Wrapping up our series on the Great Minds of Philosophy, we explore Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and non-attachment and how we can exercise these principles to change the world. We discuss:
- The British Raj and how Gandhi got involved
- How Gandhi used non-violence and non-attachment in liberating India from British rule
- How we can use non-violence to change the world
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions. I’m Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We have a great episode today. It is about Gandhi, as we continue and finalize our series on the great minds of philosophy. Before we begin, I’d love for you to subscribe to our channel, if you are listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, all those great podcast hosting services, we’d love for you to be a part of our lives every week. Make sure you subscribe to get every episode. Everyone knows who Gandhi is, pretty much. He’s an incredible inspiration to many people.
Robert Maldonado 01:12
He’s certainly an icon. It’s difficult to talk about icons because there is so much mythology around them.
Debra Maldonado 01:21
He wasn’t a perfect person, he wasn’t a perfect husband, there’s a lot of stories. We have to remember all people have human sides as well, not to over-glamorize them but appreciate what they bring.
Robert Maldonado 01:36
That’s the remarkable aspect of his work, he was a human being like us, yet was able to accomplish an incredible feat. Not single-handedly, of course, he was an organizer in a sense, he was a community person. But certainly he was the spearhead of a great movement that ultimately liberated India.
Debra Maldonado 02:11
From the British Empire. This tiny little bald-headed man, so incredible. Imagine if he can do this in the world, every one of us have that potential to make big change in the world. A lot of our followers are really concerned about injustice and inequality, and want to make a change in the world. A lot of our students in our programs are like, “I want to change this part of society, I want to make a difference, I want to make the world a better place.” We all do in this field of coaching and psychology. He’s a great person to talk about and inspire us even when things seem impossible. If we want to see something that we’d like to change, we can look back and say, “Look at this little man. He can do it, I can do it.”
Robert Maldonado 03:00
We wanted to focus particularly on his dependence, or his leaning on the teachings in the Gita as the way he found his strength to do that. Maybe there’s a lesson for us in modern times of how we can use some of these teachings for the tests that challenge us and challenge our times.
Debra Maldonado 03:27
I know for myself when I was trying to get my first book published, when I was building the business, traveling a lot, doing speaking, and holding a vision of what I wanted us to create in this world, ten years ago, I had a copy of the Gita with me all the time. I’d just open it up, and it would help me with all the rich but simple ideas about how to manage the mind because we knew that that’s really what was the key to success and to making the change in the world and doing your great work. To me, it’s been an invaluable piece of philosophy that Gandhi had that as well. It’s felt on the right track.
Robert Maldonado 04:11
He was also inspired by the West. He was interested in Christianity, the transcendentalists like Thoreau and Emerson. Einstein wrote this about him, I love this quote. He says, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.”
Debra Maldonado 04:36
Just think about the British Empire, bringing it to its knees without violence, without the wars that we have to fight. We don’t have to do it with war.
Robert Maldonado 04:52
He had a lot to be angry about, yet, he chose the path of non-violence. From 1858 to 1947, the British occupied India and pretty much sucked it of all its wealth and diminished its people, very seriously diminish them and put them in poverty, or a lot of people were thrown into poverty because of that.
Debra Maldonado 05:24
They were discriminated against. Then Gandhi came in, he was a lawyer, trained in British schools, wore a suit, and saw the injustices.
Robert Maldonado 05:40
He did some of his early work in South Africa, then went back to India and started his campaign. He always insisted that the Gita was his source of inspiration and guidance. Because, again, he was a human being. He had to manage his anger and frustration and also find the courage to do this. Non-violence, as we’ll see, requires great courage, more than violence. A lot of us think of soldiers requiring courage. Of course, they do to go into battle. But non-violence takes it one step higher, it requires even more courage to put yourself in danger, but not strike back.
Debra Maldonado 06:34
I remember very clearly a visceral response when I watched the movie Gandhi, when the soldiers were beating them, and they just stood there, the next person fell over, and they didn’t respond. It was hard to see. But the mindset of a person that keeps hitting when there’s no response takes something away from that person. The hitter, the person who’s harming more than the person who’s harmed. It doesn’t feel that way but psychologically, it makes them question, “What am I doing? These people aren’t fighting back.” I think that was part of it, to get into the heads of the British soldiers, to show we’re the bigger person, basically. How many times in our life we’re confronted by a bully and want to strike back, or someone’s making our life difficult, we want to strike back. Let them be, that’s the best defense for someone instead of fighting back and trying to change them. Let them be, they lose their power to get to keep fighting because there’s no one there to fight.
