(KUNM Airdate: 4/25/06)

On this program, we recall the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi - nonviolent crusader for racial equality in South Africa and against British imperial rule in India in the first half of the 20th century. Writing in Time Magazine's 20th century ending special edition, Johanna McGeary observed of Mohandas K. Gandhi - "…his image offers…a shining set of ideals to emulate. Individual freedom. Political liberty. Social justice. Nonviolent protest. Passive resistance. Religious tolerance. His work and his spirit awakened the 20th century to ideas that serve as a moral beacon for all times."

On this Peace Talks, we feature Jesuit Priest Father John Dear, who has written extensively on Gandhi including editing the book Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings. Dear's recent book is called Living Peace. We also hear from Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. He lived for 18 months with his grandfather shortly before Gandhi was assassinated January 30, 1948.

Due to their demanding travel schedules, John Dear and Arun Gandhi were interviewed on separate days, but we have combined the content for today's program. Our host is Carol Boss.

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Transcription: Rogi Riverstone

Mohandas K. Gandhi

JOHN DEAR: Gandhi practiced and engaged the theory of peace and justice as the world had never seen before. Dr. King later said shocking things about Gandhi: that Jesus showed the idea, but Gandhi gave us the method. He said that Gandhi unpacked the life of Jesus more than anybody in history.

CAROL BOSS: Essentially, what he was doing was seeking the spiritual roots of political struggle.

DEAR: Which King said no one had ever done before. That is why Gandhi broke new ground, in so many ways. That is probably his greatest contribution. Everybody said he was a spiritual person, practicing politics. He said he was just a regular politician, trying to be a saint. In any case, he was combining the two. He was seeking God, the God of peace and justice. He concluded that he could not live in the Himalayas. He had to be with the poorest of the poor. He had to confront evil and injustice and resist war. He had to practice perfect nonviolence and love and what he called pitting his entire soul against evil, in pursuit of the truth.

Wow! We do not have anybody on a scale like that today, working for political change, on behalf of all people, but doing it from an interfaith perspective, doing it as a deep contemplative. He spent two or three hours a day in prayer for fifty years, making the connections that the God of peace is in this movement for justice. That is the way he talked. It was a great, great contribution to the world.

BOSS: He was a big influence on Martin Luther King, who came upon his life and his teachings. Apparently, King, prior to reading Gandhi, understood the ethics of Jesus as being effective only in individual relationships. He did not see it in terms of a much larger picture, in terms of social reform.

DEAR: Right. That is the way most Christians in the United States still understand Jesus, unfortunately. That's why Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King are critically important - to everybody, but especially to Christians -because Gandhi is saying, "if you want to follow Jesus, you have to be engaged in the world." You have to resist war and injustice. Otherwise, you are certainly not following the nonviolent Jesus and you are not seeking God's reign of peace. It is very political language that is, by and large, still rejected. Gandhi said that Jesus was the most active person of nonviolence in the history of the world. The only people on the planet who do not know that Jesus was nonviolent are Christians. King was very inspired by that. My friends and I are, too to say that, "Well, if you're going to be a Christian, you've got to practice nonviolence." Gandhi shows us how to do that.

John Dear

Sunanda Gandhi and Arun Gandhi

BOSS: I know you have many memories of your grandfather. Can you start by sharing with us one that is particularly vivid for you?

ARUN GANDHI: I think the most vivid memory I have of living, as a young boy, with him was his lesson in anger management. I was a very angry, young man when I was growing up in South Africa. I became a victim of prejudices, was beaten up by whites, and then by Blacks, because both did not like the color of my skin. It filled me with a lot of rage. I wanted, "eye-for-an-eye" justice. That is when my parents took me to him in India. I had the opportunity to live with Grandfather.

The first lesson he taught me was to understand that anger, and being able to channel that anger into positive action. He said that anger is like electricity. It is just as useful and just as powerful, if we use it intelligently. It can be just as deadly and destructive, if we abuse it. Just as we channel electricity, bring it into our lives and use it for the good of Humanity, we must learn to channel anger in the same way. We can use that energy for the good of Humanity, rather than abuse it. He taught me how to channel anger, how to write an anger journal - with the intention of finding a solution. I did this for many years. It helped me considerably in understanding and channeling the energy into positive action.

BOSS: How old were you, when you got to live with him?

GANDHI: I was twelve, when I went to him and I lived there for about eighteen months.

BOSS: I've been told the story - I haven't heard you tell it, and I'm sure you've told it many times - about you, doing your lessons and tossing the pencil away. Could you share that with listeners?

GANDHI: Yes! I think that story really brought to me the profundity of his philosophy of nonviolence. Until then, I had a limited understanding of nonviolence - as we all have, today - and that is "nonviolence" being the opposite of "violence." Our concept of violence is the physical use of violence: fighting, killing, murders, rapes and all that.

This incident happened when I was coming back from school. I had a little pencil in my hand and I threw that pencil away because I thought it was too small for me to use. That evening, when I asked him for a new pencil, instead of giving me one, he subjected me to a lot of questions. He wanted to know how the pencil became small. Where did I throw it away: that sort of thing. I could not understand why he was making such a fuss over a little pencil - until he told me to go out and look for it.

I said, "You must be joking! You don't expect me to look for a little pencil in the dark!"

He said, "Oh, yes, I do. Here is a flashlight. Take this and go out. Look for the pencil."

I must have spent about two hours, searching for it.

When I finally found it and brought it to him, he said, "Now, I want you to sit here and learn two, very important lessons. The first lesson is that - even in the making of a simple thing like a pencil - we use a lot of the world's natural resources. When we throw them away, we are throwing away the world's natural resources. That is violence against Nature.

