All this turning on the Indian spiritual and political leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who was born on this day in 1869.
Eventually he would universally come to be called Mahatma, or Great Soul. Interestingly, the title originally bestowed by the poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Gandhi is a singular figure on the twentieth century public stage. His particular blending of spirituality and politics has left a wake of praise, and blame. He has been praised, wildly. He has been condemned. With just about as much abandon.
People have come to make a lot of his pursuit of sexual purity and its unhealthy manifestations. Of course, lots of people have problems with how he engaged politics. And also how he made political decisions that were at odds with his professed larger view. When I looked at Youtube, searching the term “Gandhi,” I found attacks on him for one thing or another were nearly as common as tributes.
He was born into a world of conflict. He lived in a world of conflict. He died in a world of conflict. A world which we might find familiar. With, of course, our own wrinkles.
Me, I find the human being that was Gandhi, his spiritual quest, and his attempts at co-creating a world in which people could live with dignity, terrible compelling. I’m also mindful of his failures, both in the moment, and in the state he helped to create.
But, what he did at the same time was to turn on himself, looked as closely as he could, and within the person he found, he saw some strands of possibility. He found others, and encouraged those same strands within them. And then as a politician, he gathered those strands together and wove what would become a miracle, a non-violent revolution that founded a nation.
Basically, he was a complicated man with a simple message, Satyagraha, soul power, the ability of simple people to resist tyrany through radical non-violence.
One can look at India today and certainly say it was at best a partial success. The miracle is that a deeply flawed human being found a way of attention and care and respect that had profound consequences.
I think of these things, and I find my reflection going to the state of our human condition. Me, I think the odds are against us as a species. We seem too violent, too grasping, too much about the short term.
But, within the great play of life and death and the arc of existence on this little planet spinning through the great night, I also see we have some choices. One can argue in some very big picture sort of way that in the play of cause and effect we have no choice but to follow patterns that were laid down even before the sun was created. But, in any practical sense, in the world in which we actually live we usually can say yes or no, and what we do has consequences.
We can make conscious decisions. And we can act from those decisions. There are things we can do. Despite our flaws, numerous as the sea, we can act in ways that bring hope to the world.
For me Gandhi’s life is an invitation for each of us to find within the context of who we are, with all its limitations what it is we will do. And for that, what can I call it, for that miracle we should pause and notice. The threads of connection are many and complex. And the choices we make have consequences that we cannot even dream of at the time we take them.
Not all are good. Some are amazing.
And with that, thank you, Mohandas. Truly, a great soul…