Gandhi, His God and the ordinary mortals

 

Mahatma Gandhi was a radical thinker with an idealistic vision.  He strove utmost to put that vision into practice in his life.  He was no less than the Buddha or Jesus in his aspirations as well as materialisation of those aspirations.  Jesus was crucified by the religious people whose vested interests were at stake.  Gandhi was shot dead by a person who represented vested religious interests.

Gandhi was a Hindu in the sense he followed the religious practices of Hinduism.  But his religion surpassed the straitjackets of any organised religion.  He internalised religion to the highest degree possible for an ordinary human being.  He interpreted the Gita in his own unique way just as he did with the other scriptures.

According to Gandhi’s interpretation, the Mahabharata is not the history of an actual war.  “It [the Mahabharata] is not a history of war between two families,” wrote Gandhi, “but the history of man – the history of the spiritual struggle of man.”[1]  The Pandavas and the Kauravas become the forces of good and evil within every human being, according to Gandhi’s interpretation of the Mahabharata

Gandhi even doubted the historical reality of Krishna.  “I have no knowledge that the Krishna of Mahabharata ever lived.  My Krishna has nothing to do with any historical person,” wrote Gandhi. [2]  In the same article he goes to say, “I believe in Krishna of my imagination as a perfect incarnation, spotless in every sense of the word, the inspirer of the Gita.”  Further, he says that if the Mahabharata is indeed history and Krishna “actually did some of the acts attributed to him, even at the risk of being banished from the Hindu fold, I should not hesitate to reject that Krishna as God-incarnate.”

What Gandhi says about Krishna will become clearer when we understand his views on Rama.  “My Rama,” says Gandhi, “the Rama of my prayers is not the historical Rama, the son of Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya.  He is the eternal, the unborn, the one without a second….” [3]

Rama is the concept of God that lies deep within Gandhi’s heart, a concept that is at once abstract and concrete.  It is abstract because it has no material form; it is concrete because it is the divinity present deep within every human being. 

In a 1942 article Gandhi wrote, “Rama is not known by only a thousand names.  His names are innumerable, and He is the same whether we call Him Allah, Khuda, Rahim, Razzak, the Bread-giver, or any name that comes from the heart of a true devotee.” [4]

What Gandhi called Rama, a Christian may call Jesus, a Muslim Allah or a Jew Yahweh.  All these gods are one and the same God, for Gandhi.  We call that God by different names because we have been taught those names in our childhood.  As we grow up it is our bounden duty to realise the oneness of that God, to realise the presence of that God in the deepest core of our heart.  Shorn of that realisation, religion will remain meaningless.  Worse, religion will remain a cause of strife and division among people.   

Religion has a very pragmatic duty to fulfil in Gandhi’s vision.  It should help people to see the divinity within each human being.  It should help us to foster that divinity.  It should make each person a god, in short.   Gandhi used scriptures, religious practices, prayers and self-disciplinary measures for that very purpose: to become a god.  That is why he could confidently say, “My life is my message.”  His life was indeed as divine as it could be for a human being.

Gandhi who defined God as Truth later changed the equation as: Truth is God.  When he speaks about Truth as God, Gandhi becomes a mystic.  “Truth is God.  This Truth is … that which alone is, which constitutes the stuff of which all things are made…”  [5]  The quest for God is the quest for Truth.  That is why Gandhi could affirm that “(God) is even the atheism of the atheist.” [6]

There are moments when Gandhi’s writing is very much like a mystic’s.  Look at this for example: “We are not, He alone Is.  And if we will be, we must eternally sing His praise and do His will.  Let us dance to the tune of His bansi – lute, and all would be well.” [7]

Ultimately Gandhi wanted to liberate man from the passions of the body and make him the spirit of Truth.  “How beautiful it would be, if all of us, young and old, men and women, devoted ourselves wholly to Truth in all that we might do in our waking hours, whether working, eating, drinking or playing, till dissolution of the body makes us one with Truth?” [8]

Gandhi was far superior to the ordinary man in his thinking and action.  That is why quite many people never understood him, and don’t understand him even today.  That is also why he had to pay for his vision with his life.  He was too great a burden for the ordinary soul to bear!

