Arun Gandhi - Mahathma Gandhis Grandson

What Arun Gandhi learned about peace and courage from Mahathma Gandhi

This was once again one of many coincidences that began on Bali. Whilst working on my new book and writing about Ghandhi’s commitment to his message of peace, I didn´t know that Arun Gandhi would be in Germany for four days exactly at the time when I would return to Munich after months on Bali. Although I was willing to put up with a great deal of discomfort to reach him, I was so glad that I 

had no need to fly to India or America. The gift of being able to meet with him simply landed in my lap and filled me with very deep gratitude.

Arun Gandhi, the Grandson of Mahathma Ghandi, born in 1934 in Durban, South Africa has given many speeches about nonviolence all over the world, like the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King Junior III at one stage. He shares the lessons and messages of his grandfather. Arun Gandhi has participated in the Renaissance Weekend deliberations with President Clinton. He spoke at the United Nations and at the Scottish Parliament. Gandhi worked for 30 years as a journalist for The Times of India and is the author of several books. He has also been a contributor to the Washington Post. Arun and his wife Sunanda Gandhi started projects for the social and economic uplifting of the oppressed using constructive programs, the backbone of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. The programs changed the lives of more than half a million people in over 300 villages and they still continue to grow.

Barbara: Arun Gandhi, the title of your new book „The gift of anger“ sounds surprising in the light of Mahathma Gandhis message of nonviolence. How can we make anger useful?
Arun Ghandhi:
In the culture of violence we have not been taught about anger. Anger is a powerful, good emotion. My grandfather said: “Anger is like electricity, but only if we use it intelligently.” We have to learn to channel the energy of anger in a positive way for the good of humanity. Unfortunately we are ignorant about anger. The philosophy of non-violence is that we should see the conflict before it becomes a crisis. Today, because we are so busy with our work, wanting more and more, we have no time to reflect on situations and our behavior. We don’t look at the conflicts that are happening in society until they explode in our face. At that moment when they explode, it’s very difficult to do something about it. But if we have the proactive sense of recognizing a situation before it becomes very serious, we can avoid it and won’t have to face a crisis. I hope the lessons in my new book that I learned from my grandfather and my parents will make the same difference in people’s lives as they made in my life. I hope that the people will get all the wisdom from it and make an effort to transform their lives, so that we can all together work for peace and harmony in the world.

Barbara: Sometimes people get angry, but don´t have the detachment to stop it. What can they do to act differently?
Arun Gandhi:
Our prisons are full of young people who acted in a moment of madness. If they had been taught that we have to use anger in an intelligent way, the situation would be different. Today, Harvard University has done a study. It shows that more than 80 percent of the violence that we experience, either in our life or in the lives of our nations, is generated by anger. So if we learn to control our anger, we will be able to reduce violence by as much as 80 percent. That’s a very substantial number. The most effective way to resolve conflicts is with love, peace, respect and understanding instead of fighting. What happens with violence is, that we fight, make war and kill each other, but we don’t focus on resolving the problem.

Barbara: In daily life people struggle with their partner, their boss, parents, neighbors and friends. How can we act more peacefully and lovingly?
Arun Gandhi:
The materialistic lifestyle we have, has created a whole culture of violence in every aspect of our lives. If we know how much passive violence we perpetrate against one another we will understand why there is so much physical violence plaguing societies and the world. Our language is violent, our relationships are violent, our entertainment is violent, our sport is violent, everything is violent. In this culture of violence, we try to control people through fear, to put fear in them. We practice it at home with our children as parents when we treat them with punishment, when we control them through fear. The ideal way is to teach people through love and respect. We have the choice.

Barbara: Your grandfather responded to hate and anger with compassion and love. He peacefully stopped the British colonial power in India. How did he succeed in always answering with love?
Arun Gandhi:
He was beaten up three or four times. In each case the police arrested the person. But he told the police that he didn’t want the person to be punished. He said: “I want him to learn that what he did to me was wrong. I want him to change. By punishing him he is not going to change at all. I would like to speak with him, I want to forgive him. Hopefully he will change.” And that was what happened when he met them. The people realized, that what they did was wrong. Gandhi’s way was resolving the problems with love, compassion and respect. He also told everybody: The British are not our enemies. They are our friends. We are showing them only the right path. So the focus in nonviolence is more to resolve the problem by both of them coming together. It is much more effective than fighting.

