“At the time of writing I never think of what I have said before. My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at the given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth.”
-Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)
My friend Lissa Marie Coffey*, on her Wisdom News website comments on this wisdom expressed by Gandhi with “The important thing to remember is that we are all doing the best we can with where we are and what we know so far. As time goes on, we learn more, and that might cause us to think differently. That is not to say that we were “wrong” before just because we have a different opinion now – but that we can make a more informed choice because of the experiences we have had in our lives. Things look different when they are viewed from a higher vantage point.”
The Gandhi quotation and my friend’s comment on it are dear to my heart. In Buddhism, or just plain enlightened thinking, it is a truth that we do reflect who we are at any given point or time in our lives. That’s because who we are is the result of our intention, volition and action. How we arrive at an intended choice of action is via and because of our experiences, and our experiences have evolved us into who each of us is. But we’re not static. We change through those experiences and intended choices of action. With change comes both growth and hope. During his lifetime, Gandhi represented hope for India; even today he is a lasting symbol of hope. As we witness our own personal changes, we also can see the positive changes taking place all around us. That may be difficult if we just concentrate on the current wars, bleak economy, natural catastrophes and human suffering. But it is very possible.
I discovered Mahatma Gandhi when I was a teenager. I’ve held him and what he represents in the highest esteem ever since. He was the first person from whom I learned about nonviolence, compassion and loving kindness. I wasn’t much of a reader when I was in high school, but I remember reading all I could find about him, including a couple of biographies, as well as his autobiography, “Lead Kindly Light.” Even today, there’s a photo of him on a shelf in my bedroom, placed there along with photos of my children, grandchildren . . . the people I love. Gandhi’s is right next to the ones of the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all family.
Einstein, another of my gurus, once said of Gandhi, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” Of course I never met personally either of these two mentors, although I remember my feeling of loss when I learned of their deaths when I was in my twenties. Maybe Einstein was right, but the legacy of Gandhi will never be lost, not now and not in the future.
Once, when I and my youngest son, Geoffrey, who was then still a teenager, were in the city of Madurai in the south of India, we hired a driver and his pedal rickshaw to take us to the Gandhi museum, which is located a few miles outside the town. For those of you not familiar with a pedal rickshaw, it is a three-wheeled bicycle-like vehicle with a little carriage sitting over the two back wheels just big enough to seat two people, and a seat and handlebars just behind the front wheel for the driver. The driver was a rather elderly Indian man dressed in a white dhoti, the usual manner of dress for pedal rickshaw drivers and the poorer working class. He noticeably struggled most of the way with his heavy load. Geoffrey and I both felt guilty; we could see he was suffering and perspiring all the way.
Both the ride to the museum and the visit itself was a most memorable experience. Along with a copy of the letter Gandhi had written to Hitler at the start of World War II urging him to practice non-violence, we saw his spectacles, his sandals and other personal items. What I remember most, however, are the paintings illustrating the history of the Indian people, which circled one large room in the museum like a continuous panorama. By the time I had studied the paintings and read their descriptive captions relating the plight and suffering of the Indian people, I was so moved and shaken that my sobs were audible and my eyes were red and cheeks wet from my stream of tears. It was a tremendously emotional experience, feeling the impact compassion can have sometimes under such circumstances. I know now that I was experiencing the feeling of oneness with the Indian people.
When my son, who also was very stirred and inspired from the visit, and I were ready to climb aboard our waiting pedal rickshaw, I said to him, “Geoffrey, why don’t you let the old man rest in back with me and you do the driving?” It sounded like fun to him, but we had a hard time convincing the driver to change places. We finally convinced him, although he continued objecting all the way into town . . . although not too strenuously.
As we approached and finally returned to the town, traffic increased and the walking, bicycling and other traveling locals began to notice my young son doing the driving with the real dhoti-clad pedal rickshaw man sitting with me in the back. The thumbs-up signs and hoorahs, the broad smiles, raised arms and honking, confirmed their approval of our role change. Although it was a tiny random act of kindness on our part, my son and I can never forget our visit to the Gandhi museum, and especially our Madurai rickshaw ride.
*You can sign up to receive Lissa Marie Coffey’s Daily Wisdom by going to this website: http://www.coffeytalk.com/newsletters.php