Be The Change
Gandhi is perhaps one of the greatest exponents of the shift in perspective when living a life dedicated to dharma and what can be achieved. His dedication to not being human has made him an enduring icon of morality and ethics to all humanity. Gandhi’s life was transformed when he first read the Gita. In his autobiography he details how up to that point his life had been somewhat of a litany of failure and shame—at least from the perspective of his family.
Gandhi’s identification with the fears and neurosis of Arjuna enabled him to take the advice of Krishna. Gandhi whole-heartedly surrendered himself to the process of finding out what his purpose was. He changed his diet, his friends and radically simplified his way of living. He took to daily meditation and mantra practice.
Gandhi, in his profession as a lawyer, had been just scraping by on his shallow legal knowledge. His final transformation came when he was working on a difficult and divisive case in South Africa between two families—spookily not unlike the Pandavas and Kauravas of the Gita. Although this had the potential to be very lucrative for Gandhi as a young lawyer, with years in litigation spanning ahead of him in the complex conflict, he could see the pain it was causing both sides and the damage that was being done.
He made it his mission to convince the litigants to go to arbitration and drop the court case. When he successfully managed to negotiate a mutually acceptable compromise between them, it was the moment his own good hustle became clear: working to unite parties in conflict.
Knowledge became wisdom. Gandhi realised that when he was in union with his dharma, there was nothing that he couldn’t attempt.
Gandhi wasn’t a man blinded by faith or beguiled by religion without wisdom. In his desperate search for meaning in his life while living in England and studying, he had vigorously researched the seminal texts of all the world’s major religions to try and find something that gave him insight into finding peace and happiness.
He concluded that all of the texts more or less prescribed the same thing, and no matter what culture and faith we are born into, we are all at heart looking within for the path to our true selves. The Gita for Gandhi was the book that gave a clear and simple step-by-step approach on how to do so; a method that any seeker could adopt and use within their own belief system.
Gandhi’s commentary on the Gita, The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi, is a beautiful and straightforward analysis of the text. In the book he relates Krishna’s advice to Arjuna to everyday situations, with the belief that the teachings should be accessible, understandable and actionable for everyone, from heads of state to chai wallahs, ensuring that enlightenment wasn’t just a high caste conceit.
The legacy that Gandhi left to the world as an exemplar of living a life in an entirely authentic and imperfect way has been expansive; the change he achieved was nothing short of miraculous. We can learn subtler lessons from Gandhi by studying the source of his courage and prescience that enabled him to undertake the breathtakingly subversive acts of nonviolence that freed his people from British rule.
As part of his adherence to the teachings of the Gita, Gandhi relied entirely on his inner voice and moral compass. He used extended periods of concentration and meditation to guide his actions, and had no qualms in changing his direction in a dramatic and unexpected way if he felt he was being guided to do so. Such was his faith in surrender and following his dharma. By choosing his own access to understanding what the right path was, Gandhi wasn’t swayed by opinion or tethered to what others thought.
Gandhi modelled agility and a reliance on his intuition, skills indubitably honed by his strict yoga and meditation practice. While in London he had practised the austerity of simplifying his life, ridding himself of unnecessary possessions, at the same time as he was working through cleaning his mind.
In Gandhi’s autobiography he talks about the expansive freedom he felt with the less he had. It’s a concept that is almost unimaginable to so many of us as we strive almost exclusively to acquire, or to pay for the things we have already acquired. His renunciation, however, was not about leaving the world and hanging in a cave or monastery. This is the legacy most useful to us as aspiring good hustle people, that we can have it all, we can do it all, by having none of it.