Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Gandhi has followed in his grandfather's footsteps by teaching the principles of nonviolence. In 1991, he and his wife, Sunanda, founded The M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, based in Memphis, Tennessee. The institute's mission is "to promote and apply the principles of nonviolence locally, nationally, and globally, to prevent violence and resolve personal and public conflicts through research, education, and programming."
Arun Gandhi travels the world passing on the wisdom he learned from his grandfather and teaching people how to apply the principles of nonviolence in their daily lives. Tireless in his efforts to heal individuals and communities, Arun Gandhi is the embodiment of the phrase his grandfather coined, "We must be the change we wish to see." --Amy Eldon
ARUN GANDHI: His message in all kinds of conflicts has always been that we need to find peaceful solutions to the conflict. Unfortunately, we have over so many generations always chosen to deal with conflicts violently and suppress them and so they are temporary solutions. They just keep coming back again and again because you can't suppress a conflict; you have to resolve it. And resolutions are only through nonviolent means. He would have said to the U.S.: We need to do some introspection, and find out why so many people in the world hate us so much and want to do so much harm to us and then correct our relationship with the rest of the world so that people don't hate us.
AG: Yes I think we are. He wasn't the first one to teach us this lesson, there were many others. There was Christ, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, all of these leaders who talked about religion, who talked about uplifting our way of living and standard of living. We have consistently either assassinated them or discounted them, put them up on a pedestal, worshipped them but we don't want to change our lifestyle. It's not that we can't do it, it's that we don't want to do it.
ARUN GANDHI: Nonviolence helps us to understand what all of these things are. We have a lot of conflicts in various different fields--economic, cultural, social, religious, political -- and all of that is because we have adopted for ourselves a lifestyle that is based on self-interest and selfishness. We are constantly trying to see what we can gain from everything and it doesn't matter what the consequences of that would be. And when we are motivated by such negative thoughts and greed and selfishness, then conflicts arise from that. And we have to deal with those conflicts. Nonviolence teaches us to shun the negativeness within us and become more positive. And positive means that we have to build relationships that are based on positive aspects--on respect, understanding, acceptance, appreciation and not on negative relationships.
ARUN GANDHI: Well he said this when he was speaking after prayer service and he mentioned this because people kept saying to him that the world has to change for us to change. He said, "No, the world will not change if we don't change." So we have to make the beginning ourselves. It has always been our human nature to blame someone else for everything that is happening. It's never us. We are never at fault. And he tried to make us realize that we are just as much in the fault as anybody else. Unless we change ourselves and help people around us change, nobody will change because then everybody will be waiting for the other person to change.
ARUN GANDHI: He read all the scriptures. One of the things that he said is a friendly study--and he emphasized the word friendly. A friendly study of all the scriptures is the sacred duty of every individual. He made that kind of friendly study of all the scriptures and he found that, at the core, all of them have the same thing to say: love, compassion, respect, understanding of each other. These are the fundamental principles of all the religions. But around that we have built so much ritualism and we now think that the ritual that we perform in the name of religion is religion itself. That is not religion. The rituals are totally different, so we need to separate them and come back to the core of the religion, which is loving everybody and respecting everybody, whoever they may be. He also believed that it is an individual's right and choice to believe in whatever faith they want to and the rest of humanity must respect that and we must live together. He would always say that religion is like climbing a mountain, we are all getting up to the same peak so why should it matter to anybody which side of the mountain we climb up?
AG: Of course there would be more favor towards family members than towards friends, that is part of our relationships but it also means that we should be just and practical to everyone else. When we say, "Love your neighbor," it doesn't mean that we automatically go and love everybody. We should have respect for other people and help other people to become better human beings also.
ARUN GANDHI: I think first of all, we need to understand what we mean by nonviolence. Generally today everybody thinks that non violence is non-use of physical force, that as long as we are not going out and beating up people we are nonviolent or as long as the nation is not at war with somebody, we are living in peace. That's only a small fraction of the philosophy of nonviolence. The actual philosophy of nonviolence is about many other things--all the different forms of violence that we practice knowingly and unknowingly every day of our lives, all the passive violence.
He made me draw a family tree of violence on the same principle of the genealogical tree and every day I had to examine my day's experiences and put them down on that tree. Physical violence is something we understand because it is the type of violence where we use physical force against one another. But passive violence is something we can ignore because, often, it happens without our knowledge, our understanding, and that is what we need to acknowledge. In doing this tree everyday and examining my actions, I became aware of how much passive violence I was committing myself. Once I was able to acknowledge that, I was able to do something to change that. But as long as we live in denial and don't acknowledge it, we won't do anything about it. It is somewhat like a drug addict or alcohol addict, or any kind of addict; if they don't acknowledge that they have a problem, they are not going to do anything about it, but when they acknowledge that they have a problem then they will do something about it.
AG: After a while I realized and became aware of how passive violence manifests itself and so I have been able to do that without having to draw the tree.
AG: I think they are always very important and now we find so much violence consuming us at every level that we look at the newspapers every morning and we see everybody killing each other in all parts of the world. It makes it important that we look at the situation and do something about it before it destroys us all together. We can see now killing has become so much easier and we don't feel the pangs of it. We are getting desensitized by the killing. That is dangerous. When life doesn't mean anything and people can be killed and destroyed and don't feel anything about it, then we are losing our own humanity.
ARUN GANDHI: I still consider him to be a light that is shining and making it easy for me to pursue the goals that he had envisaged. My mom gave me this wonderful piece of advice when I was growing up. She said "It's up to you, if you consider this to be a burden, you will have to carry it all your life. If you consider this to be a light, then it will shine and make it easier for you to pursue your goals."
AG: I chose the light.