The world has witnessed an incredible amount of progress in the last five decades that has transformed lives and made people richer and many nations prosperous.
However, what we are witnessing now is a turbulent world reeling from the effects of a pandemic, fearful, and uncertain of their future having lost faith in the global leadership.
The fundamental source of conflict in today’s world is not ideological or economic. The great source of conflict that is dominating today is cultural. The differences between cultures are real; they are basic. People of different cultures have different views on the relationship between God and man, individual and the group, man and woman, and differing views on rights and responsibilities.
The late Indira Gandhi once commented, “Never in the last two decades has the international outlook been so grim as it is today. This is not merely my own assessment but that of the scores of the world leaders from five continents whom I have met in the past year. I am not given to alarm or exaggeration. Yet, I must warn that at this time, we simply cannot afford to be complacent or sit back, hoping that matters will somehow be sorted out.”
Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, once asserted, “I see no hope for permanent world peace. We have tried hard and failed miserably. Unless there is a spiritual awakening on a worldwide scale, the civilization is doomed.”
And one wonders why? One sees a world that is reluctant to accept remedies that peacekeepers want to implement; how then we could understand, explain, or turn around tragedies?
On June 15, 2007, the United Nations passed a resolution to observe an International Day of Nonviolence each year on the birth anniversary date of Mahatma Gandhi, who helped lead India to its Independence and inspired movements of civil rights across the world. What it shows is that the UN recognizes that ultimately it is not discussion and dialogue, but an inner awakening of the soul that will only make a real difference from the impasse of scores of issues that are confronting the world today. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great follower of the Gandhian method of non-violence, once said, “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable; we may ignore him at our own risk.”
Addressing the United Nations on the eve of passing the resolution, Sonia Gandhi, the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, said the following: “The world is facing the violence of various kinds, and there was a collective failure of the international community in tackling terrorism and checking nuclear proliferation. Fallacies about non-violence are abound but to practice it in its true spirit demands strict discipline of mind: the courage to face aggression, the moral conviction to stay the course, and the strength to do so without harboring any malice towards the opponent.” At the heart of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, she said, was his belief that strength comes from righteousness, not force, power comes from truth, not might, victory comes from moral courage, not imposed submission.
In the same General Assembly session in 2007, honoring Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy, Ban-ki Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated the following: “Mahatma Gandhi is also a personal hero of mine. Since I began my diplomatic career in India early in the 1970s, I have carried with me his definition of the seven sins: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, science without humanity, knowledge without character, politics without principle, commerce without morality, and worship without sacrifice. The Mahatma’s inspiration is needed now more than ever. All around us, we see communities increasingly mired in rising intolerance and cross-cultural tensions. We see extremist dogmas and violent ideologies gaining ground, as moderate forces retreat. May this International Day of non-violence give us the strength to advance true tolerance and non-violence at every level, from the individual all the way up to the State.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the United Nations General Assembly in a virtual session recently, echoed the Gandhian values as well. “The ideals on which the United Nations was founded are quite similar to that of India and not different from its own fundamental philosophy. The words ‘Vasudeva Kodambakkam’, the whole world is family, have often reverberated in this hall of the United Nations. We treat the whole world as one family. It is part of our culture, character, and thinking.” One truly hopes so.
John Dear, an internationally known voice for peace and non-violence, has summarized Gandhi’s teachings in the following way: Gandhi taught us to practice non-violence and that the faith pushes us to promote peace and justice; he taught us to accept suffering and even court suffering if we want personal transformation; he also taught us to pray, and through daily meditation, he came to believe the nearness of God; he practiced living solidarity with the poor and oppressed; Gandhi advocated powerlessness as the path to God; he taught us that each of world’s religion has a piece of truth and deserve our respect and by advocating tolerance and equality of religions, Gandhi suggested that we all share a common ground of non-violence and can live in peace with one another.
In the end, Gandhi challenges each of us to seek God through our own active pursuit of truth and non-violence. He calls for nothing less than the total transformation of the world. As we celebrate Gandhi Jayanti, his philosophy is more relevant than ever.
Indian Overseas Congress of USA