Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Gandhi and Pluto

The July edition of National Geographic has, among others, two articles I found very interesting.  One concerns the legacy of Gandhi's teachings in India today, the other the long awaited fly by of Pluto by the New Horizon spaceship.

I am not sure if the connection that occurred in my mind between the two articles would have happened had I not read them consecutively, but a connection nevertheless sprang to me as I walked the dog.

Is it possible that other forms of life in the universe will only be discovered when mankind begins treating the forms of life on earth with respect and equality?

The Gandhi article recounted what many consider his penultimate action, the 1930 Salt March.  For those of you unfamiliar with this event, at the time, there was a tax on salt production, proceeds of that tax going to the coffers of Britain, as India was still part of its empire.  Gandhi's decision, in retrospect, to stage this march to the sea where he would illegally (not pay the tax) produce salt, is genius, but was not universally supported by those advocating for Indian independence.  As is so often the case with leaders who talk the talk but do not walk the walk, Gandhi understood that the way to reach the common people was to relate the need for freedom to their lives.  As Gandhi said, other than water and air, salt was the commodity most required by Indians considering the extremely hot weather of the country.  Noble concepts were one thing, salt was a part of everyday life.

What is so amazing about Gandhi was that his focus on salt, so basic yet so powerful, was just a part of his message.  During his walk, he stopped at some of the poorest villages in the area, and went out of his way to challenge the caste system by inviting the "untouchables", not only to be part of the walk, but as a symbol to those Indians who supported the caste system so they might understand that the meaning of freedom was not just freedom from British rule, but freedom from poverty and social injustice for all Indians.  To further that ideal, he encouraged spinning of cloth, not just, again, as a protest against Britain, but to encourage everyone to wear khadi, to look the same, as an analogy to his hope that by looking the same, everyone, high born or low, might be treated with similar fairness.

The thought that started the connection to Pluto, was Gandhi's belief that religions are not for separating men from one another, but to bind them.  He revered Jesus, could quote verses from the Bible and Koran, and was a devout Hindu, but he also knew that true independence needed to be founded on a democracy based on laws not religions.  Considering the misguided attempts by fundamentalists in many corners of the planet to fashion their governments from specific tracts of their religious tomes, Muslim and Christian, it is not surprising that Gandhi's dream is still illusive, both in India and in much of the world.

Perhaps, if we were to judge our religious leaders on their similarity to Gandhi, his lack of material possessions, his time spent among those with the least, his efforts to promote equal treatment of all people, we might find those leaders to be without moral high ground, and it might explain why too many of those leaders advocate messages of blame, isolation and hatred as opposed to unity, community and love.  It is far easier to get rich when your message promotes friction than it is when you advocate for tolerance and peace.

And, perhaps, despite our best efforts to find life in the universe, despite the myriad of vessels we have cruising through the solar system and beyond, despite the radio and TV signals that even now communicate how we live and how we die, we have not found life outside planet Earth because we haven't learned how to treat life on planet Earth.  Whether it be the animals that we slaughter for their skin or their bones, the sea creatures we poison via our dumping of trash in the oceans, the birds we kill by belching toxins into the air, or the people we dehumanize due to their skin color, gender, age, or any other trait that is deemed different, our lack of love for life on this tiny blue ball spinning anonymously in the cosmos, might be the reason for this lack of success.

There are those who worry what life from afar might do to us, but perhaps they have not come forth because they worry what we would do to them.  Based on what we do to each other, it would not be surprising.


No comments:

Post a Comment