The Man

The Story of
His Transformation

Eknath Easwaran
Given where he started from --- a poor lawyer in South Africa --- his works and life were astonishing. Satyagraha, non-violence, was his primary tool, beginning with his work for Indian rights in South Africa. Fasting, simplicity, profession of love for all, even --- especially --- the enemy.

    It is not nonviolence if we merely love those that love us. It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us. I know how difficult it is to follow this grand law of love. But are not all great and good things difficult to do? Love of the hater is the most difficult of all.

He was at his best when he was fighting against the centuries of class intolerance in India. His work on behalf of the "untouchables" was noble, and profound, and a profound failure (but no less noble for that). It was fortunate for him that his other major battles were against the British colonialists. It may have been less a battle than a symbiotic love/hate relationship. When he got to be too much, they just sighed, and stuck him in jail, thus helping him with his cause (and his martyrdom). If he had gone to Nanking in 1937 to resist the Japanese invasion, or to Germany in 1944 to protest the concentration camps, he would have been done in on the spot.

As it was, he sewed dissent wherever he went. His last years were more controversial that his early ones. Each night he slept naked between two young girls to prove his sanctity. Whatever it was, it was scandal-inducing, even --- some might say --- a consciously divisive act of showoff. "Here I am," he was saying, "a seventy-nine-year-old proving (1) I can find naked girls willing to sleep in the same bed with me --- tended by my wife, no less; and (2) Just to show who's boss, there will be no fiddling around, not even wet dreams." It might have been better for all of us for him to have kept these I'm-a-master-of-my-own-soul celibacy experiments a secret from the world.

His life-long project of getting the British out of India worked, but created it's own bad karma. The partition in 1947 produced in a three-month seige of violence that took at least a million lives, and disrupted the homes and stability of 15,000,000 people. There were far better ways to accomplish his noble goal.

Gandhi the Man is a loving picture book. Is Mahatma Gandhi the Greatest Man of the Age? asks the peace advocate Kirby Page at the beginning of it. Maybe --- but when you add it all up, it might have been best to leave the British on hand to keep the various factions of India from murdering each other. It's the Christ paradox all over again. Too much blood flowed and continues to flow in his good name.

We come, over time, to suspect that the greatest saints do not need noise and power and martyrdom to manifest their good works. They can proffer their beliefs without endangering lives, nor creating violence. The true saints are probably the unknowns --- the thousand Secret Buddhas, hiding in caves as we speak --- or Mark Twain's anonymous shoemaker, who lived and died humbly, anonymously, peacefully. So much so that the gathered angels greet him upon his arrival in heaven with a standing ovation.

--- Lolita Lark

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