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ARTICLES > ABOUT GANDHI > How Gandhi came to me ?
How Gandhi Came To Me ?
after thinking a lot about what should be the subject of today's lecture, I have finally chosen to speak about my personal reminiscences of Gandhian study. I did so because I think this is the best theme to stir up interests among the eminent savants and my senior friends in India. I would like to open this speech with a personal recollection of my school days during World War II. I remember the day clearly when I was conscious of the name of Gandhi to be close to me. I was chatting with my friends, while reading a newspaper, when we happened to find a few lines on the fast of Gandhi for 21 days. Two boys were so astonished. Of course, even the middle schoolboys knew the name of Gandhi as a great leader of the Indian Independence Movement, but we didn't know at all who Gandhi was and what he was doing.
Then we began a very childish discussion on his fast: "Can a man really survive without eating anything for as many as 21 days?" or "what impact will his fast have on the British Government―isn't it a rather profitable and delightful deed for the opponent?" and so on. And then, I repeated what we had learnt about Gandhi in our history class. Our teacher of history spoke with an air of importance as if he had let out a secret that he only had known. According to him, Gandhi, the supreme leader of Indian National Movement, was an intimate pro-Japanese and secretly expected the Japanese military forces to enter across the Indian border and support the Indian Independence Movement.
At that time, a shoji (a paper sliding door in a Japanese house) was thrown open, and there was my father (perhaps he was listening to our conversation) standing firm. He said in a sharp tone, "Your teacher is wrong." We two boys were dumb-founded by his sudden appearance and his words, because in my boyhood days, our parents never used to criticize their children's teachers. They would always advice their children to believe and obey the teachers meekly.
A moment later, my father told us a little bashfully, as if apologizing for his rash comment, "Your teacher must have misunderstood Gandhi-san (san is the Japanese equivalent of the Hindi 'ji'). He is a man of honesty, a man of purity like Buddha. He will never betray his people, he will never preach non-violence on the one hand and welcome Japanese violent forces on the other." My father was quite an ordinary businessman and I don't think he was especially interested in Gandhi and India. His information on them must have been limited to the reports of newspapers and radio, which were under government control during wartime. So what was the source of my father's knowledge of Gandhi remains a mystery to me even now. Nor could I ask him, because he was then seriously ill and passed away soon after the end of the war. And even if he had lived for another ten years, till I began my study of Gandhi, he could not possibly have systematically explained what he said at that time. At any rate, he believed in Gandhi as a man just as many contemporary Indians did. They followed him, I imagine, because they loved his personality before understanding his thought. We might even say that people read his thought in his everyday sacrifice and devotion to them.
But this incident made me keenly interested in Gandhi, as I wanted to find out who was right, my father or my teacher? I started cutting out every article on Gandhi that appeared in newspapers and pasted them in a scrapbook.
It was only after the war that the words and deeds of Gandhi and the history of Indian Freedom Movement were gradually revealed to us. When a father and his son were talking about Gandhi in a small corner of Japan and when the Japanese army was approaching the Northeast frontier of India, what actually happened in Indian politics? According to Gandhi, there were at least four schools of thought in India at that time.
First was the group that approved the War Declaration of the British Government and expressed their support politically and economically. The second was the passionate and patriotic group who hated the British rule and wanted the national independence so impatiently that they were ready to receive aid from any foreign power including the Nazis in Germany or the Japanese military power. The names of Ras Behari Bose, president of IIL (Indian Independence League in Asia) and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose were so popular even among the common people in Japan. In the words of Gandhi "their fatigue of British yoke is so great that they would even welcome the Japanese yoke for a change." (Harijan, 12.4.1942). The third was the group called "the neutrals" led by top leaders of the Indian National Congress like Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana A. K. Azad who declared that they would fight all forms of imperialism, whether British Imperialism or German Nazism or Japanese Militant Nationalism. Then, the fourth and the last was the group of non-violent resisters led by Gandhi and his faithful disciples. "They believe implicitly in their own way of fighting and no other. They have neither hatred for the British nor love for the Japanese. They wish well to both as to all others. They believe that non-violence alone will lead man to do right under all circumstances. Therefore, if for want of enough companions, non-violent resisters cannot reach the goal, they will not give up their way but pursue it to death." To them, the means of fighting is much more important than the goal, for the means and the end must be completely one. This was the unchanged belief of Gandhi throughout his life since he had declared it in his first Credo, 'Hind Swaraj'. When I read these lines as a student of theology, I immediately remembered the famous verses of the Bible: "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (St Matthew 5:44). I heard the same teaching of Jesus from a political leader who was acting in the actual battlefield like Krishna.
