Gandhiji Gave Me Courage And Confidence
In 1950, while I was still fifteen years old, I had to assume the temporal authority of the institution of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese threat to Tibet was growing, and we confronted a full-scale war. As a peaceful Buddhist nation, we had never prepared for anything like this. I had heard of Mahatma Gandhi and his role in India’s struggle for freedom. I had learnt from him that it might take time, but the best approach is non-violence. I was determined to adopt this strategy.
In 1956, on the first morning of my first visit to Delhi, i first went to Rajghat. I wanted to get close to Gandhiji. I wished i had met him in person. I thought about what advice he would have given me. As i stood there in contemplation and prayer, i felt confident that he would have urged me to follow the path of non-violence. If he were alive, he would have supported our struggle. It was a defining moment for me. It gave me courage and confidence. I have continued to put this into practice in my efforts to restore the human rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people.
The philosophy of Ahimsa, non-violence, is a profound and powerful expression of compassion. To practise it is to develop a feeling of closeness to others. It includes a sense of responsibility for their welfare, even for those who oppose us. Gandhiji demonstrated that non-violence is essential not only in politics but in our day-to-day lives. It is not cowardice or being passive. It means actively resisting violence without hostility or fear. It is the essence of courage
Gandhiji evolved this into a multipronged, layered strategy he called Satyagraha – energy generated by the power of truth to change the heart of the oppressor. It included civil disobedience, while respecting the law. Satyagraha also implied a commitment to the truth in all its dimensions.
Gandhiji’s life was an open book, an extended essay on transparency, honesty and courage. He documented and acknowledged in detail his successes, struggles and failures, both personal and political, so we could all learn from them. It is an aspiration virtually no one today, indeed in public life anywhere, even aspires to.
Gandhiji embraced the ‘untouchables’ as Harijan or children of God, as his own. He did not reach out to the poor and the disenfranchised as a political constituency but from deep compassion. He recognised that unless the conditions of all Indians improved, India might get independence, but it could not be free. He emphasised not just physical hygiene, but mental hygiene and discipline as well.
Although Gandhiji had received a western education, he returned to his Indian roots and ways of living. I admire the simplicity and discipline of his life. A devout Hindu, he was inspired by the Gita and its philosophy of selfless action. His commitment to an India that embraced and nurtured all religions by adopting a secular constitution was absolute. He drew on India’s ancient tradition of pluralism and its long history of religious diversity and assimilation. The prayers and hymns at Gandhiji’s ashrams resonated with the sacred from across faiths.
In 1989, I accepted the Nobel Peace Prize “as a tribute to the man who founded the modern tradition of nonviolent action for change – Mahatma Gandhi – whose life taught and inspired me”. He remains the Mahatma, the great soul, for all people, everywhere.
As told to Rajiv Mehrotra