“If God ever sent me to the West, I should go there to penetrate the hearts of the masses, to have quiet talks with the youth (…) and have the privilege of meeting kindred spirits–lovers of peace at any price save that of truth.”
–Gandhi ( Mahatma, vol II, p. 417)
In his day, Gandhi had fans all over the world–from political leaders (often in spite of themselves) to movement leaders worldwide, to authors and poets, world-famous educators, to even actors and actresses. Among those who wrote, requesting an audience with Gandhiji, Charlie Chaplin was one of the most notable–and Gandhi had not even heard of him! When he learned of Chaplin’s request to meet during his 1931 stay in England, the people around him had to first of all explain who Charlie Chaplin was! “He’s a famous actor, Bapu.” Gandhi replied that he did not have time to meet with him, and someone, knowing the depth of Chaplin’s radicalism, spoke up, “He’s sympathetic to our cause!” “In that case,” Gandhi replied, “I will meet with him.”
Chaplin recalls walking up the steps to the flat on the East End of London where Gandhi was staying. He was nervous, and rehearsed his lines (he was an actor, after all), and approached him: “I am all for the freedom of your country and its people. But there is one thing that I don’t understand. Why do you oppose the use of machines? Don’t you think that a lot of work would come to a standstill if machines are not used?”
Gandhi responded frankly,
“I am not against machines but I cannot bear it when these very machines take away a man’s work from him. Today we your slaves because we cannot overcome our attraction, for your goods. Freedom will surely be ours if we learn to free ourselves from this attraction.”
It was in 1940 that Chaplin released his famous “The Great Dictator,” a film in itself that offered nonviolent resistance to Hitler’s aura of power. The final soliloquy of the film certainly sounds like influence from the Mahatma! Check it out.
Experiment in Nonviolence:
Write down a question you would ask Gandhi, and research what he might say as a response.
Listen to Chaplin’s speech with Gandhi’s vision in mind.
Daily Metta 2015, a service of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, is a daily reflection on the strategic and spiritual insights of Mahatma Gandhi in thought, word and deed. As Gandhi called his life an “experiment in truth,” we have included an experiment in nonviolence to accompany each Daily Metta. Check in every day for new inspiration. Each year will be dedicated to another wisdom teacher.