By M.V. Kamath
In Search of the Supreme, Vol. I, Vol. II and Vol. III by M.K. Gandhi: Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad (Paperback set of three volumes, Rs 250)
M.K. Gandhi (known to a more reverent generation as Mahatma Gandhi) was a voluminous writer right from his days in South Africa. Throughout his political life he was a communicator and in his later years, edited the much-quoted Harijan. He also corresponded with the high and the low and his writings have gone into several volumes. There was hardly any subject of public interest that he did not touch upon and he wrote freely and fearlessly. He was not afraid to change his views and would warn his readers to take only his latest view as valid since he would have grown with time.
Thirteen years after his assassination, Vishwas B. Kher got down to compile the Mahatma'sviews on God, Religion, Social Reform, Conversion and a whole range of allied subjects and these were published in three volumes. It would seem that 40 years later, Mahatma Gandhi is again arousing special interest. According to one account, a fresh edition of his Experiments with Truth is having rapid sales. It is quite understandable. A nation sick of jihad, religious terrorism, killing of innocents in the name of democracy and premeditated murder of political opponents is waking up to the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence. Overnight, as it were, Gandhism has become fashionable.
The ultimate insult that can be hurled upon Narendra Modi is to call him the Chief Minister of Godse'sGujarat. Gandhiji was proud of his Hinduism. He called himself a ?Sanatani Hindu? and over and over again he would define what he meant by it. Writing in Young India as early as January 1925, for instance, he claimed: ?I claim to be a Sanatani Hindu. People may laugh and say that to call myself a Sanatani Hindu, when I eat and drink from the hands of Mussalmans and Christians, keep an untouchable girl in my house as my daughter and do not hesitate to quote the Bible, is nothing short of doing violence to the language. But I would still adhere to my claim…? That entire piece is a sheer delight to read.
In many ways he was the arch Hindu. And yet again he said he was one because he believed in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name of Hindu scriptures, and therefore in avatars and rebirth, that he believed in the varanashrama dharma but not in its then popular and crude sense, that he believed in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the popular and that he did not disbelieve in idol-worship. May it be remembered that this was written in 1925.
Vishwas Kher has made a fantastic job of selection, from the Mahatma'snumberless articles. If Volume I deals largely with such esoteric subjects like God, Faith, Reason, Morality, Prayer, Worship, Penance, Spirituality, Life, Death and After, Volume II deals with equal felicity with subjects like Vows, Truth, Ahimsa, Fearlessness, Chastity, Non-stealing, Humility, Politics and Religion. There is a whole section on his practice of religion. Volume III takes on subjects like Equality and Unity of Religions, Religious Toleration, Conversion?he was totally opposed to it?the Moral Basis of Hinduism, Removal of Untouchability and Hindu Reformist Movements. His views on other religions like Buddhism and Jainism, Sikhism, Theosophy, Christianity, Islam and Moral Rearmament make compulsory reading.
He could be sharp in his criticism of missionaries. He was frank in his understanding of Jesus Christ. To quote him: ?I do not regard everything said in the Bible as the final word of God or exhaustive or even acceptable from the moral standpoint. I regard Jesus Christ as one of the greatest teachers of mankind, but I do not consider him to be the ?only Son of God?. Many passages in the Bible are mystical. For me, ?the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life?.?
And what does he have to say about Islam? Not many detailed comments of Gandhiji on the subject are available but three passages are meaningful enough. In 1927 he wrote: ?I do regard Islam to be a religion of peace in the same sense as Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism are. I know the passages that can be quoted from the Koran to the contrary. But so is it possible to quote passages from the Vedas to the contrary… Let not the pot call the kettle black. I have given my opinion that the followers of Islam are too free with the sword. But that is not due to the teachings of the Koran…? In July 1940 he wrote: ?I read as many Muslim papers as I can… and I find them so full of poison and conscious or unconscious untruths…I certainly regard Islam as one of the inspired religions…and Muhammad as one of the prophets.? According to Gandhiji the ?master-key? to discover the underlying unity among all religions is ?truth and non-violence?. As he put it: ?When you look at these religions as so many leaves of a tree, they seem so different, but at the trunk they are one. Unless and until we realise this fundamental unity, wars in the name of religion will not cease.?
There is about the Mahatma'swritings something so endearing and refreshing that it is impossible to put his book down. One does not know whether the VHP or the Hindutvawadis have read Gandhiji. In 1927 he wrote: ?Hinduism has saved us from bhaya, i.e. peril. If Hinduism had not come to my rescue, the only course for me would have been suicide. I remain a Hindu because Hinduism is a heaven which makes the world worth living in… What we see today is not pure Hinduism, but often a parody of it… Just as in the West they have made wonderful discoveries in things material, similarly Hinduism has made still more marvellous discoveries in things of religion, of the spirit, of the soul. But we have no eye for these great and fine discoveries. We are dazzled by the material progress that Western science has made.?
If Dr Murli Manohar Joshi had made this statement, our present-day secularists would have called him a Hindu fundamentalist, a saffronist and worse still, a fascist. How many of our secularists would dare call the Mahatma a fascist or a Hindu fundamentalist? It is time then that today'sgeneration of intellectuals take time off to read the Mahatma.
The selection of subjects in these three volumes is eclectic and immensely relevant. Gandhiji comes through as a man, as the true searcher of the Supreme or Truth, as the Mahatma himself would have called it. At one place Gandhiji speaks about Ruskin'sbook Unto This Last as ?impossible to lay aside, once I had begun it?. The same can be said of these three volumes which bring out the essence of the Mahatma'sthinking. Everyone?Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Secularists?would greatly benefit from a study of Gandhiji'sthoughts frankly expressed, fearlessly formulated and powerfully delivered as only he could. What Gandhiji wrote in the twenties, thirties and early forties have a special relevance in this day and age when violence in the name of religion seems to be the order of the day. Gandhiji shows a way out. And Navjivan Publishing House deserves special thanks for bringing the Mahatma back to us?alive in words that cheer the heart and educate the mind.
(Jitendra T. Desai, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad-380 014.)