I’m currently working my way through Louis Fischer’s “Life of Mahatma Gandhi”. I say “working my way through” because it is impossible to simply read about such a life without being forced to look long and hard at one’s own. One of the many things that strikes me about Gandhi’s life is his unending experimentation.
Many of his contemporaries found this a very frustrating aspect of their Mahatma. As much as they loved him, it was difficult to keep up with his ever evolving attitudes and approaches. Just when people thought he had nailed something down, he would move on, backtrack, repent, try something else. This champion of non-violence and enemy of the British System, nevertheless supported the British war effort by recruiting and serving in an ambulance corps. During his lifetime, Gandhi completely reversed his opinion on inter-caste marriages within Hinduism – from complete disapproval to virtually insisting on it. And he never stopped radically changing his dietary habits in line with his evolving view of human health and ethical vegetarianism.
He was a slippery fish – you never quite knew how he was going to respond to something, but he was always ready with a reasoned answer to his surprised and exasperated followers. This apparent inconsistency was not a weakness but appears to spring from a humble openness to change and learn, make mistakes and experiment.
In spite of all this it appears that three things remained fixed, two of which were phenomenally practical. He maintained a lifelong commitment to Khadi (homespun cloth), he never gave up his focus on integrating the “untouchables” in society (he renamed them “Harijans” – children of God), and he was unashamedly religious. Khadi, Harijans, and God – these were the forces he believed in for the transformation of India.
I admire the clarity with which he was able to pick the issues he would die for (as he nearly did on a couple of occasions due to self-imposed fasts). But, I am also determined to learn from the humility with which he was able to try new ways of aligning his convictions with his actions, and to say, “I got that wrong” and move on to try another approach.
Gandhi’s own body and soul, his surroundings and his sphere of influence were a laboratory in which he was prepared to constantly refine and improve his methods in search of the truth. He reminds me that our goal in life is not to become an increasing point of stability and so-called “reliability” but to be dynamic beings, adept swimmers in a sea of change, lifelong experimenters and unashamed modifiers of our selves.
- Mahatma Gandhi’s Fifth Principle – Simplicity : Pigeon Project – Art – Music – Peace – Love (1982mbott.wordpress.com)
- The Future is Handmade (ucucc.wordpress.com)