Claire Schaeffer-Duffy (CS): For many people, Gandhi’s significance is his application of nonviolence to a political struggle. In your book Living Nonviolence you describe him as a “spiritual revolutionary,” whose lifelong goal was “to see God face to face.” Can you explain?
Arya Bhardwaj (AB): There is no doubt Gandhi applied the principle of nonviolence to the socio-political issues facing humanity during his life time, through his symbolic political actions in South Africa (1894–1915) and later in India (1916-1948). He did succeed up to certain extent. His ultimate goal was something more. He wanted humanity to change from the traditional ways of solving problems through physical-conflict . . . to adopt new ways of nonviolent social-change. He did not fully succeed in his effort.
To change minds is difficult. From time immemorial society has relied on violent ways which have dominated the human mind. Gandhi had full faith in the human heart’s ability to change. He was optimistic and continued his ceaseless effort in this direction, throughout his life. Therefore, I say, Gandhi was a spiritual revolutionary.
The human being has been gifted with three-dimensional-growth: physical, mental and spiritual. But the human psyche seldom applies all three faculties. This is the biggest limitation with ordinary human beings. Gandhi tried to use all three faculties that were God’s gift to him.... Only when one uses all three faculties can one understand an integral approach to life and the concept of God.
CS: In your writings and talks, you refer frequently to the Gandhian concept of swaraj (self-rule). What is swaraj and why do you think it is so essential to constructing a nonviolent society?
AB: The Sanskrit word swaraj comes from Swa + Raj. ‘Swa’ means mine and ‘Raj’ means Rule. The main conflict that has been persisting all over the world is over the meaning of “Swa.”
Most people think it is merely the physical (individual) ‘I’ which matters. The real meaning of ‘I’ can be truly understood only through an integral approach towards life where the physical ‘I’ remains marginal and the individual becomes one with others. It is only this real ‘I’ which remains ever lasting and universal. To reach a stage in life where one realizes that there is none other than that real ‘I’ — this was Gandhi’s real goal in life.
CS: You have said that “identifying oneself and feeling one with others is the way that leads to God;” yet today the world seems more divided than ever. Political leaders speak of “a clash of civilizations” and religious fundamentalism is on the rise. What is a Gandhian response to these divisions? Specifically, how are Gandhians in India responding to Hindu fundamentalism?
AB: I do not think that this is a “clash of civilizations.” True civilizations never clash actually speaking; it is a clash of narrow minded ‘Swa’ and the true ‘Swa’ as I have tried to explain earlier. It is the result of so-called democracy that the present clashes exist, whether it is in the name of Hindu fundamentalism (in Kashmir) or Muslim fundamentalism (the Middle East, Iraq, both inter-religion and intra-religion) or Christian fundamentalism (in Northern Ireland, intra-religion) or Buddhist fundamentalism (in Sri Lanka) or for any other illogical reasons.
We have to understand that in the age of mega-computers, supersonic jets, the internet, and globalization, geo-political boundaries have become meaningless. It is only the political mis-leadership that unfortunately has been promoting this dead concept.
The problems of the common person around the globe are the same: poverty, hunger, socio-economic injustice, mental slavery and fear of death. These can be fought – in a united way rather than through fragmented clashes. The only sane way is to use all three faculties (physical, mental, and spiritual) that have been gifted to human beings. We have to “think positively, act locally, and live globally.”
CS: Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the relevance of Gandhi’s teachings for India of the 21st century?
AB: I do not think in isolation. I have been humbly trying to promote Gandhi‘s ideas at the global level for the last 22 years. It does not matter much that Gandhi was born in India. Gandhi’s relevance is the same for India as well as for the whole globe. [His message] is as important today as it was when he was alive 58 years ago.
The mistake ‘Gandhians’ in India have been making is to identify themselves as a special people. They foolishly tried to make themselves a superior class, holier than thou. It has resulted in their reduction in numbers day by day. By contrast, Gandhi said, “I am humbler than a particle of dust.”
Was Gandhi a Gandhian? Was Buddha a Buddhist? Was Christ a Christian? Buddha, Christ, and Gandhi were people who thought in an integral way and reached the position of “real human beings.” People may call them God. I have no objection. But how they reached that level is a matter of practice.
In democracy, people’s headcount matters. What is inside the head does not matter. This is the main limitation of the system and this is the root cause of the violence that we are helplessly witnessing today. It has to be changed, and it will be changed. I have full faith in a three dimensional approach of human beings. It is a matter of time. It may not be achieved in my life time. It does not matter. My simple goal is to go on striving until my last breath.