Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi
(Mohandas Karamchand)

 
"Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one
as this ever walked upon this earth in flesh and blood".
-Albert Einstein

 
Throughout history most national heroes have been warriors, but Gandhi was a passive and peaceful preacher of morals, ethics, and beliefs. He was an outsider who ended British rule over India without striking a blow. Moreover, Gandhi was not skillful with any unusual artistic, scholarly, or scientific talents. He never earned a degree or received any special academic honors. He was never a candidate in an election or a member of government. Yet when he died, in 1948, practically the whole world mourned him. Einstein said in his tribute, "Gandhi demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of the usual political maneuvers and trickery but through the cogent example of a morally superior conduct of life". Other tributes compared Gandhi to Socrates, to Buddha, to Jesus, and to Saint Fancis of Assisi.

The life of Mahatma (great soul) Gandhi is very documented. Certainly it was an extraordinary life, poking at the ancient Hindu religion and culture and modern revolutionary ideas about politics and society, an unusual combination of perceptions and values. Gandhi?s life was filled with contradictions. He was described as a gentle man who was an outsider, but also as a godly and almost mystical person, but he had a great determination. Nothing could change his convictions. Some called him a master politician, others called him a saint, and millions of Indians called him Mahatma or Bapu (father).

Gandhi?s life was devoted to a search for truth. He believed that truth could be known only through tolerance and concern for others, and that finding a truthful way to solutions required constant attention. He dedicated himself to truth, to nonviolence, to purity, to poverty, to scripture-reading, to humility, to honesty, and to fearlessness. He called his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth. Gandhi overcame fear in himself and taught others to master fear. He believed in Ahimsa (nonviolence) and taught that to be truly nonviolent required courage. He lived a simple life and thought it was wrong to kill animals for food or clothing.

In his religious studies, he happened upon Leo Tolstoy?s Christian writings, and was inspired. It stated that all government is based on war and violence, and that one can attack these only through passive resistance. This made a deep impression on Gandhi.

Gandhi developed a method of direct social action, based upon principals of courage, nonviolence, and truth, which he called Satyagraha (holding on to truth). In this method, the way people behave is more important than what they achieve in life. Satyagraha was used to fight for India?s independence and to bring about social change.

In 1884, he founded the Natal Indian Congress to fight for Indian?s rights and he used and perfected the tool of satyagraha (nonviolent resistance) in demanding and protecting the rights of the Indian community of South Africa. He would later use this tool in fighting the British for India?s independence.

He started his first two ashrams in South Africa, one was named Phoenix and the other, Tolstoy. Men, women, and children lived at the Tolstoy Farm where they were schooled about fearlessness, self-reliance, self-denial, self-sacrifice, and suffering; and embracing poverty and living in harmony with other people and with nature. Once educated they could learn to practice brahmacharya, satyagraha, and ahimsa, so they could attack their corrupt society and the government.

He was a believer in manual labor and simple living. He spun thread and wove the cloth for his own garments and insisted that his followers do so, too. He disagreed with those who wanted India to become an industrial country.

From 1893 to 1914 he worked for an Indian firm in South Africa as a lawyer. During these years Gandhi?s experiences of open, racial discrimination moved him into agitation. His interest soon turned to the problem of Indians who had come to South Africa as laborers. He had seen how they were treated as inferiors in India, in England, and then in South Africa.

In 1906, Gandhi began his peaceful revolution. He declared he would go to jail or even die before obeying an anti-Asian law. Thousands of Indians joined him in this civil disobedience campaign.

He started protest campaigns and organized demonstrations, but never used violence. His philosophy was to never fight back against the atrocities, but