My journey on the path of understanding Gandhi and the power of truth and nonviolence began in 1974. As my plane was landing in New York, I asked myself a question, “Why was this reverse migration happening?”
At one time India was the epicenter of the world. To attain wealth and knowledge people would flock to India. For many years, my answer was that the Western World devoted itself to science and technology, while India was focused on the pursuit of spirituality.
In 2001, I asked myself another question: “What is science and technology?”
Realizing the answer was the relentless pursuit of physical truth, the next question that occurred to me was, “Who was the greatest practitioner of truth?”
Immediately, Mahatma Gandhi came to mind.
As it turns out, Mahatma Gandhi was born in the small port town of Porbandar, along Gujarat’s coast, as was I. Incidentally, I also grew up in Sabarmati, a suburb of Ahmedabad that is home to Mahatma Gandhi’s first ashram in India. In fact, the public transport bus to my school used to make a stop at Gandhi Ashram, and the bus conductor would ring the bell and say, “Gandhi Ashram.” I would look around, but at that time, I knew nothing about Mahatma Gandhi other than that he was instrumental in India attaining her freedom.
So in 2001, I decided to go to the public library in Houston to get his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. From the start, I was engrossed. In the fourth paragraph of the introduction, Gandhi ji writes that he has been working to attain moksha (salvation) all his life. Moksha—a politician talking about Moksha? It really intrigued me! As if that wasn’t enough, in the sixth paragraph, he states, “But I worship God as truth only. I have not yet found Him.”
Further, he says, “But as long as I have not realized this Absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth, as I have conceived it. That relative truth must, meanwhile, be my beacon, my shield and my buckler.” When I ask someone what is relative truth, I normally do not receive a response, as people think it is a trick question. For me, relative truth is simple and straight forward. When something happens in a person’s life, regardless of age, the person immediately makes up his or her mind as to whether what just happened was right, wrong or somewhere in between as a moral gray. There is a little voice within each of us that speaks out. We don’t consult our family, friends, holy men or books.
Obviously, your truth is going to be different from mine as you have your own relative truth influenced by many factors. We need to remind ourselves, however, that none of us knows the Absolute Truth. If we truly believe that none of us knows the Absolute Truth, then we have to respect and be tolerant of everyone’s belief system no matter how contrary it is to our own belief. Because someday, you will learn from the other party his version of the Absolute Truth and vice versa.
It is the next logical derivation of Gandhian philosophy of truth and nonviolence that swept me off my feet.
It is only a matter of time before we come across someone whose belief system is diametrically opposite from ours—what is called a conflict. As I understand Mahatma Gandhi, there is one and only one way to change the belief system of another person to resolve the conflict—that is, I must suffer. To put it another way, love and suffering are two sides of the same coin. At first, I went ballistic, saying this is quite crazy. I am right; the other person is wrong. Why should I suffer? However, the more I read about Gandhi and his freedom movement, the more I understood what he meant.
The British were ruling India, saying, “You half-naked Indians, you don’t know how to live, and we will show you how to do it!”
We Indians were saying, “Our culture is more than 5,000 years old! Nobody needs to tell us how to live.” There was a major conflict of ruler versus the ruled. How were these conflicts settled until the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi? The stronger would beat up the weaker, and the weaker would give up to save his own skin. When the weak got stronger, they would take revenge, proving the saying, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” A conflict almost never gets settled when violence is the means of settling conflict.
For the first time in human history, Gandhi showed mankind how to settle conflicts nonviolently, no matter how large or small they were.
In every movement that Gandhi led, he never made his opponent suffer. In fact, he went out of his way not to hurt his opponent. He loved his opponents in mind, word and deed.
One Gandhi-inspired movement that has become world famous is the “Salt Satyagraha.” Gandhi and his Indian Satyagrahi (believers in truth and nonviolence) followers walked 240 miles from his ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi in March-April 1930. They raided the salt dome owned by the British government at Dharasana, armed with nothing other than the determination to defy the immoral law and suffer the resulting consequences. The raid was led by world-famous poet Sarojini Naidu because Gandhi was arrested the night before.
Sarojini Naidu had three simple instructions for the Satyagrahis:
- Approach the salt dome, guarded by the British soldiers armed with lathis, in groups of ten people holding hands together. A lathi isn’t just a simple stick, it is a razor-tipped sharp steel blade which can cut open a skull or spine.
- Look at your adversary, the British soldier, in the eye as you love him.
- When you are hit by a lathi, don’t even flinch to soften the blow.
The Satygrahis took the razor sharp steel blows at the end of a lathi. They were bloodied, wounded and their skulls, broken. They were mowed down like bowling pins and fell to the ground. Nurses came and picked them up in stretchers. It went on all day.
