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Beyond Sustainable Economy: The American Gandhi

Published: 04.08.2017

THE AMERICAN GANDHI, My Truth Seeking with Humanity at the Crossroads, by Bernie Meyer, 2008.

- book review by Rudi Jansma

The American Gandhi, an alias for Bernie Meyer, writes in his autobiographic book The American Gandhi about his own non-violent struggle against many social and political wrongs in our society, especially the American society. It bears the subtitle My Truth Seeking with Humanity at the Crossroads, thus hinting at the title of Gandhi famous little work: My Experiments with Truth, known by every Indian. When young Bernie was inspired by the life of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the prophet Isaiah, "A voice commanded: 'Cry out!' And I, what shall I cry?...". He became a Roman Catholic priest. He was a priest and a rebel at the same time (a rare combination) and as a result was loved and hated by many throughout his life. One of his personal sources of inspiration became Thomas Merton, who was one of his teachers, and who was another, but older, veteran, whose main purpose was to promote brotherhood and understanding between various religions. Bernie can be said to belong to the best of the generation of 1960's, and  in the days that the official American society was breeding veterans of war in Vietnam, we could have called him a veteran of peace. Soon he came in conflict with his colleagues and majors in the church because he followed his own conscience rather than the attitude of the 'detached' church establishment. He was confronted with the murders on Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. He saw the coarse racial discrimination in the North as well as the South of the United States, and chose the side of the oppressed. Wherever he could, he would involve himself in non-violent protest against social injustice. The figure of Jesus himself set an example of self-sacrifice for the sake of the common people and for Truth rather than that of an aloof saint preaching metaphysical doctrines. At times his life was put in danger, and he was arrested more than once. Also he had to face the discontent of his church: He was told that he had been appointed to help people, not to oppose war. Another time the church establishment told him that international law and agreements between the United States with United Nations were not his business. In the book he writes some interesting details about the treatment by the church and state authorities. To this he owed, together with his friend Bob Begin, the alias of "rebel priest." His life long he has been fighting against nuclear armament and the hypocrisy of the government - but always in a non-violent way, directed towards growing awareness of the American and international public about these things.

More recently his protests were against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the resulting death of tens of thousands of Iraqi children in the period between the two wars. Even decades ago, when protests were organized by him and his friends which caused some slight damage, such as cutting the wire netting around places, where nukes were kept, they would by the official courts of justice be held responsible for the damage and be punished for it, but the problem of the potential 'damage' which could be caused by nuclear warheads was not addressed. Nevertheless people like Bernie can be said to have 'won' the case in the long turn, because now, in the 21st century, even governments are following the wide public in promoting peace and nuclear disarmament, and we have become very aware of the environmental threats of our planet. Still, as in the sixties, governments always seem to lag behind and do as little as possible (at least so it seems from outside), and awareness campaigns as Bernie did are as necessary now as they were then. As we all know, the forces of dark and light are always involved in a war together, and this war must apparently be fought constantly throughout the ages. The main force on the light side is always nonviolence and an appeal to the nobler thoughts and feelings of the people - as has been proved many times in the last century - while the main force on the dark side is weapons, threat, fear, material self-interest. Ultimately the spirit will win from matter. But the noble battle has to be fought again and again during humanity's evolution, and will be fought on various levels.

Bernie was very aware of the major problems that haunted the world and could spell disaster for future generations, or even the present generation, such as the moment when more oil is required than can be produced. Big problems always seem to be covered up with nice words by the governments, notably the one of the US. There were and are many governments like that, but India in the days of Mahatma Gandhi showed that it can be different. Throughout the century India has conquered great parts of the world in the most noble and nonviolent way: by bringing forth great men like Buddha and Mahavira and in recent times Gandhi who all taught compassion, and exemplified that what people in their heart recognize as true and noble, can be aroused; then the word and the way of life is spread without weapons, without suffering and without suppression and for the good of all.

The title of honor "American Gandhi" was only bestowed on him in 2005, three years after he had started to portray Mahatma Gandhi in America - in Gandhian dress and with a walking stick and appropriate specs and footwear, and gave lectures based on Gandhian texts. He has studied dozens of books on Gandhi's life and, and though he had never before functioned as an actor, he was invited to India by an Indian professor, Dr. Chavan from Aurangabad, who saw him perform in America. His trips to India have been received with enthusiasm in that country.  I met him only in recent years, when he was repeatedly in India, and I can say that he really looks like Gandhi as I know him from films etc. - his face, his posture - though a bit bigger - and every Indian recognizes him immediately as such.

The book has black-and-white photos and a relevant bibliography of works which formed a source of real inspiration for him. There are appendices on "Eternal Truth" concerning a major court case, an appeal to truth-seekers for a "salt walk," and about strengthening international law, and a few other subjects. It is good reading for those who belong to his generation and went consciously through the experiences of that period, as well as a stimulus for newer generations and generations to come to not fall asleep and remain alert always, and not to shun non-violent action.

The American Gandhi; My Truth Seeking with Humanity at the Crossroads, iUniverse, Bloomington, New York, Shanghai, 2008; 166 pp. ISBN 1-800-288-4677.

Bernie Meyer website:

Bernie Meyer blog:

Also available as e-book.


Title: Beyond Sustainable Economy
Author: Dr. Rudi Jansma, Dr. Sushma Singhvi
Publisher: Prakrit Bharati Academy

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