According to the Mahatma, there are two kinds of violence—physical and passive. More often, we are only aware of physical violence and stay ignorant about our practice of passive violence. When we look down upon someone or call them names, that’s a form of violence we might dismiss for rudeness. The Mahatma taught young Arun to be conscious of his way of treating others. The result of that is his lifelong commitment to equality and unity towards achieving peace.
He isn’t deluded or anything to think that it’s possible to attain peace. But he believes that once a person is transformed for the better, then peace can be achieved. His belief in the human heart is amazing. Arun has dedicated his life to living what his grandfather had taught him—practicing non-violence and being the change that he wants to happen.
Arun’s Early Biography
Arun Manilal Gandhi was born in South Africa on 14 April 1934 to Mohandas Gandhi’s second son, Manilal. As a young boy, he was aware of how different he was from other kids. The apartheid was still very evident in his younger years. When he was 10 years old, he was beaten by white South Africans for not being white enough. Only a few months later, he was again beaten, this time, by black Africans for not being black enough.
Confused, he began to hate. He only wanted one thing, and that was to seek revenge. Arun was an adolescent and didn’t know why people are making such a fuss over his skin color when he was born that way. He grew up with such hate that he vowed to make them pay for hurting him. He started going to the gym with one thing in mind—to get back at them.
His parents saw so much hate in him that they began to tell him about the values that his grandfather espouses. All those talks did not amount to anything. They never made sense to him because he only wanted one thing and that was to hurt those who hurt him. No matter what his parents told him about the Mahatma, they fell on deaf ears.
Mahatma Gandhi Meets His Grandson
His hatred towards those who beat him only grew worse as time passed by. His parents knew that if ignored, Arun would just become bitter. They decided it was time to meet his grandfather. He was sent to India to live with the Mahatma in order to help him understand how to forgive and live his teachings.
Little did he know that his grandfather was some sort of a celebrity in India. Every morning he was awed by the large crowd that came to his grandfather’s dwelling just to get a glimpse of the Mahatma. It was a mystery to him until he saw for himself how great of a personality his grandfather was. But no matter how revered he was by the public, he never allowed it to get to his head, let alone make his grandson feel proud and more entitled than the rest.
No matter how busy Mohandas was with his public service, he always allotted an hour every day for the young Arun. Most of the time, they would just spend the day spinning cloth while his grandfather tells him stories. That’s his way of teaching his young grandson values and complex virtues. Arun’s favorite is that about a King who wanted to know what peace is:
"Grandfather liked to tell us the story of an ancient Indian king who was obsessed with finding the meaning of peace. What is peace? How can we get it? And what should we do with it when we find it? These were some of the questions that bothered him. Intellectuals throughout his kingdom were offered a handsome reward to answer the king's questions. Many tried but none succeeded. At last, someone suggested the king consult a sage who lived just outside the borders of his kingdom.
"He is an old man and very wise," the king was told. "If anyone can answer your questions he can."
The king went to the sage and posed the eternal question. Without a word the sage went into his kitchen and brought a grain of wheat to the king. "In this you will find the answer to your question," the sage said as he placed the grain of wheat in the king's outstretched palm.
Puzzled but unwilling to admit his ignorance, the king clutched the grain of wheat and returned to his palace. He locked the precious grain in a tiny gold box and placed the box in his safe. Each morning, upon waking, the king would open the box and look at the grain seeking an answer, but he could find nothing.
Weeks later another sage, passing through, stopped to meet the king, who eagerly invited him to resolve his dilemma.
The king explained how he had asked the eternal question but was given a grain of wheat. "I have been looking for an answer every morning but I find nothing."
"It is quite simple, your honor," said the sage. "Just as this grain represents nourishment for the body, peace represents nourishment for the soul. Now, if you keep this grain locked up in a gold box it will eventually perish without providing nourishment or multiplying. However, if it is allowed to interact with the elements-light, water, air, soil-it will flourish and multiply, and soon you would have a whole field of wheat to nourish not only you but so many others. This is the meaning of peace. It must nourish your soul and the souls of others, and it must multiply by interacting with the elements." (Source: SCU.edu)
Arun was fascinated by his grandfather’s stories and always pined to hear them. One day, his grandfather gave him homework. He was tasked to write down every single form of passive and physical violence he commits every day. At first, he was unsure why his grandfather wanted him to do so. Since he was in his disposal, Arun had no choice but to do what he was told to do. That led him to visualize how passive violence was present in his life. It gave him a profound understanding of how a single action could lead to many more occurrences of violence.
