Discovering Gandhi

This is a continuation of Lorin Peter’s post “A Daring Vision.” If you haven’t read that yet, you may want to start there.


After my “daring vision,” I was not sure what to do.

That I was still alive one month after the death threat probably meant the kamnan had changed his mind. I finally decided to return to the village, unarmed and in broad daylight, and leave my life in his hands.

Eventually the villagers replaced the missing funds. The water started running a year later (1969). As we prepared to leave Thailand, the kamnan approached my wife with a peace offering—one of his daughters to be my second wife.

Some years later, when the committee in a nearby township accused their kamnan of corruption, he shot the entire committee to death. That simple vision may have saved my life. It has stayed with me. I have never since doubted God’s presence.

Although I was too distant to see his features, I understood the messenger in my vision to be Jesus of Nazareth. But in church I had never heard of Jesus asking anyone to put their life into the hands of their enemy. For almost two years, I wondered why I was the only person to whom God had given such a strange and daunting vision.

Photo of Rober Ellsberg's book by Lorin Peters

During a discussion for Lent, I finally asked a peaceworker why. “You need to ‘meet’ Gandhi. Start with Joan Bondurant’s Conquest of Violence.” When I began reading, I was electrified! I was not alone in the universe. I had a comrade. God had given a similar mission to Gandhi. I had a guide, who was way ahead of me.

My mom took me to meet a friend, a retired missionary, one of many who tried to convert Gandhi. He showed me the letter Gandhi had written him, saying that “bye and bye, we shall know the truth about Jesus.”

As I studied Gandhi, I soon saw that he actually lived Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. On several occasions groups of Christian leaders asked Gandhi to help them understand and follow Jesus better, as he did (James W. Douglas, “Gandhi and the Unspeakable,” pp  108-113):

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Peter Maurin and Jacques Maritain studied Gandhi from afar… Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker, Danilo Dolci in Sicily, Lanza del Vasto in France, Cesar Chavez, Thomas Merton…all acknowledged that it was by way of Gandhi, and not through the teachings of the Christian churches, that they encountered the nonviolent face of Christ (Robert Ellsberg, Gandhi on Christianity, ix).

Martin Luther King believed, “the greatest Christian of the modern world was a man who never embraced Christianity” (Clayborne Carson, The Gandhi-King Community website).

Gandhi has gradually revolutionized my understanding of Jesus. He loved Jesus and his teaching. He has made Jesus more and more real to me as I see him through Gandhi’s eyes. It seems to me that Gandhi was sent to demonstrate and remind us that what Jesus taught actually works.

Gandhi wrote, “In my humble opinion, much of what passes as Christianity is a negation of the Sermon on the Mount,” (Robert Ellsberg, 19). That is why he never embraced Christianity. He did not find dogma useful. Sometimes it gives us excuses for not following Jesus’ teaching. He did not have this trouble.

I no longer see myself as Protestant or Catholic. I might be Quaker, or Mennonite. But mostly I am a Gandhian Christian.

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    By: Lorin Peters

    While serving in the Peace Corps (in Thailand, 1965-69), Lorin received a death threat that led him back to his father’s Mennonite roots, to nonviolence, and to Gandhi.

    During Vietnam, while teaching physics at a Catholic high school, Lorin was asked to create and teach a course on war and peace. He has also taught nonviolence at UC Extension, and he now teaches one month each winter at a Muslim school in Thailand, with students from all over Asia.

    The day after September 11, 2001, he began meditating with Michael Nagler. Lorin also joined Christian Peacemaker Teams, serving seven summers in Hebron, Palestine-Israel.

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    Martin Luther King, Jr. is Not Dead
    A Daring Vision
    The Sorcerer’s Apprentices

    See all this author’s posts