On the 30th of January in 1948 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was attending an interfaith prayer service, when a radical Hindu nationalist came up to him and shot three bullets into his chest.
The Indian spiritual and political leader was born on the 2nd of October, in 1869 in Porbander, a town in present day Gujarat. Later the poet Rabindranath Tagore bestowed the title Mahatma on him. Mahatma means great soul, and today we mostly think of him as Mahatma Gandhi.
He was a singular figure on the twentieth century public stage. Gandhi’ particular blending of spirituality and politics has left a wake of praise. He has also been criticized. With just about as much abandon. There’s a whole industry in India devoted to making sure we know his shortcomings, real, and imagines. 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 for this moment.
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.
Gandhi was a complicated man with a simple message, Satyagraha, soul power. Satygarha became the ability of simple people to resist tyrany through radical non-violence. He not only became the leading force in India’s quest for self-determination, but he inspired people around the world. I find myself thinking especially how he influenced the founding leaders of America’s quest for black civil rights in the middle of the twentieth century. The theologians Howard Thurman and James Comes and the pastor and leader Martin Luther King, Jr. leap to my mind. And fill my heart.
One can look at India today and certainly say it was at best a partial success. True here in America, as well.
And. The miracle is that a deeply flawed human being found a way of attention and care and respect that had profound consequences. For India. For the United States.
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. And. 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…