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Gandhi - A True Mahatma?

Gandhi - A True Mahatma?

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Introduction of a 9 part series on Mohandas Gandhi.
Introduction of a 9 part series on Mohandas Gandhi.

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Published by: xAgneya on Mar 21, 2010
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Gandhi: A True Mahatma?

To measure the inherent character of a nation, one looks to see the predominant qualities used in association with its people and with its history. For most nations past and present, there is little to distinguish its culture from the mass of humanity, except for superficial differences such as physical features, rituals, languages, and other factors. These are nations where the individual is molded by the customs long-held by the society; indeed there is little room for the expression of true individuality, as the mass – with some justification – sees such individuality as a threat to its stability. This stability, however, is not permanent, as either it must accept the outgrowth of the individual or face internal turmoil; or it succumbs to outside pressures, often in the form of invasion. Conquered, they lose their identity and become but a footnote in the list of destroyed nations. Few are the nations able to delicately balance the uniformity desired by the mass with the interests and ambitions of the individual. The nations that do so become known for their creations, for their outward achievements, become remembered through their writers and musicians, sculptors and painters, inventors and geniuses. Their allowance of the growth of the individual in turn strengthens the mass, which cycles back to provide the foundation for the individual. Governed by outward works and desire, these are nations likely to have a significant military history, with numerous conquests. The defect in these nations is due to the very nature of desire itself - an error in relating external achievements and desires to the truest Self, which is of an internal character. While these societies will always have small minority of men willing to rise beyond the desire principle, their influence is minimal on the bulk of their fellow citizens. If these nations can be described as having systems of higher ideals, mostly of an ethical or moral basis, they cannot truly be said to have had a pervasive spiritual or transcendental foundation, even if some of their creations hinted at deeper internal realities. Without this strong element enabling regeneration, these nations are marked by the eventual exhaustion of their force. Conquering, they lose themselves in their excesses, wasting their vitality and creative strength, leaving their mark on the world but unable to sustain themselves. Fewer still are the nations with an enduring inclination towards transcending the divisions made by the individual ego. These nations have in their foundation principles that not only take up the needs of the community and the creations of the individual, but also present extensively traveled paths to help the individual delve deeper into his own nature in order to then transcend his nature. Essentially, these are nations with a foundation based upon knowledge not of objective facts and data, but illumination of the highest Self. It was not just the rare enlightened men who procured these truths (originating from subjective individual experience), because unlike in other perished or perishing nations, these experiences were known to men in all eras, whatever the general state of society. It was this foundation, laid down from times immemorial, which gave balance to these nations, allowing for the exploration of many paths and the ability to absorb shock after shock. This lofty heritage - based upon a secure internal strength - is what makes these countries less likely to attack others, and more able to rebound from the trauma of invasion and division, since being ruled by an outsider or having its land parceled could not shake an inherent unity based on something much more subtle, something eternal. Conquered, they survive their conqueror; twice born are the immortal nations.

