“THE LIGHT has gone out of our lives,” said Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in an impromptu radio address upon Gandhi’s martyrdom; “there is darkness everywhere.” Could it really be that Gandhi’s light ceased to shine since he was no longer with us in his puny bundle of flesh and bones? Correcting himself, Nehru continued: “I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years; and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate present; it represented the living truth . . . the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.”1
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi may truly be said to be the prophetic voice of the twentieth century. Violence inflicts upon its practitioners physical and spiritual wounds; the way of non-violence, said Gandhi, “blesses him who uses it and him against whom it is used.”2 Again, “non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law — to the strength of the spirit.”3
Let us be sure we do not misunderstand the philosophy of non-violence embodied in Gandhi’s life and teachings. A practitioner of the non-violent way of life, far from being passive, is the most active person in the world. He is ready to join the fray -non-violently — wherever and whenever there is injustice or wrong. He neither tolerates nor compromises with injustice, wrong, tyranny, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, dictatorship. His task in life is not to destroy the evildoer but to redeem and to convert the evildoer by love. ” ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right,” he is ever ready to “bind up” humanity’s “wounds,” to minister to the underprivileged and to the misguided. The constant concern of the follower of non-violence is, in the words of Lincoln, to “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
The spirit of India’s Gandhi as well as of America’s Lincoln is today sorely needed by a generation madly dancing over a precipice. We have learned to fathom the secrets of the atom, we have learned to master nature, but we have not yet learned to master our inner selves. Our scientists can predict with accuracy the long-range behavior and movements of stars and planets millions of miles away — but we are unable to foretell our nextdoor neighbor’s behavior and movements the very next moment.
The world has become a small neighborhood. Therefore, we are called upon to understand and appreciate our neighbors across the Atlantic and the Pacific, as well as across the Great Lakes and the Gulf. To understand other nations, we must know their values and their historical development. This requires a sympathetic approach to other nations, cultures, and religions. By understanding Gandhi we may build a bridge of understanding between ourselves and India, between ourselves and the Orient, between ourselves and noble free spirits the world over.
What is Gandhi’s message for our small neighborhood world divided into two camps — democratic and totalitarian? First of all, Gandhi would have us set our course by the twin stars of Truth and Non-Violence; which means, we must approach other peoples with charity and sympathy. Second, Gandhi would have us stand on a platform of values to which we must be faithful unto death; which means, we must act in accordance with principles, not expediency. Appeasement, even for the sake of peace, must be ruled out, because appeasement implies sacrifice of principles. Third, Gandhi would have us work ceaselessly for the realization of “common-human” values, as the sociologists say, for the triumph of the common-human way of life.