The Engaged Spirituality of Mahatma Gandhi – 1

Spirituality traditionally refers to a religious process of re-formation which ‘aims to recover the original shape of man,’ oriented at ‘the image of God’ as exemplified by the sacred texts of the religions of the world. In modern times the emphasis is on subjective experience of a sacred dimension and the deepest values and meanings by which people live.

Engaged Spirituality refers to religious or spiritual people who actively engage in the world in order to transform it in positive ways while finding nurturance, inspiration and guidance in their spiritual beliefs and practices. Individuals who practice engaged spirituality tend to hold progressive values that galvanize their efforts for social change, while deriving support from their spiritual practices. The connection that they see between personal and social transformation, compels them to engage in organized causes or service activities.

Mahatma Gandhi stands as one of history’s greatest heroes of ‘engaged spirituality,’ active within the world to help heal injustice, hatred, pettiness, fear and violence with justice, loving-kindness, equanimity, courage and non-violence. The life of the Mahatma is the story of a man who used truth and non-violence in helping India become a free nation. His innate spirituality gave him the courage to act the way he did on many occasions, even when it looked as if he was treading a lonely path.

Engaged spirituality involves a synthesis of individual, subjective experiences and outer, collective activities. The individual and the collective mutually support, shape and transform each other. Prayer or meditation may serve as a way for the individual to gather strength and gain insights that will guide and enhance the efficacy of his efforts for social change.

Gandhiji’s most powerful weapon was prayer. Through his daily meditation, he came to believe in the presence and nearness of God in day-to-day life. One of the sources of Gandhiji’s spiritual transformation was his reliance on his mantra ‘Rama’. Gandhiji used it all the time when his mind was not occupied.

He called this mantra his staff of life which carried him through every ordeal. Gandhiji held that radical purity of heart bears enormous positive ramifications for the entire world. He firmly believed that the more we purify our lives, the more our lives will serve God’s work to end war, poverty, and injustice.

According to Gandhiji, spirituality plays a dominant role in developing inner consciousness. He taught that personal integrity is necessary for authentic spirituality. Gandhiji understood the basic principles of truth as actual laws of the Universe, with the same palpable hold as the law of gravity. Gandhiji would say that the thread of life was in the hands of God. Paramhansa Yogananda who was himself a self-realized Guru, called Gandhiji a saint. Paramhansa Yogananda was an iconic Indian saint, whose book “Autobiography of a Yogi” published in 1946, is still considered a spiritual classic.

 

Gandhiji felt that ‘the very purpose of life is self realization and to see God face to face, to attain Moksha’. (A term in Hindu philosophy which refers to freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth, freedom from ignorance, leading to self-realization and self-knowledge. )

This can only be possible by spirituality.” While speaking on spirituality Gandhiji said, “We may not be God, but we are of God, even as a little drop of water is of the ocean. If we love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in others. If we do our duty here, the beyond will take care of itself.”

Gandhiji said, “I worship God as Truth only. I have not yet found Him, but I am seeking after Him.” It was through an assimilation of various concepts and philosophical tenets from Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Christianity that Gandhiji arrived at an understanding of non-violence. Gandhiji embarked on the search for a meaningful life based on truth, honesty and moral courage. He combined Ahimsa and love and added the Hindu concept of ‘Anaskati’ or detachment, to arrive at his activist philosophy. Gandhiji employed this outlook as a tool to guide India’s freedom struggle.

 

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