Today I read a few of the final entries of The Gandhi Reader (ed. Homer A. Jack) about Mahatma Gandhi’s death. And I cried as if I were there.
I’ve been re-reading passages regarding Gandhi’s belief that non-violent direct action could have challenged Hitler or even atomic bombs, just as it brought British colonialism to an end in India and Pakistan; his concern about Europe’s anti-semitism as well as the establishment of a state of Israel in Palestine; his encounter with the African American preacher and civil rights leader Howard Thurman and his wife; and his multiple fastings to stop the bloodshed among Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. Whatever you make of his ideas, his compassion is unquestionable, even in death.
I have visited the site in India where his body was cremated. In college I occasionally meditated and studied on the peaceful grounds of the Self Realization Fellowship in southern California’s Pacific Palisades, where some of his ashes are interred in a World Peace Memorial (pictured above) near a “wall-less temple.”
The Richard Attenborough film Gandhi was released the week before I went to India on a Fordham University religious studies tour. I managed to see it twice before I left, and so, on my first day wandering the neighborhood of our hotel in New Dehli on my own, I discovered Birla House, his last residence, and the garden behind, where he led prayers and met his death. Now a museum, I visited his small room at the rear of the house and followed his final steps in the garden, footprints cast in bronze.
As sacramentals of the visit, I purchased three sets of companion posters, one with Gandhi’s photo and another with a quote of his, two of which I gave to close friends, the Yale historian John Boswell, who contributed so much to the history of gay people in the church; and the other to Linda Culbertson, currently the executive of Pacific Presbytery, with whom I had seen the movie. My friend George Lynch framed my set for my home office, and they serve as a constant reminder of Gandhi’s self-less perseverance to empower “the poorest and the weakest.”
Dr. Thurman asked Gandhi how to train people in the “difficult art” of Ahimsa, non-violence, to which Gandhi replied, “There is no royal road, except through living the creed in your life which must be a living sermon. … Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and everything else shall be added unto you. The Kingdom of Heaven is Ahimsa.”
Gandhi died today, and still he lives, offering his darshan, the joy of his spiritual presence, to all who read his words and remember his deeds.
Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal reflection, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes. This ministry is entirely funded by your donations.