Experiments in Truth and Compassion: Gandhi's Wisdom Transcends Time and Language

By Anderson, Amy | Success, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Experiments in Truth and Compassion: Gandhi's Wisdom Transcends Time and Language


Anderson, Amy, Success


Mohandas K. Gandhi spoke several languages. During his lifetime he gave speeches before hundreds of thousands and wrote nearly 100 books. There are numerous quotes by Gandhi that speak of compassion, nonviolence and equality, and most of us have heard at least one, such as, "We need to be the change we wish to see in the world." Or maybe, "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind."

But Gandhi's first language was not English. He rarely spoke it, instead taking great pride in the languages of his native India--speaking and writing most often in Gujarati. As he said, "Our languages are the reflection of ourselves."

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But Gandhi's message of peace transcends both time and language, and reveals a most significant life.

Great Soul

Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1869, in what was to become the state of Gujarat, India, this beloved leader was later given the honorary title of Mahatma, or "great-souled," by Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and 1913 Nobel laureate.

But Gandhi never felt comfortable with the name. "The title Mahatma has deeply pained me a number of times," he said. "I have nothing new to teach the world. ... All I have done is to try experiments ... on as vast a scale as I could."

His "experiments" in truth, compassion, purity and nonviolence demonstrated a wisdom that others immediately recognized in the soft-spoken man. "A large number of people have told me that they revere me because I understand them like none other," he said.

Throughout his life, Gandhi preached equality. He sought civil rights for people of color while living in South Africa in his 20s and 30s. He consistently promoted equality for women, and he advocated reformation of the Indian caste system, demanding civil rights for those labeled "untouchables," referring to them instead as harijan, or children of God.

The title Mahatma distinguished Gandhi in a way that went against his idea of equality. "I have never, even in my dreams, thought that I was mahatma and that others were alpatma [little-souled]," he said. And yet his humility is precisely the reason so many believed he deserved the title.

Love for All People

"Literally speaking, ahimsa means nonviolence," Gandhi said. "But to me it has much higher, infinitely higher meaning. It means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbor uncharitable thought, even in connection with those who you consider your enemies. To one who follows this doctrine, there are no enemies."

While ahimsa translates to noninjury or nonviolence, Gandhi, as most Hindus in the early 20th century, applied a much broader meaning to the word. They used ahimsa to mean entire abstinence from causing harm to any living creature by thought, word or action. Gandhi also used it to mean love toward all people, true sacrifice, forgiveness and suffering for the sake of another.

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Ahimsa was the driving concept behind almost all of Gandhi's beliefs and actions. In 1896 he was attacked by white South Africans and began to teach passive resistance as a means to achieve civil rights. "Ahimsa calls for the strength and courage to suffer without retaliation, to receive blows without returning any." he said.

Gandhi applied this principle to every area of his personal life, and he inspired countless others, including Martin Luther King Jr., with his successful application of ahimsa in the political realm. …

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