October 2, 1869 our lives were changed forever. Not that Mohandas arrived fully enlisted in the liberation movement. He was privileged, wore western clothes, studied in London. He wandered British society looking for non-meat eaters and found a group of Russian mystics and self-proclaimed magicians. He was in training to be a barrister and his interest in women’s rights brought him to Royal Albert Hall to hear Mrs. Pankhurst talk about suffrage and direct action. He sat in the same audience as Alice Paul and, even then, his sensibility was to leave when violence was promoted. Breaking windows was going too far for Mohan.
It was the famous train ride through South Africa when M.K. Gandhi, graduated attorney, refused to move to second class and was thrown off, that his world shattered. He had always traveled first class, we know that included the liner to Britain and getting around London. Makes one wonder if he had no real consciousness of class before going to London. Much like Siddhartha who knew he had to escape the palace wall to see true life in his country. It was a real world encounter that created change. But once realized, both these men were called to tell the world.
Looking around their worlds, the Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ and M.K. Gandhi all came to the same conclusion; that a person of conscience relates to the most oppressed. Siddhartha encountered a sick man, an old man and a dead man; something he had never seen inside his father’s palace. His response was to sit in silence until he could solve these newly discovered puzzles. Once solved, he entered the working class. Upon his death, he asked his students to destroy all likenesses of him; so much for obedient students. None the less the inference was and remains, that Buddhists relate to and concern themselves with, the oppressed.
Jewish fisherman, Joshua ben David was not born a wealthy man however he came to a similar conclusion. To earn eternal peace, one would have to care for the poorest of the poor and when the middle class made inquiry, he said that when you see such a poor person, you would be seeing him, in fact. As you do for the least, you do for him.
The complexity of Gandhi is so varied and rich, maybe even out of reach to the Western mind. Raised as both a Hindu and Muslim in an upper caste, he was able to get a very wide view of his Mother India, eventually the world. No only did he respond to the poverty imposed by British occupation but he also combined his response with his spiritual practice. Refusing to wear western clothes, he put on the clothes of the poorest of India; the untouchables. It was simultaneously a political and spiritual response for Gandhi.
Just as Gandhi was taught direct action by a woman, Emmeline Pankhurst, he adopted a term used centuries before him by another woman, Gangasati. She was a Bhakti Yogini and writer in the 13th Century. To counter the terrible oppression and status of women, Gangasati called them Harijan which means Children of God. Gandhi renamed the untouchables Harijan, He even went on to name one of his newspapers, The Harijan. He believed we are all, “Children of God.”
Today who is our Harijan? In the Queer Movement is it transgendered people? In the Women’s Movement is it those seeking safety from violence? In the Immigration Movement is it the children of parents split through deportation? In the Reproductive Movement is it the poor? Regardless of who it may be, it is you and it is me as we are all Children of God.