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Arun Gandhi: The Pursuit of Truthfulness

By Consul B. John Zavrel


Arun Gandhi, the 65-year old grandson of the 'great-soul' Mahatma Gandhi, spends his time lecturing around the world, in his efforts to continue to bring the message of Mahatma Gandhi to people around the world.

This week, he is visiting the Buffalo area, on an initiative of the Clarence school teachers led by Claudia Stachowski, who was instrumental in bringing him to our town. On Friday evening, he gave an inspiring talk to the full auditorium of the Clarence Senior High School. He is a soft-spoken, thoughtful, and spiritually centered man, who spreads around him an aura of calmness and peacefulness.

Although Mahatma Gandhi is known world-wide for his teaching of ahimsa, non-violence, or much better translated as 'non-hurting', we know that his main spiritual practice was actually that of satyam--'truthfulness'. From that practice, one's practice of non-hurting follows naturally.

The practice of truthfulness takes place on three levels: in our thoughts, in our words, and in our actions. First, one's thoughts must be purified, and truthful. This is accomplished by meditation and practice of one's mantra. Then, one should take care to speak only what is truthful and helpful to others. As the practice continues, one's truthful thoughts and truthful words naturally turn into truthful actions. There is no other way.

The power of the practice of truthfulness is such that it may seem unbelievable to the rest of us: one who has practiced it faithfully, his or her words will come true. Such is the power of the practice of truthfulness. That was the power which was the basis of Mahatma Gandhi's spiritual strength.

The practice of truthfulness has two things which we should keep in mind: first, it is a "practice." One has to practice it constantly; it is a continuing effort which one strives to practice every day. The second thing, the meaning of the word "truth" does not have only the limited meaning we normally associate with it--not saying straight-out lies. In the Indian philosophy of yoga, truth also means the concept that the "Self"--the soul--is One, all-pervading, ever lasting, ever pure, ever free. The 'Self' in me is the same one as the 'Self' in you. Knowing this, that all beings are essentially one, that everything is interconnected, it then becomes easier for us to see where the practice of truthfulness and non-hurting comes from.

One who has practiced truthfulness for some time will see the effects of this practice. He or she will not fail to notice how it flowed naturally into the 'practice of non-hurting' any other sentient beings (not just people). And this 'non-hurting' again is operative on the three levels of thought, speech, and actions. It is quite amazing.

When one of the young Clarence teachers in the audience asked Arun Gandhi about the corrupting effect of violent movies, TV shows and obscene and violent music on the young people in America, with the thought that they should avoid these things, she completely missed the boat: she put the cart before the horse. The practice of non-hurting begins elsewhere, on a different level. Then one's inclinations and interests will be different, and one will not be inclined or interested in watching the violent shows, in listening to violent and degrading music, in lying, cheating, robbing and killing.

The late Swami Rama of the Himalayas, a great yogi, philospher, humanitarian, writer and scientist has spent much of his life in serving humanity by acting as a "bridge" between the ancient wisdom of India and the modern technological achievements of the West. He was born and raised in the Himalayas, and in his youth, his master sent him to meet other great saints, yogis, and sages all across of India. In the late 1930's and early 1940's, Swami Rama stayed with Mahatma Gandhi in the Vardha Ashram.


In his remarkable book, Living with the Himalayan Masters, Swami Rama describes his personal experience as follows: "While I was in the ashram, I observed Mahatma Gandhi serving a leper. The leper was a learned Sanskrit scholar who was frustrated and angry, but Mahatma Gandhi personally looked after him with great care and love. That was an example to all of us. The way in which he served the sick left a lasting impression on me.

My master told me to observe Mahatma Gandhi particularly when he walked, and when I did so I found that his walk was quite different from the walk of other sages. He walked as though he were separate from the body. He seemed to be pulling his body as the horse pulls the cart. He was a man who constantly prayed for others; who had no hatred for any religion, caste, creed, sex or color. He had three teachers: Christ, Krishna, and Buddha.

A pioneer in the realm of ahimsa (non-hurting) consciousness, Gandhi always experimented in expanding man's capacity to love. Such a man finds joy in all the storms and trials of life. Gandhi never protected himself, but rather always protected his one principle of ahimsa or love. The flame of love burned in him day and night like a fire which nothing could quench. Complete relf-reliance and fearlessness were the foundation stones of Gandhi's philosophy. Violence touched the very depths of his being, but valiant in spirit of ahimsa, he walked on alone. There was not a word of protest, and there was not a flicker of hostility in his life.

