1927 | 11,233,916 words
Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....
MAHATMA GANDHI *
We are too near the event–the great blow fell only the day before yesterday–and our hearts are so full of grief that it will not be Possible for us to undertake any detailed or detached appraisal of his life and work. The whole world has been shocked with horror that a great soul, rare in any age but unique in ours, has thus fallen. President Truman said that a giant among men has fallen. This puny figure of seven stone was a giant among men, measured by the greatness of his soul. By his side, other men, very important and famous men, big in their own way, big in their space and time, look small and insignificant. His profound sincerity of spirit, his freedom from hatred and malice, his mastery over himself, his human, friendly, all-embracing charity, his strong conviction which he shared with the great ones of history that the martyrdom of the body is nothing compared with the defilement of the soul, a conviction which he successfully put to the test in many dramatic situations and now in this final act of surrender, show the impact of religion on life, the impact of the eternal values on the shifting problems of the world of time.
The inspiration of his life has been what is commonly called religion, religion not in the sense of subscription to dogmas or conformity to ritual, but religion in the sense of an abiding faith in the absolute values of truth, love and justice and a persistent endeavour to realise them on earth. Nearly fifteen years ago, I asked him to state his view of religion. He expressed it in these Words:
“I often describe my religion as Religion of Truth. Of late, instead of saying God is Truth, I have been saying Truth is God, in order more fully to define my Religion....Nothing so completely describes my God as Truth. Denial of God we have known. Denial of Truth we have not known. The most ignorant among mankind have some truth in them. We are all sparks of Truth. The sum-total of these sparks is indescribable, as yet–unknown–Truth which is God. I am being daily led nearer to It by constant prayer.”
Even though Gandhi practised this religion with courage and consistency, he had an unusual sense of humour, a certain lightheartedness, even gaiety, which we do not associate with ardent religious souls. This playfulness was the outcome of an innocence of heart, a spontaneity of spirit. While he redeemed even the most fugitive and trivial moment from commonness, he had all the time a remote, a far-away look. The abuses and perversities of life did not shake his confidence in the essential goodness of things. He assumed, without much discussion, that his way of life was clean, right and natural, while our way in this mechanised industrial civilisation was unnatural.
Gandhi’s religion was an intensely practical hope. There are religious men who, when they find the troubles and perplexities of the world too much for them, wrap their cloaks around them, withdraw into monasteries or mountain-tops and guard the sacred fires burning in their own hearts. If truth, love and justice are not to be found in the world, he can possess these graces in the inviolable sanctuary of our souls. For Gandhi, sanctity and service of man were inseparable.
“My motive [he says] has been purely religious. I could not be leading a religious life unless I identified myself with the whole of mankind; and this I could not do unless I took part in politics. The whole gamut of man’s activities today constitutes an indivisible whole; you cannot divide social, political and purely religious work into watertight compartments. I do not know any religion apart from human activity.”
If Gandhi took to politics, it is because he looked upon politics as a branch of ethics and religion. It is not a struggle for power and wealth, but a persistent and continuous effort to enable the submerged millions to attain the good life, to raise the quality of human beings, to train them for freedom and fellowship, for spiritual depth and social hormony. A politician who works for these ends cannot help being religious. He cannot ignore the formative share of morality in civilisation or take the side of evil against good. Owing no allegiance to the material things of life, Gandhi was able to make changes in them. The prophets of spirit make history just by standing outside history.
It is impertinent for any man to set about reforming the universe. He must start his work from where he is. He must take up the work that lies nearest to hand. When, on his return from South Africa, he found the people of India suffering from mortified pride, want, pain, and degradation, he took up the task of their emancipation as a challenge and an opportunity. No improvement, he felt, was possible without political freedom. Freedom from subjection should be won not by the usual methods of secret societies, armed rebellion, arson and assassination. The way to freedom is neither by abject entreaty nor by revolutionary violence. Freedom does not descend upon a people as a gift from above, but they have to raise themselves to it by their own effort. The Buddha said: “Ye who suffer, know ye suffer from yourselves; none else compels.” In self-purification lies the path to freedom. Force is no remedy. The use of force in such circumstances is foul play. The force of spirit is invincible. Gandhi said:
“The British want us to put the struggle on the plane of machine-guns. They have weapons and we have not. Our only assurance of beating them is to keep it on the plane where we have the weapons and they have not.”
He took hold of ordinary men and women, men and women who were an incredible mixture of heroism and conceit, magnificence and meanness, made heroes out of them and organised an unarmed revolt against British rule. He weaned the country from anarchy and terrorism and saved the political struggle from losing its soul. The transfer of power on August 15, 1947, marked the end of that struggle. The fight was clean one, it was completely free from any trace of racial bitterness or feeling. It has ended in a settlement reached in a spirit of good temper and friendliness. The credit for it is due to Gandhi.
