Triveni Journal

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....

Unto the Last

Dr. B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya

UNTO THE LAST *

Saints and savants carry their mission of glory to their graves’ end. Or would it not be more appropriate to say that their graves greet them the moment they fulfil their missions. They had all been born for a purpose and lived to work and die for its achievement. If Gandhi had died six months earlier, he would have been saved the agony of the vivisection of the country which he intended to resist with his very life, as indeed he had vowed, and had resisted by a fast unto death Sir Samuel Hoare’s project of vivisection of the Hindu community in respect of representation in legislatures. When Ramsay MacDonald would wrench the Harijans from their faith and fold and give seventy-one seats, Gandhi gave them twice seventy-one plus nine or one hundred and fifty-one elected seats altogether, retaining the Harijans as an integral factor of Hindu society. Even so, it was anticipated that he would fast unto death to resist the vivisection of India. Partition resulted, but Gandhi was not happy. The division was agreed to by the Congress leaders, it was said, with the previous consent of the leaders in the Punjab. The pogroms of the first week of March 1947 in Lahore must have made such assent possible. When first the leaders of the Punjab assembled and the Congress leaders supported, Gandhi’s approval determined the issue. Whether Gandhi revised his own view or submitted to the view of the leaders of the Congress not, however, through want of strength to resist them, the fact remained and must be remembered that the Partition of India was not effected without Gandhi’s final concurrence. That he was never happy over the decision was obvious, nor were the leaders of the Congress happy over the division which was abhorrent to the whole nation but which was assented to by it as a pis aller. Gandhi’s last chapter of history was thus an exception to the rest of his biography but also furnishes a proof of the regard and esteem he had for the opinions of his colleagues with the spirit of co-operation that animated him and his conduct even in mighty crisis.

II

But in recalling the story of the life of a philosopher and saint, on the occasion of the anniversary of his cruel death, it behoves the nation which has been orphaned by his unexpected demise, to survey the salient chapters of his biography which he himself had appropriately defined as an Experiment in Truth. Truth was the one aim and object of his life and however abstract Truth itself may be, in his view it concretized the Godhead to man on earth. But he never visualised truth or Sat yam except along with non-violence or Ahimsa, for they represented the obverse and the reverse of the modal of Divinity. His concept of truth was all-pervading and all-comprehensive. To him it was not truth or truthful conduct if a person wrote a harsh letter and called it , and if the addressee of the letter in returning it to the writer, kept a copy of it before sending the original. That was how there lies in Gandhi’s records no copy of the letter of the District Magistrate of Champaran to him in 1917 on the eve of serving him notice under Section 104 and 108, Cr. P. C. For the same reason the Congress has not in its archives a copy of Home Secretary Emerson’s letter written in the fourth week of February 1931, breaking the Irwin-Gandhi negotiations in a spirit of haughtiness and contempt for the Congress. Whenever he received a complaint about a colleague, he put the matter straight to the latter and accepted whatever he had to say in explanation. He spoke the truth and not only took it but acted on the belief that every one of his colleagues and fellow-workers spoke the truth. With truth as the sword and Ahimsa as the shield, Gandhi recognized no other weapon than the weapon of love to reclaim the erring brother or even the vindictive opponent, or to wield authority over mankind. His goal, in his own words, was friendship with the world and he proudly declared that he could combine the greatest love with the severest opposition to wrong. “I refuse to suspect human nature,” he said. “It will, it is bound to, respond to any noble and friendly action.” “His love does not burn others, but burns itself–suffering joyfully unto death.” It was the habit of Gandhi’s mind always to call a spade a spade. That was his upright politics. In his view, to call a spade a crowbar was wild exaggeration, while to call it a needle was gross underrating.

Non-violence or Ahimsa is a more difficult proposition. Ahimsa is not a negative factor but a positive force. At best it is a direction–not a destination, an attempt–not an attainment. When human Society requires weapons to protect lives, it makes man no higher than the beast. The tiger has its claws, the lion its paw, the elephant its tusks, the bull its horns, but man has no offensive weapon. He has only his tongue which can both offend and defend. “Is this village good,” asked a traveller of a yokel and got the reply “If your tongue is good, the village is good.” Where then lies wisdom? It lies in the Biblical saying “Vengeance is mine” saith the Lord. The very beasts of the field and the birds of the air, the tiger in his lair, the lion in his den, the hawk in its nest, the dove in its niche are happy. Everything is beautiful in the nature. Man alone is vile. Human nature, in Gandhi’s belief, is essentially non-violent, but greed, anger, miserliness, delusion, pride and malice–the six enemies of man according to our ancient texts (Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada, Matsarya) the Arishadvarg of man–have made man violent and untruthful. Gandhi, therefore, set before the world new values, social, economic and political. Accordingly, purity to him is higher than piety, even as dignity is higher than dress. Nobility is higher than birth, even as eminence is higher than wealth. Power is more than force, even as influence is more than authority. Democracy is more than numbers and justice is more than law. Civilization must transcend tradition, even as culture outgrows knowledge. Religion is no more of ceremonies than prayers is of praises. Piety must stand clear of a secticism even as learning must avoid pedantry. Human nature is not to be spurned or despised but must be studied and served. The world is not to be abandoned but to be dwelt in and developed, Love and service constitute the quintessence of Gandhi’s gospel. The basis of his religion, the inspiration of his faith and the fountain source of his cosmo-nationality.

