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To Begin With
Vinoba Bhave
I am a man who belongs to another world than this, one that may seem very strange. For I claim that I am moved by love, that I feel it all the time. I do not deal in opinions, but only in thought, in which there can be give and take. Thought is not walled in or tied down, it can be shared with people of goodwill; we can take their ideas and offer them ours, and in this way thought grows and spreads. This has always been my experience, and there- fore I do not accept any kind of label for myself. It is open to anyone whatever to explain his ideas to me and convince me, and anyone is free to make my ideas his own in the same way.
There is nothing so powerful as love and thought-no institution, no government, no ‘ism’, no scripture, no weapon. I hold that these, love and thought, are the only sources of power. You should not expect me therefore to have any fixed opinions, only ideas. I am a man who changes every moment. Anyone can make me his slave by putting his ideas vigorously before me and convincing me that they are right. But no one, however hard he tries, can get me to accept his authority without first convincing me of the soundness of his thought.
I am just one individual; I wear no label, I am not a member of any institution, I have nothing to do with political parties. I do however keep in affectionate contact with the organizations for constructive work.1 I was born a Brahmin, but I cut myself off from my caste when I cut off my shikha.2 Some people call me a Hindu, but I have made such a repeated study of the Koran and the Bible that my Hinduism has been washed off ! People like what I say because my work is rooted in compassion, love and thought. I have ideas, but no permanently settled views. In fact I am so unreliable that I do not hesitate to express one view today and another tomorrow. I am not the same today as I was yesterday. I think differently every moment and go on changing all the time.
I should make one thing clear. I am often seen as a representative of Gandhian ideology. Nothing could be farther from truth. It is true that my life has been spent in carrying out those of the Gandhiji’s programmes which appealed to me-but, let it be emphasised, only those which appealed to me. I have indeed gained a lot from his thoughts and from my association with him. But so have I gained from other thinkers as well. I have accepted those thoughts which I was convinced were right and rejected the rest. So I am a man with my own ideas. Gandhiji knew this, and still he regarded me as one of his colleagues as he was a lover of liberty. Hence, I am not competent to represent Gandhian ideology even if I am inclined to do so; and I am surely not so inclined.
Many currents of thoughts are working in the country, and as I am in direct touch with the people I get an opportunity to observe them minutely. I can therefore take an impartial stand and never lose my focus on harmony. I never indulge in polemics. For me, to oppose anybody needlessly goes against the grain. In fact, my condition is like Saint Tukaram who said, ‘I just cannot stand a single word expressing opposition !’
I regard myself as the ‘Supreme cementing factor’ as I do not belong to any political party. But this is to put things in a negative manner. I, in fact, love the good men in all the parties. That is what makes me the the ‘Supreme cementing factor’. Anyone who works for revolutionary transformation through change of heart is bound to be a cementing factor, not only for any one country but for the whole world.
All are my kinsfolk and I theirs. It is not in my heart to love some more and others less. In the Life of the Prophet Muhammed it is related how once, speaking about Abu Bakr, he said: ‘I could love him more than anyone, if it were not forbidden to love one more than another.’ That is to say, God forbids us to love one more than another. The same is true for me. I cannot make any differences between individuals.
I once saw a portrait of Louis Pasteur, and below it these words: ‘I do not want to know your religion or your views, but only what your troubles are. I want to help you to get rid of them.’ Those who do that are discharging their duty as human beings, and that is what I am trying to do.
Once a visitor asked me, ‘Who would carry forward your work?’ My reply was: the one who motivated me would take care of it. In fact, I do not regard myself as a doer. I am not inclined to order others, to impose discipline on others. I cannot therefore have any disciple. The power that moved me would therefore take the work forward.
It is my firm conviction that a spark of true know- ledge can burn down all the problems in the world. With this conviction I have spent all my life in the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. It will serve my purpose even if that could inform just a couple of lives.
I don’t take any step without going deeply into the matter and getting at the root of it. I have spent thirty years of my life in solitary thought, while at the same time giving what service I could. I wished to make my life one of service, but it has also been one of reflection-reflection about the changes which must come in society, and how the roots of those changes must be purified. I am quite clear now about my basic thought, and I am not afraid of any problem. No matter what it is, no matter how big, it seems small to me, for I am bigger than the problem. However big it may be it is after all a human problem, and it can be solved by human intelligence.
During the course of my work, both in Ashrams and outside them, I have aimed at finding out how difficulties of every kind in the life of society, and in the life of the individual, may be overcome by non-violence. That is my chief task; that is why I went to Telangana.3 If I had avoided that work I would have broken my pledge to strive for non-violence and Shanti-sena.4 The things that happened in this country immediately after we got independence had dimmed the hope of non-violence. Forces of violence showed themselves in India in great strength. After Gandhiji passed away I was therefore trying to discover how a non-violent social order might be built.
