Earth Ethics of Gandhi and Holy Mother Amma ( Mata Amritanandamayi)
October 2, 2011 Uppsala, Sweden
Namaste, Thank you for coming. My name is P. Kamala Willey Diwan, for short, you can call me Aunty Kamala, which is what most people do. I'm here, visiting Sweden and my son, who is a MSc student in Sustainability in Stockholm.
I am very happy to talk with you on this day, Gandhi's 142nd Birth anniversary, and the UN International Day of Nonviolence. We hope that this meeting will be useful and productive for us all.
Gandhi, (1869-1948) , showed the world the power of a life lived morally for ethical ideals. We want to discuss today 2 key means that Gandhi used to seek harmony with truth, by which he gained the power to lift humanity. In order to understand Gandhi and Holy Mother Amma, we must also look at the Soul of India. We also want to look at what he called, a terrible moral weapon, his use of the Fast, as the reasons for using the Fast are becoming confused in people's minds and understanding. We will discuss the Fast from several angles, including how Holy Mother Amma, also known as Mata Amritanandamayi, ``the Hugging Saint'' has used it on one occasion, and Irom Sharmilla of Manipur in North East India, is presently doing so, about whose efforts we have a short video to show you.
After this we will have a question and answers session, and a short break then the movies, beginning with an Introduction to Holy Mother Amma, which is about 30 minutes, and Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, which is 3 hours. Our books, from Wise Earth Publishers, and our newly released Album, an International Youth Album in honour of my daughter, Anni, called Become Love, which was playing as we were settling down, are available here at wholesale prices. Our publications and our publishing company, Wise Earth Publishers, have been created in a spirit of service to promote ethical life and thinking.
So, let us begin.
Defining terms. First, we have to share the same understanding on the terms we use here. In order to do so, we have to recognize the ideals that Gandhi and Amma have clung to, with indomitable wills: Truth, Justice, and a Great Love, called Ahimsa, which is Compassion in Action. Through our ideals and the qualities they give us, we wield powerful and dynamic forces that can change our destiny and the destiny of our planet.
It is because of their unswerving adherence to the ideals of Truth and Love, that both of these people have come to represent the Ideal to people's minds. Through their sticking to the vision of their ideals, both Gandhi and Amma have transformed themselves, their environments, and millions of people whom they have come to represent the ideal too... and millions more, even after Gandhi's death. Holy Mother Amma has said:
“Do not see the Mahatma's as individuals. They stand for an ideal, for the ultimate principle. That is what we should look at.”
Gandhi has become synonymous with truth, Holy Mother Amma, with unconditional and eternal Love.
Next is Earth – Earth here, means, not only the physical matter that modern science tells us is our planet, and the laws that govern the physical systems on the planet ( and by this we also include ourselves, as part and parcel) but also the great laws that we cannot see, which like unseen gravity, affect us at every moment, whether or not we chose to be aware of it. Holy Mother Amma has said,
``Reality is subtler than the subtlest. To experience the subtle, subtle instruments are needed...Speaking softly is subtler than speaking loudly. Our ears are not capable of hearing soft sounds. Similar is the case with all the sense organs and the mind. Therefore, to experience the Self or Atman which is the subtlest of all subtle things, we should develop subtlety of mind...
One cannot understand everything of life if one stays on the gross external plane. There are many mysteries in this universe about which one cannot even imagine. To experience all those, one should go into the subtle planes of existence.
...When the mind attains subtlety through efforts...all can then be seen. What meaning is there in saying, “I don’t believe because I cannot see,” when one is lacking in subtlety?”i
There are many definitions of ethics, the one we are using here, is:
``a governing system of principles.''
What does this system of principles govern?
Our morals, our behaviour, and the behaviour of everything on the planet, which is to say, how it acts and interacts and reacts. Now the word moral is one that many people in consumer based societies are afraid of or angry about, so as we need to be able to use this term in discussing the sciences in Earth Ethics, we need to have the right understanding of it.
Morals are the means we use, which is to say, the use of our liberty to choose to align ourselves with the governing system of principles, Earth Ethics. Morals are a choice. Of all the living beings in creation, animate and inanimate, it appears that human beings alone, have the liberty to obey conscience or not. Everything else, is in strict obedience to the overarching harmony of life. So, we can see that we have ethical instincts as well as primitive or bestial ones.
Morality, is the responsibility or integrity that a person takes for his moral decisions or use of liberty.
For example, as an individual. The supermarket is full of people, its rush hour, and everyone is heading to the check out counters. John Doe sees a counter with a free space, 10' away and heading towards it is an old, tired lady, barely able to hold her heavy basket. He puts some speed into his legs, and manages to overtake her to get to the counter in front of her. She stands waiting, holding her basket while John checks out. John rationalizes this to himself – ``She's just going to go home, and sit all day, I've got lots to do...” He has made a moral choice, a poor one.
Now, if John had instead, assisted the lady in carrying the basket to the counter, before himself, he may have received her smile of appreciation. This is his moral choice. He could have expanded his sense of self in sympathy and service to another person. Actions like these become tools to open our hearts and minds to our ethical instincts, and our awareness expands.
