Living nonviolence by arun gandhi


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About The Author: Arun Gandhi is one of nine surviving grandchildren of Mahatma Gandhi. He currently lives in Rochester, New York, and is founder president of the Gandhi World-wide Education Institute, Wauconda, Illinois. See: and

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Living nonviolence by arun gandhi

  1. 1. 23Chapter 2Living Nonviolence: Arun GandhiArun Gandhi, grandson of the late Indian spiritual and political leader MahatmaGandhi, is among the most respected and influential figures in the international peacemovement. He was born in South Africa where he was subject to the daily injustices ofapartheid and yet raised in a family that taught him that justice does not mean revengebut rather transforming the other through love. Arun is the founder of the M.K. GandhiInstitute for Nonviolence and the author of five books including World Without Violenceand Testament to Truth.Arun Gandhi was destined to a life of activism, especially in thepromotion of peace through nonviolence. His father, Manilal, was a major figurein the protest of apartheid in South Africa, eventually spending about 14 years inprison for his efforts. Manilal was the second son of Mahatma Gandhi, perhapsthe most revered figure in the history of promoting peace on this planet.When South Africa became too dangerous for the young boy, 12 year oldArun was sent to India to live with his grandfather until Mahatma’sassassination in 1948. Among Arun’s most prominent memories of his timeduring apartheid were of the constant discrimination and oppression heexperienced because of his dark skin. He had become an angry and bitter youth,resentful of the ways he and his people were treated, and yet mistrustful of theovertures by his grandfather to reach out to him. Although Arun is now thefounder the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, a center dedicated to thepromotion of peace and an understanding of nonviolence throughout the world,
  2. 2. 24his transformation from anger and resentment to a life devoted to the practice ofnonviolence was not an easy one. The foundations of his spiritual transformationwere laid during the two-year period of his life that he lived with hisgrandfather. It was a time of great danger and turmoil, the birth of India as anation. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated for his efforts as a leader ofnonviolent political activism; his grandson has kept Mahatma’s principles alivethrough his own efforts as a scholar, teacher, journalist, and spokesperson forworld peace.Arun has patterned his life after the model set by his grandfather. He hasnot only lectured and written about the importance of nonviolence but has triedhis best to live without anger. “Anger represents an attempt to control others,”Arun explained, “but it never works in the long run. It is best to control with loverather than fear.” For Arun Gandhi, fifth grandson of Mahatma and carrier of hislegacy, this path was forged during the last years of his childhood, a time whenhis grandfather was one of the most famous and powerful figures in the world.Escape From PrejudiceArun Gandhi grew up in a small community in South Africa. From theearliest age he witnessed both of his parents committed to Mahatma’s principleof political activism through a path of total nonviolence. Yet even with suchdistinguished parents and grandfather, Arun was without much interest in
  3. 3. 25education, learning, or much of anything for that matter. He was adisappointment to his father who had high expectations for his son, hoping thathe might continue the family political legacy. Whereas Mahatma had restrictedhis own children a formal education, Arun’s father had decided that his childrenwould be given opportunities that were denied to him.It was during a visit to India, that Manilal confided to his father,Mahatma, that he could do nothing with the boy. “He is without motivation,” hesaid, shaking his head.“Let him stay with me then,” Mahatma suggested. “I will see what I cando with him.”In fact, Arun never discovered the plan hatched by his father andgrandfather until some years later when he read a letter that Mahatma hadwritten to his home saying: “Don’t worry. Arun may seem playful right now. Buthe has compassion and love in abundance. He’ll do wonderful things some day.You need not be concerned about his education. I will do what I can to helphim.”As disorienting as it was for the young boy to leave his country and hometo live in India, Arun was actually relieved to be away from the constantprejudice and racism that was so pervasive throughout South Africa at the time.For the first time in his life he was living in a place in which everyone else was
  4. 4. 26pretty much just like him. The country was still under British rule, but Indiaafforded many more opportunities that were not possible back home. Besides, hewas tired of being beaten up all the time—given the convictions of his parents, itwas totally unacceptable for him to defend himself with physical violence.Lessons From GrandfatherOne of the first lessons that Mahatma Gandhi taught his grandson wasabout understanding anger and being able to use that energy moreconstructively. Mahatma saw that one of the biggest obstacles to world peace,and one of the main impediments to creating a world of nonviolence, was thatmost people did not understand anger.“Of course,” Arun recalled, “Grandfather would never just give a lectureto me about anger. Instead he had a unique way of teaching. I remember onetime I’d had a tiff with a fellow. We had been playing with some other kids in thecommunity and we had some sort of disagreement. I was absolutely furious forhaving been singled out. I already had enough of that in my life back in SouthAfrica so I wasn’t going to take it in India as well.”A gang of kids had picked on Arun because he spoke with a differentaccent. He was new in the neighborhood and so an easy target. He stormed intohis grandfather’s study where he was busy writing something. Arun was in arage, with tears steaming down his face.
