Darkness cannot be fought with darkness. We need to light a lamp. Violence cannot be overcome with violence. We need to extend love. Hatred cannot be countered with hatred. We require compassion and forgiveness. All religions, scriptures and saints teach us these truths.
‘The solution for a problem cannot be found at the same level of thinking that had created the problem’. This is a statement attributed to the greatest scientist of the present era, Dr. Albert Einstein. The problems and challenges presented by divisive and sectarian narratives can be overcome only with the help of inclusive and universal narratives. ‘He drew a small circle and kept me out, but I drew a large circle and brought him in’. This Indian genius needs to be given practical expressions today if we are to save the nation from the dangers of the divisive and sectarian narratives that are gaining grounds in our country. This is an important and urgent task. Only inclusive and universal narratives alone can help us build a greater India and peaceful world. Discovering and promoting such inclusive and universal narratives is the task of the era ( Yuga Dharma) entrusted to us by history and destiny.
A tree can grow tall and big only if it is rooted deep in the soil where it is planted. A nation can rise to its greatness only if it is rooted deep in the best of its spiritual values and cultural traditions. The greatest of all revolutionary initiatives in human history has its roots deepest in tradition.
1. The Gandhian Narrative
Mahatma Gandhi has been referred to as the ‘father’ of our nation. His birth anniversary, October 2, is being observed as ‘International Day of Non-violence’ by the United Nations. This great son of Mother India had embodied in his own life all that is true, good and beautiful in India’s spiritual and cultural traditions. The image and history of modern India have been influenced greatly by the life and thought of this greatest non-violent revolutionary of the modern era.
“Mahatma Gandhi came and stood at the door of India’s destitute millions…. who else has so unreservedly accepted the vast masses of the Indian people as his flesh and blood… Truth awakened Truth.” - Rabindranath Tagore
“Not since Buddha has India so revered any man. Not since St. Francis of Assisi has any life known to history been so marked by gentleness, disinterestedness, simplicity of soul and forgiveness of enemies. We have the astonishing phenomenon of a revolution led by a saint.” - Will Durant
“For many, he was like a return of Christ. For others, for independent thinkers, Gandhi was a new incarnation of Jean-Jaques Rosseau and of Tolstoy, denouncing the illusion and crimes of civilization, and preaching to men to return to nature, to simple life, to health.” - Romain Rolland
The above quotes sum up the life and mission of Mahatma Gandhi. He was a man of God. He was also a man of prayer. ‘Ram Rajya’ was the vision and ‘Sarvodaya’ was the ideology presented by him to awaken, unite and motivate people in India’s struggle for political freedom. But he had also explained that his ‘Ram’ was not just the husband of Sita in Ramayana but was the Allah of the Muslims, the ‘Ishwar’ of the Hindus and ‘God the Heavenly Father’ of the Christians. ‘Sarvodaya’ was an ideology that aimed at the welfare of all. It had to begin with ‘Andyodaya’, the welfare of the last and the least. Gandhiji’s ‘talisman’ for the decision-makers was to recollect the face of the poorest man whom one has ever seen and to imagine in what way could one’s decision help that poor man to achieve ‘swaraj’ for himself. Gandhiji also advocated ‘production by masses’ instead of ‘mass production’, and ‘bread labour’ for all. According to him, science and technology had to be eco-friendly and people-friendly if they were to lead humanity to peace and happiness.
The Gandhian narrative had its roots deep in the spiritual and cultural traditions of India. It appealed to the hearts and minds of people across the Indian subcontinent. It led to the greatest non-violent revolution that the world has ever seen. Hence, it will be very useful for us to understand the foundational principles upon which Mahatma Gandhi had built his narrative. We will also see how best we can reinterpret them for our own times and create an effective and relevant narrative for peace and sustainable development in India today.
2. Five Foundational Principles of the Gandhian Narrative
In my study of the life, thought and mission of Mahatma Gandhi, I have discovered five principles that can make all of us effective instruments of God for a culture of peace and sustainable development in the world through interreligious dialogue and cooperative action.
Principles do not change but their applications need to be changed from time to time, place to place and context to context. Many years ago I was involved in a career of flying planes. The aerodynamic principles behind the fast flying fighter planes, the slow flying transport planes and the vertical flying helicopters are the same. Only their technical applications are different. Similarly, the spiritual principles do not change. Only their moral and social applications vary from place to place, society to society and context to context.