Generally speaking, the greatest concern of political leaders is to win the favour of their people, and so they try to shun words which might appear offensive to the people. Especially during wartime, many political leaders appeal to their people to endure hard times until their country wins. But they never utter the word 'defeat'. But this political leader of a queer character said that even if the resisters could not reach the goal with non-violence, they should not give up their way but pursue it to death. With what feelings his people listened to his words was beyond my imagination. Still, Gandhi encouraged people and wrote in Harijan (12.4.1942), "The task before the votaries of non-violence is very difficult. But no difficulty can baffle men who have faith in their mission." To him only to follow the way of non-violence which is another name of Truth is the end as well as the means.
Again, Gandhi often called himself 'a practical dreamer' or 'a practical idealist'. With these expressions, some critics conclude Gandhi to be a utilitarian realist, and others emphasize the aspects of an unrealistic philosopher.
But Gandhi was a realist because his feet were firmly on the ground, and idealist because he always gazed at the future far beyond. Gandhi's ideal was to realize the heaven on the earth. That was a great comfort to an adolescent like me who was suffering from the discord between ideal and reality.
When I was a freshman or sophomore in University of Kyoto, a well-known pacifist who was a Member of Parliament and the president of Gandhi association in Japan visited our university to deliver a lecture on Gandhi. After the lecture, a documentary film on Gandhi's Salt March was shown. I was so impressed that tears came to my eyes. It was the scene at the seaside of Dandi where Gandhi picked up a handful of salt after a simple ritual of bath and prayer, and then followed his faithful marchers and villagers. It was very much amazing to see the unarmed common people confronting armed police with passive resistance (at that time, I didn't yet know the term 'Satyagraha'). I could hardly believe my eyes.
I couldn't imagine, Indian people were, as Gandhi often said, superior to the other nations in the world. But in Gandhian era, as called by some historians, common people of India demonstrated the 'good in man' collectively and socially. Looking back at the history of the world, one finds that there had been many people that fought their enemy bravely and desperately and died for ideals under their powerful leaders. But there was rarely a people who fought for the truth and against their opponent so heroically (the word 'enemy' is unsuitable here because Gandhi told his people never to regard anyone as their enemy even if they were beaten or kicked).
Who but Gandhi could lift the brute in man to the human level and change them into God's warriors? Although I know Gandhi wouldn't like such an expression, I dare call him 'a man of miracle' in the sense of a man who challenged the possibilities of human divinity to its limit.
Through another article in Harijan, which I read when I was a student, I knew the living personality of both love and austerity in Gandhi. It was written at the critical time when the Japanese forces were drawing near the north-eastern border of India.
The Congress leaders appealed to the Indian people to meet the aggressor with the so-called 'scorched earth' policy. Although Gandhi didn't agree with this policy, his way of resistance was much more severe and exhaustive. Gandhi said, "Non-violent resisters would refuse them any help, even water. For it is no part of their duty to help anyone to steal their country."
While these words were still fresh, he changed his mood and wrote again, "But if a Japanese had missed his way and was dying of thirst and sought help as a human being, a non-violent resister, who may not regard anyone as his enemy, would give water to the thirsty one. Suppose the Japanese compel the resisters to give them water, the resisters must die in the act of resistance." This is a very important key to understanding Gandhi. The uncompromising belief in non-violence and the adaptable acts of ahimsa to meet the situation were consistent in the depth of Gandhian thought. The thought of Gandhi is often criticized to be complicated and complex. But to Gandhi all the conflicts and inscrutabilities in this world were (are) out of consideration. For what matters to him was (is) only truth and ahimsa. Once he confessed, "At the time of writing I never think of what I have said before. My aim is not to be consistent with my pervious statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth" Harijan, 30.9.1939). Certainly, truth is one and immovable, but to the eyes of a man who does not yet attain the height of truth it does not stand on the same spot. We have to climb always "from truth to truth." Soon after telling the non-violent resisters to refuse any help, even water, he told them to give water to a thirsty one who had missed his way and was dying of thirst. There is even no time passage between these two inconsistent advices, which was given almost simultaneously. Indeed, it is ahimsa that brings consistency into existence in the various inconsistencies of the world. As Gandhi said, the non-resisters who believe implicitly in their own way of fighting and no other would never bend before any aggressor or be deceived by honeyed promises.
