GOD laughs on two occasions. He laughs when the physician says to the patient’s mother, “Don’t be afraid, mother, I shall certainly cure your boy.” God laughs saying to Himself, “I am going to take his life, and this man says he will save it!” The physician thinks he is the master, forgetting that God is the Master.
God laughs again when two brothers divide their land with a string, saying to each other, “This side is mine, that side is yours.” He laughs and says to Himself, “The universe belongs to Me, but they say they own this portion or that portion,”
Bose was a key figure in the Indian Satyagraha for Freedom, pupil of Abindranath Tagore, and Gandhi’s favorite artist. He also sketched the emblems for the Government of India’s awards, including the Bharat Ratna and the Padma Shri, per Nehru’s request, in addition to decorating the Constitution of India
“In 1935, Mahatma Gandhi stopped over in Port Sudan (on his way to England through sea) and was welcomed by the Indian community there. In 1938, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru stopped over in Port Sudan on his way to Britain and was hosted through a function at the home of Chhotalal Samji Virani. The Graduates General Congress of Sudan formed in 1938 drew heavily on the experience of the Indian National Congress.”
“British Indian troops fought alongside Sudanese in Eritrea in 1941 winning the decisive battle of Keren (Bengal Sappers won a Victoria Cross for mine clearance in Metemma, now on the Sudan-Ethiopia border). The Sudan Block at India’s National Defence Academy was partly funded with a gift of one hundred thousand pounds from the Sudanese Government in recognition of the sacrifices of Indian troops in the liberation of Sudan in the North African Campaign during World War II.”
“At the 1955 Bandung Conference, the delegation from a still not independent Sudan did not have a flag to mark its place. Taking out his handkerchief, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote “Sudan” on it, thus reserving a place for Sudan in the international community.”
I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it…It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.
Impure means result in an impure end. Hence, prince and the peasant will not be equaled by cutting off the prince’s head, nor can the process of cutting off equalize the employer and the employed. One cannot reach truth by untruthfulness. Truthful conduct alone can reach truth.
The artist of this untitled piece, K.H. Ara, was a satyagrahi who was imprisoned for his participation in the famous Salt Satyagraha. The production of salt, a dietary staple, was heavily taxed by the British colonial administration. Satyagrahis marched for nearly a month on foot to the sea. More than 80, 000 were arrested. Not a single weapon was in their hands. Martin Luther King Jr. would preach about Gandhi’s strategy and leadership of the Salt March upon his return to the United States from his trip to the Land Of Gandhi in a sermon entitled “Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi remarking
And you have read of the Salt March, which was a very significant thing in the Indian struggle. And this demonstrates how Gandhi used this method of nonviolence and how he would mobilize his people and galvanize the whole of the nation to bring about victory. In India, the British people had come to the point where they were charging the Indian people a tax on all of the salt, and they would not allow them even to make their own salt from all of the salt seas around the country. They couldn’t touch it; it was against the law. And Gandhi got all of the people of India to see the injustice of this. And he decided one day that they would march from Ahmadabad down to a place called Dandi.
We had the privilege of spending a day or so at Ahmadabad at that Sabarmati ashram, and we stood there at the point where Gandhi started his long walk of two hundred and eighteen miles. And he started there walking with eighty people. And gradually the number grew to a million, and it grew to millions and millions. And finally, they kept walking and walking until they reached the little village of Dandi. And there, Gandhi went on and reached down in the river, or in the sea rather, and brought up a little salt in his hand to demonstrate and dramatize the fact that they were breaking this law in protest against the injustices they had faced all over the years with these salt laws.
Gandhi’s method of protest, it should be remembered, was a scientific method based on sociology, psychology, law, economics, as well as theology. It draws on all these methods of knowing the truth in order to heal the human personality, which he recognized had become inured to the notion that it is human nature to be violent. Like Socrates, who averred that humanity tended towards justice rather than injustice, love rather than hatred, Gandhi too maintained that in the end, any Republic founded on the “interest of the stronger” would not last, for the arc of the moral universe, as Dr. King also said, bends towards justice. Such is the genius of Gandhiji’s science of Ahimsa, which, he insisted, was the science of love. Love strives to rise above nature, to transform nature in its image. Gandhi, it should be noted, took love as a force in the universe, as an animating primum mobile capable of effecting measurable change in the order of universe. In the Salt Satyagraha, we see a concrete social example of human action anchored in the philosophy of Ahimsa; the Indian people transmute the quotient of their moral discipline and physical suffering into energy that is in turn dedicated to the production of a necessity seized by the imperialist. satyagraha is rooted in renunciation and self-sacrifice, which is a philosophical idea integral to the practice of Hinduism. This forceful collective renunciation powered the movement for swaraj because in impelling the masses to forego attachment to their physical reality even unto death, Gandhi emphasized that they would be redeemed in the love of their children for whom they struggled.
