Mahatma Gandhi and the Straight Path

Gandhi_1944 wikimedia
Mahatma Gandhi 1944

I began studying Mahatma Gandhi’s life after seeing the 1982 film ‘Gandhi’, directed by Richard Attenborough. Gandhi  had a keen sense of right and wrong, an understanding of virtue and vice. His determination to improve the lives of his fellow Indians, resist prejudice and oppression, which first began in South Africa under Apartheid and then in India under British rule is inspirational. His life gave me a better understanding of how virtuous action can forge and refashion the mind and the body. One doesn’t need to be intellectually brilliant to recognise truth. We all know truth, we just need to be brave enough to pursue it. Gandhi’s mission was to seek truth and act truthfully as the title of his autobiography My Experiments with Truth alludes to. For him, seeking truth and acting truthfully was the key to attaining enlightenment. Reading his autobiography, I found this passage about enlightenment:

Though this path is straight and narrow and sharp as the razor’s edge, for me it has been the quickest and the easiest.

Gandhi, My Experiments with Truth, p. 15.

This passage alludes to the difficulty of walking the path to enlightenment, of walking the straight path. Gandhi describes how the path to enlightenment is ‘straight and narrow and sharp as the razor’s edge’. He implies that one false step, one wrongful act, results in the seeker falling from the path. However, his statement that ‘…for me this has been the quickest and the easiest’ refers to his belief that acting truthfully, and virtuously, is the quickest and easiest way to achieve enlightenment. Thus Gandhi reinforced what I had already learned from Mencius, that acting truthfully and virtuously is necessary for walking the straight path, achieving enlightenment and drawing closer to God.

Recently I have begun to study Yoga. Georg Feuerstein, in The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, describes how Yogis and Indic tradition refer to the path to enlightenment as being ‘the razor-edged path’. This is probably the basis of Gandhi’s own description. Feuerstein gives a fuller account of the meaning of the ‘razor-edged path’, which is worth quoting:

…and it becomes clear that spiritual life is a form of brinkmanship. The Indic tradition speaks of the razor-edged path…Liberation, or enlightenment, is not a thing to be attained or acquired. It is living in the moment from the most profound understanding and without egoic attachment to anything. Those who parade their extraordinary spiritual accomplishments in front of others are possibly the least illumined of all. They merely substitute material commodities for “spiritual” merchandise. The Indic heritage knows of many adepts who after years of intense practice achieved a high state of consciousness or astounding paranormal ability only to promptly plunge from grace. The higher the adept’s elevation, the steeper the drop into oblivion and misery. Therefore the authorities of Yoga ever admonish practitioners to be circumspect, to keep their attainments to themselves, to focus on the cultivation of moral integrity, understanding, self-transcendence, and not least service to others.

Georg Feuerstein, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, pp. 87-88

Thus prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices, though important, shall achieve nothing without virtuous thought and action. Virtuous thought and action are the prerequisites for gaining enlightenment, walking the straight path and drawing closer to God.

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