Part II — Discourses

Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was better known as Mahatma Gandhi. "Mahatma" means "Great-Souled One." His followers and admirers adorned him with this significant title, but the Mahatma's soulful humility vehemently disclaimed the title. To be absolutely correct, Mahatma Gandhi had two more names: ahimsa, non-violence, and satyagraha, soul-force.

Gandhi announces: "The votary of non-violence has to cultivate the capacity for sacrifice of the highest type in order to be free from fear. He recks not if he should lose his land, his wealth, his life. He who has not overcome all fear cannot practise non-violence to perfection."

Gandhi proclaims: "Satyagraha is a force that works silently and apparently slowly. In reality, there is no force in the world that is so direct or so swift in working."

Gandhi was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but both of his parents cared nothing for the so-called material wealth. They did care for something else, and it was the inner wealth. His father's indifference to material wealth, his politically oriented brain and his tremendous will; his mother's piety, purity, simplicity, sincerity, inner hunger and conscience of the soul; and his wife's inspiration, dedicated service and constant sacrifice all loomed large in Gandhi's life.

He went to England to study law when he was nineteen years old. Three years later he returned to India and started practising. Alas, in those days, in his legal practice, he received the garland not of victory, but of sad failure. Such being the case, he wanted to be a high school teacher in Bombay. Here, too, God denied him this new career. Gandhi's application to be a teacher was not favoured with acceptance. But in 1893, opportunity knocked at his life's door. The heart of this young barrister cried with his fellow-countrymen who were victims of ruthless injustice in South Africa. He left for Africa. He defended their case, their cause. He helped them and served them. There, in Africa, he gradually became a lawyer of the superlative degree. Mahalakshmi, the Goddess of Beauty and Plenty, blessed his heart with Her beauty, and his outer life with plenty. Money, the bird, flew towards him and sweetly sat on his hand. Success, the dog, ran towards him and faithfully sat at his feet.

Behind the bird and the dog, a human being from a far-off land came and inspired his aspiring heart and illumined his searching mind to fulfil his life's ideals. Gandhi's life became the perfect expression of Tolstoy's inspiration. With a view to practicing his ideals, he cast aside the crown and throne of his outer achievements. He embraced ahimsa. He embraced satyagraha. He was one of those who awakened the slumbering nation and inspired the oppressed and depressed country to come out of the foreign yoke. He was successful. By this time, his frail body was no longer a stranger to inhuman brutalities. He had to undergo, several times, severe prison sentences. On being imprisoned for the first time, on 11 January 1908, he remarked:

"We shall feel happy and free like a bird even behind the prison walls. We shall never weary of jail-going. When the whole of India has learned this lesson, India shall be free. For, if the alien power turns the whole of India into a vast prison, it will not be able to imprison her soul."

His release from the last imprisonment was on 6 May 1944. He spent no less than two thousand three hundred and thirty-eight days in jail.

His outer life suffered. His inner life triumphed. His life and his soul's conviction became indivisible. His country's independence became the object of his soul's concern. His country's "untouchables" became the object of his heart's concern. Bharat Mata placed her hands of Infinite Bounty on the head of her devoted son. His country's untouchables discovered their haven in his boundless heart.

For the redemption of the untold sufferings of the untouchables, Gandhi's heart of supreme sacrifice voices forth:

"I do not want to be reborn, but if I have to be reborn I should be reborn an untouchable so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings, and the affronts levelled against them in order that I may endeavour to free myself and them from their miserable condition."

We all know the supreme necessity of humility in a seeker's life. No humility, no realisation of the Infinite Truth. One must needs be as humble as the dust. But Gandhi's humility does not want to stop even at this point. He says: "The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of the truth."

The world, especially the Christian world, is afraid of the consequences of sin. A Christian is more concerned about his sin than is any other man on earth. The Indian heart in Gandhi speaks about sin: "I do not seek redemption from the consequences of sin, I seek to be redeemed from sin itself."

A Vedantin — a student of Vedanta — will proclaim that there is no such thing as sin. It is merely a play of ignorance.

Gandhi throws light on conception and continence:

"I think it is the height of ignorance to believe that the sexual act is an independent function necessary like sleeping or eating. The world depends for its existence on the act of generation, and as the world is the playground of God and a reflection of His Glory, the act of generation should be controlled for the ordered growth of the world. He who realises this will control his lust at any cost, equip himself with the knowledge necessary for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of his progeny, and give the benefit of that knowledge to posterity."

