Thoughts on Gandhi, nonviolence and humor.
A few years ago, when I was living in the Washington, DC, area, I picked up a couple of passengers for carpool, commonly referred to as slugs near the Springfield Metro in Virginia. The system is designed to facilitate carpool access. One day, I picked up a lady and a gentleman. We didn’t really talk much. After we dropped the gentleman off, she asked me where I was from and she shared with me that she had been to India. Then she made this rather politically incorrect statement. She said, “All Hindus will go to hell if they don’t believe Jesus Christ died for their cause.” And I was thinking if all Hindus go to hell, she could expect to get a customer support service call from hell.
I started thinking how Mahatma Gandhi would react to her statement. What were his views about religion? I found a quote by Gandhi: “I consider myself a Hindu, Christian, Moslem, Jew, Confucianist and Buddhist.” He also said, “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realizing Him.” I am sure Gandhi would have even managed to embrace some good principles from Scientology!
Gandhi led India to its independence from the British after 200 years of tyrannical rule using principles of civil disobedience and total non-violence. Although he never held any political office he is considered by the Indians as the father of the nation. Some historians say that the genius of Gandhi was that he realized the British were not evil, and he used their own principles of morality, religion and law to make them understand that they were just misguided.
I think that’s a fairly accurate statement. I am going to extend that a bit more. I think Gandhi realized that the British people were not evil but more importantly he realized that there is an innate goodness in every human being. There is divinity in every human being. He was also a meditator. I have been meditating for more than 20 years under the blessings and guidance of my spiritual master. One of the fundamental principles of meditation is that you tend to see God, the miracle of God in everybody.
It may be a difficult concept to accept. If you start meditating on that one single thought, day after day, year after year — it will have a profound impact on every single action in your life. Now, I am not quite there. I have witnessed the birth of my children, so I know that concept of divinity is a bit ephemeral. By the time my children reached the age of thirteen, I stopped seeing the divinity and started seeing the devil in them.
Gandhi’s faith in nonviolence became conviction. It is evident in the quote: “An eye for an eye would make whole world blind.” Because of his conviction, his principles got applied in the civil rights movement in India as well as in South Africa, where the change from the apartheid regime took place without too much bloodshed or violence.
Another corollary of this belief is that if you want happiness in your life then make a wish that nobody’s child would ever have to suffer. We are all interconnected and if some family is not happy, then invariably, that misery will come back and haunt us. If you apply the same principle in our foreign policy and start viewing the divinity in every human being regardless of whether their country has oil or no oil or just vegetable oil, many of the answers will come.
I tried using the principles in our domestic policy. Once I found myself watching a beautiful woman walking down the street. I know my wife was not too happy. I said, “Look, I am just admiring the divinity in her. I am not admiring the creation; I am admiring the creator.” It didn’t help because I made the mistake of referring to the woman as a Goddess.
One of my friends once jokingly asked me, “Would Gandhi have used Viagra?”
Some of my Indian colleagues would find such a statement offensive. To them I would say that Gandhi was a big believer of humor. He once said if it weren’t for humor, he would have committed suicide. The question is not whether Gandhi would have used Viagra. The question is whether Gandhi would have used Prozac, an anti-depressant.
I firmly believe that the answer would be no. He would not have used it. He would not have needed it. If you believe in the ubiquitous nature of divinity like Mahatma Gandhi, you would never be depressed. If you start seeing the goodness in every human being and start thinking of the interests of other people, two of the biggest causes of depression, self-pity and jealousy go away. If you believe that the same divine force with infinite power is in you, there is no reason to have self-pity. Similarly, if you also firmly believe that the same divine force is in every other human being, then there is no reason to be jealous. The concept of divinity is a great paradigm and an excellent framework to combat depression and bring happiness in your life.
As recent as a few months back, when I would go for walks in the morning, I used to offer a metaphorical Namaste with my smile at fellow passersby because I would see a “Divinity Inside” logo marked on their forehead. During this Covid-19 period I am aware that with my mask people cannot see my smile. However, I still try to smile and make eye contact with them hoping my feelings towards them get conveyed through my eyes. If I see people who are unresponsive, indifferent or just grumpy, I still give them the benefit of the doubt with a nod or a wave. I know that their inner GPS has had a temporary glitch and they will also find their divinity eventually. I guess because of this same reasoning I didn’t throw that somewhat irreverent woman out of my car even though … she had a British accent. I think Gandhi would have been proud of my non-violent restraint.