The soul-force is infinitely greater than the physical form and the revolutionary, in particular, must learn this truth if he or she is striving to overcome the fear of death, which is really a fear of love because if we love from the soul force we will know that we never truly die. We we will return again and again, like the universe sucking into itself until at last we are at the center of that which is changeless, formless, that which is beyond space, time, and causality, the perfect stillness which the Christians call the peace which passeth understanding and the Hindus call Brahman, which represents the totality of the soul force.
As an energetic force, love represents more than willpower for Gandhi as Schoepenhauer had claimed; rather, love is an acknowledgement of the ephemerality of the physical form itself; it can work as a physical principle because it cuts across time. It is the understanding that desire produces suffering and that we are responsible for our misery because we are too attached to our material life at the grave expense of our spiritual life. Consequently, we are bound to the rigors of mortality, bogged down by the petty crimes and frustrations of everyday life which keep us further distracted from the truth: that all is maya and that in truth, we are energetic forms that are merely taking new shape and new intervals navigating the great force field that is the universe. We depend on light for life but where does it come from and does it come from us, if the kingdom of God is inside us? The search for “scientific truth” has taken modern Western man outward; and yet as our sages and leaders have told us, to seek truth, we must indeed go inward–the inward journey, in the words of the great Howard Thurman. In the form of Hinduism Vivekananda emphasized, when one escapes rebirth, one returns to complete unity with the universal soul or the Atman. In truth, he argues, we are all perfect; it is just that we have become inured to ignorance as a result of our attachment to illusions of reality. To truly achieve the freedom of the soul, both Gandhi and Vivekananda suggest, one must overcome these illusions and confront the truth of one’s soul force. The soul force is ancient as it is new. It represents the embedded unity of past, present, and future because it is time itself. Time would not exist without the soul in this epistemology for it is the karma of the soul which impels causality in time-space.
The Salt Satyagraha reveals that Ahimsa is more than a concept: it is an actual perception capable of being shared by a large mass of people and uniting them in common purpose and action, in karma and dharma. It represents a new epistemology that compels man to overcome the brute in him by recognizing the grand illusions and painful distortions of reality that hold us in bondage to suffering.
Fundamental to the Gandhian epistemology is a rejection of the rigid empiricism characteristic of Western science. Rather, it embraces the central message of peace underlying all of the world’s religions and sees them as temporally dialogical to Science. We might remember here that even Western science began in African and Asian religious and scientific texts, which acknowledged, as it is revealed in the Vedas, the unity in the plurality of forms. The distinction that has arisen between Religion and Science in the West is dispelled in the thought of Vivekananda and Gandhi, revealed as something of a false dichotomy, for the real question is the relation of humanity to nature and this question takes us to both science and religion; this theoretical legacy is indebted to with the teachings of the Vedanta as well as the sacred texts of other religions.However, this idea of non-injury as the highest ideal of civilization is reiterated most impactfully in the modern epoch in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his greatest disciple Swami Vivekananda, both of whom Gandhiji admired greatly. Again, we are entering a new epistemology here because historically in the West Science has been emptied of moral purpose and Religion has unfortunately been declared, even by great social scientists like Marx, as a deviation from scientific truth. Like Vivekananda, who insisted upon the unity of all of the world’s religions, Gandhi recognizes “a perfect unity in the plurality of designs.” Thus he did not see a contradiction between Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and other faiths and science. It is for this reason that he defends his theory of Ahimsa as scientific; as he maintained
Nevertheless, I do feel, as the poor villagers felt about Mysore, that there is orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives. It is not a blind law, for no blind law can govern the conduct of living being and thanks to the marvelous researches of Sir J. C. Bose it can now be proved that even matter is life
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.
Reprinted from THE JOURNAL OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT Autumn-Winter Issue, 1957-1958
CHANGE in the social order today is proceeding often violently and is frequently being resisted just as violently. Our own country is caught in a strange conjunction of Christian and democratic principles, fanatical resistence even to the belated application of these principles, and grave uncertainty as to how best the victims, the victimizers, and the innocent can escape both moral embarrassment and physical pain.
Somehow, happily, men appear less reluctant than formerly to hear testimony to faith in non-violence, a testimony borne so urgently in the past by Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama Buddha, Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi is nearest to us in time, the problems he faced were extraordinarily akin to ours, and his experiments with non-violence in the presence of these problems were so unique in method and so revolutionary in result that we are constrained to ask what guidance he has for us. Moreover, he fell under the influence of those who went before, and in him their spirit flowered.
I have chosen to discuss the principles of Gandhi’s non-violent non cooperation. Those who wish to understand the practice of non-violence must understand both the principles and the methods of the Gandhian way. There is, however, a limit to what may be included in one paper.
