What did Gandhiji Teach?

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People who followed, or who came in contact with, Gandhiji say they learned one thing or another from his writings, speeches, work, life – or from all of the above.

One learner was late William L. Shirer who writes, "Gandhi was my greatest teacher." Shirer, a reporter for an American newspaper the Chicago Tribune, first met Gandhi on 22nd of February, 1931. Shirer remembers the day well: it was the day before his twenty-seventh birthday and meeting the Gandhi was his birthday gift.

Shirer came to India in 1930 and spent two years reporting on Gandhi and India's Independence movement. It was during this time that he became a friend and confidant and student of Gandhi.

"What did he [Gandhi] teach me?" asks Shirer in his book GANDHI: A Memoir published in 1979 by A Touchstone Book. He answers:

I suppose the greatest single thing was to seek the Truth, to shun hypocrisy and falseness and glibness, to try to be truthful to oneself as well as to others, to be skeptical of the value of most of life's prizes, especially the material ones, to cultivate an inner strength, to be tolerant of others, of their acts and belief, however much they jarred you, but not tolerant of your own faults. And yet to stick to your beliefs and values when you thought they were right, never selling them out in exchange for personal gain or out of cowardice, yet seeking to let them grow and daring to change them in light of experience and of whatever wisdom came your way.

There was much else Gandhi taught me: the value of contemplation and how to achieve it in the midst of pressures and distractions of life in the twentieth century. Also: the necessity to discipline your mind and body and to keep your greeds and your lusts and your selfishness and your worldly ambitions in check; the obligation to love, to forgive and not to hate; to eschew violence and to understand the power of non-violence, grasping that the latter often demands more courage than the former.

Gandhi also taught me that the practice of what he called "comparative religion" was vastly more rewarding than adhering dogmatically to any one faith, either his Hinduism or my Christianity, since he had found great truths and splendid poetry in all the principal religions. All were imperfect, he thought.

On the day of Gandhi's assassination, Shirer quotes the words that Plato used when Socrates was martyred and writes how appropriate they were in summarizing his own reactions of Gandhi's end:

'Such was the end of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.' Gandhi was that, and more than that, to me.

Author Shirer concludes the book with following lines:

For those of us…who had the luck, for however short a time, to be in his [Gandhi's] radiant presence and to feel his greatness…it was an experience that enriched and deepened our lives as no other did….I am grateful that fate took me to him.

We too should be grateful that it was fate that Gandhiji was born among us in our land, as we remember him and his exemplary life on his sixty-seventh death anniversary on Friday, the thirtieth of January, 2015.


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