I'm over half way through Gandhi's autobiography, "The Story of my Experiments with Truth", which is available in pdf on the web at http://www.forget-me.net/en/Gandhi/autobiography.pdf
What has struck me over and over again is his continuing effort to gain control of mind and body through bramacharya vows (celibacy), changes in diet, and changes in lifestyle. Gandhi was Hindu, but only after doing an extensive evaluation of other world religions including Christianity and Islam. He discusses his exploration of Christianity thoroughly in this book and his insights have spurred me to reach out to the Christian blog world in search of Christians that live by the example and teachings of Christ. I am glad to report that Christ's teachings do still live in our world, and people are acting in accordance with them, but sadly you won't find examples on the Fox Network. To see some great examples visit my blogroll.
Before I continue, let me describe what I mean by living in Christ's example. In Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount provides humankind with instruction for living in the manner that lead to the kingdom of heaven (much like the eightfold path Buddha provided for reaching nirvana). The concepts are simple, do not resist evil with evil, anger must be controlled, killing is wrong, give up all care for the self (material/pleasure seeking) and use that energy in the service of God by caring for others. Do not judge other humans. If you would feed your children, give also the same loving attention to all humankind. Take no oath except to God. And the most famous line of turning the other cheek. With regard to turning the cheek scholars have noted that during the time of Jesus a slave or subordinate would be struck with the back of the hand. It is suggested that when we were instructed to turn the other cheek it meant to meet the blows with dignity, forcing the oppressor to strike you as an equal. Regardless of some slight variations in interpretation it is clear that this sermon was instruction for living nonviolently in service to God. And yet, of all the thousands of sects of Christianity, only a handful remain true to these ideas. The others seem to have either deemed these steps too idealistic for our complex modern world, or they have reverted back to the Old Testament in an attempt to live as if Christ was never born or worse they focus only on the large metaphor that is the book of Revelation, believing that they will ascend without having lifted a finger to help others. They also fail to recognize that he gave the ultimate nonviolent sacrifice, his life. He could have rallied his followers, he could have run, he could have taken up arms and died fighting, but instead he went to his torture and death with peace and dignity so that others may live. He was modeling what he expected from us, not giving his life so that we could live in the reckless pursuit of pleasure and money.
To "love our enemies as ourselves" is a high standard. How many of us even considered for a moment taking the place of Saddam in the noose? How is it that we can even go so far as to judge who deserves to live and who to die, when clearly this ultimate judgment does not behoove us in the eyes of the Divine. Our entire legal system is based on retribution and revenge, clearly against these teachings. The death penalty is even worse in that we hand off our responsibility to the state and allow it to kill in our name, for our protection or to rid ourselves of those very souls we should be caring for. American's have their children recite an oath to their country (hand over heart in reverence to a flag) each day in school and those that volunteer for the military must take an oath to kill on command, ignoring any moral or ethical sense. Jesus directs us to stand opposed to all these things and to use our body and our blood, which he shared with us by his death, for the care of those in need - without judging why they have need.
It's easy to be overwhelmed by these instructions for right living and just throw our hands up in desperation, pick up a bottle of wine, light another cigarette, go to a game, watch Hollywood's latest thriller, or bury ourselves in material things that ease our dis-eased ego. It wasn't easy for the first Christians living in the Roman Empire, refusing to participate in state sanctioned murder, but they did it. They often died for these principles, practicing meaningful suffering. Is the challenge that different today for those of us living in the new Roman Empire of America. The Quakers, Mennonites and Amish seem to be able to resist the temptation to participate in endless hunger for money and war. Thanks to Constantine and the concept of "Just War", Christians have been able to put their minds at rest and take up the submachine gun, drop the cluster bombs, use depleted uranium, causing unimaginable pain and suffering to millions on this planet while at the same time using God's name in vain on currency, in the pledge of allegiance and in the war cries leading into invasion and occupation for cheap oil and cheap labor.
As far as Gandhi's other vows I'd like to add a comment. Gandhi, like Mother Teresa, Jesus, Buddha and countless other saints and sages of all traditions, the constant striving for perfection in God was the ultimate driving force in life. In order to be the perfect servant we must control our thought, bringing it into union with our words and our action. Every act and word begins in the mind. If your thoughts are focussed on good food and drink, so will your actions. If you are overwhelmed with sexual desire, your actions will follow. If you're consumed with anger and jealousy, violence in word and action are likely to follow. I think this striving is good for all of us. To renounce some of the material world, as we are willing and able, will take us down the path to perfection in baby steps. Gandhi shares his baby steps in his autobiography. I'm sharing some of mine on this blog. I'd love to hear from others so that we might support each other in community as we strive toward union with God, in whatever terms we are able to understand that.