Gandhi was a practical man, but a man whose practice was rooted in verities from which he was unshakable. Thus when he sought a name for his struggle he chose Satyagraha, which means literally firmness in truth, but translated from the vernacular into English means Truth-Force and is called also Soul-Force. All of these terms are completely applicable to Gandhi’s movement, for” the movement was equally the product of this firmness in truth and a demonstration of the power of truth and of the spirit.
What, in Gandhi’s view, was truth? In the answer to this question lies the first step to an understanding of Gandhi and Satyagraha, for Satyagraha is a method of pursuing truth.
“What then is Truth?” asks Gandhi, and he answers: “A difficult question, but I have solved it for myself by saying that it is what the Voice within tellsyouV Still again he says, “What a pure heart feels at a particular time is Truth.” We would say obedience to one’s conscience.
In Tallahassee, Florida, a few months ago I explained this Gandhian version of truth to some of the members of the Inter-Civic Council of that city and one member of the Council raised the very natural question as to whether this did not make truth a variable, dependent upon an individual’s interpretation, and thus not an absolute, fixed eternally in the heavens. Gandhi anticipated this question and answered it in this wise: “Well, seeing that the human mind works through innumerable media and that the evolution of the human mind is not the same for all, it follows that what may be truth for one may be untruth for another, and hence those who have made experiments have come to the conclusion that there are certain conditions to be observed in making those experiments. . . . Everyone should, therefore, realize his limitations before he speaks of his inner Voice.” For Gandhi, the experiment leading to the right to speak of one’s following truth must include the vow of truth, of purity, of non-violence, of poverty, and of non-possession.
What I wish here to emphasize is that Gandhi’s entire theory of non violent non-cooperation had at its center the principle of truth or obedience to one’s conscience, a consuming conviction burnished by the fire of a pure life. The true Satyagrahi (that is, one who fellows truth, Satyagraha, or the non-violent way) cannot be the tool of self-interest or the victim of prejudice or a moment’s emotion. He must be deeply convicted after long and humble self-searching. “One discovers Truth,” said Gandhi, “by patient endeavor and silent prayer. I can only assure friends that I spare no pains to grope my way to the right, and that humble but constant endeavour and silent prayer are my two trusty companions along the weary but beautiful path that all seekers must tread.”
If there is any doubt as to the hold of truth upon Gandhi, one need only recall that he identified God with truth. “I have come to the conclusion,” he said, “that for myself God is Truth.” Then, he added that he had gone a step further and was prepared to say that truth is God.
Having heard this from him, that truth is one’s own and deepest inner voice and that this is God, it is at first unsettling to hear him say also: “The very insistence on Truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise. . . . But Truth is hard as adamant and tender as a blossom. The golden rule of conduct, therefore, is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall see Truth in fragment and from dif ferent angles of vision. Conscience is not the same thing for all. Whilst ividual conduct, imposition of that con duct upon all will be an insufferable interference with everybody’s freedom of conscience.” None, thought Gandhi, can realize truth perfectly “so long as we are imprisoned in this mortal frame,” but men do have the obligation to experiment in their search and they have the right to err. He said “compromise,” but he did not mean compromise on fundamentals.
Here then is a central principle upon which Gandhi built his program— truth or conscience, the voice of God itself, but a principle which never prevented him from, indeed, which led him to endless, tireless effort to reach agreement with those who differed with him.
The second great principle of Gandhi’s program was non-violence. “And,” says he, “when you want to find Truth as God, the only inevitable means is Love, i.e., non-violence, and since I believe that ultimately means and ends are convertible terms, I should not hesitate to say that God is Love.”
In this, two very important ideas are apparent: the first, that non violence is equated with love; and second, that truth and love are the twin pillars upon which Gandhi’s great revolutionary program rests.
Let us now take a further look at the nature of non-violence as Gandhi saw it. Repeatedly, Gandhi made it clear that non-violence is not to be confined to physical action but that it involves also words and even thoughts: “One had better not speak it,” he said, “if one cannot do so in a gentle way, meaning that there is no truth in a man who cannot control his tongue.” This does not suggest, he makes clear, that one should be deterred from telling a truth which may for the moment appear harsh or unpopular for fear of wounding susceptibilities.^The intention never to do violence must be controlling.
For Gandhi, in the second place, non-violence is non-violence of the strong and not of the weak. At the beginning of his mission, he was offended by South African interpretations that this method was devised for the weak, and toward the close of his life he was hurt beyond words that his own people had never learned the lesson that non-violence was of the strong and not of the weak. What virtue is there in a man being non-violent when he possesses no weapons? “Non-violence,” he says, “presupposes the ability to strike. It is a conscious, deliberate restraint put upon one’s desire for ven geance.” He rejected the use of the term “passive resistence” because of its being interpreted as a weapon of the weak. Moreover, he said, “Non cooperation is not a passive state, it is an intensely active state.”