  5. 5. 27“What’s happened to you?” Mahatma said with concern, putting downhis pen to study the boy trembling in fury.”A torrent of anger and frustration boiled out of Arun as he described howhe had been bullied. He wasn’t going to take this kind of thing all over again. Itwasn’t fair. And he was tired of always being the one who was picked on.“Please sit down,” Mahatma said a voice that was both commanding andsoothing. Grandfather never raised his voice, never spoke above a conversationalwhisper.Arun shifted from one foot to the other, then lowered his eyes and satdown with exasperation. He crossed his arms and studied the floor, waiting forthe scolding he knew was coming his way.“I’ve been meaning to talk to you, son. Your parents told me a bit aboutwhat you suffered back in South Africa. I was raised there as well so I knowsomething about what you experienced there.”Arun scowled, thinking to himself that Grandfather—or anyone else forthat matter—couldn’t possibly understand what he’d been through.“I notice you have a lot of anger in you,” Mahatma continued. Then, hesaid the most unexpected thing: “You know, anger can be a very good thingsometimes.”Arun looked up and met his grandfather’s gaze for the first time.
  6. 6. 28“But only if it is used positively and for good purposes. But if we abuseanger, then we can destroy ourselves and ruin everything around us. It is veryimportant that you learn this.”Mahatma realized he had the boy’s attention but he still looked skeptical,just as one would expect from someone who had been filled with anger for solong. “Anger is like electricity in some ways,” Mahatma said as he pointed to thelight. “Electricity can be very useful if we use it intelligently. But it can be just asdeadly if we abuse it. So it is a matter of channeling electricity intelligently sothat it makes life better. It is the same with your anger.”Arun realized he was indeed being chastised in a way, but withcompassion and understanding. He wasn’t sure he understood everything thatGrandfather was saying about this electricity stuff, and he was still prettydoubtful about the benefits of surrendering his anger—the main emotion thatdefined his being—but there was something awfully compelling about what heheard.“I want you to do something for me, boy. Will you do something I ask thatmight be helpful to you?”Arun shrugged noncommittally. There was no way he was going to agreeto something, especially with his grandfather who was so persuasive he coulddefeat the mighty British Empire with his stubborn will and silky words.
