A Prayer for Dark Folk

Remember, O God, thru’out the world this night those who struggle for better government and freer institutions…Help us to realize that our brothers are not simply those of our own blood and nation, but far more are they those who think as we do and strive toward the same ideals. So tonight in Persia and China, in Russia and Turkey, in Africa and all America, let us bow with our brothes and sisters and pray as they pray for a world, well-governed–void of war and caste, and free to each asking soul. Amen.

The day has dawned when above a wounded, tired earth unselfish sacrifice, without sin and hell, may join through technique, shorn of ruthless greed, and make a new religion, one with new knowledge, to shout from old hills of heaven ‘Go down Moses!’

W.E.B DU BOIS

Buddhism, the Fulfilment of Hinduism by Swami Vivekananda

Delivered on 26th September, 1893

I am not a Buddhist, as you have heard, and yet I am. If China, or Japan, or Srilanka follow the teachings of the Great Master, India worships him as God incarnate on earth. You have just now heard that I am going to criticise Buddhism, but by that I wish you to understand only this. Far be it from me to criticise him whom I worship as God incarnate on earth. But our views about Buddha are that he was not understood properly by his disciples. The relation between Hinduism (by Hinduism, I mean the religion of the Vedas) and what is called Buddhism at the present day is nearly the same as between Judaism and Christianity. Jesus Christ was a Jew, and Shâkya Muni was a Hindu. The Jews rejected Jesus Christ, nay, crucified him, and the Hindus have accepted Shâkya Muni as God and worship him. But the real difference that we Hindus want to show between modern Buddhism and what we should understand as the teachings of Lord Buddha lies principally in this: Shâkya Muni came to preach nothing new. He also, like Jesus, came to fulfil and not to destroy. Only, in the case of Jesus, it was the old people, the Jews, who did not understand him, while in the case of Buddha, it was his own followers who did not realise the import of his teachings. As the Jew did not understand the fulfilment of the Old Testament, so the Buddhist did not understand the fulfilment of the truths of the Hindu religion. Again, I repeat, Shâkya Muni came not to destroy, but he was the fulfilment, the logical conclusion, the logical development of the religion of the Hindus.

The religion of the Hindus is divided into two parts: the ceremonial and the spiritual. The spiritual portion is specially studied by the monks.

In that there is no caste. A man from the highest caste and a man from the lowest may become a monk in India, and the two castes become equal. In religion there is no caste; caste is simply a social institution. Shâkya Muni himself was a monk, and it was his glory that he had the large-heartedness to bring out the truths from the hidden Vedas and through them broadcast all over the world. He was the first being in the world who brought missionarising into practice — nay, he was the first to conceive the idea of proselytising.

The great glory of the Master lay in his wonderful sympathy for everybody, especially for the ignorant and the poor. Some of his disciples were Brahmins. When Buddha was teaching, Sanskrit was no more the spoken language in India. It was then only in the books of the learned. Some of Buddha’s Brahmins disciples wanted to translate his teachings into Sanskrit, but he distinctly told them, “I am for the poor, for the people; let me speak in the tongue of the people.” And so to this day the great bulk of his teachings are in the vernacular of that day in India.

Whatever may be the position of philosophy, whatever may be the position of metaphysics, so long as there is such a thing as death in the world, so long as there is such a thing as weakness in the human heart, so long as there is a cry going out of the heart of man in his very weakness, there shall be a faith in God.

On the philosophic side the disciples of the Great Master dashed themselves against the eternal rocks of the Vedas and could not crush them, and on the other side they took away from the nation that eternal God to which every one, man or woman, clings so fondly. And the result was that Buddhism had to die a natural death in India. At the present day there is not one who calls oneself a Buddhist in India, the land of its birth.

But at the same time, Brahminism lost something — that reforming zeal, that wonderful sympathy and charity for everybody, that wonderful heaven which Buddhism had brought to the masses and which had rendered Indian society so great that a Greek historian who wrote about India of that time was led to say that no Hindu was known to tell an untruth and no Hindu woman was known to be unchaste.

Hinduism cannot live without Buddhism, nor Buddhism without Hinduism. Then realise what the separation has shown to us, that the Buddhists cannot stand without the brain and philosophy of the Brahmins, nor the Brahmin without the heart of the Buddhist. This separation between the Buddhists and the Brahmins is the cause of the downfall of India. That is why India is populated by three hundred millions of beggars, and that is why India has been the slave of conquerors for the last thousand years. Let us then join the wonderful intellect of the Brahmins with the heart, the noble soul, the wonderful humanising power of the Great Master.