The second lesson is that, in an affluent society, we can afford to buy all these things in bulk. We over consume the resources of the world. Because we over consume them, we are depriving people elsewhere of these resources and they have to live in poverty. That is violence against Humanity."

That was the first time I realized that all these little things that we do, every day, consciously and unconsciously, are all acts of violence: either violence against Nature, or violence against other human beings.

Then, to drive home this message, he made me draw a family tree of violence -- on the same principles as a genealogical tree -- with Violence as the grandparent with two off springs: Physical Violence and Passive Violence. Every day, before I went to bed, I had to examine everything that happened during the day, analyze it and put it in its appropriate places on that tree. If it were the kind of violence where physical force was used, it would go under Physical Violence. If it was the kind of violence where no force is used, and yet I have been able to hurt people, then it would go under Passive Violence.

When I began to do this, within a few months I filled up a whole wall in my room with acts of passive violence. That is when I realized how much passive violence we commit. Then, Grandfather explained to me the connection between the two. He said, "We commit acts of passive violence all the time, every day, consciously and unconsciously. That generates anger in the victim. The victim, then, resorts to physical violence to get justice." Passive violence fuels the fires of physical violence. So, logically, if we want to put out the fire of physical violence, we have to cut off the fuel supply. Since the fuel supply comes from each one of us, we have to become the change we wish to see in the world.

BOSS: That is rather profound, for a young boy, isn't it?

GANDHI: It is! I just regret the fact that I was not old enough to understand, at that time, how profound this lesson was. It took me many years to understand it, as I grew up.

BOSS: Can you give us a couple of examples of how we can apply Gandhi's teachings to our everyday lives?

JOHN DEAR: If you will look at his life, you will see that he was up at four in the morning, for one hour of silent prayer with his friends, reading from all the different scriptures. He did it again at 5:00pm - every day, for forty or fifty years. He would say we have to be contemplatives of nonviolence: people of prayer, really going deep into the spiritual depths of peace, justice and nonviolence.

Gandhi's main teaching is about nonviolence. To be human, to be a spiritual person, is to be a person of nonviolence. All of us, wherever we are, can step back for a moment and think, "How do I practice nonviolence?" or, "Where am I being violent?" Those are very important, spiritual questions. I think we live in a culture of violence. It is totally the norm now. Gandhi was calling us to nonviolence as a way of life. You look within and you see, "I could be more nonviolent, to myself, in this area of my life," and try to do that. You can look at your family: "Am I being perfectly nonviolent to my spouse, my children, my parents?" You try to be more and more nonviolent: never to hit another person or hurt another person, ever again - to practice nonviolent love toward those around you.

Wind that vision to your local community, to your job, to your faith community, to be nonviolent toward everybody there. Really be conscious that you are on a journey of nonviolence: that means to reflect on your life and your behavior. Then, you come to the conclusion - like Gandhi - that nonviolence is not passivity. It does not mean just sitting back and doing nothing. If the world really is a world of war and total violence, then nonviolence is engaged love and truth.

As you reach out with nonviolence to everyone around you, get involved with nonviolent peace and justice groups around you and take a stand - perhaps on one issue. No one can do everything, but everybody has to do something. Get involved in one cause to try to disarm the world in one way.

BOSS: Do you believe that Gandhi's teachings can be effective in some of the world's conflicted areas? In other words: the relevance of Gandhi for our world, right now?

DEAR: I believe that nonviolence is the only effective solution. In fact, violence has failed. It does not work. War does not work. Violence, in response to violence, only leads to further violence.

Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

Wars cannot bring peace; they only sow the seeds for future wars. Certainly, wars cannot stop terrorism, because war is terrorism. Violence is just a never-ending, downward spiral. Nonviolence breaks it, stops it. The problem is that it is rarely tried, in a public way, as Gandhi or Dr. King or South Africa showed. But it is happening. We need to organize it more, as a methodology.

What I am saying is, I think nonviolence always works.

Carol Boss
Peace Talks Host


WEBSITE: GANDHI SERVE - A Deep Archive of Audio-Visual-Text Resources








Gandhi was born in Porbandar, a town in the north-west of India, to a rich family of the vaisya, or merchant caste. He went to England as a young boy where he trained as a barrister and took his bar finals in 1891.

His political career started in South Africa. Appalled by the treatment of Indians he organised his first peaceful protests and succeeded in repealing some of the discriminatory laws. He also worked as a stretcher carrier in the Boer War, preaching self-denial and pacifism.

On his return to India, he travelled the countryside on foot, talking and learning from the peasants. He joined the Indian National Congress turning it from a largely powerless political organisation into a mass movement with millions of ordinary peasant followers. He founded the Sabarmati Ashram near Ahmadabad which was part school, part refuge, and part headquarters for the independence movement.

He came to international attention in 1930 with the Salt March which led to his first arrest and imprisonment. Time named him Man of the Year and the following year he was released from jail. The coverage brought him more supporters. In 1942 he threatened a mass campaign of civil disobedience and was again imprisoned. India rioted so his power only grew. However whenever his followers failed to contain their violence he would atone for it with periods of fasting and self-denial. The authorities were terrified he would die in jail, and he was released after 21 months.

In 1947, after World War II, India was granted independence as Britain no longer had the will or resources to oppose Gandhi. However Britain introduced partition, dividing India into the main Hindu region and creating Pakistan, a Moslem country. This was a great disappointment to Gandhi as his lifelong aim had also been to bring together these divided religions of India.

In his talks, he would quote widely from different religions to increase mutual understanding. Over a million people died in the rioting that followed partition. He continued to work to reunite India and Pakistan but the masses would no longer follow him as before. Four months after partition, on January 30 1948, a right-wing Hindu nationalist shot him.

His methods were not forgotten though and leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have followed closely where he led.