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
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
* Professor Emeritus, Mejio Univerisity, Nagoya, Japan