The Heroism of Satyagraha

Our heroes must be spiritual.

–Swami Vivekananda

What does the method and philosophy of Satyagraha reveal? It exposes the heart of human nature, in all of its contradictions. The law of satyagraha compels us to act with soul force, which necessitates activation of our soul memory, our spirit consciousness.

If it follows that we were still born though we do not remember our babyhood, then it is also true that our soul-force stores memories from many lifetimes through which we have traveled. Just because we do not remember our babyhood, for example, does not mean we did not exist. This line of thought was illumined in the teachings of Swami Vivekananda; it also drove the pedagogy of Gandhiji’s satyagraha. the soul is infinite, a persistent energetic impulse perambulating the universe. It merely changes form as it morphs through time. Moksha, when the soul liberates itself from rebirth, is not unlike supernova. The soul achieves unity with space and time and does not need to resolve its contradictions in earthly life; it is free to join with Brahman. The soul-force or the Atman is our direct connection to the force we know as God or Brahman. This is why those souls who attain this unity with Brahman, mahasamadhi, escape the illusion of physical life and experience a perfect bliss. It is the peace of godly love, the peace which transcends understanding as posited in Christian doctrine.

In satyagraha, the soul force must be compelled to take refuge in this truth: that the soul being eternal, the body is merely a vessel, as frail as it is powerful. This realization gives the satyagrahi immense soul confidence, the authority to act with the superhuman courage that brings forth the great men and women of an epoch. The soul is time itself, for it bears a record of its rebirths and so is conscious of its antiquity and its future at the same time. It is a force in the universe comparable to other forces such as gravity.

If it follows that the purpose of human civilization is to evolve a culture of absolute peace, in our progress from our primitive origins, then ahimsa or the way of non-violence that is revealed when one seeks the truth of the soul force is the only pathway forward in a time that desperately demands such soul-awakening. Satyagraha is often portrayed as a weaker cousin of the “real” revolution. However, lest we misconstrue its true intent: satyagraha is entirely active if we take human will and conscience to be acting forces in nature.

Satyagraha thus demands a fierce courage and loyalty to the call of soul-truth, which may necessitate imperilment even of the physical body in the fight, paradoxically, to save one’s soul. The satyagrahi’s consciousness of her capacity to renounce the law of self-preservation and embrace self-immolation creates the courage to sacrifice even the body if necessary in the pursuit of love, freedom, and justice. The soul is not free in conditions where untruth and decadence prevail.

The soul force then is the voice within us that cries out for justice of God, an seething energy capable of defeating the evil lurking in the heart of man. it compels us to be killed rather than be moved to kill ourselves. We have been taught in Western civilization that the drives of human nature cannot be overcome, that we are victims of our natures, that the causes of our problems are due to external rather than internal factors. In this paradigm, desire becomes misconstrued as need and we are forever using this tragic misconception to justify the illusion of reality that keeps us trapped behind loveless masks. We are trapped because we are afraid to let go and because we are afraid to let go, we cannot love. We become stronger when we learn to discern the differences between one and the other, between genuine need and frivolous desire.

Western psychoanalysis holds that we cannot overcome our base instincts due to certain uncontrollable factors or complexes that mandate certain inevitabilities in our social relations to each other. Consequently, the allegories of Oedipus and Electra are invoked to justify certain sexual impulses in man and woman. And yet, what of those who manage to transcend such impulses through the unity of mind and heart?… Pained by the condition of his people, Gandhiji began to ask himself how he could change the capricious heart of man. He did not find answers in Freud (neither did Dr. King, interestingly). Rather, he turned to scripture, producing copious translations and notes of the Gita, the Bible, The Quran, and other gospels. Slowly, he began to see that the only way he could change the world was by changing himself.

We remain victims in the Western conception of reality and human nature because we are forever blaming forces beyond ourselves instead of taking charge of our inner drives, which more often than not lead us astray from the marrow of existence, which is the soul-force or prana. The psychoanalytic seems an impoverished view of the human personality to me; we are human precisely because we take responsibility, on our best days, for our actions. Human beings are also capable of transcending their conditions. A poor man can make something of nothing; genius overcomes struggle by gaining mastery of it; both a rich man and a poor man can be enslaved to their natures.

Taking responsibility requires humility and patience with one’s limitations. It takes immense inner strength and willpower to say no to that which restricts one’s growth and well-being. It takes greater strength to exemplify in your response to this force, whose origin is the fiend who roams the world bloodlustily, that you will not mimic his behavior and dishonor your soul force by retaliating.