III

Often time we hear it asked Whether Gandhi was not a revivalist. This enquiry is made with a certain spirit of depreciation though not derision. Gandhi made no secret of the fact that he built upon India’s past. He did not suggest a wholesale demolition of tradition and authority on the debris of which to build his new welfare State. He found that the old mansion built on law and custom, or to use a single word, Dharma, would still serve his purpose and should therefore, survive the onslaughts of impact with western civilization. Indeed he discovered that his father’s house had many such mansions. Only he rearranged the rooms, the halls and the verandahs of one such mansion. He believed in the four Varnas–not indeed to perpetuate them as an ascending order based upon status or a descending order based upon contract; on the contrary he but sought to evolve a new synthesis of the four castes, under which service and sacrifice were not to be imposed upon one set of workers by another set of drones or parasites, but they were to be regarded as obligations in society voluntarily undertaken and cheerfully discharged–obligations in which again wealth and prosperity were not to be inherited or accumulated as a possession but were to be regarded as a trust, in which to sow the seed and reap the harvest, to spin and weave, to dig and delve, to build and beautify, were not reckoned as acts of menial service associated with degradation in society, but as forms of ministration which exalt labour above authority and want above wealth. The fact was that Gandhi respected the structure of Hindu society and the constitution of the Hindu home. Thus was it that he proclaimed himself a farmer and a weaver before his trying Magistrate in 1922 while all the while, he was the warrior that fought with the British in a non-violent war and the mentor and monitor of the world preaching truth and non-violence. Likewise, he combined in himself the four Ashrams of Sanatan Hindu Dharma. Having studied as a Brahmachari and then entered life, he presently reverted to a life of celibacy from his 36th year onwards and devoting himself in the company of his Dharmapatni to the service of his motherland, he lived the life of a Sanyasi with no property or possession over a period of well nigh forty years.

IV

Gandhi was in the ultimate analysis a man, but amongst men he was a superior man and some would go to the length of describing him as a superman. It is such supermen whom we term Avatars that descend on earth whenever virtue fails and sin spreads and Gandhi has been justly termed the tenth of such Avatan, The Avatars in the past met with a cruel end. Sri Rama being reputed to have ended his life by drowning himself in the Sarayu river, Sri Krishna believed to have been shot down by an arrow discharged by a hunter who mistook him in the jungles of Junagadh for a deer; Christ was crusified on the cross, while Gandhi fell a prey to an assassin’s bullet. Thus one Avatar’s life ended in death by suicide, a second’s ended in death by accident, a third’s through orders of the ruling power and fourth’s through homicide. In seeking freedom, Gandhi had not been in search of mere economic security. His was the struggle to construct a new type of society brimming with that emotional and spiritual security which mere economic security could not give. He had demanded and obtained liberty for the nation, not that it might secure the right to do what it chooses, but that it might choose to do what is right. He warned, as Alexander Hamilton had indeed warned earlier, that “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuses of power” and to one such liberty he fell a victim, for he gave the liberty to every one to attend his prayers without being searched or molested and such liberty proved his end. He believed in the common man, and the common man was the material with which he had made his experiments in truth. To few was it given that they should witness the world-wide acceptance of their teaching and a nation-wide allegiance to their philosophy. This was because Gandhi’s appeal was to the common man. His faith lay in the uncontaminated purity of the millions of the unsophisticated masses to whom he spoke in the language of their tradition and custom, their philosophy and religion and whom he uplifted from the slavery in which they had been wallowing to the freedom which is theirs today. It is the common man who, through his incessant efforts and through his sympathetic understanding raises the level of his fellowmen and works out the greatness and the unity of his nation for the future. That greatness and that unity, had been in the past, brought about by him who bore the cross as well as by him who faced the cannon. Thus it is that the race progresses only by the extra achievement of the individual. It is for everyone of us to aspire to be that individual.

