We took an unexpected trip to the house (now a museum) where Gandhi spent his last months, and where he was assassinated, on January 30, 1948, on his way to prayers. He was living with friends who had felt he would be safe in their house and had insisted he join them there.

M K Gandhi was one of my childhood heroes. I cannot say that I have spent very much time, in my adult life, thinking about his incredible lessons, about inclusiveness, tolerance, and non violence. Now I plan to return to reading more about him. But it is funny how lessons get burned into young minds. As I walked into his bedroom, tears sprang to my eyes; I felt as though I were returning to some childhood dream of what the world would be like. His few remains were displayed in a case hanging on the wall--the most precious, and recognizable of them, his glasses. The wearing of glasses is considered a sign of intellect, thoughtfulness, knowledge, wisdom--some people wear them even though they don't need them.

Gandhi's room itself was pure white, with very few, but just enough, accommodations to comfort. There were his prayer beads, tenderly arranged in a circle around a precious, well worn book, his small desk and the cushions against which he propped himself when visiting with others. The loom, of course, sign of his allegiance to the very fabric of India.

Some of his pithy sayings (which now might have been tweeted) were printed up  on placards and arranged through the house. Over the fireplace: "Simplicity is the essence of Universality."  When President Obama visited India, he was criticized in some circles for talking too much about Gandhi, and not enough about modern India. I say Obama was right. Gandhi's philosophy is at the heart of modern democracies anywhere. Think about his extraordinary vision and work, in light of the "Jasmine Revolution" as it is called in papers here, in Egypt right now. Our children already have attitudes of racial and religious tolerance ingrained in them since they were babies; their world may be more peaceful and harmonious.

The day after our visit, I was up and dawn, listening to Delhi come to raucous life, thinking about Gandhi, and global warming, and immense poverty, and feeling overwhelmed by the hopelessness of change: China, India, and the US have to come together to solve these problems. They are not. How nice it would be, I thought, not to worry about intractable problems, and to simply have a quiet life of reading and writing. What difference does it make, what we each do? We are trying to empty the beach of sand with a teaspoon. But then I thought about my friend Jacqueline Novogratz, and the inspiring work she is doing with her Acumen Fund; I thought about the health clinics springing up across India, where poor people have access, among other things, to eye glasses. She is changing lives one at a time. Such are the thoughts of one person deciding how she wants to devote her remaining years of work life.

And, as seems to happen every day, the universe offered some answers. As the Muslim call to worship rang out, I read the paper and sipped my tea. The Times of India runs a little section every day called "Sacred Space". It is quite provocative if you care to slow down, and and ponder its contents. I wish our Times of New York would offer the same thing. The top of today's column began with a section from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita--the Song of God--called Nothing in Return.  "Let not the fruits of action be thy motives, Nor be thy attachment to inaction." That stopped me. The next passage was from M K Gandhi:  "It is the action, not the fruit of action, that's important," he said. "You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, it may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result."


Bruce Barone said...

Thank You for this.

Karena said...

Beautiful, Dominique, the peacefullness simply washes over me.

Below the fabrics and colors are gorgeous (the yellow especially!)

Yoour trip is one of a lifetime!

Art by Karena

PSING said...

your blog is just such an important action. thank you. pamela ingram

Anonymous said...

I was there as well and walked the grounds with his footsteps painted on the ground. It was wonderful to walk his path even if for a few moments. Thanks for bringing this back to me.

Snippets/Sarah said...

It would be wonderful and as you mentioned shocking to see Delhi. Thank you for sharing Ghandi's last residence with us. Your observations are so interesting to read and I continue to be drawn back to discover more of your blog!

pve design said...

How I wish I were there with you on this wonderful trip, however how thankful that you are sharing your journey, tears and all. A moving moment for you, no doubt. Now I too, want to read more about Ghandi.

mary said...

Yes, so many times we are focused on a particular envisioned outcome (a limiting outcome, no doubt). When the will of God is timeless and without measure. I now believe that the very act of individual commitment to integrity and non-judgment will have a huge effect on our world (although we may not be witness to it). Mary

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

Regarding Ghandi..... one of the most incisive (if, still, purposefully elliptical) assessments of reactions to him/his life/his work came spilling out of the chattery mouth of Lady Chaterjee (who was NO fool, circa 1943). I've borne it in mind (and conflated the English with Americans) when I've read several of the countless biographies of Martin Luther King:

"The English have always revered saints but hated them to be shrews. English people who thought Ghandi a saint were identifying themselves with the thousands or millions of Indians who said he WAS... but saintliness to an Indian means quite a different thing than it means to an Englishman. An Englishman automatically thinks that someone who is going to be martyred is a man whose logic isn't going to work in a final showdown with the severely practical world, a man who in fact a Saint PER SE. Apart from occasional temptations,...they expect these saints of theirs to be so UN-earthly-bound that they have one foot in heaven already. And of course by Heaven, they mean the opposite of Earth. The divide the material from the spiritual with their usual passion for tidiness and for people being orderly and knowing their place. On the other hand, to the Hindu, there can't be this distinction. For him, the material world is illusory and Heaven a name for personal oblivion.

