Mr. Baker was getting anxious about my future. He took me to the Wellington Convention.
The Protestant Christians organize such gatherings every few years for religious
enlightenment or, in other words, self-purification. One may call this religious
restoration or revival. The Wellington Convention was of this type. Mr. Baker
had hoped that the atmosphere of religious exaltation at the Convention, and the
enthusiasm and earnestness of the people attending it, would inevitably lead me
to embrace Christianity.
This Convention was an assemblage of devout Christians. I was delighted at their
faith. I saw that many were praying for me. I liked some of their hymns, they
were very sweet.
The Convention lasted for three days. I could understand and appreciate the
devoutness of those who attended it. But I saw no reason for changing my
belief—my religion. It was impossible for me to believe that I could go to
heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I frankly said so
to some of the good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there was no help
My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the
only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have
everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was
like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself.
My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his
blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth
in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not
other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a
contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice,
and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on
the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a
mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. The pious lives
of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had
failed to give. I had seen in other lives just the same reformation that I had
heard of among Christians. Philosophically there was nothing extraordinary in
Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that
the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard
Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.
I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends whenever there was an
opportunity, but their answers could not satisfy me.
Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest religion,
neither was I then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were
pressingly visible to me. If untouchability could be a part of Hinduism it could
but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could not understand the raison d'
etre of a multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of saying that
the Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also the
Bible and the Koran?
As Christian friends were endeavouring to convert me, even so were Mussalman
friends. Abdulla Sheth had kept on inducing me to study Islam, and of course he
had always something to say regarding its beauty.
I expressed my difficulties in a letter to Raychandhbai. I also corresponded with
other religious authorities in India and received answers from them.
Raychandbhai's letter somewhat pacified me. He asked me to be patient and to
study Hinduism more deeply. One of his sentences was to this effect: 'On a
dispassionate view of the question I am convinced that 110 other religion has
the subtle and profound thought of Hinduism, its vision of the soul or its
Though I took a path my Christian friends had not intended for me, I have remained for
ever indebted to them for the religious quest that they awakened in me. I shall
always cherish the memory of their contact.
Autobiography, 1948, pp. 169-72
gone to South Africa for travel, for finding a escape from Kathiawad intrigues
and for gaining my own livelihood. But as I have said, I found myself in search
of God and striving for self-realization.
Christian friends had whetted my appetite for knowledge, which had become almost
insatiable, and they would not leave me in peace, even if I desired to be indifferent.
My religious correspondence continued. Raychandbhai was guiding me. I read with
interest Max Mullens book India—What Can It Teach Us? and the translation
of the Upanishads published by the Theosophical Society. All this enhanced my
regard for Hinduism, and its beauties began to grow upon me. It did not,
however, prejudice me against other religions. I read Washington Irwing's
Life of Mahomet and His Successors and Carlyle's panegyric on the Prophet.
These books raised Mahammad in my estimation. I also read a book called The
Sayings of Zarathustra.
Thus I gained more knowledge of the different religions. The study stimulated my
self-introspection and fostered in me the habit of putting into practice
whatever appealed to me in my studies. Thus I began some of the Yogic practices,
as well as I could understand them from a reading of the Hindu books. But I
could not get on very far, and decided to follow them with the help of some
expert when I returned to India. The desire has never been fulfilled.
I made too an intensive study of Tolstoy's books. The Gospels in Brief What to Do?
and other books made a deep impression on me. I began to realize more and more
the infinite possibilities of universal love.
Autobiography, 1948, pp. 197-98
When, in 1893, I came in close contact with Christian friends, I was a mere novice. They
tried hard to bring home to me, and make me accept, the message of Jesus,, and I
was a humble and respectful listener with an open mind. At that time I naturally
studied Hinduism to the best of my ability and endeavoured to understand other religions.
