Gandhi’s Message to Hitler

DEAR FRIEND,

Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence. Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my appeal for whatever it may be worth.

It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success? Any way I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you.

I remain,
Your sincere friend,
M. K. GandhiHitler

The Moral Government of the World: On Faith, Reason, and Truth

I. THE SOUL-FORCE IN HISTORY

In his spiritual message to the world, notable because it is one of the rare extant speeches Mohandas K. Gandhi gave in English, the satygrahi remarked that

There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything, I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.

God is indescribable and ominpresent for Gandhi, capable of being sensed without manifesting physically. Love is perhaps the most important illustration of this truth: one cannot see love, one cannot grasp it in one’s hands; it lodges itself in the deep recesses of memory and time to be reawakened in each epoch by resurgent forces that seek to preserve it. We can thus see, equally, what is not loved for where there is no love, there is loss and war, war with self and war with the greater family of humankind. To the Western empiricists who demanded proof that Indians were deserving of their freedom, all the while beating, jailing, and exploiting them, Gandhi effectively replied: I cannot show you, but I can assure you that I feel a deep love for my downtrodden countrymen and for you, because you have not yet been discovered by God’s love.

Part of Gandhi’s turn to nonviolence towards all human beings and living entities was profoundly influenced by the belief that all matter is life, a scientific discovery confirmed by Indian biophysicist, Jagdish Chandra Bose, who presented his experiment on the sensate faculties of plants at the Royal Society in 1901. Bose, who Gandhi references in this speech, would invent the crescograph to detect whether or not plants were able to feel and respond to external stimuli like members of the animal kingdom by sensing microscopic movements. This proved that a flower was capable of feeling pain, like a man. Humans, in Gandhi’s eyes, had a much higher purpose: to overcome the need to inflict pain and suffering on other beings. The putative progress of Western science had outrun its moral progress in prescribing the very opposite, Gandhi understood, like Martin Luther King Jr.,

Finally, Gandhi’s critique of Western science recalls W.E.B Du Bois’s critique of scientific positivism, the philosophy of science advanced by the Comteian school, which held that the human world could be studied like its physical counterpart, a perspective which could not fathom the infinitude of human decisive and creative power. Consciousness of the world and the struggle for life creates conditions for improbabilities that deviate from the expected trajectories and outcomes. These improbabilities are what we call history, which is nothing more than the words and deeds of humankind. Gandhi also said, like Marx, that struggle is the mother of history. History, Gandhi argued

is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul. Two brothers quarrel; one of them repents and reawakens the love that was lying dormant in him; the two again begin to live in peace; nobody takes note of this. But if the two brothers, through the intervention of solicitors or some other reason, take up arms or go to law-which is another form of the exhibition of brute force-their doings would be immediately noticed in the Press, they would be the talk of their neighbours and would probably go down to history. And what is true of families and communities is true of nations. There is no reason to believe that there is one law for families and another for nations. History, then, is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul force, being natural, is not noted in history.

The soul force transcends history. It is the energetic residue that persists in the world after every physical incarnation of life, taking new form and life at every new interval. History interrupts the soul’s unfolding unto the cosmos because it creates divisions reinforced over time. Thus, Gandhi argues, we can see that what is true of family quarrels is also true of national conflict for it is the contending desires and wills of large units of people that then lives on in human memory. Consider, for example, the history plays of Shakespeare, the story of Abraham’s family, the fraternal conflict between Cain and Abel. Nowhere is this more true than America, where an unnatural color line persistently fragments the human family and suppresses the human soul-force.

Faith transcends reason because it returns us to this cosmic journey of the soul force to be free of earthly suffering. The belief in something higher than oneself, has been central to the development of human civilization for millennia because it forces consideration of the larger aims and ideals of civilization itself–of how human beings ought to live with one another. Thus, the greatest practitioners of all of the world’s religions have evolved a culture of peace, which overcomes our understanding, that is, our reason. And yet, faith without reason can degenerate into fanaticism. This faith in the power of the human mind and heart in its “upward reach for God,” to recall Dr. King, pervades Du Bois’s critique of Western science as it does Gandhi’s in his spiritual message to the world, which declares that all matter is life, and so, infinite in its relational and regenerative capacities.