  7. 7. 29“What I want you to do is to write down some of your feelings just as yousee me doing here at my desk. I will give you a journal. For you it will be ananger journal. I want you to write down the way you feel every time that angertakes you over. But rather than just spilling out your emotions I want you to findan alternative solution to the problem you face. Do you understand what I’masking you to do?”Arun nodded his understanding, but then realized that could beinterpreted as an agreement what appeared at the time like a silly thing.“When you go back and read what you’ve written,” Mahatma said, “Iwant you to be able to find an equitable solution rather than getting angry allover again. The anger journal must become a textbook of your emotions that willteach you how to deal with situations in the future.”Arun didn’t know what to think. He had come in to see his grandfather,hoping for a little sympathy. Instead he got a homework assignment, and onethat seemed extremely difficult at that.During the next few months, Mahatma met with his grandson every dayto review the anger journal and discuss alternative ways that Arun might use hisanger more constructively instead of lashing out at others and letting the feelingsof hate eat him up inside. “A lot of the violence in the world today,” Mahatmasummarized for his grandson, “is the result of the kind of anger you have been
  8. 8. 30feeling. People lose control of themselves when they are angry. They do and saythings that are hurtful toward others. This changes the course of their lives inmany unforeseen ways.It wasn’t so much what his grandfather was saying to him, as the way hesaid it, that so impressed the 12 year old boy. Mahatma radiated an aura of peacenot only when he was addressing a crowd but even when alone with hisgrandson. “The moment I entered the room with Grandfather, I felt my anger goaway. I felt really happy for the first time. And I felt encouraged that I had otheroptions for the ways I could lead my life.”Testing Grandfather’s BeliefsAlthough it might sound like Arun’s spiritual and psychologicaltransformation took place within a matter of weeks, or even months, it wasactually two challenging years before the lessons began to really sink in. Arunwas, after all, a difficult, obstinate child and even the great Mahatma Gandhicould not work miracles right away.During these last two years of Mahatma’s life, before he was murdered, hewas involved in so many important activities. He was not only fighting forIndia’s independence from Britain. He was advocating for the emancipation ofwomen in India. Perhaps most groundbreaking of all, he was fighting for greaterequality among the castes so that the so-called “untouchables” would be given
  9. 9. 31greater economic and educational opportunities. He was launching programs leftand right to fight poverty and prejudice. And yet one of his most challengingprograms of all was the mentoring of his wayward grandson.Gandhi had to operate only with funds he could raise himself; the officialBritish-controlled government refused to support the efforts of their mostnotorious, rabble rousing citizen. Since people journeyed from all over theregion, from all parts of the world, to gain an audience with Mahatma Gandhi,he decided to charge a fee of 5 rupees for those who wished his autograph.Petitioners began lining up outside his home early in the morning, hundredsstrong, hoping to obtain his signature on a bit of paper. They would assemble foran interdenominational prayer service led by the great leader. Some wouldreturn day after day because they just wanted to contribute money to Gandhi’sefforts on behalf of the poor.It was one of Arun’s responsibilities that he was to greet the people eachday, collect their contributions and materials they wanted autographed. Hewould then bring them to his grandfather sign.“One day, I decided that it was time I got an autograph of my own frommy illustrious grandfather. Surely I deserved one too since I was his grandson.”Arun bought himself a little autograph book and slipped it into the pile he
  10. 10. 32had collected that day. There were stacks of books, journals, notebooks, slips ofpaper, so surely his would not be noticed.As Mahatma made his way through the stack, signing his name to thevarious materials, he noticed that the one little autograph book had no moneyattached to it. Since the purpose of this whole enterprise was to raise money tofeed the poor, he was careful to keep accurate accounts. “What is this one for?”he asked his grandson.“It is my book,” Arun said defiantly. “I want your autograph like all theothers.”Mahatma smiled gently but shook his head. “I am sorry, boy, but if youwant my signature you shall have to pay 5 rupees for it like everyone else. Thiscannot be money from your parents but must be the result of your own labor.”“No way!” Arun said, the whole proposition seeming absolutelyridiculous. “You are my grandfather. You must give me the autograph for free.”Mahatma laughed. “Alright, then. Let’s see who wins this dispute.”Obviously, Arun had not stopped to consider that he challenged the singlemost strong-minded person on the planet to a duel of wills. This was the manwho brought the British government to its knees by going on a hunger strike. Yetin his youthful arrogance, Arun was determined to win this battle. During theprevious years he had been doing most of what he had been told. He had even
  11. 11. 33applied the lessons he learned about anger. Yet Arun retained some of hisprevious mischievousness and stubbornness. He was tired of always having tobe obedient and do what he was told. He was entitled to some reward andasking for five seconds of his grandfather’s time to sign his autograph book didnot seem like asking too much. He knew there was supposed to be some lessonin this, as there was in most of Grandfather’s actions, but he couldn’t figure outwhat it was.Arun had heard his grandfather’s sermons and lessons about convertinganger into productive action but he couldn’t recall a single time that he had everseen him angry, or even lose his unflappable calm. Arun would watch hisgrandfather greet high level British and Indian officials, generals of the army,foreign diplomats—all of them maneuvering for some leverage, and yetMahatma would remain unfailingly polite and calm. Arun decided to make it hispersonal mission in life to get his grandfather angry.The next day, Mahatma was closeted in the study with several high-ranking officials from the British government, negotiating for India’sindependence. They were all sitting around a table, the stuffy politicians in theirproper suits, speaking in the careful, tedious language of diplomacy. All of asudden, in the middle of the debate about some arcane nuance of negotiations,Arun barged into the room.
