Both Gandhi and Jesus fought against the system they were born in but did it using the principles of truth, love and non-violence. They were against evil but not against the people perpetuating evil asking only for forgiveness for those who do not understand the evil in their acts.
“I love your Christ but I hate your Christians because your Christians are unlike your Christ,” said Mahatma Gandhi. Indeed Christ and Christianity are different, just as Buddha and Buddhism are different and Hindus and Hinduism and even Gandhi and Gandhism are starkly different. If we understand Jesus, we will see that he was perhaps the first satyagrahi of the world.
In 537 BC, the Persians conquered Babylon and under Cyrus the Great began the Persian period of Jewish history. Though Cyrus did allow the Jews to rebuild the Temple, he did not allow the restoration of the monarchy, which left the priests as the dominant authority. The Pharisees comprised scribes and sages and emerged fast on the horizon of power. The word ‘Pharisee’ means ‘separated’, in other words. One who is separated for a life of purity. They were different from the pre-eminent group of the society. In this process, they had framed numerous laws to maintain the purity of day-to-day life. Lower classes did not resonate with them at all thanks to their obsession with purity and ritualism.
Jesus too could not relate to this system. For him, God meant love for everyone and he knew this love was present in everyone. So, yes, he was a rebel and in a sense the first satyagrahi of the world.
Mahatma Gandhi, though deeply religious, formed his own way of following all the faiths and principles he subscribed to. Vedantic thought in Hinduism tells us the atman or self in each individual is essentially one, a part of the divine being or Brahman. The traditional interpretation of this principle is an effort to disassociate oneself from the world and its machinations so that one becomes free of maya or the illusion of a separately existing, ego-bound individual.
Forgiveness, the central principle of Christ, was embraced by Gandhi, but he did not stop at that. He extended this principle to make non-violent opposition a potent weapon. Fighting against injustice without causing any harm or harbouring any ill-feelings towards the enemy came to be his guiding principle. “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they are doing,” said Christ when crucified on the cross.
Ahimsa for Gandhi was an expression of love for humans, including one’s enemies. Thus, this type of non-violence included not only a lack of physical harm to them, but also a lack of hatred or ill will. Gandhi led the whole nation to fight for independence using non-violence as the tool and wore down the British government, leading to Indian independence. Despite the violence that ensued within each, Gandhi continued to preach and adhere to his definition of ahimsa.