Robert Maldonado 07:46
Non-violence doesn’t mean non-action, he always emphasizes that you have to act, you have to do your duty, which is very much tied to the Gita as we’ll see.
Debra Maldonado 07:57
You can resist a bully in a non-violent way. You don’t have to use violence to resist, it doesn’t mean you don’t resist, but you can resist in a non-violent way.
Robert Maldonado 08:08
This is a quote from him. It says, “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” You can see it was the centerpiece of his philosophy, this nonviolent approach to making changes in the world. Ahimsa, which is non-violence, the Sanskrit word for it, the Gita emphasizes the concept of non-violence and duty. That’s an important piece to understand that it’s not only non-violence, but it’s tied to duty, to doing what you morally perceive to be the right course of action. Gandhi drew inspiration from the greatest teachings on selfless action and non-attachment. He interpreted the Gita’s call to do one’s duty without attachment to the results as a foundation force of his philosophy of non-violent resistance. For Gandhi, non-violence was not just a political strategy, but a way of life deeply rooted in spiritual principles. This gives us a clue as to why it’s so powerful, because for him, it was connected to his spiritual life. It wasn’t just a political strategy. It wasn’t “Let’s go disrupt the government and the status quo to get our way.” It was very much a bigger picture of understanding that the British, for all the harm they were doing to his people and to his country, were also caught up in conditioning and were essentially enslaved by the conditioning they were subjected to.
Debra Maldonado 10:16
He actually said that what got him through was knowing those British soldiers were really passionate about what they were doing. They thought what they were doing is right. He knew they were caught up. Even Viktor Frankl said that too, when he was in the camps, he said “They’re all caught up. They’re going to suffer greatly more after this war is over than we ever suffered physically. Their mind is going to be their worst enemy, because they’re going to be wracked with guilt over what they did.” But they’re also caught up. When we look at people that are not fair or harmful to others, we have to see that. Not to get them off the hook, but we have to understand their intention isn’t to harm, even though it appears that way. They’re caught up in this mind of harming for some reason. It’s not conscious. It’s a reaction or a conditioned response. If we think about it, how many people are individuated in the world? Not many. Most people are caught up in their egos. Having an understanding of that helps you find a solution versus fighting back with the anger.
Robert Maldonado 11:34
Easier said than done. Of course, we’ve all felt a surge of anger. When it fills the mind, it’s very difficult to hold ourselves back from retaliating, from fighting back, from hitting back.
Debra Maldonado 11:48
I love what you say about duty. When we think of duty, we often think it’s matching the action that was taken against us, I have to defend myself, if they hit me I have to hit back in some way, whether it’s with words or with physical force. But action can be something like what Gandhi did in India. He had them have a day of prayer. He was thinking how to solve this problem, he sat in meditation, I can’t remember how many days, but he kept sitting in meditation. He knew there was a solution but he didn’t know what it was. He was just waiting for it to arise within him, he set that intention. Eventually, this idea came to him for a day of prayer. He brought together all the different religious leaders, there’re so many different religions in India, to unite them all and say “On this day, we’re all going to have a day of prayer, even though it’s not your day of prayer for your particular religion. Let’s just state that, you are the leaders, so you can establish that.” What happened was everyone went on a day prayer, they stopped working. It was like a strike throughout India, it made such an impact. There’s two things to learn from that: when you’re faced with a challenge in the world, like we all are, and there’s a particular passion, you have something you want to change in the world, ask yourself, sit with it. Maybe there’s an idea from a deeper, wiser part of yourself. If the answer is already there, that’s going to be the most effective. We want to look within and find that spiritual solution to it. That’s what he did. We can do that. He didn’t fight back with violence, he fought back with something that would harm the British Empire by no one working and everything getting stuck. It maybe was more than a day, like a week or so. It’s amazing that you can do something that’s not violent, that can have an impact.
