"Are You Ready To Live Gandhi's Message?"

Posted by Janessa Wilder on Mar 26, 2020
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A couple weeks ago, I shared, "Are you ready to live Gandhi's message?" about Gandhi 3.0 and Gandhian principles and ideas to a group in Redding, California. We also had the wonderful privilege of having Lewis Elbinger--former U.S. diplomat to India and U.S. congressional candidate, discussing his "encounters with Gandhi". Below is the transcript of the evening.

Welcome and good evening. It’s been an amazing few months, where I’ve had the chance to meet or talk with several of Gandhi’s grandchildren, travel to India to take part in a unique gathering called Gandhi 3.0 held near the Gandhi ashram, and to delve deeply into Gandhi’s life and message. I also think it’s so special, someone reminded me, that today is the 90th anniversary of Gandhi’s Salt March, which essentially launched the non-violent action campaign in India against British rule. And friends of mine with young folks are even tracing the steps of the march even now!

Indians were barred from gathering, harvesting, or producing their own salt, even though it was plentiful in many areas. They had to pay for much more expensive, imported, and heavily taxed British salt. (It’s like the American equivalent of the Boston Tea Party.) When Gandhi returned to India from South Africa, he spent fifteen years deepening himself and his community spiritually at the ashram with his followers, who lived according to his 11 principles, which we’ll talk about later.

People kept asking him, “What are you going to do? What’s our move against the British?” He would answer, “I don’t know yet.” And would continue to deepen spiritually. A few times different campaigns or marches or actions were taken and violence would erupt, and Gandhi would realize, “We aren’t ready yet for satyagraha,” knowing that people needed to build up their fitness for that kind of moral undertaking.

So, Gandhi finally had the epiphany that a salt march would mobilize and unify the whole country in support of non-violent campaigns because it affected everyone, rich and poor, Hindu, Muslim, alike. He set off on his march, taking care to pass through villages and spread his message of non-violence as he went to energize the people. And he made it to Dandi and the crowd watched with bated breath as he scooped up the piece of salt, and with that simple, tiny act, thus marking the beginning of the end to colonialist British rule.

At the end of our Gandhi 3.0 retreat, each of us stood in front of a huge heap of salt and were asked, “What is your salt?” and we each picked up a piece of salt from the pile. I think it’s time for each of us to ask ourselves that. It doesn’t need to look like protesting or marching. Even Arun Gandhi (Gandhi’s grandson) told me he doesn’t go out and do marches. Arun said Gandhi had some folks do the march with him, and others were involved in other activities. Each person has their gifts to offer and their unique expression of stepping up and taking a stand against injustice and on behalf of the unity of mankind. For some people the salt will take that form of outward action, and for others, inward ways, perhaps. What is our own salt? Arun also said he’s just a peace farmer—he just sows seeds and shares his message with whomever will listen. It's up to others to cultivate it and grow it. He’s just planting seeds. It’s such a humble way to think about this.

So, are we ready to live Gandhi’s message? That is the topic and that means looking at, “what was Gandhi’s message?” and how it’s even more relevant today--Gandhi’s tactics and motivations. What’s so special about him is that I feel like today there’s a lot of spiritual growth and development. Everyone is new age and doing meditation and focusing on their inner work and there’s a real revolution of spirituality in many quarters. On the other hand, there’s a lot of activism—this is about resistance, protests, marches, almost like an in your face, aggressive, “we’re going to change things now!”

But Gandhi was a perfect blend of both things—outer action and inner purity. Even when he talked about sanitation, he said we need outer cleanliness and sanitation, but really we need inner purification. He could have been a guru; he was so spiritually motivated and dedicated, but it took an outward form. He thought you couldn’t have one without the other, he saw the blending. But he didn’t act right away. Like we said even after fifteen years, people asked, “What are we going to do?” He didn’t know. He wasn’t going to go do something until people were ready and had the spiritual fitness--the muscles and the strength-- until they actually were ready to do the one act that changed everything—that took down the British empire, and India was the jewel in its crown! One humble man in a loincloth! I mean, it’s truly amazing what he was able to do. But he didn’t do one without the other. He didn’t move outwardly too quickly until the inner work was done, and his followers had to do that as well. His successor Vinoba Bhave, was also that blending, and he wrote, “If I had once noticed that Gandhi fell short, then I would have left the ashram, but I never once saw him fall short. So, what a standard he set!