These complexities and inconsistencies can often be found in the teachings of the great religious leaders of the world. For example, Jesus who, on one hand, told a crowd gathering around him that "Every one who looks at women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Bible: Matthew, 5:28). And on the other hand, when people asked him what punishment be given to a woman caught in the act of adultery, he said, "let him who is without sin among you, be the first to throw a stone at her." And he told later, "Women, neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again." (Bible: John, 8:11). This forgiveness beyond dogma and creed depends on divine love, agape in Jesus Christ and ahimsa in Mahatma Gandhi.
Now, as I said above, our boyhood days were spent during the war time Japan. So, even children knew the names of two Indians besides Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Ras Behari Bose. Ras Behari Bose escaped from India to Japan in 1915. He was wanted by the British police for his attempted assassination on Viceroy Hardinge. But his Japanese protectors didn't extradite him. He was married to a Japanese woman, daughter of a well-known restaurant owner in Tokyo and got a Japanese citizenship. He was president of I.I.L. (Indian Independence League in Asia) until he yielded his post to Subhas Chandra Bose in 1942. Both of them in military uniforms were often seen on the newspapers, looking more stately to children's eyes than Gandhi clad in white humble clothes.
I was given the honor of translating Jawaharlal Nehru's 'A Bunch of Old Letters' into Japanese in my youth. I hadn't known about the pathetic controversy between Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose until I read the correspondences. Here I have to refrain from making any arbitrary comment on this subject because not only of political complexities but also emotional and psychological ones.
Instead, I would like to introduce two very interesting episodes, which I had the privilege of hearing during my interview with General Iwaichi Fujiwara. Fujiwara, then a junior officer, was ordered to help Capt. Mohan Singh through F. Kikan (Fujiwara Intelligence unit agents) to organize the Indian National Army (I.N.A.) with volunteers from civilians and POWs in the south-east Asian countries. Mohan Singh earnestly wanted to invite Subhas Chandra Bose, who was at that time in Berlin, as the Commander-in-Chief of I.N.A. Bose was disappointed with Hitler's indifferent attitude towards Indian Independence. And after strenuous efforts, they succeeded in receiving Subhas Chandra Bose at Singapore to a great fanfare on 2 July 1943. Bose's long submarine journey from Germany to Asia across the Indian Ocean is a still remembered narrative of adventure.
How did Bose impress Fujiwara? Fujiwara recalled his first meeting with Bose in these words (In the reception room) a group of senior officers of my acquaintance were standing in line with friendly expressions. A tall man in military uniform, looking very dignified and noble, steped out of the line towards me. Without the host's introduction, I knew that he was Netaji Bose. He was effusive in his greetings as if welcoming an old friend. In his appearance I saw the nobleness of a philosopher, a steely will, passionate fighting spirit and great wisdom and refinement. At first sight he appeared to me as a man of extraordinary ability.
Although Fujiwara admired the personality of Bose, he didn't forget to add his comment on Netaji. Bose was so impatient for India's Independence that "it cannot be said he possessed much magnanimity or very much tolerance for the opinion of others." Hearing this, I immediately remembered Gandhi coming home to India in 1915 and traveling throughout India for one year "keeping his eyes and ears open". What a slow starter!
I also wanted to know what impression Fujiwara, one of the responsible planners of Japan's fundamental policy towards Indian Independence, had of Gandhi and his thoughts.