Every century in the World’s progress had its achievement and so has every statesman and every warrior, every poet and every philosopher, every hero and every saint. Far-sightedness and wisdom make the statesman; tactic and strategy make the warrior; imagination and emotion make the poet; introspection and insight make the philosopher; daring and dash make the hero, while service and sacrifice make the saint. But what makes a man all in one–the hero that wins, the statesman that rules, the warrior that fights, the poet that sings, the philosopher that meditates and the saint that sees; not the generosity of the hero, nor shrewdness of the statesman, not the prowess of the warrior, nor the aesthetics of the poet, not the transcendentalism of the philosopher, nor the selflessness of the saint–all these must be there but there is one quality above them all that makes the full man and that is humility.

We all know how most drugs beyond the stated doses, work as poisons and how most poisons within the prescribed limits of posology serve as medicines. Even so, every virtue tends to become a weakness when carried beyond limits. Self-conciousness which is the normal attribute of genius thus becomes pride. Love of popularity when sought in excess degenerates into vanity. Optimism which is an essential of constructive endeavour deteriorates into credulity. Scrutiny which determines truth, perilously borders on cynicism. Even so diffidence may not be mistaken for humility any more than cowardice for non-violence. Humility is to non-violence what symmetry is to beauty or purity is to character–not an accident of adornment but an essential of structure. Humility is a positive, active and aggressive quality that energises life and enlivens conduct. Humility attracts where pride repels. Humility seeks knowledge and, operating through faith, produces works. Humility is never contented, always regards failure as an invitation to fresh effort and never becomes infatuated with success. Humility nurtures the Heaven-aspiring soul and doth not harbour merely a world-conquering will. Humility forbids wilfulness which is weakness of will and cultivates the strength that can change one’s own will. Humility wins where everything fails.

Gandhi’s ministry of three decades is a standing lesson to India and to the world that pride, is a passion that obscures vision and obfuscates judgment, for there is no difference between the intellect whose vision is warped by drink and the intellect whose judgment is disturbed by anger or pride. When Gandhi began his public life in Champaran, he in all humility sought truth and took down six thousand affidavits relating to the sixty-four illegal taxes collected by European Indigo planters. It is undeniable that exaggeration is an untruth and, therefore, was abhorrent to Gandhi’s tastes or convictions. Love of truth creates and keeps alive the consciousness that we are correct to facts and engenders genuine fear whether we are not overstepping our perception of it. And this is humility. It was the Duke of Wellington that said “Dear man and brother it is just possible that you too may be mistaken.” But Gandhi would always say “It is just possible, dear man and brother, that I too may be mistaken.” It was this self-restraint in self-appraisement that made Gandhi verify facts and accept the opponent’s assertion at its face value. The same balance of view leads to a balance in judgment and makes the Satyagrahi stretch his hand of co-operation to grasp the outstretched hand of the enemy in a spirit of adjustment as a step to final settlement. Gandhi gave the first lessons of such fairness begotten of humility at Champaran in his struggle with the Indigo planters (1917) on illegal taxes, at Khaira in his fight with Government on revenue collections (1918) and at Ahmedabad in his fast unto death as against the mill-owners on the question of the increase of wages to labourers (1918). In 1919 he only wanted a change of heart in Government through an admission of guilt and an expression of regret over the Jalianwala Bagh massacre in order to induce in the nation a spirit of good-will and fellowship towards the rulers. Nor did he demand of Lord Reading during the visit of the Prince of Wales to India (1921) a repatriation of the Prince, but he wanted the right of peaceful picketing of drink-shops as a point of civil liberty. Swaraj was there as a demand. The repairing of the Khilafat wrong was there as a cry for reparation, the apology for Jalianwala Bagh was there as the starting point of a new era, but all these could be talked over round the table, provided the right of picketing an evil and a sin could be conceded by Lord Irwin. In this view again, picketing figured as a primary demand in the Salt Satyagraha campaign of 1931 and had to be conceded. Humility alone can tell the essential from the non-essential. It gives a grip on fundamentals and leaves loose the hold on accessories. It accordingly fosters a spirit of timely concession and compromise. Pride also yeilds, but it is surrender due to weakness, not conciliation arising through strength. Pride is weak, humility is strong. Pride punishes others, humility chastises oneself. Humility breeds in us that love which burns oneself to serve another, not burns another to serve oneself. Humility accordingly is the spring of non-violence which again is a positive and dynamic force. Indeed non-violence is but the isomer of humility which forbids strife and promotes harmony, interdicts war and seeks peace.

When, therefore, you love your neighbour as yourself, a new spirit born in the world, a new code of morality under which law and love enter into a Contract, under which the hawk and the dove nestle together. Politics itself becomes, as Acton had said, “Morality enlarged.” A new criterion is thus established by which to judge the spirit of the nation. This is what Gandhi achieved in his own day and left to posterity as a rich legacy which will remain for ever the inestimable treasure of the nations of the World.


–Reprinted from Speeches by Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya
Published in 1956

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