Mandar Apte

Today, Oct 2nd is the UN International Day of Nonviolence. It is a day when millions worldwide spend reflecting on the life works of Mahatma Gandhi – referred to as the Father of the Nation in India for his bold vision and relentless pursuit of using nonviolence (or Ahimsa) as the pillar for India’s struggle for independence.

I remember vividly when I went to America for graduate studies, I was often asked by fellow international students about Mahatma Gandhi. Embarrassingly, I didn’t have much to share as we only learned about Gandhi in history classes and knew about him enough to pass the history exam. So I remember going to the University library and reading his autobiography ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth’. The book made a deep impression on my student life. It impacted me so much that I used to fast on Oct 2nd during my student years, as a way to respect his sacrifice for the Nation.

In the ancient Indian Sanskrit language, Ahimsa is often translated in English as “nonviolence” – a word that Mahatma Gandhi himself also did not like. This is because Ahimsa actually translates to “absence of violence” on three levels — at the level of thoughts, words, and actions. This state of consciousness would then be equivalent to being in a state of “unconditional love”. And from that space of unconditional love, one could show anger for the intent of disciplining someone, or about prevailing injustice, albeit in nonviolent means (as much as possible) for the greater common good. Nonviolence, the English translation, however, doesn’t capture the depth of the true meaning – on the other hand, it gives a very fatalistic and sadistic tone.

In fact, I discovered during my study with my meditation teacher, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, that Ahimsa is one of the key tenets of the science and wisdom of yoga – unlike many Westerners for whom yoga is merely a physical exercise limited to upward and downward dogs and/or perhaps bending like a pretzel. Most of my Western friends also think that “Mahatma” was Gandhi’s first name. “Mahatma” is an honorific title that was given to him – it means a “great soul” — someone who has achieved a higher state of consciousness, where there is a feeling of oneness with everyone.

During Cities4Peace workshops, as I often share with my meditation students, if we want to promote nonviolence in the world, then we must look into what would have made Gandhi a “Mahatma”. And as the autobiography had revealed to me, this journey inward was NOT an easy one for Gandhi himself.

The journey inwards is like walking on a razor’s edge – it will require us to face the harsh realities of our own unfounded fears, implicit biases, inhibitions, judgments, unhealed traumas, and concepts about life and who is right and who is wrong. Therefore, many will simply pay homage to Gandhi today – only the brave will go inwards.

Mahatma Gandhi was a “yogi” and had invoked his internal strength, through the practice and study of yoga, Jainism and the Bhagavad Gita to become a beacon of truth, love, compassion, and nonviolence. He had used these noble qualities to subsequently fight against injustice and oppression.

Finding The Mahatma Within – it is imperative!

As the world is now slowly starting to open up after the long pandemic, we are facing many crises. Multiple vectors including COVID-19, climate change, systemic inequalities, rising urban violence, extremism, terrorism, and lack of trust in our leaders and media are forcing all of us to open our hearts and our minds to fundamental realities. Stress and anxiety are reaching unprecedented levels and threatening the mental health and wellbeing of our society. This is a defining moment that requires leaders to have equanimity – to be grounded and at the same time, being able to empathize and energize others through their presence and actions.

It is time for all of us, especially leaders and organizations who have influence, to reimagine our purpose and impact. It is time to use this day to pause and reflect on the true meaning of ‘Ahimsa’ and how to raise our consciousness. Only with the raised consciousness can we ever come together to promote social harmony, peace, and prosperity. The world is looking for such leaders – There is no higher calling.

It is time that we, as leaders, #FindTheMahatmaWithin

For those who want to explore the journey inwards, our module can help to build your capacity with tools, wisdom, and frameworks that have helped me as a seeker.

Good luck!

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