What is Gandhi’s best known quote? “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” But here’s what he actually said:

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

So what’s incredible it is to think about this, that we are the reflection. We see violence, hatred, disease, that must be somewhere in us. So, we have to go inside. Arun said, “It’s clear that you can’t change something outside unless you’ve changed it inside.” That’s so simple. And then, this divine mystery, how is it when we do that, the outer changes, too? We don’t really understand that linkage, do we, but it is a wonderful thing. We don’t have to wait on the world to change or for others to catch up; it’s an inside job.

So, Gandhi 3.0 was why I was in India, and it was a gathering of about 75 people, interestingly, roughly the same number as followers in Gandhi’s ashram, from all walks of life, different countries, truly an incredible group of leaders and thinkers. No one paid to come, volunteers were there to serve, all invited by Nipun Mehta, one of my heroes, whom many of you heard last spring here in Redding at the Summit. We were there to explore Gandhi’s message and principles and experience “Gandhi-moments” and hopefully become more equipped to contribute to and serve the collective.

One of the key take-aways for me was understanding a bit more what service looks like. ServiceSpace has opened up my life so much to the many forms this takes but experiencing it in India was a whole other level. Meals were served, dishes were washed, loving, thoughtful gifts left anonymously and constantly, beautiful arrangements of flowers would appear, humble, deep listening was offered by each person. It was truly unbelievable. Gandhi wrote about the Sabarmati ashram, “The object of this Ashram is service of our country in such ways as are consistent with the welfare of the world as a whole. We accept the following vows as needful to attain that object.” And another thing he said, “In the end, all our efforts come to zero. All we can do is to serve, and leave it at that.”

Now, we’re going to watch a video of a truly inspiring man I met at Gandhi 3.0, Jayesh Patel, known as “Jayeshbhai”, whose life is about service. The day after meeting him and seeing him in action with some girls at a school for underprivileged youth, I woke up that next morning weeping. I felt the urge to bow over and over to the Spirit that animated him. Let’s watch together: Living Service.

Now we’ll hear a story of service from long-time teacher Mike Moynahan.

Mike: This is going to be a little ironic. My service has to do with a trip that I took in the fall, and there were seven of us. We were a very tight group--teachers and coaches—all in service jobs, actually, and had done a lot of traveling together. This trip we planned for Italy, northern Italy, primarily. That’s the ironic part of it. This was in the fall—don’t worry, I’m fine. (lol) I haven’t coughed, I haven’t sneezed, and I certainly won’t breathe on you. This was long before things got very bad with the coronavirus. So, anyway, we arrived in Milan and stayed in different places, Lake Cuomo area and we were working our way down Italy, and again there were seven of us. And the leader of the group was a wonderful lady, a dental hygienist here in town. We went to different places each day, we laughed, we were just having an incredible time. I can’t tell you how good of a time.

One day when we came back from Assisi, we were staying in a town on a hill and we had a beautiful place there, built in the 1600s. We went to Assisi and came back and we had an amazing time, very spiritual. Thinking of it brings back memories. We had a wonderful dinner and we celebrated and we meditated together and so forth. So that lady, the one I was talking about, she was diabetic, but took great care of herself. She and my wife used to walk hills, she was in great shape, just had her 70th birthday before we left. She was 70 going on 50. We had a wonderful dinner and came back and she was complaining, (she never complained about anything, by the way,) and said, “Gee, I’ve got something I’ve never had before…acid reflux or something.” I gave her one of the pills I take and she threw it up, and we were worried. Next morning, we were going to Montepucciano, and we tried talking her into going with us, and she said, “No, no, you go, and I’ll stay. I’ll get better. I’ll talk to my grandkids, read a book, take a nap, feel better.” Long story short, we came back that evening and she was face down on the floor. Very sad, very, very sad. It hurts me to even tell the story.

