Mahatma Gandhi failed as a politician. He could not prevent the Partition. But as a visionary the Mahatma is without peer. History has spectacularly vindicated him. In order to survive the world must heed his advice. Gandhi’s most cherished prescriptions for mankind that were ignored are now threatening the very existence of this planet. Three of Gandhi’s cardinal beliefs that he reiterated throughout his life immediately come to mind. These are, first, his stress on a vegetarian diet and the need for self-restraint, even in sex; secondly his commitment to non-violence; thirdly, his advocacy of a self-sufficient pastoral life with minimal reliance on the machine.
I don’t think that Gandhi concerned himself overmuch with the future of humanity or that he consciously outlined an agenda for the world. His primary concern was the study of Man. He delved deep into his own consciousness to become acquainted with his desires, instincts, will power and mental serenity. After such contemplation he arrived at his conclusions about how men should live their lives. His concept of man therefore was of an organic entity in perfect harmony with nature. And such harmony in Gandhi’s view resulted in human happiness and serenity. Gandhi’s prescriptions for society therefore radiated to the outside world from inner needs of man that were in perpetual conflict with the greed of man.
Gandhi despised the machine. At the same time he praised the Singer sewing machine. Why? On reflection is it not because he instinctively recognized that the sewing machine like the bicycle is manual? It expends no artificial energy, nor emits waste. It is the emissions from gigantic machines that have led to global warming. Gandhi’s concept of a self-sufficient, decentralized pastoral life made for minimal conflict. Gandhi’s small book, Self-restraint versus Self-indulgence, outlined among other things a sensible diet. Is it not a fact that the meat industry required to feed modern society has led to such deforestation that even the mighty Amazon forests are now threatened? Is it not a fact that despite contraceptives population continues to gallop in a permissive society? Is it not a fact that nuclear weapons have rendered non-violence not merely a moral but also a survival imperative? Is it not a fact that people living in need-based comfort even in small towns and villages spend happier times than those living in highly developed consumerist metropolises ... ?
As the governments of the world discuss climate change in Copenhagen the people of the world also need to reflect. To meet the challenge of climate change humanity must reappraise its current lifestyle. This is as good a time as any to fundamentally reappraise our notions of progress. Somewhere along the way we have lost the plot. As the world’s existence stands threatened by climate change and by terrorist violence humanity should go back to the basics. If happiness is humanity’s prime objective the world must take a fresh look at all of Gandhi’s prescriptions that evolved from spiritual insight rather than intellectual analysis.