The greatest prophet of modern times, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an enigma to friend and foe alike. A confidential government report on Gandhi’s years in South Africa had this observation to make: “The workings of his conscience, his ethical and intellectual attitude.... baffles the ordiry processes of thought.”
At the heart of the puzzle was the Mahatma listening to and acting according to his inner voice. He once said, “The only tyrant that I accept in the world is the still small voice within me.” And he also preached that everyone who wills, can hear the inner voice because it is within everyone.
So what is this inner voice? How does one hear it? “The inner voice is something which cannot be described in words. But sometimes we have a positive feeling that something in us prompts us to do a certain thing. The time when I learnt to recognize this voice was, I may say, the time when I started praying regularly,” Gandhi explained once.
On another occasion, he revealed: “Having made a ceaseless effort to attain self-purification, I have developed some little capacity to hear correctly and clearly the ‘still small voice within’”.
Against an unjust and exploitative system, leading a non-violent struggle unprecedented in conception and scale, the Mahatma often left even close followers in the dark. This happened because he would wait for directions from his inner voice.
In his book Prayer, Gandhi gives a glimpse of this suspense: “Whatever striking things I have done in life, I have not done prompted by reason but prompted by instinct, I would say God. Take the Dandi Salt March of 1930. I had not the ghost of a suspicion how the breach of the salt law would work itself out. Pandit (Jawaharlal Nehru) and other friends were fretting and did not know what I would do; and I could tell them nothing, as I myself knew nothing about it. But like a flash it came, and as you know, it was enough to shake the country from one end to the other.”
This is why he once said: “There are moments in your life when you must act, even though you cannot carry your best friends with you. The ‘still small voice’ within you must always be the fil arbiter when there is a conflict of duty.”
Gandhi gave another vivid description of the inner voice at the time of his decision to undertake a fast in 1933: “For me the voice of God, of Conscience, of Truth, or the Inner Voice, or the ‘Still Small Voice’ mean one and the same thing. I saw no form…what I did hear was like a voice from afar and yet quite near. It was as unmistakable as some human voice definitely speaking to me, and irresistible. I was not dreaming at the time I heard the Voice. The hearing of the Voice was preceded by a terrific struggle within me. Suddenly the Voice came upon me. I listened, made certain it was the Voice, and the struggle ceased. I was calm. The determition was made accordingly, the date and the hour of the fast were fixed.”
Is this mysterious inner voice opposed to reason? The Mahatma believed otherwise, advising that a person should check by means of reason the actual results accomplished, because “the inner voice does not suppress reason but rather sanctifies reason”.
Some critics of Gandhi even suggested that the ‘inner voice’ he spoke about was nothing but a recurring hallucition. Gandhi however argued: “A humble seeker that I claim to be has need to be most cautious, and to preserve the balance of mind, he has to reduce himself to zero before God will guide him”. In this respect, he was very much a true yogi who with long practice of bringing the mind to stillness, awakens within himself a tural power of the mind — the inner guidance.
“Even as the bestirring of true love necessarily expresses itself in as many (sometimes unconscious and effortless) ways, so too a person who has heard even a whisper of the inner voice cannot but follow it,” the Mahatma said.
Thus it was that listening to his inner voice, Mahatma Gandhi walked a path which other apostles of peace like the Dalai Lama, Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela have followed. From the American civil rights movement, the ending of Apartheid in South Africa to the Arab Spring, Gandhi’s ideas and methods of Satyagraha influence various non-violent, cooperative, peoples’ movements to this day.