Arun was also taught by his grandfather to carefully think about the consequences of his actions before he chooses to do something. For instance, when he threw a four-inch long pencil away thinking it’s no use to him anymore, his grandfather asked him to look for it. After a couple of hours of searching and searching, he finally found the pencil that he threw away. When he showed it to his grandfather, he told him how trees had to perish just for him to get that pencil. That made Arun more careful when disposing resources.
Then he was taught by his grandfather about anger. Mohandas likened anger to electricity—it could be used to harm and at the same time drive people into action. In a nutshell, anger can be used for good or evil. If channeled correctly, then anger could lead to something positive. That’s something that Arun had to learn the hard way.
To see if his grandfather would practice what he preaches, he would disrupt high profile meetings to test his patience. He would purposely barge in without a word to demand for an autograph. Instead of reprimanding his grandson, he’d just continue with the meeting with his hands over his mouth to keep him from talking. Not once did he see his grandfather lose his cool. Until he just gave up and admitted the fact that he was indeed serious about not showing violence.
He was having the time of his life and when it was time to come home, Arun was hesitant. India became his home and he felt safe with his grandfather. But he was sent home and there’s nothing he could do to change his parents’ minds. It proved to be a good decision because not long after he went back to South Africa, his grandfather was assassinated.
Channeling His Anger to Something Good
When his grandfather passed away, Arun thought of getting back at the people who orchestrated his death but was reminded by his parents about Mohandas’ teachings. Knowing that his grandfather only wanted the good to prevail, he dedicated his life serving others and looking for ways that he could honor and keep the great legacy of the person who has taught him to forgive.
Arun was 23 years old when he found himself back to India. He spent the next 30 years of his life working for The Times of India, a large English-language daily newspaper. He wrote with such fervor and was soon recognized in the whole country. His grandfather remains beloved in India and it could be one of the reasons why he rose from being a nobody to being a recognized personality in Mohandas’ homeland.
His grandfather was regarded as a hero by the Indian people for the bloodless revolution he led that freed them from the British colonizers. As such, it was a daunting task to live up to his grandfather’s stature.
While in India, he had to undergo surgery because of a bad case of appendicitis. That’s when he met the woman who helped him realize his dreams, Sunanda. The problem was Sunanda’s parents were Hindus and detested Mohandas’ aspirations. They favored the British rule and was against their daughter marrying no other than the grandson of the man responsible for driving away the British government.
Nevertheless, Sunanda and Arun still married only to find out that she wasn’t allowed by the South African government to enter and settle in the country. Many years later, they heard about the burning of the Phoenix Farm in South Africa, a place cultivated by his grandfather. He realized he had to continue to preach his grandfather’s teachings about peace and non-violence. The two went to the United States instead to start anew.
They found a Methodist scholarship and was taken in by a school that sustained their needs. When the funding ran out, their supporters lobbied that they be given extended help. It resulted in their being given more time to stay in the country and establish a center dedicated to upholding non-violence. Without funding, he resorted to selling letters from his grandfather. It was met by many oppositions but was generally accepted after he wrote a blog on how he planned to use the proceeds.
Dedicating His Life to Teaching and Inspiring
When the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence was founded in 1991, they began with Sunanda and Arun as the only employees. They managed until help came in and they began to afford three regular employees with the help of loyal volunteers. The M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence partners with schools to teach children and the youth the art of mediation.
They also began the Season for Nonviolence to commemorate the deaths of Mohandas Gandhi and his follower, Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1999, they participated in the Hague Appeal for Peace and Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice focuses on those who were sentenced to imprisonment. Instead of making them wallow in guilt, they are given the opportunity to rebuild their lives by making them forgive themselves and understand why they shouldn’t have committed the crime.
Now, Arun is considered as one of the most sought-after public speakers, speaking in international events to bring the message of peace and non-violence taught to him by no other than his late grandfather who died in the name of his cause. What keeps his resolve intact is his belief that:
"You can find a solution to the problem by making people aware that this behavior is wrong.
