Mahatma Gandhi, his life, writings and speeches/The Need of India

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[Mr. M. K. Gandhi delivered an address to the students at the Y. M. C. A. auditorium, Madras (1915) with the Hon. Rev. G. Pittendrigh in the chair, in the course of which he said]:—

I did not know what subject to choose. A friend has handed me a slip here, asking me whether I would not enlighten the students on the Benares incident. I fear that I shall have to disappoint that friend and those of you who associate yourselves with that view. I do not think you need lay any stress upon that incident. Those are the passing waves which will always come and go. I would rather this morning, if I can possibly do so, pour my soul out to you with reference to something which I treasure so much above everything else. To many students who came to me last year, I said I was about to establish an Ashrama somewhere in India, and it is about that place that I am going to talk to you to-day.


I have felt during the whole of my public life that what we need, what any Nation needs, but we perhaps of all the other Nations of the world need just now, is nothing else and nothing less than character-building. You know that Mr. Gokhale used so often to say that our average was less than the average of so many European Nations. I do not know whether that statement of him, whom with pride I consider to be my political Guru, has really foundation in fact. But I do believe that there is much to be said to justify that statement in so far as the educated India is concerned, not because the educated portion of the community blundered, but because we have been creatures of circumstances. Be that as it may; this is the maxim of life which I have accepted, namely, that no work done by any man, no matter how great he is, will really prosper unless it has a religious backing. By religion, I do not mean the religion which you will get after reading all the scriptures of the world; it is not really a grasp by the brain, but it is the heart-grasp. It is a thing which is not evident to us, but it is a thing which is evolved out of us; it is always within us, with some, consciously so, with the others quite unconsciously, but it is there, and whether we wake up this religious instinct in us through outside assistance or by inward growth, no matter how it is done, it has got to be done if we want to do anything in the right manner and anything that is going to persist. Our scriptures have laid down certain rules as maxims of life, which we have to take for granted, and believing in these maxims implicitly for all these long years and having actually endeavoured to reduce to practice those injunctions of the Shastras, I have deemed it necessary to seek the association of those who think with me in founding this Institution. I shall place before you this morning the rules that have been drawn up and that have to be observed by everyone who seeks to be a member of that Ashrama.


There are five rules known as Yamas, and the first is the vow of truth, not truth as we ordinarily understand it, but truth which means that we have to rule our life by the law of truth at any cost, and in order to satisfy the definition I have drawn upon the celebrated illustration of the life of Prahalada, who, for the sake of truth, dared to oppose his own father. In this Ashrama we make it a rule that we must say no when we mean no regardless of consequences.


The next rule is the vow of Ahimsa, which means non-killing. To me, it has a world of meaning, and takes me into realms much higher than the realms to which I would go if I merely understood Ahimsa to mean non-killing. Ahimsa really means that you may not offend anybody, you may not harbour an uncharitable thought even in connection with one who may consider himself to be your enemy. For one who follows the doctrine of Ahimsa, there is no room for the enemy. Under this rule, there is no room for organised assassination, and there is no room for murders even openly committed, and there is no room for violence even for the sake of your country and even for guarding the honour of precious ones that may be under your charge. This doctrine of Ahimsa tells us that we may guard the honour of those who are under our charge by delivering ourselves into the hands of the men who would commit the sacrilege, and that requires far greater physical and mental courage than delivering blows. You may have some degree of physical power—I do not say courage—and you may use that power, but after it is expended, what happens? The man is wild with wrath and indignation, and you have made him wilder by matching your violence against his, and when he has done you to death, the rest of his violence is delivered on to your charge; but if you do not retaliate but simply stand your ground to receive all the blows and stand between your charge and the opponent, what happens? I give you my promise that the whole violence will be expended on you, and your charge will be left sacred.


Those who want to perform National Service or those who want to have the glimpse of real religious life must lead a celibate life, whether married or unmarried. Marriage brings a woman close together with a man, and they become friends in a special sense, never to be parted either in this life or in the lives that are to come; but I do not think that into that plane of life our lusts should necessarily enter.


Then there is the vow of the control of the palates. A man who wants to control his animal passion easily does so without even noticing that he does so. Without being a slave to his palate, he will master his palate. This is one of the most difficult vows to follow. I am just now coming from having inspected the Victoria Hostel, and I saw to my dismay that there are so many kitchens, not kitchens that are established in order to serve caste restrictions, but kitchens that have become necessary in order that we can have condiments and the exact weight of condiments, to which we were used in the respective countries or the places or Provinces from which we have come. For the Brahmanas themselves there are different compartments and different kitchens catering after the delicate tastes of those different groups. I suggest to you that this is simply slavery to the palate rather than mastery of the palate. Unless we are satisfied with foods that are necessary for the proper maintenance of our physical health, and unless we are prepared to rid ourselves of those stimulating and heating and exciting condiments that we mix with our food, we will certainly not be able to control the overabundant unnecessary exciting energy that we may have. Eating and drinking and indulging in passion, we share in common with the animals, but have you seen a horse, a cow indulging in palate to the excess that we do? Do you suppose that it is a sign of civilisation, a sign of actual life that we should multiply our eatables so far that we do not know where we are?


