Mahatma Gandhi is arguably, one of the most influential persons of the 20th century. Albert Einstein, very aptly put it, when he said: "Generations will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth." He was not just a political leader, but a social reformer and a spiritual teacher, too.
Incidents from the Mahatma's life and his well-documented experiments with truth serve as a great way of inculcating values in our children. He stressed that one should always live one's philosophies, beliefs and faith, and he was a prime example of that.
Honesty is the best policy
In primary school, once during a school inspection, Gandhiji had spelt the word, 'kettle' wrong. When his teacher urged him to copy from others and correct the spelling, he refused as he was convinced that it was not the right thing to do. Honesty and truthfulness were qualities he came to embody throughout his lifetime.
In the modern world, we strive to make our children excel in academics, sports and the ways of life, but we must also pay great attention to these character-building attributes, which may seem a little old-fashioned.
Clothes do not a man make
When Gandhiji set out to England to study law, he had a brush with the sophisticated lifestyle of the British. In his pursuit of being an 'English gentleman' he tried dressing up like one. He busted money on fashionable clothes and even a chimney-pot hat in a desperate attempt to belong. He took lessons in dancing and elocution, but these infatuations lasted for a while before common sense dawned. Gandhiji realized that character, and not clothes, made a man.
Much later, his thoughts about dressing took him further in quite the opposite direction and he started dressing in loincloth to empathise with the poorest of the poor. In that, he used the symbolism of dressing as a conscious tool to shape public opinion.
It would be far-fetched to expect that we emulate him, but it would be worthwhile to interpret his experiences and experiments in clothing, in spirit. Teenagers today spend unnecessary time and money on the latest fashion and fads to the detriment of other things. They should be discouraged from such wasteful expenditure and preoccupation.
Ahimsa and Satyagraha
Gandhiji built his life's mission on the two pillars of non-violence and truth. He said: "I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills."
His interpretation of non-violence was not limited to abstaining from physical violence; he maintained that faith without action and suffering injustice were forms of violence.
In a society that is getting more strife-torn and ghettoized, we cannot underscore enough these age-old qualities and must seek to inculcate the same in our children.
Work for the larger good
Gandhiji propounded the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita, emphasizing, "work without the expectation of fruits of the labour done". Through the symbols of charkha, the spinning wheel and khadi, the hand-spun fabric, he stressed the message of physical labour. The spinning symbolized harnessing of every idle minute for common productive work. Gandhiji always maintained that one should look beyond one's personal aspirations and needs and work for the common good of society at large.
We must ensure that in the pursuit of name, fame and money, our children do not lose sight of the larger purpose in life. We must teach them to be socially responsible individuals who give back to the society what they gain.
Gandhiji was a votary of multi-religious identity. He said: "Even as a tree has a single trunk but many branches and leaves, there is one religion - human religion- but any number of faiths." He maintained: "The essence of all religions is one, only their approaches are different."
Though he drew inspiration from the Bhagvad Gita and was a true Hindu by action, he always remained open to influences from all religions and culture. He said: "I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."
Again, in an age where hate politics and 'us and them' sentiments ride high, Gandhiji's teachings which he practiced diligently stand in good stead for the young generation.
As relevant as ever
Gandhiji's teachings are as relevant today as ever. Every growing child should be acquainted with his life and times, his struggles to shape himself and his politics that so changed the way the world looks at things. For, as he maintained, his life is indeed his message.