INDIA DIES NOT

We have an idea that we Indians can do something, and amongst the Indians we Bengalis may laugh at this idea; but I do not. My mission in life is to rouse a struggle in you. Whether you are an Advaitin, whether you are a qualified monist or dualist, it does not matter much. But let me draw your attention to one thing which unfortunately we always forget: that is — “O man, have faith in yourself.” That isle the way by which we can have faith in God. Whether you are an Advaitist or a dualist, whether you are a believer in the system of Yoga or a believer in Shankarâchârya, whether you are a follower of Vyâsa or Vishvâmitra, it does not matter much. But the thing is that on this point Indian thought differs from that of all the rest of the world. Let us remember for a moment that, whereas in every other religion and in every other country, the power of the soul is entirely ignored — the soul is thought of as almost powerless, weak, and inert — we in India consider the soul to be eternal and hold that it will remain perfect through all eternity. We should always bear in mind the teachings of the Upanishads.


Remember your great mission in life. We Indians, and especially those of Bengal, have been invaded by a vast amount of foreign ideas that are eating into the very vitals of our national religion. Why are we so backwards nowadays? Why are ninety-nine per cent of us made up of entirely foreign ideas and elements? This has to be thrown out if we want to rise in the scale of nations. If we want to rise, we must also remember that we have many things to learn from the West. We should learn from the West her arts and her sciences. From the West we have to learn the sciences of physical nature, while on the other hand the West has to come to us to learn and assimilate religion and spiritual knowledge. We Hindu must believe that we are the teachers of the world. We have been clamouring here for getting political rights ant many other such things. Very well. Rights and privileges and other things can only come through friendship, and friendship can only be expected between two equals When one of the parties is a beggar, what friendship can there be? It is all very well to speak so, but I say that without mutual co-operation we can never make ourselves strong men. So, I must call upon you to go out to England and America, not as beggars but as teachers of religion. The law of exchange must be applied to the best of our power. If we have to learn from them the ways and methods of making ourselves happy in this life, why, in return, should we not give them the methods and ways that would make them happy for all eternity? Above all, work for the good of humanity. Give up the so-called boast of your narrow orthodox life. Death is waiting for every one, and mark you this — the most marvellous historical fact — that all the nations of the world have to sit down patiently at the feet of India to learn the eternal truths embodied in her literature. India dies not.

-Swami Vivekananda

Natchiketas and Yama

Mahatma Gandhi, Letter To American Friends, August 3, 1942

Dear friends,


As I am supposed to be the spirit behind the much discussed and equally well abused resolution of the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress on independence, it has become necessary for me to explain my position. For I am not unknown to you. I have in America perhaps the largest number of friends in the West – not even excepting Great Britain. British friends knowing me personally are more discerning than the American. In America I suffer from the well-known malady called hero worship.

The good Dr. Holmes, until recently of the Unity Church of New York, without knowing me personally became my advertising agent. Some of the nice things he said about me I never knew myself. So I receive often embarrassing letters from America expecting me to perform miracles. Dr. Holmes was followed much later by the late Bishop Fisher who knew me personally in India. He very nearly dragged me to America but fate had ordained otherwise and I could not visit your vast and great country with its wonderful people.


Moreover, you have given me a teacher in Thoreau, who furnished me through his essay on the “Duty of Civil Disobedience” scientific confirmation of what I was doing in South Africa. Great Britain gave me Ruskin, whose Unto This Last transformed me overnight from a lawyer and city-dweller into a rustic living away from Durban on a farm, three miles from the nearest railway station and Russia gave me in Tolstoy a teacher who furnished a reasoned basis for my nonviolence. He blessed my movement in South Africa when it was still in its infancy and of whose wonderful possibilities I had yet to learn. It was he who had prophesied in his letter to me that I was leading a movement which was destined to bring a message of hope to the downtrodden people of the earth.

So you will see that I have not approached the present task in any spirit of enmity to Great Britain and the West. After having imbibed and assimilated the message of Unto This Last, I could not be guilty of approving of Fascism or Nazism, whose cult is suppression of the individual and his liberty.


I invite you to read my formula of withdrawal or, as it has been popularly called, “Quit India,” with this background. You may not read into it more than the context warrants.
I claim to be a votary of truth from my childhood. It was the most natural thing to me. My prayerful search gave me the revealing maxim “Truth is God” instead of the usual one “God is Truth.” That maxim enables me to see God face to face as it were. I feel Him pervade every fibre of my being. With this Truth as witness between you and me, I assert that I would not have asked my country to invite Great Britain to withdraw her rule over India, irrespective of any demand to the contrary, if I had not seen at once that for the sake of Great Britain and the Allied cause it was necessary for Britain boldly to perform the duty of freeing India from bondage. Without this essential act of tardy justice, Britain could not justify her position before the unmurmuring world conscience, which is there nevertheless.

