Ocean Of Compassion

June 01, 2015

Every week, we feature excerpts by Gandhi that lend insight into his values and personal practices.

On the occasion of the birth centenary of Tosltoy, Gandhi covered an incredible range of topics pertaining to his inner journey. While he said that "right way of performing the 'shraddha' of our elders, on their death-anniversary day [to pay homage to one's ancestors], is to recall their virtues and make them our own", he shared a lot of the inspiration he got from Tolstoy's life, from truth to love, to nonviolence, to bread labor, to swaraj, to compassion. Here's an excerpt of the remarkable speech:

September 10, 1928

"The sages and seers of this country have made the biggest discoveries in the sphere of nonviolence. But we cannot live on inherited wealth. If we do not continue to add to it, we would be eating it away. The late Justice Ranade has cautioned us against this. We may complacently quote the Vedas and Jain literature and talk profound things, or propound great principles and strike the world dumb, but people will not believe in our sincerity. Hence Ranade pointed it out as our duty that we should add to our inheritance. We should compare it with the writings of other religious thinkers and if, as a result of such comparison, we discover anything new or find new light shed on a subject, we should not reject it.

We have, however, failed to do this. Our religious heads are always one-sided in their thinking. There is no harmony between their words and deeds. We do not have among us people who, like Tolstoy, would speak out the plain truth irrespective of whether or not that would please the people or the society in which they work. Such is the pitiable condition of this our land of nonviolence. Our non-violence is an unworthy thing. We see its utmost limit in refraining somehow from destroying bugs, mosquitoes and fleas, or from killing birds and animals. We do not care if these creatures suffer, nor even if we partly contribute to their suffering. On the contrary, we think it a heinous sin if anyone releases or helps in releasing a creature that suffers.

I have already written and explained that this is not nonviolence, and I take this occasion, when I am speaking about Tolstoy, to repeat that that is not the meaning of nonviolence. Nonviolence means an ocean of compassion, it means shedding from us every trace of ill-will for others. It does not mean abjectness or timidity, or fleeing in fear. It means, on the contrary, firmness of mind and courage, a resolute spirit.

We do not see this nonviolence in the educated classes in India. For them Tolstoy’s life should be a source of inspiration. He strove hard to put into practice what he believed in, and never turned back from his chosen path.  [...]

There is no path but that of self-control for you or me or others. Tolstoy showed this by leading a long life of self- control. I wish and pray to God that we should be able to see this as clearly as daylight, and should leave this meeting with a resolution that we shall learn the lesson of self-control from Tolstoy’s life.

Let us resolve that we will never give up the pursuit of truth. To follow truth, the only right path in this world is that of nonviolence. Nonviolence means an ocean of love, whose vastness no one has ever been able to measure. If it fills us we would be so large-hearted that we would have room in it for the whole world. I know this is difficult to achieve, but not impossible.

Thus we heard the poet say, in the prayer with which we commenced, that he would bow his head only to her who was free from attachment and aversion, who had overcome all desires and who was the perfect embodiment of nonviolence, that is, love, whether he was named Shanker or Vishnu or Brahma or Indra or whether he was Buddha or Siddha? Such nonviolence is not limited to refraining from killing disabled creatures. It may be dharma not to kill them, but love goes infinitely further than that."

M.K. Gandhi                                      September 10, 1928

Source: CWMG Vol. 43 page 4-12

Be The Change

This week remember a teacher of yours and try to embody a quality of her or him that deeply inspires you.