In your resistance to evil, however, you must paradoxically not resist and so this is why Jesus said resist not evil. Only the ancient sages and prophets have managed to detach from maya, the illusion that keeps us attached to the physical body. we must overcome these lower urges which today most tragically suffuse the values of a decaying Western empire. Like the Buddha, Mohandas K. Gandhi saw the profound misery accompanying the self-indulgence of worldliness. He sought to educate, clothe, and feed the sons and daughters of India. He strove mightily to cure the blight of caste oppression. He fought to free the soul of India from the unbearable agony of three hundred years of imperialism, which had orchestrated immense suffering in India. Under the English, Bharat Mata was raped and exploited, her wealth looted, her education neglected and her future darkened. Pained by the condition of his people, Gandhiji began to ask himself how he could change the capricious heart of man. Slowly, he began to see that the only way he could change the world was by changing himself. This is why he renounced meat, sex, wealth, luxury, and other distractions which keep us attached to the illusions we tragically mistake for reality.

Like Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji’s renunciations awakened the West as the Buddha had awakened the East. In the United States, the African-American people who were making triumphs in their long march to freedom began to hear of Gandhiji’s political agitations in South Africa as well as India. Many African-American leaders, like Howard Thurman, Benjamin E. Mays, William Nelson, and James Lawson, would make pilgrimages to study the Indian anti-colonial movement and the power of the soul-force in the progress of our struggle. They shared with Indians the spirituals of their church, many met with Gandhiji, others organized their people using methods they learned during their pilgrimage. Musicians like Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, and others riffed and improvised on the Eastern theme, awakening the slumbering spirit of the Afro-Asiatic sound. Black universities began teaching courses on satyagraha and Ahimsa as political tactics in the struggle for civil rights. In a manifestation of Gandhi’s prophecy to Howard Thurman that it would be through the American Negro that the the message of non-violence would bear fruit, black citizens of Montgomery, Alabama committed satyagraha by refusing to ride the segregated bus lines. And so, Sermon on the Mount united with the eternal Song of the Gita yielding to satyagraha in America.

Gandhi’s Gospel Of Love and the Shadow Puppets Of Western Civilization

Betrayal in the Garden

Amongst Indians and African-Americans who possess lived experience of the movement for peace and freedom in the twentieth century, the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1959 visit to India, the Land of Gandhi, persists. Upon his return, King emphasized that “the bourgeoise—white, black or brown—behaves about the same the world over,” and enjoins the Americans to support the Indian independence “in a spirit of international brotherhood, not national selfishness,” the spirit which undo reigns today in the relation of the West to the rest of the world.

However, it nevertheless also remains true that a great deal is being done to sever India’s ancient and modern ties to Africa and African-America in order to assimilate Indians–particularly in the West, though even in India, to white ideals and values. Even at this late date, we see new iterations of the white man’s burden in virtually every sphere of world society. As a result, Indians in the West or even in India are not fully cognizant today of the deep ties linking India and African-America politically, spiritually, as well as culturally. If we think about it, the Indian anti-colonial struggle would not have been possible without the recognition of Africans and African Americans, who were among the first believers of Gandhi’s gospel of love.

Likewise, Gandhiji’s ideas were foundational to the black freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi touched the lives of black intellectuals and leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois, Hubert Harrison, A. Phillip Randolph, Eslanda Robeson, Sue Bailey and Howard Thurman, George Washington Carver, William Nelson, James Lawson, and Howard Thurman as well as Dr. King the four decades between 1920-1960. Many black leaders visited with Gandhi from 1935 to 1937. These thinkers and leaders were building the necessary links between the black struggle and the struggles of oppressed peoples throughout the world  at the turn of the century, doing the heroic work of sowing the seeds for the civil rights movement to which the Gandhian method of satyagraha—the steadfast insistence upon the truth—was central. African-American satyagrahis, like Martin Luther King Jr., Howard Thurman, W.E.B Du Bois, Paul Robeson and countless others together waged the battle for peace. They saw the continuities as well as idiosyncrasies of their own oppression here in the United States, and that of the Indians in India, seeing parallels between racial caste here and caste and colonial oppression there. Several of Gandhi’s English and Indian followers, like Miriam Slade and Sarojini Naidu, met with African Americans in the U.S. and black universities became central to the dissemination of the Gandhian message of peace. A. Philip Randolph, the black labor leader who opposed segregation in the Americen workforce during World War II, began to assert similarities between his methods and those of Gandhi during the 1940s, while the Congress of Racial Equality and other groups also adopted Gandhian techniques. Dr. King would himself say that the Anerican civil rights movement was patterned after the Gandhian movement in India though with one crucial difference: while the Indian anti-colonial struggle sought to send the British back, the goal of the African-American freedom movement under the leadership of Dr. King was integration. Integration, however, was not assimilation; for Dr.King, it meant the end of segregation and the realization of God’s beloved community at long last. Gandhism did not gain mass appeal until Dr. King, who saw in Gandhi’s bhakti yoga (devotion), the gospel of Jesus Christ. Out of the lectures,  studies, hymns, and conversations organized by these individuals over the course of their many visits came a new synthesis of ideas, a new forging of history, a new epistemology, or way of looking at and knowing the world, and a renaissance in art and culture.

