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Can anyone be like Gandhi? These are the lessons he taught his grandson

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As a twelve-year-old boy, Arun Gandhi lived in his famous grandfather’s ashram. What he learned there, changed his life. His lessons are valuable to everyone. 

He guided millions of people and made them improve their fate – or others’: the Indian spiritual leader and politician Mahatma Gandhi. With his strife for equality and world peace, he became a legend. After he died – Mahatma Gandhi survived several attacks, but was killed eventually – his family guarded his legacy, with grandson Arun as his primary representative. 

The grandson is 85 years old now, but he still works hard for the good cause. Arun travels around the world, giving lectures on how to handle anger and violence more constructively, and how to live together in peace and with compassion. 

Grandfather Gandhi’s life lessons   

In his book, Arun describes the loving, disarming and touching way in which his grandfather taught him. Mahatma Gandhi was patient, respectful, witty and decisive. Arun shares the 11 most important life lessons he learned from his grandfather. For instance, he learned how he could use his anger for a good cause, and why it’s important to be alone now and then. Mahatma also taught him about the five pillars of non-violence: respect, understanding, acceptation, appreciation and empathy.

If it was up to Arun, his grandfather’s lessons would have been published long ago, but no publisher was ever interested in the book. Until now. He laughs: ‘All of a sudden, seventeen publishers lined up.’ 

Is world peace possible?

‘Yes, world peace is possible, if we know what peace truly means. The biggest problem may be materialism. Every country aims at becoming a materialist society. Some already are one, and have reached great prosperity. The other countries want that, too. But materialism and morality are mutually exclusive.’ 

What do we need to change that? 

‘We need to be the change we want to see in the world. A peaceful world cannot be created or forced upon people top-down. In order to change, we need to make individual differences – we don’t need big organizations or institutions. I want to make people more aware of this. Right now, cultural violence affects every aspect of our lives. 

Our relationships and friendships have become violent, our religion is violent, entertainment and sports are mainly about violence. In this state of cultural violent, we can’t create peace. We have to conclude that the current level of prosperity is sufficient. We don’t need more, we need to invest in our families, friendships, relationships with others. In living a good life, with love and compassion. 

In his book, Arun Gandhi describes how his grandfather even forgives the man who planned an attack on him. Remembering his grandfather, this is Arun’s most important memory: how Bapuji was loving and understanding towards everyone. The notion of ‘family’ was limitless to him. He loved all people equally, regardless of whether they were rich or poor, or what their religion was. 

Which lesson of your grandfather is the most important one to you? 

‘The lesson that we should use anger in an intelligent and constructive way. You can’t learn that in a couple months’ time. It takes lifelong practice, because every day there are new situations that evoke anger. If you transform it into constructive action, it’s like fuel to a car. 

Anger is a useful power, but you need to know how to use it the right way. In order to find solutions and handle injustice – which isn’t about being right. Anger and compassion are opposites. You can’t be compassionate and angry at the same time. Compassion is rooted in love, while unrestrained anger can lead to passive or even physical violence.’

How can we learn to be compassionate, even in the most difficult situations? Can anyone become a ‘Gandhi’?

‘The most important way to develop compassion, is by realizing you have a role in society. Most people live for themselves, or maybe for their family. I often hear people say: I am who I am. They mean: everyone should accept me with all my weaknesses, I’m not going to do something about it. With an attitude like that, you’re not living – merely existing. 

When I lived in the ashram, my grandfather made me promise I would use every day to try and be a better person than I was the day before. It’s our job in society to improve ourselves, on a social, emotional, economical level and as a parent. We have to be balanced civilians. People are emotional beings, we react to everything in life with fear, anger, frustration, love, happiness, etcetera. We can allow life to blow us in all directions, like a weather vane, or we can take responsibility and learn how to reinforce the good reactions and control the negative ones. Simply because our behavior is not just important to ourselves, but to society as a whole.’ 

If you could talk to your grandfather now, what would you want to discuss? 

‘I would ask him how we can make rich people and nations see that, if we want to cure the world of its ailments, their attitudes and compassion are crucial. If we stop abusing each other and start to join forces, the world will be a much more peaceful place.’  

Mahatma Gandhi’s lessons 

The years in Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram changed Arun Gandhi’s life. Some of his insights: 

* Use your anger for the better.
* Anger motivates you to meet challenges and make changes.
* Don’t be afraid to speak up. 
* A convinced ‘no’ is better than saying yes to please others.
* Enjoy silence and being on your own. You need it to put experiences into perspective.
* Know your worth.
* Who you are and what you do, is worth just as much as what anyone else does.
* Lies are burdens.
* If you lie to others, you’re lying to yourself too, because you’re justifying your own behavior. 
* Waste is violence. It’s indifference towards the world and nature.
* Don’t chastice your children.
* Non-violent parenthood sets the right example for your children. 

Arun Gandhi, The Gift of Anger – And Other Lessons From My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi.Penguin Books, 2017. 

Text: Vivian de Gier [edited] - Photo: Frank McKenna