Notes:

1. Harijan: Jan 21, 1939

2. Young India: Jan 1, 1925

3. Harijan: April 28, 1946

4. Harijan: Feb 15, 1942

5. Ashram Observances in Action

6. Young India: Mar 5, 1925

7. Young India: Mar 5, 1925

8. From Yeravda Mandir, chapter 1

Author’s personal note: I am not a Gandhian scholar.  Nor can I dream of becoming his follower.  I am just a distant admirer of this great person.  The knowledge I gathered for this article comes from a few anthologies of Gandhi’s writings edited by Anand T. Hingorani, a devoted follower of Gandhi. [Matheikal]

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About matheikal

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11 Responses to Gandhi, His God and the ordinary mortals

  1. dawnanddew says:

    Sir,
    For me it was another sitting of meditation. I suggest you to take up one course in Vipassana for ten days as an annual retreat. It is truly of our interest.
    Gandhi is believed to be a bodhisatva, a line of births taken up by the enlightened ones. But the believers of the Buddha say that he is another form of the Buddha. For me, he need not be necessarily that Buddha who gave the technique of liberation to mankind. He is just another enlightened soul. He kept surmounting his human passions. His life is really his message. Of course, his fate too is the same as that of any enlightened soul trying to reform humanity.
    Why did I urge you to take up a course? Whatever you have written here, you will see yourself happening in your entire physique. True that mind and body are inseparable. Mysticism is the law of nature, I conclude.

  2. Matheikal says:

    Thanks, Dawn, for the suggestion. But I don’t think I’m inclined towards the contemplative line.

  3. Aram says:

    I enjoyed the read 🙂

  4. Raghuram Ekambaram says:

    In my assessment, you may have gone overboard; not necessarily in comparing MKG to the Buddha or JC. In my opinion you had decontextualized his efforts. He may have had two fights on his hand, one against the colonialists and the other against the regressive forces in the society. He compromised and did not truly come out and say he failed in the second. Oh, whaat he did is merit enough, yet his omission not acknowledging defeat (and I am not talking about the Hindu-Muslim conflict).

    True though that the Buddha too was quite resistant in according status to women in his order. But, we are talking about 2,500 years ago. About JC, in some places he comes off as far from humble. That is, there are faults in all of them, as you expect in mere moratls. yet, MKG, in my opinion, is situated much lower.

    Raghuram Ekambaram

    • Matheikal says:

      Not sure, Raghuram, about Gandhi being placed much lower than the Buddha or the Christ. It’s the time that makes (made) the difference. The centuries matter. It would have been quite a tough job to be a Mahatma in the 20th century. It would be far tougher in the 21st (that’s why I don’t want to do it).

      I wasn’t actually speaking about Gandhi’s struggles with the Independence of India or the caste system among the Hindus. I was speaking about Gandhi as a person, a person who strove to rise above the desires of the flesh. I think this desire to be a god (spirit) is the toughest one for any mortal.

  5. Parag says:

    So far the best, sir. I reckon i am not really eligible to comment on the theme or let’s say the ‘Spiritual Essence’ of the article but being an ardent fan of “Stories of My Experiments with Truth” i am very happy that his maxims have passed your scrutiny with flying colours.
    It would a very long list if i was to jot reasons for why i admire that man so much. I’ll definitely get this one printed .

  6. vamanan81 says:

    Sir…brave of you to attempt to unravel Gandhi (Mahatma if you want). When I was young his ‘experiments’ was a guide, and sometimes I acted on it. It’s difficult, you know, to understand truth with a capital T as Gandhi put it.

    As he tried to face up to the great challenges and dilemmas of humans it is a challenge to understand him. I don’t accept everything he said and did but do no agree with those who trash him. After all, he was a great part of modern Indian history. But he was truly a great Hindu in the best sense of the term. It is not necessary for a Hindu to believe in the historicity of Rama or Krishna. Please refer to Joseph Campbell on the significance of myth. Myths beautifully weave into the life of the Hindu and elevate the commonplace into the spiritual. You refer to the fact that the gods of all religions were Gandhi’s gods. You know the famous quote of Jinnah that only a Hindu could say so.

  7. Sir, why do you call him a mahatma? Is it because he got us independence or he reiterated non-violence or because of the parallelism you just drew between him and Plutarch(generically). OK, why I do not consider him a mahatma is because of a lot of weird(appearing at-least to me) political decisions he took. Maybe I am too small to understand Gandhi, but I am reasonable enough to argue his decision making style.

    • matheikal says:

      Sid, Gandhi is a mahatma for me because of the profundity of his vision, his philosophy of life. Such profundity may not always go in harmony with actual politics. Just as Socrates was poisoned and Jesus was crucified, Gandhi too paid with his life for his vision which majority of people wouldn’t understand – even today.

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