  12. 12. 34“Grandfather, Grandfather,” Arun announced breathlessly, running up toMahatma. “Will you sign my book now so I don’t bother you? I promise I’ll goaway and leave you in peace and not interrupt you any more. All you have to dois just sign my book and I’ll. . .”Mahatma reached over to his grandson, smiling apologetically toward theassemblage of officials in attendance. He gently placed a single finger verticallyacross Arun’s lips, quieting him for the moment. Then he gently pulled hisgrandson’s head towards his chest and held it there while he continued theconversation with the diplomats.This ritual continued day after day. Arun would burst into the roomunannounced, run over to his grandfather trying to make a nuisance of himself atthe most inopportune moments. And each time, Mahatma would smileindulgently and bring his grandson’s head to his heart, holding it there until theboy capitulated.“He just went on talking politics, negotiating with the ministers, keepinghis focus on the discussion, all the while holding me in his strong, loving arms.The really strange thing is that I can’t recall a single time when he ever lost histemper, appeared annoyed, or impatient with me. He never even asked me toleave the room—I did that of my own accord after I became bored.
  13. 13. 35“Never, in all the dozens of times I burst in on him, interrupted hisimportant meetings, did he ever do anything other than to hold me until myboisterous energy dissipated. He never did become angry, at least in any way Icould detect. And he never gave me his autograph.”Common ThreadsArun Gandhi’s introduction to nonviolent practice at the feet of hisgrandfather formed the foundation for his spiritual mission in life, that is, tocontinue Mahatma Gandhi’s work. In their home they practiced a very differentkind of prayer, one that incorporated the hymns of all the major religions of theworld. “We would sing Christian hymns, as well as those of Hinduism,Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. There were no religious symbols present in ourreligious services except candles. This way everyone who visited us, whatevertheir beliefs and backgrounds, could feel comfortable and welcome. This was anamazing experience for me as a boy to see how it was possible for so manydifferent people to join hands and pray together. There is only one God buthe/she has many different images.”In his own writing, Arun has talked about the common threads that runthroughout all religions—love, compassion, understanding, commitment, respectfor all things and people. “We believed in our family that all religious practicesshould take us closer and closer to nonviolence. Religion, in whatever form,
  14. 14. 36should help banish hate and anger and prejudice and discrimination towardothers. True religion is based on love and compassion. This was the kind ofreligion practiced by my grandfather.”Arun is still bewildered by the way that different religions have becomeso competitive with one another, seeing opposing beliefs as a threat. “That iswhy we have so much violence in today’s world. Everyone is competing to provethat their religion in better than everyone else’s. This dispute is not onlydiminishing all religious practice but destroying ourselves in the process.”There are many people today who consider themselves profoundlyreligious. They attend services regularly. They practice the rituals to the letter ofthe law. They donate money to their temple, church, mosque, or synagogue.They purport to follow the most strict tenets of the Bible, Koran, Torah, orscriptures. Yet in their behavior they continue to manifest strong anger, abuse,disrespect, and violence toward others. Apart from terrorists who commit acts ofmurder in the name of their religious faith, every day we witness acts of cruelty,madness, and abuse in our daily lives. We see people losing their tempers overthe most insignificant things. They become enraged if someone inadvertentlycuts them off on the freeway, screaming obscenities and threatening violencetoward the offender—all the while sporting a bumper sticker advertising theirstrong religious convictions.
