Gandhi Blog Series #2
“There’s enough on this planet for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed.”
Simplicity might be the most striking thing that set Gandhi apart from other world leaders. He lived, talked and acted with candor. When public figures thought looking sharp is inevitable, Gandhi was clad in a single piece of dhoti (long cloth worn by men in India) and a wooden stick.
In fact, Gandhi owned very few things. The greatest luxury he may have had was a blanket to cover his bare chest from a cold climate. His other worldly possessions consisted not more than a spectacle, a pair of sandals, an eating bowl, a watch, and a few simple clothes. Some historians believe than Gandhi owned no more than 10- 20 things.
Born to a wealthy aristocratic family and educated at University College of London as a lawyer, Gandhi was used to an opulent lifestyle. But attracted to the idea of minimalism, a trait of the ancient Indian practice of Sanyasa, he renounced everything.
Wanting to identify himself to the poorest of the poor in the society, he gave up his European clothes when he came back to India in 1915 and adopted traditional Indian dress. India at the time was steeped in poverty under British imperialism. He soon realized that the poor in India never got to wear traditional garments. He thus adopted as simple an appearance as possible.
After meeting the King of England in Buckingham palace, a journalist scornfully asked Gandhi, “Mr Gandhi, did you feel under-dressed when you met the King?”
”There was no problem,”Gandhi replied with a serene smile. ”His Majesty more than made up for both of us.”
He learned to weave his own clothes using a charka (handloom) and encouraged others to do so. This inspired indigenous weavers in India, whose looms were broken and thumbs cut off by the colonialists. The charka later went on to become a symbol of the Indian independence struggle.
Gandhi’s simplicity was not limited to his appearance and possessions. Influenced by the idea of Tolstoy, he created self-sustaining villages or ashrams. All basic needs from food to clothing and education were available there. Everyone in the ashram including himself engaged in farming, weaving and cleaning.
According to Gandhi, to achieve complete freedom a person had to be self-sufficient. He insisted on doing the chores including manually washing his own clothes. He believed in simple grooming hence from his days as a barrister in South Africa, he used to cut his own hair. Later in India, he even used a stone for bathing.
Gandhi maintained that non-attachment to material things is a total necessity to live a simple and full life. Nothing could bribe him into doing something that he didn’t have full faith in.
“Man falls from the pursuit of the ideal of plain living and high thinking the moment he wants to multiply his daily wants. Man’s happiness really lies in contentment.”
He gave away whatever precious gifts his distinguished guests presented him with. While in South Africa, between 1896-1902, Gandhi received many priceless gifts including gold and diamond jewelry. Even Kastoorba, his wife and devotee, wanted to keep it for their children. But Mahatma created a trust and donated it to the struggle against racism there.
As a minimalist, Gandhi refrained from overindulging in anything. Even when the Indian freedom struggle was at its peak, he stuck to his routine. He even found time for playing with children and a day-of-silence every week.
“Simplicity is the essence of universality.”
Gandhi used pencils to reply to the letters and wrote with them as long as he could hold them. He used to say that wasting a pencil was a disrespect to the hard toil of the one who made it.
He held a similar view on food. Gandhi taught his followers to eat plain food mindfully and moderately without wasting a single grain. Often observing fasts to cleanse himself and to aid his simple lifestyle, he sanctified the idea of not eating.
The Secret for a Happy Life
For an avaricious society madly trying to loot the nature and fellow beings, Gandhi is a call from behind. He urges us to slow down and enjoy a simple and satisfying life.
“Happiness, the goal to which we all are striving is reached by endeavoring to make the lives of others happy, and if by renouncing the luxuries of life we can lighten the burdens of others…. surely the simplification of our wants is a thing greatly to be desired!”
Gandhi’s antidote for those of us tired of chasing luxuries and living a life of unhappiness is to adopt a simple and minimalist life. Can we find the will to turn back from our insatiable greediness and follow him to simple and content life?
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