Du Bois asserted that human behavior and society were not merely governed by fixed natural laws as claimed by Comte and others; rather, there was something fundamentally incalculable, and thus unknowable, about humanity and to accept a positivist dialectic would negate the truth of human reality, which is the mirroring of past and future against the present, each side existing simultaneously The infinitude and incalculability of human possibility grows in direct proportion to one’s faith in God which is why faith is the salvation of the oppressed, the Disinherited, to recall Howard Thurman. Faith confers to the disinherited the belief in their humanity in the face of dehumanization. Under such circumstances, faith deepens one’s own capacity to evolve to greater ends. It creates power, through self-love and communal affection, in the face of powerlessness, giving significance, substance, and continuity to one’s life. The love of the people for their civilizations, which were destroyed by imperialism, fired the freedom movements of the twentieth century, which sought to sever Europe and white America’s chokehold on the development of oppressed races and nations.

It is not historically insignificant that the last thing Du Bois entrusts his literary executor Herbert Aptheker with a book of poems called Prayers For Dark People before taking leave to Ghana. Du Bois, like Thurman and King, recognized the capacity of oppressed humanity to reach super-humanity through love, friendship, and material cooperation. The human will in both epistemologies is a decisive force. Thus, history and philosophy–the force of the human will to wrest destiny from a bitter Earth–could not be studied objectively in a natural vacuum, as the positivist averred. Rather, history was a contention of contesting wills struggling for the realization of self and people. This epistemology was indispensable to Du Bois because for too long, the black working-class was studied as an adjunct of American history rather than a shaping and determining force in the history of human relations on this continent.

II. THE PENALTY OF DECEPTION

To arrive at the truth one must face the truth about oneself. James Baldwin said in No Name in the Street that Western civilization is caught in the lie of its pretended humanism. Until whites reckoned with the psychological consequences of their investment in color prejudice, they would remain fundamentally severed from their own humanity. They cannot love their black childhood playmate, their initial care-providers, their very own children and siblings. And they cannot stop lying to themselves about who they are and how they arrived upon their identity, which is a founded upon a series of lies and distortions about black peoples all over the world.

Deception can only culminate in an eternity of guilt. The guilt of deception is overwhelming, robbing relationships of their sincerity and productivity. Howard Thurman writes that deception has particularly dangerous consequences for the development of humanity and the progress of civilization. As a consequence, Life becomes a meaningless series of events manipulated into a narrative that suits the liar’s interests, canceling out all moral distinctions and discipline. The internal lie of the liar persists such that he or she is inhibited from arriving at a sober distillation of the truth. As he observes in Jesus and the Disinherited

The penalty of deception is to become a deception, with all sense of moral discrimination vitiated. A man who lies habitually becomes a lie, and it is increasingly impossible for him to know when he is lying and when he is not. In other words, the moral mercury of life is reduced to zero. Shakespeare has immortalized this aspect of character in his drama of Macbeth.

To face yourself, you must first know love. Thurman refers here to William Shakespeare’s play about the Scottish king, Macbeth, because though driven by purpose and a great sense of his destiny, Macbeth is ultimately defeated by his political ambition because he sought the love of power rather than the power of Love. If you cannot love others, you cannot love yourself and this has tragic consequences– psychological and physical–for Macbeth. He is consumed with guilt and paranoia, indeed paralyzed from ruling, his initial aspiration. The original sin of Duncan’s murder begets new sins and crimes Macbeth and his wife must undertake in order to stabilize their power over the realm, which ultimately results in their descent into madness and death.

Time is long. And the words and deeds of humans persist so long as there is suffering. Faith is the sigh of the oppressed, the Disinherited. Faith itself cannot be proved by extraneous evidence Gandhi deduced in his message of peace to humanity. As such, the safest course, was the moral government of the world. A moral science of America reveals a deeply divided country with a profoundly fragmented psychic and social life. In a nation plagued by a profound spiritual emptiness, we must once again pose the question: what does a truly moral government of the world, a kingdom of heaven on earth, look like and what has it to do with the pursuit of love and faith in our common humanity?

© 2019 Divya Nair

The Patriot by Rabindranath Tagore

I AM SURE that Chitragupta, who keeps strict record at the gate of Death, must have noted down in big letters accusations against me, which had escaped my attention altogether. On the other hand many of my sins, that have passed unnoticed by others, loom large in my own memory. The story of my transgression, that I am going to relate, belongs to the latter kind, and I hope that a frank confession of it, before it is finally entered in the Book of Doom, may lessen its culpability.

 

It all happened yesterday afternoon, on a day of festival for the Jains in our neighbourhood. I was going out with my wife, Kalika, to tea at the house of my friend Nayanmohan.

