M. K. Gandhi: Indian Patriot in South Africa/Chapter 21
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Chapter 21. Religious Views
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Mr. Gandhi's religious views, and his place in the theological world, have naturally been a subject of much discussion here. A few days ago I was told that "he is a Buddhist." Not long since, a newspaper described him as "a Christian Mohammedan," an extraordinary mixture indeed. Others imagine that he worships idols, and would be quite prepared to find a shrine in his office, or discover the trunk of Gunputty projecting from among his books. Not a few believed him to be a Theosophist. I question whether any system of religion can absolutely hold him. His views are too closely to Christianity to be entirely Hindu; and too deeply saturated with Hinduism to be called Christian, while his sympathies are so wide and catholic, that would imagine "he has reached a point where the formulæ of sects are meaningless."
One night, when the house was still, we argued out the matter into the morning and these are the results.
His conviction is that old Hinduism, the Hinduism of the earliest records, was a pure faith, free from idolatry; that the spiritual faith of India has been corrupted by materialism, and because of this she has lost her place in the van of the nations; that, through the ages, God, pervading all, has manifested Himself in different forms, becoming incarnate, for purpose of salvation, with the object of leading back into the right path, Gita makes Krishna say:—
"When religion decays and when irreligion prevails, then I manifest myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil, for the firm establishment of the dharma I am born again and again."
"But," said I, "has Christianity any essential place in your theology?" "It is part of it," he said, "Jesus Christ is a bright revelation of God." "But the unique revelation that he is to me," I replied. "Not in the sense you mean," he said frankly, "I cannot set him on a solitary throne, because I believe God has been incarnate again and again."
To him, religion is an intensely practical thing. It underlies all action. The argument so frequently used against the Passive Resistance campaign, that "it is simply a political affair, with moral elements in it, but having no relation to re1igion," is to him a contradiction in terms. Politics, morals, commerce, all that has to do with conscience must be religion.
Naturally, his imagination is profoundly stirred by the “Sermon on the Mount,” and the idea of self-renunciation pictured there, as well as in the Bhagavad Gita and "The Light of Asia," wins his complete assent. Self-mastery, self-denial, self-surrender, under the guidance af the Spirit of God, are, in his conception of life, stepping-stones to the ultimate goal of all—the goal of Buddha, the goal, as he interprets it, of John the Evangelist—absolute absorption of redeemed Man in God.
I question whether any religious creed would be large enough to express his view, or any Church system ample enough to shut him in. Jew and Christian, Hindu, Mohammedan, Farsi, Buddhist, and Confucian, all have their places in his heart, as children of the same Father. "Are you, then, a Theosophist?" I asked. "No," he said emphatically, "I am not a Theosophist. There is much in Theosophy that attracts me, but I have never been able to subscribe to the creed of Theosophists."
This breadth of sympathy is, indeed, one note of the Passive Resistance movement. It has bound together all sections of the Indian community. It would be impossible to determine which religious section has done most for its interests. Mr. Cachalia, Mr. Dawad Mahomed, and Mr. Bawazeer are followers of Islam; Mr. Parsee Rustomjee and Mr. Sorabji are Zoroastrians; Mr. G. P. Vyas and Mr. Thambi Naidoo are Hindu leaders. All have suffered imprisonment, and all have rendered unstinted service, while common suffering has drawn these and other helpers into a brotherhood of sympathy in which differences of creed are forgotten.
An incident of last August will illustrate this statement. When "the old offender," Mr. Thambi Naidoo, the Tamil leader, was sent to prison for the third time, to do “hard labour” for a fortnight, Mr. Gandhi suggested that we should visit the sick wife together. I assented gladly. On our way we were joined by the Moulvie and the Imam of the Mosque, together with a Jewish gentleman. It was a curious assembly which gathered to comfort the little Hindu woman in her home—two Mohammedans, a Hindu, a Jew, and a Christian. And there she stood, her eldest boy supporting her, and the tears trickling between her fingers. She was within a few days of the sufferings of motherhood. After we had bent togother in prayer, the Moulvie spoke a few words of comfort in Urdu, and we each followed, saying what we could in our own way to give her cheer. It was one of the many glimpses which we have lately had of that divine love, which mocks at boundaries of creed, and limits of race or colour. It was a vision of Mr. Gandhi's ideal.
