Coffee with Gandhi
How could one man influence millions?
Robin Sharma, a writer, a former lawyer, in his book Greatness Guide, in a chapter called Drink Coffee with Gandhi, says
“Reading a book by someone you respect allows some of their brilliance to rub off on you. Reading from a great book is really all about having a conversation with the author”
I started with Mahatma Gandhi as I thought I should know about a person who has selflessly undergone pain and suffering over a long period of his life to free us from the foreign rule — our suffering. I read half of the book ( still reading ), an autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. I watched the movie, Gandhi, directed by Richard Attenborough. This writing is a small effort of deconstruction and understanding his character with my little knowledge about him.
A common man without wealth, without property, without official title or office, not the commander of the army, not a ruler of vast land. He could not boast any scientific achievement or artistic gift. Yet men, leaders, dignitaries from all over the world respect him. He was able to influence millions of Indians. The whole nation was united with his voice. How powerful could he be?
Albert Einstein said of Mahatma Gandhi :
“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”
This is the question I wanted to find an answer for. How a common man, with no super abilities, born in a normal Indian family could be so impactful? What was that in him that made him go through so much struggle for all Indians’ freedom, freedom from suffering. How could he be so selfless? What made him who he became?
His strong character and basic principles. He is a simple man who simplified the entire life’s philosophy in just a few words.
Let’s try understanding a few.
Compassion — his strength
Compassion, by definition, is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Compassion is an emotional pain we experience when we see someone going through pain or distress. Wanting to help them. Hope for their betterment. Feels bad when we won’t or can not help. It’s a superhuman ability to feel for others. Compassion is a very powerful emotion.
He was compassionate. He saw the pain and sufferings all Indians were going through under foreign rule. Poverty, being treated rudely, deprived of good facilities, harassment. It was painful to watch and acknowledge. A strong desire to free us was his motivation. He said, “I am willing to die for this cause”. He was. He acted upon it. Brought us freedom. He believed that poverty is the worst form of non-violence.
Hunger is horrible. It’s unbearable. It’s painful. There is no alternative but to eat something to satisfy our stomach. There are people below the poverty line. They struggle every day to get one meal. It’s an everyday struggle. ( Most of us are very fortunate ). Gandhi believed poverty is the worst form of non-violence. He knew unless the country is free from foreign rule, poverty can not be removed from the country.
The hunger strike, Upavasa Satyagraha, was his one of the means to influence people. He went through the horrible pain of hunger for several days. He could do it as he could feel and understand people’s pain. He felt it. He was driven by compassion. Strong desire to free us from pain and injustice.
Compassion can take very far in our actions and goals. Always motivated. It’s a super good feeling that we get when we selflessly do something which really helps someone. It’s like fuel to do more. Its happiness. Gandhi said
“True happiness is never from things. It is from the work we do and the pride we have in doing it”
Truthfulness — his principle
Truthfulness was the main principle which was deeply rooted in him. His views on truth are deep and spiritual. He said that truth is the synonym of God. He says,
“Where there is Truth, there is also knowledge which is true. Where there is no Truth, there also is knowledge which is true. Where there is no Truth, there can be no true knowledge. That is why the word Chit or knowledge is associated with the name of God. And where there is true knowledge, there is always bliss (Ananda). There sorrow has no place. And even as Truth is eternal, so is the bliss derived from it. Hence we know God as Sat-Chit-Ananda, one who combines in Himself Truth, Knowledge and Bliss.”
In his book, he explains several incidents which explain the effect of being true and lying and its effect. His motivation for being truthful from Satya Harishchandra, a play based on a famous story of Raja Harishchandra. Being truthful made him stronger, fearless. There is nothing to fear if we are being truthful. Most of our fears are from the acts of not being truthful. It can’t happen overnight. Truthfulness is a practice. The practice of facing the harsh consequence by telling the truth at any given point of time. It makes us strong.