Again non-violence makes a distinction between evil and the evil doer, and a Satyagrahi must never forget the distinction. He must not habour ill- will or bitterness against the latter (that is the evil doer). He may not even employ needlessly offensive language against the evil doer however un relieved his evil might be. No attack upon character should be made and no word should be spoken that will do lasting injury, lead to later regret, and make reconciliation impossible, remembering that the purpose is always to convince and correct, to reconcile and not to coerce. “. . . It is an article of faith with every Satyagrahi that there is no one so fallen.in this world but can be converted by love.” Gandhi was glad to contrast his attitude toward the colonial policy of the British Empire and his determination that not even the hair of one Britisher should be harmed.
Said he, “I hate the system of government that the British people have set up in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India. . . . But I do not hate the domineering Englishmen. … I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me. My non-cooperation has its roots not in hatred, but in love. My personal religion pre-emptorily forbids me to hate anybody.”
We are led immediately to an idea so fundamental that to fail to under stand it is to fail completely to grasp the spirit and method of Gandhi. I repeat these words from Gandhi: “For it is an article of faith with every Satyagrahi that there is no one so fallen in this world but can be converted by love.” Without this faith there can be no non-violence in the Gandhian sense. Read Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth. Follow him day by day along the torturous path of bringing an empire to bay or making “untouch ables” “Children of God,” and you will see not only the persistence in him of his faith in human beings but its near miraculous power.
“If I am a follower of ahimsa (non-violence),” says Gandhi, “I must love my enemy. I must apply the same rules to the wrong-doer who is my enemy or a stranger to me as I would to my wrong-doing father or son.” This is hard but it is the price which Gandhian non-violence exacts. “Having flung aside the sword,” he says, “there is nothing except the cup of love which I can offer to those who oppose me. It is by offering that cup that I expect to draw them close to me. I live in the hope that if not in this birth, in some other birth I shall be able to hug all humanity in friendly embrace.”
The Exaltation of the Means
I come now to a third principle of Satyagraha, the relation of means to ends. Milovan Djilas, the Yugoslav writer, whose recent book, The New Class, has created such a sensation, states that “nothing so well reveals the reality and greatness of ends as the methods used to attain them.” There is still, however, a subtle and dangerous fascination in the doctrine that “the end justifies the means,” and no doubt many a well-intentioned person has fallen under its allurements. Gandhi wrestled strenuously with this problem for his was the need of fashioning means for the attainment of certain over riding ends and he was forced to make his choice in the light of a principle or court moral chaos. He defined his position unmistakably. He wrote that men often say, “Means are after all means.” He said, “Means are after all everything. As the means so the end. There is no wall of separation between means and end. . . . Realization of the goal is in exact proportion to that of the means. This is a proposition that admits of no exception.” He went on to compare the seed to the means and the end to the tree, and to quote the maxim, “As is the God, so is the Votary.” He says one would scarcely speak of worshipping God by means of Satan. “We reap exactly what we sow.”
It was suggested to Gandhi that the English had attained certain ends by brute force and that it was possible for the Indians to do likewise. To which Gandhi answered that surely Indians did not want that—the very kind of subjugation from which they were then struggling to be freed.
Or, as he said to me on the eve of India’s freedom, “We could have killed the British and perhaps have had our freedom but it would not have been this way.” By “this way” he meant that of the British leaving peace fully without the outward sign of animosity and the prospect of the two nations living not only in peace but in friendship. Twenty-five years earlier he had said, “Let there be no manner of doubt that Swaraj (freedom) estab lished by non-violent means will be different in kind from the Swaraj that can be established by armed rebellion. . . . Violent means will give violent Swaraj. That would be a menace to the world and to India herself.” For him, it was not the immediate but the enduring result which mattered.
The application of Gandhi’s philosophy of means and ends can be seen clearly in what he held to be the relationship of non-violence] to truth. Truth is the end. Non-violence is the means. To take care of the means, to keep them pure, is to reach the end sooner or later. Ultimate victory is assured.
Gandhi’s program of non-violent resistance or non-cooperation is often associated solely with his efforts to free India from British rule or from any one or more of the oppressive aspects of that rule. It was more than this. It involved intra-Indian conflicts and included numerous constructive movements within Indian life which in Gandhi’s view were essential to the winning of the freedom sought more directly by forms of non-violent resistence.