Or, say, you are a family. One member can have no salt due to contracting hepatitis. You decide, as a family, to support that person, by not having salt until the family member is well, so that he will not be tempted to eat salt, which can be harmful when you have hepatitis. Thats a moral decision, made to support to physical and mental well being of another family member. It elevates all family members into a great ethical awareness of themselves. Good moral decisions are always beneficial and positive in their effect upon us and they often entail the sacrifice of our more limited awareness.
Truth is another term we need to understand in light of Earth Ethics. When Gandhi used the word `God' he meant truth. He termed the quest for truth, `religion'. In a talk with Mirabehn (an inmate in Gandhi's ashram community who was, incongruously, the daughter of an English Colonel) he said:
``... in `God is truth,' it certainly does not mean equal to nor does it merely mean is truthful. Truth is not a mere attribute of God but He is That. He is nothing if He is not That. Truth in Sanskrit means Sat. Sat means `Is’. Therefore truth is implied in Is. God is, nothing else is. Therefore the more truthful we are, the nearer we are to God. We are only to the extent that we are truthful.”ii
Ahimsa in Sanskrit means `that which is not `himsa' (harming or violent). This is not the opposite state of violence, but a transcendent state of positive nurturing of truth. Truth is nurtured through Love and respect. The ideal of ahimsa is Compassion, the Great Compassion in Action.
So, this is the scope of Truth and the definition of Truth that we are using here. It is Reality that is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. Truth. And we are, only to the extent that we are truthful, because Truth is Reality, what is really Real. Holy Mother Amma calls truth the Supreme Being, Supreme Self, and God as well as other names that indicate attributes of Reality.
A life lived, through the sciences of alignment to the governing principles of Life, Earth, Reality, produces an effect upon the individual. Lord Rama, the King of Ayodhya in the great Indian epic the Ramayana, was said to be aligned with Truth. To such an extent that even today, the word Rama is synonymous with Truth.
In a description of how a personality aligned with Truth might appear, the introduction to the Ramayana starts with a short question and answer dialogue between Sage Valmiki (the author) and Narada (the son of the Creator Brahma). Narada sees Sage Valmiki, sitting in meditation in his ashram, and asks him what his thoughts are. Sage Valmiki responds:
“You are the son of Brahma and you are like Vayu, the god of wind. You can enter everywhere, even into the minds of men and know what thoughts there are in the innermost hearts of living beings. You must be knowing what has been teasing me for quite sometime now. I wonder if there is, in the world of men, a single individual, a man blessed with all the many good qualities which one can think of.”
“Tell me what those qualities are,” said Narada, “and I will try and tell you if there is one endowed with all of them, and thus satisfy your curiosity.”
“Integrity,” said Valmiki, “Integrity, bravery, righteousness, gratitude, truthfulness, dedication to one’s principles, character without blemish, concern for all living beings, learning, skill, beautiful and pleasing appearance, courage, radiance, ability to keep anger under control, perfect control, and lack of jealousy at all times, undaunted heroism which can frighten even the celestials.”
Valmiki paused for a while after enumerating all these many qualities and then said with a smile, “I know I am expecting perfection in a human being. But I wonder if there is such a person! Is it possible for a single man to have all these qualities? Even gods have not been able to possess them and how can a human being aspire to perfection? Yet this mind of mine has been aching to know of such a person, hoping that there is a perfect man.”
Narada who knew the past, the present and the future, was very pleased with the speculation of Valmiki and he replied: “Listen to me carefully. I happen to know of such a man.”
He looked thoughtful as though he were trying to collect his memories and said; “As you rightly observed, it is very hard to find a single individual endowed with all these glorious qualities which you have enumerated. But I will tell you about one who can be said to have attained perfection in this world of men. In the line of the Ikshavakus there is a king by the name RAMA...iii
Our times are turbulent and troubled. Gandhi asked us to think about the relevance of the wise teachers who have appeared upon the stage of the Earth before humanity again and again:
``Are all the scriptures of the world old women’s tales of superstition? Is the testimony of the Rishis, the prophets, to be rejected?... I omit the living witnesses whose evidence would be considered unimpeachable.iv
Holy Mother Amma is a living witness whose experiential evidence is unimpeachable.
We need to clarify some common misconceptions about Gandhi, too.
It's important to bear in mind that Gandhi is not a prophet, religion, or dogma. He was to repeat throughout his life, that he was a simple Sadhak---a seeker of truth:
``The only virtue I want to claim is truth and ahimsa. I lay no claim to superhuman powers. I want none. I wear the same corruptible flesh that the weakest of my fellow beings wears and am, therefore, as liable to err as any. My services have many limitations, but God has up to now blessed them inspite of the imperfections.”v
The ethics that Gandhi espoused are universally inherent in the human psyche. They transcend religion, and at the same time, they are the foundation-stones of all true religious quest. Yet they remain secular.
