Gandhi: Desirelessness

I haven’t written much recently because of a heavy reading load. However, I hope to write a lot this summer. Much of my writing will contain themes from Mahatma K. Gandhi, Leo Tolstoi, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The relations will become apparent as the writing progresses. Hopefully there will be a depth and power in their words that will carry my weak words to my intended point.

In his short biography of Gandhi, Louis Fischer states (the quotations are Gandhi’s): yogis of action are karma yogis. “He is a devotee who is jealous of none, who is a fount of mercy, who is without egotism, who is selfless, who treats alike cold and heat, happiness and misery, who is ever forgiving, who is always contented, whose resolutions are firm, who has dedicated mind and soul to God, who causes no dread, who is not afraid of others, who is free from exultation, sorrow and fear, who is pure, who is versed in action yet remains unaffected by it, who renounces all fruit, good or bad, who treats friend and foe alike, who is untouched by respect or disrespect, who is not puffed up by praise, who does not go under when people speak ill of him, who loves silence and solitude, who has a disciplined reason. Such devotion is inconsistent with the existence at the same time of strong attachments.”

Attachment is something that many Eastern philosophies discuss and discourage. The more attachment we feel to a person, a situation or an object, the more we fear losing it. It is the fear of losing something that inclines us to act inconsistently with what we know to be right.

These characteristics are very similar to the description of charity used in I Cor. 13. Gandhi, however, terms this desirelessness. Why does he use this term? Desirelessness, in Western thought equates with personal indifference or passivity or national poverty and stagnation. Gandhi’s argument, however, was: “He who is ever brooding over results often loses nerve in the performance of duty. He becomes impatient and then gives vent to anger and begins to do unworthy things; he jumps from action to action, never remaining faithful to any. He who broods over results is like a man given to the objects of senses (attachment and fear); he is ever-distracted, he says good-by to all scruples, everything is right in his estimation and he therefore resorts to means fair and foul to attain his end.” This is the foundation of Gandhi’s method. The means matter and the ends don’t. Sure you are anticipating and hoping for certain ends, but if the ends are the focus, the means will be altered to the point that the hoped-for ends will not be achieved.

In familial relationships and even in foreign policy, if we devote ourselves to be means-oriented instead of ends-motivated we will act more appropriately and not suprisingly we will attain the best possible ends also instead of sacrificing the all-important means to wrong-minded ends.

One Reply to “Gandhi: Desirelessness”

  1. Fear is the opposite of trust and love. Acting out of fear is sowing something that will end up in a harvest of fear and distrust, exactly the opposite of what we want in our interpersonal and other interactions.

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