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07. Glimpses of Religion

I have said before that there was in me a fear of ghosts and spirits. Rambha, my nurse, suggested, as a remedy for this fear, the repetition of Ramanama or name of God. I had more faith in her than in her remedy, and so at a very early age began repeating Ramanama to cure my fear of ghosts and spirits. This was of course short-lived, but the good seed sown in childhood was not sown in vain. I think it is due to the seed sown by that good woman Rambha that today Ramanama is a never failing remedy for me.

During part of his illness my father was in Porbandar. There every evening he used to listen to the Ramayana. The reader was a great devotee of Rama. He had a good voice. He would sing the verses and explain them, losing himself in the story and carrying his listeners along with him. I must have been thirteen at that time, but I quite remember being quite taken up by his reading. That laid the foundation of my deep devotion to the Ramayana. Today I regard the Ramayana of Tulsidas as the greatest book in all religious literature.

In Rajkot I learnt to be friendly to all branches of Hinduism and sister religions. For my father and mother would visit the Haveli as also Shiva's and Rama's temples, and would take or send us youngsters there. Jain monks also would pay frequent visits to my father, and would even go out of their way to accept food from us non-Jains. They would have talks with my father on subjects religious and worldly.

He had besides, Mussalman and Parsi friends, who would talk to him about their own faiths, and he would listen to them always with respect, and often with interest. Being his nurse, I often had a chance to be present at these talks. These many things combined to teach me toleration for all faiths.

Only Christianity was at the time an exception. I developed a sort of dislike for it. And for a reason. In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and preach against Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. About the same time, I heard of a well-known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that from then on he began to go about in European costume including a hat. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things made me dislike Christianity.

But the fact that I had learnt to be tolerant to other religions did not mean that I had any living faith in God. But one thing took deep root in me the conviction that morality is the basis of things and that truth is the substance of all morality.

A Gujarati verse likewise gripped my mind and heart. Its teaching return good for evil became my guiding principle. It became such a passion with me that I began numerous experiments in it. Here are those (for me) wonderful lines :

For a bowl of water give a goodly meal;

For a kindly greeting bow thou down with zeal;

For a simple penny pay thou back with gold;

If thy life be rescued, life do not withhold.

Thus the words and actions of the wise regard;

Every little service tenfold they reward.

But the truly noble know all men as one

And return with gladness good for evil done.