Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, shared his grandfather's teachings with an enthusiastic crowd Thursday night at Columbia College.
In an address titled "Lessons Learned from Grandfather: The Ethics of Nonviolence," Gandhi discussed nonviolence as an approach to all aspects of life. The conference was sponsored by the annual Althea and John Schiffman Ethics in Society Lecture Series.
Gandhi filled his speech with anecdotes from the 18 months he spent with this grandfather in India. He quoted what he called his grandfather's description of an endless human dilemma: "I want the world's sympathy in the battle of might against right."
The current concept of relationships at all levels is defined by the personal gain we derive from it, Gandhi said. He said it is "might" which wins over "right" today in the world.
We need to recognize that "we are not independent individuals, but we are interdependent, interrelated and interconnected not only with other human beings but all creation," Gandhi said.
"Human beings are the most intelligent but most ignorant species because we are here to fulfill a purpose, but we do not know what our role on earth is and therefore we must master nature to control it," he said.
Gandhi also made a reference to current instances of religious intolerance.
"Grandfather used to say, 'A friendly study of all scripture is the beauty of every individual,'" he said. "All religions portray just a piece of the truth."
To illustrate his point, he told a tale from Hindu tradition: Four blind men try to describe an elephant, but each does so from a different perspective. One touches its rough skin, one caresses its huge ears, one tries to ride it and the other admires its strong legs.
None of them is able to develop a truthful portrait, but each description carries some value. If only they could share and put their perceptions together, the true fuller image, like a puzzle, would come to life.
Anthony M. Alioto, a professor and Althea and John Schiffman endowed chair in ethics, philosophy and religious studies at Columbia College, compared Mahatma Gandhi's teachings to an inextinguishable fire and introduced Arun Gandhi as the living flame.
"The purpose of the lectures is to encourage a healthy discussion on contemporary ethical issues," he said. "Peace and conflict resolution is clearly the current ongoing concern."