Freedom for Gandhi is not a mere political fact. It is a social reality. He struggled not only to free India from foreign rule but free her from social corruption and communal strife. He strove for a free and united India. The hour of his triumph proved to be the hour of his humiliation. The division of the country is a grievous wrong we have suffered. Our leaders caught in a mood of frustration, tired of communal ‘killings,’ which disgraced the country for some months past, anxious to give relief to the harassed, distraught multitude acquiesced in the partition of India against their better judgment and the advice of Gandhi. The New Delhi celebrations on August 15 Gandhi would not attend. He excused himself and was engaged in his lonely trek in the villages of Bengal, walking on foot, comforting the poor and the homeless entreating them to remove from their hearts every trace of suspicion, bitterness and resentment. The division of the country has not resulted in communal peace but has actually increased communal bitterness. The large migrations, the thousands of people wandering to and fro, weary, uprooted, heavy laden, the mad career of communal violence, worst of all the spiritual degradation all around, suspicion, anger, doubt, pity, grief, absence of hope filled Gandhi with deep sorrow and led him to devote the rest of his life to the psychological solution of this problem. His fasts at Calcutta and Delhi had a sobering effect but the evil was too deep to be cured so easily. On his seventy-eighth birth day, October 2, 1947, Gandhi said:
“With every breath I pray God to give me strength to quench the flames or remove me from this earth. I, who staked my life to gain India’s independence, do not wish to be a living witness to its destruction.”
When last I met him, early in December 1947, I found him in deep agony and determined to do his utmost to improve the relations among the communities or die in the process. He met his death while engaged in this great work. It is the cross laid on the great hearted that they exhaust themselves in sorrow and suffering so that those who come after them may live in peace and security.
We are too deeply entangled in our own past misdeeds; we are caught in the web we had ourselves spun according to the laws of our own twisted ethics. Communal differences are yet a wound, not a sepsis. But wounds have a tendency to produce sepsis. If this tendency is to be checked we must adhere to the ideals for which Gandhi has lived and died. We must develop self-restraint; we must refrain from anger and malice, intemperance of thought and speech, from violence of every kind. It will be the crown of his life work, if we settle down as good neighbors and adjust our problems in a spirit of peace arid good will. The way to honour his memory is to accept and adopt his way of approach, the way of reconciliation and sympathetic adjustment of all differences.
When the strife of these days is forgotten, Gandhi will stand out as the great prophet of a moral and spiritual revolution without which this distracted world will not find peace. It is said that non-violence is the dream of the wise while violence is the history of man. It is true that wars are obvious and dramatic and their results in changing the course of history are evident and striking. But there is a struggle which goes on in the minds of men. Its results are not recorded in the statistics of the killed and the injured. It is the struggle for human decency, for the avoidance of physical strife which restricts human life, for a world without wars. Among the fighters in this great struggle, Gandhi was in the front rank. His message is not a matter for academic debate in intellectual circles. It is the answer to the cry of exasperated mankind which is at the cross-roads, which shall prevail, the law of the jungle or the law of love? All our world organisations will prove ineffective if the truth that love is stronger than hate does not inspire them. The world does not become one simply because we can go round it in less than three days. However far or fast we may travel, our minds do not get nearer to our neighbours! The oneness of the world can only be the oneness of our purposes and aspirations. A united world can only be the material counterpart of a spiritual affinity. Mechanical make shifts and external structures by themselves cannot achieve the spiritual results. Changes in the social architecture do not alter the minds of peoples. Wars have their origins in false values, in ignorance, in intolerance. Wrong leadership has brought the world to its present Misery. Throughout the world there seems to be a black-out of civilised values. Great nations bomb one another’s cities in order to obtain the victory. The moral consequences of the use of the atom bomb may prove to be far more disastrous than the bomb itself. The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves. Institutions are of little avail unless we are trained to obey our conscience and develop brotherly love. Unless the leaders of the world discover their highest human dignity in themselves, not in the offices they hold, in the depth of their own souls, in the freedom of their conscience, there is no hope for the ordered peace of a world-community. Gandhi had the faith that the world is one in its deepest roots and highest aspirations. He knew that the purpose of historical humanity was to develop a world-civilisation, a world-culture, a world-community. We can get out of the misery of this world only by exposing the darkness which is strongly entrenched in men’s hearts and replacing it by understanding and tolerance. Gandhi’s tender and tormented heart heralds the world, which the United Nations wish to create. This lonely symbol of a vanishing past is also the prophet of the New World which is struggling to be born. He represents the conscience of the future man.
Gandhi has paid the penalty of all who are ahead of their time, misunderstanding, hatred, reaction, violent death. “The light shineth ill darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” The struggle between light and darkness, between love and hate, between reason and unreason which is at the heart of the cosmic is shown up by this most moving tragedy of our age. We made Socrates drink death; we nailed Jesus to the Cross; we lighted the faggots that burnt the mediaeval martyrs. We have stoned and killed our prophets. Gandhi has not escaped the fate of being misunderstood and hated. He has met his death facing the forces of darkness, of ultimate reason and through it has increased the powers of light, love and reason. Who knows if Christianity would have developed had Jesus not been crucified? Gandhi’s death was a classical ending to his life. He died with the name of God on his lips and love in his heart. Even as he received the bullet wounds he greeted his murderer and wished him well. He lived up to what are preached. Possessed and inspired by the highest ideals of which human nature is capable, preaching and practicing fearlessly the truth revealed to him, leading almost alone what seemed to be a forlorn hope against the impregnable strongholds of greed and folly, yet facing tremendous odds with a calm resolution which yielded nothing to ridicule or danger, Gandhi presented to this unbelieving world all that is noblest in the spirit of man. He illumined human dignity by faith in the Eternal significance of man’s effort. He belongs to the type that redeems the human race.
We have killed his body but the spirit in him which is a light from above will penetrate far into space and time and inspire countless generations for nobler living.
yad-yad vibhutimat sattvam
srimad urjitam eva va
tad-tad evavagaccha tvam
mama tejo amsasambhavam.
* An address delivered in All Souls College, Oxford, on Sunday, February 1, 1948. Mr. Gandhi was murdered on Friday, January 30, 1948.