Owing, chiefly to his sense of the sacredness of life, and of his views of health, Vegetarianism is with him a religious principle. The battle was fought out in childhood under his mother's influence. But since that time, abstinence from all animal food has become a matter of strong conviction with him, and he preaches it zealously. When, in these Transvaal prisons, the authorities persisted in cooking the the crushed mealies of the prisoners in animal fat, his followers preferred to starve rather than touch it.
It is also part of his creed to live simply. He believes that all luxury is wrong. He teaches that a great deal of sickness, and most of the sins of our day, may be traced to this source. To hold in the flesh with a strong hand, to crucify it, to bring the needs of his own life, Thoreau and Tolstoi-like, within the narrowest limits, are positive delights to him, only to be rivalled by the joy of guiding other lives into the same path.
I write this in the house in which he usually lives when in Johannesburg. Yonder is the open stoep—there is the rolled-up mattress on which he sleeps. It would be difficult to imagine a life less open to the assaults of pride or sloth, than the life lived here. Everything that can minister to the flesh is abjured. Of all men, Mr. Gandhi reminds one of "Puran Daas," of whom Kipling writes:— "He had used his wealth and his power for what he knew both to be worth; he had taken honour when it came in his way; he had seen men and cities far and near, and men and cities had stood up and honoured him. Now he would let these things go, as a man drops the cloak he needs no longer." This is a graphic picture of our friend. He simply does what he believes to be his duty, accepts every experience that ensues with calmness, takes honour if it comes, without pride; and then, "lets it go as a man drops the cloak he needs no longer," should duty bring dishonour. In the position of "Puran Bhagat," he would do easily what Bhagat did, and no one, even now, would be surprised to see him go forth at some call which no one else can hear, his crutch under his arm, his begging bowl in his hand, an antelope skin flung around him, and a smile of deep content on his lips.
- "That man alone is wise
- Who keeps the mastery of himself."
Mr. Gandhi is not a Christian in any orthodox sense. Perhaps orthodox Christianity has itself to blame for this. There is little inducement in these Colonies for an Indian to recognise the loveliness of Christ under the disguise in which Christianity clothes her Lord. What interest has the Christian Church in Johannesburg shown in these thousands from India and China, who for years have been resident in our midst? Practically none. Are they encouraged to believe that they, too, are souls for whom Christ died? By no means. Here and there individual efforts have been made, and some few Indians attend Christian places of worship, but for the most part, they have been left severely alone, while the few men, who have tried to show that there is still a heart of love in the Church of Christ, and have dared to speak a word on behalf of a suffering people, have been subjected to all manner of abuse, and have been made to suffer with them. It is this discrepancy between a beautiful creed and our treatment of the Indian at the door, which repels the man who thinks.
We have failed, too, I believe, to realise the inwardness of this Passive Resistance movement; and the apparent indifference of the Churches has been deeply felt by these men. In reality, it is not a trade dispute, nor is it a political move; these are incidents of the struggle. It is a sign of the awakening of the Asiatics to a sense of their manhood, the token that they do not mean to play a servile or degraded part in our society; it is their claim, put forward in suffering, to be treated by Christians in a Christian way. This is the wonderful vision which Government and Churches alike have failed to see.
Meanwhile, although, to my thinking, the seeker has not yet reached the goal, that wonderful experience of Christ which is the glory of the Christian faith, enriching the wealthiest life, and giving new power to the strong, I cannot forget what the Master himself said:— "Not everyone who saith unto me, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father, which is in heaven."