Arun Gandhi - Dialogue

[The following is the transcription of Arun Gandhi's Dialogue. It remains unedited at present, but will be updated shortly]

Introduction by Phil Grant:

(omission) ...the Phoenix centre was burned down by an angry mob. This was before the Mandela reforms in South Africa. So what did Mr Gandhi do? He promptly moved to the United States, probably the most violent country in the world today, that's my country, and he started the M.K. Gandhi Institute for non-violence in Memphis, Tennessee where he today works. And he just told me the other day that he's been involved in the increasing concern about youth violence in the United States, and he's planning a conference at the beginning of the year, a large meeting, he didn't plan it actually - it was done by the people of Collumbine, Colorado, the home of the shootings last year. And he's looking forward to this and he also invites anyone who might happen to be in the United States to come to Collumbine and participate in this meeting on youth violence. It's my great privilege now to introduce Mr Arun Gandhi.

Arun Gandhi:

Thank you very much. I've been looking forward to this occasion. I'd like to invite you all to participate in a little experiment. I'd like you to team up with the person sitting next to you. Do each one of you have a partner? If you don't have a partner find a partner. I'd like member of the partnership to make a tight fist, and imagine that you've got the worlds most precious diamond in the fist. And I'd like the other member to open the fist. Alright. Thank you! Now I would like to know honestly how many of you asked the other person to open the fist. [laughter] I see only one hand going up there! This is an indication of how violent we are! [laughter] I just asked you to have the fist open and everybody became physical and started trying to get the fist open. So even in little things we become physical and we want to use physical force to get things done. It's become such a nature for us that it happens automatically. So there's a lot of work for us to do to get rid of these kind of tendencies and to be able to live with each other non-violently through dialogue.

There's a story that grandfather used to love to tell us, when we were growing up. The story is about six blind people and an elephant. And these blind people had never seen an elephant in their life, and they were asked to describe an elephant by feeling an elephant. An so one of the blind people was put near the tail of the elephant and he felt the tail of the elephant. The other blind person was feeling the leg of the elephant, and so on. So when they were asked to describe it, the person who had the tail in their hand said that the elephant looked like a snake. The person who was feeling the leg of the elephant said that the elephant looks like a pole. the third person, who had the trunk of the elephant said the it feels like a python, and the person who was feeling the body of the elephant said that it feels like a huge big wall. And so each one of them had a very different perception of the elephant. In a way they were all right, because they had that feeling, and from that feeling that's the conclusion they came to. But in the real sense none of them were right, because an elephant doesn't look like a snake or a wall. An elephant is an elephant. So in that sense all of us are blind people, who have a minuscule of the truth. And if we hang onto that truth then we will be like those blind people who will say that the elephant looks like a snake. But if we all come together and work cooperatively to find out what is the real image of the elephant, then maybe all of us can find the true image of the elephant, or at least somewhere close to the true image of the elephant. So that it is what the philosophy of non-violence is about - to kind of reach the truth in the best way we can, by all of us coming together and cooperatively working towards finding the truth.

But the truth that grandfather talked about was not just truthfulness. It's not enough that we are truthful in our thoughts and in our observations. Truth really in the sense that grandfather talked was Godliness. He said "truth is god" and if we want to find the ultimate truth we have to seek it honestly and diligently, so that we can reach that upper state of Godliness, where we will finally get the answer to the salvation we are all seeking, which means that we have to deal with all the problems that we face in our society, by trying to remove them from ourselves. Not just trying to help the whole society or the whole world change, because none of us can refuse to change the whole world if we refuse to change ourselves. So we have to begin changing ourselves and helping people around us to change. The second aspect of his philosophy of non-violence was about "arhimsa,"a term that he borrowed from Jainism and Buddhism. And the meaning that Jainism and Buddhism have given to this term "arhimsa" is non-violence - that you don't do any kind of violence at all. And grandfather said this is not right, because one cannot live completely in non-violence; that really arhimsa means love. And when you have love, sometimes when it is necessary, you're willing to do a little violence, because there is a lot of violence in non-violence. And correspondingly, non-violence in violence. Now let me explain this to you. He had this dilemma when he set up his ashram in Anderbad in 1915. The city of Anderbar was dominated by the Jaines, and the city had many stray dogs, that were going around - nobody cared for them and so this dogs became rabid, and they became a threat to the community, and the mayor of the city wanted to catch all these sick dogs and put them out of their misery, and the Jain community said no. Non-violence means that you cannot take life. You cannot kill them, you've got to let them be, as they are. And so the mayor came to grandfather and said "what should I do?" And of course grandfather said "You have got to catch them and put them out of their misery." And so there was a big controversy between the Jain and grandfather on this question. And grandfather of course stuck to his philosophy and he said that non-violence does not mean that we allow animals or people to suffer needlessly when we can, out of our love for them, put them out of their misery. And so that is where he talked about some violence existing in the philosophy of non-violence. And correspondingly, non-violence in the philosophy of violence.