  15. 15. 37“It is unfortunate that this passes off for religion today. People sometimesfail to understand there is a difference between practicing religion and living it.True spirituality involves infusing one’s beliefs and attitudes into relationshipswith others. Religion has been reduced to mere rituals. We think that justpracticing particular ceremonies, saying certain prayers or incantations, is all ittakes to bring us blessings in life. But this is not true. They are meaninglesswords unless people behave in ways that are consistent with their espousedbeliefs.”This was Mahatma Gandhi’s lesson to his grandson. He did not explainhimself. He did not lecture or give advice. He lived his life according to his mostcherished beliefs and hoped that his example might inspire others to do thesame. And yet he did this with perfect humility.Perfect HostThrough his work at the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, as well as theways he now leads his life, Arun has been furthering the work of his grandfatherto help others cope with their anger and hostility. He does this, first andforemost, by being as humble and free of anger as he can. Secondly, he helpspeople see the difference between physical violence and passive violence, that is,the times when people are hurt through neglect or the ways we speak or behave.
  16. 16. 38“It is passive violence that many people commit all the time, every day,consciously and unconsciously. This generates anger in others who, in turn, seekredress or justice through further acts of violence. It is passive justice that fuelsthe fire.“I would ask each of the people reading this to consider the ways thatthey commit passive violence in their lives, showing disrespect for others,displaying anger, hurting others through their words or actions. It is onlythrough such introspection that it is possible to change this pattern.”This is a battle that Arun still wages within himself every day, constantlymonitoring the earliest seeds of anger and stopping them from growing. Therewas a turning point in this struggle that occurred twenty years after hisgrandfather died and almost forty years ago.After spending his early adult years in South Africa, Arun visited India tomeet relatives and friends after his father’s death. He met his wife and theydecided to get married only to learn that the South African government wouldnot allow her to accompany him to South Africa. Arun was forced to live in Indiaaway from his mother and two sisters.Some years later Arun went to the harbor in Mumbai to meet an Indianfriend arriving by ship from South Africa. When the ship docked, and Arun wenton board, he was accosted by a strange white man whom he did not recognize at
  17. 17. 39first. The man shook Arun’s hand and introduced himself as a Member ofParliament. It was then that it dawned on Arun that this gentleman was thepersonification of all the hate and prejudice that he had suffered at home. Evenafter two decades working on himself to purge all anger, he could feel thefamiliar feelings of indignation welling up inside him again just as they hadwhen he was a boy.“I came face to face with my tormenter. This man represented all the hateand oppression and discrimination that I had experienced in my life. He was arepresentative of all that I most despised and had worked tirelessly to defeat. Yetin that split second I could feel my anger rising, I desperately wanted to insultthis man. I felt disgusted to even shake his hand.”It was then that Arun heard his grandfather’s voice. “I remembered allthat my parents and my grandfather had taught me. I took a deep breath andcalmed myself. Then I told him that I recognized him and that I was a victim ofApartheid, forced to live as an exile because my government would not allow meto return home because I was brown-skinned. But I told him I was not going tohold this against him. I would be a good host and show him my city.”True to his promise, Arun spent the better part of the next weekentertaining his nemesis, showing him around Bombay, having him and his wifefor dinner at his home. During that time they became friends, even as they held
  18. 18. 40opposite positions on so many political and social issues. “During ourconversations I was curious how he could justify his racist beliefs and he wasdoing his best to make me understand his beliefs. When things became tense, wewould just back off and talk about other things. What surprised my wife most ofall was that when it came time to say farewell, we both embraced the couple andthey wept tears of remorse. They told us that in those few days with us their eyeshad been opened to the evils of Apartheid.”Arun smiled wistfully at the memory. “That was quite a tremendousthing,” he said modestly. “I often think about it. If I had acted instinctively andexpressed my anger and insulted him, he would have gone back with the sameprejudices and same anger and hate; nothing would have changed. Yet throughthis caring and loving response to him, I was able to help him to see points ofview that both of us could never imagined were possible.”