When Sonia Gandhi turned down the offer to become Prime Minister in UPA 1 in 2004 and attributed her decision to an “inner voice,” there was a sense of relief at her decision, yet many were intrigued over her choice of words. But then, cynicism crept in and most of us dismissed it as just a catchy turn of phrase.
Yet, the very same words when used in connection with the Mahatma assume a whole new dimension. I am certain that there was not an iota of self-interest in Gandhiji’s decisions.
The “inner voice” that the Mahatma referred to, goes much beyond the intuitive voice that an average person becomes privy to and is guided by. Being immersed in spirituality, Gandhiji submitted his physical body to a great deal of penance and perhaps it is this and his self-reflective meditative practices that honed his inner voice of consciousness to provide him the best possible counsel, which he applied to the service of the country.
The Dandi March was one such inspiration. The non-violent way in which Gandhiji showed his followers to not retaliate in the face of great brutality set a tone for the rest of the Independence struggle. It provided India with a path breaking moral supremacy and brought her closer to being able to achieve her goal of self rule.
Across the ages, there have been many prophets who were privy to this inner voice of wisdom. I have concurred that from this wisdom has developed the term “prophetic words.” Mahatma Gandhi was certainly among the greatest apostles of peace, who walked this earth. Who else but he could have chosen to keep away from Delhi when the Indian flag was unfurled for the first time on the 15th of August, to stay with those who were affected by the riots resulting from the Partition of India. Horace Alexander, a Quaker who was closely associated with Gandhiji, wrote his biography, Gandhi through Western Eyes and was with him on that occasion, made these observations: “What Gandhi did on that day was one of the most extraordinary happenings in his evening life. He brought peace to that great city of Calcutta, and to the whole of Bengal, where Hindus and Muslims had been killing one another almost daily for over a year.”
At every stage of his life, Gandhiji applied the principles of Ahimsa or non-violence towards all sentient beings and Satyagraha or the adoption of a higher consciousness of truth and morality. His was a life of humility and self-effacement. He spoke of the Talisman that he employed in his decision-making – whether the action that he was contemplating would benefit the last man – Sarvodaya through Antyodaya, which is at the core of India’s formation as a country.
I have understood that to understand the Mahatma’s inner voice, his own words resonate greatly: “I do not know what you would call a vision, or what you would call prophetic. When I announced my fast of 21 days in jail, I had not reasoned it. On retiring to bed the previous night, I had no notion that I was going to announce a fast for 21 days. But in the middle of the night a voice woke me up and said, ‘Go through a fast.’ ‘For how many days,’ I asked? ‘21 days’ was the answer. Now let me tell you that my mind was unprepared for it, disinclined for it. But the thing came through clearly as anything could be. Whatever striking things I have done in life, I have not done prompted by reason, but prompted by instinct, I would say, God. Take the Dandi Salt March of 1930. I had not the ghost of a suspicion how the breach of the Salt Law would work itself out. Pandit (Jawaharlal Nehru) and other friends were fretting and did not know what I would do; and I could tell them nothing, as I myself knew nothing about it. But like a flash it came and as you know, it was enough to shake the country, from one end to another.”
In the tradition of Yoga, all practices aim toward stilling the mind. Among other benefits, a mind bereft of thoughts can invoke super-natural powers that can offer prophetic guidance and extra-sensory perception also known as Siddhi.
Whilst great Yogic practitioners would use their powers for self realization, what makes Mahatma Gandhi different is his combining of the spiritual with the temporal; both in his single-minded quest to achieve independence for India and in wishing to wipe a tear from every eye. I am reminded of the Buddha, who did not end his quest by achieving enlightenment under the Bodhi tree but used his wisdom toward alleviating the same suffering that led him to question the meaning of life.
There is not much to look forward to from muscular leaders who will have the Mahatma’s statues dusted and pay lip service to him on his 150th birth anniversary in the name of nationalism. If only Gandhi would resurrect now to solve the problems of modern times. At the least we could emulate his universal and eternal vision even in the smallest ways. May all that was good in the Mahatma light a spark in those who follow, so that they might act as beacons for the world.
Melanie P. Kumar has been an Independent Writer and contributing for more than 20 years now. Married to a Gandhian scholar, she has had occasion to travel to many of the important places associated with Mahatma Gandhi. She has also attended innumerable seminars on Gandhi, which has prompted her interest in writing about the Mahatma in an effort to understand him.