Gandhi was a paragon of virtue, an icon of iconoclasm. He was the type of person who took the world for what it was, took inventory of his own personal power, and then did his absolute best to be the change he wished to see in the world. He was a shining example of living by example, and he was not afraid of challenging the powers-that-be.
In this article we will break down seven juicy nuggets of Gandhian wisdom through a philosophical lens. Maybe by standing on the shoulder of this giant we can see even further than he did. And maybe we too can become the change we wish to see in the world.
1. “Be the change you wish to see in the world”
“The inner world is the world of your requirements and your energies and your structure and your possibilities that meets the outer world. And the outer world is the field of your incarnation. That’s where you are. You’ve got to keep both going. As Novalis said, ‘The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.” –Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Being the change you wish to see in the world is no walk in the park. It requires ruthless courage in the face of steadfast cowards. It requires being healthy, honest and proactive. We all, for the most part, want the world to be a healthy place to live. We can all mostly agree that we’d like to live among people who are loving, caring, and compassionate. So when it comes down to it, being the change we wish to see in the world means being healthy, honest, proactive, loving, caring, and compassionate people. A tall order, indeed, but being the walking personification of change is not (and never has been) a small order task.
It is each of our task, and our task alone, to find the “seat of our own soul.” There, where the inner and outer worlds meet, we can begin the much needed work of being the change we wish to see in the world. There, where ego meets soul, where finitude meets infinity, where mortal meets God, we can begin the difficult task of being the walking personification of healthy, honest, proactive, loving, caring, compassionate change. Or, we can just continue to hit the snooze button of our lives and keep going through the same old unhealthy habits of our forefathers. The choice is ours. Gandhi can show us the door, but we’re the ones who have to walk through it.
Gandhi knew the power of the mind. More specifically, he knew the power of habits. Like Aristotle he was a king of good habits. When faced with an unhealthy way of doing things, the only way to change the way things are done is to become healthy, and that requires healthy habits.
If we can cultivate healthy habits (mind, body, and soul) then we can become a beacon of health in an unhealthy world. If we think we can make a difference, then we will make a difference. But we must also make it a habit. Things don’t just happen magically. They take hard work and a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude toward life. They take proactive perseverance, especially in an inactive and inert society.
In a world dominated by sheep there are people who can wear wolf masks and people who cannot. Gandhi was a gentle wolf amidst herded sheep. He knew when to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and when to shed his sheep clothes and unleash the wolf within. Like Tom Robbins said, “There are people in this world who can wear whale masks and people who cannot, and the wise know to which group they belong.” In order to become the type of person who knows “to which group they belong,” we must make a habit out of our thoughts, and we must make our thoughts healthy.
3. “Learn as if you’ll live forever”
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” –Rene Descartes
Doubt is the key to learning as if you’ll live forever. Certainty only leads to a closed mind. That does not mean we cannot be mostly certain about things, but leaving room for doubt, and having a healthy understanding of how probability works, is the secret to open-mindedness.
The important thing is to keep learning, to remain circumspect with our knowledge, to not become stagnant in our thoughts and ideas about how the world works in relation to how we think it works. Like Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
On a long enough timeline there are infinite timelines. Or so it would seem to us finite beings perceiving an infinite reality using finite brains. And so, as French critic Charles Du Bos said, we should be “able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.” And what we could become is nothing short of everything.
Indeed, learning as if we’ll live forever could eventually lead to us living forever. Maybe it already has led to that, and we’re just not directly aware of it yet; or maybe not. The key is healthy doubt, and the ability to consider things without prematurely placing all our eggs into just one basket.
4. “Your health is your true wealth”
“Health is the constant movement of all things from emotional climate to physical condition. This is the systemic view of life that emphasizes the circular interconnections that link and sustainably regulate all members of a system.” -Bradford Keeney
Health cannot be stressed enough. It is the essential concept agreed upon by wise men since time immemorial. Health is not only true wealth – dwarfing any amount of stopgap money or makeshift success, it is also the cornerstone of happiness. Indeed, without health there could be no genuine happiness. Healthy mind, healthy body, and a healthy soul: these are the critical ingredients in the recipe of true wealth and happiness. The healthier we are in each, the more our wealth will grow and the higher our happiness will ascend. The healthier we become in each, the more likely we are to become, like Gandhi, the change we wish to see in the world.
5. “Have a sense of humor”
“Humor must not professedly teach and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.” –Mark Twain
A good sense of humor is the saving grace of any philosophy or worldview, even bad philosophy. Indeed, as long as your philosophy isn’t overly serious, humorless, and you don’t take yourself too seriously, your philosophy can be saved from mediocrity. It is only when our philosophies are overly serious and without humor that our philosophies become mediocre. Like Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely in jokes.”
Why is this? Because the universe is constantly changing and evolving. A philosophy or worldview that takes itself too seriously and becomes too certain of itself, kills itself simply because it is attempting to pigeonhole the universe into a static and fixed thing, which it can never be.
But all we have to do is add the crucial element of humor to the equation and our philosophy or worldview is suddenly saved from itself. It goes from a snake eating its own tail to a snake laughing at its own tail. And a laughing snake is infinitely more tolerable than an eating snake. Is it not?
6. “Our greatness is being able to remake ourselves”
“Give up defining yourself, to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.” –Eckhart Tolle
The secret to greatness is flexibility: in mind, body, and soul. The greatest thinkers are the most cognitively plastic. The greatest athletes are the most physically flexible. The greatest sages are the most spiritually elastic. Remaking ourselves is no easy task, but thinking of it as a game of flexibility can be a very effective strategy. Like Picasso said, “It takes a long time to become young again.” The self is constantly changing anyway. The important thing is to become adaptable to, and not fearful of, such change.
Like Julian Baggini wrote, “’I’ is a verb dressed as a noun.” Picture yourself “verbing” through the cosmos at the speed of light, dressing and undressing, losing and unlosing, all the nouns and pronouns that make up the universe bursting all around you like a kaleidoscope. Indeed, you are not merely a human connected to God, you are an infinite connection forever Godding, forever remaking yourself, since the “beginning” of the universe.
7. “Find yourself in the service of others”
“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” –Gandhi
Escape the linear. Discover the cyclical. Remove yourself from the dead-stare of coercion, victimization, and the subliminal urge to bend others to your will. Move instead into the open countenance of cohesion, compassion, and the holistic desire to bring people together. We need more than heroes who simply leave paths for others to follow; we need heroes (like Gandhi and MLK) who leave guidance on how others can create their own paths –the more “paths” the better.
Diversity is the key to healthiness within nature as well as within culture. When we disclose the world with the purpose of freedom it leads to further disclosure, and by the same action we free others from enclosure into disclosure.
Personal freedom leads to the need to empower and free others which leads to other free people which leads to accountability which leads to sustainability which leads to a healthy community for all.
Before we know it we are living in a community of people whose foundation is the maintenance of healthy relationships. People who stand up, in resistance, to people whose foundation is the primacy of money and production. Economics must be secondary to the primacy of relationships in order for a healthy, sustainable, happy society to emerge. Like George Lichtenberg said, “In each of us there is a little of all of us.” Indeed, we find ourselves by helping our fellow brothers and sisters discover liberty and freedom for themselves. We free ourselves by showing others that the healthier way is always a relationship-based lifestyle over an ownership-based one.