Untouchability was a curse in Indian life which Gandhi could not abide, and against this institution he fought relentlessly and against great odds. “My idea of village Swaraj,” he said, “is that it is a complete repub lic. . . . There will be no castes such as we have today with their graded untouchability. Non-violence with its technique of Satyagraha and non cooperation will be the sanction of the village community.” He said further, “I have put untouchability in the forefront because I observe a certain remissness about it. . . . We can never reach Swaraj with the poison of un touchability corroding the Hindu part of the national body. Swaraj is a meaningless term if we desire to keep a fifth of India under perpetual sub jection and deliberately deny them the fruits of national culture. . . . In human ourselves, we may not plead before the Throne for deliverance from the inhumanity of others.”
Gandhi did not simply speak and write against untouchability. He threw the full force of Satyagraha and his very life against it. In 1924 and 1925 Satyagraha was undertaken in Vykom in the Province of Travancore, South India. Its purpose was to obtain permission for “untouchables” to use certain roads about the temple in Vykom. Gandhi was not present in Travancore, but from a distance he sent advice and encouragement. The importance he attached to this episode is seen in the following statement which he made in Young India, the paper he was editing at that time: “The Vykom Satyagrahis are fighting a battle of no less consequence than that of Swaraj. They are fighting against an age-long wrong and prejudice. It is supported by orthodoxy, superstition, custom and authority. Theirs is only one among the many battles that must be fought in the holy war against irreligion masquerading as religion, ignorance appearing in the guise of learning.”
In September, 1932, Gandhi was in jail after his threat of a civil dis obedience campaign against the passage of certain oppressive ordinances by the British. From newspapers he had learned that the new constitution for India proposed by the British was to grant separate electorates for the “untouchables,” that is, that these members of the so-called “Depressed Classes” would have both a vote as Hindus and a vote as “Untouchables.”
Previously the British had made a somewhat similar provision for both Moslems and Hindus. To Gandhi this would be unbearable. He could not suffer these people to be separated from other Hindus in this statutory manner. As he wrote to Prime Minister MacDonald, it was a matter of pure religion, for it would arrest “the marvellous growth of the work of Hindu reformers who have dedicated themselves to their suppressed brethren in every walk of life.” The decision of the Government, therefore, he must resist with his life, in a fast unto death. This fast, he said, “is aimed at a statutory separate electorate, in any shape or form, for the Depressed Classes. Immediately that threat is removed once for all, my fast will end.” Since the British had stated that any different and mutually satisfactory agreement reached by the Hindus and “Untouchables” would be satisfac tory to them, this fast, according to Gandhi, was “to sting Hindu conscience into right religious action.” Such an agreement was reached and on the sixth day the fast was ended. During the period of the fast “a spirit of reform, penance, and self purification swept the land.” Hundreds of temples were opened to “untouchables,” thousands of the orthodox who had never received food from “Untouchables,” did so: villages, towns, and cities, or ganizations of many kinds, resolved to stop discrimination against these people. The fast has rightly been called the “Epic Fast,” and it was directed by Gandhi at his own people.
Another acute internal problem which haunted Gandhi was that of the unhappy Hindu-Moslem relations. The causes were both ancient and new and very deep. But Gandhi knew that tragedy for India was the price of continued failure to solve the problem. The freedom of India, he felt, depended upon Hindu-Moslem friendship. In 1919 he was given an oppor tunity to take a step toward reconciliation. The Moslems of India were deeply distressed that the Armistice of November 11, 1918, following the defeat of the Central powers, provided not only for the overthrow of the Turkish Sultan as temporal sovereign but as the Caliph or religious head of Islam, in spite of the promises made by Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, that the suzerainty of their religious head would be respected. This was a source of deep distress to the Moslems of India who organized a powerful opposition movement called Khilafat. Gandhi sympathized with the Moslems of India and persuaded the Congress, which was the organiza tion for the mobilization of Indian opposition to foreign rule and oppres sion, to engage in a movement of non-cooperation on behalf of the Moslem position. This non-cooperation provided for a boycott of British exports, British schools, British courts, British jobs, and British honors. Unhappily for Indian Moslems, Kemal Pasha (Ataturk), the powerful leader of the new Turkey, deposed the Caliph and left the Moslems in India without a cause. But Gandhi had attempted one more contribution toward the strengthening of Hindu-Moslem relations and toward the freedom of the Indian people.
Gandhi was deeply opposed to the use of alcoholIf beverages and to all the other evils growing out of the use of intoxicants there was the inability of those who were in their grip to contribute moral effort to Satyagraha. He urged especially that women take up agitation against the sale of liquors, and women who had lived the most sheltered lives were to be found in picket lines outside stores dispensing intoxicants. Moreover, they were enjoined to lay hold of the hearts of those given to drink by the provision of recreational facilities and other acts of loving service.
