[Vision2020] Happy 145th Birthday, Gandhi

Nicholas Gier ngier006 at gmail.com
Thu Sep 29 12:22:36 PDT 2016

Good Morning Visionaries:

          For those who do not get the Daily News, appended below is my
biweekly column, slightly expanded.  An even longer version is attached.

           Trying to stay away from the election, but I think I do have to
write a column "The Tale of Two Foundations." Trump says that people "paid
to play" for Clinton; but, if you heard the NPR's Fresh Air yesterday, it
is obvious that Trump had others "pay so that he could play."

           The investigator found one 6-foot portrait of himself (his
Foundation paid $20,000 for it) in one of his Florida resorts (not in the
Foundation office where it would be legit).  The other $10,000 portrait and
T-Bows football helmet have to be located.

            Here's hoping that Clinton nails him even better in the next


*Gandhi, the Buddha, and Pragmatic Non-Violence:*

*A Tribute to the Mahatma on his 145th Birthday*

*I felt I was in the presence of a noble soul, a true disciple of Lord
Buddha, and a true believer in peace and harmony among all men.*

—The Dalai Lama

*Gandhi is the greatest Indian since Gautama Buddha and the greatest man
since Jesus Christ.*

—Unitarian minister J. H. Holmes

I wish to celebrate Gandhi’s 145th Birthday on October 2 by comparing his
ethics of non-violence with the Buddha, whom Gandhi called the “greatest
teach­er of non-violence.”

When I began my research on Gandhi during my 1992 sabbatical to India, I
fully expected that I would interpret his philosophy from a Hindu or Jain
perspective. Gandhi claimed that he learned much from the pacifist Jain
monks in his home state of Gujarat, but he eventually broke with them over
their belief that the rule of non-violence was absolute.

When I closely examined Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence, I was compelled
to interpret him in Buddhist terms. Given the two major schools of
Buddhism—the Theravada of Southeast Asia and the Mahayana of Tibet, China,
and Japan—Gandhi is closest to the Bodhisattva ideal of the latter.

In the Theravada Buddhist laypeople gain merit making offerings to monks
and their monasteries, but in the Mayahana—literally “The Great
Vehicle’—extraordinary laypeople can become Bodhisattvas and lead all
beings to salvation. The spiritual transformation of the entire world is
the goal of Mahayana Buddhism.

Gandhi actually allowed many exceptions to his vow of non-violence, based
on very realis­tic and pragmatic considerations. Through­out October 1928,
Gandhi carried on a lively debate with various respondents in his
journal *Young
India*. Gandhi defended his decision to euthanize an incurable calf, and
even went on to list the conditions for human eutha­nasia. He also thought
that tigers, snakes, and rabid dogs might have to be killed if they
threaten human life. Both Hindus and Jain were scandalized by these

If a man who runs amuck and threatens to kill others, Gandhi insists that
he must killed; furthermore, the killer should “be regarded a benevolent
man.” Gandhi once told a Jain friend that non-violence was not absolute and
that one should always be “capable of sacrificing nonviolence for the sake
of truth.”

Once a group of men came to Gandhi because their village had been looted by
bandits and their wives had been raped. They said that they had followed
his doctrine of non-violence, but they now despaired about why it did not

Gandhi condemned the men as cowards, because in this case the virtue of
courage preempted the virtue of non-violence. Passive resistance in the
face of great danger is sometimes not the right action, and “protective
force,” an apt phrase from Marshall Rosenberg, may be necessary. Early in
his career Gandhi supported the British in the Boer War and in World War I.

In some Mahayana schools Bodhisattvas may kill persons who will, if not
stopped, murder others in the future. These Buddhists defend such
“preemptive strikes” with this reasoning: many lives would be saved and the
murderers would be saved from the horrors of Hell. (Yes, many Buddhists
believe in Hell.) Unfortunately, Tibetan Buddhists used this argument to
wage war against Buddhist sects they thought were heretical and therefore a
danger to the future of Buddhism.

The vow of all Bodhisattvas is that, even though they have no karmic debt,
they will stand at the door of Nirvana until all sentient beings have
passed before them. The Bodhisattva also declares that “I, for the good of
all creatures, would experience all pain and unhappiness in my own body,” a
significant parallel to the Passion of Christ.

Gandhi amazed his disciples and bedeviled his opponents by doing their
penance for them. He called it “self suffering” for the sake of others and
the “good of all.” He underwent many long fasts vowing not to eat until his
disciples reached an acceptable level of spiritual development, or until
Hindus and Muslims stopped fighting each other, or until the British gave
Indians their independence.

Because of this, Indian writer Ramjee Singh called Gandhi “the Bodhisattva
of the twentieth century.” We should not, however, press this comparison
too far. Not even his most ardent followers have claimed that Gandhi was
sinless or had the redemptive powers of a savior. Gandhi most definitely
did not claim to have taken away the sins of the world as Buddhist and
Christians claim their saviors do.

Nick Gier taught philosophy and religion at the University of Idaho for 31
years. Read excerpts from this book *The Virtue of Non-Violence: From
Gautama to Gandhi* at webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/VNV.htm.


A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they
shall never sit in.

-Greek proverb

“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance
from another. This immaturity is self- imposed when its cause lies not in
lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own
understand-ing!—that is the motto of enlightenment.

--Immanuel Kant
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