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Gandhi: His Humble Compassion to Inspire (essay)

January, 1999
By Carrie Trybulec

A friend of mine told me that if I wanted to see India, the only way for me to do so must involve Gandhi in some way. Well, my journey to India in January was full of stories of the people Gandhi inspired. Long train rides gave my group lots of time to share stories we had learned about the life of Gandhi.

Arun Gandhi, who led our trip, described accounts from his own personal experiences living with his grandfather at Sevagram Ashram (Arun is the only son of Gandhi's son, Manilal). Arun was between the ages of twelve and fourteen when he lived with his grandfather. His parents had sent him from the Phoenix Ashram in Durban, South Africa, because they were afraid of the anger building up within him. Being an Indian in apartheid South Africa, Arun faced prejudices for being neither white nor black. His parents saw the importance of the message Gandhi taught and wanted Arun to learn these
lessons of love.

Gandhiji lived much of his life with the wisdom of the Gita. He chose the path of renunciation and he learned discrimination. He was able to discriminate between the Real and the unreal. He described his life as one of experiments with truth. He tested life with scientific precision. Gandhi's ability to discriminate truth from illusion gave him the foundation for his Satyagraha movement. Without his own personal grasp on reality, Gandhi could not have taken on such an endeavor. His belief in the unity of all things gave him the will to become a peacemaker. And his understanding of the Soul gave him the compassion to inspire millions of people.

There are many things we can learn from Gandhiji. One thing I will always remember is something that Sunanda (Arun's wife) told us about Gandhi. She warned us to keep our eyes on the ground and mentioned that Gandhi would tell his company to look down when walking as a reminder that one should be humble, but also to be aware of what one is stepping on! The reason this sticks in my mind is not only that it is a good warning to heed- but it reminds me of how Gandhi used very simple acts to communicate the most profound teachings. I feel it was Gandhiji's decision to lead a simple life which allowed him to attain the realization which he did.

By this simplicity, I don't merely mean the meager material possessions with which he lived, but the simple actions Gandhi performed as a part of his duty with the utmost attention and concentration. His ability to draw deep meaning from even the simplest action allowed him to find the highest knowledge in anything life presented him. It was on the Epiphany (6 January) that our group visited Mani Bhavan, Gandhiji's residence in Bombay and the headquarters of the Indian National Congress from 1917 to 1934.

One thing which struck me as I walked through Mani Bhavan was looking at the balcony where Gandhiji would stand and talk to masses of people outside his home. I kept staring down at the blue and white tiles, the shape of the star on the floor and I stood there a while not knowing why. I wondered about Gandhiji's appeal. How was it that he had and held the attention of such a large number of people? What was it about his character, his personality? I find that the saying that character comes from the heart is definitely a true maxim. How many of us would like to hold the attention of masses of people for even a moment, especially considering the fact that acquiring the full attention of even one individual can be an immense challenge? What's more, giving one's own undivided attention to a subject often proves disastrous.

Maybe the reason these thoughts run through my minds is that I am beginning to comprehend the challenge I face in working toward my own life's goal. In Sangli I felt much happiness, for it was there that I realized how I had arrived in India. The open countryside was a delight for me after being in the congested city. But I have to say that the moment which struck me so as to move me to tears actually came while sitting in a room full of textile workers and my group. It was in that small room full of people that I strongly felt God's presence. I thought about this deeply as we rode back to the hotel on the bus and tears poured from my eyes. I thought of how I had come to India because of the Gita. I thought of how the Gita brought me to the Gandhi Center and the Self-revelation Church; how studying the ideals of the Gita and the works of Gandhiji instilled in me a passion for India so great that months later I should arrive in Bombay to travel with a group led
by the grandson of Gandhiji. Visiting Agha Khan Palace with Arun and Sunanda Gandhi was also a deeply moving experience.

Looking out at the grounds of the palace where Gandhi and his wife,Kasturba, were imprisoned, one almost forgets the date. Maybe because Gandhiji's spirit is still present there. As we visited the place of Kasturba's Samadhi and members of our group began to remove their shoes in order to pay their respects, I found I could move no closer. I stood in one spot. I couldn't change my glance. My mind was still. But as the group began to rejoin to talk, I redirected my attention to them. We sat there near the garden and listened to Arun and Sunanda tell stories of Gandhiji and Kasturba.

Sunanda gave us a beautiful piece of wisdom about Kasturba. Even though she stood by her husband in all his moments of both wisdom and folly, she did not follow him blindly. She knew that he, himself, was 'experimenting' and that many of his devoted followers accepted his 'Experiments' as truth, without questions. She knew that she had to explore her own experiments with truth and not be swayed unconditionally by what her husband was still trying to learn. This showed me that Kasturba is a good example for us: that we must take guidance and give support but that we ourselves must seek truth. I would like to close with thoughts which entered my mind at the onset of my journey: Today my soul reaches higher, though not because I am travelling to a land of deep spiritual heritage. My soul enjoins all other souls which brought me to this point. My soul rejoices in the wholeness which is within my grasp. What a glorious endeavor this life is to me, to pursue that which will identify me, not with the labels of earthy existence, but with the cosmic and eternal creation which longs for all to know its being.

(Carrie Trybulec participated in a Gandhian Legacy Reality Tour. These trips are offered every January and led by Dr. Arun and Sunanda Gandhi. )

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