South Asian Peacebuilding Program in Gujarat
Of all the discoveries I made while in Gujarat, the very first continues to resonate most deeply. On the first day, visiting the Gandhi ashram in urban Gujarat, I discovered that Gandhi himself was deeply influenced by the words and philosophy of Leo Tolstoy. They corresponded via letter between 1909 and 1910, until Tolstoy’s death. Tolstoy had been expounding the virtue of nonviolence in the frame of anarchic Christianity for decades, most pointedly in his 1894 work “The Kingdom of God is Within You.”
Gandhi read this as well, so I have taken it upon myself to do the same. Exploring Gandhi and Tolstoy’s philosophical relationship has led me to a truth of virtuous behavior both men both acknowledged: Love. Alone and out of context, it could sound trite and vague, but in the context of guiding decisions for how to treat our fellow humans, it makes undeniable sense. As the two men experienced it, Love was the truth of all religions–even those religions whose priests and practitioners had lost sight of it. In his Letter to a Hindu, Tolstoy lamented Indians’ loss of sight of the truth of Love in the “religion” he presumed they all practice, Hinduism.
Another moment of profundity came when our final interview subject explained to us that Hinduism is, in fact, more of a lifestyle than a religion. This seems appropriate, as the Hindu pantheon reflects a wide variety of ancient beliefs and deities amalgamated loosely under an umbrella of Hinduism. Indians reflect the pantheon in their wide range of beliefs and lifestyles, guided to varying degrees by religion or independent, personal morality…
…What India showed me is that I need to follow my instincts, not to ignore what drew me to learn about policy and development in the first place. Conflict resolution, after all, is the resolution of a social, economic, or environmental issue by way of policy change. If I can dive into the field selectively to fill in the gaps of knowledge and experience and augment it with the data gathered by other capable researchers in fields I cannot reach, I might just be able to begin speaking the right words in the right language to the right people to induce change.
With Gandhi and Tolstoy’s work in mind, with their truth of Love at heart, I might just have the lenses necessary to discern the most essential details acquired through field work and put them to use in endeavoring for policy change–from my heart in my hometown of Santa Rosa to the Capitol Building in Washington.