In the seventh book of Plato’s Republic, we find the allegory of the cave. An allegory is a story with a  double meaning, a second moral-political valence underlying the larger story. In the allegory of the cave, we find a group of prisoners who have been chained to one another in a cave facing a wall. Behind them, meanwhile, there is a fire and their captors carry on with their lives ignoring their suffering. So the prisoners can only see the shadows projected onto the wall by the firelight. At one point, one of the prisoners escapes to sunlight and sees the truth. When he comes back to save the rest of his comrades,  he is deemed a madman. Plato’s allegory is a good example of the ways in which ideas can hold us captive, particularly false ideations that inhibit human freedom. The work we are undertaking during the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi seems to dispel the shadow puppets of Western civilization, the chimeras which beleaguer us in the aims and ideals of Western imperialism. Gandhiji, like Dr. King, Paul Robeson, Dr. Thurman, and other leaders of the anti-imperialist movement recognized that independence and liberation would only come with the full and unabashed rejection of Western values and paradigms on the part of the oppressed.  Education was thus at the center of Mahatma Gandhi’s program for peace, prosperity, and truth, most importantly.

The historical continuities and unities between African-America and India have not received much attention because of the imperial record of history which predominates in the West. We know, however, that Asia has been linked to Africa through trade and civilization for millennia; these relationships were destroyed by European colonialism and slavery. One can observe cultural continuities between Asia and Africa, even in the culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans, whose roots were Afro-Asiatic. The Greco-Roman gods, for example, are linked to the fertility cults of Western Asia and pharaonic civilization of Egypt as well as the culture of Africa below the Sahara. The knowledge, art and architecture of ancient Indian kingdoms in turn influenced the Greek and Roman empire. Sometime in the nineteenth century, however, when the world historical paradigm shifted to the “Aryan model” of history, we started seeing this all very differently argues Martin Bernal. The long history of contact between ancient Egypt and ancient India was rejected to accommodate the lie of black inferiority when Egypt was conquered by Napoleon and when the Europeans pivoted to direct colonialism in Africa and Asia. The influence of Indian and African culture on Greco-Roman culture as well as Persian civilization (and certainly vice versa) was omitted from the historical record, which became, in the mainstream, a defense of European rule over the vast masses of humanity.

Plutarch (46 – 120 CE), a Greek historian, biographer and essayist, who wrote Parallel Lives (an important source for Shakespeare’s history plays) describes the Greek encounter with India as follows

As for the Macedonians, however, their struggle with Porus blunted their courage and stayed their further advance into India. For having had all they could do to repulse an enemy who mustered only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand horse, they violently opposed Alexander when he insisted on crossing the river Ganges also, the width of which, as they learned, was thirty-two furlongs, its depth a hundred fathoms, while its banks on the further side were covered with multitudes of men-at arms and horsemen and elephants.

As a consequence of these lapses in the historical record, many shadow projections keep Indians and other dark nations tethered to the false ideations of Western history and scholarships. For instance, Indians in America are inured to the notion that we are a people of Indo-European descent rather than part of a civilizational complex with extensive networks of trade and culture with Africa, where humanity originated, as well as to Europe. W.E.B Du Bois is perhaps the most crucial figure in dispelling these myths, showing in his pathbreaking scholarship that the foundations of Indian civilization are black– not “Aryan” at all, but Dravidian. He further explores this thesis 1928 novel, Dark Princess, embodying the political unity of Pan-Africa and Pan-Asia in the struggle against imperialism in the romance between Matthew Townes and Princess Kautilya Of Bwodpur, a fictional Indian kingdom.  Kautilya falls in love with Matthew, an African-American doctor patterned after Du Bois himself in many ways. Matthew flees to Berlin, where he meets the Princess after he is barred from medical school examinations by the Dean due to the color of his skin. Those of us who escape the allegorical cave where our senses are dimmed and manipulated have a responsibility to enlighten those who are still held in captivity, the novel reminds us, to become teachers of teachers.

