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I am approaching the end of this book; the ideas are becoming more familiar and sticking in my mind.

I want to write about purification. Gandhi insists that Satyagrahis must be purified in order to do their work. I was confused and perhaps put-off by this phraseology at first. Purification is all too often a hidden form of self-abuse, a means of asserting a power structure and creating submission. Making weak people not know that they are weak by giving them a badge of honor for causing themselves pain in the name of a cause.

Based on his generally sound way of thinking in other matters, I was sure that this is not what Gandhi would allow to happen with his injunction on purification, so I was simply confused as to the meaning of the word as he used it.

I think I’ve got it now. He is being very practical. What he means by purification, in the context of Satyagraha, is the lack of any attachments or distractions that would prevent you from focusing on the task at hand. It’s that simple – though, of course, infinitely difficult. For example, Gandhi remarks that his appeal to the Viceroy of India was a lapse in faith during a particular period of fasting; he had grown minutely impatient with a fast he was undergoing and had convinced himself that an appeal to the Viceroy would bring about his cause. In reviewing this action, he decides that he should have just continued with the fast and not made any complaints.

As mystical and perhaps alien as fasting might appear to you, to Gandhi it was a very practical tool that required certain restrictions, and he realized that he broke one of them. His purification was the training that allowed him to be aware of these intricacies. Within his system of action, any lapse of awareness of these intricacies means failure. Hence, purification.

I trust this is beginning to make sense to my readers. It’s a confusing topic, but I like the idea behind this; I am happy to find a way of understanding a tradition that is murkily understood and being able to explain it in more concrete, practical tool. I think that was Gandhi’s genius – his ability to turn the abstract and vague into the real and incisive. I am convinced that this feat is not very well known among my peers, because they tend not to believe that anything garbed in exotic mysticism – something so much abused in our culture – can have any practical value.

As a final note, I am now on the look out for an objective biography or analysis of Gandhi’s work, so I can get a counter-perspective. A fierce critique would be great. However, so far the only criticism of Gandhi I have found has fallen into two categories:

  1. from Jews, who criticized his insistence on non-violence as a solution to the holocaust and
  2. ad hominem criticism that tries to prove he is not the saint everyone thinks he is.

Both of these have their value; they’re just not interesting to me at the moment. I want to read an objective study on the effectiveness and consequences of Satyagraha on the Indian Swaraj movement, maybe with a little biography. If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know.


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