Friday, October 02, 2009

Remembering Gandhi on Religion


As we celebrate Mahatma Gandhi's 140th birth anniversary today I am reminded of the centrality of religion in his worldview. Many on the left and even some progressives have been critical of Gandhi bringing religion into the realm of social and economic justice and thereby muddying the waters. Their contention is that religion blunts the sharp attack one must make against oppression - social, economic or political. Thus, I believe today may be a good day to share my reading of the Mahatma's approach.

First, Gandhi's religion was not bound to ritual instead it existed entirely in the spiritual realm where worship included people from all faiths and exploration of the Truth an intense inward journey. The quote that I remember the most is:
Our goal should not be to convert [proselytize] but to make others a better follower of their own faith.
A fundamental requirement of peace is the ability to coexist. The above quote talks not of a passive coexistence but one that is activist and inspiring. It also reaffirms Gandhi's faith in the oneness of things, the eventual confluence of great religions and the ultimate destination for all spiritual seekers. So, what Gandhi did, and beautifully so, brought this inner pursuit in alignment with that of the outer world which was plagued by injustice. He added yet another dimension to spiritual seeking - the seeking of justice through nonviolence. Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King perfected the method as part of the Civil Rights Movement.

The moral imperative that drives policy is often ridiculed as emotionalism and utopian. For those committed to preserving the status quo that may well be an easy, dismissive way of approaching the ones working for transformation. Yet, it is the moral imperative that must give the transformers the courage to persevere. Be it health policy, financial regulation, foreign policy or any other policy matter the "still voice within" should be a guiding force over the vociferous sounds of "reason". This is not an appeal to do away with logic but, as the Mahatma did so often, present reality in such a way that change and its moral urgency become inescapable.

Hence, let us pray for the Mahatma's soul rest in peace and for the same strength that he had, which even today inspires millions to help their fellow human.