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09. The Greatest Economist of His Time

[From a lecture delivered by Gandhiji at a meeting of the Muir Central College Economic Society, held at Allahabad, on Friday 22nd December 1916.]

"Take no thought for the morrow" is an injunction which finds an echo in almost all the religious scriptures of the world. In a well-ordered society the securing of one's livelihood should be and is found to be the easiest thing in the world. Indeed, the test of orderliness in a country is not the number of millionaires it owns, but the absence of starvation among its masses. The only statement that has to be examined is, whether it can be laid down as a law of universal application that material advancement means moral progress.

Now let us take a few illustrations. Rome suffered a moral fall when it attained high material affluence. So did Egypt and perhaps most countries of which we have any historical record. The descendants and kins­men of the royal and divine Krishna too fell when they were rolling in riches. We do not deny to the Rocke­fellers and Carnegies possession of an ordinary measure of morality but we gladly judge them indulgently. I mean that we do not even expect them to satisfy the highest standard of morality. With them material gain has not necessarily meant moral gain. In South Africa, where I had the privilege of associating with thousands of our countrymen on most intimate terms, I observed almost invariably that the greater the possession of riches, the greater was their moral turpitude. Our rich men, to say the least, did not advance the moral struggle of passive resistance as did the poor. The rich men's sense of self-respect was not so much injured as that of the poorest. If I were not afraid of treading on dangerous ground, I would even come nearer home and show how that possession of riches has been a hindrance to real growth. I venture to think that the scriptures of the world are far safer and sounder treatises on the laws of economics than many of the modern text-books. The question we are asking ourselves... is not a new one. It was addressed of Jesus two thousand years ago. St. Mark has vividly described the scene. Jesus is in his solemn mood. He is earnest. He talks of eternity. He knows the world about him. He is himself the greatest econo­mist of his time. He succeeded in economizing time and space — he transcends them. It is to him at his best that one comes running, kneels down, and asks: "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life ?" And Jesus said unto him: "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God. Thou knowest the Commandments. Do not commit adultery. Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness. Defraud not, Honour thy Father and Mother." And he answered and said unto him: "Master, all these have I observed from my youth." The Jesus beholding him loved him and said unto him: "One thing thou lackest. Go thy way, sell whatever thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven—come, take up the cross and follow me." And he was sad at that saying and went away grieved — for he had great possession. And Jesus looked roundabout and said unto the disciples: "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God." And the disciples were asto­nished at his words. But Jesus answereth again and said unto them: "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God!" Here you have an eternal rule of life stated in the noblest words the English language is capable of producing. But the disciples nodded unbelief as we do to this day. To him they said as we say today: "But look how the law fails in practice. If we sell and have nothing, we shall have nothing to eat. We must have money or we cannot even be reasonably moral." So they state their case thus. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves: 'Who then can be saved'. And Jesus looking upon them said: "With men it is impossible, but not with God, for with God, all things are possible." Then Peter began to say unto him: "Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee." And Jesus answered and said: "Verily I say unto you, there is no man that has left house or brethren or sisters, or father or mother, or wife or children or lands for my sake and Gospels but he shall receive one hundredfold, now in this time houses and brethren and sisters and mothers and children and land, and in the world to come, eternal life. But many that are first shall be last and the last, first." You have here the result or reward, if you prefer the term, of following the law. I have not taken the trouble of copying similar passages from the other non-Hindu scriptures and I will not insult you by quoting, in support of the law stated by Jesus, passages from the writings and sayings of our own sages, passages even stronger, if possible, than the Biblical extracts I have drawn your attention to. Perhaps the strongest of all the testimonies in favour of the affirmative answer to the question before us are the lives of the greatest teachers of the world. Jesus, Mahomed, Buddha, Nanak, Kabir, Chaitanya, Shankara, Dayanand, Ramakrishna were men who exercised an immense influence over, and moulded the character of thousands of men. The world is the richer for their having lived in it. And they were all men who deliberately embraced poverty as their lot.

Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, pp. 350-53, Natesan & Co., Madras, 1933