By nature I am inclined to use the methods of Lord Mahavira,5 but what I actually did was more on the lines of Lord Buddha. The two are not opposed. It was not Mahavira’s way to take up a practical problem or propa- gate an idea. Wherever he went he would talk to indivi- duals, understand the outlook of whoever was before him, and show each one how to find satisfaction in life. If someone believed in a particular scripture he would use that as the basis of his teaching; if another had no faith in any book, he would make suggestions without reference to a book. In this way he shared his thought from a middle ground. The Lord Buddha on the other hand took up social problems to spread actively the idea of non-violence.
Whether one should have recourse to such practical problems in order to propagate an idea is a moot point. There is always a danger that the problem may usurp the foremost place, and the basic thought, the idea for whose sake the problem is used, may be overshadowed and become secondary. On the other hand, without the aid of such problems thought is not focused. Goodwill spreads invisibly, but ideas need to take concrete shape, otherwise ordinary people are not attracted. So there is a risk both in using a practical problem and in not using it; there is also good to be had in both ways.
I certainly used the problem of land as my framework, but my basic aim is to teach and commend the idea of Samyayoga of unity and equality-and compassion. In choosing this framework I used my intelligence, but my thinking always went beyond the framework, and I longed many times to keep to my own real nature. Still, I did not give up the problem, so I have been working on a synthesis of the way of Lord Mahavira and that of Lord Buddha.
I have one quality, which may seem a negative attribute. I cannot press anyone to do something. This often results in delays; but the work does get done invariably and successfully. I see to it that people do not get pressurised by my words, that my beliefs do not become aggressive. I would be sad if anyone accepts my ideas without getting convinced. And if anyone is convinced about any idea and still does not acept it, I cherish the hope that sooner or later he would come to accept it.
It is God’s grace that allegations made by people through misunderstanding never affect me. I have placed myself in His hands. It is His work; not mine. It is He who is moving me, who is making me walk. I do not care for propaganda. Ideas, like light, get propagated through space. In fact, space may restrict the movement of light, but it can never restrict the spread of ideas. With this conviction, I continue to work without any fears or worries.
I do not seek any merit; I seek nothing but service. And I wish that I should not get any credit for that service, as that service has come to me as a matter of course and is the need of the age. Time has made me an instrument for that service. So I would get no credit for it. A twig may travel miles through the current of a river; it is not its achievement. Had it flowed a few feet against the current, it would have been a matter of credit. Likewise, had my service been against the current, it would have given me credit. I have thus ensured that I get no credit for my service; it is the service and service alone which I seek.
I do have an objective in mind, but I do not think that the responsibility of its fulfilment rests on my shoulders alone. It rests on the shoulders of all. It is the Lord’s work, and is therefore bound to reach fruition. Nobody can oppose truth; it may take time to be grasped, but it cannot be ignored. I therefore place my thoughts before the people and then go to sleep in the lap of the Lord. Every day is a day of rebirth for me, and as it dawns I immerse myself in the work that I have taken up.
I often say in a lighter vein that I rarely get an oppor- tunity to look myself in the mirror. Nor is it necessary. I see myself in all the faces around me. This was my constant esperience during my walking pilgrimage. In the provinces where the people could not understand my language they had to do with the indifferent translation of my lectures. But there too I had the same experience. And the people there too had the same experience about me. Nowhere did the people consider me an outsider; I received the same love and affection everywhere.
I do not look upon the people in front of me as men; for me they are images of the Lord. I feel that the Lord that resides in my heart has taken a variety of forms for me to behold.
In many respects I am weak, but I have one strength. Nobody knows the source of that strength but everyone realises its efficacy even though people do not care to have it. Without that, I would be a lump of clay. I find nothing in me that could have sustained me in my walking pilgrimage. I have no power of my own that could make me ask for land-gifts and impel the people to part with their land. I command no authority and have no organisation. It is the Lord who is moving me. It is His grace. Wherever I see, I have His vision.
I have therefore nothing but love, not only for every man but also for every being-not only absence of hatred but positive love. I see the Lord in every face and love swells up in my heart bringing tears to my eyes. I have to make efforts to restrain them.
It has been my lot to go speaking. Earlier it was before the friends and the students; now it is before the public. As a young man I would rarely censor my tongue. But my friends knew that I had malice for none, and so they would not get hurt by my comments. In the company of Gandhiji I realised that one must keep one’s tongue in leash, at least in critical times. Gradually it became a habit. At times people would complain to Gandhiji against indiscrete use of words on my part; but Gandhiji would invariably shield me. That he had to shield me would be embarrasing and that would make me more vigilant.