Barbara: You lived for two years with your grandfather. What did touched you the most in contact with him?
Arun Gandhi:
Yes, I lived with him for two years. During that period he taught me many important things. He had a very special way of teaching. He didn’t make me sit down and say: “This is a lesson, and you have to do this,” like a school teacher. He used to just take something that happened during the day and make that a lesson for me to learn. So it was a very pleasurable experience. Those lessons stayed in my mind and in my heart. When I grew up and began to think about it, I realized how important those messages were. I began to change my attitude and my life. I won’t say that at the age of ten, eleven, I was so brilliant that I understand his profoundly philosophy. But it happened slowly over the years as I grew up and matured. I thought and learned about it.

Barbara: It was more through his example and his behavior that you learned?
Arun Gandhi:
Exactly. That is one thing he used to always say: “We must live what we want others to learn.” If we say one thing and do something else, the people are not going to learn anything at all. But if they see us doing the same thing, then we are teaching, then they will learn.

Barbara: That seems to be the same with peace. One of the most important or well-known sentences of your grandfather is: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If we are unhappy about the situation and the wars in the world, we should start to live more peacefully in our daily lives.
Arun Gandhi:
Yes. Everybody wants peace. But if I go and ask people: “What do you mean by peace? What does it look like, what do you think?” Nobody knows it! Very often the answer I have received is: „When we have no war, we’re having peace.“ And I said, “No, that’s not right!” Because we are committing violence in many different ways in society. Every time we are exploiting somebody, or we discriminate against somebody, or harass somebody, that’s violence. We may not fight, may not use physical force, but it’s violence when we hurt somebody, emotionally or in other ways. That is the kind of violence that we don’t recognize at all. We think we are in peace because we are not fighting anybody, but during that period we are exploiting the people. The victims of that exploitation get angry and they resort to violence to get justice. Then violence begins, escalates and grows into a war. One party wins and kills many people. They don’t address the problem. The problem still remains. They just kill each other.

Barbara: What do you think that peace really is? 
Arun Gandhi:
Peace is actually when we create harmony among the people, when we have better relationships, when we don’t look down on people because they are black or white or brown or Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or whatever. We have built so many walls, religious, racial and social walls. Every time we create a division between people, we are creating a potential for violence. We have to learn to respect each other, accept each other as human beings and treat each other with respect. When we create that kind of attitude, then we will have harmony in the world and that harmony will result in peace.

Barbara: In my experience it is also a question of inner consciousness. Isn’t it most important that we find peace within ourselves? If we feel peace, we react peacefully with others. For me, peace begins within all of us, before it goes out in our relationships and in the world.
Arun Gandhi:
Certainly, yes. We can’t work for peace, for anything, if we don’t know it and don’t have it within us. It’s very important that we find peace within ourselves. Then we can translate it and help other people to find peace.

Barbara: About your grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, I am particularly moved by the fact that he, only one person, could change the world and the lives of other people. He had an enormous strength to follow his own path, his own truth.
Arun Gandhi:
Yeah, we need to have understanding, love and compassion and the commitment to do things. One person with commitment and understanding can make a very big difference. We always need to remember that. Now it’s more than sixty years since my grandfather died, but we are still talking about him and talking about his philosophy. We may not make a difference as big as he or other great people did, where millions of people followed. But we can certainly make a difference in our friendships, in our neighborhoods, in our cities and in our nations. Everything that we do, small changes, ultimately grows and becomes a big change.

Barbara: Was your grandfather really aware at the beginning, that so many people would follow him and that it would cause the liberation of the British colonial power?
Arun Gandhi:
No, he didn’t know anything. He didn’t even know whether anybody would follow him! When he suffered that humility in South Africa and he decided he had to get justice, he didn’t know how. It was that moment when he said: “I cannot fight these people, but I still want justice. The only way I can get justice is through non-violent action.” Step by step everything was evolving. The success of his first movement inspired people to join and to say: “Yes, there is something to what he is saying.” In non-violence we are not helpless. In violence we become helpless. Non-violence empowers the individual. One person can stand up for rights and justice, and get something out of it.