Some, seeking to follow Gandhi, are adamant vegetarians. It is less known that Gandhi was opposed to the view that vegetarianism is some sort of evidence of `spiritual evolution'. At age 76, he said:
``The man who coerces another not to eat fish commits more violence than he who eats it...Coercion is inhuman. Those who quarrel among themselves, those who will stoop to anything in order to amass wealth, those who exploit or indulge in forced human labor, those who overload or goad or otherwise torture animals, all these knowingly commit such violence as can easily be stopped. I do not consider it violence to permit the fish-eater to eat fish. It is my duty to suffer it.vi
``In conclusion, though the question of diet is very important for a religious man, yet it is not the be-all and end-all of religion or nonviolence; nor is it the most vital factor. The observance of religion and nonviolence has more to do with the heart. He who does not feel the necessity of abstaining from meat for inner purification need not abstain from it.”vii
Some seeking to follow Gandhi follow the context he was in, and live without electricity and internet. While such lifestyles can be beneficial (they certainly have low carbon emissions and minimal environmental impacts), Gandhi's philosophy needs to be applied in the light of his ideals, to the present context, the ethical crisis that we unwittingly both create and inherit. Our lack of human consensus on a vision of our ideals is what has brought about the crisis of nature that imperils our very existence.
The philosophy that Gandhi evolved to is our deepest common sense. For we are more than clay, we are the fire that we call Life, that ignites the clay.
Another area of befuddlement around Gandhi is seen in the words `passive resistance' and `nonviolence'. These negative-state words imply a condition or action that is a weakened state of `resistance' and the opposite of `violence'. They are misnomers for the tremendous power that Gandhi unleashed through the moral authority he gained by sticking to the truth, which he came to call Satyagraha---truth force. Gandhi was clear:
``Never has anything been done on this Earth without direct action. I rejected the word `passive resistance' because of its insufficience.”viii
He saw that all life is one, is worthy of respect, and has inherent dignity. We can demand recognition and acknowledgement of this universal reality that we all deeply share through the power of love, Ahimsa. Gandhi saw the exercise of ahimsa as our real work with one another:
``Ahimsa is the highest duty. Even if we cannot practice it in full, we must try to understand its spirit, and refrain, as far as is humanly possible, from violence.ix
To love those who love us is easy, but the test of love has no play on these grounds. To actively love and point out the dishonouring of that love, takes guts and courage. He said:
`` Let me not be misunderstood. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”x
To insist on meeting the truth of our innate human connection of love as being our common ground with others is the way of the satytagrahi (one who uses satyagraha). It takes an attitude of invincible persistence, and insistence on both truth and love---the reality at the core of our being---as the most essential factor in our relations with one another. To one satyagrahi Gandhi said:
``You have now perhaps learnt that the best way of resisting injury is to never to injure the injurer, but ever to refuse, no matter how much suffering the refusal costs us, to do his will when we know it to be wrong.” xi
He was to emphasize, again and again, the need for satyagrahis to be patient, tolerant and enduring. Gandhi abhorred cowardice and worked steadfastly to rid himself of fearfulness. He learned that clinging to truth was real bravery:
``As a coward, which I was for years, I harbored violence. I began to prize nonviolence only when I began to shed cowardice.xii
Although he was opposed to the unnecessary use of violence, he recognized that there were times and occasions that could merit it. For example, to women who faced rape, he advised violent resistance to that act with every available means at their disposal: nails, teeth, fists, whatever objects they could command to defend themselves against a brutally insane person.
Gandhi saw that there were conditions when it might even be necessary to kill someone:
At times we may be faced with the unavoidable duty of killing a man who is found in the act of killing people.xiii
Gandhi was clear that when opposed by person(s) who had become incapable of respecting one's human dignity, to offer satyagraha may be impractical. Opposition in that context then, might need to include a degree of violence as determined resistance to the dehumanization. Once a recognition of inherent humanity had been achieved, other means could be employed to resolve the conflict. Gandhi noted:
``Indeed life is made of such compromises. Ahimsa, simply because it is purest, unselfish love, often demands such compromises. The conditions are imperative. There should be no self in one’s action, no fear, no untruth...The compromise must be natural to oneself, not imposed from without.xiv
Nelson Mandela and the ANC used satyagraha against the Botha regime in South Africa's apartheid system for 40 years. It wasn't working. Finally, the ANC resorted to a modified form of nonviolent resistance---sabotage---to force the brutal system to at least acknowledge their voice of protest, while still avoiding bloodshed.
Gandhi saw that the primary role of education was to cultivate virtues inherent in our hearts; to create a people-focused society. The fact is, we all have to live together. The more honest, kind, trustworthy and selfless we are to each other, the more peace and joy we have in our lives.
Many people think Gandhi was against science and technology. Gandhi saw that science and technology had to be guided carefully by moral restraints, in order to serve human beings in awakening to their ethical instincts. He saw that the industrial model of civilization of the West had chosen physical comfort as an ideal, above moral and ethical ideals and considerations.
The Eastern ethic is one of simplicity; while a reasonable level of physical comfort is necessary, cultivating a mental attitude of detachment to minor physical discomforts helps our awareness of what is real, and strengthens our patience with the minor ills of life. Preoccupation with physical luxuries, the mind engaged in constant service to satisfying physical demands; prevents the cultivation of alertness and endurance.