So, the service part, the people that we had rented the place from, both were in their 80s, and so I went to a neighbor in this beautiful complex and knocked on the door, and she didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any Italian. She figured out by body language alone what had happened and she contacted the owners of the building. And they came, and couldn’t speak a word of English. This couple was there, they not only were there and hugged us. The husband had a phone that you could speak into it and it would translate it into English or Italian. That’s how we communicated. Through that long, long evening, they not only contacted the EMTs, the coroner, the people from the morgue came, a deputy came. Long story short, this couple stayed with us until 4:00 in the morning, and they did everything over the next three days. They contacted people in the hospital that finally took our partner, the Italian Embassy, the American Embassy was contacted through them; they arranged everything. They had other people planning to stay at the place, and they found us another place to stay only 3-400 meters away. They got us two rooms, one for free. We cancelled the rest of our trip, and stayed five days. Because of them, everyone forgave us any charges and didn’t charge a penny for the whole rest of the trip that we had had planned, wine tasting, Pompei, etc. They took care of all that. So, the story isn’t over and on the last day when we went to the airport, it was going to be $150. They contacted the drivers, even, and the drivers said, “We’re going to drive you there, but you’re not going to pay a penny.” Hard to believe. So, the service we got from the Italian people was circumferential, it was everywhere. So, now I’m looking at Italy, which other than China, has suffered the most, in terms of deaths from the virus, and my heart goes out to them. That’s true service.

The ripples of this story are here now. I think of that couple every day. We all do. I think of the Italian people every day and my service is love for them.

Thank you, Mike. As you said, the ripples are now with us with whom you’ve shared your touching story.

Now we’ll hear from former U.S. diplomat to India and congressional candidate Lewis Elbinger about his thoughts/connections to Gandhi.

Lewis: I have three connections with Gandhi. I first went to India when I was 21 and I was told that there was a Muslim Sufi singer in Gandhi’s prayer meetings and that I should meet her. She lived in Raj Ghat, which is an ashram in Delhi, nearby where Gandhi’s ashes are, where he was cremated. Raihana Tyabji sang at Gandhi’s prayer meetings, she was a very old woman, and I had the honor of meeting her twice or three times in my life. I was told that “She is the wisest woman in the world.” Well, I don’t know how to measure such a thing, so I was honored she agreed to see me. She would start stories off like this, “Seven hundred years ago when I lived in France, I did battle with a very beautiful, but evil witch. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened up the newspaper and saw a picture of your Senator Joseph McCarthy and recognized the same being that I did battle with.” That’s the kind of story she told.

She could tell you about your past lives by reading the back of your hand, not your front. She told my wife and me that we had been married in six previous lifetimes. And we heard the same thing here in America by someone else, totally unconnected, so we believed it. Sometimes when we get annoyed with each other, we say, “Well, this is the last lifetime I’m going to marry you!”

But it was a great honor to meet her. She was a very old woman and not meeting anybody, and for some reason, who knows why, she opened up and got to see me and she introduced me to Kakasaheb Kalelkar—who was the force behind Gandhi’s “Nai Talim” which means “New Education”. Gandhi was trying to change from the British system of education to a more spiritual system, more rooted in the country of India. So I got to meet two people who actually worked with Gandhi when I was a very young man and they were very old people and this was a great connection that I had with Gandhi.

The second thing that happened was on Gandhi’s birthday, October 2nd, and in India, on one of his birthdays, they had a huge exhibit on the life of Gandhi. And, by huge, I mean that every stage of his life was depicted in photographs and little things that you could read. You know, he was born in Gujarat, and then he was educated as a lawyer, and then he went to South Africa, and then he got involved in the swaraj movement. Swaraj means self-rule—we translate it into independence, but swaraj—swa means self and raj means rule. It wasn’t about India’s self-rule—swaraj means ruling yourself, by ruling yourself you can have independence. So, I was walking through this exhibit and looking at each picture and reading each explanation and I got so deep into it that I forgot how the story ended.

Suddenly, I read “Boom!” He was assassinated. And I felt like I had been shot. I’ll never forget how shocked I was. Because I was so deep into the story, it was like watching a movie, when you’re so deep into the movie and there was a plot twist, that you didn’t see coming. And when I think of Gandhi, I think of how struck I was by his assassination.