Dear to the heart of Mr. Gandhi was his movement called Swadeshi and Khadi. These too, he felt, were indispensable to the attainment of freedom. Swadeshi is the use of all home-made things, in so far as such use is necessary for the protection of home industry—more especially those in dustries without which India would become pauperized. Gandhi was so fervent about the importance of Swadeshi that he addressed huge meetings and asked those present to take off such garments as were foreign made and place them in a pile. He would then set fire to the pile. Inherent in the move ment is the sacrifice of a love for fineries and gladness in the wearing of coarse but beautifully hand-woven fabrics of India.
Khadi is this homespun cloth. Not only did Gandhi declare against the use of foreign-made cloth and for the wearing of homespun garments; he demanded that Indians make the garments themselves. Let every one be come his own spinner, he urged. Spinning he put in the center of the Satyagraha program, “no haphazard programme of spinning, but scientific understanding of every detail, including the mechanics and the mathema tics of it, study of cotton and its varieties, and so on.” “That,” he said, “is the mass constructive programme I want you to do, and that is the basis of the training for the non-violence of the brave.” In this program, Gandhi led, for he spun his cotton and he reduced his needs for clothing practically to a loin cloth.
Satyagraha had, therefore, what Gandhi called its constructive side. In this side he included many other programs but it is well illustrated by his determined efforts to heal the divisions of caste among the Hindus, to unite Hindus and Moslems, to break Indians away from intoxicants, and to unite the nation in the rejection of foreign fineries and in the making of their own necessary apparel.
I come now to the principle of renunciation, the final principle of Gandhi’s movement of non-violent non-cooperation which I shall discuss. Gandhi’s recurrent theme was “I must reduce myself to zero.” From the beginning of his program he almost achieved this in matters material. In England he knew how to play the English gentleman. All this was changed, however, by his bitter experiences in South Africa and his dogged determination to do what he could about them. To his son he wrote: “Remember please that henceforth our lot is poverty. . . . The uses of poverty are far sweeter than those of riches.,, At his Tolstoy farm, which was a kind of “co-operative commonwealth” for civil resisters, the members ground their own wheat, labored at construction work, and excluded every item of food above that necessary to health. Walking to the city, a distance of 21 miles, on any private errand was the rule, and Gandhi on one day walked fifty miles.
This was the beginning of nearly fifty years of austerity. It included the barest of clothing and food, the minimum of physical comforts of every sort; it included, at the age of 61, a walk to the sea of twenty-four days to break the law against the making of salt. Gandhi spent years in prison. At the age of thirty-seven, in marriage, he took the vow of sexual abstinence which vow he kept to the end of his life. His fasts were numerous. He died a martyr.
Why this renunciation and self-suffering on the part of Gandhi? He reminds us that sacrifice means to make sacred. He knew and he told those who would be leaders of the people that they must become one with the people. Said he of the people, “We must first come in living touch with them by working for them and in their midst. We must share their sorrows, understand their difficulties and anticipate their wants. With the pariahs we must be pariahs and see how we feel to clean the closets of the upper classes and have the remains of their table thrown at us. . . . Then and not till then shall we truly represent the masses and they will, as surely as I am writing this, respond, respond to every call.”
Or again he says, “The Satyagrahi s course is plain. He must stand unmoved in the midst of all cross currents. He may not be impatient with blind orthodoxy, nor be irritated over unbelief of the suppressed people. He must know that his suffering will melt the stoniest fanatic. . . . He must know that relief will come when there is least hope for it. For such is the way of the cruelly-kind Deity who insists upon testing His devotee through a fiery furnace and delights in humbling him to the dust.”
Leading India to freedom was a monumental achievement of Gandhi. But if freedom had never been attained, leading the Indian people by his own example to sacrifice themselves in the struggle for freedom would have been an achievement equally as monumental. Thousands upon thous ands of them entered the prisons and some died there, including Kasturbai, his wife. They were beaten; they were killed. Following his example they entered upon the simple life, even the formerly well-to-do. They spun and wore khadi; they foreswore intoxicants; they embraced the lowliest, lived among them, died among them. They reduced themselves, in their sights, to zeros. This was renunciation, the fifth great principle of non-violent non cooperation.
These are principles upon which the great Gandhian experiment was based: truth, non-violence, the exaltation of the means, constructive service, and renunciation. The experiment was determinative in the winning of India’s freedom. It altered the lives of countless Indians. But the experi ment is not completed. There is still oppression in the world, humiliation, and other offense. Well might we join in the wish of the President of India, Rajendra Prasad, recently uttered: “May some individual or nation arise and carry forward the effort launched by him till the experiment is com pleted, the work finished and the objective achieved.”