Gandhi made this observation:
``Formerly, men were made slaves under physical compulsion. Now they are enslaved by temptation of money and of the luxuries that money can buy.”xv
Gandhi was not against labour saving devices, but saw that we had to evaluate, then choose carefully, which ones we would manufacture and use. He said:
``The supreme consideration is man. The machine should not tend to make atrophied the limbs of man. For instance, I would make intelligent exceptions. Take the case of the Singer sewing machine. It is one of the few useful things ever invented and there is a romance about the device itself. Singer saw his wife labouring over the tedious process of sewing and seaming with her own hands and simply out of love for her he devised the sewing machine, in order to save her from unnecessary labour. He, however, saved not only her labour but also the labour of everyone who could purchase a sewing machine.xvi
In his time, Gandhi avoided the use of electricity in his ashram communities as long as possible. He saw the telephone as useful. Although he used the motor car and trains, he questioned the use of transportation methods that would enable people to travel long distances away from their communities. He saw in the undistracted stability of interactive village life the means for personal ethical growth and thereby, the raising of the ethical standards, the real standard of life, of the nation. He welcomed scientific endeavour in all arenas that could be genuinely useful to people without making them dependent upon it.
Gandhi saw that economic progress needed careful social regulation guided by ethics if all people were to be included:
``Hence the ancient ideal has been the limitation of activities promoting wealth. This does not put an end to all material ambition. We should still have, as we have always had, in our midst people who make the pursuit of wealth their aim in life. But we have always recognized that it is a fall from the ideal...That you cannot serve God and Mammon is an economic truth of the highest value. We have to make our choice.”xvii
Gandhi had an `on-again---off-again' relationship with the Indian National Congress party (INC), which eventually came to rule independent India. Political leaders, drawn from the educated elite, recognized the devotion of the masses to his ideals. He resigned from the INC in 1934, but as India approached independence he was pressed to assume the leadership again in 1942. Holding his name and ideals aloft to the public, the INC swept into office in 1947, and then closed the door to the reforms for the individual and society that Gandhi had ardently dedicated his life to. Often mistakenly called a politician, his participation in political life was a duty he saw incumbent upon him as a part of his quest for truth and justice:
``For me, politics bereft of religion is absolute dirt, ever to be shunned. Politics concerns nations; that which concerns the welfare of nations must be one of the concerns of a man who is religiously inclined, in other words, a seeker after God and truth.”xviii
``I am convinced that if India is to attain true freedom and through India the world also, then sooner or later the fact must be recognized that people will have to live in villages, not in towns, in huts, not in palaces...I hold that without truth and ahimsa there can be nothing but destruction for humanity. We can realize truth and nonviolence only in the simplicity of village life...I must not fear if the world today is going the wrong way. It may be that India too will go that way and like the proverbial moth burn itself eventually in the flame round which it dances more and more furiously. But it is my bounden duty up to my last breath to try to protect India and through India the entire world from such a doom. The essence of what I have said is that man should rest content with what are his real needs and become self-sufficient.”xix
Gandhi was perhaps the greatest social reformer and advocate of women's rights and duties in the private public sphere the world has yet witnessed. This did not mean that he wanted to see women become men, in order to prove their equality, he wanted women to rise, in respect for their own inherent nature, and insist and demand that relations with them be on an ethical platform first and foremost. He said to women:
``Refuse to be slaves of your own whims and fancies and the slaves of men. Refuse to decorate yourselves, do not go in for scents and lavender water. If you want to smell well, the scent must come out from your hearts and then you will captivate not man, but humanity. It is your birthright. Man is born of woman, he is flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone. Come to your own and deliver your message again.”xx
Hopefully, this has given you a better understanding of Gandhi.
Holy Mother Amma stands today as the ideal of the power and glory inherent in women. She has created female priests in Hindu temples, which were formerly a male monopoly. She stresses the need for women to arise:
``The rules and superstitious beliefs that degrade women continue to prevail in most countries. The primitive customs invented by men in the past to exploit and to subjugate women remain alive to this day. Women and their minds have become entangled in the cobweb of those customs. They have been hypnotised by their own minds. Women have to help themselves in order to extricate themselves from that magnetic field. This is the only way.
Look at an elephant. It can uproot huge trees with its trunk. When an elephant living in captivity is still a baby, it is tied to a tree with a strong rope or a chain. Because it is the nature of elephants to roam free, the baby elephant instinctively tries with all its might to break the rope. But it isn’t strong enough to do so. Realizing its efforts are of no use, it finally gives up and stops struggling. Later when the elephant is fully grown, it can be tied to a small tree with a thin rope...because its mind has been conditioned by its prior experiences it doesn’t make the slightest attempt to break free.
This is what is happening to women.
Society does not allow the strength of women to arise. We have created a blockage, preventing this great strength from pouring forth.
Women were not created for the enjoyment of men.”xxi
Earth Ethics cannot be separated from India.
Both Gandhi and Amma stand as the most profound examples of the highest gifts that India has to offer the human race. For long, India has extolled the Maha Vratas, the five great vows that have been universally found to be quintessential to experiencing harmony with Earth ethics: Truth, Ahimsa, Brahmacharya or self restraint, non-possession and non-stealing.