And the third thing that happened was that I worked in the U.S. Embassy in India from 1997-2000, and that’s why when you talk of a death of an American abroad, I was the guy that was involved in that kind of thing. A friend of mine said, “Lewis, if you shave off your moustache, you could be in a movie.” And so I shaved off my moustache and I took a screen test and I was in a movie in India. And the movie was about the assassination of Gandhi and it was called, “Hey, Ram!” “Hey, Ram!” were the last words Gandhi said when he was shot. And there’s a belief among the Hindus that the last thing you think of when you die indicates what you would become in the next life. So his mind was always on God and so he would become one with God. This was an indication to everyone that this is his next step. So, I played Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who was actually an historical figure—there really was a British archaeologist named Sir Mortimer Wheeler who is famous for excavating a site call Mohenjo-daro which is now located in Pakistan.

The movie opens up with a scene from the Muslim-Hindu riots when India became independent in 1948. Trainloads of bodies were sent back and forth between India and Pakistan during this time. It was a terrible story. We don’t learn about it in America, but the partition of India, originally East and West Pakistan. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. So, Wheeler excavated Mohenjo-daro, and two of his students were friends, one was Hindu and one was Muslim. These students were played by two of the most famous actors in India—Shah Rukh Khan and Kamal Haasan.

The point of this story was that the Hindus and Muslims went back to a common root that these differences between us are artificial because we come from the same place. So, in the beginning of the movie it shows all this. I even play the piano with original music and then at the end of the movie then it depicts the story of Gandhi’s assassination. Saket Ram, the protagonist played by Kamal Haasan, is infuriated when his wife is killed by a mob during the riots that occurred. He becomes a fierce opponent of Gandhi and joins the plot to assassinate Gandhi. The actual assassination is depicted in the movie. At the moment of decision, Saket Ram doesn’t pull the trigger. The plotters trained several people—not all of them pulled the trigger. In the end, he couldn’t do it, but others could. As Sakhet Ram was dying at the end of the movie, Wheeler appeared to him in a vision and said, “It’s finished. Your work is over.” So, I was in the beginning of the movie and in the end of the movie and got to be involved in this amazing contact with Gandhi. So, these are the stories of how Gandhi has touched my life and that’s it.

Q: Was it fanatical Muslims who killed Gandhi?
Lewis: No, it was fanatical Hindus, the very people who were the predecessors of the folks who now rule India. Just one example, what Janessa said about the Untouchables, Gandhi was really questioning the Hindu priest cast, the system where they really made a lot of money. There was a lot of gold that goes into the temples, just like religion everywhere it seems. Money and power. Jayeshbhai said in the film that there was too much religion, but not enough spirituality. So Gandhi challenged this. His own wife Kasturba was disturbed that Gandhi talked to and communed with Untouchables. They wanted to be free of the British, but they wanted to take the place of the British, just continue the system, except they would be the beneficiaries. And Gandhi was talking about a genuine change in society, and world order, the ending of war and poverty.

For the final part of the evening, we’re going to break down into small groups and go over Gandhi’s 12 principles that governed the Ashram. The questions we’ll explore are: 1.) How could you live this principle more in your life? What do you think would be the most rewarding or challenging?

1.) Truth:
Truth is not fulfilled by mere abstinence from telling or practising an untruth in ordinary relations with fellow-men. But Truth is God, the one and only Reality. All other observances take their rise from the quest for, and the worship of, Truth. Worshippers of Truth must not resort to untruth, even for what they may believe to be the food of the country, and they may be required, like Prahlad, civilly to disobey the orders even of parents and elders in virtue of their paramount loyalty to Truth.

2.) Non-Violence:
Mere not-killing (the animals) is not enough (for this observance). The active part of non-violence is Love. The law of Love requires equal consideration for all life from the tiniest insect to the highest man. One who follows this law must not be angry even with the perpetrator of the greatest imaginable wrong, but must love him, wish him well and serve him. Although he must thus love the wrong does, he must never submit to his wrong or his injustice, but must oppose it with all his might, and must patiently and without resentment suffer all the hardships to which the wrong doer may subject him in punishment for his opposition.

3.) Chastity (Brahmacharya)
Observance of the foregoing principles is impossible without the observance of celibacy. It is not enough that one should not look upon any woman or man with a lustful eye; animal passion must be so controlled as to be excluded even from the mind. If married, one must not have a carnal mind regarding one’s wife or husband, but consider her or him as one’s lifelong friends, and establish relationship of perfect purity. A sinful touch, gesture or word is a direct breach of this principle.