In 1903 the position was somewhat changed. Theosophist friends certainly intended to
draw me into their society, but that was with a view to getting something from
me as a Hindu. Theosophical literature is replete with Hindu influence, and so
these friends expected that I should be helpful to them. I explained that my
Sanskrit study was not much to speak of, that I had not read the Hindu
scriptures in the original, and that even my acquaintance with the translations
was of the slightest. But being believers in sanskara (tendencies caused
by previous births) and punarjanma (rebirth) they assumed that I should
be able to render at least some help. And so I felt like a Triton among the
minnows. I started reading Swami Vivekananda's Raja-yoga with some of
these friends and M. N. Dvivedi's Rajayoga with others. I had to read
Patanjali's Taga Sutras with one friend and the Bhagavadgita with quite a
number. We formed a sort of Seekers' Club where we had regular readings. I
already had faith in the Gita, which had a fascination for me. Now I realized
the necessity of diving deeper into it. I had one or two translations, by means
of which I tried to understand the original Sanskrit. I decided also to get by
heart one or two verses every day. For this purpose I employed the time of my
morning ablutions. The operation took me thirty-five minutes, fifteen minutes
for the tooth brush and twenty minutes for the bath. The first I used to do
standing in Western fashion. So on the wall opposite I stuck slips of paper on
which were written the Gita verses and referred to them now and then to help my
memory. This time was found sufficient for memorizing the daily portion and
recalling the verses already learnt. I remember having thus committed to memory
What effect this reading of the Gita had on my friends only they can say, but to me
the Gita became an infallible guide of conduct. It became my dictionary of daily
reference. Just as I turned to the English dictionary for the meanings of
English words that I did not understand, I turned to this dictionary of conduct
for a ready solution of all my troubles and trials. Words like aparigraha
(non-possession) and samabhava (equability) gripped me. How to cultivate
and preserve that equability was the question. How was one to treat alike
insulting, insolent and corrupt officials, co-workers of yesterday raising
meaningless opposition, and men who had always been good to one? How was one to
divest oneself of all possessions? Was not the body itself possession enough?
Were not wife and children possessions? Was I to destroy all cupboards of books
I had? Was I to give up all I had and follow Him? Straight came the answer: I
could not follow Him unless I gave up all I had. My study of English law came
to my help. Snell's discussion of the maxims of Equity came to my memory. I
understood more clearly in the light of the Gita teaching the implication of the
word 'trustee'. My regard for jurisprudence increased, I discovered in it
religion. I understood the Gita teaching of non-possession to mean that those
who desired salvation should act like the trustee who, though having control
over great possessions, regards not an iota of them as his own. It became clear
to me as daylight that non-possession and equability presupposed a change of
heart, a change of attitude. I then wrote to Revashankarbhai to allow the
insurance policy to lapse and get whatever could be recovered, or else to
regard the premium already paid as lost, for I had become convinced that God,
who created my wife and children as well as myself, would take care of them. To
my brother, who had been as father to me, I wrote explaining that I had given
him all that I had saved up to that moment, but that henceforth he should expect
nothing from me, for future savings, if any, would be utilized for the benefit
of the community.
Autobiography, 1948, pp. 322-24
I left for Natal. I had taken Mr. Polak into my fullest confidence. He came to see me
off at the station, and left with me a book to read during the journey, which he
said I was sure to like. It was Ruskin's Unto This Last.
The book was impossible to lay aside, once I had begun it. It gripped me. Johannesburg to
Durban was a twenty-four hours' journey. The train reached there in the evening.
I could not get any sleep that night. I determined to change my life in
accordance with the ideals of the book.
I translated it later into Gujarati, entitling it Sarvodqya (the welfare of all).
I believe that I discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of
Ruskin, and that is "why it so captured me and made me transform my life. A poet
is one who can call forth the good latent in the human breast. Poets do not
influence all alike, for everyone is not evolved in an equal measure.
The teachings of Unto This Last I understood to be:
1. That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.
2. That a lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's inasmuch as all have the
same right of earning their livelihood from their work.
3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the
handicraftsman is the life worth living.
The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occurred
to me. Unto This Last made it as clear as daylight for me that the second
and the third were contained in the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to
reduce these principles to practice.
Autobiography, 1948, pp. 364-65