The first of the eight limbs of yoga, Yama, is broken down into five categories; Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha -originally derived from the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text- the first two provided the meaning and drive behind Mahatma Gandhi’s beliefs and approach to bring peace to the world.
Ahimsa means non-violence, not just physical violence but mental and emotional violence and ultimately love of all. Gandhi’s says of Ahimsa:
“We are helpless mortals caught in the flagration of himsa. Man cannot for a moment live without consciously or unconsciously committing outward himsa. The very fact of his living -eating, drinking and moving about- necessarily involves some himsa, destruction of life, be it ever so minute. A votary of ahimsa therefore remains true to his faith if the spring of all his actions is compassion, if he shuns to the best of his ability the destruction of the tiniest creature, tries to save it, and thus incessantly strives to be free from the deadly coil of himsa.”
Satya means living honesty, truthfully and authentically. The combination of the two created a powerful moral tool, what Gandhi referred to as Satyagraha, or the Truth-force. Satyagraha was moulded by Gandhi during his time spent fighting for the rights of Indians in South Africa towards the end of the twentieth century and has since influenced the likes of Martin Luther King and more recently, Nelson Mandela.
Although the first two Yama’s most neatly fit the description of Satyagraha, accounts of his life prove that he also followed the remaining three; Asteya, non-stealing and non-jealousness; Bramacharya, the conversion of negative or sexual energies into courage and strength and Aparigraha, non-possession of anything that results in suffering and abstention from greed.
Gandhi was known to be fearless and courageous, so much so that in 1917 upon hearing that a British Indigo planter wanted to kill him if he was found alone, Gandhi went to visit the man and offered him his life. The man, when facing him, could not bear to kill him. A similar incident occurred in 1930 near Bharoach when another threatened his life and a few days later, upon learning his whereabouts, he went to face the man and said “Brother! I am Gandhi; you want my life. Take it soon, none will know.“ The man was so taken by Gandhi and his fearlessness that he became a follower of Gandhi. Furthermore, Gandhi described cowardice as “the greatest violence, certainly, far greater than bloodshed and the like that generally go under the name of violence.”
His application of Aparigraha took hold in South Africa where he insisted on giving up his material possessions to live a simple life committed to public service. In fact, in 1906 Gandhi wrote to his brother Laxmidas berating him and refusing to send him money that he was asking for, claiming that he was dedicated to public service and his money would be spent there. He also let his life insurance lapse believing that God, who created his family, would take care of them. As a result he wasn’t seen as a good father or husband in the traditional sense, essentially abandoning his family for Satyagraha.
His understanding of Aparigraha was that of a ‘trustee’ in the service of the disadvantaged and poor and said:
“I understood the Gita teaching of non-possession to mean that those who desired salvation should act like the trustee who, though having control over great possessions, regards not an iota of them as his own. It became clear to me as daylight that non-possession and equability presuppose a change of heart, a change of attitude.”
What of all this in today’s world with the luxury brand explosion? Where’s the authenticity when false egos are built for other people’s consumption? How much energy is spent unnecessarily collecting and consuming possessions? What toll is this taking on the world around us, both in terms of our fellow man as well as the natural resources? What examples are we setting for the next generation?
Naturally, there is a lot to learn from a man like Gandhi; he was brave in the face of adversity, honest and authentic, shedding possessions and fighting for other people’s rights. These are hard things to do and whilst we live in a world that has changed a lot since then, we should feel obliged to take a look at ourselves and work towards a change of heart, not only so that we can lead better, more fulfilling lives adding value to others, but so that we can help to shape a better future for our children.
5. Nojeim, Michael J. Gandhi and King: The power of Nonviolent Resistance
Jean-Paul Lassale (200hr Jan-May 2014)