4.) Control of the Palate
The observance of Brahmacharya has been found, from experience, to be extremely difficult so long as one has not acquired mastery over taste. Control of the palate has therefore been placed as a principle by itself. Eating is necessary only for sustaining the body and keeping it a fit instrument for service, and must never be practised for self-indulgence. Food must therefore be taken, like medicine, under proper restraint. In pursuance of this principle on must eschew exciting foods, such as spices and condiments. Meat, liquor, tobacco, bhang, etc are excluded from the Ashram. This principle requires abstinence from feasts or dinners which has pleasure as their object.

5.) Non-Stealing
It is not enough not to take another’s property without his permission. One becomes guilty of theft even by using differently anything which one has received in trust for use in a particular way, as well as by using a thing longer than the period for which it has been lent. It is also theft if one receives anything which he does not really need. The fine truth at the bottom of this principle is that Nature provides just enough, and no more, for out daily need. Hence it is also a theft to possess anything more than one’s minimum requirement.

6.) Non-Possession or Poverty
This principle is really a part of (5). Just as one must not receive, so must one not possess anything whish one does not really need. It would be a breach of this principle to possess unnecessary foodstuffs, clothing or furniture. For instance, one must not keep a chair if can do without it. In observing this principle one is led to a progressive simplification of one’s own life.

7.) Swadeshi
Man is not omnipotent. He therefore serves the world best by serving his neighbour. This is swadeshi, a principle which is broken with one professes to serve those who are more remote in preference to those who are near. Observance of swadeshi makes for order in the world; the breach of it leads to chaos. Following this principle, one must as far as possible purchase one’s requirements locally and not buy things imported from foreign lands, which can easily be manufactured in the country. There is no place for self interest in Swadeshi, which enjoins the sacrifice of oneself for the family, of the family for the village, and of the country for humanity.

8.) Fearlessness
One cannot follow Truth of Love so long as one is subject to fear. As there is at present a reign of fear in the country, meditation on and cultivation of fearlessness have a particular importance. Hence its separate mention as an observance. A seeker after truth must give up the fear of caste, government, robbers etc and he must not be frightened by poverty or death.

9.) Removal of Untouchability
Untouchability, which has taken such deep root in Hinduism, is altogether irreligious. Its removal has therefore been treated as an independent principle. The so-called untouchables have equal place in the Ashram with other classes.

10. Varnashtama Dharma
In the Ashram caste distinction has no place. It is believed that caste distinction has caused harm to the Hindu dharma. The ideas of the superior and inferior status and pollution by contact implied in cast distinction serves to destroy the dharma of non-violence. However, the Ashram does believe in Varna and the Ashram dharma. The division of Varna is based upon occupation. One who follows that division lives by his parents’ occupation, not inconsistent with larger dharma, and spends his spare time in acquiring and advancing true knowledge as well as performing service.

The Ashram believes, as in the Varna, so in the four Ashrams of the Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanprastha, and Sanyasa. But the Ashram does not believe that life of renunciation can be lived in a forest only or by giving up performance of one’s duties. The Ashram believes that dharma of renunciation can be and should be observed while leading a normal life and that it alone is true renunciation.

11. Tolerance
The Ashram believes that the principal faiths of the world constitute a revelation of truth, but as they have all been outlined by imperfect men, they have been affected by imperfections and allowed with untruth. One must therefore entertain the some respect for the religious faiths of others as one accords to one’s own.

12. Physical Labour (this was added afterwards by Gandhi)
Man can be saved from injuring society, as well as himself, only if he sustains his physical existence by physical labour. Able-bodied adults should do all their personal work themselves, and should not be served by others, except for proper reasons. But they should, at the some time, remember, that service of children, as well as of the disabled, the old and the sick, is a duty incumbent on every person who has the required strength. Keeping in view this object, no labourers are employed in the Ashram, and if at all they are inevitably employed, the dealing with them would not be of an employer-employee.






(Lewis Elbinger is listed as a cast member)



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Comments (3)

  • Audrey Lin wrote ...

    Wow, Janessa, what a beautiful evening! Thank you so much for sharing this transcript -- it's wonderful to learn from these great seeds sown in your community! :)

  • Fran Faraz wrote ...

    I loved reading this. Thank you for sharing.

  • Nitul Ojha wrote ...

    Thank you Janessa for such this generous gift! I felt I was there that evening.