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Sowing seeds in people's hearts

Friday, March 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:47 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

"I compare myself to a sower. With my words I strive to plant seeds in hearts. I pray for the seeds to germinate and not to rot or be swept away."

So spoke Arun Gandhi, Mahatma's grandson, in an interview with the Missourian, preceding his lecture "Lessons Learned from Grandfather: The Ethics of Nonviolence," which he delivered Thursday night at Columbia College.

The seeds Gandhi wished to plant with his audience later in the night embody the philosophy of nonviolence taught by his grandfather.

"An unexamined life is not worth living," said Arun, citing the Greek philosopher Socrates, "and how we can improve ourselves should be the main purpose of every human being."

When asked how to deal with deep-seated anger, Gandhi said we should try and dominate our feelings. Most importantly, he said, we should teach our children, the next generation, the value of peace so that they can learn to act upon such feelings.

"We need not to punish our children, not to show them first our own resentment but reason with them," Gandhi said.

Gandhi said he is aware of the difficulties in attempting to modifying our own attitude towards violence.

"We tend to resolve any conflict with violent acts and harsh feelings even in everyday life, but we need to remember we cannot take back what we will most likely regret."

Nonviolence involves not only physical pacifism but also focusing on eradicating passive, emotional violence. Gandhi said it's up to individuals, not governments, to make peace happen.

His philosophy is exemplified by his stance on the current French debate about students wearing religious dress in public schools and the United States' reaction to Sept. 11.

"Most world's religions hold their roots in centuries of traditions but they haven't developed through time, " he said. "If a religion is not able to rejuvenate itself spontaneously, the government should not intervene with external actions to enforce its will to laicize the state."

Gandhi said religions developed in insulated environments at times when communities were trying to protect their members from external interference. Most of these protections are not meant to be followed so strictly anymore, he said.

"We now live in a world without boundaries, in a cosmopolitan society," Gandhi said. "Religion should bring us together and not separate us."

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Gandhi said the United States shouldn't have acted on its human thirst for revenge. Rather, he said, the country should have used the tragic event for "introspection" that would have led to policies more focused on "improving international relations."

"Violence only generates more rage and destruction, until it becomes overwhelming and comes back at us like a double-edged sword we cannot control anymore," he said.

Gandhi said his grandfather's teachings deeply influenced his own outlook to life. He faced painful challenges as a child growing up in his native South Africa.

"I was victim of prejudice and violence and my first reaction as a young, passionate boy was to respond to it with other violence to seek revenge," he said. "For this reason my parents sent me to India when I was 12."

The 18 months after he arrived in India were the most inspiring of his life, he said, as he lived side-by-side with his grandfather, who taught him how to deal with his thirst for self-obtained justice.

"Grandfather told me this beautiful example. Anger is like electricity. It is just as powerful and useful to humanity, but it can be deadly destructive if we don't use it intelligently and if we abuse its power," he said. "One should understand and channel his passionate feelings in positive actions, as much as we need to channel electricity for it to be beneficial."


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