Today if you go to rural India, in some ways it has changed little from when Gandhi helped it achieve its independence from Great Britain. Poverty is still widespread. To get a glimpse of what life was like then and now you should watch the great Satyajit Ray films collectively called The Apu Trilogy and listen to the wonderful sitar music of Ravi Shankar which is used in both of these movies. However, you will also find in India the laughter clubs which help to enhance your immune system and move closer to how God wants you to respond to the pressures of life. (A social worker here in the United States who is involved in spreading the worldwide development of laughter clubs has a website www.hahalogy.com where you can order her book Almost Home: Embracing the Magical Connection Between Positive Humor and Spirituality. Proverbs 17:22 states that "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine." For thousands of years we have known the power of laughter and in more recent years we have developed the science to prove its effectiveness in dealing with stress, releasing endorphins to make us feel better, increasing catecholomines (the alertness hormone), and boosting the immune system. In short, God has designed our body so that it reacts positively to laughter. And, remember, the body does this even if you are faking the laughter! So every day, laugh! You will live a happier and longer life if you do! Besides, the world has so much pain and misery in it, you need to balance your awareness of the horrors of the world with laughter. As Jacki Kwan, the hahalogy social worker, says: "The more we allow ourselves to laugh and to find the humor in everyday events, the greater our spiritual awakening will be."
Gandhi not only changed India forever, his ideas helped changed the whole world. The concept of non-violence was taught to him as a child and he lived according to this belief his entire life. His example provided a formative role model for Martin Luther King in his struggle for civil rights and Caesar Chavez in his struggle to organize farm workers. Both King and Chavez effectively utilized the long marches that Gandhi employed. You repeatedly see in the movie two types of marches. The march of non-violent protest designed to bring injustice to the attention of the world, the kind of march that lifts the soul and makes you a better person. This type of march builds solidarity, comradery, strength of character. The other form of march we see is the march of the mob, the kind of march that drags the soul down into the gutters of life. We all engage in collective actions of one kind or the other. What kind are you participating in?
The movie starts out on January 30, 1948 with Gandhi's assassination and the huge funeral tribute which follows. The media person reporting on radio of the funeral notes that Gandhi never attained wealth or title. Instead, he dedicated his life to the cause of liberation---social and spiritual liberation. The movie then digresses back to 1893 when Gandhi, an English trained lawyer, is on the train in South Africa travelling first class (Gandhi came from a prosperous merchant class in India and was well educated and could easily have lived a prosperous "normal" life of reasonably substantial luxury. The fact that he elected otherwise helps us reflect upon just how important your spiritual development is and how you can resist the temptation of engaging in a life of possessions and passions.) He is thrown off the train because people of color were not allowed to ride first class with the white people and this was the start of his political and spiritual awakening.
He was raised as a Hindu; however, in the temple they quoted from both the Hindu and the Muslim holy books as they felt that the purpose was all the same, one of worshiping God, not simply reading the words of holy books. He devoutly believed that the concept of "Love thy neighbor as thyself" was a generic concept relevant to all the great religious movements.
Eventually in South Africa he gets involved in changing the system and lives on an Ashram where everyone is expected to share the work, all the work, even cleaning the outhouses. This is a concept we see him following throughout the next 50 years as he is seen doing basic chores throughout his life. This is a way of concretely communicating that everyone is an equal. It is easy to give lip service to that concept and quite another thing to put it into practice in your own life. It helps us learn humility and brotherhood. His idea of resistance by refusing to obey is successful in South Africa and when in 1915 he returns to India he is hailed as a hero.
When he returns to India he at first simply travels all over it to better understand his native land. The idea here is that if you are going to change something, then you first must understand it. Change without careful thought and knowledge tends to just create new problems in exchange for the old ones you are trying to eliminate. When he is finally called to act in the behalf of starving peasants who are oppressed by unreasonable landlords, he fights the injustice with details. "Make the injustice visible." As the great architect Meis van der Rohe said: "God is in the details."