Mother Earth is truly proud of her son Gandhi's sincerity. He said: "For me the observance of even bodily Brahmacharya has been full of difficulties. Today [1929], that is to say, at the age of sixty, I may say that I feel myself fairly safe, but I have yet to achieve complete mastery over thought, which is so essential."

Gandhi married at the age of 13. He was blessed with four sons.

Fasting played a major role in Gandhi's life. His sound advice is "eat only when you are hungry and when you have laboured for food." This reminds me of a Zen story:

The Chinese Zen master, Hyakujo, used to work very hard with his disciples, even at the ripe old age of eighty. He used to prune the trees, clean the grounds, trim the garden and so forth. His disciples were extremely shocked at these exertions. They knew well that it would be of no use to suggest to him to stop working, for he would turn a deaf ear to them. Then a brilliant idea flashed through their minds. They hid his tools. The Master played his part. He stopped eating. This went on for several days. The disciples discovered why he was not eating. They returned his tools to him. With a smile, he took the tools and exclaimed, "No work, no food!" He began eating as usual.

Gandhi often fasted to get things done in his own way. Let me tell you two amusing but significant incidents in Gandhi's life. His wife once saved twenty-five rupees to spend for a special purpose. When Gandhi came to know about it, he brought his poor wife's conduct to the attention of the public. He was furious. He exposed her in his weekly Young India under the caption, "My shame, my sorrow," and observed a three-day fast! He had taught his wife that there should be no personal belongings and no hoarding up of money.

On another occasion Gandhi took a vow that he would fast unto death. Gandhi's Gurudev, Rabindranath Tagore, immediately said to his countrymen, having realised the gravity of Gandhi's vow: "He has come after a thousand years. Shall we send him back empty-handed again?"

Tagore once remarked:

"I differ with Gandhi in many respects, but admire and revere the man highly." In one aspect of life, at least, we see the difference between these two great souls. In renunciation Mahatma found his deliverance, while Tagore found his deliverance in the fruit of fulfilment. Tagore sings, "Deliverance is not for me in renunciation. I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight." The Upanishadic seers sing through the heart of Mahatma, tena tyaktena bhunjita (enjoy through renunciation).

Prime Minister Nehru, during his speech to the Congress of the United States on 13 October 1949, spoke about the Father of the Indian Nation:

"In India there came a man in our own generation who inspired us to great endeavour, ever reminding us that thought and action should never be divorced from moral principle, that the true path of man is the path of truth and peace. Under his guidance we laboured for the freedom of our country, with ill will to none, and achieved that freedom. We called him reverently and affectionately the Father of our Nation. Yet he was too great for the circumscribed borders of any one country, and the message he gave may well help us in considering the wider problems of the world."

Four days later, on 17 October, while addressing Columbia University, Nehru again spoke about his mentor, guide and master:
"The great leader of my country, Mahatma Gandhi, under whose inspiration and sheltering care I grew up, always laid stress on moral values and warned us never to subordinate means to ends. We were not worthy of him and yet to the best of our ability we tried to follow his teaching. Even the limited extent to which we could follow his teaching yielded rich results."

Krishnalal Shridharani, the well-known author of My India, My America, has something amusing but striking to share with us:
"Once I was invited by a decidedly liberal minister to address a church group. After my speech on Gandhi and his non-violence, we withdrew to my host's office. He was full of praise for Gandhi's character as a man, his high ideals, his conduct, but he sincerely doubted that Gandhi could ever enter Heaven until the burden of the Hindu saint's sins was delegated to Christ. I answered that according to my way of thinking, Gandhi's life had been the nearest approximation of the 'Christ's life', and I also expressed some fear about the chances of the rest of us modern mortals if Gandhi were to be denied Heaven!"

Now let us hear from Gandhi what he has to say about his own salvation or about his going to Heaven:
"It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to Heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I frankly said this to some of the good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help for it."

Gandhi says about religion: "After long study and experience I have come to the conclusion that (1) all religions are true; (2) all religions have some error in them; (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism."

Each individual has the right to have a God of his own. He is competent enough to define God according to his inner receptivity and outer capacity. Gandhi's God is nothing other than Truth. He says: "There are innumerable definitions of God, because His manifestations are innumerable. They overwhelm me with wonder and awe, for a moment stun me. But I worship God as Truth only."

Some of the world figures have called him the Saint Paul, Saint Thomas and Saint Francis of Assisi of the modern era. I call him the Pacific Ocean of Heart's Love and Soul's Compassion. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I am right. But I am adamant in my assertion that Mahatma Gandhi is not the exclusive treasure of India, but a peerless pride of mankind; and he will remain so down the sweep of centuries.