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Introduction to Gandhi book

My life has been profoundly shaped by three mentors—Muriel Lester, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas Gandhi. Lester and King I knew personally; both of them were deeply indebted to Gandhi for his spirituality and for his philosophy of nonviolence and through them I was led to Gandhi’s vast writings and his work in South Africa and India.

Many of my early teachers and friends over the years were similarly influenced by Gandhi—Howard Thurman, Amiya Chakravarty, E. Stanley Jones, Dorothy Nyland, J. Waskom Pickett, K. K. Chandy, Hildegard Goss-Mayr and Jim Lawson.

During the thirteen years I lived in Asia, I traveled extensively in India and was able to visit some of the places associated with Gandhi and the Freedom Movement of the subcontinent—Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Kerala, Shantiniketan. I was at the Birla Mansion in Delhi (where Gandhi was assassinated) during the filming of Richard Attenborough’s magnificent “Gandhi.” I made a pilgrimage to the Gandhi Ghat in Delhi where the Mahatma’s ashes have been placed. I attended the Triennial Meeting of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation(IFOR) in 1981 held at the Christavashram in South India, headquarters of the India Fellowship of Reconciliation. The India FOR was founded by Mary and K.K Chandy during a visit to India by Muriel Lester, traveling secretary of the IFOR. K.K. Chandy, for many years president of the India FOR was a friend of Gandhi and others active in India’s nonviolent freedom struggle.

In my peace ministry spanning the last half of the twentieth century, I have continued to drink deeply from the well of Gandhi’s life and thought. As I have lectured and led workshops in nonviolence around the world, I have found Gandhi’s influence profound wherever people are struggling for deliverance from injustice and oppression. In South Korea during the Park dictatorship in 1977, I met with the Korean Gandhi, Ham Sok Hon while leading underground workshops. When I took part in nonviolence workshops in the Philpppines in 1985 during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Filipinos were especially receptive to this message because the leading opponent of Marocs, the imprisoned Senator Benigno Aquino had had a deep conversion in his cell while reading the Bible and the writings of Gandhi. He came to see the necessity of a nonviolent revolution in overcoming dictatorship. Although he was subsequently assassinated, the Filipinos picked up his fallen banner as they succeeded in a nonviolent, people power revolution in their country. In nonviolence workshops in Soviet Lithuania in 1990, every night the movie “Gandhi” was shown on Lithuanian TV as that first breakway republic prepared for independence in the face of Soviet tanks.

Gandhi’s influence was brought home to me in an unexpected way in 2001 on the tenth anniversary of the sanctions on Iraq which had resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. I joined in a liturgy and vigil on the steps of the US Mission to the United Nations in New York City, We asked the US Ambassador to join us in a typical Iraqi meal, a meager ration of lentils and rice and unfiltered water. The Ambassador did not come out. Instead sixteen of us—nuns, priests, ministers, persons of various religious traditions—were arrested for trespass, handcuffed and taken eventually to the infamous “Tombs” at 100 Center Street in Manhattan. We were led in in chains, fingerprinted and placed in group cells where we were held until the next afternoon at which time we were led into a courtroom where, after facing the judge, we were released.

During the sleepless night I prayed for the children of Iraq whom I had seen in the cancer wards and impoverished neighborhoods of Baghdad and Basra during a peace mission there in 2000. The night after I got out of the Tombs I had a most vivid dream: I was visiting Sevagram, an ashram of Gandhi in India. Gandhi was showing me around the grounds and buildings. It was near sunset and the barren landscape was luminous in the golden glow of dusk. Gandhi seemed to be middle-aged, vigorous and joyful. He was smiling and wearing radiant white khadi, the homespun cloth,that represented self-reliance. He moved his arm outward as he pointed out the different parts of the ashram. There the dream ends but it remains strongly etched in my memory as a time when Gandhi was with me, as he is with all those who work nonviolently for a just and peaceful world It is my hope that this biography will help introduce the life and message of Gandhi to a new generation of persons searching for a genuine alternative to war and injustice.

Richard Deats
Nyack, New York

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