My walking pilgrimage was, for me, in the words of Pandit Nehru, ‘discovery of India’. Not that I did not know India. I did have a fair acquaintance with its past and present; although full knowledge of its past is almost impossible. It has been my endeavour to know as much of it as I can; and I did get opportunities therefor. Acquain- tance with the literature of almost all of its languages gave me a feel of the pulse of India. But the pilgrimage unfolded a new vision and broadened my understanding.
In Yogvasishtha the sage Vasishtha tells Ram, ‘Oh Raghava ! Have detachment from within and attachment from without.’ There is no contradiction here. We should know where we have to reach, so that we can be on the right path. If our eyes are fixed on this polestar our approach is bound to be indirect-it would be the approach of non-violence. That exactly was my approach.
My co-workers say that my method appears somewhat mysterious, even though scientific, unlike that of Gandhiji whose method appears more simple and transperant. It is so, because our perceptions differ, and also because times too have changed. Gandhiji used to mix freely with the people and I remain somewhat aloof from them; still I could understand the condition of the masses with less difficulty as I grew up amongst them unlike Gandhiji who was born in an aristocratic family and had more friends among the higher classes in the society; and therefore he looked to the masses from that standpoint. I grew up in a village. My thinking has been in tune with the masses. I studied the religious literature in different provinces-the literature the masses were steeped in. My study of the secular subjects is limited. Gandhiji was a barrister-an expert in law, of which I know the least. All this naturally results in the difference in approach.
My approach is also different from that of Shankara- charya who tried to convince the learned and believed that once they were convinced they would take care of the rest. It is rather akin to that of Kabir who made direct appeal to the masses.
I cannot deny that there is an element of mysticism in me. So, while I am walking on the earth my mind is on a different plane. Had I not come to Gandhiji, I would perhaps have followed the way of the mystics, the way of meditation. But fascination for the Gita was there since childhood; and the Gita has said that the way of the meditation and that of the action are one and the same. I therefore realised the need for balance in life; and the contradictions within me were finally resolved in the company of Gandhiji. Since then, I have been following his way with exclusive concentration. But still there is something different within.
It is not that Gandhiji lacked this element. Those in close touch with him did realise that, although he appeared exclusively concerned with service in his outward activities, he was striving for something else. It is a question of attitude. Gandhiji was basically an activist, but there was mysticism in the background. Vivekanand, on the other hand, was apparantly a mystic, but had activism in the background. Ramkrishna Paramhans was a pure mystic. Attitudes thus differ. I think, I stand somewhere in the middle.
In whatever that seemed to me to be worth doing in life, I have received the greatest help (apart from the scriptures) from three people-Shankara, Jnanadev and Gandhiji. As for Gandhiji, I not only studied his ideas and writings, I lived in his company, and spent my whole time, in my youth, in the various forms of service which he started. His presence, his ideas, and the opportunity to put them into practice-I had the benefit of all three. In other words I lived under the wing of a great man, and he gave me a very great gift for which I am grateful. So did the first Shankaracharya.6 He helped me chiefly in overcoming the philosophical doubts which naturally arise in any reasoning mind, and I shall always remain in his debt in the world of thought. As for the gift I have received from Saint Jnanadev,7 I have no words to describe it. He has shaped my thought, entered my heart, guided my action; besides all this, as I believe, he has touched my body also. His influence has been great and many-sided. I am by nature very harsh, a lump of rough shapeless rock. Shankaracharya made the rock strong, Gandhiji chiselled it and gave it a form, but the mighty task of piercing the rock and releasing the springs of water below, and so endowing my life and heart with sweetness-that was the work of Saint Jnanadev.
When I think of myself, of who I am, and of the good fortune that has come my way, I recall a lot of favourable outward circumstances. I certainly had very special parents, as people recognize. My brothers too have a quality of their own. I have had a guide on my way who by universal acclaim is a Mahatma. I have had dear friends, and all of them without exception have won the affection of the people. I have had students of whom I myself have become enamoured. What a great heap of good fortune ! In addition, because I know a number of languages, I have had and still have opportunity to taste the nectar of thought of many saints and men of religion. That too, so one may reflect, is a piece of great good fortune. Yet all this pales into insignificance beside the greatest good fortune of all, which is mine and yours and everyone’s-that we are all members, portions, limbs of God; waves in that Ocean. Our greatest good fortune is that we abide within God; once we feel that, we are free.