|Doctrines|| ||Gandhi's life and thought was a continuing process of evolution, an empirical testing and correcting as he translated his thoughts into action through his "Experiments with Truth."|
He once said that Jesus played a great part in his life and he was filled by the beauty of the Sermon on the Mount. To him, Islam manifested the spirit of brotherhood as in no other religion. In 1942 in Poona on Ramzan Id, Gandhi ate only dates and milk, the favourite food of the Prophet. He saw no religion as absolutely perfect but believed in the fundamental truth of all the great religions. However his ideas are all firmly rooted in the Indian religious tradition. Hinduism wholly satisfied his soul and filled his being. The Bhagavad Gita was a source of comfort in the face of the external tragedies of his life.
Satya ("truth") was the corner-stone He equated truth with God, and thus morality and spirituality are the same. We must say 'Yes' only when we mean 'Yes,' and 'No' when we mean 'No,' regardless of consequences. He insisted on the harmony and unity of thought, word, and deed. To Gandhi, the Hindu creed was: "Search after Truth through nonviolent means." Satyagraha, Gandhi's approach to conflict, was to "hold firmly to Truth."
Gandhi's spiritual mentor as a child was a Jain and this is reflected in his adoption of ahimsa ("nonviolence"). But Gandhi did not regard Jainism, or Buddhism either, as separate from Hinduism. Brahmanic and Buddhist ascetics also vow not to destroy life, but the Jains especially emphasise this. Ahimsa, besides an identification with all beings, was also associated for Gandhi with chastity and lack of possessions through self-control, which needed preliminary purification. Then he used ahimsa as both a moral and political weapon, thus reinterpreting an ancient Indian concept. Closely involved in this is tapasya ("renunciation") which to Gandhi meant not only living a simple and pure life but being able to shoulder the suffering of a conflict, and swaraj ("self-rule") which though used synonymously for freedom from British rule, for Gandhi also signified inner self-rule.
Polytheistic and ritualistic Hinduism did not interest Gandhi, but he affirmed the concepts of karma and dharma.
Gandhi's distinctive Hindu doctrine is an emphasis on social ethics which brought with it changes in concepts. Satya becomes the basis of moral and political action, ahimsa is equated with Christian selfless love, and the concept of karmayoga ("yoga of service") is expanded to the equality of men and women and the elevation of the untouchables, whom he called harijans ("people of God").
|History|| ||Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was born at Porbandar on the Kathiawar Peninsula of Gujarat into a merchant caste family who were Vaishnavas of the Vallabhacarya tradition who worshipped Krishna. His father was the dewan, chief minister, of Porbandar and later Rajkot. His mother was absorbed in religion and became a follower of the Pranami cult which was influenced by Islam. The founder Pramanath rejected image-worship and taught direct worship without priests or ritual. This region of India is religiously pluralistic and Muslims and Jains visited Gandhi's home. In fact, his spiritual adviser was Raychandbhai Mehta, a revered Jain layman, who exerted great influence on him, especially with the concept of ahimsa, central to Jain doctrine. He was married at the age of thirteen.|
Before Gandhi went to England to study law in 1888 he made three vows to his mother - to abstain from meat, wine, and women. The importance of his mother he acknowledged till the end of his life. He became a member of the executive committee of the London Vegetarian Society and in vegetarian restaurants met Theosophists such as Annie Besant, Fabians like George Bernard Shaw, and Christian visionaries who followed Tolstoy. Their rebellious ideas against capitalism and industrial life and in favour of the simple life and cooperation rather than conflict greatly influenced Gandhi.
Returning to India in 1891, Gandhi found his mother had died and he could not easily find work, so he took a one-year contract with a Muslim firm in South Africa. Faced with racial intolerance against Indians, he developed rapidly into a political campaigner. In 1896 he fetched his wife Kasturbai and their children. Though Gandhi raised an ambulance corps to help the British in the Boer War, victory did not change the attitude to the Indians. Defiance resulted in the birth of Satyagraha and a nonviolent struggle lasting seven years. Kasturbai was the first Indian woman in South Africa imprisoned as a civil resister. Later she was imprisoned several times in India and died in prison.
Near Durban Gandhi had been impressed by a Trappist monastery and he set up a series of ashrams supported by Hermann Kallenbach, a South African Theosophical Jew. One of these was named Tolstoy Farm. He also met C.F.Andrews, an Anglican missionary who spoke for the Indian nationalist leaders.
In 1914 Gandhi returned to India. Through Andrews he met Rabindranath Tagore the following year, who called Gandhi a mahatma, "great soul," as the Theosophists had in South Africa. He was to become for millions of Indians simply the Mahatma. In 1919 he announced a Satyagraha struggle, resulting in the Amritsar massacre. By 1920 he was the dominant political figure, and the major campaigns of 1920-22, 1930-34, and 1940-42 led to British abdication. From the 1930's he was based at Sevagram, a village in central India, where he worked on a "constructive programme" to educate rural India, develop cottage industries, and fight untouchability.
Though a political leader, the basis of his life was in religion. He achieved a religious goal that combined a life of moral action and spiritual fulfilment. In his autobiography he wrote "What I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years is to see God face to face."
Gandhi's Collected Works run to 89 volumes.
|Symbols|| ||Gandhi had portraits of Jesus, Tolstoy, Annie Besant and a few others where he lived in South Africa, but there were no pictures on the walls of his rooms at Sabarmati or Sevagram in India. He needed no picture on his walls. Nor could he afford these, having voluntarily become a penniless man. He was opposed even to the walls: "The walls seem to confine me, to restrict me, to restrict my liberty, to wean me from Nature."|
In 1927 on a visit to the Vishnu temple at Belur in Mysore, a lasting impression was made on him by a sculpture of a woman throwing off her sari because there was a scorpion in it, the scorpion symbolizing kama, lust, to him. He wrote an article on this sculpture.
In 1931 he visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome and, seeing the statue of Christ on the great crucifix, said to his companion Mahadev Desai, "One can't help being moved to tears."
|Adherents|| ||In India there are Gandhi Ashrams and shops which continue to support his ideas of rural education and cottage industries. For example, they produce cloth and pure honey, a rare commodity in India. The Sarvodaya movement keeps alive the Gandhian approach. Many Jains regard Gandhi as possessing and spreading the highest Jain principles. |
Millions around the world have been inspired by Gandhi and he is thought of today as an international saint.
| ||Sevagram, Central India.|