It was in 1969 that I had an opportunity to discuss a little about Mahatma Gandhi with my teacher for the first time. What conversation I had about is now lost in the abyss of time. But later I always wondered why an international political leader like Gandhi was addressed asMahatma, an honorific frequently used for a spiritually elevated soul. To find an answer, I think it is essential to review his life not in parts, but as a whole.
Gandhi, affectionately called Bapu, was a great leader endowed with a spiritual yearning for
truth. The quintessence of his philosophy of life was the realization of
Satya [truth] and Ahimsa [non-violence]. His purpose of life was as he
says, “to achieve self-realization, to see God face to face, to obtain Moksha [Salvation].”
But his approach was different from that of other seekers.
Gandhi received good Samskaras [pre-disposition] by virtue of his birth in a religious Vaishnava
family of Gujarat, particularly from his mother who left an indelible
impression of her saintliness on his tender mind. He imbibed truthfulness
from the characteristics of the hero of the play ‘Harishchandra’. He
wondered ‘why should not we be truthful like Harishchandra?’ The question
haunted him day and night. King Harishchandra became the ideal hero of
his dream and the paragon of truth. He so inspired him as to remain truthful
all through his life even under trying circumstances and to stand firm on his convictions.
Gandhi’s endeavours for self-realization were through strict observance of truth. He moulded his
actions on the basis of truth, only the truth that he perceived within. The
word truth ordinarily connotes not to tell lies. But for Gandhi it implied
much more. Even hiding the truth from someone was deemed as untruth by him.
He considered that the narrow implication of the term had belied its
magnitude. Defining Truth he writes, “The root of ‘Satya’ [truth] lies in
‘Sat’. Sat means the ‘Being’ and Satyathe feeling of the Being.
Everything is perishable except ‘Sat’. Therefore, the true name of God is
‘Sat’, thereby implying ‘Satya [Truth] so, instead of saying ‘God is Truth’,
it is better to say ‘Truth is God’. A question may now arise whether the
realization of Truth and the realization of self were one and the same for
him or the two entities. We get the answer from Maharshi Raman, “What is
Satya except Self? Satya is that which is made of Sat. Again Sat is nothing
but Self. So Gandhiji’s Satya is only the Self.” It is now clear, what
Gandhi meant by Truth was in fact the realization of Self. He writes, “ What
I meant to achievewhat I have been striving and pining to achieve these
thirty yearsis self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain Moksha [salvation].”
How to realize God is a complicate question. The realization of God can be attained by purity of
mind and heart and Sadhna [constant practice]. Bhagvad Gita, the dialogue
between Lord Krishna and Arjuna in the epic Mahabharata, is regarded as a
sacred Hindu scripture and an infallible guide of daily practice. Lord
Krishna tells about four paths of God-realization. They are: service and
sacrifice [Karma Yoga], devotion and self-surrender [Bhakti Yoga],
concentration and meditation [Raja Yoga], discrimination and wisdom [Jnana
Yoga]. There is no line of demarcation between one and another and one path
does not exclude the others. A seeker can follow any of them according to
his/ her temperament. Ultimately they all lead to one goalthe realization of God.
Gandhi held the Bhagvad Gita in high esteem. He writes, “Those who will meditate on the Gita will derive
fresh joy and new meanings from it everyday. There is no single spiritual
tangle which the Gita cannot unravel.” He found an answer to the above question
in GitaVairagya [non-attachment] or Abhyas Yoga [practice]. Vairagya
means total indifference to worldly things and concentration only on the
Absolute. Lord Krishna says in Gita:
“Fix thy mind on Me only, place thy intellect in Me; then thou shalt no doubt live in Me alone
hereafter.”[Chapter XII: Shloka – 8]
And further says he, “If thou art not able to fix thy mind steadily on Me, then by Yoga of
constant Practice [Abhyas Yoga] do thou seek to reach Me”. [Ibid: 9]
Gandhi was born to serve humanity. He was a practical man; he chose the path of practice and
the path of renunciation of the fruits of action. Absolute faith in God and
surrender to His Will became his object of observance [Niyam] and the
constant thought of the TruthPractice [Abhyas Yoga]. His mind was always
occupied with truth in all walks of lifepersonal, social or political.
Gandhi was a seeker and introspection was the method of his Sadhna. He writes, “I have gone
through deep introspection, searched myself through and through, and
examined and analyzed every psychological situation.” The study of Gita and
the process of self-introspection brought him face to face with the true
meaning of Ahimsa [Non-Violence]no violence in thought, speech and act.
He came to the conclusion that the realization of Truth was impossible
without adherence to the supreme conduct of manAhimsa. In his opinion
Truth and Ahimsa were as inter-mingled as the two sides of a coin. For the
achievement of one or the other, complete control over the senses of Action
[Karmendriya] and those of Perception [Jnanendriya] is essential. Lord
Krishna also says in Gita:
“Control Raga-dvesha [attachment–malevolence], obstructions on spiritual path; Do your duty well.
Control desire and angerthe enemies of wisdom. Master first the senses.
Kill this enemydesire by restraining the self by
self and by knowing Him who is superior to intellect”. [Chapter III; Shloka 37 – 43]
Truth and Ahimsa appear to be at the same level as a pair Truth – Ahimsa, yet Gandhi regarded
ahimsa as means [Sadhna] and Truth as the ultimate goal [Sadhya]. It is said
ahimsa is the super-most religion [ahimsa parmodharmah]. Truth for Gandhi
was the Almighty God. He, therefore, strived for and adhered to perfect
Truth in thought, speech and action all through his life and thereby achieved
the realization of self. It is most likely that he practiced also Kriya Yoga,
he was initiated in it by Paramhansa Yogananda, who visited him in Wardha
ashram in 1935. Although lean and frail in appearance, he was strong in body
and mind and glowed with spiritual health.
