“Was Gandhi political or spiritual?”–Daily Metta

August 5:

gandhi-21A [person] who aspires after [Truth] cannot keep out of any field of life.”

-Gandhi (Autobiography)

Gandhi had a little “anarchist” tendency in him, in spite of his deep commitment to democratic governance and the rule of law: he did not like being labeled. Any label, however convenient for some purposes, would be an artificial limitation. Are you a spiritual teacher or a politician, people, particularly in the West would seem to demand of him, implying that if he was one, then he had no business being the other, because the Western mind sees through the lens of bifurcation. Yet for someone striving for union, yoga, such attempted dualities were of little interest at best and misleading at worst. At the same time, with those who would pay him the lipservice of calling him Mahatma, he felt the honorific was a burden to him. He would agree easily with Dorothy Day’s famous quip, “Don’t call me a Saint, I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” Consider Siddhartha Gautama, whose disciples asked him,

“Are you an angel?”


“Are you a God?”


“Then what are you?”

“I am awake,”

Buddha, from the root buddhir meaning literally “awake.”

The “Mahatma” maintains that his pursuit of Truth led him into the various areas of life: politics, religion, education, even health, and he could not do otherwise because of the nature of Truth itself. Truth does not belong to any one compartment of life, nor are the containers of life themselves rigid. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated so clearly, “We are interconnected in a web of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny.” Sound familiar? Certainly feminists and other social justice activists today will tell you the same thing: we simply cannot separate the political from the personal: whatever we do in private is accountable to the system at large. Gandhi caught on to this pretty early on. Does that mean we should call him a feminist, too? Well, he doesn’t quite fit that category, either.

We might say that Gandhi was a being who dedicated his life to waking up, using Truth and nonviolence as his means, and in the process began to wake up others.  This is an ongoing process, and it defies labels.

As we pursue human freedom at greater and greater levels, why would we want Gandhi to be an either/or? Either a religious man or a politician? If anything, his refusal to take on one identity exclusively encourages us, too, to go beyond our own self-imposed limitations, and question what it means to be a human being in search of Truth. It’s a radical claim to make with one’s own life.


Experiment in Nonviolence:

Find one area in your life where you impose a limitation that does not serve you, perhaps one that has been imposed by bifurcated thinking. Consider how to “blur” that line, and test it out. What do you learn about yourself in the process?