"Of course," said he, "we had no opportunity to see and talk to Gandhi, and there was not any attempt to contact us from his side either." During this period, however, Gandhi was appealing 'To every Japanese' through his writings in 'Harijan'. But unfortunately, his message did not reach the Japanese people till the end of the war. "But" Fujiwara continues "instead of seeing and hearing him directly, I witnessed a heroic fight of non-violence by this followers. Although I did my best to help Mohan Singh in recruiting soldiers from Indian POWs all over Asia and create the strong I.N.A., all the Indian POWs didn't join this plan. Many of them volunteered in I.N.A. but some others refused firmly to our military policy. Efforts were made to persuade them by every means to join the I.N.A. But they were not to be coaxed by any sweet promises or threatened by any weapons. At last we gave up, and couldn't help treating them as our prisoners of war, and isolating them from the soldiers of I.N.A. We resolved to gather the prisoners from everywhere in Asia and send them to a small island. But on the harbour they suddenly began their non-violent resistance. They sat down with folded arms in silence." Major Fujiwara had never seen such a strange scene which took his breath away. They were the strong soldiers of non-violence without any weapons in hands and fear in mind. Fujiwara, a professional soldier, must have been fearless of bullets and swords. But then, as he confessed, he felt a sort of fear, rather, more than fear, it was a feeling of awe and solemnness.
The relation between Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Fujiwara was more than what was expected between the Indian highest leader of I.N.A. and the Japanese officer in charge of I.N.A. Both of them admired and trusted each other. Fujiwara was one of those rare soldiers who had the traditional Japanese spirit of Samurai and Bushido. He didn't utter a thoughtless word comparing Bose, whom he had met everyday, with Gandhi, whom he had never seen. But hearing his story, I wondered what it was that transformed those very common people into fearless braves and who encouraged and led them? Then I imagined an old man clad in a dhoti coming to me with a gentle toothless smile.
Only a few years ago, when the new millennium arrived, all the people on the earth said good-bye to the old age called "the century of war and genocide" and welcomed enthusiastically the arrival of a new era with hearts full of hope and expectation. But the dream of world peace and human cooperation seems to have been completely betrayed and disappeared on September 11, 2001. This event has taught us a lesson that the foundation on which we stand is too frail and unstable.
Since then, the situation of the world has been changing drastically from bad to worse. Hatred has produced bigger hatred, grudge more serious grudge, apprehension deeper apprehension, and revenge more severe revenge, between not only rival races and nations but also among the people who worship the same God.
It is true that old type of imperialism which was the root of all evils in the 19th and the 20th centuries has ended, but the monster of imperialism has survived and changed their old weapons into that of commerce. The strong nations have continued to exploit the poorer and the weaker ones as before not by military but by economic power. Ninety years ago when Tagore visited Japan for the first time, he promptly foresaw the crisis of the world as well as of Japan and predicted that among the many human institutions in the present-day world, the institution of commerce is the ugliest. It is wearying the earth with its weight, deafening the earth with its noise, dirtying the earth with its filth, and wounding the earth with its claws of greed. (Japan Yatri, 1919)
It appears surprising today that nearly a century ago Tagore warned us about the dangers of environmental pollutions.
Now it has become an urgent necessity for us to stop this course towards the annihilation of humanity. But how? We have learnt through our long history that political tactics and the weapons of murder are totally useless. Today, most of all, what we need is a complete changeover of our ways of thinking and deed. If mankind is truly eager to survive, there is no other way but for us to accept Gandhi's message of ahimsa and follow his method of Satyagraha. Gandhi has directed us to the way from hatred to love, from punishment to forgiveness, from greed to renunciation and, above all, from violence to non-violence.
Let us make non-violence our guiding spirit to the world peace in the 21st century.
Now as I approach the twilight of my life, I don’t know where I am going, heaven or hell. But wherever it is, if I meet my father there, I would like to tell him, Father, you were right. Now my question as to why you could say, 'Gandhi-san is a man of honesty, a man of purity like Buddha' has been answered, for we have to judge a man like Gandhi not by knowledge and mind but by heart and love. Because of you, I have been able to devote myself to a lifelong study of Gandhi and Tagore. Thank you.
Thank you for your kind attendance and attention.
Source: Anasakti Darshan, Vol. 2 No. 1; January–June 2006