His philosophy also dealt with many other aspects of life, like the environment, and ecology and our relationship with the environment and our relationship with each other. We have talked about some of these things in our discussions over the last two days, and everybody has been talking about how best to deal with these kinds of issues. And while we were talking about the environment I was reminded of an incident which happened with me, when I was living with grandfather, and one day I was coming back from my school and I had this little pencil with me. It was a three inch pencil - very small and I was about 13 years old at that time, and you know what 13 year-old children are like - very irresponsible and thoughtless. And I looked at this pencil and I thought I deserve a better pencil - this is too small for me to use. And so I just threw it away because I was so sure that when I asked grandfather for a new pencil he would give me a new pencil. And in the evening when I asked him for a new pencil, instead of giving me a new pencil, he subjected me to a lot of questions. He wanted to know why the pencil became small, and how did it become small and why did I throw it away and where did I throw it away and on and on and on. And I couldn't understand why he was making such a fuss over a little pencil until he told me to go out and look for it. And I couldn't believe my ears. I said "go out and look for a little pencil in the dark?" He said "Oh yes! Here's a flashlight! and go out and look for the pencil." And I went out and I think I spent about two or three hours searching the bushes for this pencil, and when I finally found it and brought it to him, he said "now I want you to sit here and learn two very important lessons." The first lesson is that even in the making of a simple thing like a pencil, we use a lot of the worlds natural resources, and when we throw them away, we are throwing away the worlds natural resources, and that is violence against nature. [applause]

Lesson number two: because in an affluent society we can afford to buy all these things in bulk we over-consume the resources of the world, and because we over-consume them we are depriving people elsewhere of these resources and they have to live in poverty, and that is violence against humanity. And that was the first time that I realised that every little thing that we do in our daily lives, all the things that we throw away because we have so much of it, or we have the possibility of buying more of it, all these acts of when we throw things away or waste things, are acts of violence. Violence against humanity, or violence against nature. And if all of us continue to do that all the time, every day, how are we ever going to stop the destruction of nature, and the violence that we do to humanity. So this is where each one of us has to come to our own realisation and do whatever we can to reduce the violence against nature and humanity.

Over these last few days when we've been talking about the various issues of the world, we've always concentrated our attention on major issues, and big problems that face the world. And since yesterday some of you delegates have been talking about the kind of conflicts that you have among yourselves. When you have found that you have not really gained anything from this conference because what you came with was not discussed or whatever. And I have heard some of you talking about the big problems that you have in your own countries, where you come from, and you want to resolve these kind of problems as quickly as possible - which is natural - something all of us would like to do. But if these problems were so easy to resolve in a two-day conference, then they wouldn't be big problems at all. The anybody could just resolve these problems. But we have to remember that we don't have that capacity to resolve these big problems. But that doesn't mean that we don't do anything about it, or we don't act to find a solution to it. We don't have to keep the broad world picture before us, but we must act to the capacity that we can in our individual capacity. One of the things that is very important when we talk about the philosophy of non-violence, is humility. We have to have the humility to realise that we are just a small speck, if anything, in this entire world that we have here. And from that we can do only what we can do to bring about the change in people.