 

My wife’s name means literally a ‘bud.’ It was given by my father-in-law, who is thus solely responsible for any discrepancy between its implication and the reality to which it is attached. There is not the least tremor of hesitancy in my wife’s nature; her opinions on most subjects have reached their terminus. Once, when she had been vigorously engaged in picketing against British cloth in Burrabazar, the awe-struck members of her party in a fit of excessive admiration gave her the name, Dhruva-vrata, the woman of unwavering vows.

 

My name is Girindra, the Lord of the Rocks, so common among my countrymen, whose character generally fails to act up to it. Kalika’s admirers simply know me as the husband of my wife and pay no heed to my name. By good luck inherited from my ancestors I have, however, some kind of significance, which is considered to be convenient by her followers at the time of collecting subscriptions.

 

There is a greater chance of harmony between husband and wife, when they are different in character, like the shower of rain and the dry earth, than when they are of a uniform constitution. I am somewhat slipshod by nature, having no grip over things, while my wife has a tenacity of mind which never allows her to let go the thing which it has in its clutches. This very dissimilarity helps to preserve peace in our household.

 

But there is one point of difference between us, regarding which no adjustment has yet become possible. Kalika believes that I am unpatriotic.

 

This is very disconcerting, because according to her, truth is what she proclaims to be true. She has numerous internal evidences of my love for my country; but as it disdains to don the livery of the brand of nationalism, professed by her own party, she fiercely refuses to acknowledge it.

 

From my younger days, I have continued to be a confirmed book-lover: indeed, I am hopelessly addicted to buying books. Even my enemies would not dare to deny that I read them; and my friends know only too well how fond I am of discussing their contents. This had the effect of eliminating most of my friends, till I have left to me Banbihari, the sole companion of my lonely debates. We have just passed through a period, when our police authorities, on the one hand, have associated the worst form of sedition with the presence of the Gita in our possession; and our patriots, on their side, have found it impossible to reconcile appreciation of foreign literature with devotion to one’s Motherland. Our traditional Goddess of culture, Saraswati, because of her white complexion, has come to be regarded with-suspicion by our young nationalists. It was openly declared, when the students shunned their College lectures, that the water of the divine lake, on which Saraswati had her white lotus seat, had no efficacy in extinguishing the fire of ill-fortune that has been raging for centuries round the throne of our Mother, Bharat-Lakshmi. In any case, intellectual culture was considered to be a superfluity in the proper growth of our political life.

 

In spite of my wife’s excellent example and powerful urgings I do not wear Khaddar,—not because there is anything wrong in it, nor because I am too fastidious in the choice of my wardrobe. On the contrary, among those of my traits, which are not in perfect consonance with our own national habits, I cannot include a scrupulous care as to how I dress. Once upon a time, before Kalika had her modern transformation, I used to wear broad-toed shoes from Chinese shops and forgot to have them polished. I had a dread of putting on socks: I preferred Punjabis to English shirts, and overlooked their accidental deficiency in buttons. These habits of mine constantly produced domestic cataclysms, threatening our permanent separation. Kalika declared that she felt ashamed to appear before the public in my company. I readily absolved her from the wifely duty of accompanying me to those parties where my presence would be discordant.

 

The times have changed, but my evil fortune persists. Kalika still has the habit of repeating: ‘I am ashamed to go out with you.’ Formerly, I hesitated to adopt the uniform of her set, when she belonged to the pre-nationalist age; and I still feel reluctant to adopt the uniform of the present regime, to which she owns her allegiance.

 

The fault lies deep in my own nature. I shrink from all conscious display of sectarian marks about my person. This shyness on my part leads to incessant verbal explosions in our domestic world, because of the inherent incapacity of Kalika to accept as final any natural difference, which her partner in life may possess. Her mind is like a mountain stream, that boisterously goes round and round a rock, pushing against it in a vain effort to make it flow with its own current. Her contact with a different point of view from her own seems to exercise an irresistible reflex action upon her nerves, throwing her into involuntary convulsions.

 

While getting ready to go out yesterday, the tone with which Kalika protested against my non-Khaddar dress was anything but sweet. Unfortunately, I had my inveterate pride of intellect, that forced me into a discussion with my wife. It was unpleasant, and what more, futile.

 

‘Women find it convenient,’ I said to her, ‘to veil their eyes and walk tied to the leading strings of authority. They feel safe when they deprive their thoughts of all freedom, and confine them in the strict Zenana of conformity. Our ladies today have easily developed their devotion to Khaddar, because it has added to the over-burdened list of our outward criterion’s of propriety, which seem to comfort them.’

