Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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]
Additional Note: This was written 4 years ago. I think it is still as valid as Lord Rama and Gautam Buddha would be valid.  As valid as Ayodhya and its struggles would be valid. As valid as Narendra Modi's stunts in America would be valid.  Whether Mr Modi will be a god in India for whom people will immolate themselves or kill others is something that I'm waiting to see. 
WISH YOU ALL  a happy gandhi jayanti


28 comments:

  1. I completely agree that "quite many people never understood him, and don’t understand him even today."
    "Gandhi was far superior to the ordinary man in his thinking and action" because his thoughts, words and deeds were always in perfect harmony. This was because, to him, conscience was supreme!

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    1. Today conscience has been sacrificed on the altar of wealth.

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  2. Dear sir,
    If people try to understand Gandhi, they should sacrifice their 'comfort zone' (their own shortcomings and evils) which they are really scared of doing.
    A well studied scholarly article. I think I missed it four years ago. Not even a line I remember.

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    1. Gandhi continues to fascinate me, Wings. I'd read more about him at any time. Right now I'm reading Gurucharan Das's 'The Difficulty of Being Good' and I'm able to understand better why Gandhi would never have seen Krishna of the Mahabharat as a god; in fact, that Krishna was a villain.

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    2. I don't understand 'your villainy' here, sir. Don't you think we have to take such harsh decisions many times and call it right? If you write a blog portraying Krishna as a villain in Mahabharata, I may be able to understand the interpretation better.

      PS: I'm asking with complete objectivity. I don't have any reservation on Krishna. Your point is really intriguing. Please clarify or please write a blog for all of us, your readers.

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    3. When the Battle of Kurukshetra was won by the Pandavas, Krishna says, "Kauravas were great warriors and you could not have defeated them in a fair fight. So I had to use deceit, trickery and magic on your behalf."

      Jayadratha is killed by tricking him into believing that the sun had set since there is no fight after sunset. When he lets down his guard he is shot dead by Arjuna on Krishna's order.

      Knowing Karna's skill as a warrior, Krishna tries to entice him toward the Pandava camp by offering "enjoyment" with Draupati - sharing her as wife with his brothers.

      Karna is noble enough not to be enticed. Later when the wheel of his chariot is stuck in the mire, Arjuna refuses to shoot him citing the Kshatriya dharma that a warrior should not strike one who is not prepared. But Krishna orders him not to waste time. And the helpless Karna is shot dead by Arjuna.

      Again, it is Krishna who counsels Bhima to strike Duryodhana below the belt.

      Well, there are umpteen interpretations many of which justify Krishna's deeds. I would recommend Gurcharan Das's delightful book, 'The difficulty of being good.' Amazon.in is giving a wonderful discount.

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  3. Dear sir,
    If people try to understand Gandhi, they should sacrifice their 'comfort zone' (their own shortcomings and evils) which they are really scared of doing.
    A well studied scholarly article. I think I missed it four years ago. Not even a line I remember.

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    1. Let me be a bit naughty, wings. If you click on the link given to the word "written" in the last para (additional note) you may have a little surprise.

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    2. Sorry. I'm not managing. The words were still haunting. "Read somewhere... have I read it?... " Kept thinking.
      I enjoyed your naughtiness, however. On seeing your words, instantly I realised that I had read it.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Happy Gandhi Jayanti to you too.
    Thanks for sharing these nice points from the great man's writings.
    Gandhiji still inspires us.

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  6. It is nice to see the various interpretations of the scriptures by Gandhi and what is more pleasing is that he respected all scriptures and did not proclaim that one was better than the other.

    Of course, he is a very admired person, for this rationale and for many other things, which would take us a lifetime to even get through!

    Thanks for sharing this post!

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    1. There are universities outside India that have schools for Gandhian studies. Not only Indians are fascinated by the greatness of Gandhi's ideas. Of course, a few of his ideas were outlandish. But on the whole, he was one of the greatest souls that lived in the 20th century.

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  7. For me and to adapt in my daily life, Mahatma Gandhi is a symbol of selflessness and forgiveness. Thank you Tomichand for sharing such meaningful and valuable insights through this article.

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    1. I saw you status on FB regarding Gandhi. Liked it.

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  8. Sir, Gandhi's views as put by you show the true spirit of Hinduism. Great writing!! I salute to your writing!!

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    1. Indeed, that's the spirit of Hinduism which is essentially the spirit of openness and tolerance. It's very funny that some are demanding conversion to Hinduism nowadays when the religion never had any such concept as conversion earlier.

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  9. Except his opinion on castesim, I am in awe of Gandhiji. He is used as a marketing tool by politicians of independent India. Not even one represents even one percent of his ideals

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    1. True, see the way how Gandhi is being used by the present regime, the same people who denigrated Gandhi a few years ago.

      True, again, Gandhi had some odd views on the caste system and industries. While I accept that greed is a terrible vice fed by industrialisation, industries cannot be avoided.

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  10. very nice article and beautiful interpretion of mahabharata by Gandhi. I have always wondered how could someone write an epic like Mahabharata. It have everything in it.

    “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?” Very beautiful.

    Nice write up :)

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    1. Thanks, Vidya. Let me also welcome you to my story 'A Game of Dice,' based on the Mahabharata. In fact, the story is just the beginning of a series I'm planning based on the epic.

      What you've said is written in the epic: "there's nothing elsewhere what is not here."

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  11. Beautiful post. I am an atheist who is yet a believer, in the spirit of man.
    It was Vivekananda and Gandhi who helped me shape my perception of god.

    I'd recommend you read a book named 'What Religion is in the Words of Swami Vivekananda'. It is a collection of his speeches and ideas.

    I hope it helps undo the Hindutva 'Modi'fication of the secular Vivekananda who stressed harmony and acceptance.

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    1. It's a long time since I decided to read on Vivekananda. For some reason or the other, it got postponed. Will catch up soon.

      My greatest worry is the re-creation of history that BJP and RSS have already started indulging in. See how Gandhi and Patel have been prised out of Congress and incorporated into the Parivar pantheon... A dangerous trend.

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  12. Matheikal, you highlighted quite rare about Gandhiji's belief in god. Often,we are thought about different gods pertaining to different religion but many fail to realize that God is one for all only the names given are different. Hope everyone had same opinion.

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