Gandhi once admitted that he had little knowledge of religions even of Hinduism, yet he believed,
like every Hindu, in God, in rebirth and salvation. He had a broad
perception of Hinduism. In this perspective he says, “I believe Hinduism is
not an exclusive religion. In it there is room for the worship of all the
prophets of the world. It is not a missionary religion in the ordinary sense
of the term. It has no doubt absorbed many tribes in its fold, but the
absorption has been of an evolutionary, imperceptible character. Hinduism
tells each man to worship God according to his own faith or dharma and so
live at peace with all religions.” So, he regarded all religions with Sambhaav [equitability].
He perceived no religion was superior or inferior.
He had studied about all religions of the world and came to the conclusion,
as he says, “I believe the Bible, the Koran, and the Zend–Avesta to be as
divinely inspired as the Vedas.” He even tried in his mind to unify the
teachings of the Gita, Sermon on the Mount and the Light of Asia and found
renunciation in Gita as ‘the greatest philosophy of all religions’.
Gandhi said, “Nothing delights me so much as the music of the Gita or the Ramayana by Tulsidas.”
It will, therefore, not be out of context if we consider here the influence
of Ramayana on him. Ramayana is an epic like Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’a
grand story, of a grand man, in a grand style. But unlike ‘Paradise Lost’,
Ramayana is a sacred scripture of Hindus. Therein, Tulsidas has portrayed
the persona magnum, Rama, as an incarnation of Vishnu as well as a model
human being with high moral values to serve as an example for common man. Frank
Whaling writes, “Rama has remained a symbol of dharma, human relationship
and kingship; for others he has been a symbol of ‘Brahman’ or a symbol of
the loving Lord.”
In his childhood, the repetition of ‘Ramnaam’ [Rama’s name] suggested to him to ward off his fear
of ghosts and spirits became an infallible guide for him later in life.
Gandhi was highly impressed with the characteristics of Rama. Gandhi’s heart
was the permanent abode of Rama who was endowed with the attributes of
Brahman. Rama’s obedience, ready submission to the vows of his father, his
love for his subjects, protection to the weak, and equanimity to all beings
he met during his exile, left deep impressions on Gandhi’s mind and heart.
But what impressed him most was Rama’s way of administration Ramarajya, in
which justice prevailed and the voice of the low of the lowest was given due
regard. In fact, he regarded ‘Ramarajya’ as the true model of democracy.
In introduction to his autobiography, Gandhi has written, “My experiments in the political field
are now known. But I should certainly like to narrate my experiments in the
spiritual field, which are known only to me and from which I have derived
such power as I possess for working in the political field.” Indeed, he
relentlessly pursued truth all through his life and achieved
It is an anomaly that he is remembered and evaluated only for his political achievements. Little
attention has been paid to the spiritual force within him from which he
derived power to work in personal, social and political fields. According to
Maharshi Raman, Adhyatmik Shakti [spiritual force] was working within him
[Gandhi] and leading him on. He always listened to his inner voice and took
decisions accordingly. His inner-self prompted him to serve the wounded in
Boer War and Zulu Rebellion in South Africa. He was always on the front line and
fearlessly led people in Satyagraha and Non-Cooperation movements. Undaunted
he walked unarmed without any protection through the riot-hit areas at the
time of partition of India, giving the message of faith, love and peace.
Gandhi was a yogihouseholder living amidst people. He was a Nishkam Karmayogi with no
aspiration for any recognition or reward. He had limited his desires and
needs to the bare minimum. Whatever he did, he did with right intention,
right spirit and conviction, and worked for the benefit of others
irrespective of caste, creed or religion. Notwithstanding the power he
wielded over the Congress party and the masses, he never aspired for or
accepted any kind of office. Had his name been proposed as the first
President of India in recognition of his services to the nation, I am sure,
none would have opposed it but he himself. He was such a great and
magnanimous person. Rabindranath Tagore, a poet and visionary, recognized
his greatness and spirituality and called him Mahatma, an attribute he aptly deserved.
Lord Krishna says to Arjuna in Gita, “Whenever righteousness declines and unrighteousness becomes
powerful then I myself come to birth.” [Chapter IV – 7]. If we turn to the
pages of the history of the world, it is evident that there have descended
super-beings whenever the righteousness or ethical values are on a decline to
guide people on to the righteous path. The Indian soil is credited with the
birth of many a super-being or the lofty spiritual personages who inspired
people to forsake the evils of materialism that cause suffering,
dissatisfaction and misery and to follow the path of spiritualism. Rational
explanations of Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts and acts will certainly place him
in history in line with Lord Mahavira, Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ.
Gandhi stood for truth, ahimsa, compassion and service all through his life.
‘To serve humanity is the service of God’ was the principle of his life. He
was a social saviour of the oppressed and down-trodden people and fought
for their right of equality and justice. It is not all; he was the political saviour
of nations in political turmoil. The leaders of many subjugated
races and countries drew inspiration from him for their rights. Like Jesus
Christ, he was forgiveness personified. He had no feeling of malice towards
anyone in his dying moments and breathed his last remembering his chosen
deity ‘Rama’. Paying a glowing tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein
has written, “Generations to come, it may be, will scarcely believe that
such one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.”
Today, we are passing through a crisisa crisis of identification of values. The
world is entrapped in gross materialism. Man has become so selfish
as to have utter disregard for others whether an individual or a
society or a nation. Scientists are vying with each other to play
the role of the Creator. It is high time to create a balance between
materialism and spiritualism. In the chaotic circumstances
prevailing all over the world today, we are looking for peace as
elusive as the mirage in a desert. I think, Mahatma Gandhi’s life
and his teachings can serve as beacon to guide us and lead
us to steady peace.