We then see the infamous massacre committed by General Dyer where 1,516 Indians are wounded without warning with 1,650 bullets. The government repudiated the action, but Gandhi points out that it was but an extreme example of what is happening every day when you are running a government designed to oppress people. We all get outraged when we see the extreme; however, we also need to get outraged when we see all examples of oppression. How are people being oppressed around you every day? How are you being oppressed? What is causing you not to get involved in helping the end the oppression?
People throughout the country are marching in protest and in one instance the police beat protestors. The protestors respond by killing the police. (This should remind you of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles---the city of "Angels"---and the rioting there.) Gandhi feels that the marches should end as he does not want any violence and he begins a fast to help end the violence. It is at this point that he notes that throughout history the way of love and truth win out eventually. This is what he is all about. He is trying to encourage and support the natural inclination of humanity to be free. In the final scene of the movie we hear him say these words again as a voiceover.
Gandhi is on more than one occasion arrested for sedition and readily admits his guilt---yes, he wants to overthrow the government because it is oppressive. His commitment to his beliefs never fails him and in time India is given its independence.
One of the most powerful scenes in the movie for me is toward the end when he is once again fasting. This time, however, India has its independence but is out of control with Muslim and Hindu killing one another in Calcutta. His fasting finally helps end the rioting and one man comes to him and confesses he is going to hell because he killed a child in response to the murder of his own beloved son. Gandhi gives him a way out. (Remember Rodrigo in The Mission also needed a way out of his hell after killing his brother.) The way out for this man would be enormously challenging. The Hindu man would have to find an orphaned Muslim child and raise that child as his own, but….raise him as a Muslim. One of the ways for us all to find our way out of the messes we create is to accept others fully and unconditionally, even when they are significantly different than we are.
So, what does this movie have to say to us besides giving us a history and biography lesson?
The movie is about sacrifice, acceptance, and love. Are you ready to sacrifice possessions and passions in order to make yourself a better person, in order to make this a better world? That does not mean that you cannot have possessions and passions. It does mean that you have to make sure that they do not distract you from your higher goals and ideals. Are you ready to accept others who have different beliefs than you? That does not mean you have to give up your belief system; however, it does mean that you cannot see their system as inferior to yours. True acceptance has no room for insults and injuries. True acceptance is an act of love, which requires that you love even that which is strange to you. Are you ready to love, to become a free person? In what ways are you now a prisoner?
It is a primer for how you have to act if you want to change the world. The principles Gandhi employed are just as effective today as they were then. Mahatma means great soul. Gandhi became Mahatma Gandhi through years of commitment to others, to freedom, to the development of his own soul. He didn't practice the rituals of the Hindu religion, although he considered himself a Hindu and studied the Hindu scriptures. He felt that you were obligated to engage in a friendly study of all the great spiritual writings if you were going to successfully develop your soul. Are you prepared to do that? Only by so doing can you really move toward acceptance.
The above quotes are taken from the following website www.gandhiinstitute.org
What a wonderfully challenging statement! We, you and me, we must be the change we wish to see. If you want others to behave better, then you must behave better. If you want a world that is more loving, then you must become more loving. If you want a less materialistic world, then…..well you get the idea and you can fill in the blanks.
If you find yourself sickened by the kidnapping and murder of an innocent child, if you are concerned about the wars and suicide bombings in America, in Israel, in other parts of the world, if you find this world has things you want to see changed; then you are obligated to change yourself! You can't just look at the world and expect it to change. All change starts with you!
And, as the first quote above indicates, the world is changing, is moving toward love and acceptance. It is easy to think that things are terrible and you can do nothing. That is simply the resistance within you, the fear that is trying to get you to avoid the commitment.
We must be the change we wish to see.
The most important belief that you must cling to through all the turbulence that life tosses at you is your belief in the possible.