In early October, one thousand children donned white mustaches, round spectacles and and wigs to appear bald in order to commemorate the 143rd anniversary of Mohandas K. Gandhi. On the one hand, it is hard to gripe about this sort of thing. Better to remember the man – even in a comical or sensational way – than not not at all.
And yet – however well-intentioned the event was – it still made manifest the painful incoherence between Gandhi’s message of peace through nonviolent non-cooperation with evil and the world in which we live. The children were not practicing non-violence. It was a show – ideal for cameras, ideal for twitter, and ideal for facebook – but entirely bereft of the sort of disciplined and rigorous devotion to a nonviolent life that Gandhi both advocated and practiced.
I am not saying that the children should have been forced to fast and drink their own urine or spin wool with which to make their own clothes. The children were pawns, as children – so often and perhaps inevitably – are. But I do question the adults who created such a photogenic and sensationalized moment. They were aware certainly that they were breaking a world’s record for lookalikes. I can appreciate it with Elvis. I understand the impulse when it comes to Santa Claus.
But Gandhi understood his life more in terms of being a soldier than a monument. The icon he became was only possible because he had experienced that “life persists in the midst of destruction and, therefore, there must be a higher law than that of destruction.” Given that law’s presence, human beings were obliged to “work it out in daily life.”
It takes a fairly strenuous course of training to attain to a mental state of nonviolence. In daily life it has to be a course of discipline, though one may not like it – like, for instance, the life of a soldier.
Gandhi was under no illusions about the severity of the path he discovered and he stuck to it – with his loved ones – at great cost. Seeing him replicated a thousand times by children who have no idea what they’re doing – or only the most shallow idea – makes me wonder if we have even scratched the surface of Gandhi’s commitment to coherence, to understanding our deep relationship with one another, to practicing satyagraha – a devotion to truth.
When I was growing up in Massachusetts in the early 1970’s, our teachers used to have us put on little plays and performances for our parents. These always owned a sort of benevolent, do-gooderness – we didn’t like pollution, we respected native Americans, protect your water supply and so forth. Thirty years later when I was covering those same events for the local daily paper, the kids were still doing variations on those types of themes. It was like nothing changed but the mask we wore. And meanwhile, the earth was bloated and desecrated and nobody loved anybody else and who cared anyway because there so many little screens in which we could get lost.
Coherence requires some attention and it requires some discipline. We have to say not to the surface and go deeper. The surface – kids singing about turning off the water while you brush your teeth or kids dressing up like a spiritual leader as if he was some kind of superhero – merely reflects the incoherence. You cannot save water until you have truly reached a place of love – and that is in your mind. Until you reach it – until you partake of the wisdom and beneficence there – you are merely mocking our potential for wisdom.
Gandhi knew it.
I agree that, unless there is a hearty cooperation of the mind, the mere outward observance will be simply a mask; harmful both to the man himself and to others.
It is not that good intentions pave the way to hell – they perhaps facilitate the journey, but they often do some good in the interim – but rather that they do not originate in the well of goodness – of love and coherence – common to us all. We have to adopt the mindset of Gandhi – not his clothing, not his books, not even his words – but that internal condition which sustained and gave rise to his outlook. If we do that, we become coherent. If we do that, these problems – our desire to break meaningless records, our desire to save the planet, our incapacity to love one another in a radically inclusive way – will be healed.
Again, Gandhi is instructive.
Every problem lends itself to a solution if we are determined to make the law of truth and nonviolence the law of life. For truth and nonviolence are, to me, faces of the same coin . . . The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not.
Is it not time to follow him in truth? Not in costume, not with masks, but with the whole of our human hearts?