Who then, were these men that established this higher basis for their nations? They were not the philosopher or intellectual playing with abstraction, the scientists analyzing material phenomena, the general or ruler toying with men and nations, the businessman expanding his wealth: rather, they were men of profound spiritual realization, with concrete experience of the Divine. In India they were and are known variously as Rishis, Yogis, Gurus, and other terms of reverence, dependent upon the form of practice, type of attainment, or the type of works produced by the individual, to name but a few factors. Whether these individuals have realized their hidden Soul (Purusha) or true Self (Atman), the Universal Self or Supreme Self, the personal or impersonal Godhead, or even the experience of Nirvana, they have indeed gone beyond the normal boundaries of mortals. Then there are those who had not yet attained any sort of definitive spiritual realization, those who remain seekers of the Godhead. Most commonly seen as ascetics, these Sadhus (practitioners of spiritual discipline) and Sannyasis are known to abandon not only earthly desires but also their very homes and families in search of the eternal Truth. These were ones often with a thorough understanding of the wisdom passed down by the Seers whether orally or in the scripture, persons pure in the heart, yet without possession of the ultimate knowledge gained only by experience. One title not seen often in Indian narratives and spiritual disciplines, is that of Mahatma, commonly translated as “Great Soul”. In fact, it was popularized by the Theosophical Society in the late 19th century; their founder, Helena Blatvatsky, claimed contact and guidance from 'Mahatmas' in Tibet. Theosophical literature was widely known to Indian elite home and abroad at the time, and thus Mohandas Gandhi, given the religious nature of his political strategy and speeches, was to receive this title upon his return from South Africa from those exposed to that particular salutation. This honorific, the one he is now famously associated with, renders a confusing or at the very least ambiguous translation when we consider it from the Hindu tradition. This is because Mahatma literally means “Great Self,” as the Purusha is the individual Soul supporting the play of Nature in Men, and Atman transcends beyond the play and is not usually considered in personal terms, which is what Mahatma implies. For with Atman comes the experience of complete Oneness, with no division and thus no need for the separation between greatness and littleness: personality is associated with the Purusha, impersonality generally is associated with Atman. Of course, if we view it generically as describing a great person or even a great soul, we can understand the intent behind the name. Nevertheless, since Mohandas Gandhi is considered to be an important Hindu spiritual figure, we must analyze whether or not such an honor should be bestowed upon him, from a Hindu point of view. This of course demands that we answer the crucial question: Did he have direct knowledge of his Soul or the Self (Atman)? In the following letter written in 1938 - less than a decade before his death - Gandhi admitted that he had not: I certainly gave you permission to live with me but take it that this desire is born of attachment. It would not do simply to assert that Ramana Maharshi and Aurobindo are one-sided while I am all-sided. One who is one-sided but understands his mission and pursues it has merit. One who claims to be all-sided but is only experimenting has even less worth than broken almond shells. Only God knows where I stand. I am an aspirant while they are known to be, and perhaps are, realized souls. Anyway their followers attribute to them full self-realization. 1

In a letter written on January 3rd, 1948, Gandhi admitted that he was not even close, writing, “I am nowhere near realizing Rama yet, but I am striving. When I have the realization, the glow of my ahimsa will spread all around. 2” By this time in his life, Gandhi’s name was known throughout the world, and he was considered by many to be the latest in the long tradition of Indian holy men. However, as he was well aware, he had yet to experience the same states of consciousness that had made these past men so revered. Gandhi, perhaps feeling he had not truly earned a title that implied Divine realization, admitted that the praise might not have been deserved: The second of October 1947 was Gandhiji's birthday...Members of his party came in the early morning to offer him their obeisances. "Bapuji," one of them remarked, "on our birthdays, it is we who touch the feet of other people and take their blessings but in you case it is the other way about. Is this fair?" Gandhiji laughed: "The ways of Mahatmas are different! It is not my fault. You made me Mahatma, maybe a bogus one; so you must pay the penalty!" 3 Another area of confusion regarding Gandhi is the basis for the philosophy that he propagated. While he would always claim his ideas to have sprung from Hinduism, in reality, the core of his religious philosophy - especially his version of ahimsa - was based on Christian tenets, especially that of turning the other cheek. More than any meditative practice, it was this ahimsa that would be central to his spiritual discipline. It was also – extremely - vital to his political and external missions, for in Gandhi's version of ahimsa, nonviolence was to be used in all stages and events of life, including the rape of ones own mother in front of ones eyes. It was this that he instructed to the Khudai Khidmatgars on October 31, 1938: If in your heart of hearts there is the slightest inclination to regard your non-violence as a mere cloak or a stepping-stone to greater violence as suggested by this friend, nay, unless your are prepared to carry your non-violence to its ultimate logical conclusion and to pray for forgiveness even for a baby-killer and a child-murderer, you cannot sign your Khudai Khidmatgar's pledge of non-violence. To sign that pledge with metal reservations would only bring disgrace upon you, your organization and hurt him who you delight to call the Pride of Afghans. But what about the classical instance of the defenseless sister or mother who is threatened with molestation by an evil-minded ruffian, you will ask. Is the ruffian in question to be allowed to work his will? Would not the use of violence be permissible in such a case? My reply is 'no'. You will entreat the ruffian. The odds are that in his intoxication he will not listen. But then you will interpose yourself between the intended victim and him. Very probably you will be killed but you will have done your duty. Ten to one, killing you unarmed and unresisting will assuage the assailant's passion and he will leave his victim unmolested. But it has been said to me that tyrants do not act as we want or expect them to. Finding you unresisting he may tie you to a post and make you watch his rape of the victim. If you have the will you will so exert yourself that you will break yourself in the attempt to break the bonds. In

