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Gandhi's Revolutionary Genius 

By Dada Dharmadhikari

(This article tells us about the three symbols of revolution that Gandhi gave us.  Besides these three symbols, Gandhi has taught us about truth, nonviolence and personal conduct.  He believed that to bring about social transformation the revolutionaries must first revolutionize their daily lives and then work towards establishing changes in the lives of others.  Gandhi attempted to put the world together through his experiments which he humbly titled 'The Story of my Experiments with Truth').


The Barrister and the Donkey

I am reminded in this connection of a very interesting story which I heard when I was a young boy. A barrister once lived next-door to a washerman, who had a spirited donkey. Now, this donkey used to bray lustily several times every night. The poor lawyer could not sleep a wink. He remonstrated with the washerman but the washerman pleaded. "You are a barrister, my good man. You know that a donkey is too stupid to listen to reason." So the exasperated lawyer filed a suit for damages against the washerman. The counsel for the washerman, while examining the complainant, asked, "How many times does this donkey bray?"  The complainant replied,  "May be 4 to 5 times in the night."

Question : For how many minutes at a time?

Answer : Say, 2 or 3 minutes.

Thereupon, the counsel for defence said, "Well, that works up to about 20 minutes in all.  Your case that you cannot sleep a wink during the whole night does not stand."

"But" contented the barrister, "What about the time that is lost in waiting for the donkey to bray?"

The Judge dismissed the complaint with the remark that the complainant is super-sensitive.

Now the barrister was at his wit's end. As a last resort, he appealed to the highest tribunal of Almighty God. He prayed to his God to kill the washerman's donkey and made solemn promise to treat the priests to a rich dish of sweets. But Providence knew its business better. One morning, the pet spaniel of the barrister breathed its last. Distressed out of his wits, the barrister bitterly complained, "Oh God, thou hast ruled this world for countless millennia and yet hast not the sense to distinguish a donkey form a dog!"


Denominational Truth

Our faith in God is thus not even skin-deep.  Instead of submitting to his will, we want to make Him the instrument of our will. Besides this, when there are two or more Gods, one man's God becomes another man's Devil. This gives rise to denominations. Truth is not denominational. When Truth becomes denominational, it degenerates into a new orthodoxy. Hence, Gandhi began to maintain that Truth is God instead of asserting that God is Truth.


Truth and Nonviolence

There can be no compulsion, no coercion in the search for Truth. One is very eager to understand and appreciate another man's point of view. You may win an argument and lose a friend. You can even cut a man's head off but you cannot silence the voice of Truth. That is how Gandhi came to Nonviolence in his search for Truth.  He said Truth and Nonviolence are two sides of the same coin.


Truth knows no frontiers

Truth is neither yours nor mine. It is neither Western nor Eastern. It knows no frontiers. That is why Gandhi could draw inspiration from the Sermon on the mount as well from the Bhagwad Gita.  In his exposition of the 11th verse of the 4th Chapter of the Gita, he says,

"I should plead for justice and atonement in case of my own transgressions; but in the case of other, I should pray for mercy and forgiveness." This is the true spirit of humanity. Gandhi looked upon the faults and short-comings of others as his own. This was identification in a very different sense.

Those committed to an ideology refuse to share the throne even with their God. They cannot tolerate two sovereigns. The Bard of the "Whiteman's Burden" sang

        The East is East and the  West is West

        And ne'er the twain shall meet.

He lost sight of the elementary fact that our planet is a globe. And that, there is neither 'East nor West'.  Gandhi looked upon the world as one glorious neighborhood. He therefore belonged to no particular clime or country.  In that sublime sense, he was 'anonymous', because he was universal.. 


Three Symbols of Revolution given by Gandhi

Every revolution has its symbols, which are an index of its objectives. Gandhi gave us three symbols : (1) Community Prayer (2) The Spinning Wheel (3) The Broom-stick.

Prayer stands for invoking the inner strength of men for the good of one another, the wheel for productive labour and the broom-stick for the abolition of social inequalities based on birth.


Community Prayer

To Gandhi, this world itself was the temple of God and not 'Gods'.  For when truth becomes denominational, it degenerates into dogma and freezes into a new orthodoxy. "Dogma" says Mao, "is worse than cow-dung. Cow-dung can be used as manure."  To seek to impose a certain ideology on men's minds is to violate the soul.  Prayer precludes all indoctrination.


The Spinning Wheel

The spinning wheel stands for productive labour and for a face-to-face community. Society is after all relationship of man with man. The spinning wheel represents Gandhi's conception of a new relationship between men. He sought with all the earnestness he could command, to transform the existing relations of production and distribution. He was against anonymity, de-personalisation and de-humanisation in the process of production and distribution. Gandhi's conception of de-centralised social order was thus essentially different from the decentralization as generally understood.


The Broom-stick

The broom-stick is an instrument of the most unclean and the most despised social service rendered by the sweepers of India. It is thus the symbol of social equality. It reminds us of our common humanity, our oneness with 'the lowliest and the lost'. The fundamental unity of all men is the plinth and foundation of all human relationship and human intercourse.  It ought to be the motive force behind all our efforts of social change.


Individual Conduct to Change Heart

Gandhi introduces an entirely new dimension in the technique of social transformation, in other words, in the technique of revolution. He insisted on individual conduct. He said that "the values which the revolution sought to establish must first be translated into the daily life of those who sought to bring about revolution". A change of context was not enough. "Change in the daily life of those who sought to change the context was essential."  This was the first and preliminary condition of bringing about a change of heart in those who were ranged on the other side. He declared,  "Having flung aside the sword, it is only the cup of love that I can offer to those who oppose me." 


Gandhi's Experiments with Truth

I shall close with an interesting anecdote of my school days. Our geography teacher sometimes taught us a very interesting game in one of his geography lessons. He had a knack of arranging pieces of cardboard specially designed to make up a map of the world. He put together those pieces of cardboard in their proper order and asked us to have a good look at the map of the world, with a view to be able to re-arrange them for ourselves. He then shuffled the pieces of cardboard as we shuffle the playing cards and asked us to re-arrange the map of the world. Most of us were at a loss. But there was one of exceptionally clever boy. He looked at the reverse of one of the pieces of cardboard. To his intense delight, he found that on the other side of each piece of cardboard there was a limb of the human body. He at once concluded that on the reverse of the map of the world was the figure of man. He immediately tried of put together the man and in that attempt he was able to put together the world also. That is what Gandhi attempted to do through all his magnificent experiments which, with characteristic humility, he called "My Experiments with Truth".

Source: Philosophy of Sarvodaya, Acharya Dada Dharmadhikari, Popular Prakashan, 2000