Swami Vivekananda, a social reformer and a spiritual leader Says
“I know that truth alone gives life, and nothing but going towards reality will make us strong, and none will reach truth until he is strong. Truth will never ally itself with falsehood. Even if all the world should be against me, Truth must prevail in the end. Tell the truth boldly, whether it hurts or not. Never pander to weakness. If truth is too much for intelligent people and sweeps them away, let them go; the sooner the better. I stand for truth. Everything can be sacrificed for truth, but truth cannot be sacrificed for anything”
Naval Ravikanth, co-founder and CEO of AngelList, an angel investor, in his interview with Tim Ferris on Tim Ferris show, said that when we tell something that is not true, we always have a thread running in our minds to keep track of what we told to whom. When there are a lot of them, our mind is occupied, distracted and we can’t live at the present moment to its fullest. Eventually ends up being stressed and unhappy.
Being truthful always is ideal. It’s hard. We all know it’s good. We are wired to think of short term satisfaction. It is counterintuitive to think of the long term. With necessary thinking it is possible.
Tolerance and non-violence — his philosophy
In his protest speech in South-Africa he says :
“There is no cause for which I am prepared to kill. Whatever they do to us, we will attack no one, kill no one. We will not give our fingerprints. They will imprison us, they will fine us. They will seize our possessions. But they can not take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them. We will not strike a blow. But we will receive them. And through our pain, we will make them see their injustice. It will hurt, as all fighting hurts. But we can not lose. They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body, not my obedience.”
The above sentences clearly explain how the ability to tolerate and non-violence works. He wanted to change them, not hurt them. Nor did he accept their actions.
He said to people of India, “Let’s fight against their anger, not to provoke it“
He was a simple humble man. At every stage of life, irrespective of his position, he was humble and tolerated everything everyone threw at him. He neither hated anyone nor tried hurting them back. He accepted. He went through pain. It’s the highest level of maturity and proactive thinking.
He reached England, to study law. He was getting on the carriage to reach his final destination but the driver said you can’t sit in here. Gandhi said,” I am a passenger, I’m supposed to sit in here.” The driver told him to sit on the outside of the carriage or leave. He said nothing and went to sit on the outside of the carriage.
In a train in South Africa, he was forced to get off the train when he refused to move to the third class. There was a white man on the train and he would not sit with a coloured man. The white man throws his luggage out and then kicks Gandhi out.
In his second trip to England, he was insulted by the Prime Minister of England because of the way he dresses and his traditions. He bears the insult.
Tolerance is when you can take suffering and withstand undesirable situations. He believed that anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding. It’s not easy to tolerate and withstand an undesirable situation. We always try to get away from it. It is being reactive. It takes true strength to tolerate. But it has immense potential. It gives us the ability to think consciously rather than reactive thinking. Gandhi has proved that to us.
It was the time when discrimination was at its peak. Discrimination between blacks and whites, between touchable and untouchables. Many religions. Non-tolerance towards other religions. He not only has seen that in more than one country but also has experienced it.
He worked with the people who clean, take out the toilet etc. These people are called the Untouchables (Harijans). Nobody dared to touch the Untouchables, except Gandhi. In the Muslim-Hindu Conflict (Muslims and Hindus didn’t want to be together) he was supporting both Hindus and Muslims.
He saw everyone equally. The rich, the poor, the weak, the disabled, the untouchable, Hindhu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Black everyone. He says “We all are children of God”. He hated no one loved everyone. He was the reason the entire county was united. People listen to him because they knew he treated everyone the same. His love was universal. Not focused.
Simplicity and minimalism — his life-style
Today we all live a life which is far from being simple or minimalistic. We all do have things which are not absolutely necessary. We schedule a lot of activities in a single day. We consume a lot of information than what is needed. We eat food that far from natural and simple — processed.
What is the result of all of these?
We own a lot of things and develop attachments with them. We are always busy doing something without having time to think. We always process the information which contradicts ten other information we consumed before. We eat food which is less healthy. We end up being distracted, stressed and with a lot of interruption to think free. Our mind is split into tins of things.
The very first striking impression we get when we know about Gandhi is that he is simple. He is simple in every aspect of his life. His philosophies, his principles, his lifestyle, his dressing, the food he consumed. His simplicity is directly associated with his understanding of true happiness and life itself. He wore homespun clothes. He says “Consume only what is needed”. He believed that happiness is never from things.
All great men who walked upon this earth have lived a minimalist life. Robin Sharma has mentioned in books and videos many times that simplicity and minimalism is the secret to greatness.
His life itself has all the necessary lessons anyone ever needs to live a happy worthy life. Men honored him, women loved him, an empire feared him, a nation worshipped him. People called him Mahatma Gandhi.