My efforts have been to discover the spiritual and scientific principles that Mahatma Gandhi had applied in developing his narrative. I have found that there are five principles that can be termed the ‘foundational principles’ of the Gandhian narrative. I have also been teaching and promoting them as the ‘Pancha Tatva’ of interreligious cooperation for a culture of peace and sustainable development in the world. These five foundational principles of peace and sustainable development are:
a. Rootedness ( Sthiratha): This principle implies that we need to be rooted where we are ‘planted’ by God. We are planted in a family, community, religion and culture by God. We need to imbibe and make our own the best of values and traditions of our respective families, communities, religions and cultures with mutual respect and appreciation. Ultimately, all of us have to be rooted in the One True God - the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Supreme Spirit – who is the source and ground of all life and existence. Religious conversions and cultural alienations often make us spiritual and cultural orphans. These are opposed to the principle of rootedness. Mahatma Gandhi was an Indian and a Sanatani Hindu. He imbibed and made his own the truth, goodness and beauty of the Indian and Hindu traditions that were capable of leading him to God. ‘God-realization’ was the professed ultimate goal of his life. His political involvement was also seen, accepted and acknowledged by him as an important part of his quest for God-realization.
b. Openness ( Udarata): ‘Openness’ implies being open to the truth, goodness and beauty in other religions and scriptures, in other cultures and traditions, and in other individuals and communities. We need to look at other religions, scriptures, cultures and traditions with respect and appreciation. Only an individual who is rooted deep in the truth, goodness and beauty of his/her own religion and scripture can be truly open to the truth, goodness and beauty of other religions and scriptures as well as of other cultures and traditions without being insecure or being threatened in any manner. The more we are open to others, the more we ourselves will be enriched. Human mind like a parachute functions best only when it is fully open. Small and closed minds create divisions and conflicts. Spiritual growth leads to expansion of consciousness. Only people with open minds and expanded consciousness can accept, appreciate and respect others. ‘Udaaracharitanam Vasudhaivakutumbakam’ (for the noble hearted, the whole earth is but one family) is the teaching of the enlightened saints and sages of India.
c. Simplicity ( Saadagi): ‘Simplicity’ implies keeping our needs and wants to the optimum. Mahatma Gandhi was a very simple man. Simplicity of life is the most effective antidote for consumerism. Simplicity means ‘an ethics of enough’, to be satisfied with what we have. This does not mean laziness and less wok. We should work hard and produce more, but keep our own needs to the optimum so that we can share more with others. Of course, we should love and take care of ourselves, but never to the extent of pampering ourselves or depriving others of their rightful needs and aspirations. The more simple our lives are, the more we can share our resources with others who are in need. Thus, simplicity is an outcome of openness. Mahatma Gandhi understood and applied this principle very effectively in his life.
d. Prayerfulness ( Prarthanamayata): ‘Prayerfulness’ implies being open to the living presence of God in one’s own life, in others and in the whole creation. Prayerfulness is an antidote for the dangers of consumerism and materialism. It is not saying many prayers. It is an expression of happiness and gratitude for the gift of life. It is living from the depth of one’s being. This is a common goal of all religions as understood and taught by Mahatma Gandhi. Prayer establishes a conscious connectivity with God, in whom we live, move and have our being. ‘Prayer’ can mean different things for different people depending upon the levels of their spiritual growth. It also varies from religion to religion.
Mahatma Gandhi was a man of prayer. He drew his strength for his non-violent political movement, the greatest of its kind in human history, from a deep prayer life. According to him prayer is the longing of the soul. “Prayer is not asking. It is the longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart”, he had pointed out. Only a person of simplicity and humility can truly pray with faith and hope. The more simple and humble a person is, the more prayerful he/she becomes. Prayerfulness is also an outcome of simplicity of life.
e. Non-violence ( Ahimsa): ‘Non-violence’ according to Mahatma Gandhi is love in action. It comes from a harmonious and prayerful life. ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma’ (Non-violence is the supreme virtue) is a dictum representing India’s deep faith in non-violence. Truth and non-violence ( satya & ahimsa) are the two constituents of the spiritual weapon of ‘Satyagraha’ that Mahatma Gandhi had developed to fight the ‘enemy’ non-violently. St. Francis of Assisi was an embodiment of non-violence. The wild and ferocious wolf was also a ‘brother’ to him. He was in total harmony with all life and whole creation. A culture of peace can emerge on earth only when we are awakened to the interdependence and interrelatedness of all human beings and all living beings. By harming others we are also harming ourselves. By destroying the nature we are also destroying ourselves. Non-violence is harmonious coexistence. It is an important virtue promoted by the different religions of humankind.
The Pancha Tatva of peace and sustainable development presented above that constitute the foundational principles of the Gandhian narrative are interdependent and interrelated. From rootedness comes openness, from openness comes simplicity, from simplicity comes prayerfulness and from prayerfulness comes true non-violence. A culture of peace in the world is impossible without true non-violence. These five foundational principles are like the five fingers of the Gandhian narrative. Rootedness is like the thumb. Openness is like the forefinger. Simplicity is like the middle finger. Prayerfulness is like the fourth finger. Non-violence is like the little finger.