Dr. Du Bois made an inestimable sociological and political contribution in his scholarship, showing us like Gandhiji that in fact, Indians can join African-Americans in their struggle for peace here in the United States, with the understanding that in doing so they advance the freedom of their brothers and sisters in India and Africa. This is where our unity as the darker races should emerge today and this is where the hope lies: in recognizing the true significance of our common bond and discovering what it means for us to relate in the twenty-first century in fraternity and common struggle, for as King said, “we are wrapped in a single garment of destiny.”

Gandhiji’s philosophy of nonviolence was anchored in the principle of ahimsa, the negation of violence, and satyagraha, holding onto one’s soul force in the struggle for truth and the battle for peace. India, he warned, should not focus her efforts on marshaling arms but on achieving peace in the world. The pursuit of war was antithetical to the aims and ideals of Indian civilization, he correctly recognized–a betrayal of the truth underlying by the plurality of faiths that have flowered in southern Asia. Gandhiji incorporated both of these concepts, ahimsa and satyagraha, into his political philosophy and led a number of national strikes using methods of non-violent non-cooperation to achieve his mission of swaraj, or home rule.  His thought, however, cannot be limited to Hinduism as he was influenced by all of the world’s religions, particularly the example set by Buddha, Mohammed, and Jesus, which he cherished towards the end of his life, when he was betrayed like Christ in the Garden of Gethsamane. Du Bois presaged these ideas in his poem “Hymn To the Peoples” wherein he remarks

The Buddha walks with Christ;

And Al-Koran and Bible both be holy!

Gandhi studied the New Testament closely and was particularly drawn to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in the Gospel Of Matthew. Like Christ, he sought to drive out the money-changers from the temples of Jerusalem. When Jesus commanded his disciples to love their enemy he was telling the disinherited to love the Romans who would turn around and crucify him. Jesus said in his sermon,

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God…Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

“I have not been able to see any difference between the Sermon on the Mount and the Bhagavad Gita,” Gandhi once confessed. He would write at least six commentaries and translations of the Gita and was constantly interpreting the text, which appears to most of us as a manual for warfare, given what Krishna asks of Arjuna; however Gandhiji correctly  understood it as a handbook of nonviolence. The Gita reveals the contradictions of the human heart. That is why God is infinitely greater than frail humanity. As Gandhiji said in his interpretations of the Gita

If Arjuna had forgotten the difference between kinsmen and others and had been so filled with the spirit of non-violence so as to bring about a change of heart in Duryodhana, he would have been another Shri Krishna. However, he believed Duryodhana to be wicked.

It is not uncoincidental that Matthew–recalling the Book of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount–is also the name of the protagonist of Du Bois’ novel, Dark Princess. Du Boisian nomenclature is nothing if not multiply symbolic and allusive in its significatory range. Gandhi would also say that the Qu’ran was the most beautiful and perfect work of literature in Arabic. Humanity is beloved because we are children of Allah, his most perfect creations. As he put it,

“Truth is the first thing to be sought for, and Beauty and Goodness will then be added unto you. Jesus was, to my mind, a supreme artist because he saw and expressed Truth; and so was Muhammad, the Koran being, the most perfect composition in all Arabic literature – at any rate, that is what scholars say. It is because both of them strove first for Truth that the grace of expression naturally came in and yet neither Jesus not Muhammad wrote on Art. That is the Truth and Beauty I crave for, live for, and would die for.”

For Gandhiji, God is truth because he is love and because he is love he is light which in turn gives birth to life, like a flower growing towards the beaming sun. Life, he argued, was sacred and the British had decimated Indians of all faiths by this point through  lynchings, torture, war, starvation and all manner of unspeakable crimes. In the face of such widespread violence, Gandhi could only conclude from his study of the law, the world’s religions,that non-violence was the only moral way forward in the face of persistent bloodshed and savagery. In the face of rioting and needless violence on the eve of Independence Gandhiji insisted that India  was the home of all of the world’s religions, a land held together in the creative and syncretic tension of its diverse peoples, civilizations, and landscapes.

