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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
January 2014
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants


with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

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


Dear PMG,

Clearly this column is intended to keep the Mahatma’s thinking alive in the 21st century.  The quotes seem a way of suggesting that Gandhi serves as a guide post of sorts, away of dealing with all that life brings our way.

I assume that similarly he also took guidance from those who came before him.  Of course, I know that the Gita was a major influence. What about specific individuals? And what would they make of Gandhi’s contributions?

Dear Friend,

“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.” (HenryDavid Thoreau)

Understanding Gandhiji’s influences is key to understanding the man.  Within the scopeof this column, one way to consider the influences on Gandhiji’s thinking is to use the concept of academic genealogy to summarize the giants who served as interpretive beacons and/or life-shaping mentors:

Vedas - Ralph Waldo Emerson - Henry David Thoreau -  M. K. Gandhi 

BhagavadGita - Edwin Arnold -  M. K. Gandhi 

Sermonon the Mount - Leo Tolstoy - M. K. Gandhi 

KhordehAvesta - Dadabhai Naoroji - G. K. Gokhale - M. K.Gandhi 

JainAgamas - Shrimad Rajchandra - M. K. Gandhi

Regarding Gandhiji’s contributions, perhaps a synthesis using Thoreau’s quote will suffice:

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts:  Yes, Gandhiji was not only a philosopher of subtle and true thoughts, but he also acted with the force of truth.

Nor even to found a school:  Yes, from his ashrams, which were living schools of the most practical kind, he habitually acted upon satyagraha in big things like India’s independence and seemingly small things like daily spinning of khadi cloth.

But so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity: Yes, the habit of spinning was an example of his characteristic simplicity.

Independence, magnanimity, and trust:  Yes, Gandhiji was connected with the independent India of aristocratic leaders and their tri-colored Ashoka Chakra flag, and also connected, through a magnanimous empathy, with the masses for whom the spinning wheel charkhawas more than a symbol fluttering on a flag. While the political elites focused on swaraj (self-rule or independence), Gandhiji intuitively understood that swadesh (self-sufficiency) was both a strategic instrument to swaraj and a practical tool for a village-based economy. Gandhiji’s tryst with destiny is to be forever linked to the upper-case Desh of Indian nationhood and the lower-case desh that is the spiritual village home of most Indians. Gandhiji internalized that to be worthy of the trust of the hundreds of millions, he had not only to understand them, he had to live as they lived. 

Gandhiji does indeed stand on the shoulders of giants.  And he stands alongside humanity at large.

[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 raj.oza@sbcglobal.net.]

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