 

Kalika replied with almost fanatical fury: ‘It will be a great day for my country, when the sanctity of wearing Khaddar is as blindly believed in as a dip in the holy water of the Ganges. Reason crystallised becomes custom. Free thoughts are like ghosts, which find their bodies in convention. Then alone they have their solid work, and no longer float about in a thin atmosphere of vacillation.’

 

I could see that these were the wise sayings of Nayanmohan, with the quotation marks worn out; Kalika found no difficulty in imagining that they were her own.

 

The man who invented the proverb, ‘The silent silence all antagonist’, must have been unmarried. It made my wife all the more furious, when I offered her no answer. ‘Your protest against caste’, she explained, ‘is only confined to your mouth. We, on the contrary, carry it out in practice by imposing a uniformly white cover over all colour distinctions.’

 

I was about to reply, that my protest against caste did truly have its origin in my mouth, whenever I accepted with relish the excellent food cooked by a Muhammadan. It was certainly oral, but not verbal; and its movements were truly inward. An external cover hides distinctions, but does not remove them.

 

I am sure my argument deserved utterance, but being a helpless male, I timidly sought safety in a speechless neutrality; for, I knew, from repeated experience, that such discussions, started in our domestic seclusion, are invariably carried by my wife, like soiled linen, to her friendly circle to be ruthlessly beaten and mangled. She has the unpleasant habit of collecting counter-arguments from the mouth of Professor Nayanmohan, exultantly flinging them in my face, and then rushing away from the arena without waiting for my answer.

 

I was perfectly certain about what was in store for me at the Professor’s tea-table. There would be some abstruse dissertation on the relative position in Hindu culture of tradition and free thought, the inherited experience of ages and reason which is volatile, inconclusive, and colourlessly universal. In the meanwhile, the vision floated before my mind’s eye of the newly-brought books, redolent of Morocco leather, mysteriously veiled in a brown paper cover, waiting for me by my cushions, with their shy virginity of uncut pages.

 

All the same, I was compelled to keep my engagement by the dread of words, uttered and unuttered, and gestures suggestive of trouble.

 

We had travelled only a short distance from our house. Passing by the street-hydrant, we had reached the tiled hut occupied by an up-country shopkeeper, who was giving various forms to indigestibility in his cauldron of boiling mustard oil, when we were obstructed by a fearful uproar.

 

The Marwaris, proceeding to their temple, carrying their costly paraphernalia of worship, had suddenly stopped at this place. There were angry shouts, mingled with the sound of thrashing, and I thought that the crowd were dealing with some pickpocket, enjoying the vigour of their own indignation, which gave them-the delightful freedom to be merciless towards one of their own fellow beings. When, by dint of impatient footing of horn, our motor car reached the centre of the excited crowd, we found that the old municipal sweeper of our district was being beaten. He had just taken his afternoon bath and was carrying a bucket of clean water in his right hand with a broom under his arm. Dressed in a check-patterned vest, with carefully combed hair still wet, he was walking home, holding his seven-year-old grandson by his left hand, when accidentally he came in contact with somebody, or something, which gave rise to this violent outburst. The boy was piteously imploring everybody not to hurt his grandfather; and the old man himself with joined hands uplifted, was asking forgiveness for his unintentional offence. Tears were streaming from his frightened eyes, and blood was smeared across his grey beard.

 

The sight was intolerable to me. I decided at once to take up the sweeper into my car and thereby demonstrate to the pious party, that I was not of their cult.

 

Noticing my restlessness, Kalika guessed what was in my mind. Griping my arm, she whispered: ‘What are you doing? Don’t you see he is a sweeper?’

 

‘He maybe a sweeper,’ said I, ‘but those people have no right to beat him in this brutal manner.’

 

‘It’s his own fault.’ Kalika answered, ‘Would it have hurt his dignity, if he had avoided the middle of the road?’

 

‘I don’t know’, I said impatiently. ‘Anyhow, I am going to take him into my car.’

 

‘Then I leave your car this moment,’ said Kalika angrily. ‘I refuse to travel with a sweeper.’

 

‘Can’t you see,’ I argued, ‘that he was just bathed, and his clothes are clean,—in fact, much cleaner than those of the people who are beating him?’

 

“He’s a sweeper!” She said decisively. Then she called to the chauffeur, ‘Gangadin, drive on’.

 

I was defeated. It was my cowardice.

 

Nayanmohan, I am told, brought out some very profound sociological arguments, at the tea-table, specially dealing with the inevitable inequality imposed upon men by their profession and the natural humiliation which is inherent in the scheme of things. But his words did not reach my ears, and I sat silent all through the evening.