On the whole, Western Christianity has been cruel to the spiritual life of the darker races, making a mockery of our faiths and so that Hindus, Muslims, and even Indian Christians  during independence naturally distrusted the white missionary. Christianity arrived to India in the third century and evolved in a distinct way. This is what Howard Thurman discovered upon traveling to India, Sri Lanka, and Burma. Thurman, a theologian, minister, Professor, and Dean of divinity at Howard University saw that there was a great interest amongst Indians to understand African-American Christianity and its political significance in the struggle against lynching and segregation in the US. During a brief three-hour conversation with Gandhi during his Pilgrimage of Friendship to India with his wife Sue Bailey Thurman, Rev. Thurman asked Gandhi, “ I wanted to know if one man can hold violence at bay?“ to which Gandhi replied,  if he cannot, you must take it that he is not a true representative of ahimsa (nonviolence). So from this prophecy we learn that the principle of ahimsa (nonviolence) is none other than the law of love, which Jesus held as the supreme commandment, and Gandhi also recognized. This is perhaps why King said that “And it is one of the strange ironies of the modern world that the greatest Christian of the twentieth century was not a member of the Christian church. (…) that this man took the message of Jesus Christ and was able to do even greater works than Jesus did in his lifetime.”

And yet, ever humble in his struggle unto the last, Gandhi always said that he neither wished to be anointed as a saint nor reviled as a sinner, for he was a human being and human beings are prone to mistakes, whose cause is simply ignorance. This, there is hope for everyone in their struggle towards self-realization. In the Eastern yogic tradition, the first step is ahimsa or non-killing and our spiritual practice must begin here because the root cause of violence is anger which is the outgrowth of desire. And Desire, as the Buddha asserted, is at the root of all human suffering–desire especially for the things and pleasures of the world–sex, riches, fame, name, glory. The transformation of the human being begins with her struggle to overcome these lower instincts. It is for this reason that William Stuart Nelson, an African-American theologian who turned to Gandhi during the civil rights struggle and played a key role in mentoring Dr. King, said that we all have a brute in us. The purpose of a true education is to overcome this brutality in us which causes us to injure one another in the name of ego. Thus, there is always hope for a violent man who wishes to overcome the violence in him; indeed, his victory over his base circumstances will be an example to millions in the world struggling with the same problem.

When Gandhiji’s centennial was celebrated in the United States in 1969, many distinguished guests, including Coretta Scott King, Marian Anderson, A. Philip Randolph, William Stuart Nelson, and others convened to create a centennial committee, which planned various activities and celebrations aimed at furthering Gandhi’s message of peace. However, fifty years ago, the conversation about Mahatma Gandhi was strikingly different. Today, there is a growing trend among Indian who are celebrated by the Western intelligentsia of discrediting Gandhiji’s accomplishments and his vision for a free and independent India, which parallels recent efforts to smear Dr. King’s legacy. Both efforts go hand in hand with the various programs launched by Western intelligence to suppress the civil rights movement and inhibit black freedom. Similarly, our Mahatma has recently been charged as a racist; he has been vilified by very cultural nationalists, who assassinated him; and his statue was recently toppled in Ghana, whose father, the great Kwame Nkrumah, once professed his great admiration for Gandhiji. Gandhiji’s influence on Nkrumah’s leadership of the Gold Coast independence conveniently forgotten, his leadership of the struggle against the identity pass in South Africa dismissed; his eclectic and radically universal interpretation of Hinduism and solidarity with Indians of all faiths suppressed; and his message to Howard Thurman and Sue Bailey Thurman in 1936 buried: that “It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of non-violence will be delivered to the world.” As such, we must ask: why is a man, who was revered by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Howard Thurman, all of whom took inspiration from his leadership of the Indian Revolution, so reviled by the mainstream literary establishment today and does this actually say something about us? Does it beg for a return, now more than ever, to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, to the injunction Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you?

Gandhi on Beauty and Truth

Truth is the first thing to be sought for, and Beauty and Goodness will then be added unto you. Jesus was, to my mind, a supreme artist because he saw and expressed Truth; and so was Muhammad, the Koran being, the most perfect composition in all Arabic literature – at any rate, that is what scholars say. It is because both of them strove first for Truth that the grace of expression naturally came in and yet neither Jesus not Muhammad wrote on Art. That is the Truth and Beauty I crave for, live for, and would die for.


To a true artist only that face is beautiful which, quite apart from its exterior, shines with the Truth within the soul. There is… no Beauty apart from Truth. On the other hand, Truth may manifest itself in forms, which may not be outwardly beautiful at all. Socrates, we are told, was the most truthful man of his time, and yet his features are said to have been the ugliest in Greece. To my mind he was beautiful, because all his life was a striving after Truth, and you may remember that his outward form did not prevent Phidias from appreciating the beauty of Truth in him, though as an artist he was accustomed to see Beauty in outward forms also.