Personally, I have always found the material world far from illusory and have never welcomed as pleasurable the idea of mindless embodiment in a dull corporate state of total 'peace'....Well, to come back to Mr Ghandi, the Hindus called him a saint because for thirty years he was the most ACTIVE Hindu on the scene, which may sound like a paradox to European ears but, after all, to travel from illusion to oblivion requires tremendous mental and physical stamina----and, if you are anxious to shorten the journey for others, a notable degree of leadership and a high content of hypnotic persuasion in oratory. but, as for Western religious mores, well?....to get from the practical world of affairs to an impractical heaven requires an act we're all capable of,... dying I mean, although disappointment in the event undoubtedly follows....If Mr. Ghandi thought of his material acts as largely illusory, as private steps taken in public towards his own desirable personal merging with the Absolute, I really do as a practical woman have to admire his shrewdness, his perfect timing, in putting the cat among the pigeons."

from Paul Scott's "The Jewel in The Crown"


David Terry

Ashling said...

Thank you for sharing this. The peaceful, unassuming simplicity is profoundly touching. I've seen photos of him with his charka; how sad to see it alone, untouched, without him.

Layanee said...

A beautiful life.

William said...

With our Internet and cable television news culture it is very easy to become so overwhelmed by horrific global problems, problems that most of us can do next to nothing about, that we become paralyzed and incapable of doing the small things we can do to improve conditions on the planet, most often just steps from where we live. That, or we get caught up in the latest 'cause celebre' and spend our time voicing our great concern over the plight of Tibetan monks or Haitian earthquake victims and somehow that let's us off the hook from walking 4 blocks to a volunteer at a homeless shelter or local literacy program or charter school. We talk or write checks rather than 'do'. I'm guilty of this. I live just a few short blocks from Harlem and I write checks. That's the extent of what I do and it bugs me each and every day knowing I could actually be 'doing' much more. Tomorrow I make that call to the Harlem Village Academy. Thanks for this post, Dominique.

c said...

Once again you say something that resonates - a childhood hero. One whose philosophy deeply influenced my own view of things.

And yes, the world SHOULD be as he taught. So many years later, so little real progress. Whether in India or the US, we mainly pay lip service to the "right thing to do".

Check out the lead story in NYT.com (at least it was the lead story a few minutes ago), about conflict between the Indian government and a Tibetan Lama. Why are people everywhere so threatened by those who promote peace and tolerance?

And by all means, read Gandhi. What an amazing mind.

"engaging with the world in a considered, compassionate way, appreciating the miraculous beauty of everyday moments, and celebrating the interconnected nature of life."

Slow Love indeed.

pesce42 said...

I read your blog this morning in lieu of my usual meditation. Besides all the beautiful thoughts and remembrances of Gandhi, I was struck by you writing about the "Sacred Space" portion of the daily newspaper. My grandmother, who is 96 and going strong, was telling me a few weeks ago that the NYTimes used to print a poem every day, and how she missed that, and wondered why they stopped. Perhaps our larger papers here in the States should start thinking about people's "sacred spaces". Just a thought...
Thank you for this lovely blog.


Joseph said...

Very inspiring and everyone can relate on it.
He is right, it's not the fruit of action.It is what you have done to
others that you know is right.And you have not waiting for the return
of what you have done.
Great post!

Anonymous said...

11thFebruary2011, and access to NY TIMES.com denied in a downward swirl from 'User Name,' 'e`Mail Address,' & 'Password,' each disavowed in sequence, then when tapping 'Submit,' to correct, wigs out to 'ERROR, PLEASE TRY AGAIN.' You had and posted your frustrations with this peculiar phenomenon, & I can only surmise it is a ploy of Murdoch/WSJ proportions to block access to NYT.com; surely, its own webMaster would not be complicit? With your 'SLL' now in Times Magazine, will you look into this for readers, please? '.. .and don`t call me Shirley!'