Mahatma Gandhi was one of India’s greatest spiritual leaders and teachers. He led with impeccable ethics and non-violent behavior during the country’s independence movement. Even while putting together mass protests against British rule, he was the ultimate peacekeeper. Throughout his challenging role as political leader and teacher of non-violence (ahimsa), Gandhi had a profound connection to the great teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. So much so, that the teachings were a guiding force throughout his life.
The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita consists of 700 verses of scripture found in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. The entirety of the Gita is told within the framework of a conversation between Lord Krishna and prince Arjuna. It's main message is that we must take action in life and partake fully of the experiences it sets before us. The Gita covers just about everything from finding and enjoying our life's purpose, to learning how to regulate our emotions – from treating everyone with honor and respect, to staying true to our hearts and our goals. In essence, it's a guidebook for living. (Read more in Yogapedia's Interpretation of The Bhagavad Gita.)
Gandhi's Connection to the Gita
Throughout Gandhi’s life, the Gita was both a guidebook for living a moral life and a spiritual reference point. In it's pages he found great insight and direction for his journey. Gandhi felt so deeply connected to the Gita that he often referred to it as his “eternal mother,” feeling it offered him more support in his darkest hours than even his biological mother could. He treated the Gita like the Bible, finding refuge in it during both times of sorrow and joy.
The relationship between this holy book and this holy man is one that begs exploration for those of us seeking enlightenment. The Bhagavad Gita and Gandhi both maintained that enlightenment, or moksha, is available to everyone, from the common householder to the yogi living in a cave. They proclaim we are all capable of finding Truth and that we don’t have to be born with the highest intellect or spiritual capacity for wisdom. Both the Gita and Gandhi point to practical and ethical ways of becoming enlightened beings.
The Gita's Greatest Lesson: Non-attachment and Selfless Action
One of the most powerful teachings from the Gita is that of action without desire. In essence, it means being unattached to the fruits of one’s labor. It's the work itself that is the point – not the results that come from it. What's more, the process of one's work should be pleasurable and fulfilling, and one of selflessness. This desire-less action can be found as a central teaching in many ancient yogic texts, including Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Of all the Gita's teachings, this one is said to have influenced Gandhi’s character the most. The call for selfless action was a constant in Gandhi’s life. By abiding by the moral and spiritual laws and ethics set forth in the Bhagavad Gita, Gandhi was able to spread hope and light during India's most tumultuous times.
Gandhi also taught that, in order to reach enlightenment, we need to slay our worldly attachments. If we can dissolve our ego, we can eventually achieve a state of Self-realization. The Gita, too, teaches us that we need to defeat the ego’s negative aspects of greed, anger, fear and attachments, and live from a place of higher consciousness, in which love is the driving force. Another central theme of the Gita is that of divine presence being manifest within all of reality. This divine presence is always there for us, and we must have faith that it will guide us and protect us when we feel defeated on the path. Staying true to our goals and our higher Self is yet another lesson of the Gita, one that Gandhi followed throughout his life. (Learn How to Dissolve Your Ego.)
Ghandi, the Gita and Non-Violence
In the Bhagavad Gita, ahimsa is listed as the first and most important virtue. As a peacekeeping spiritual and political activist, the path of non-violence was at the heart of Gandhi's teachings. Ahimsa is an unconditional love for one's self, for others, and for all living beings on the planet. Gandhi walked the path of ahimsa every single day – even in the most dark and dismal situations. This is the message of non-violence from which Gandhi based his teachings. (Read more about Ahimsa: A Self-Practice.)
For us modern-day truth seekers and spiritual warriors, we can also find solace and refuge in the Bhagavad Gita during challenging times. We can study the Gita, as Gandhi did, and we can read about him and his life's selfless work for further inspiration. It's no coincidence that both Mahatama Gandhi and the Bhagavad Gita are some of the most prolific sources of spiritual wisdom to have graced the planet. They will remain two of India’s most divine gifts to mankind.