Book reviewers generally are not supposed to review books by people they know because, as the theory goes, the reviews would have no objectivity. However, objectivity is a figment of the dualistic journalist’s mind, and since the book in hand evokes such an entirely subjective response, let me depart from standard practice and concede that I have known Catherine Ingram for almost fifteen years. In the Footsteps of Gandhi: Conversations with Spiritual Social Activists is as much a testament to her personal odyssey as it is to the people she interviews.
Catherine has globe-trotted with the best, bounced back and forth from East Coast to West and followed as indirect a career path as anyone I can think of. Through the personal turmoil/evolution, she has remained completely directed and committed to a quest for truth and to sharing it in this lifetime with others. In this regard she is on equal footing with the subjects of her book.
In the Footsteps of Gandhi is a series of interviews with some of the leading social activists of our time —an eclectic mix of men and women, most of whom are very well known and the rest should be. The interviewees include the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Joan Baez, Cesar Chavez, Gary Snyder, Ram Dass, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna Macy, David Steindl-Rast, Diane Nash, Mubarak Awad and A.T. Ariyaratne. As diverse as their backgrounds are, they share an unflinching commitment to activism based on spiritual fundamentals.
The thread that appears to tie them all is a shared recognition of the profound influence that a thin man from India had on their thinking. Cezar Chavez cites Gandhi’s The Story of My Experiments With Truth as the most influential book in his life. Gary Snyder also read Experiments With Truth and it helped him “realize that the truth of things lies in the appreciation of complexity and of paradox . . . and in a whole lot of forgiveness.” Ram Dass says: “It is my intention to use my experiments in the world in the same way Gandhi did, as experiments in truth, as a vehicle for coming to God.”
The people in this book quote freely from Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, Kierkegaard, Jesus, Lao Tzu, the Third Zen Patriarch, and others who form the lineage of nonviolence. Each interview is preceded by a six-page introduction that provides a well researched biographical sketch that reflects a lot of homework on Catherine’s part. In the tightly edited interviews, she is not shy about including her questions and comments and it becomes clear she is struggling as hard as her interviewees to ferret out the truth.
In the Footsteps of Gandhi dynamically explores the interface between social activism and spirituality by acquainting us with the lives and thought of those in the crucible—the ones who are expanding on Gandhi’s work and making the path he walked smoother for us all. The interviews are lively and the ideas profound. Catherine has succeeded in bringing us both a good read and an inspiration.