All families, communities, nations have a spirit, or soul, that is their center. Gandhi and Amma are clear voices of India's soul. Holy Mother Amma has said:
Every place has a heart centre. It is there that all the energy will be concentrated. In the same way, India is the heart of the world. Sanathana Dharma which originated here in India, is the source of all other paths...the reason is that India is the land of the Mahatmas. It is the Mahatmas who transmit the life force not only to India, but to the whole world.”xxii
Gandhi saw the spirit inherent in India as having a unique role amongst the nations and peoples of this Earth:
``I find that India’s mission is different from that of others. India is fitted for the religious supremacy of the world. There is no parallel in the world for the process of purification that this country has voluntarily undergone. India is less in need of steel weapons, it has fought with divine weapons, it can still do so. Other nations have been votaries of brute force. The terrible war going on in Europe furnishes a forcible illustration of the truth. India can win all by soul force. History supplies numerous instances to prove that brute force is as nothing before soul force. Poets have sung about it and seers have described their experiences.”xxiii
Holy Mother Amma has said that India's soul has an awareness of ethical sciences:
``Our country and its soil have a unique fragrance: the fragrance of principles like sacrifice, Love, austerities and spirituality. The deep bond of Love between parents and children, the reverence towards teachers and elders, the loving relationship between neighbours—these are our wealth. Similarly, even our art forms were means of worshipping God. What we need are entertainment and knowledge that have been sanctioned by this tradition and culture. That is the only way for us to build a society of excellence.”xxiv
Along with a soul, nations have minds as well. The 34th US President F.D.~Roosevelt once said:
“A nation, like a person, has a mind—a mind that must be kept informed and alert, that must know itself, that understands the hopes and needs of its neighbours—all the other nations that live within the narrowing circle of the world.”xxv
When Martin Luther King visited India in 1959, he said,
“Today, India is a tremendous force for peace and nonviolence at home and abroad. It is a land where the idealist and the intellectual are yet respected. We should want to help India preserve her soul and thus help save our own.”xxvi
Gandhi saw India, and through Her influence, the poor people’s peace and Love-oriented culture of Asia, as having a great role to play in the sphere of nations. Addressing an Inter-Asian conference in 1947, Gandhi said:
``If you want to give a message again to the West, it must be a message of `Love,' it must be a message of `Truth.’ There must be a conquest...I believe in one world. And how can I possibly do otherwise, when I become an inheritor of the message of Love that these great unconquerable teachers left for us? You can re-deliver that message now, in this age of democracy, in the age of awakening of the poorest of the poor, you can re-deliver this message with the greatest emphasis.”xxvii
Holy Mother Amma asks us to re-evaluate what human development and progress are:
“Countries claim that they have made great progress in many fields. This may be true, but as a whole, their growth is stunted. A country may be growing externally, but the inner soul is becoming weaker.”xxviii
Amma gives us this analogy:
Let us take the human body as an example. The body as a whole, with all its internal and external organs, must grow in proportion to maintain its health and well-being. Only then can we consider it to be real growth. If the head alone grows, and all the other parts of the body remain undeveloped, it can only be considered as unhealthy, disproportionate growth. Such a person would become deformed and unhealthy. Similarly, nations must grow not only materially, but in spiritual and human values as well.”xxix
Amma asks us to question ourselves, giving us this analogy:
``A person is very handsome and has an attractive personality. Nobody can pass him by without glancing at him at least once. But what if he is actually gravely ill? What if this same man happens to be dying of heart disease? This is the condition of many countries: the outer facade is greatly embellished, but the inside is falling apart. Does this mean, then, that we are erring from the right path?”xxx
``We have forgotten the love, concern, and trust that human beings are supposed to show each other. “As long as I get what I want, I don't care how it's done!” This is how many people think, and the thoughts of each individual are reflected and become part of the collective thoughts of a nation. The material development of a country is not the only criterion by which the growth of a nation can be measured. Progress should also be evaluated in the light of the inherent tendencies of the people and the quality of their thoughts. Competing with each other for petty reasons, human beings are sacrificing the higher values of life. This is the condition of modern society, it is a tragic situation.”xxxi
So, we recognize that India is unique, any one who has been there, has experienced the richness of heart, seen the highest and the lowest types of human behaviour. Everything exists in India. At the same time, at present, India's psyche is reeling under the consumer based development model. Despite media's frenzied cries that India is becoming a world economy, with more starving and hungry human beings that 26 African nations combined, the facts don't fit the hype - in a press interview, Amma said:
``Even if India emerges as a major economic power, what purpose will it serve if there are going to be crores of people starving or lacking proper education? Our advancement should manifest as food for the hungry, homes for the homeless and uplift of the downtrodden. Real advancement is the refinement and culture of the human mind.”xxxii
Tools for Earth Ethical Inquiry
The two foundations stones in approaching the science of Earth ethical inquiry, are understanding the role of death, while we live, its meaning in our lives, and our life in relation to it, and gaining orderliness in our minds.
Holy Mother Amma has often commented, that the greatest miracle she sees, is that we all live as though we will live forever. We act as though we will never die. And thus, we miss the great lessons and insights that life has to give us.
Our globalized consumer-based culture keeps us distracted from the deeper rhythms in our lives, from the natural ebb and tide of our own life force in our bodies.
Gandhi sought to live in an abiding awareness of the jaws of death. It was because of his inner preparation, that was as long and as constant as his conscious evolution towards ethical life, that he was able at the moment of death, to welcome it with peace.
The very first part of the awarenesses that Gandhi held, of humility and heart, duty, and sacrifice, all began with concentration on regaining orderliness in his mind. He began to pay attention. To pay attention to the mind, does two things, it puts us into an observer mode, within ourselves, and it helps us to become aware of our conscience.
