Earth Renewal

Be guided by the resolve of Mahatma Gandhi to bring about the change we seek
In these turbulent times, Jeremy Ball suggests looking to the Great Soul Mahatma Gandhi for inspiration

We are currently living in remarkable times, truly amazing times, not what some call "end times", but in truth the most incredible time of renewal for ourselves and our planet.

The protests and financial collapse in Greece and Spain and the shaking off of despotic regimes in North Africa and the Middle East has now given way to widespread riots and civil disobedience across England, centred on London, the most influential city for world governance over the last 250 years.

The Maya predicted over 5,000 years ago - and the Tibetans and other cultures have carried similar prophecies - the events we are now witnessing. Nostradamus and the Book of Revelation delved into the topic and, more recently, many experts, at least those prepared to think outside the box, in fields as diverse as economics, social welfare and spiritualty, have told us of the events likely to play out in society during these days.

We were told the time would come very soon when the old systems of power through governance and banking would crumble and fall. We are living in that time now. We are so in the flow of the full stream of these events it is of little point to discuss their coming. Instead, my focus with this column will turn to encouraging and urging the qualities necessary to not only safely navigate, but transform, these times.

We are fortunate to live in Australia, probably the country in the world most shielded and protected from these events. Yet even our remote and sparsely populated country will experience turmoil and change, and those of us in the best of circumstances have the important responsibility to be altruistic and help those in less fortunate circumstances.

The guides at the Oneness University in India told me a wonderful story, a story I was familiar with but, on this occasion, told from the perspective of an initiation into life's journey. The great man Mahatma (Great Soul) Gandhi started life quite humbly. He was the rather frail son of a middle class family in Gujarat at the height of British rule in India. Gandhi was not a particularly good student, but plodded on and with great effort graduated as a lawyer from the bar in London and immediately returned to his native India. As Gandhi found it hard to get worthwhile work in India, he moved to Durban, South Africa where there was, and still is, a large Indian community which promised to provide him with legal work to help him learn his trade.

One week after arriving in South Africa, Gandhi bought a first class train ticket to travel from Durban to the Transvaal, the power state of South Africa. While boarding the train, someone complained to the ticket inspector that a "non white" was riding in the first class carriage. The ticket inspector found the young Gandhi sitting comfortably in the first class carriage and challenged him. The man who would come to be revered in the most populous country in the world at that time as the Great Soul, responded by showing the inspector his first class ticket, to which the inspector responded that he was "non white" and should not have been sold the ticket. He added that whether he had a ticket for the carriage or not, he was a "non-white" and was not allowed to sit in it. The inspector even pointed out a sign on the carriage reminding all "non whites" of their inferior status. The inspector told Gandhi that he would either need to leave the carriage and move to lower class seating or he would be forcibly ejected from the train. Indignant at his treatment, the young lawyer refused to move. The result of the impasse was that Gandhi was thrown out on his coat tails with his luggage joining him a few moments later. The train immediately resumed its journey leaving Gandhi in a lonely country station late at night.

He now faced a great decision, a decision that would shape his life and radically change the history of his homeland. In taking on the might of the British Empire, the Mahatma, the Great Soul, was born.

So let's focus on the decision by first summarising the situation: Gandhi, an average law student, had recently graduated in London; he could not find a good job there so he had taken a seemingly insignificant case in a distant corner of the world; on his way to try this case, he had been unceremoniously dumped from the train in the middle of the night.

I think we have all faced similar disappointments or blocks to a chosen path. An inferior response would have been to give up on South Africa, to decide that, "I am unwelcome in this barbaric racist land", catch the next train back to the city and return to London or home to Gujarat. An average response would have been to make a determined decision not to let this unfair setback affect you or your clients, to catch the next train to your destination and be sure to win the case. On returning to London, you would follow it up with a letter of complaint to South African Railways telling them that the colour of the skin, or any other feature determinable by DNA, does not determine the inherent quality of an individual. That's a very measured response, very admirable in fact.

Well, the young Gandhi, in his time alone at that desolate station in the middle of the night, mulled over many options, playing them over and over in his mind.

When he finally made his decision, he committed to it with every fibre of his being for the rest of his life and, in the process, became a catalyst for social and political upheaval on a grand scale.

Gandhi's response was certainly a superior one. He took a resolute decision to continue on his journey to win the case for his clients. He decided that apartheid (enforced prejudice on the basis of race) was fundamentally unfair, no less than a violation of human and spiritual values. He determined to take a case against South African Railways, not for his personal compensation, but to challenge and prevent this practice. This small incident was the spark that ignited his inspirational political leadership and resistance to apartheid.

Gandhi was an integral part of the movement that ultimately led to another Great Soul, the White Lion Nelson Mandela, taking power in South Africa some 101 years later.

Deciding to resist in this case was a wonderful thing. But what distinguished Mahatma Gandhi's response was his determination to commit with total resolution to achieve the change he sought.

Today, we are all faced with similar decisions - about events in the world and perhaps even in our own lives. We can respond inadequately by burying our heads in the sand and hoping the difficulties will go away, just leave the mess for someone else to clear up. We can respond more impressively by seeking out our own personal (and our families') safety amid the challenges that lie ahead by simplifying our lifestyle, planting vegies, moving to the country, clearing debt. And some of us may feel the rush of Spirit within, perhaps in outrage, perhaps in compassion, or any myriad of ways to be inspired to play our part in the great global transformation underway.

If we are to have a superior response, we need to have a superior view of things. Take the rioters in London as a starting point. It is easy to merely condemn this wilful destruction, yet it is pointing to a basic problem with society and the way we are living, a reflection of real discontent and disconnection. These young people feel so disconnected from Spirit, from themselves and each other, they don't realise that harming another person or another person's property in fact harms themselves.

We need to bring back the sacredness into the centre of our world, with the family and our communities as the guardians of this connection, rather than relying on unfeeling bureaucracies. Connecting with a higher purpose than our individual needs creates meaning in our lives. Whenever we allow Spirit to work with us and commit to something greater than ourselves, we become greater than ourselves.

Next month, we will explore what this higher purpose might be for us as individuals and how to get in touch with it, to begin to birth the Sacred Warrior in each of us.