The next rule is the vow of non-thieving. We are theives in a way if we take anything that we do not need for immediate use, and keep it from some body else who needs it. It is a fundamental law of Nature, that Nature produces enough for our wants from day to-day, and if only every body took only enough for him and no more, there will be no poverty in the world, and there will be no man dying of starvation in this world. And so long as we have got this inequality, so long I shall have to say we are thieves. I am no socialist, and I do not want to dispossess those who have got possessions, but I do say that personally those of us who want to see darkness out of light have to follow this doctrine. In India, we have three millions of people having to be satisfied with only one meal consisting of a chapati containing no fat in it and a pinch of salt.


The vow of Swadeshi is a necessary vow. I suggest to you that we are departing from one of the sacred laws of our being when we leave our neighbour and go somewhere else to satisfy our wants. If a man comes from Bombay here and offers you wares, you are not justified in supporting the Bombay merchant or trader so long as you have got a merchant at your very door born and bred in Madras. That is my view of Swadeshi, In your village, so long as you have a village barber, you are bound to support the village barber to the exclusion of the finished barber that may come to you from Madras. Train your village barber by all means to reach the attainment of the barber from Madras, but until he does so, you are not justified in going to the Madras barber. When we find that there are many things we cannot get, we try to do without them. We may have to do without so many things which to-day we consider necessary, and believe me when you have that frame of mind, you will find a great burden taken off your shoulders even as the pilgrim did in that inimitable book Pilgrim's Progress.


I found through my wanderings in India that all educated India is seized with a paralysing fear. We may not open our lips in public. We may not declare our confirmed opinions in public. We may hold those opinions, and we may talk about them secretly, and we may do anything within the four walls of a house, but those opinions are not for public consumption. If we took a vow of silence, I would have nothing to say, but when we open our lips in public we say things which we really do not believe. I do not know whether this is not the experience of almost every one who speaks in public. I then suggest to you that there is only one Being, if Being is the proper term to be applied, whom we have to fear, and that is God. If you want to follow the vow of truth in any shape or form, fearlessness is the necessary consequence.


We have also a vow in connection with the untouchables. There is an ineffaceable blot which Hinduism carries with it to-day. I have declined to believe that it has been handed to us from immemorial times. I think that these miserable, wretched, enslaving spirits of untouchables must have come to us when we were in a cycle of our lives at our lowest ebb, and that evil has stuck to us, and it remains with us. It is to my mind a curse that has come to us, and so long as it remains with us, we are bound to consider that every affliction that we labour under in this sacred land is a fit and proper punishment for the great crime that we are committing. That any person should be considered untouchable because of his calling passes one's comprehension, and you, the student world, who receive all this modern education, if you become a party to this crime, it were better that you receive no education whatsoever. We are labouring under a heavy handicap. You, although you may realise that there cannot be a single human being on this earth who should be considered to be untouchable, you cannot react upon your families and upon your surroundings, because all your thought is conceived in a foreign tongue. So we have introduced a rule in the Ashrama that we shall receive our education through the Vernaculars. In order to solve the problem of languages in India, we in the Ashrama make it a point of learning as many Indian Vernaculars as we possibly can, and I assure you that the trouble of learning these languages is nothing compared to the trouble that we have to take in mastering the English language. Even after all that trouble, it is not possible for us to express ourselves in the English language as clearly as in our own mother tongue. Education has enabled us to see the horrible crime in connection with the so-called untouchables, but we are seized with fear, and we have got our superstitious veneration for our family traditions and for the members of our families.


Last of all, when you have conformed to these rules, I think then, and not till then, you may come to politics and dabble in them to your heart's content. Politics divorced from religions, have absolutely no meaning, and if the student world crowd the political platforms of the country, to my mind, it is not necessarily a healthy sign of national growth; but that does not mean that we in student-life ought not to learn politics. Politics are also a part of our being. We want to understand our national institutions, we ought to understand our national growth. So, in the Ashrama, every child is taught to understand political institutions, and know how the country is vibrating with new emotions, with new aspirations, with new life; but we want also the infallible light of religious faith, not faith which merely appeals to the intelligence, but faith which is indelibly inscribed in the heart. To-day what happens is that immediately young men cease to be students they sink into oblivion, and they seek miserable employments, carrying miserable emoluments, knowing nothing of God, knowing nothing of fresh air and fresh light, and knowing nothing of that real vigorous independence that comes out of obedience to those laws that I have placed before you.


I am not here asking you to crowd into the Ashrama—there is no room there. But I say that every one of you may enact that Ashrama life individually and collectively. I shall be satisfied with anything that you may choose from the rules I have ventured to place before you and act up to it. But if you think that these are the outpourings of a mad man, you will not hesitate to tell me that it is so, and I shall take that judgment from you undismayed, (Loud cheers.)