Holy Mother Amma has this to say about mental orderliness:
``To know or to study yourself is not merely to have knowledge of your gross body and other things associated with it. That which gives you power, vigour, strength and the effulgence of life is something different. Modern science calls it energy and our Ancient Sages called it the Self or God. You cannot deny Shakti [primordial energy, which is our life force as well] In reality, it is there that your real existence lies. That is the real `you’. To study yourself means to know that Self without which you have no existence, power or vigour. But that is very subtle, you cannot perceive it, but you can experience it. As you go more and more into it, you will get the power to understand that Self. But if you revel on the gross level, the subtle level cannot be understood. We reach God when we go in search of ourselves.”xxxiii
``At present the mind is in total disorder. We have to regain and restore the lost order and harmony of our mind first. Once that has been regained, the mind becomes conducive enough to contemplate upon the Supreme Self. To attain that inner harmony we should begin with external orderliness and cleanliness.”xxxiv
In Gandhi's time, nobility of character was still a social virtue in most minds. For our time, Holy Mother Amma has pulled out of India's great treasure chest of metaphysical sciences 3 tools to assist in regaining orderliness of mind:
Shraddha - paying attention. To illustrate this, Amma often gives the example of a bird on a Twig. The bird perches on the twig, singing, eating a fruit, but, when the twig snaps, flies off without a flutter, for the bird is always alert.
Viveka – using our discrimination to discern whether a thought, word, or deed is morally beneficial or not. Holy Mother Amma has said that:
"Leading life without discrimination is like shooting without taking aim."
Amma gives these points to contemplate upon:
"The beauty of our ears is not in our earrings, but in listening to the distressed."
"When people live in accordance with Nature, the song of life becomes sweet."
Vairagya – dis-passion, learning to become less personally identified with the external things, including our thoughts, feelings, and bodies, as being the totality of ourselves.
Amma gives this parable:
``A palm reader was reading someone’s hand and he predicted, “Until the age of fifty you will experience a lot of sorrow and suffering in your life. You will be in constant mental pain and agony.”
“And after the age of fifty?” asked the devastated customer hopefully.
The palm reader coolly replied, “After the age of fifty it will become your nature.”
Amma has said that: “It seems that human nature has almost become like this. People are in pain, and they have almost become identified with it. So much so that they are not even aware of it, nor do they really want to get out of it.”xxxv
Holy Mother Amma emphasizes these three metaphysical tools again and again in her teachings. Amma is in the position of having to actually remind us, that pure ideals are what guide life beautifully to its real purposes, for we are part of Nature, a larger whole that is far more encompassing than human society alone.
``There is an urgent need for people to observe and practice spiritual principles. That is the only way to save the world and the human race from destruction. Doubt will destroy all our good tendencies. Put aside your doubts...Everyone has a responsibility to save humanity. You, too, have a part to play. By doing your duty with the utmost sincerity and Love, you are helping your own Self. You are saving your own life, which in turn will help society as well.”xxxvi
Ethics of the Fast
Now, lets turn, to the ethics of using the Fast.
Gandhi arrived at using the fast from an internal call. He said:
``Whilst I regard Jesus to be one of the greatest religious teachers, I do not believe in his exclusive divinity. You will be surprised to know that my belief in Fasting as a form of intense prayer, began before I knew anything of the teachings of Jesus. But when I came to read the Bible, the Koran and other Scriptures, my position was further fortified by the knowledge that they advocated Fasting as a help to heartfelt prayer and communion with God.”xxxvii
From the Satyagraha arsenal, Mahatma Gandhi introduced to the world platform of human ethics in action, what he termed, `the terrible weapon' of the Fast:
``Fasting is a potent weapon in the Satyagraha armory. It cannot be taken by everyone. Mere physical capacity to take it is not qualification for it...It should never be a mechanical effort or a mere imitation.”xxxviii
Gandhi treated the weapon of the Fast with great respect. In a lifespan of 78 years, records indicate he used it only 17 times. For him, it was an appeal to the truth that he called God. He said:
``A genuine Fast cleanses the body, mind and soul. It crucifies the flesh and to that extent, sets the soul free.”xxxix
``He who performs a Fast must think deeply. If he hasn’t full faith in God, his Fast has not the slightest value. A Fast presupposes a clear direction from God.”xl
``I Fasted to reform those who loved me. You cannot Fast against a tyrant.”xli
Since his departure from the physical body, the weapon of the Fast has become misused, its effect consequently greatly diminished. Many Indian politicians publicize their use of the Fast, as a means to express displeasure, foregoing a meal, or skipping eating for a day. Gandhi warned:
``I have to guard you against another contingency. It has been recently noticed that whosoever wishes goes on Fast at any time he likes without giving any thought to it. It would seem that Fasts started in this way to get quick results will only bring disappointment. Besides, if an infallible remedy like the Fast is misused in this manner, it will cease to have any effect.”xlii
For Gandhi-ji, the Fast is the natural response of a heart that cannot find relief from the world---the minds and hearts of people. He took it in response to the agony of his soul. Before embarking on a 21 day Fast in 1924, due to his distress about Hindu-Moslem violence, he said:
``The recent events have proved unbearable for me. My helplessness is still more unbearable. My religion teaches me that whenever there is distress which one cannot remove, one must Fast and pray.”xliii