Barbara: One week before your grandfather was murdered, a journalist asked him what he thought would happen to his message after his death. He answered, that they will honor him, but wouldn’t take on his message as their own. Unfortunately your grandfather was right. Do we need more than ever your grandfather’s lectures of peace in this critical global political situation? What can we do? What do you think your grandfather would do?
Arun Gandhi:
He would be very unhappy. There’s so much violence growing all over the world. He would have worked hard to bring about a change in the world. We have to remember, that much of the violence and the unhappiness that we are experiencing in the world today is because of the disparities that we have created. If we really want peace, it’s important for the rich nations to remember that they have a responsibility to help the poor nations attain a better standard of living. That doesn’t mean only to share with them their wealth, but also their knowledge, to help them understand, how to do things. We are all really selfish and think only about our own countries. We don’t care about what happens in other parts of the world. The result is that if that part of the world is going down the drain, we are going to go down with them. We are all interconnected and interlinked with each other, not only as human beings, but also otherwise. What happens in one part of the world is going to eventually happen in the other part of the world too. We can’t protect and save ourselves, if that part of the world is sinking. The only way we can save ourselves is by saving them, also.

Barbara: You have counseled Bill Clinton. How could all the great politicians benefit from the wisdom of your grandfather?
Arun Gandhi:
If they would make a real, sincere attempt to understand. Most of the politicians are too committed to violence because they have created a real industrial violence. They don’t want to change anything. They are happy making a lot of money. But it’s the people who have to stand up and say “We don’t want this.”

Barbara: Yes, it’s only possible because we all go along with it. It is not only the fault of the politicians, it is the fault of each one of us. If we wouldn’t accept the state of affairs and would act as your grandfather did, the situation would be different. We have to change our behavior, each one of us in daily life. Your grandfather was not a politician, but he created a big change.
Arun Gandhi:
Correct. That’s what he said, that as long as we submit to oppression, we are going to be oppressed. But the moment we stand up and say “no”, then we free ourselves. It’s time when the citizens of every country stand up and say: “We don’t want any more wars. We are not going to fight any more wars.” Only then these politicians will understand and change, rather than by just talking to them, it’s not going to help.

Barbara: It’s easy to complain that the politicians act wrongly. It is more effective to reflect on our own behavior, our little fight with the neighbors, the colleagues, our partners. How do we treat each other? Do we have a peaceful mind? These are the seeds we are planting, the seeds where the peace in the world begins.
Arun Gandhi:
Exactly. We have to look at ourselves first, change ourselves, change our attitudes, our relationships and then, we can ask the government to change also.

Barbara: You once said, that Mathatma Gandhi wouldn’t have been the same person without your grandmother Kasturba Gandhi. You also wrote a book about your grandmother “The forgotten woman”.
Arun Gandhi:
My Grandmother was a very powerful woman. I wrote her biography because I realized that everybody had written about grandfather, but nobody had done any research into her life and what she did. So I called the book ‘The Forgotten Woman’ because she was forgotten by history. Although she had never gone to school and had no education – she couldn’t read or write – she had wisdom, a wisdom that was given to her by her parents through the ages. She had the wisdom herself to learn lessons from life and live those lessons. She was very powerful and wasn’t like many people used to say just a quiet wife, obediently following her husband. Anything that grandfather wanted to do, she wanted first for him to explain to her why it has to be that, why is it necessary. When he was able to convince her, then she would do everything. She was very strong-willed, but also a very cooperative person. Once she understood the reason for the change, she wholeheartedly worked for the change.

