February 21, 2013

What Would Gandhi Think? ~ Kushal Malhotra

photo: flickr/Ben Sutherland

What happens when a 1,ooo-year-old discipline of yogic arts smashes into something as inherently fun-loving and free-wheeling as ’60s counter culture?

As I was in downward dog last night, I couldn’t help but start humming to the instructor’s playlist, which was currently at Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize. Being Indian American and all, I’m supposed to have a descent grasp on yoga’s ancient origins.

Anyways, my mind began to wonder, “What would Gandhi think?” I mean if he walked in the studio and noticed everyone in adho mukha shvanasana (downward facing dog).

During his life, Gandhi was and remains the largest cultural icon for how we as Westerners view the philosophies of India. The little man in a loin cloth had a not so little plan for setting his country free from the Great British Empire. The struggle gave the rest of the world a glimpse as to just how crazy Indian thought can look to the Western world. Our ideas of possessions, power, money and guns were pitted against a philosophy very much it’s opposite.

Today, Gandhi still continues to embody the role of Western counter culture, where desire for more is laid to rest.

Well known for his wit, the Mahatma was asked what he thought of Western Civilization, he responded with a pause and a grin:

“I think it would be a good idea.”

Now Gandhi wasn’t around to see the ’60s. That is he never saw the Beatles transform under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He never saw the influence of Buddhism on the Beatniks. Of course, he never saw the cultural phenomenon that was the ’60s. Gandhi’s system of nonviolent resistance (Satyagraha) directly influenced Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement here.

“What would Gandhi think of that?”

Proud, humbled, deeply satisfied are thoughts that first come to my mind on that one.

That said the ’60s ushered in something else that had roots in India, a phenomenon unseen by anyone East or West; the Hippies.

They were, of course, an amalgam of many things fused in that great American melting pot. India had thousands of years to hone her philosophical moralities. Meditation was outlined in The Vedas 1,500 years ago, ruminating for hundreds of years before Buddha revived it and sent it through India and much of the rest of Asia.

Yogis among us know that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras were written nearly 200 years before Christ. Indian sages have meditated on the yogic philosophies, literally thousands of years before the Hippies caught wind of their teachings.

Hippies fell in love with the mantra of Peace, Love and Happiness to everyone, but what about the rest of the Hippie culture?

Gandhi took age-old Indian philosophies and created a structure; a detailed framework for his plan to resist power without violence.

Dr. King had a system for peaceful resistance as well. But what happens when a 1,000-year-old discipline of yogic arts smashes into something as inherently fun-loving and free-wheeling as ’60s counter culture?

What you get is something totally out there, I mean totally. The question remains though, “What would Gandhi think?”

We can’t deny the good that has come from Hippie culture here in America.  After all, it’s responsible for a lot of us just being here at all (for the younger yogis reading this, I’m talkin’ about ‘67 and the Summer of Love).

Hippies have taken age old Eastern philosophies, mixed them with their own special sauce and provided us with a fusion, a mixing, an everything soup of all things care-free. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression is their calling.

Now all that craziness, love and freedom, mixed with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, created a sort of Wild West rendition of the tenets taught by the great yogis of India’s age old past.

Here you have to ask again, “What would Gandhi think?”

I’m sure he would have been amused. I’d imagine his ascetic, hyper-disciplined life style wouldn’t have mixed well with the crowd at Woodstock. But, I’m sure he’d have smiled at all the fun we seemed to be having with it.

Hippies may be completely out there, with no seeming purpose or sense of direction, but at least they preached love and peace. So, I’m guessing Gandhi would approve. Unfortunately, it might have been the same way you or I would approve of our dogs (i.e. unconditionally loving, loyal, interested in having fun all the time, but can’t be trusted to lead us to Nirvana).

Like kids, we’re playing in a new a sandbox, built centuries ago. We should have fun in there. After all, it is an East/West kinda’ party.

No. Not that kinda’ party. Joking aside, we have to remember where it all has come from. Americans seem to love changing stuff:

>>Cricket to baseball

>>Rugby to football

>>French fries to freedom fries

You get the idea.

Back to the original question, “What would Gandhi have thought of hip hop yoga?” Ancient Eastern philosophy served with Western flare.

He was notoriously stubborn in his ways, but I’m sure he would smiled at the games we play, conceding at least that some progress is better than none.


Kushal Malhotra was born in India, but left when he was one. He grew up in Rhode Island where he had a pretty great suburban upbringing north of Providence. Of course he noticed that he was different as an Indian born American. He enjoyed American culture but at home, life was very Indian. He has since always kept a close appreciation for his dual background. As such, the spread of holistic health and mindful living in the West is fascinating for him. He is a business professional working at a company in Long Island. He is a Brown grad 1999, where he was a varsity tennis player. He enjoys yoga meditation and sports today. He can be reached at www.asmoothlanding.com.

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Assistant Editor: Sara McKeown

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