3. Application of the Foundational Principles in a New Narrative
The five foundational principles of the Gandhian narrative, though drawn from India’s spiritual insights and traditions, are equally applicable all over the world and at all times. These are principles that can be accepted and adhered to by all peace-loving people and religious communities on earth. The challenge ahead of us, as I see it, is to give practical expressions to these foundational principles in the context of a ‘Second Freedom Struggle’ for the economic, social and moral freedoms that are yet to be won for India as pointed out by Mahatma Gandhi in his letter written from Delhi on 27th January 1948, just 3 days before his martyrdom. My new book ‘Vision 2020: Purna Swaraj’ is a creative response to this challenge.
I have presented through my book the vision of a great new India that will be a spiritually awakened, morally regenerated, economically prosperous and politically strong ‘Bharatiya Dharma Rajya’. This is the vision of a great new India that will be a mother of love and princess of peace in the world family of nations and a disciple nation of God on earth. Achieving the goal of ‘Purna Swaraj’ for India is only the first step towards realizing the vision of a ‘Bharatiya Dharma Rajya’. I have also tried to show how this vision of a Bharatiya Dharma Rajya is a vision that emerges from the depths of India’s own great spiritual and cultural traditions.
A vision needs an ideology behind it in order to sustain and enliven it. I have presented an ideology termed ‘Democratic Secularism’ for the new socio-political initiatives necessary to realize the goal of Purna Swaraj. Though I have presented this ideology as a ‘New Socio-Political Ideology’ in my book I must mention here that there is nothing really new about it. It is deeply embedded in the Constitution, history and culture of India. I have only given it a new form and a new name.
The vision and ideology need to be linked with a concrete action plan in order to make them bear fruit. Gandhiji had promoted a four-pronged action plan for the Freedom Struggle of India. It consisted of a socio-spiritual programme termed ‘Satyagraha’ to fight the evils of injustice and oppression, a basic socio-economic programme of spinning for economic self-sufficiency, an eighteen-point constructive action programme for non-violent social transformation, and issue-based political campaigns (like ‘Champaran Satyagraha’, ‘Salt Satyagraha’, ‘Non-Cooperation Movement’, ‘Quit India Movement’ etc.) for achieving specific goals and objectives.
I have presented in my book a basic socio-spiritual programme termed ‘Tyagarchana’, a basic interreligious campaign termed ‘Khushhaal Bachpan Abhiyaan’, five core values and five core principles of enlightened leadership, a network of smaller value-based political parties in India and non-party National Candidates termed ‘Democratic Secular Alliance’ (DSA), and a nine-point common minimum agenda termed ‘Gandhian Navaratna’ for this Alliance.
‘Khushhaal Bachpan Abhiyaan’ is an interreligious campaign of love for happy and healthy childhood for all children below 18 years of age in India. Purna Swaraj for India should begin with Purna Swaraj for children in India. The future of the nation is their legacy. Happy and healthy children constitute the most reliable measure of sustainable development and the strongest foundation for a culture of peace in the world. The Khushhaal Bachpan Abhiyaan was launched with an Interreligious Parliament termed ‘Vishwa Shanti Sansad-2017’ organized by Tyagarchana Shanti Mission at Patna on Aug 4-5. Tyagarchana Shanti Mission, an interreligious mission for peace and sustainable development initiated in 2014, is responsible to provide socio-spiritual foundation for the Second Freedom Struggle by promoting the Tyagarchana socio-spiritual programme and Khsuhhaal Bachpan Abhiyaan in India.
Four membership conditions termed ‘Rashtra Dharma Chatushtayam’ are also laid down for political parties and individuals inspired to join Democratic Secular Alliance.
The last Chapter of my book presents the outlines of a much-needed ‘Moral Corrective Force’ that can guide the nation in the path of truth and non-violence in the present era. Individuals inspired to join this Moral Corrective Force have to be free from all desires for power, pleasure, perks and privileges. They have to be ‘senior citizens’ with a clean track record of dedicated service to the nation. They also should support themselves and their activities from their own resources. Such men and women will constitute the much-needed Moral Corrective Force in India which I have termed ‘Dharma Rajya Vedi’ (DRV). Creation of the Democratic Secular Alliance, providing the necessary moral and spiritual guidance to DSA are national responsibilities that the members of DRV are called to fulfil without fear or favour.
In the history of every nation there comes a time when radical changes in its socio-economic and political systems and institutions become imperatives for that nation to survive and grow as a dynamic living force. India is faced with such a situation today. There is no point in finding fault with others, with the Government or with our political leaders. They are there because we have put them there. It is ‘We the People of India’ who have to change. We have to be free from the selfishness, greed, pride, anger and lust that are enslaving us, and become men and women of integrity, character, courage and compassion. This is the call of history and destiny.
May God bless Mother India! May God bless the Second Freedom Struggle! May God bless all of us!
(Published on 18th September 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 38)