restricted access CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: Mahātmā Gandhi: A Twentieth-Century Karmayogi
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429 CH APTER THIRT Y-ONE Mahātmā Gandhi A Twentieth-Century Karmayogi A leader of his people, unsupported by any outward authority: a politician whose success rests not upon craft nor the mastery of technical devices, but simply on the convincing power of his personality; a victorious fighter who has always scorned the use of force; a man of wisdom and humility, armed with resolve and inflexible consistency, who has devoted all his strength to the uplifting of his people and the betterment of their lot. . . . Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth. —Albert Einstein, in Ideas and Opinions Gandhi, the film, was, in many ways, a surprising success both outside India and inside. No doubt the acting of Ben Kingsley, the photography of Sir Richard Attenborough, and the dramatic mass scenes filmed in India did much to make it so attractive to so many. However, it surely also succeeded in getting something of Gandhi’s own life and thought across, and Gandhi himself proved to be the main attraction.1 The fact that it was a Hindu who shot Gandhi, one of the extremists who believed that in the communal conflict Gandhi took the side of the Muslims, reveals the whole dilemma when highlighting Mahātmā Gandhi in a survey of Hinduism. Fully aware of the hostility against Gandhi from the politically right-wing Hindus, as well as of the disdain for him from many “secularists” and progressives, he may—with all his contradictions—serve as a live example of a modern Hindu and, at the same time, offer the opportunity to discuss substantive issues that have become worldwide concerns, issues that Gandhi farsightedly addressed already in his life and time. Gandhi’s secretary Mahadev Desai issued in 1936 what came to be known as Gandhi’s Autobiography.2 Urged on 430 PART I V: HINDUISM ENCOUNT ER ING THE “OT HER” and helped by his close collaborator, Rev. Andrews, Gandhi reported under the title “My Experiments with Truth” his inner development up to the year 1924. Then, he believed, he had reached the point in his life from where events could be interpreted on the basis of his by now mature convictions. The book has become a classic of twentieth-century spirituality and provides insight into the growth of possibly the greatest human being that the twentieth century has seen in the sphere of public life. A N AV ER AGE INDI A N CHILDHOOD Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar , Gujarat. The Gandhis belonged to the Bania (traders) caste, although both his father and his paternal grandfather were premiers in princely states in Kāthiawār. Gandhi’s mother was a devout Vaiṣṇava who used to pay daily visits to the temple and who kept many vratas. She imbued little Mohandas with her religious mind. Mohandas went to elementary school in Porbandar. Reports describe him as friendly, conscientious, and of average intelligence. His third engagement took place when he was seven (two earlier brides had died by then), followed by marriage at age thirteen. By then Gandhi had moved to Rajkot High School. He was a good student, but he did not read anything besides his textbooks. He preferred to be by himself and did not join the school sports. A somewhat older fellow student attempted to draw the overly introverted Mohandas out from his shell. He induced him to eat meat, to drink liquor, to smoke cigarettes, even to visit a brothel, from which he ran away, frightened. The crisis was getting serious. Gandhi called himself an atheist and planned to commit suicide in a temple. The performance of a religious drama effected a kind of conversion in him. He confessed all his wrongdoings to his father, asked for a penance, and never relapsed. The Rāmacaritamānasa of Tulasīdāsa, which he began to read and to love, was preparing him for a personal relationship with his God. After graduation from high school Gandhi entered Samaldas College in Bhavnagar in order to study law. He found his studies too demanding and returned home without quite knowing what to do with himself. A friend suggested he go to England. For an orthodox Hindu that was something unheard of. His mother categorically refused to give her permission. Later she relented under the condition that Mohandas would assure her by way of an...