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A Legacy of Inspiration

by Alexander Green

 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

 

 

In January 1948, Mohandas Gandhi was shot three times by a Hindu assassin as he walked through a garden in New Delhi to take evening prayers. He died instantly.

 

Today he is remembered as an anti-colonialist, an advocate of non-violence, a pioneer of civil disobedience and the father of the world's largest democracy.

 

He achieved a great deal as a political leader, working against discrimination, poverty and the caste system. He ended "untouchability." He expanded women's rights, religious tolerance and economic self-reliance.

 

For all these things, Gandhi is rightly honored. In the long run, however, Mahatma (literally "Great Soul") may be best remembered for his contribution to humanity's inner life.

 

Gandhi advocated a simple and unassuming lifestyle. He lived modestly, wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, and ate plain vegetarian food. He said it did not require money to be neat, clean and dignified.

 

He undertook long fasts, sometimes for self-purification, other times as social protest.

 

And he had a sense of humor. Asked once what he thought about Western civilization, Gandhi replied, "I think it would be a good idea."

 

Gandhi suffered many hardships in his life. He was imprisoned several times and for many years in both South Africa - where he first employed non-violent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer - and in India.

 

During these periods, he took the time to write down his key principles. Here are just a few of his thoughts:

 

~ In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.

 

~ All of your scholarship, all your study of Shakespeare and Wordsworth would be in vain if at the same time you did not build your character and attain mastery over your thoughts and your actions.

 

~ A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.

 

~ The only tyrant I accept in this world is the 'still small voice' within.

 

~ Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

 

~ I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present.

 

~ What a great thing it would be if we in our busy lives, could retire into ourselves each day, for at least a couple of hours, and prepare our minds to listen to the voice of the great silence.

 

~ Experience has taught me that silence is a part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech. He will measure every word.

 

~ True happiness is impossible without true health and true health is impossible without rigid control of the palate. All the other senses will automatically come under our control when the palate has been brought under control. And he who has conquered his senses has really conquered the whole world.

 

More than sixty years after his death, Gandhi is still viewed as one of the world's great spiritual leaders.

 

He dedicated his life to the purpose of discovering Truth - something he insisted could only be revealed to those with a deep sense of humility - and believed the most important battle is overcoming our own fears and insecurities.

 

The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing, Gandhi insisted, is sufficient to solve most of our problems.

 

"He was driven to help the poor, the sick and the downtrodden and to free them from colonialism no matter the cost to himself," writes Archbishop Desmond Tutu. "In the end it cost him his life. However, he left us a legacy of inspiration that is remarkable in its sincerity and love of humanity."

 

Albert Einstein agreed. He was moved to say: "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked the earth."

 

Gandhi asked that his writings be cremated with his body. He wanted his life to be his message, not what he had written or said.

 

In the end, he believed that words are meaningless. Actions alone show our true priorities. Or, as he famously said:

 

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

 

Carpe Diem,

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