either case, you will open the eyes of the wrongdoer. Your armed resistance could do no more, while if you were worsted, the position would likely be much worse than if you died unresisting. There is also the chance of the intended victim copying your calm courage and immolating herself rather than allowing herself to be dishonored. 4 Not only is it a far cry from the truths taught by Hinduism and more reminiscent of Christ’s New Testament teachings, it is also indicative of the uselessness of Gandhi's policy of nonviolence towards colonial rule. For if we view India as the Mother being ravaged, drained of its resources and life force by British colonial rule, one can begin to understand the foolishness of Gandhi's idea that nonviolence alone would free India. ***** This belief that Gandhi's movement was the primary reason for India's independence is the result of continued repetition of an exaggerated version of events, done by both the Indian Congress Party and the Western and Indian media and intelligentsia. The Congress Party, ruling India from partition for decades, were bound to present their narrative of the independence movement, and thus the paramount significance given to both Gandhi and Nehru. The closeness of the two gave an almost direct connection between the descendants of Nehru who ruled India and the supposed leader of the independence movement. And like any good politicians, his descendants have chosen to embrace the Gandhi name, with the implied lineage such a surname gives, even for those not Indian in origin, with no blood relation to Nehru let alone Gandhi! The British also played a role in this narrative prior to their departure, as they publicly gave credit to the nonviolent movement as cause for their exit. In actuality, it was the potential threat of a serious outbreak of violence (to be discussed later) that weighed heavily on British minds. As to the role of nonviolence, the British had received numerous intelligence reports contradicting their official reason for departure. One of these classified (at the time of its making) reports was entitled Unrest (1925): Gandhi - It is perhaps worth noting here, in view of the great fame which at one time attached to Gandhi as a political leader, that during the past year he has entirely lost all influence in Indian politics. He has himself more than once publicly stated that he realizes this. There are probably several reasons for this. One is that everyone realizes that his scheme of securing Sward by means of spinning and non-resistance was a mad one. And a more potent cause is that he has managed in one way or another to offend all classes and religions. In the summer of this year, after he had been some weeks in Bengal, all parties in the province disowned him. Now the All-India Congress Committee has cut out his spinning nostrum from the Congress faith, and left him to form a Spinning Association of his own. It was time something of this kind was done; for even by April of this year his insistence on the production of some hanks of homespun yarn as the qualification for the Congress franchise had reduced the number of members from 2,500,000 to 11,000. 5 Another classified report, entitled Review of Revolutionary Matters for Six Weeks ending 23rd October 1941, highlighted the failure of Gandhi's movement in Bengal, long the epicenter of the

war for independence: Of exceptional interest are the B.P.C.C's replies to the questionnaire set by the A.I.C.C and a note on the difficulties experienced by Congressmen in Bengal which was given to Mrs. Sarojini Naidu for delivery to Gandhi when she was in Calcutta in September. It is stated in the note that the Hindu Mahasabha had flourished as a result of the communal conflict and at the expense of the Congress; the Forward Bloc had fallen back, especially since Bose's disappearance, but without any corresponding increase in the popularity of the Congress. The Hindu Mahasabha had captured the imagination of the entire middle class. As to the young men and students, they had been won over by communism and to a much smaller extent by the Forward Bloc, whereas the Congress efforts to recruit them had failed. In short the Hindu Mahasabha with its communal cry, the Forward Bloc with its provincial cry (whatever that means!) and communism with its slogans of no rent and no-payment of debts and taxes and its preaching of class hatred, had a great advantage over Congress, which called for patient suffering and sacrifice and gave no promise of immediate gain. ...Regarding Satyagraha, an egregious failure in Bengal, it stated that the spirits of the public and the satyagrahis had been damped by Government's policy of not arresting the latter. This cannot, however, be the complete reason for the failure. In reality, the public was never interested, and when the Congress leaders themselves were lukewarm and the Jugantar leaders of the Congress were more concerned with the maintenance and strengthening of their own secret party rather than carrying out Congress policy. ...The picture thus presented is of an enfeebled Hindu Congress losing its popularity to the Hindu Mahasabha, and desiring the revival of Congress committees in order to check its decline and to recover contact with the masses. 6 If British leaders were receiving reports like the previous two disputing his impact on the revolutionary movement, then only strategic maneuvering can explain their incongruous stance. For if the British, by using their influence on the media to embellish the threat nonviolence posed to the Empire, could somehow get all Indians to practice Gandhian ahimsa, then the British would possibly rule India for eons. Practically speaking, no nonviolent movement would have been allowed to end British rule, because India was the golden goose of the Empire, the "jewel in the crown." To understand India’s importance, we should consider that the British share of world manufacturing output in 1750 was less than two percent, yet by 1900 this tiny island had close to twenty percent of the worlds share. By contrast, India in 1750 was home to a quarter of the worlds output; by 1900 it had plummeted to less than two percent.7 Not surprisingly it was in the mid-18th century that Britain – lured like the rest of the European explorers by tales of Indian riches - began to secure territory in India. The British increased their manufacturing output by allowing only British goods to be sold in India and by destroying all Indian competition (the reaction to this provided the platform for the original Swadeshi movement started in 1905 prior to Gandhi’s return). Without this competition, Britain had a significant portion of the Worlds population as its consumer base, to go along with the bountiful natural resources it controlled throughout the subcontinent. In light of those facts, it is safe to say that unless forced to do so, there was no logical reason for