While staying with Gandhi, I noted these principles in my diary:

1) Non-violence and cowardice cannot go together because non-violence is a perfect expression of love that casts out fear. To be brave because one is armed implies an element of fear. The power of ahimsa is an extremely vital and active force, which does not come from physical strength.

2) A true follower of ahimsa does not believe in disappointment. He dwells above in perennial happiness and peace. That peace and joy do not come to him who is proud of his intellect or learning. They come to him who is full of faith and has an undivided and single-pointed mind.

3) The intellect can produce many wonders but non-violence is a matter of the heart. It does not come through intellectual exercises.

4) Hatred is not overcome by hatred, but rather by love. This is an unalterable law.

5) Devotion is not mere worship with the lips. It is self-surrender with mind, action and speech.

6) Gandhi did not believe in the barriers created by religions, cultures, superstitions and mistrust. He taught and lived the brotherhood of all religions.

7) Gandhi believed in the art of living without concern for the fruits of one's actions. He practiced not worrying about success or failure, but paid attention to the work at hand without feeling the slightest anxiety or fatigue.

8) In order to enjoy life, one should not be selfishly attached to anything. Non-attachment means to have a pure motive and a correct means without any worry or desired result. He who gives up actions falls, but he who gives up the reward rises and is liberated.

9) Yoga is the complete re-integration of all the states of mind, intellect, senses, emotions, instincts and every level of personality. It is a process of becoming whole.

10) One's mantra becomes one's staff of life and carries one through every ordeal. Each repetition has a new meaning and carries one nearer and nearer to God. It is capable of transforming that which is negative in the personality into that which is positive, and it can gradually integrate divided and opposing thoughts at deeper and deeper levels of consciousness."

That is the essence of the message of Mahatma Gandhi, and this is the message which his grandson tries to keep alive.

Arun Gandhi was born in South Africa in 1934. As a member of the Indian minority, he got to experience racial discrimination from both sides. As a ten year old boy, he got beat up by the whites for being 'too black', and a couple of months later he was beaten by the blacks for being 'too white'. Frustrated by anger, he took to bodybuilding to become strong physically, so that he could beat up all of his enemies…

That was why his parents decided to take him back to India in 1946, to live for 18 months with his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. He made special efforts to devote time to his young grandson Arun, and the first lessons he gave the boy was how to deal with anger. Arun recalls: "When I told grandfather about the beatings, he listened intently, as he put his arms around me in a gesture of love and comfort. 'I can understand your anger,' he said. 'But do you know they acted out of ignorance? They do not know what they are doing… do you know that anger is like electricity?… it can be powerful as powerful and destructive as electricity… anger is the same… if you don't harness your anger, then it will also destroy and kill'… he encouraged me to keep a diary… when experiencing anger, I should write down my feelings, and then read it later and decide how I should have responded to the situation… that way I would learn how to use the anger positively rather than negatively."


At the age of 23, Arun returned to India, where he worked as a reporter for the Times of India. At that time he founded the Center for Social Unity, whose mission was to alleviate poverty and caste discrimination in India by providing members of the "untouchable" class with self-help models of business. Through the organization of cooperatives, residents of urban and rural communities were able to establish dairies and textile mills. The center's work has spread to over 300 villages and helped to improve the lives of over 500,000 people.

In 1987 Arun arrived in the United States to search for nonviolent ways to improve human relations. Four years later, in 1991 he and his wife Sunanda founded the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence to help reduce the violence that consumes our hearts, our homes and our societies. The Institute, which is located in Memphis, Tennessee (The Gandhi Institute, 650 East Parkway South, Memphis, TN 38104) continues to build upon Mahatma Gandhi's teachings through many programs, seminars, talks, events in the United States and in other countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America.

After his talk, Arun Gandhi and his wife Sunanda stayed around, talking to people and autographing several of their publications about the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. One was a small booklet of quotes, "Gandhi's Wit and Wisdom", edited by Arun Gandhi. The other was the new book "The Forgotten Woman", written jointly by Arun and his wife Sunanda, about the previously untold story of Kastur, the devoted wife of Mahatma Gandhi.


March 12, 1999

Copyright 1999 Museum of European Art


May we recommend you some books?

Mantra and Meditation, by Usharbudh Arya (now Swami Veda Bharati)

Science of Breath, by Swami Rama

God, by Usharbudh Arya (now Swami Veda Bharati)

Light of Ten Thousand Suns, by Swami Veda Bharati

Living with the Himalayan Masters, by Swami Rama



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PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.