Nirmai Kumar Bose, Selectionsfrom Gandhi (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1948) M. K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiment With Truth (Washington, D. C., Public Affairs
M. K. Gandhi, Satyagraha (Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1951)
M. K. Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War (Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House,
Gopinath Dhawan, The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi (Ahmedabad, Navajivan
Publishing House, 1946)
Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi, The Last Phase (Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1956) D. G. Tendulkai, Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. 8 Vols. (Bombay, V. K. Jhaveri and
D. G. Tendulkai Publishers, 1951-1954)
Louis Fischer, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1950)
IT IS my firm belief that Europe today represents not the spirit of God or Christianity but the spirit of Satan. And Satan’s successes are the greatest when he appears with the name of God on his lips. Europe is today only nominally Christian. In reality, it is worshipping Mammon.
Young India, 8-9-1920
Neither railways nor hospitals are a test of a high and pure civilization. At best they are a necessary evil. Neither adds one inch to the moral stature of a nation.
Young India, 26-1-1921
I wholeheartedly detest this mad desire to destroy distance and time, to increase animal appetites and go to the ends of the earth in search of their satisfaction. If modern civilization stands for all this, and I have understood it to do so, I call it satanic….
(YI, 17-3-1927, p. 85)
This industrial civilization is a disease because it is all evil. Let us not be deceived by catchwords and phrases. I have no quarrel with steamships or telegraphs. They may stay, if they can, without the support of industrialism and all that it connotes. They are not an end. We must not suffer exploitation for the sake of steamships and telegraphs. They are in no way indispensable for the permanent welfare of the human race. Now that we know the use of steam and electricity, we should be able to use them on due occasion and after we have learnt to avoid industrialism. Our concern is, therefore, to destroy industrialism at any cost.
(YI, 7-10-1926, p. 348
A time is coming when those, who are in the mad rush today of multiplying their wants, vainly thinking that they add to the real substance, real knowledge of the world, will retrace their steps and say: ‘What have we done?’ Civilizations have come and gone, and in spite of all our vaunted progress, I am tempted to ask again and again, ‘To what purpose?’ Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin, has said the same thing. Fifty years of brilliant inventions and discoveries, he has said, have not added one inch to the moral height of mankind. So said a dreamer and visionary if you will–Tolstoy. So said Jesus, and the Buddha, and Mahomed, whose religion is being denied and falsified in my own country today.
By all means drink deep of the fountains that are given to you in the Sermon on the Mount, but then you will have to take sackcloth and ashes. The teaching of the Sermon was meant for each and every one of us. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. God the Compassionate and the Merciful, Tolerance incarnate, allows Mammon to have his nine day’s wonder. But I say to you…fly from that self-destroying but destructive show of Mammon.
(YI, 8-12-1927, p. 414)
Formerly, when people wanted to fight with one another, they measured between them their bodily strength; now, it is possible to take away thousands of lives by one man working behind a gun from a hill. This is civilization. Formerly, men worked in open air only as much as they liked. Now thousands of workmen meet together and, for the sake of maintenance, work in factories or mines. Their condition is worse than that of beasts. They are obliged to work, at the risk of their lives, at most dangerous occupations, for the sake of millionaires….This civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed.
HS, pp. 36-37
I would have our leaders teach us to be morally supreme in the world. This land of ours was once, we are told, the abode of the gods. It is not possible to conceive gods inhabiting a land which is made hideous by the smoke and the din of mill chimneys and factories and whose roadways are traversed by rushing engines, dragging numerous cars crowded with men who know not for the most part what they are after, who are often absentminded, and whose tempers do not improve by being uncomfortably packed like sardines in boxes and finding themselves in the midst of utter strangers who would oust them if they could and whom they would, in their turn, oust similarly. I refer to these things because they are held to be symbolical of material progress. But they add not an atom to our happiness.
(SW, pp. 354-5)
I am humble enough to admit that there is much that we can profitably assimilate from the West. Wisdom is no monopoly of one continent or one race. My resistance to Western civilization is really a resistance to its indiscriminate and thoughtless imitation based on the assumption that Asiatics are fit only to copy everything that comes from the West. I do believe, that if India has patience enough to go through the fire of suffering and to resist any unlawful encroachment upon her own civilization which, imperfect though it undoubtedly is, has hitherto stood the ravages of time, she can make a lasting contribution to the peace and solid progress of the world.
In my opinion, the Indian Conference bears in its consequences not only upon India but upon the whole world. India is by itself almost a continent. It contains one-fifth of the human race. It represents one of the most ancient civilisations. It has traditions handed down from tens of thousands of years, some of which, to the astonishment of the world, remain intact. No doubt the ravages of time have affected the purity of that civilisation, as they have that of many other cultures and many institutions.
If India is to perpetuate the glory of her ancient past, it can do so only when it attains freedom. The reason for the struggle having drawn the attention of the world, I know, does not lie in the fact that we Indians are fighting for our liberty, but in the fact that the means adopted by us for attaining that liberty are unique and, as far as history shows us, have not been adopted by any other people of whom we have any record.