Robert Maldonado 14:44
Some of the techniques and practices prescribed in the Gita, we can see them in Gandhi’s philosophy, in his actions. One of them is self-examination, self-inquiry, if you will, the development, the cultivation of self-awareness. You can see in his writings, he’s very honest about his own temptations and weaknesses. He was open about having difficulties in managing emotions or managing his marriage.
Debra Maldonado 15:22
He was harsh, very violent with his children. It came out, he had to deal with all of that.
Robert Maldonado 15:33
I don’t know if he was violent, but he was definitely hard on them. Gandhi emphasizes the importance of self-examination and self-awareness. He believed that understanding one’s own motives, desires, and weaknesses was essential for practicing non-violence. Regular introspection helped individuals identify violent tendencies within themselves and work towards overcoming them. These violent tendencies are part of our nature, part of our survival strategy. We have it as a defense mechanism, as a way to protect ourselves. A spiritual discipline is required to tame the energy that’s there naturally, that biological energy, to transmute it, to channel it in a more creative and spiritual peaceful way.
Debra Maldonado 16:35
When we think of self-inquiry or self-examination, it’s being honest with ourselves of who we are, being able to face the part of ourselves that we often don’t want to look at. It’s very powerful to do that and be brutally honest with yourself. Usually, we talk about Carl Jung, our whole program is Jungian life coaching, he talks about the shadow, we project the shadow outward. When people are violent toward you, it means there’s a part of you. It doesn’t mean you match that violence, but there’s a little frustration or a little anger, or whatever, a part of that inside of you, that’s why that’s showing up. Why is that there and examining your own anger may not be at the level of that person. But it’s to be honest and vulnerable with yourself and compassionate to yourself. That loosens up a little bit of how to deal with this outer situation. We got to deal with the internal conflict first. That’s really the self-awareness and self-examination you’re talking about.
Robert Maldonado 17:41
The Yoga, when we talked about the four yoga in one of our podcasts, it would be raja yoga. It’s that meditative, self-reflective element of looking inward, introspection. The other one he uses karma yoga, which is selfless action. This is very much tied to doing your duty.
Debra Maldonado 18:05
Selfless doesn’t mean being a doormat, it means you are taking the action without an ego.
Robert Maldonado 18:12
Getting the your ego out of the way, really working for the betterment of others, doing good.
Debra Maldonado 18:21
The ego self is only concerned about itself, in a way.
Robert Maldonado 18:26
Non-attachment is an essential part of karma yoga. You do your duty, for him his duty was, of course, he took it upon himself as his dharma, his duty was to liberate India. Everything was dedicated in that direction. Every action he took, every thought he took, every meditation, every fasting, was dedicated towards that goal.
Debra Maldonado 18:54
For everyone, you’re not trying to liberate India right now. Practically, what is your vision? How does it serve others? As you’re taking action, you’re dedicating that vision, as you take action, you don’t look for the quick fix, just keep holding that vision, and it will come to pass. But if you’re always looking at “I took this step, now let’s see what happens”, or “I took this step, that’s not working”, you’re attached still. You want to take that action with “I know my goal will be reached. I know because it’s for the good of all.” If it’s not for the good of all, there’s going to be attachment. It has to have that “Everyone’s going to be better if I have this goal.” Holding that in your heart is so powerful.
Robert Maldonado 19:43
The key to non-attachment or taking action with non-attachment is that you focus on taking the action. Once you identify your purpose, your dharma, your work in life, your duty is to perform the actions that lead to success in that endeavor, you’re dropping the attachment to the results.
Debra Maldonado 20:09
When it shows up, how fast it shows up, what it looks like. I love non-attachment, because many times the results we get, our ego judges as wrong. It may feel negative or a setback, but it’s actually resetting us to something better. Non-attachment helps us stop judging every result is good or bad. It’s like, “Let’s see, let’s open it up.” If you open it up as an opportunity, it becomes an opportunity. If you close it down as a bad thing, it becomes a bad thing. Our mind is so powerful. If Gandhi was looking at every part of the difficulties of doing this, every little thing, the challenge he had along the way, it would, first of all, drive someone mad because you feel frustrated. Frustration is a sign you’re attached. Anytime you’re frustrated with your results, it means you’re attached. It’s not a selfless act, it’s the ego act.