That’s why I’ve devoted my life by going out and building relationships and how we need to look at each other as human beings and not by their race, color or religion." (Source: The Towerlight)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- We Are One Foundation
- Gandhian International Institute for Peace
- Human Rights Week
- M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
- Behind the Prison Walls
- Season for Nonviolence
- Center for Social Unity
- Renaissance Weekend
- Chicago Children’s Museum
- Women’s Justice Center
- Young President’s Organization
- Trade Union Leaders’ Meeting
- Peace and Justice Center
- Hague Appeal for Peace 1999
- Kindness Is Contagious – Catch It
- Restorative Justice
- The Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute
Awards and Achievements
- 1949: Published his first book, "A Patch of White"
- 1991: Founded the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence hosted with his wife Sunanda
- 1996: Cofounded the Season for Nonviolence
- 1998: Started A Season for Nonviolence
- 2003: Was one of the signatories to Humanism and Its Aspirations
- 2004: Proposed to the Palestinian Parliament a peaceful march of 50,000 refugees across the Jordan River to return to their homeland
- 2007: Co-taught a course entitled "Gandhi on Personal Leadership and Nonviolence" at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland
- 2007: Gave a lecture for the Salisbury University Center for Conflict Resolution’s “One Person Can Make a Difference” Lecture Series, entitled “Nonviolence in the Age of Terrorism”
- 2008: Returned to Salisbury University to co-teach a course entitled "The Global Impact of Gandhi"
- 2008: Founded the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute
- 2009: Visited Chattanooga State Technical Community College in Chattanooga, TN to speak and spread his message of peace
- 2009: Visited the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh to talk to P7's from all over Eastlothian in Scotland
- 2009: Visited Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, TN to speak and spread his message of peace
- 2009: Visited the University of Wyoming in Laramie, WY to speak and spread his message of peace
- 2011: Spoke at the East West Center on the campus of the University of Hawaii about Nonviolence: A Means for Social Change
- 2011: Spoke at Iolani School in Honolulu about The Wisdom of Choosing Peace
- 2011: Spoke at the Hawaii State Capitol on the subject of "The Power of Peace to Create a Culture of Human Rights in Hawaii and the World"
- 2011: Spoke at the Pioneer Plaza Club in downtown Honolulu on the subject of "Gandhian Peace (Nonviolence) A Pathway for Resolving Modern Day Conflict"
- 2011: Visited The International Society for Krishna Consciousness Temple in Honolulu, HI to speak and spread his message of peace
- 2011: Spoke at To Ho No Hikari Church in Honolulu on the subject of "The Way of Nonviolence Towards All Living Beings"
- 2011: Spoke at Unity Church, Diamond Head, Honolulu on the subject of "Lessons I Learned With My Grandfather"
- 2012: Was the keynote speaker at the first annual Engaging Peace Conference
- His lecture, "Terrorism and Nonviolence—Choices for the Future," inspired several University of Rochester students to create a new student group, Nonviolent on Campus
- Featured in the documentary, “THE CALLING: Heal Ourselves Heal our Planet”
- Co-founded the Center for Social Unity
- Lincoln Memorial University (LMU), Harrogate, TN – Humanities Studies
- Seton Hall University School of Law, Newark, NJ – Humanities Studies
- Salisbury University, Salisbury, MD – Humanities Studies
Wikipedia.org (Arun Manilal Gandhi)
The Honolulu Advertiser (Arun Gandhi reaches beyond Hindu religious traditions)
Salisbury.edu (Dr. Arun Gandhi Speaks on Nonviolence November 12)
Rochester.edu (Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence Relocates to University of Rochester)
ArunGandhi.org (BIOGRAPHY: Arun Gandhi)
Memphis Flyer (In the Name of the Father)
ArunGandhi.net (Arun Gandhi Biography)
Facebook (About M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence)
The Towerlight (Q&A with Arun Gandhi, grandson of civil rights icon)
SCU.edu (Arun Gandhi Reflects on Working Toward Peace)
Cameron Conaway (Man-to-Man with Arun Gandhi, Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi)