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Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson shares experiences, insights
Sunday, 03 November 2019 14:10

Activist-author-journalist addresses ‘Be the Change: Creating Peace Within and Without’

MILLS RIVER — Dr. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas K. Ghandi, aka “the Mahatma” or “great soul”), addressed “Be the Change: Creating Peace Within and Without” during two separate sold-out addresses — one in the morning and one in the evening — Oct. 5 in the sanctuary at Unity of the Blue Ridge.

Approximately 230 people attended each of Gandhi’s two talks at Unity.

What’s more, on Oct. 6, the Unity church in Mills River celebrated its 70th anniversary with a combined service with a rededication blessing by Dr. Arun Gandhi.

“Unity, known informally as Unity Church, is a New Thought Christian organization that publishes the Daily Word devotional publication,” Wikipedia said of Unity.

In conjunction with his visit, Unity held a weekly fall book study, led by the Rev. ´Élan Lambert, of Dr. Arun Gandhi’s book, “The Gift of Anger and Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi,” which ran from Sept. 19 to Oct. 24.

The morning program, which the Daily Planet covered, opened with an interfaith processional, which included Gandhi; a welcome and opening prayer by the Rev. Darlene Strickland, Unity’s senior minister; a haunting version of “Song of Peace” ballad sung by Asheville’s Kat Williams, who was the event’s featured vocalist, along with her soul-stirring rendition of “If You’re Out There,” which drew much applause from the audience — and other songs.

Williams was accompanied by Unity’s Unitic Band, led by Asheville’s Richard Shulman, who plays piano in the four-piece group, along with serving as its music director.

In addition, a five-minute video was shown on an overhead screen of “The Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi.” Among the many memorable Gandhi quotes in the video were the following:

• “Noncooperation with evil is a sacred duty.”

• “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.”

• “When you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.”

• “My life is my message.”

Dr. Arun Gandhi then spoke from a chair, positioned front and center on the altar, for about 30 minutes, after which he received a sustained standing ovation from those in the packed Unity sanctuary.

He then answered presubmitted questions, alternately read out loud to him and the audience by Unity leaders flanking him on each side, for about 25 minutes.

Next, Gandhi was presented with Unity of the Blue Ridge’s first annual The Heart of Humanity Award.

The program then wound up with a benefit love offering and special music.

The Heart of Humanity Award program, Unity noted in a flyer, “recognizes individuals whose distinguished leadership and inspired action promote spiritual oneness and the sacred connection of all life — upholding compassion, peace, equality and earth care.”

After the program, Gandhi sat at a table in the vestibule, flanked on each side by assistant, to sign autographs of his books, as his fans rapidly formed a long line.

At another table nearby, a long line of attendees formed to buy copies of his books, which were available.

In introducing Gandhi just prior to his address, Strickland noted, among a number of details, that he is “the fifth grandson of the legendary Mahatma Gandhi,” that he spent 30 years as a journalist for the Times of India newspaper and that “children are very dear to him.”

In a promotional flyer, Dr. Arun Gandi is billed as having “propagated his grandfather’s principles of nonviolence (ahimsa) throughout his career as a socio-political activist, journalist, author, philanthropist and motivational speaker. Arun’s grandfather was foundational in teaching him the transformational power of channeling one’s anger into an agent for doing good.

“Arun espouses and promotes ‘being the change we wish to see in the world,’ and challenges each of us to do the same. In recognizing and eliminating violence perpetrated mentally, verbally, and physically against ourselves and others, we, too, can plant seeds of peace and cultivate a life and global community enshrined in love.”

Strickland said that, in those rare times when she has been physically near someone of special spiritual attainment, such as the time she was near American spiritual teacher Ram Dass and now with Gandhi, “there is a palpable way one feels” the special force. 

The Unity senior minister also noted that Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk, “who couldn’t be here, sent a message of welcoming to Dr. Gandhi.” Strickland quoted the mayor as thanking him for visiting the area (Mills River is in Henderson County, near the county seat of Hendersonville) to share not only the story of the experiences and teachings of your grandfather, but also your own. Thank you for sharing the message of nonviolence,” Volk wrote.

Gandhi, who was born in 1934, appeared a bit frail physically but razor-sharp mentally, then was escorted to a seat in the front center of the altar by two Unity assistants.

He began by noting that “I can’t say there’s any moment in my life when this …. took place.

“My father was the second son. He and my mother devoted their lives to helping people with persistence and love. My sisters and I saw this and became equally compassionate and loving as my parents were.

In his native South Africa, he noted, “when I was growing up, there were no kids (his age) to play with of my (family’s economic) level, so the only kids I could play with were children of African farmworkers, who lived in terrible poverty.

“It was quite an eye-opening experience for me. Those kids were so poor, they made their own toys. We would find buttons for wheels and matchboxes for the body of the (toy) car” that they then would assemble. “That’s how we were entertained. When I started going to school, my parents told me what I learned in school I would need to share with other children. So I started do that. But I got in trouble very quickly.

“Soon, we had scores of parents bringing their children far from their homes, pleading with us to teach them. And at the age of 7, I quickly became involved. My parents and sisters helped out,” he said, noting that he was surprised by the overwhelming response. (The Unity crowd laughed along with him, as Gandhi recalled his amazement at the public response to his offer.)

Regarding “the message of my grandfather’s philosophy of nonviolence,’ he said,  “so everybody (today) thinks it’s a socio-economic conflict thing... But actually it’s a thing about personal transformation.”

His grandfather’s message translates, he said, into the need to “make a list of all the weaknesses in my life — and try to transform myself., as my grandfather urged me. That’s what he did.

"He was not born ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi. He was not born great. If you look at his life, right up to the 27th year of his life, he was a normal human being.

“It was when he was 27, he had this idea that a British-trained lawyer only could travel in South Africa by train. When he was picked up and thrown off the train because of the (brown) color of his skin, that’s when he was transformed.

“He decided, ‘This is not what I want.’ He began to change. He became a very respected person. And people began referring to him as ‘the Mahatma’…,. We can do that, too.” 

(“‘Mahatma’ is Sanskrit for ‘Great Soul.’ ‘Mahatma’ is similar in usage to the modern English term ‘saint’ and can be translated to ‘ascended master,’” Wikipedia noted.)

“I had the same experience as he had in South Africa. I got beaten up by white youths because they thought I was too black. Then (a little while later), I got beaten up by blacks for looking too white. I started pumping iron (lifting weights)” in a quest to be strong enough to beat up his tormentters.

With a wry laugh, Gandhi recalled, “My parents then decided they needed to send me to India to live with my grandfather.” They contacted the Mahatma, who, to their relief, welcomed the challenge of their son.

Upon his arrival in India at age 12 in 1948, Arun Gandhi, bristling with anger over being beaten up by both whites and blacks simply because of his skin color, said his grandfather “taught me that anger is a gift. It surprised me. He taught me we need to learn to channel anger for the good of humanity. He asked me to keep an anger journal — to write down every time I get angry… and a proposed solution.

“A lot of people tell me, ‘I keep an anger journal, but it doesn’t help me.’ They said they (sometimes) read it over — and it just makes them angrier.” (The audience then laughed with Gandhi at the poignant irony). 

After a pause, Gandhi asserted, “But the idea is to include solutions” to every anger situation in one’s anger journal, a point which, he said, many people totally miss.

“My grandfather was concerned about the emancipation of Indian women, the poor, etc. He realized that all of these programs needed to be funded. He decided he could sell his autograph for $5 each. I was assigned to bring back his autographs.” 

One day, wanting an autograph of his grandfather for himself, Arun Gandhi said, “I put in an autograph book with no money — and he noticed. He said, ‘no money no autograph,’ especially for his grandson.”

Arun Gandhi said that when others heard about the autograph issue and asked about it, his grandfather “would smile and say, ‘This is a private joke between the two of us — and you don’t need to get involved.’”

As the crowd chuckled, Gandhi noted wryly that “I never did get his autograph.”

In praise of his grandfather, though, he said, “But he (the Mahatma) never told me” — as did many other adults he observed, at least on occasion — “‘to get out of the room and leave me alone.’ He never, ever did that to me. I realized if he could control his violence to that extent… If we were able to use that ability to channel that anger into constructive action, then,” he reasoned, that is a wise pathway in life that he would follow, too.

In another anecdote, he told of the time, as a boy, when “I had a little 3-inch pencil in my hand — and threw it away because I thought it was too small. Later, I asked my grandfather for another pencil. He asked me many questions on why I threw away the pencil. (He had not realized his grandfather had been keenly observing his actions in the pencil disposal.)

As it was nighttime when they had their pencil discussion, Gandhi said that his grandfather “later gave me a flashlight to go out and find it (the thown-away pencil). His point was that we are committing violence against humanity by wasting resources.”

To that end, Gandhi told the Unity crowd, “In the United States alone, we throw away $60 billion worth of food every year, when there are millions of people who go to bed hungry every night.”

He added, “To make me understand this lesson, he (the Mahatma) made me draw a tree of violence… I had to analyze every experience I had every day. Everything had to be put in its appropriate place on the tree. We know about physical violence — there is a limit to what you can do physically... But passive violence is something we don’t even know about. I came to the conclusion that anything that would hurt me would be passive violence. It is passive violence that fuels the fire of physical violence. We have to become the change we wish to see in the world.”

Gandhi then asked, rhetorically, “What do we really mean by peace? I’ve often asked people what peace means. They say, ‘The absence of war.’