The means adopted are not violence, not bloodshed, not diplomacy as one understands it nowadays, but they are purely and simply truth and nonviolence. No wonder that the attention of the world is directed towards this attempt to lead a successful, bloodless revolution. Hitherto, nations have fought in the manner of the brute. They have wreaked vengeance upon those whom they have considered to be their enemies.
We find in searching national anthems adopted by great nations that they contain imprecations upon the so-called enemy. They have vowed destruction and have not hesitated to take the name of God and seek Divine assistance for the destruction of the enemy. We in India have reversed the process. We feel that the law that governs brute creation is not the law that should guide the human race. That law is inconsistent with human dignity.
I personally would wait, if need be, for ages rather than seek to attain the freedom of my country through bloody means. I feel in the innermost recesses of my heart, after a political experience extending over an unbroken period of close upon thirty-five years, that the world is sick unto death of blood-spilling. The world is seeking a way out, and I flatter myself with the belief that perhaps it will be the privilege of the ancient land of India to show that way out to the hungering world.
I have, therefore, no hesitation whatsoever in inviting all the great nations of the earth to give their hearty cooperation to India in her mighty struggle. It must be a sight worth contemplating and treasuring that millions of people have given themselves to suffering without retaliation in order that they might vindicate the dignity and honour of the nation.
I have called that suffering a process of self-purification. It is my certain conviction that no man loses his freedom except through his own weakness. I am painfully conscious of our own weaknesses. We represent in India all the principal religions of the earth, and it is a matter of deep humiliation to confess that we are a house divided against itself; that we Hindus and Mussalmans are flying at one another. It is a matter of still deeper humiliation to me that we Hindus regard several millions of our own kith and kin as too degraded even for our touch. I refer to the so-called “untouchables.”
These are no small weaknesses in a nation struggling to be free. You will find that, in this struggle through self-purification, we have assigned a foremost part of our creed to the removal of this curse of untouchability and the attainment of unity amongst all the different classes and communities of India representing the different creeds.
It is along the same lines that we seek to rid our land of the curse of drink. Happily for us, intoxicating drinks and drugs are confined to comparatively a very small number of people, largely factory hands and the like. Fortunately for us, the drink and drug curse is accepted as a curse. It is not considered to be the fashion for men or women to drink or to take intoxicating drugs. All the same, it is an uphill fight that we are fighting in trying to remove this evil from our midst.
It is a matter of regret, deep regret, for me to have to say that the existing government has made of this evil a source of very large revenue, amounting to nearly twenty-five crores of rupees. But I am thankful to be able to say that the women of India have risen to the occasion in combating it by peaceful means, that is, by a fervent appeal to those who are given to the drink habit to give it up, and by an equally fervent appeal to the liquor-dealers. A great impression has been created upon those who are addicted to these two evil habits.
I wish that it were possible for me to say that in this, at least, we were receiving hearty cooperation of the rulers. If we could only have received the cooperation without any legislation, I dare say that we would have achieved this reform and banished intoxicating drink and drugs from our afflicted land.
There is a force which has a constructive effect and which has been put forth by the nation during this struggle. That is the great care for the semi-starved millions scattered throughout the 700,000 villages dotted over the surface 1,900 miles long and 1,500 miles broad. It is a painful phenomenon that these simple villagers, through no fault of their own, have nearly six months of the year idle upon their hands.
The time was not very long ago when every village was self-sufficient in regard to the two primary human wants: food and clothing. Unfortunately for us, the East India Company, by means I would prefer not to describe, destroyed that supplementary village industry, and the millions of spinners who had become famous through the cunning of their deft fingers for drawing the finest thread, such as has never yet been drawn by any modern machinery. These village spinners found themselves one fine morning with their noble occupation gone. From that day forward India has become progressively poor.
No matter what may be said to the contrary, it is a historical fact that, before the advent of the East India Company, these villagers were not idle, and he who wants may see today that these villagers are idle. It, therefore, required no great effort or learning to know that these villagers must starve if they cannot work for six months in the year.
May I not, then, on behalf of these semi-starved millions, appeal to the conscience of the world to come to the rescue of people dying for regaining its liberty?
[Soon after his arrival in London to attend the Second Round Table Conference (on constitutional progress of India) in September 1931, Gandhiji made a broadcast to America on the Columbia Broadcasting Service, from Kingsley Hall, a settlement house in a poor neighbourhood where Gandhiji was staying. It was broadcast live.]
Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1869 – 1948) at Boulogne station with Mrs Sarojini Naidu, on the way to England to attend the Round Table Conference as the representative of the Indian Nationals.
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?