The Fast was not a lightly taken decision. Gandhi relied upon the call of his conscience, it was knowledge, guidance and direction for action that came from beyond the powers of the intellect. At one point he said:
``I see the Fast coming. I have been outwardly engaged in different activities, but inwardly, I have been listening all the time. I have not been able to hear the inner voice clearly, but something within me tells me that I cannot get away from the Fast.”xliv
He recognized that his decision, his use of human liberty to serve the truth he could see within himself, would be particularly painful to those who felt close to him. Before undertaking one Fast, to his close associates he wrote:
``I have discussed the subject threadbare. I have delayed embarking on it but I see now that I cannot avoid it. I want you to prepare yourself mentally for it...so that you could keep your poise and be able to work during the Fast. I shall need looking after. I have not the stamina of those who needs no help even in a prolonged Fast. I am afraid, Ba [the name he called his wife, Kasturba] may not be able to stand the strain... Even if all of you break down, I shall still have to go on a Fast, but it will make it harder for me.”xlv
The Fast is a weapon of penance before our universal conscience. We are all bearers of the same truth. The One who undertakes the Fast must be truthful, deeply sincere, and humble before the truth within him or her self. Once, after entering into a Fast, Gandhi said:
``It is a matter between me and my Maker...I am wrestling with Him! If there is pride or defiance in me it is all over with me... Let God keep this body if He has still to make some use of it. Let it perish if it has fulfilled His purpose.”xlvi
At the same time, such a prayerful penance can be punishment for those who can feel their own self-identity with the one who undertakes the Fast. As punishment, Gandhi stated:
``The Fast is a whip administered to lethargic love.”
About using the Fast as corrective, Gandhi said:
``All Fasting and all penance must as far as possible be secret. But my Fasting is both a penance and a punishment, and a punishment has to be in public. It is penance for me and punishment for those whom I try to serve, for whom I love to live and would equally love to die.”xlvii
The Fast, as penance, has powerful results. It makes a man stand naked in the truest sense, before his Maker, his awareness bared before every falsehood, self-deception, and grand self-delusions. This is purity. Gandhi entered his Fasts in a sense of agony. The Fast placed him into alignment and harmony with the truth he found in his conscience, and touched that truth within all around him.
Penance is a subtle knife, that cuts the dross of indifference and distraction away from our hearts, our minds, so that we can see and feel our own conscience again. It is through our conscience that we find our way to our true duties here on this Earth, to each other, and to the creation. We are all connected, indivisibly connected by the air we breathe, the land we walk upon, and much, much more.
Margaret Brinks, of South Africa followed Gandhi's life with the greatest of interest and devotion. Her father had worked with Gandhi in South Africa, and the entire family was touched deeply by his love for humanity. For those who love the ideal Gandhi stood for, as being Gandhi, his Fasts were excruciating events for them. Hearing of his Fasts in India, Margaret said, ``O! How we cried, that people had not understood his message, and that he had to take a Fast again!”
J.C. Smuts noted the effect that Gandhi's Fast had, when he used it to reform those who loved him:
``... He succeeds, not by reasoning or persuasion, but by arousing the much deeper-lying emotions of fear, of shame, of repentance, of sympathy, of humanity, and of other feelings below the threshold of conscious thought, which in their mass effect, prove much more potent than reasoning or persuasion.”xlviii
There is more to consider. Gandhi observed that:
``For a fast, too, a certain atmosphere is necessary.”xlix
This atmosphere must be one that has become more attuned to Earth ethics, to the laws that sustain the universe. Gandhi saw the use of the Fast as essential to the refinement of his person and mind into a more subtle instrument in order detect the moral ways to serve and align himself with the structures of Earth ethics. Gandhi's motto, of `be the change you want to see' saw that while his purity would positively effect the environment, the hearts of millions, change had to first begin within himself.
``I must undergo personal cleansing. I must become a fitter instrument able to register the slightest variation in the moral atmosphere about me. My prayers must have much deeper truth and humility about them than they evidence...here is nothing so helpful and cleansing as a Fast accompanied by the necessary mental cooperation.”l
``I Fasted to reform those who loved me. You cannot Fast against a tyrant.”li
He cautioned the use of the Fast with:
``A Fast is not remedy in every situation. It is only one of the many ways available for self purification. The highest degree of purity is achieved only by gaining control over one’s thoughts. In the final analysis, such purity is the only true purity.”lii
Besides using the Fast in this way, there is also the attitude of Universal Motherhood that Holy Mother Amma employs. In fact, Gandhi used it with this sense of responsibility as well. Gandhi's mother, Putlibai, also used the Fast, as a penance for the errant behaviour and words of her children, and as prayer for their well-being, and it was from her that he first learned of the Fast as a moral corrective for ethical lapses in children. He advised mothers to try it to reform their children if need be.
In an anecdote, about an incident reported to have happened in early 1980, Amma used the Fast in still another way, out of the pain of loving another. As the story goes:
``One day, Mother was not eating. All the pleading to make Her eat failed. There was no apparent reason for Her Fast, and no one knew why She was not eating. Mother did not even drink a glass of water. Although everybody tried to find out why, Mother remained quiet. She seemed deeply absorbed in thought, sometimes crying, as She sat alone on the banks of the backwaters. Finally at ten o'clock that night Mother tood a little food.
