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Hero’s Journey

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
January 2013
Hero’s Journey

with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

Clearly you think of the Mahatma as a hero. I’ve been reading “Satyalogue” over the past several years and have been wondering why Gandhi is worthy of hero worship?

Dear Friend,

“Heroes are made in the hour of defeat. Success is, therefore, well described as a series of glorious defeats.” (M. K. Gandhi)

As Satyalogue approaches 65 (number of columns, not years), this is a good time to revisit the “Why Gandhiji?” question.

Please know that while I do worship my Gods, parents, wife, and children, I do not worship Mohandas K. Gandhi (MKG), the man. That said, his life is heroic and his worldview is aspirational. Let’s use a framework from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces to explore how Gandhiji was a hero “made in the hour of defeat.”

The Hero’s Journey: MKG’s life journey (1869-1948) took him from birth in Gujarat to trips between India, England, and South Africa, and eventually back to India for the final 30+ years of selfrenewal and nation-building.

The Call: Most famously, MKG responded to a call to liberate India from British rule. Many think of India’s independence as the embodiment of swaraj or self-rule. But MKG came to the calling of swaraj at a more personal level—self-rule in the sense of having control over oneself. This version of a hero’s journey is available to all of us.

Refusal of the Call: While some simplify the arc of life into a linear series of “he did this and then that,” human life is considerably more “loopular,” with twists and turns like the River Ganga. For example, although MKG was born into a vegetarian family and vegetarianism was his first political cause, there was a period in his youth when he questioned the call to vegetarianism and experimented with meat.

Supernatural Aide: MKG would agree that there were many mentors in his life, but ultimately it was the Bhagavad Gita that he looked to for guidance.

Road of Trials: The first trial of his faith in vegetarianism began when a friend convinced him that since the British were omnivores, it was an Indian’s duty to eat meat in order to defeat the imperialists.

The Belly of the Whale: Across the “black waters,” MKG’s time in England was the greatest test of his resolve because of the dearth of vegetarian food and the lack of familial oversight. He not only risked hunger and ill health, but also humiliation in a foreign land.

The Transformation: By finding like-minded British vegetarians, MKG “slayed his dragon.” What sustained him during this crisis was a commitment to truth—being truthful to himself and his mother to whom he had vowed a vegetarian life.

The Atonement and Return: And from this seemingly small accomplishment came a commitment to not only self-rule, but also adherence to truth; and, thus, both swaraj and satyagraha informed Indian independence.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at]


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