Mahatma Gandhi

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Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
BirthplacePorbandar, Kathiawar Agency, Bombay Presidency, British India
Known for Prominent figure of Indian independence movement, propounding the philosophy of Satyagraha and Ahimsa. advocating non-violence, pacifism

Gandhi, Mahatma

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Jainism and Buddhism both arose in the sixth century BCE in protest to Hinduism. Both offered alternatives to the caste system and denied that the Vedas (see Hinduism, Development of) were "inspired" scriptures.

The founder of Jainism (see Jainism), Mahavira, was a contemporary of the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and the Hebrew prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. Although most of these men did not know each other, of course, it points out the fact that this was a yeasty time of religious ferment. Of all the religions these people represent, Jainism, now considered to be a minority sect of Hinduism, is probably the least known in America, but it had a great effect upon late twentieth-century America.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, later called Mahatma, the "Great Soul," was born in British-controlled Porbandar, India, on October 2, 1869. While studying law in London he became fascinated with the written works of religious and political leaders, among them Jesus Christ's Sermon on the Mount and Henry David Thoreau's book Civil Disobedience.

Although Gandhi was Hindu, he was very much influenced by the Jain practice of ahimsa, nonviolence to all living things. The Akaranga Sutra, a sacred Jain text, stated the principle very clearly:

All breathing, existing, living, sentient creatures should not be slain, nor treated with violence, nor abused, nor tormented, nor driven away. This is the pure, unchangeable, eternal law.... Correctly understanding the law, one should arrive at indifference for the impressions of the senses, and not act on the motives of the world.

While fulfilling a one-year contract to do legal work in South Africa, Gandhi discovered that his British citizenship, like that of other Indians, was not honored by the British leadership. He stayed in South Africa for twenty-one years, developing strategies for Satyagraha, "truth and firmness," nonviolent protest. When he returned to India in 1915, these tactics led him to the forefront of the Indian nationalist movement. Although a member of the Vaishya, or merchant caste, he championed all people, especially the outcasts and the impoverished. Through public fasts and acts of civil disobedience, some of which landed him in prison, he simply refused to accept anything less than freedom for his people, who finally won independence from Britain in 1947.

His nonviolent civil disobedience tactics were studied by young Martin Luther King Jr., who employed them with great success during the American civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.

A line can thus be drawn from Hinduism through the Jainism of Mahavira, to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Lyndon Johnson presidential administration's Civil Rights Act of 1964. Added to the ecumenical mix, of course, were Henry David Thoreau, the transcendentalist philosopher, and the Christian churches of many denominations that supported the civil rights movement and hosted prayer vigils before the "freedom riders" hit the streets.

Perhaps two quotations best mark this ecumenical journey.

Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. (Mohandas Gandhi)

Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk. (Martin Luther King Jr.)

As is so often the case in human history, there are other, more tragic parallels. Jesus Christ, studied by both Gandhi and King, and King himself, were assassinated. So was Mahatma Gandhi. On January 13, 1948, Gandhi began a fast to protest the riots that had broken out between Hindus and Muslims following the partitioning of India and Pakistan. Five days later, opposing leaders agreed to stop the fighting and begin peaceful negotiations. Twelve days after that, on January 30, Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic who opposed Gandhi's tolerance for all creeds and religions, killed the Mahatma. Shot twice, Gandhi was heard to say, "Hey, Rama" ("Oh, God"). Then a third shot was fired, and Gandhi's voice was silenced forever.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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