Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi in the 21st century

By: Ramnarine Sahadeo

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi left his material body on January 30, 1948, and many have already forgotten that “such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon his earth” as predicted by Albert Einstein. Few students in western universities study his life while others ignore him as not being relevant in today’s fast-paced, technologically complex societies.
Hate mongers have desecrated statues erected in his honour in a handful of countries but this only emboldens his supporters who will replace them with even larger images. They may demolish material objects but this will never change the indelible messages he left for ideas cannot be destroyed and are still helpful to many of the challenges confronting mankind today. The most pressing global issue today is the environment.

The environmental visionary
A cursory reading of the admission and apology of Pope Francis to the Indigenous peoples when he visited Canada may suggest that he is a disciple of the Mahatma at least in environmental matters.
On July 25, 2022, he stated in part “… these are lands that speak to us…you have lived on this land for thousands of years…have treated it as a gift from the Creator to be shared with others and to be cherished in harmony with all that exists, in profound fellowship with all living beings. In this way you learned to foster a sense of family and community and to build solid bonds between generations, honouring your elders and caring for your little ones”.
These are sentiments that find public expression and practical application by the political saint who is famous for his statement “earth has enough for man’s need but not for man’s greed”.
Gandhi advocated respect for all life forms as early as 1909 in his book Hind Swaraj. As one of the earliest 20th century environmentalists (a word that may not have been widely used then) he warned of the disastrous consequences if mankind was to follow the West with excessive materialism, unlimited industrialisation and unequal distribution of wealth. Ecology only became a matter of global interest with an explosion of academic publications from the 1960s. This Inconvenient Truth is now on the front burner as ice caps melt at an accelerated pace and global warming and extreme weather find a place on the agenda of governments worldwide.
If the Vatican with its wealth, spiritual influence, and global reach can follow the lead of a simple man with a loin cloth and bamboo rod but no powerful position or office, space ship earth, Homo sapiens in some form may still be around in the next millennium. Governments, businesses, and spiritual leaders must now expand the universally accepted principle “treat others as you would like to be treated” by extending this philosophy to all forms of life which are connected and dependent on each other for survival. Those who believed and acted as if the resources of the world were made for the pleasure of mankind where only the fittest will survive (according to Darwin) must radically change their views and treat wealth and possessions under a form of trusteeship for posterity. Technology is here to stay but can be better used to reduce noise, air, and water pollution and stop the wasteful production of harmful luxury items including weapons of mass destruction. However, while governments and big industry have a Himalayan role to play, it is up to the individual consumer who has to “be the change they want to see in the world” by living a simple life guided by the idea that all life is precious and karmic law will be the final arbiter of human greed and waste.

Courage without equal
The life of the Mahatma shows how much difference individuals can make by the power in their own hands. While man cannot turn back the clock on technology, each person, East or West, is still empowered to live a lifestyle that is simple, and clean, with only a few necessary possessions. The best evidence is to observe what he owned when he died: sandals, watch, bowl and plate, and round glasses. (Page 116 of Thoughts, Words, Deeds)
Ramnarine Sahadeo, a retired lawyer, authored Mohandas K. Gandhi, Thoughts, Words, Deeds and initiated the Gandhi Scholarship at McMaster University in 2007.
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