”I don’t ask you to renounce any of your pet pursuits–poetry or music or literature. No, I ask you to give up nothing. All I want from you is to add to your occupation half an hour of spinning. Nobody has ever pleaded before me that he cannot spare even that half hour.”
–Gandhi (Day to Day with Gandhi, vol. 7, p. 44)
Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk and disciple of the father of modern Vedanta, Sri Ramakrishna, came to the West with the message of Hinduism in 1893, one of the first visits of this nature. A common theme of his message was detachment, renunciation, letting go. People tend to associate this idea with leaving the world, giving it up. And to this, Swamaji’s reply was as simple as it was mischievous, “You do not need to renounce the world. Go forward with your daily practice and the world will give you up.”
It is very much in this spirit that Gandhi speaks to a crowd of students who have come to him in 1925 to get involved in the Free India struggle. He wanted to reassure them that joining the struggle did not need to mean giving up family, life and limb, and all of life’s innocent pleasures along with it. (Who could accept that, anyway?). This was a movement for the masses.
He went on, “No, instead, just add 30 minutes of spinning to daily life.” It sounds easy enough, but at the root, it’s really a radical re-ordering of one’s priorities based on the well-being of the whole as greater than one’s personal pet pursuits. And such a re-prioritization was at the heart of the movement for self-rule.
It was a test of commitment to the cause, because there seems to be something far easier in renouncing the world all together, than learning how to live in it with other people who differ from and oppose us.
When I shared this quote with a friend, she pointed out that “sadly,” many people today would bemoan giving even 30 minutes of their time, with the whole “enlightenment in 3.5 minutes a day” myth around us. But I was reminded of some wisdom from one of my students at the preschool, age five, who sagaciously points out to the other students in class when they cry out, “I can’t” (such as, “I can’t put my shoes away,” or “I can’t wash these dishes.”): “Sometimes, ‘I can’t really means ‘I don’t want to.’”
Experiment in Nonviolence:
Give 30 minutes a day to your equivalent of ‘spinning.’ At Metta, we have suggested that the equivalent is ‘raising the human image’ — or meditating.