Barbara: She couldn't read or write, but was very intelligent and wise. Do we forget in our society sometimes that wisdom is more important, than only training our intellectual knowledge?
Arun Gandhi: Today we get education and become very arrogant with our education. We say: “I am a doctor. I’ve got a PHD. I don’t need to learn anything. Nobody can teach me anything about life.” It’s that kind of arrogance that builds a wall between us and society. Whereas if we are humble, maybe we have a degree from Harvard University, but we can still learn from simple things everyday. Even children can teach us something very important if we have that kind of an open mind. Having humility and having an open mind to be able to learn from life's experiences is very important. Learning is not just what we learn in schools and colleges. Learning is a life-long experience. What we learn in schools and colleges is a text book knowledge. That gives us a career to go out and make money. But what we learn from life experience is more valuable because it teaches us how to relate to each other, what is the best way and how to build relationships. Just walking down the street we can learn from what we see. But that kind of learning can come only if we have the humility to realize that we need to learn and have the open mind to absorb all those lessons.

Barbara: How would you describe the relationship of your grandparents? How did Kasturba Gandhi behave?
Arun Gandhi:
My grandmother was very helpful for my grandfather, like a partner, his partner in life. If one partner in business doesn’t cooperate with the other partner, that business is not going to survive very long. So, she was a very important partner. There is a story: When they were sixteen years-old, already married, grandfather didn’t know who was going to be the boss in their partnership. He went to the library to read books on the subject, and all these books were written by male chauvinists. They all said that the husband must lay down the rules and enforce them strictly. So he came home one evening and told grandmother: “From tomorrow you are not going to stir out of the house without my permission. That is the rule now and you are going to obey it. I don’t want any arguments.” Grandmother didn’t say anything at all. She just quietly went to bed, got up the next day, went out and did everything she always did, didn’t get his permission. After a few days when he realized that she was not obeying him, he confronted her and said “How dare you disobey me? Didn’t I tell you that you are not to go out of the house without my permission?” Very quietly, without getting angry our raising her voice, she says, “I was brought up to believe that we must always obey the elders in the house. I believe the elders in this house are your parents. Now if you are trying to tell me that I should not obey your mother, but obey you instead, let me know so that I can go and tell your mother: “I am not going to obey you anymore.'” Of course he couldn’t tell her to do that. The whole matter was settled without anybody getting angry or becoming aggressive. My grandfather acknowledges that that was the most profound lesson in non-violent conflict resolution he learned at the age of sixteen from my grandmother. That made a difference in his understanding of his life forever. That was the beginning. Throughout his life grandmother supported him and worked with him. They had a good partnership. If we look at it, if one partner doesn’t cooperate with the other partner, it’s not going to work very efficiently.

Barbara: Her behavior seems to be very unusual regarding the rule of the women in India at that time. What can women nowadays learn from her?
Arun Gandhi: Women need to learn that, it won´t help them to want equality with men. They are becoming as bad as men. They think that is equality. I don’t think that is equality at all. The women have the capacity to be mothers. They already have the inbuilt compassion and love, which is sometimes lacking in men. Seeking equality between the two sexes doesn’t mean that women should go down to their level. It means that they should raise them up to their level. Women should not try to copy all the evils of men.

Barbara: Kasturba didn’t fight against your grandfather, she empowered herself, stayed calm and did what she felt to be right. She taught Mahatma Gandhi with her very simple reaction. For me, it ís impressive how little things can move that much.
Arun Gandhi:
Little things can make a very big difference in everyday life. Every little thing that we do makes a difference. How we bring up our children, what kind of relationship we have at home. Today, unfortunately, because of modern lifestyles, relationships at home are breaking up. In America the divorce rate has gone beyond sixty percent. It’s almost touching seventy percent of marriages. If seventy percent of families are breaking up, imagine the children growing up in those families, what they’re going through. If they can’t respect their own parents, how are they going to ever learn to respect strangers? Respect has to come from within the family. I always say to people: „If you marry you have to remember that you have to make commitments, some concessions with each other. You have to work with each other to give the children all the attention and education that they need. Which may mean that one of the partners doesn’t work and stays at home until the children grow up to go to school. That kind of foundation that the children need is very important because psychologists have found today, that what a child learns in the first five years of their life, creates the foundation of their adulthood. If they don’t have a good foundation, they’re not going to be good adults. If sixty percent of the families are broken, these children are all in a mess.

