Sunday, April 26, 2009

Gandhi's view - the means must justify the ends, not the reverse

Mahatma Gandhi is of my gurus. From his life and writings, I seek guidance on how I might improve my own life. Presently, it does not remotely approximate the ideals he professed, but I have not abandoned the goal. Gandhi’s image, along with those of the Dalai Lama, Donella Meadows and (the juxtaposition may seem surprising) Lee Kuan Yew, looking down from my kitchen cabinets, is a daily reminder of this.

Four times each year, the Washington DC Gandhi Memorial Center’s newsletter arrives in my mailbox. This unique institution is located at 4748 Western Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland, within an easy bicycle ride of American University, but relatively few students take advantage of the tranquil ambience, resources and events it provides. Readers in any part of the world who wish to connect with the Center can do so at its Website, www,

Perhaps because I am presently teaching international development, I was particularly taken with a Newsletter commentary on Gandhi’s view of the relationship between means and ends, written by Gandhi Memorial Center Director, Carrie Trybulec.

Gandhi focused his thinking and acting on the ‘means’ rather than on the ‘ends’ with the ideal that the ‘ends’ cannot justify the ‘means.’ Therefore, if one seeks peace, justice and harmony, then one must employ means that are peaceful just and harmonious to achieve these ends. This also relates to his idea of selfless service: that he might not even see the results of his actions in his lifetime but would not change his means of service. The means must justify the ends, not the other way around.

Central to Gandhi’s belief in peaceful, just and harmonious means was his commitment to nonviolence. The Newsletter quoted the following passage from Volume 39 of his Collected Works.

...nonviolence is the basis of the search for truth. I am realizing every day that the search is vain unless it is founded on nonviolence as the basis. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking onesedlf. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that person but the whole world.

Like my own life, the world does not remotely approximate the goals that Gandhi professed, but that does not mean they should be abandoned.

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