When Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world” he did not mean to just be the change on your yoga mat. Can anyone accuse Gandhi of sitting idly by in meditation – transforming himself inwardly as the world around him was unjust, brutal and violent? No. Gandhi did not simply meditate for peace and justice – he used the inner peace he found in meditation to take action and create real and meaningful change in the world. The inner transformation through spiritual practice awakens in us a hunger for more love, compassion and justice in the world.
To me, what Gandhi meant is for us to have a unity of inner life and outer life – to have our quest for peace and justice in the world be reflected by peace and equanimity inside. Otherwise, we could be working for peace on the outside while raging with hatred against the world on the inside – and no matter what the anger or hatred is about, it is still putting out the vibrations of anger and hatred into the world, it is still polluting the collective mind. And, the nature of anger is that it cannot be contained or aimed just at one thing – it seeps out in how we treat those around us, those we love and anyone we come in contact with. So, if we are working for peace and we continue to rage inside, we are being counterproductive and working against ourselves and against peace.
Yet, I have often encountered people who say “Be the change you wish to see in the world” as a way to ONLY focus on change inside and not do anything in the outer world for change, to simply meditate every morning or say a prayer for peace before bed each night, but not think about the social impacts their choices or actions have on our world and the people around them. And yes, prayers and meditation for God’s Peace on earth are very good, but I don’t think Gandhi meant for us to ONLY change inside, to go to church on Sundays or take a yoga class on Thursdays and not take it any further than that. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “Union” – and how could you truly practice Union and realize the Oneness you share with all of life and then stand by and do nothing? When you truly realize the Union of life, the Union of God, you cannot sit by and watch the suffering of others and just say, oh well, I’m meditating. I think our prayers for peace are meant to be ceaseless and to encompass all our actions in life.
The Dalai Lama has also said “Change only takes place through action, not through meditation and prayer alone.” And in a recent public talk when asked “What is the most important meditation technique at this time?” his answer was “Action,” – to meditate in order to take it into action.
There needs to be a balance of inner and outer focus. If we only focus on social activism and political action we get burnt out and bitter. There are plenty of politicians or social activists who start out with a mission for good and end up with toxic thoughts and angry actions. If we only focus on inner prayer or meditation we get self-absorbed and isolated in our own little world. There are plenty of well-meaning people who set out to change the world by changing their own hearts but drift off into la-la land and lose touch with reality.
I think that the great spiritual leaders of peace and social change in our world have modeled this balance for us to apply in our own small ways. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and those who have changed entire nations through Love and Truth Force – they use their inner focus on the Divine or the spirit as a way to keep them inspired and in a state of love in their actions for change in the world.
There is also the truth that we cannot change the world simply by changing the outside circumstances – that to create lasting change we must create a change in consciousness. As the beautiful Ammachi put it “Simply transferring the world’s nuclear weapons to a museum will not in itself bring about world peace. The nuclear weapons of the mind must first be eliminated.”
So, to create this change in consciousness we must first do it in ourselves – we must first be the change we wish to see. And then through action, inspiration, education, osmosis, transmission and electromagnetics we can begin to change the consciousness of others – and thus, change the world.