After he left Africa and returned to India, Mahatma Gandhi opened up an ashram at the request of his close friends. The immediate members of his family and a few friends went to live in the ashram. There they led a very simple, pious life and they prayed and meditated.
The ashram was supported by rich merchants who used to come on many occasions. So the ashram was doing well, and everybody was happy that such a good ashram existed.
One day, Gandhi received a letter from a schoolteacher. “I will be so glad and grateful if you allow me to stay at your ashram with my wife and child. I will do anything you want me to do.” At the end of the letter the teacher wrote, “Only one thing I hesitate to tell you, but I must be sincere with you. I am an untouchable.”
When Gandhi read this, he buried his head in his hands. “O God, I love the untouchables, for they are God’s children. But now my family will be furious. How can I allow this man at the ashram? On the other hand, how can I refuse him? He has written such a soulful letter. My heart breaks.”
Gandhi spoke to the members of his family about the matter. They were so nice. “If you want to have this man here, definitely invite him to join us,” they said.
Still Gandhi hesitated. “The merchants who support the ashram are very fanatic. They belong to society, and they will worry about what society will think of them.” Then Gandhi said, “No, I will allow this teacher to work and live here at the ashram.”
The untouchable came to the ashram. As soon as the merchants heard about this, they stopped giving money to Gandhi. They said, “You are ruining society. You come from a good family, a good caste. How can you do this kind of thing? We will not give you money in support of such an unthinkable thing.”
Gandhi told them, “All right, do not give us money. But if somebody sincerely and soulfully wants to serve this ashram, I will allow him. Untouchables are God’s children also.”
Soon Gandhi ran into financial difficulty. One day, while walking along the street, he saw a merchant with a carriage. The merchant approached him and said, “I am a rich merchant who used to help support your ashram. Since you let an untouchable into your ashram, I have been unable to help you, because I am afraid of what my friends might say. My heart is one with you, but I have to live in society. You are above society, so you can welcome an untouchable into your community. But I want to give you money secretly. Please promise me that you will not tell anyone about this.”
Gandhi promised him, “I won’t tell a soul about this.”
The merchant said, “Then tomorrow come here and I will give you a very large amount of money.”
Gandhi believed the merchant and the following day he returned to the same place. The merchant did come and he gave him a very large amount of money. Gandhi did not even know the man’s name, since many merchants had helped his ashram, and he did not know all of them personally. Gandhi asked him his name, but the merchant wouldn’t tell him. “Please,” the merchant said, “I can’t give you my name. Yours is a noble cause and I fully agree with you. But I have to live in society, so this must remain a secret. You are doing the right thing; therefore, I am supporting your cause. But it is not necessary for you to know my name.”
On that day, Gandhi’s fate changed.
GIM 166. 20 February 1979↩