Robert Maldonado 21:07
You can see that performing action in this way requires a deeper philosophy and understanding of the bigger picture, because we’re all conditioned in the opposite direction, we’re all conditioned to act for the reward, the reward itself is conditioning. We get conditioned to repeat an action by getting a positive result. We repeat it, we get conditioned to not repeat an action if we get punished or we don’t get the results we want. Therefore, dropping the attachment to the results liberates us from the conditioning effect of action. Psychologically, it’s a very powerful system, if you practice this, it liberates you, actions liberate you instead of binding you and conditioning you.
Debra Maldonado 22:06
Another benefit of non-attachment is that when we have goals, it’s like our happiness is on hold until we reach that goal. Then we get the goal, and then we’re like the whole time we were waiting for that goal thinking we can’t be happy. But if we’re non-attached, we can be enjoying the moment in the pursuit of the goal. You’re bringing the happiness into the present moment versus when I get the money, when I get the partner, when I get the award, when I get this goal I want, then I’ll be happy. You can be happy today, just performing the action toward the goal. It’s like pre-setting yourself up for happiness. Because if you’re taking action with love and passion, the results will be love and passion. If you take an action with frustration and anger, the result will be frustration and anger. It’s always what you’re putting into the action, the energy, the emotion is going to show up in the result. You can’t create out of frustration. You told me that many years ago, you can’t create out of frustration. You’re wrestling with the world and forgetting that the world is not as powerful as you, you’re placing the world having more power. That’s the philosophical idea, why would we take an action? What was the deep philosophical truth? It’s that we are not the human being and not the ego.
Robert Maldonado 23:33
Speaking of ego, there’s a couple of quotes. He said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Striking back, retaliating, escalating the situation makes both people blind. Both people lose, instead of reaching a peaceful consensus or way out of the quagmire of violence and aggression. We just remain stuck there. Whereas non-violence gives us a way out, a way to proceed.
Debra Maldonado 24:14
His famous quote, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Be the change. If you want the world to be more loving, that’s what you have to be. If you think you see injustice and are angry, you are actually feeding anger into the world. It doesn’t mean you don’t take action or don’t think it’s wrong. But you can do that without anger, you could do that with love for a better world. That’s more powerful.
Robert Maldonado 24:42
We can get the sense that this requires a lot of self-discipline and self-mastery. That’s the purpose. The teachings of the Gita present a way to discipline your mind, to work with your mind where you can master it so that it serves your higher purpose, so that you’re not acting out of conditioning, you’re not just reacting to the circumstances and striking or lashing out, because that’d escalate the situation. Yet, you’re still doing your duty, you’re still achieving your goals. In his circumstances, it was liberating India.
Debra Maldonado 25:31
In a gentle way, you can shake the world. There’s so much power. Not feeding the energy that’s coming at you, whether it’s a difficult person, whether it’s a group of people you’re think are bad and wrong and want to change them, you can’t really force them to change. All you can do is say, “How can I be in the world and create a world in my mind and a vision and do something that makes a difference that’s not violent?” There’s so many ways, but we’re conditioned to strike back. You don’t know the way for every every situation, none of us have all the answers. We have to meditate, we have to do self-reflection. What is this showing me about my mind and myself? Setting the intention that the answer will come to you just like Gandhi did, allowing meditation to help you tap into your inner wisdom. You’ll be surprised at the ways that can be very constructive, where you can feel positive, because it never feels positive to fight back, have aggression, and be angry. None of us want to do that. We want to bring peace, so how do we do that? We have to start with ourselves. It’s such an important lesson for this world today.
Robert Maldonado 26:51
We have a lot of changes to make, a lot of social challenges with the climate, with democracy. This is an important tool to consider as human beings, as we move forward and face these challenges. What can we learn from the Gita, from Gandhi’s work that can inspire and fortify us to face these challenges?
Debra Maldonado 27:21
I hope you enjoyed this, we’ll see you next week on our Soul Sessions podcast. If you haven’t subscribed, please do with Spotify, iTunes, whatever service you’re listening to. We really appreciate it. Take care.
Robert Maldonado 27:35
See you next time.