, and the programs continue to grow. Most recently, Mr. Gandhi and his wife Sunanda co-authored, The Forgotten Woman: The Untold Story of Kastur, the wife of Mahatma Gandhi. They lecture worldwide, but are based at the Institute in Memphis.

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Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is president of the and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He is the founding president of the with a simple theme: "Good for Muslims and good for the world." His personal Website is and his articles can be found on the Websites mentioned above and in his Blogs: and Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at

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