the British to give up India, whether for its consumer base or its manufacturing output or its natural resources. So the British tried, through clever media manipulation, to give more publicity to Gandhi's ideas in the hopes that Indians would foolishly follow them, or to at least create confusion amongst the minds of Indian leaders and potential revolutionaries. Unfortunately for the British, even well designed plans can be overcome, and force was used - albeit indirectly - to gain independence. Of course, the British did not mind portraying Gandhi’s movement as reason for their departure, for reasons less to do with practicality and more to do with esteem and appearances. They were now the benevolent father admired for their generosity and kindness, graciously giving up their claims to the land that made them a superpower at the behest of a mild-mannered ascetic. ***** The British were not the only enemy facing the Hindus of India; an older enmity remained. For centuries prior to British rule, there had been strife between Hindus and Islamic invaders and rulers. Although the Muslims had ceased to rule India, they had begun, from the early 19th century, to increase their numbers simply through procreation. Conflict renewed between the two - in this case, it was between different local communities, not between the original inhabitants and outsiders. While there are undoubtedly numerous sources of friction depending upon circumstance, there is one particular seed that seems to render hostile relations inevitable. This seed is found in the content of the Islamic religion. After all, one only needs a brief glance at Islamic scripture to discover an aggressive mentality against non-Muslims, especially the alleged "idolaters" who should be subjugated: Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection. 8 The Quran makes it quite clear what Allah deems fit for polytheists like the Hindus, namely, the triumph of Islam and the defeat of their religion: He it is Who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, that He might cause it to prevail over all religions, though the polytheists may be averse.9 The Islamic religion, separating the world into Dar-ul-Islam and Dar-ul-Harb10, the land of the believers and the land of war, eventually intends for non-Islamic lands to be converted, even if this involves the sword11. If the unbelievers manage to escape this earthly fate, yet are they doomed upon leaving their bodily life, since as the Quran reveals, “Surely those who disbelieve from among the followers of the Book and the polytheists shall be in the fire of hell, abiding therein; they are the worst of men.”12 The idolaters are considered dirty, impure, and are thus not to be allowed inside mosques: “O you who believe! The idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of His grace if He please; surely Allah is Knowing, Wise.” 13 Such a doctrine towards unbelievers compels the believer to see such peoples as lesser beings,

