Gandhi The Man: The Story of His Transformation
J. Gordon
4/29/2003 7:39:26 PM

There are many, many books about Mohandas K. Gandhi, most of them overwhelmingly long and full of important but taxing historic and political detail. However, Gandhi The Man: The Story of His Transformation by Eknath Easwaran, Michael N. Nagler, with an afterword by Timothy Flinders [Nilgiri Press], is a beautiful introduction to the Mathatma (meaning "Great Soul") taken in a human and spiritual context. The book is loaded with fascinating photographs that cover his youngest years --as a boy afraid of the dark and schoolyard bullies, to a “briefless barrister” unable to find clients-- to one of the most self-actualized men to walk the Earth.

Gandhi the Man is a quick read and full of enlightening quotes, anecdotes and information that will soon have you looking at your own life a little differently. A master of detachment who truly dwelt in a higher realm, Gandhi was once asked by a Western journalist, “you have been working at least fifteen hours a day, every day, for almost fifty years. Don’t you think it’s about time you took a vacation?”

“Why?” Gandhi said. “I am always on vacation.”

One of the most important and surprising things the reader learns from Ghandi The Man is that nonviolence does not mean the same thing as passive resistance, and Gandhi was no pushover. His practice of “satyagraha,” (satya meaning “truth” and agraha meaning “obstinate firmness”) lent him his indomitable will. “Be careful,” his British government enemies warned their peers, “He will get to you.” And, of course, he did.

To name this force “passive resistance” betrays an ignorance of its active power, says Timothy Flinders in the afterword, “How Nonviolence Works,” It would be as much to call light “non-darkness,” which implies wrongly that light is the absence of something else and obscures the fact that light is a form of energy, which, when properly understood, can illuminate cities. Similarly with satyagraha. There is tremendous power here, obscured by ignorance and language, which Gandhi would say can solve the most difficult of human problems when properly understood. As light achieves great power when it is intensified in the laser, the power of the individual becomes irresistible through self-discipline, “when he reduces himself to zero.”

In these troubled times it would do our nation, and the world, a great favor to remember this penniless, small, big-eared, toothless old man who never held a title or political office, and yet freed tens of millions and set an example for the entire world. Gandhi once told a reporter, “My life is my message.” And this message feels more important today than ever before.


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