Singapore, Malaya and Burma taught me that the disaster must not be repeated in India. I make bold to say that it cannot be averted unless Britain trusts the people of India to use their liberty in favour of the Allied cause. By that supreme act of justice Britain would have taken away all cause for the seething discontent of India. She will turn the growing ill-will into active goodwill. I submit that it is worth all the battleships and airships that your wonder-working engineers and financial resources can produce.


I know that interested propaganda has filled your ears and eyes with distorted versions of the Congress position. I have been painted as a hypocrite and enemy of Britain under disguise. My demonstrable spirit of accommodation has been described as my inconsistency, proving me to be an utterly unreliable man. I am not going to burden this letter with proof in support of my assertions. If the credit I have enjoyed in America will not stand me in good stead, nothing I may argue in self-defence will carry conviction against the formidable but false propaganda that has poisoned American ears.

You have made common cause with Great Britain. You cannot therefore disown responsibility for anything that her representatives do in India. You will do a grievous wrong to the Allied cause if you do not sift the truth from the chaff whilst there is yet time. Just think of it. Is there anything wrong in the Congress demanding unconditional recognition of India’s independence? It is being said, “But this is not the time.” We say, “This is the psychological moment for that recognition.” For then and then only can there be irresistible opposition to Japanese aggression. It is of immense value to the Allied cause if it is also of equal value to India. The Congress has anticipated and provided for every possible difficulty in the way of recognition. I want you to look upon the immediate recognition of India’s independence as a war measure of first class magnitude. 

I am,
Your friend,
M. K. Gandhi 

Hymn to Kali

Mother, if our Soul is Timeless, and its glimmering knowledge of Your eternal existence is Time, then You are keeper of both Time and Timelessness, pirouetting along the outer rim of the great bowl of your starred universe—causeless yet causing and primal yet final. The eternal vibration of your dancing feet pattering reach this little world and beats against my eardrums, as a drummer’s fingers strike a mrindagam, yet it is beyond sound as it is beyond thought, even as the pulsating luminescence of your ever-presence and the long night of your ever-absence is beyond sight.

Ever-seeking our weary soul, you are, ever-knowing its decisions and indecisions, ever-moving through its lifetimes, ever-witnessing our suffering, in your carefully-wrought labyrinth of desire, though it is your compassion that bids us to suffer, to break through the shackles of our bondage.

Atomic Mother, uniting all forms animate and inanimate, your universal light probes all that is near and far, How easily I forget that you are the invisible force running through all, the evidence of things unseen. You are the morning mist rising above a lonely lake in the hills , yet you are also the womb of earth holding lakewater itself, and so too you are the tiny waves created by the skip and shimmy of fish and fowl whose little hearts you now palpitate, now silence; in a flash of your mighty sword you taketh what you maketh.

How like a poem struggling to break free of the chains of mind you are, Mother, a prayer formed against trembling lips in the hour of death and trial, a thought on the precipice of perdition before pen meets paper, a villager’s waving lantern across a wooded path on a winter’s eve, a laughing maid’s lotus footfalls disappearing into the night, a solitary whistle echoing through a forsaken canyon, a madman’s silent elegy to the straitjacket of sanity, a teacher’s infinite mercy on his prodigal student, salvation eddying against sin in a whirlpool of samsara.

inscrutable you are, Mother, hidden in the very beads of time, in the sheath of each atom you hold in place, in-dwelling as the soul of all souls, sometimes breaking forth as a smile on the face of a passer-by, other times climbing out of the pages of a book with your thousand faces and arms, still yet, coloring the tint of a memory pressing against the brain, here, a friend who surrenders to me his last morsel amidst a famine, and there, guiding the kindness of my dearest enemy, and in the long meanwhile of it all, pulsing as the very blood coursing through these veins, simmering as the air in my lungs.

When I gaze into a mirror, you appear through it, impressively strange and yet beloved, as though your countenance were plunging out of its pool of light and meeting mine own, before melting back into the speechless effulgence whence you came, leaving me, leaving me in my own darkness, where your indelible impression nevertheless remains, like lingering birdsong in my child’s mind.