I'm reminded again of another incident that took place in the ashram when I was living with grandfather. There was a young man from avery rich Indian family who had been sent to England for his education and he'd completed his doctorate at the London School of Economics. And he came with great big schemes, after all he was a Doctor of Economics from the London School of Economics, the highest institution. And although he wanted to transform the economy of the country and said he was going to do this and he was going to do that and he had the whole plan worked out. And when he came home and told his parents about this plan, his parents, who were great devotees of grandfather, told him that you can do whatever you want to do after you go and get your blessings from Gandhi. And so this young man came to grandfather, and outlined his wonderful scheme - economic revival of the country and the great big plans that he had. And grandfather heard him very patiently, and then when he had asked for his blessings, grandfather said "I'll give you my blessings in due time, but from tomorrow I want you to join the group that cleans the toilets." Now when he said "cleans the toilets", he didn't mean the toilets that we have - the modern toilets. The ashram toilets were the ancient toilets were the ancient bucket system toilets, which were used by everybody - about two or three hundred people. And it meant carrying buckets of nightsoil and urine out into the field, and then washing those buckets and putting them back to use twice a day, so it was the meanest kind of work that anybody could do there. And grandfather told this man, Doctor form London School of Economics, "you have to clean the toilets." He was aghast, but he couldn't challenge grandfather, so the next day he went and did it very reluctantly, but then he was told that this is not just a one time thing - you have to do it for several days, or maybe even several weeks. And after the second or third day, he came to grandfather and he said "why are you wasting my talents on this kind of thing. I've got this doctorate, and I have this plan and you are making me clean toilets." And grandfather said "I have heard about all the great things that you can do, but I have still to see you do the little things that you cannot seem to do with the same enthusiasm. So when you can convince me that you can clean the toilets with the same enthusiasm that you want to reform the economy of the country, then I will give you my blessings." Now what grandfather was trying to do with this young man was to bring him down to earth; to show him humility - that we may have a big degree from a big institution, but that doesn't give us the right to be aggressive and go out into the world and say "I know the answers! You listen to me and everything will be fine." None of us really has the answers. we are all seeking the truth. We are all searching for the truth, and we just have to do it in the best way we can - honestly and diligently.

I'll try to make it as brief as possible, the conclusion. I just wanted to tell all of you young people that I can understand your enthusiasm and you want to bring about this major change in your own countries, and in the conflicts that you face. But have the humility to absorb what you have learnt here in this last few days. Also remember that when you finish your education in a school, that doesn't mean that your education has ended, that only means that your education has begun. Because you have finished your book learning you are going to start your experiential learning. And if you don't do that then you will stagnate and your book learning will be of no use at all. So you've got to learn continuously from every source that you can find. So I hope to that extent that this was something beneficial. I came here and I for me this whole exercise was, in a way of speaking, an exchange between the older generation and the younger generation. It was like passing the bag of bacon to the next generation. As something like a scientist who has spent his life doing research in a particular field, and then he reaches that age when he is told that he has to retire and that's the end of his working life. Now it would be a tremendous tragedy for the scientist to throw all of his papers and notes into the fire and burn them. But the ideal thing would be for that scientist to hand over those papers and notes to the younger scientist, who should then evaluate those papers and see how he can carry forward the research so that they can ultimately find a conclusion to the problem. So in that sense what we have done, and what I have been trying to do and I'm sure that the rest of the panelists would agree with me, we were just trying to share with you our knowledge and our research, in the fields of conflict resolution and other things that we have experienced in our lives, to give you the ideas, and hope that you will continue with this research, in your own way, and ultimately create that world of peace and harmony that all of us are looking for.

I just want to conclude with one more story, that was prompted by my friend Paul when he mentioned about the question of love - an act of love towards the children he has been working for. It reminded me of how powerful love really is. You know one act of love can transform one person, or a whole group of people very substantially, and again another story, and the story is of a young man who is a bachelor, and lived in a bachelor quarters, and he had his little apartment. But he was the most untidy person you can imagine. His apartment was in a filthy state - he just didn't bother to clean anytime. All the clothes were lying everywhere, unwashed dishes, and dust and everything miserable. So he never brought anybody home. And one day at his work he met a young woman and they started going out together, and gradually a love was built up between the two of them, and one day when they were walking in the park this young woman found a beautiful flower, and she plucked the flower and gave it to him as a symbol of love. And this man brought that flower home, and he realised that this flower needs to be kept and treated with respect - after all it was given by somebody he loved. And so he tried to find a vase to put this flower in, and he couldn't find one, so he rummaged through all the unwashed dishes and he found a vase- dirty and grimy, and so he scrubbed that vase clean, and put the flower into the vase, and then he said "where am I going to put this? It needs to be put in a nice place." And so he realised that he had to clean up the dining table, for that was the only place he could put it. So he cleaned up the dining table, and he put the vase in the centre and looked back and it was beautiful, but then the whole surroundings looked miserable. And so he started cleaning up the surroundings until gradually he ended up cleaning the whole apartment. And all because his beloved gave him a little flower. So that's the transformation that can take place in anybody if we show them a little love and a little consideration, and with these stories and these few remarks, I would like to conclude and say thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. [applause]

[This was followed by several questions from the audience and delegates. Click here to continue]

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