“Materialism has made us selfish, greedy and self-centered. We want everything for ourselves. We don’t care about others. That’s not our business. Half the world is living in poverty. These are the things that create violence — when.

“So if we want to bring more peace in the world, we need to be more loving. We are not independent people — we are interdependent, interrelated. Then we’ll be able to accept people as human beings. Today, we have so many labels on people. We have to take off the labels. We need to respect each other, not just tolerate others. We need to respect diversity, not just tolerate it.

“We need to transform our lives from what we are to what we want to become.

“I cringe when someone tells me they are who they are — ‘and you have to accept me.’ We only can be civilized when we are loving and respectful.”

In concluding his address, Gandhi said, “I hope I’ve been able to inspire you a little so that you can become the peacemakers you can become.” He then smiled and waved as his address was greeted with a lenthy, highly enthused standing ovation from the crowd.

During a 25-minute question-and-answer period that followed his address, one question (from the presubmitted questions) posed asked him to speak on “How nonviolence theory got started.”

With a laugh, Gandhi noted that his grandmother (the Mahatma’s wife) “did not obey the Mahatma.” Instead, “without raising her voice,” he heard her, at least one time, tell he husband that “I was raised to obey the elders in the house and your mother (the Mahatma’s mother) told me to do that. So if you want me tell your mother” that he wants to ignore her order to obey his....Both Gandhi and the crowd laughed, as he noted that a good Indian son would not override the orders of his mother. “You might say the philosophy of nonviolence began from that point on,” Gandhi said, smiling.

In addressing another question, Gandhi said that Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy “had written about passive resistance… but he eventually rejected that — and came up with a term for the ‘force for truth’ — santiago.”

In response to a question about his interractions with inmates in the United States, Gandhi said, “It started in Memphis, Tenn., (where) one of the prisoners in Philadelphia read the article (he had written) and said he didn’t believe in nonviolence. He said he was a drug dealer and had a partner…. They were in their car one day, arguing, the partner reached under his seat for something and he thought it was a gun, so he shot him. Later, he realized he was reaching for some papers. At the funeral, he (the inmate) told the widow he was sorry — and she wouldn’t even look at me. So where’s your nonviolence?”

To that, Ghandi said, “I responded” that “she may never forgive you. If you want forgiveness, you’ll have to work for it and seek it every moment of your life — and you may never find it... Well, I don’t know, but somewhere in our correspondence he (the inmate) was ‘changed.’”

After that, “I had gone around the country during the 64 days for nonviolence, urging people to seek nonviolence… At a prison, the warden said the violence rate had dropped 70 percent. Other prison officials approached us to expand it. So now we’ve included other prisons.

“The first time I went to Attica Prison, the officials thought I was wasting my time... I had to keep my distance, officials wouldn’t let me even shake hands with anyone. I was a little disturbed by it. I thought, ‘Let me see what’s happening.’” After two visits, though, “the prison officials (were impressed and) eventually let me hug and shake hands with the inmates.”

Next, Gandhi was asked, “What types of nonviolent resistance can be used to stop the hatred going on in the United States?”

“Well, that’s the simplest question,” Gandhi replied. “We can’t conquer hate with hate. We conquer hate with love.

“I met a very staunch racist South Africa parliamentarian, who came to India. I told him (in India) I wouldn’t hold it (his record of racism) against him. He and his wife were in Bombay. On the final day (of four), when we said goodbye, they both embraced us and wept tears of remorse. They said, ‘In these four days, you’ve changed us. We’re going to fight apartheid when we go back.

“I didn’t accept that. I told me wife let’s wait and see if they really mean it, or were just saying it to make us feel better.” However, Gandhi said that, much to his surprise, the parliamentarian did radically change his positions — and suffered the consequences in the elections.

Someone asked him to “tell us about prayer services at … ashram.”

In reply, Gandhi recalled that his grandfather often spoke about “the friendly study” of all scripture … None of them (religions) has the whole truth. Each of them has a little bit of the truth. None of them were right and none of them were wrong. If they had all come together and tried to put” it together, it would be wonderful. But, Gandhi said, that never happened.

“We each have a historic vision… But if we all came together…. He (the Mahatma) didn’t believe in a melting pot. We practice our different religions, but do it in a more loving, respectful manner... We’d all sit together and sing Christian, Hindu and Muslim prayers together. We prayed and incorporated hymns from all religions.”

Another questioner asked, “In the current political climate, what can I do to prepare myself for what lies ahead?”

“We have politics without principles,” Gandhi replied. “We think democracy means going out and voting every four years. So now, just a few people go out and vote. And then they” complain when a candidate who does not represent their views wins election.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the government that we have is not a government ‘for the peope and by the people,’ but a government ‘for the rich by the rich.’”After a pause, he concluded the Q&A by asserting, “Part of the blame (for the problem) is on us for not exercising our vote in this democracy.”
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