When, in 1893, I came in close contact with Christian friends, I was a mere novice. They tried hard to bring home to me, and make me accept, the message of Jesus, and I was a humble and respectful listener with an open mind. At that time I naturally studied Hinduism to the best of my ability and endeavoured to understand other religions.
In 1903 the position was somewhat changed. Theosophist friends
certainly intended to draw me into their society, but that was with
a view to getting something from me as a Hindu. Theosophical
literature is replete with Hindu influence, and so these friends
expected that I should be helpful to them. I explained that my
Samskrit study was not much to speak of, that I had not read the
Hindu scriptures in the original, and that even my acquaintance with
the translations was of the slightest. But being believers in samskara
(tendencies caused by previous births) and punarjanma (rebirth),
they assumed that I should be able to render at least some help. And
so I felt like a Triton among the minnows. I started reading Swami Vivekananda's
Rajayoga with some of these friends and M. N. Dvivedi's Rajayoga with others. I had to read Patanjali's
Sutras with one friend and the Bhagavad Gita with quite a number.
We formed a sort of Seekers' Club where we had regular readings. I
already had faith in the Gita, which had a fascination for me. Now I
realized the necessity of diving deeper into it. I had one or two
translations, by means of which I tried to understand the original
Samskrit. I decided also to get by heart one or two verses every
day. For this purpose I employed the time of my morning ablutions.
The operation took me thirty-five minutes, fifteen minutes for the
tooth brush and twenty for the bath. The first I used to do standing
in western fashion. So on the wall opposite I stuck slips of paper
on which were written the Gita verses and referred to them now and
then to help my memory. This time was found sufficient for
memorising the daily portion and recalling the verses already
learnt. I remember having thus committed to memory thirteen
chapters. But the memorising of the Gita had to give way to other
work and the creation and nurture of Satyagraha, which absorbed all
my thinking time, as the latter may be said to be doing even now.
What effect this reading of the Gita had on my friends only they can
say, but to me the Gita became an infallible guide of
conduct. It became my dictionary of daily reference. Just as I
turned to the English dictionary for the meanings of English words
that I did not understand, I turned to this dictionary of conduct
for a ready solution of all my troubles and trials. Words like aparigraha
(non-possession) and samabhava (equability) gripped me. How to
cultivate and preserve that equability was the question. How was one
to treat alike insulting, insolent and corrupt officials, co-workers
of yesterday raising meaningless opposition, and men who had always
been good to one? How was one to divest oneself of all possessions?
Was not the body itself possession enough? Were not wife and
children possessions? Was I to destroy all the cupboards of books I
had? Was I to give up all I had and follow Him? Straight came the
answer: I could not follow Him unless I gave up all I had. My study
of English law came to my help. Snell's discussion of the maxims of
Equity came to my memory. I understood more clearly in the light of
the Gita teaching the implication of the word 'trustee'. My regard
for jurisprudence increased, I discovered in it religion. I
understood the Gita teaching of non-possession to mean that those
who desired salvation should act like the trustee who, though having
control over great possessions, regards not an iota of them as his
own. It became clear to me as daylight that non-possession and
equability presupposed a change of heart, a change of attitude. I
then wrote to Revashankarbhai to allow the insurance policy to lapse
and get whatever could be recovered, or else to regard the premiums
already paid as lost, for I had become convinced that God, who
created my wife and children as well as myself, would take care of
them. To my brother, who had been as father to me, I wrote
explaining that I had given him all that I had saved up to that
moment, but that henceforth he should expect nothing from me, for
future savings, if any, would be utilized for the benefit of the
I could not easily make my brother understand this. In
stern language he explained to me my duty towards him. I should not,
he said, aspire to be wiser than our father. I must support the
family as he did. I pointed out to him that I was doing exactly what
our father had done. The meaning of 'family' had but to be slightly
widened and the wisdom of my step would become clear.
My brother gave me up and practically stopped all communication. I
was deeply distressed, but it would have been a greater distress to
give up what I considered to be my duty, and I preferred the lesser.
But that did not affect my devotion to him, which remained as pure
and great as ever. His great love for me was at the root of his
misery. He did not so much want my money as that I should be well-behaved towards the family. Near the end of his life, however, he
appreciated my view-point. When almost on his death-bed, he realized
that my step had been right and wrote me a most pathetic letter. He
apologized to me, if indeed a father may apologize to his son. He
commended his sons to my care, to be brought up as I thought fit,
and expressed his impatience to meet me. He cabled that he would
like to come to South Africa and I cabled in reply that he could.
But that was not to be. Nor could his desire as regards his sons be
fulfilled. He died before he could start for South Africa. His sons
had been brought up in the old atmosphere and could not change their
course of life. I could not draw them to me. It was not their fault.
'Who can say thus far, no further, to the tide of his own nature?'
Who can erase the impressions with which he is born? It is idle to
expect one's children and wards necessarily to follow the same
course of evolution as oneself.
This instance to some extent serves to show what a terrible
responsibility it is to be a parent.