Cosmos in Turiya

ഭൂമിദാനം / भूदान / Bhoomidan

Bhoomidanam (“land gift”) was a movement led by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, an Indian sage and Gandhian disciple who walked hundreds of miles through India for 13 years with the mission of convincing landlords to renounce some of their holdings, for the social uplift of the poor and downtrodden and in order to promote village self-sufficiency. Chief amongst his many accomplishments was the founding of the Brahma Vidya Mandir, an ashram where women practiced agriculture, prayer, and nonviolence in order to achieve self-sufficiency.

Like Gandhiji, he sought peace, freedom, and self-determination for the Indian people from the tyranny of the British Empire through the method of ahimsa (non-violence). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met with him in 1959 during his trip to “the Land of Gandhi,” where he engaged in a deep study of the tradition of nonviolence in Indian philosophy and its practical application in the freedom struggle of his people here in the United States.

I painted this portrait because last year, we undertook a celebration of the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi in the United States in an effort to raise national and world consciousness about Gandhiji, a singular personality whose example of perpetual truth-seeking, humility of conduct, depth of intellect and perception, compassionate action and eloquence of tongue and thought, brought together the starving multitudes of India, who were left destitute by more than three hundred years of British exploitation. Gandhiji taught us that education was not simply the assimilation of books and theorems but cultivation of the human personality, the sum total of a man’s actions which together constitute his character.

It behooves us to celebrate such a world historical personality in the twenty-first century as a new beast slouches towards India, the American Empire, which has arguably caused even more ruinous consequences to Indian industry, agriculture and folkways albeit in a much shorter span of time. Education has deviated from the Gandhian ideal as Indian labor is forced to work for Western powers for a mere pittance, while corporations greedily devour India’s intellectual and physical products, sucking out the very lifeblood of the Indian man and woman.

Central to this terrible saga is the aggressive advance of the Indian elite and petty bourgeoisie in America, which enjoys the fruits of exploited Indian labor along with the white bourgeoisie and indeed, the bourgeoisie of every race. Together they even suppress the working poor here, particularly the black poor, who are exploited in ways quite similar to the poor and downtrodden in India, denied education, housing, and basic civil rights. All the while these personalities claim to be “experts” on India and South Asia. It was for these rights that Dr. King and Vinoba Bhave were fighting.

America, which is presently facing a grave crisis of governance and an even graver crisis of violence, must return to Dr. King’s prognostication that the choice today is not between nonviolence and violence but in fact, between nonviolence or non-existence. As superpowers like Russia and China, along with the fast-failing behemoth of Europe, contend for power with the capsizing American Empire, the masses are once again left floundering and bewildered.

In his report about his trip to the Land of Gandhi, Dr. King observes that “the bourgeoise—white, black or brown—behaves about the same the world over.” He implores the American people to partake of the gifts of Mother India “in a spirit of international brotherhood, not national selfishness.Herein lies the significance of Dr. King’s two-day meeting with Sri Vinoba Bhave during his trip to Ajmer, pictured below: the desire to join the Satyagraha of African-Americans who had recently desegregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama with the Satyagraha of the Indians, who had newly won independence after having successfully ejected the British from Indian soil.

Bhave was a disciple of Gandhiji who continued to transmit Gandhiji’s message of peace after the physical form of the Mahatma was assassinated. Vinoba ji is said to have been admired by Gandhi, particularly for his strict and sincere observance of brahmacharya or the law of celibacy, which was a key component of the Satyagraha program.

Rev. King visited with Vinoba Bhave for two days on March 2 and 3, 1959. During their meeting, Vinoba referred to King as the American Gandhi; he himself was known amongst followers as the “Second Gandhi.” Sadly in the recent years, the city of Ajmer, where King visited with Vinoba ji has been neo-colonized by the Americans. Thus, whereas Dr. King’s pilgrimage to the city and visit with Vinobaji was an effort to fight Western imperialism through the method of ahimsa, President Barack Obama’s visit in 2010 was its very antithesis–history as a consequence became farce and nonviolence has degenerated into mere rhetoric in the hands of the neoliberal class, who have coopted the language of nonviolence for the perpetuation of war, poverty, and injustice rather than their ultimate eradication.

Obama and his ilk might be best served to remember Dr. King’s advice, to quote an article of his about Gandhiji in an issue of Bhoodan magazine, “Gandhi’s method of nonviolence and the Christian ethics of love is the best weapon available to Negroes for this struggle for freedom and human dignity…His spirit is a continual reminder that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence.”

जय जगत्