Asia in Africa

In the ninth chapter of his 1946 inquiry The World and Africa, which explores the role played by Africa in the ancient and modern world, W.E.B Du Bois theorizes the black foundations of Asiatic civilization, citing as evidence the African origins of the name “Nahsi” and the black features of the Buddha and Krishna, two of India’s most revered gods. Siddhartha Gautama who ascended to Enlightenment many centuries before Hume, Kant, and Hegel, sought to liberate Hinduism from the strictures of inequality and chart out a selfless path of human being-in-the-world. Du Bois copiously illustrates the long history of trade and inter-civilizational exchange in the Afro-Asiatic zone–the region above the Sahara Desert linking the African continent to the Asian land-mass, particularly the Indian subcontinent, in antiquity as well as by modern developments. Moreover, sub-Saharan Africa and India met in the body of water we now call the Indian Ocean and Roman North Africa had extensive trade relationships with the Indian peninsula. Finally, these continents were linked by the spread of Christianity and Islam.

As Du Bois confirms

The Asiatic and African blacks were strewn along a straight path between tropical Asia and tropical Africa and there was much racial intermingling between Africa and Western Asia.

He advances a scientific argument that presents evidence about race relations in the framework of historical materialism, guided by the logic of the Marxist dialectic. As such, though he draws on mythology and literature and indeed European ethnography as primary sources, he reads them to reconstruct a picture of the world that counters the Western imperial order, one in which the dark proletariat leads humanity in our common efforts to build a civilization founded on principles of peace and freedom. As a sociologist, Du Bois was interested in studying aspects of social life arising from human actions. As a humanist, he was guided by the belief that humanity had emerged from a common origin in Africa before developing continuously to our present condition. Ancient Greece and Rome were not European or “Caucasian”, per the evolving field of race science in Europe which struggled to establish the origins of humanity even while denying kinship with African and Africoid peoples throughout the world. Such was the vastness of the shadow cast by the Du Boisian epistemology on the history of science. Scientists today confirm what Du Bois discovered in 1946: that bi-pedalism, tool use, and language first arose in Africa before spreading to Asia about 2 million years ago and to the Americas by way of the Atlantic and the Pacific and later to Europe. Settled cultivation of land and use of iron began in Africa, as we now know. Du Bois was one of the first historians to insist upon this truth in the West in his pivotal study, The World and Africa which was published in America at the height of Jim Crow as a wave of virulent anti-communism swept the nation. The ground-breaking philosophy of history argued that contrary to white civilization, Black Africans had not only contributed to but led civilization in all epochs of human history.

Social science saw the history of human being in the world as a materially unified whole capable of being studied scientifically. Humanity’s origins were relatively recent in the history of the modern world and each phase of its development was characterized by a different relationship to means of production and reproduction. For example, means of production differed in the Stone Age and the Iron Age; during the latter, which began earlier in Africa, human beings discovered iron as a raw material, welding it to create tools, weapons, and other implements to improve their lives and build civilization. Du Bois’s intervened in the debate about positivism in Western social science, which suggested that the laws of the human social world operated in the same way as the laws of the natural world, a premise which he exposed as a fallacy. As he continued his scientific study of social life and human actions he realized that there was something incalculable about humanity–human behavior is counterintuitive and human consciousness infinitely variable, always operating in movement of time as an unknown factor. Moreover, as he increasingly turns to the work of Karl Marx and strengthens his commitment to the world Communist movement, he understands that each epoch of human history, and its attendant form of social organization, was constitutionally shaped by the mode of production upon which it depended. Hence, he saw that the world around him–a world riven by the color line–was so because it depended on a system of production that necessitated subjugation of the darker races and most especially the black race to labor for the capitalist planter and merchant.Thus, his dialectical reasoning interprets the ancient and modern past of humanity and human action in terms of their political and economic consequences for the dark nations in order to carve out a path for revolutionary change and non-capitalist development.

The rise of Islam and Christianity in the past two thousand years and the latter’s deployment in defense of European capitalism and slavery inculcated new civilizational developments for humanity in the medieval and modern period. Du Bois’s argument in this chapter also reminds me that both Hinduism and Islam developed against the spread of Western Christianity which also took on a new life in Africa and Asia, like other Abrahamic religions, and amongst African-Americans and indigenous American peoples in the New World colonies of Europe. His hypothesis is also confirmed by recent investigations of scholars such as Kosambi, Abu-Lughod, Gunder-Frank, Panikkar, and, to some extent, Wallerstein, though what distinguishes the Du Boisian thesis from the above and even a Martin Bernal is his commitment to a revolutionary politic, exemplified by his lifelong search for a broad strategy for human liberation and in particular, the unconditional freedom of the African-American people, who continue to wage a heroic struggle against the forces of white supremacy and war in the heart of the American Empire.