Barbara: For our relationships the message of your grandfather of non-violence, to act with respect, peace and love, is also very helpful.
Arun Gandhi:
Yes, that’s why he said: “We must become the change we wish to see.” If we want to change the world, we have to change ourselves first and practice it at home. When we start that change at home, our children and our friends will change and grow from there. But unfortunately we have gotten into the habit of waiting for change to come from top down. We want the government to change everything. Governments can’t change these things. These changes have to come from each one of us.

Barbara: If the people who are listening or reading your messages want to practice, want to live peace, love and compassion, what could be the first step in daily life?
Arun Gandhi:
The first step in daily life is for the individual to make a decision, that I am going to be a better person today than I was yesterday. If we make that effort every morning when we get up, we will become a better person. For that we have to make a list of all the things that we consider to be our weaknesses and make every day an effort to change those weaknesses into strengths. In that way we begin that change in our own self, we become better. Through becoming better we help our family become better also. We create better relationships. The whole process then leads to other things and it grows. But the first step is to say to ourselves: “I am going to be a better person.”

Barbara: Your grandfather also said: "The pure love of one person, can nullify the hatred of millions.” How can we become this person?
Arun Gandhi: I think love is very powerful. When we show and share true love, not the kind of love we experience today, but true love – it can make a very big difference in many people's lives. There was one story which I have written about in the book of a man who was a very careless man. He didn’t clean his home, didn’t wash dishes or anything. He was living alone and he says: “Nobody is looking, why should I bother?” His house was in a mess, completely, piled up with dishes that he didn’t wash, dust everywhere. Until one day, when he was at work and met a young woman. They became very good friends. One day the woman gave a rose as a gift. He brought that rose home and wanted to put it in a vase. But he couldn’t find a vase, because they were all in the dirty dishes! So he rummaged through the dishes, found the vase and washed it clean, put fresh water and the rose in it. Then he wanted to put that rose in a good place, because it was given with love. He cleaned up the dining table to put the rose on the dining table. When he had cleaned up the table he recognized now everything else around him looks bad. He started cleaning up other things and eventually he ended up cleaning up the whole house for one rose!

Barbara: What a wonderful example.

I read that your Grandfather retained his power out of his deep spirituality. What are his most important values and teachings?
Arun Gandhi:
He was a very spiritual and open person. His spirituality wasn’t connected with any one religion. He believed that all religions are equal, have a little bit of the truth and if we respect all religions, we can learn from each other and grow from that. He read the scriptures of all the religions, took from all what he thought was good, and absorbed it in his life. His prayers every morning and evening were held outside in the open. He invited anybody who wanted to come at five o’clock in the morning and five o’clock in the evening for prayer time. Thousands of people have come to those prayers, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. They were praying and sitting together. My grandfather was praying in all the different religions. They were singing Christian, Muslim and Hindu hymns. All of them had equal respect for everyone. Gandhi created that kind of ecumenical lifestyle and interfaith respect. It was a wonderful experience.

Barbara: In my feeling, behind all the religions, if you go really deep, you find the message of love, compassion and peace. These were also the messages of your grandfather.
Arun Gandhi: Exactly, all the religions have the same basic foundation – love, compassion, respect, understanding.

Barbara: And what do you think are the keys to wisdom?
Arun Gandhi: The key to wisdom is to live love, respect, understanding and compassion. All the positive things that we have in our lives. We suppress them because we want to show our aggressiveness, we want to be powerful. We suppress these good things and allow all the negative things to dominate our lives. If we make an attempt to just bring out the goodness in us, instead of the bad aspects, we would make a very big difference.

Barbara: Is it always a gift for you to be the grandson of Mahathma Gandhi or is it sometimes also difficult?
Arun Gandhi: I am very happy that I had the opportunity to live and to be related to him, to be his grandson. It’s a great honor for me. I hope that I can share with the world what I have learned from him.

Barbara: Thank you very much!

Arun Gandhi: I hope the seed of peace will spread all over the world. I hope that we can create peace in our lifetime.