Mahatma Gandhi Revisited: Life Lessons For You And Me

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. 

I just finished reading Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, My experiments with truth. Not sure why I did not get to it sooner, but I am so glad I finally did. Reading it has been delightful and inspirational. Amidst a global shortage of leadership role models, revisiting Gandhi’s life offers rich lessons towards creating a more meaningful life.

He once famously remarked ‘My life is my message’. Indeed, his life, values and ideals raise the bar for every human being on what’s possible and what to strive for. Here are my five personal life lessons from the book. Notwithstanding his unmatched contribution to India’s independence, these lessons draw on Gandhi’s life journey– the man that he was.

1. Relentless search for truth

There is no God higher than truth.

First and foremost, Gandhi led a life driven by a strong sense of purpose. He was a lifelong seeker of the truth about life – the deepest principles that govern life and make it meaningful.

His strong personal beliefs around self-control, acceptance, equality, love and non-violence were not based on an intellectual understanding of the ideas. They were founded on personal trials, tribulations and experiences that he chose to put himself through – so that he could get closer to the truth. Through his life, he continued to experiment, learn and refine his beliefs and was unabashed in pursuing them irrespective of what people around him thought.

He voraciously read about all religions and philosophies. For him, morality and being truthful, in actions as well as thoughts, were critical foundations towards building a purposeful life. He had immense faith in the power of the universe (God) to support those living a principled life – he narrates several personal experiences as proof.

This brings home the relevance of living by strong values and principles in life. What core principles do you live by that are non-negotiable under any situation? How often have you let convenience get the better of truth? Besides, as we incessantly lead super busy lives, and chase success, money and recognition, do we pause and reflect on the deeper purpose of our existence? What would you like to dedicate the rest of your life to – a pursuit that you would be happy and proud of in your final years?

2. Selflessly serving others

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

One of the outcomes of his search for truth was recognising the importance of serving others. He strongly believed that you couldn’t experience the truth about life without seriously committing yourself to serving others. From helping deprived mill workers and the exploited agricultural labourers to the Indian community in South Africa and the Indian independence movement, he served relentlessly and selflessly without any desire for any rewards or recognition.

The question for all of us is how much of our lives are governed by the motivation to serve others. How self-centered our daily pursuits can be? In what way could each one of us contribute to the change we wish to see in the world? Among climate change, poverty alleviation, education, mental health, old age and others, which social issues do you feel most drawn to? What actions are you willing to commit towards addressing those?

3. Equality of all

Mahatma Gandhi was ahead of his times in this regard. He deeply believed in the equality of all humanity irrespective of race, colour, caste hierarchy (widely prevalent at that time), religion or any other artificial criteria. It was not enough for him to merely think this way, but was crucial to manifest the principle in how he lived.

He ensured people from all backgrounds (caste, colour and religion) stayed with him as equals in his ashrams. To establish equality and respect of labor, he ensured that everyone in the ashram was responsible for cleaning their own toilets. He chose to always travel in the third class railway compartment to better understand the plight of the poor.

What changes can we make in our thinking, beliefs and actions to treat all others equally. How can we accept people with starkly different views from ours as equals? What personal biases can each of us let go of to treat people, including our domestic helpers, unskilled workers and the underprivileged with respect and generosity? How would workplaces change if leaders valued each employee and their contribution equally?

4. Non-violence

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

We are all familiar with Gandhi’s idea of Ahimsa, non-violence even in the face of aggression. The way it permeated his thinking is quite inspirational. He believed that each one of us is a reflection of the same supreme soul (children of the same mother or God) and through that commonness we are all deeply interconnected. Serving one means serving the whole and through that enriching ourselves, hurting any one means hurting the whole and thereby harming ourselves.

Choosing non-violence was an obvious corollary then. Besides, he strongly felt that this approach could appeal to the goodness that resides in everyone, even if they are the aggressor. Further, for him, this principle was not limited to humans, but clearly encapsulated similar treatment to all beings – that is why his vow to be a vegan (we are talking a hundred years ago!).

What opportunities does each of us have to be less violent in our thoughts, words and actions? How can we be kinder to each other? If we believed being angry with someone was largely hurtful to the society and ourselves, how would we react then? Would we engage differently with people who commit a crime (Gandhi’s suggestion, ‘Hate the sin not the sinner’)? How would we deal with children and colleagues who make mistakes or don’t live up to our expectations?

5. Self-control

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. 

For Gandhi, the cornerstone of the journey of seeking truth was self-control. He was an embodiment of extremely high levels of self-discipline. If being vegan was a vow, despite doctors’ clear recommendation during a few life-threatening illnesses, he refused meat-based mixes or even milk for himself and his family. Since fasting was a chosen path to heal the mind and body, he would willingly and routinely undertake that. If overpowering his carnal desires was considered important to experience deeper truths of life, he adopted brahmacharya at the age of 38.

We can’t even control our urge to obsessively check our emails and Facebook. Instant gratification is placed at premium in our modern society. What self-control could each of us commit to? How could we be more mindful of how we eat and exercise? Could we practice greater control on our choice of words or loose talk and gossip? Is there an opportunity for us to better discipline our mind to have fewer and more positive thoughts?

Look forward to hearing your thoughts!

To learn more about Rajiv's book, 'Discovering Your Sweet Spot', or to place an order online, please click here.

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7 Responses to “Mahatma Gandhi Revisited: Life Lessons For You And Me”

  1. Aman attree says:

    Dear Rajiv jee ,

    Touched my heart I am really following the similar life principal learned my parents , superb
    Thanks a lot keep sharing , keep it up

  2. Abraham J says:

    Rajiv has brought some insightful thoughts from a leader who is respected across the world. It will be useful for many. Thank you!

  3. Partha Iyengar says:

    Rajiv..thanks a lot for sharing my role model;s snippets of life and the way he lived…I was influenced by his book ‘Gandhi -An Autobiography’ by Louis Fischer in 1985 and ever since that I have been following some of his core principles and values. It is delightful to recollect some of those while reading your blog post. Gandhi is and will always be my biggest role model in life!

  4. Aniruddha says:

    Wonderful insights on a leader whose life and principles have inspired many global leaders who followed him. Many in our newer generation are not so aware and will truly benefit by his way of thinking brought up in your article.

  5. Aparna Mehra says:

    Hi Rajiv.. to be honest, Gandhiji seems a distant and unattainable ideal for many of us… almost too perfect! However, by attempting to make each of your learnings relatable to our everyday lives, your blog has got me thinking that this path is not unattainable, after all. Thank you!

  6. Vishesh Parikh says:

    Hi Rajiv, your blog got me thinking. Selflessly serving others is something many of us can easily do. It takes very little in my opinion to do something to help others. Of course, one can chose to go much beyond this. Bapu was in a different league altogether. But what I have found is that doing simple things on a regular basis adds up to something significant over time. It may not be visible to everyone else but it means something to the beneficiaries. For example, one can work towards alleviating hunger by donating food. There are many easy ways to collect and donate food. Why is it then so few of us engage in such actions that could make a difference? Is it because we do not think about these things or is it because we tend to get lost in our daily lives? In a subsequent blog, I look forward to reading your thoughts on how simple things can help uplift an ordinary existence. Thank you. I really love reading your blog.

    • Rajiv Vij says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments Vishesh. I agree – we can all choose to serve others in our every day life. We can serve our clients, team members, family members, neighbours and people in the wider community. Almost all human beings want to be of help to others, but our self-centredness and single-minded pursuit of success disconnects us from those thoughts and intentions. If we choose to bring them in the forefront, we would surely find our own unique and meaningful ways to be of service to others.

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