As he argues in his “Guiding One-Hundredth Address,” race is not solely a physical reality; it is, first and foremost, a psycho-social dynamic in that the racial experience of each group is shaped by its relation to the social power structure, means of production, which together shape the movement of history. This Karl Marx understood is the struggle of the oppressed to overcome the oppressor in the pursuit of freedom, a deeply human drive. As he puts it here

all races really are a cultural group. It is too bad that we have to use the world “cultural” for so many meanings. But what it means in modern scientific thought is that 15, 000, 000 men and women who for three centuries have shared common suffering and have worked all those days and nights together for their own survival and progress; that this complex of habits and manners could not and must not be lost. That person’s sharing this experience formed a race no matter what their blood may be. That this race must be conserved for the benefit of the Negro people themselves and for mankind. I came then to Advocate not pride of biological race but pride in a cultural group, integrated and expanded by developed ideals so as to form a method of progress.”

Du Bois compels us to revisit the inconvenient truth that in the past four hundred years, the white race has subjugated the darker races to toil on its behalf so as to sustain its criminal pursuits throughout the world. It was thus no wonder that the struggles of black folk in America for peace and freedom from slavery and later, segregation, and the struggles of colonized peoples throughout the world against imperialism and European domination germinated a tremendous renaissance of civilization amongst the darker races in the twentieth century, from Baldwin in America to Tagore in India. The dark proletariat created civilization in the face of soul-seeping oppression, pressing on in its heroic quest to free society from imperial tyranny and monopoly capital, and to define and interpret reality so as to gain control of it and thereby, transform it themselves.

Du Bois’s thesis is a significant discovery because at the time he was writing in America, whites were perpetuating the lie that civilization amongst black people was impossible,drawing on this rhetoric to deny the connection of African-America to Africa–and the latter’s relation o Asia–so as to justify the slave trade and slavery, both of which formed the basis of the capitalist mode of production, a process that began in the early modern period and created the conditions for modern life aaa we know it. Thus, Du Bois marshals a wealth of evidence attesting to the achievements of black civilizations throughout the world in order to show the complexity of black peoples worldwide and to disprove, by way of scientific argument, the primary lie of Western science which served as colonialism’s chief alibi: that the black race was inferior by nature and that African-Americans were incapable of development and self-determination–a premise that compels him to write a novel called Dark Princess in 1928 wherein he presents a vehement rebuttal of European race theorists by way of a bravely imagined political allegory about a romance between an Indian princess and an African-American doctor who together establish a pivotal alliance against world imperialism. Du Bois’s research emphasized, by contrast, that it was oppression which had impeded the progress of black folks in America and throughout the world towards their highest potential, not nature or historical inevitability, as it was being suggested by bourgeois science. He thus recognized that colonialism had set the darker races back by several centuries in development. It was for this reason that he insisted upon world peace, communism, and Pan-Africanism, by which he meant something very specific, namely the progress of oppressed peoples against imperialism towards the non-capitalist path of development, wherein production and civilization are directed towards the fulfillment of human need rather than imperial gain.

Du Boisian Pan-Africanism, as Henry Winston, leader of the American Communist Party clarified some decades ago, rejected the vicious anti-communism of the day which had led to the witch-hunt of so many beloved leaders, including Du Bois and Robeson but also King and Gandhi, peace-bringers who were assassinated for their efforts to cultivate civilization amidst war, poverty, and colonial devastation. It sought to oust imperialism from every corner of Africa and the world. It advocated the pursuit of the non-capitalist path of national development in newly independent countries and called upon exemplary figures amongst the darker races to eschew the European bourgeoisie and join with the proletariat in order to build socialism in their countries. This intercivilizational vanguard sought to create a revolutionary society in its own image, in the service of the people’s interests–education, industry, harvests that fed the people, art that nourished and propelled their imagination in pursuit of the grandest possibilities of the human mind and spirit, music that combed through the most antagonistic knots of the soul, literature that revealed revolutionary being-in-the-world–the kind of human beings we must become to build the world that will overcome the one that is presently collapsing.

The Black Buddha, after W.EB Du Bois

Shalabhanjika, terra-cotta, 5th century, Gupta dynasty, India