predisposing the believers to chilling actions against the polytheists. Thus when India was partitioned in 1947, Muslims in Muslim majority areas were easily incited by clerics using religious justification to attack any Hindu in site. The Hindus responded with the same sort of brutality for the most part, although the majority of them in Muslim areas simply fled to India. Gandhi not only opposed the vengeance, he objected to the migration from ancestral lands. In an item attributed to The Hindu, Gandhi's advice for Hindu refugees from present-day Pakistan was the following: My advice is unalterable. They should remain where they are, if they are brave enough to die and even in the act of dying forgive the enemy. If they have not assimilated this truth they should of course come away as soon as they can. 14 Fitting with his opposition of any vengeful acts towards Muslims, or any Hindu escape from Muslim areas, Gandhi would urge Hindus to joyously let Muslims kill them: I would tell the Hindus to face death cheerfully if the Muslims are out to kill them. I would be a real sinner if after being stabbed I wished in my last moment that my son should seek revenge. I must die without rancour. But why in the first place would a Muslim kill at all when he has been asked not to do it. But the thing is that they have still to realize that in politics force cannot avail... As it is, there are too many people in the world who meet force by force. They even talk about killing two for one, let alone one for one. But, I say there will never be any peace even if you kill not ten but a hundred for one. There is nothing brave about dying without killing. It is an illusion of bravery. The true martyr is one who lays down his life without killing. You may turn round and ask whether all Hindus and all Sikhs should die. Yes, I would say. Such martyrdom will not be in vain.15 These, as we shall see, were by no means isolated speeches. ***** Having only examined the first part to the original question, the validity of Gandhi’s title of Mahatma, we must now consider the second part. We have seen Gandhi’s frank assessment of his inability to possess any significant spiritual experience, including of course the realization of his Soul or Self. In the Hindu context this is of cardinal importance. However this tradition, like others across the globe, offers high praise to those whom although yet to see past the golden lid separating man from his true Divine nature, still embody in human form all the pure and great qualities associated with both the Divine and with the Self-realized. This is the nature of man in a truly or more completely evolved state from his animal past, purified of the baseness of ego. As will be assayed in the following sections, it is highly debatable as to whether Gandhi really belongs to this esteemed category of men. In studying the life of Gandhi, we come to find all the traits associated with the ordinary human mass. Instead of a wide and rich wisdom assimilating different manifestations of the Truth, we find a limited knowledge clinging to a few poorly understood concepts as an absolute. Instead of a heroic resolve against the actions of evildoers, we find shrinkage from battle masquerading as courage. Instead of a true compassion we find

hardness towards those in need of succor. Instead of a humble yet strong personality, we find arrogance masked by obsequiousness. Instead of the renunciation of adulation and ambition, we find a secret craving for fame and power. And instead of the actual practice of purity in his personal life, we find only the boasts of abstention. All of our discoveries in turn lead to an inevitable conclusion – that of a mortal unbefitting the accolades given to him. References: Letter to Brijkrishna Chandiwala, CWOMG, Vol. LXVIII, pg. 40 CWOMG vol. 90 pg. 350 Mahatma Gandhi-The Last phase, Vol. II PP 456-8, CWOMG vol. 89 Appendix III pg. 524-5 4. Harijan 19-11-1938, CWOMG, vol. LXVIII, pg. 81-82 5. Indian Political Intelligence (IPI) files, 1912-1950. A.J. Farrington, editor. Leiden, The Netherlands: IDC, 2000. 6. Indian Political Intelligence (IPI) files, 1912-1950. A.J. Farrington, editor. Leiden, The Netherlands: IDC, 2000. 7. View the economic data from B. R. Tomlinson's Economics: The Periphery in The Oxford History of the British Empire: The Nineteenth Century 8. Qur'an 9:05 9. Qur'an 9:33 10. Technically this concept is not contained explicitly within the Qur'an or the Hadiths; it was developed over time and after numerous wars with Unbelievers. However it can justified in the Qur'an when we consider the promises Allah makes to believers that they will gather countless booty as they conquer all the other religions which inevitably includes their lands: “Allah promiseth you much booty that ye will capture, and hath given you this in advance, and hath withheld men's hands from you, that it may be a token for the believers, and that He may guide you on a right path…And if those who disbelieve join battle with you they will take to flight, and afterward they will find no protecting friend nor helper. It is the law of Allah which hath taken course aforetime. Thou wilt not find for the law of Allah aught of power to change. And He it is Who hath withheld men's hands from you, and hath withheld your hands from them, in the valley of Mecca, after He had made you victors over them. Allah is Seer of what ye do. …He it is Who sent His Messenger with the guidance and the true religion that He may make it prevail over all the religions; and Allah is enough for a witness. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves…Allah hath promised, unto such of them as believe and do good works, forgiveness and immense reward.” Qur'an 48:2029 11. “When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” Qur'an 08:12 12. Qur'an 98:06 13. Qur'an 09:28 14. The Hindu 26-10-1947, CWOMG vol. 89 pg. 395
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Prarthana-Pravachan Part I pp. 54-8, CWOMG vol. 87 pg. 394-5

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