Diwali is a feast of light. Diwali is also called Deepotsav or Deepavali. Deepavali means a line of lights. We light many earthen lamps and decorate our houses arranging them on a line and make our house shine with lights. This external show of lights could also symbolize our enlightened inner self.
On the days of Diwali we put on new clothes, exchange greetings and gifts with our relatives and friends. We make a variety of sweets and feast on delicious food. Everywhere there is the joy of living. Our lives seem to be happy and enlightened.
Gandhiji said God is Truth. We can also say God is Light and no one would object to it. But what kind of light we are speaking? The light of a lamp? The sun light? The electrical light? There are a variety of lights. But when we say: God is Light, then to distinguish it from all other lights we can say divine Light. All types of lights are a pale shadow of the divine Light. The light, which shines within in a person, is enlightenment. It is an inner light which reflects on the face of a person. This shine on the face is not of authority, not of high position. This is a sort of light on the face which reveals the inner enlightenment of a person. A person can cultivate this inner enlightenment attuning himself/herself with the divine Light.
Mahatma Gandhi is such an enlightened person embracing God as Truth and endeavouring all his life to walk on the path of Truth. Gandhiji has narrated in his autobiography “Experiments with Truth” an incident which helped his enlightenment. Once in a common dining hall an young man encountered Gandhi. Then Advocate Mohanchand Gandhi had written an article about a plague which broke out in a colony of Indians staying in Johannesburg. Impressed by Gandhi’s views in his article published in “Indian Opinion” the young man by name Polak came to meet Gandhi. The young man’s sincerity impressed Gandhi and both of them became good friends from that first meeting. Once, when Gandhi was travelling to Nattal and Polak went with Gandhi to the station and gave him a small book saying: “Mr. Gandhi, this book can be read in the train and… you will certainly like it.” Polak gave Gandhi an English author John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) book “Unto This Last”.
Gandhi was impressed so much with Ruskin’s book “Unto This Last” that later he translated it into Gujarati and published it by name “Sarvodaya” (The Welfare of All). Gandhi drew specially three principles from “Unto This Last”:
1) Our welfare consists in the welfare of all people;
2) The price of the labour of a barber and of an advocate should be equal, because everyone has right to equal livelihood;
3) The life of a simple labourer, of a farmer, is real good life.
After reading “Unto This Last” Gandhi began to put into practice the enlightenment which he received through the book. The enlightenment which Gandhi received was that our genuine welfare consists in the welfare of all people. In many Gandhian thoughts we see this foundational enlightenment.
As we speak of Gandhi’s enlightenment during this Diwali we can see a similarly enlightened person in Mother Teresa. As I have noted in my book “Vishvavibhuti Mother Teresa” published in 2014, “Mother Teresa is the most written and spoken about person in the 20th century in print and audio-visual media. We get innumerable examples of the inner enlightenment of Mother Teresa.
I have translated Mother Teresa’s speech which she gave while receiving the Nobel Prize at Oslo, Sweden in the appendix of my book on Mother Teresa. We can take one or two examples from that enlightened speech.
In the 40th General Assembly of UNO its Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar said: “Mother Teresa is the most powerful woman in the world.” In response Mother Teresa said in his same UNO Assembly that UNO is established to bring about peace in the whole world. But today there is no peace in the world. Then calling all delegates of UNO Assembly, Mother Teresa led them all to recite the prayer for peace attributed to St. Francis Assisi:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Only an enlightened person like Mother Teresa could lead all delegates to prayer and recite with them the Prayer of Peace by St. Francis Assisi, which Mother Teresa and her Sisters of Missionaries of Charity recite daily in their prayer. More than that, Mother Teresa also spoke fearlessly in that august assembly about the evil of abortion and protested strongly against abortion.
Mother Teresa said at Oslo: “The biggest enemy of peace is killing the fetus in mother’s womb because it is war, it is killing by the mother herself of her child. Today abortion is biggest danger against peace. We are standing here. If our parents have aborted us and killed us in our mother’s womb we would not be standing here.” Mother Teresa knew that many in the audience did not want to hear such things said against abortion and yet she did not hesitate to speak against abortion. She could speak fearlessly because she knew in her heart that she was not seeking any self interest but only the common good; in Gandhiji’s words “the welfare of all” which also consists in protecting life from its very beginning.
During this happy and joyful occasion like Diwali let us try to be inspired and enlightened by luminaries like Gandhiji and Mother Teresa. Let us cultivate in our personal lives the enlightened values like Truth, Love, Service, Forgiveness and Mercy.
“Our welfare consists in the welfare of all people”. After 80 years of publishing this principle of the welfare of all, Gandhiji published his autobiography “Experiments with Truth” in 1927, and explained in it the principle of the welfare of all.
I believe that this principle of the welfare of all might have been an inspiring force to provide reservation to the Dalit people and tribals who are at the bottom or outside the caste system. But the naked truth is that the politicians and those who exercise power and authority never seriously tried to implement the provisions of reservation for the real benefits of the poor and the down trodden people! Consequently even today India’s 35-40 percent population, that is, the world’s 25 percent of all poor people are in India! And still without shame and regret we dare to proclaim India as a great country!
But India will really become a great country when in the depth of our heart we believe and realize that our welfare consists in the welfare of all people and we set aside accordingly our self interests and work for the betterment of the poor people. Then we may become enlightened people and our celebration of Diwali will become meaningful and enlightened. In that new India there will be love and respect for all people as well as equality and brotherhood without any distinction of caste or creed. Let us then think about during this Diwali what each of one of us can do for the welfare of others, especially the poor.
Finally, considering that 25 percent of the poor people in the world are in India I would like to emphasis the Sarvodaya principle with slight modifications: “Our welfare consists in the welfare all especially the welfare of the poor people.”
Here when I speak about the poor people I am reminded the story of South Korean poet Kim Chi Ha. Like our state governments the Korean Government was not taking care of the poor people there. Kim Chi Ha wrote and published a number of poems opposing the government’s anti-poor policies. Consequently Kim Chi Ha was punished as an anti-nationalist putting him behind bar for life. But without any trace of remorse Kim Chi Ha continued to write poems against anti-poor policies of the Korean government. The judge taking offense against Kim’s continued writing anti-government poems and publishing them even from jail punished him for further 7 years more in jail. Being a happy person even in adversities Kim told his mother who came to visit him in prison. “Mother, it seems that the honourable judge wants me to remain seven years more in jail after my death!”
Sympathizing and consoling his son, Kim’s mother told him: “Son, a great man Jesus Christ trod on this earth caring for the poor and the down trodden. Let us walk in his footsteps doing good to the poor and down trodden as enlightened people.”