Disclosing the reason for Her Fast, Mother said that a few neighbouring families were starving. There was nothing to eat, and they could not catch any fish that day. Learning of their distress, Mother did not feel like eating. She wanted very badly to send some food to them, but these families had no empathy towards the Ashram. They were, in fact, dead-set against the Ashram. Years earliers, in the days when the few residents of the Ashram themselves hardly had anything to eat, Mother had sent vegetables and rice to these families, but they refused the food. Therefore, this time, Mother said,
``Regardless of their attitude towards the Ashram, Mother would have sent them some food. However Mother knows that they would not accept it, and by rejecting the food offered, they would be incuring bad karma. Mother does not want that to happen. Whatever attitude they may have about the Ashram, they are also Mother's children, aren't they? Mother must have the patience to bear with them. Who else will have the patience if Mother doesn't? Let us not harbor any bit of hatred or anger towards them. Let us pray to God that they will grow spiritually. Anyhow, now they have gotten something to eat. That is why Mother also ate a little food, to participate in their happiness.''liii
I would now like to introduce you to Irom Chenu Sharmilla, through a short video, that will provide an the introduction to her work.
After the video, My Body, My Weapon
As she is listed as a `suicide' offender, Irom Sharmilla is released from Jail once a year, as she continues her fast, without the feeding, she is rearrested, and put back in the jail hospital. Her wardens feel she is a very saintly and good person, whose willing self-suffering for the righteous relief from unnecessary harassment and prosecution going on in Manipur, touches them deeply.
On Oct. 2006, she was released as per the yearly routine, and she managed to go to Delhi, where she continued her fast at Raj Ghat, where Gandhi's Samadhi, the place where his body was cremated, is. There, she was met by Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, Nobel Laurate and human rights activist . Ebadi's strong support for Irom Sharmilla, got her cause publicity for the very first time, with Shirin loudly telling the press, that
``If Sharmila dies, Parliament is directly responsible. If she dies, courts and judiciary are responsible, the military is responsible... If she dies, the executive, the Prime Minister and the President are responsible for doing nothing... If she dies, each one of you journalists is responsible because you did not do your duty.... ''
Since Shirin met Irom Sharmilla, there has been increasing awareness, publicity, and awards trickling around and towards her. At present, a new effort, which has brought many people's groups throughout India together in support of her, is beginning a new campaign starting today, to bring her demands to the government for redress.
I mentioned to the organizers of that effort, that I would raise the issue of Irom Sharmilla here, today, in Sweden, on this occasion of Gandhi's birthday and the UN International day of Nonviolence, and they sent me a petition for signatures to present to the government of India, for those of you who would like to sign it. We will be scanning and sending it back to them then, mailing it as well.
Let this circulate, while we take questions....
Thank-you for this opportunity to serve our highest ideals.
i Awaken Children. Vol.2 :167–168.
ii CWMG 77:102. Author's emphasis.
iii Subramaniam, K., Ramayana page 4.
v Mahatma 2:84.
vi CWMG 83: 241. Harijan. March 24, 1946. Age 76.
vii CWMG 35: 381. Age 58.
ix CWMG 83:241.
xIbid. 2: 5
xiCWMG: 46: 202–203.
xii Mahatma 2: 131.
xiii CWMG 31: 487.
xiv CWMG 63: 374.
xvGandhi. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule:32
xvi Young India November 13, 1924.
xvii Hingorani. Gandhi for the 21st Century. 18:4–5.
xviii Mahatma 2: 2189.
xix Prasad, G.V.V.S., Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj---Its Relevance For Today.
xx Desai, N., My Gandhi: 40.
xxiThe Awakening of Universal Motherhood: 35–37.
xxii For My Children: 143.
xxiii India of My Dreams: 3.
xxivMatruvani.16: 11. July, 2005. 3–4. Amma’s Message.
xxvi King, M.L., I Have a Dream.: 48.
xxviiSpeech in New Delhi to the Inter-Asian Relations Conference. April 2, 1947. Age 77
xxviiiUnity is Peace: 39.
xxix Unity is Peace: 47
xxx Ibid. 39.
xxxi Ibid. 37.
xxxiiI The Hindu. September 28, 2007:5 Negative aspects of Western culture more disastrous than nuclear deal, says Mata.
xxxiii Awaken Children: 2: 259.
xxxiv Ibid. 3:79
xxxv Awaken Children. 7: 224-225.
xxxvi Ibid. 6: 208.
xxxviiiHarijan: March 18 , 1939.
xl January 19, 1948. To Manubehn.
xli Mahatma: 156.
xliii CWMG 25: 170-171.
xliv Nayar, S., Mahatma Gandhi’s Last Imprisonment: the Inside Story: 186.
xlvi CWMG September 19, 1924. To Shaukat Ali.
xlviiCWMG 22: 419.
xlviii Mahatma: Essays and Reflections. 282.
xlix CWMG 40: 407.
l CWMG 22. 419.
li Mahatma : 156.
lii CWMG 31: 231.
liii Awaken Children 4:282