Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the frail, old man with a toothless smile, tugs a billion beating hearts of our country. As a student at Nanavati Girls High School, Gandhiji was not simply a matter of thought and ideology for me. He was both inspiration and aspiration as to how fulfilling lives are lived. Gandhiji inspired us to do the best we could with what we had, right here, right now. The Gandhian values instilled in all its students a deep aspiration for infinite progress of our country and its people.
This Gandhian zest for constant self-improvement and knowledge has encouraged me in many endeavours. Along the course of my life, I have discovered many points of convergences between the two; the most notable of which is the drive to help people. Others include ahimsa, sauchh, aparigraha, satya, dama and seva.
The Indian Independence movement holds the rare distinction of being one of the few non-violent movements for a nation’s independence. This was in no short measure driven by Gandhian ideology which holds that ahimsa was a potent weapon to achieve social and political change. In the context of Yoga philosophy, Ahimsa is one of the Yamas, the ethical guidelines for living a virtuous life. They urge us to choose ahimsa so that we can live fully in the here and now without the burden of grief, hurt and anger.
The next convergence is the principle of sauchh or cleanliness. Gandhiji famously said, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." Yoga philosophy shares this sentiment. In the Gita, Lord Krishna advises, "Cleanse your mind of all impurities, O Arjuna, through the repeated practice of knowledge and meditation" (Bhagavad Gita 4.24). Therefore, sauchh, in both Yoga and Gandhism, is not simply physical, it is more insistently, a mental and emotional purport.
In Yoga philosophy, satya purports an unwavering authenticity in thought, speech and action. It emphasizes that living in accordance with the truth is not just a moral virtue. It is rather the question of an intangible inner truth that stirs in us. Yogic and Gandhian thought implore us to find a truth that is true for us, a truth that we are willing to live by and die for. So, if there is a path that is right for you, then be not afraid to choose that. That is integrity at its simplest and at its most profound.
The Gandhian ideal for minimalism resonates with the concept of aparigraha in Yoga philosophy. Aparigraha and Gandhian minimalism invite us to release all that is burdensome in our lives: be it unused clothes or thoughts and emotions that stop us from living our best possible life. Do not mistake aparigraha or minimalism for scarcity or poverty-consciousness. Aparigraha is, in fact, its antithesis. It presents an opportunity to engender true abundance and prosperity in our lives by letting go of all that is redundant materially, physically and emotionally.
Any brave foray into aparigraha or minimalism calls for self-control or damah, the next convergence. Self-control, exemplified by Gandhiji’s life, echoes the Yogic emphasis on taming the restless mind through discipline and practice. Both philosophies recognize that self-mastery is a journey of continuous effort. Gandhiji once said, "The control of the senses is true self-control." This can be simply applied to restraining ourselves in the matter of the food we eat or the thoughts we have. The profoundest of philosophies are always meant to affect our lives almost imperceptibly. Their effects, though, are never short of remarkable.
Remarkable too, is the import of seva or service in Gandhian thought and Yogic philosophy. Each holds that true happiness lies in serving others. Write a song with the intention of touching a heart that grieves. As a physician, heal with the intent of helping. As a banker, steer people towards financial security. Seva through what you do, that is the cornerstone of a life well-lived and realized.
(Dr Hansaji Yogendra is the director of The Yoga Institute, the oldest organized yoga centre in the world, established in 1918. She is also the president of the Indian Yoga Association and the International Board of Yoga.)