There was a UPI reporter on the scene whose dispatch went to 2,200 newspapers around the world. It was a very long dispatch describing the day’s event with a final sentence along the lines of, “The West has lost any moral authority to rule anyone in the world today.”
When British citizens read this report, they asked themselves, “Are we barbarians? All these people want is salt and this is how we treat them?”
The melting of the heart began in 1930, which by 1947 completely melted, and Britain granted India her freedom without any animosity or violence at either end. Gandhi proved to the world that conflicts can be settled nonviolently and that there is one and only one way to change the belief system of another person to resolve the conflict—that is, I must suffer!
Since then, the world has experienced many such miracles. One example is the civil rights movement in America led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All sorts of violence was deployed against African American satyagrahis, including bombs, tear gas, dogs, and imprisonment; however, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s movement never called to throw a single punch back. His followers suffered and endured, eventually creating empathy in the white majority, leading to the landmark 1965 civil rights legislation.
It may seem like that only great souls like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. can follow such high principles. But it is not so. Just ask yourself, “Doesn’t every mother in the world suffer unconditionally for her children?” From the time of conception, to birth, to raising them, she will feed her children and go hungry herself, should that be the case. Her children may mistreat her, but in return, she will offer only love.
So the concept is not as farfetched as we think. The power of truth and nonviolence is a force more powerful; in other words, unconditional love is unmatched. Unconditional love and suffering are two sides of the same coin, just as truth and nonviolence are two sides of the same coin. Every one of us is capable of doing our bit in our own way. Every one of us can become a Peacemaker and make this society and world a better place to live.
From only one paragraph in the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi I had learned the most important lesson of my life: “Practice your truth nonviolently.” I asked myself, “If the solution is so simple, what have I done to spread this simple message?” I decided to adopt into my life, Gandhi’s message: “Be the change you wish to see!”
In 2002, supported by a dedicated cadre of like-minded individuals, I formed a non-profit, the Mahatma Gandhi Library (renamed the Eternal Gandhi Museum Houston – EGMH — in 2019), to honor the apostle of peace, Mahatma Gandhi, to study his teachings, and give back to the community through activities and events that shared teachings of nonviolent conflict resolution. In 2004, EGMH inaugurated Mahatma Gandhi Week, a weeklong celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, and by 2006, the event became a citywide celebration in Houston.
Since 2006, EGMH has organized an annual Walk for Peace and “1000 Lights for Peace” cultural events at Miller Outdoor Theater, honoring and celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Over the years thousands of people in the Houston community have participated and are impacted by these annual events. EGMH has collaborated with more than 70 Houston-area organizations to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi Week, which consists of conducting a series of activities including an essay, speech, poster, multi-media and debate contests, field trips, storytelling, and other activities with the simple aim of involving youth so they may learn and understand the revolutionary work of Mahatma Gandhi.
The EGMH’s next event will be held Saturday, January 30th to observe the 73rd anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s passing. An annual Shraddhanjali, or memorial service, will be held to pay tribute to his life’s work. Join virtually at 6 pm CST / 4 pm PST / 7 pm EST by visiting their Facebook page.
Motivated by the synergies of their existing programs and diverse partnerships, the Board of Trustees decided to open a museum in Houston. Meetings with Aditya Birla Group, founder and patron of the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum in New Delhi, India, resulted in the generous donation of multimedia exhibits valued at $500,000, followed by a signed memorandum of understanding in January 2017, granting exclusive rights to build and open the only Eternal Gandhi Museum in North America.
Our vision for the Eternal Gandhi Museum Houston is as follows:
- Encourage visitors to practice one’s own truth nonviolently. In other words, settle conflicts nonviolently
- Inculcate the universal values of Truth, Nonviolence, Love, Service and Peace to the next generation
- The museum experience should be transformative so that the visitor is encouraged to adopt the “Be the change you wish to see” message into their daily lives to make this world a better place.
My journey over the last two decades has been truly transformative. The next phase in the journey, with the support, guidance and blessings from like-minded souls, is to leave a legacy for future generations to emulate.
For more information on upcoming events or EGMH, please drop a line at email@example.com.
Atul Kothari is the Founder of the Eternal Gandhi Museum Houston. A Certified Public Accountant, he also has his own public accounting firm since 1984. He received his MBA from the University of Houston in 1977. He received his MS in Chemical Engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York in 1975. He graduated from Indian Institute of Technology – Kanpur, India with a B. Tech. in Chemical Engineering in 1974. Atul currently resides in Houston, Texas.