The Quest for the Royal Road: Gandhiji's Experiments with Non-Violence

Published: 05.02.2016

What a beautiful place and what a lovely morning! Right in front are the river and the trees. They are all the gifts of nature. The Nature gave us a warm welcome in this place of sylvan beauty. Spreading out the canopy of clouds, it has protected the people sitting in the sun. It is a lucky chance to have a day like this on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. It gives one the feeling that nature had permeated Gandhiji's life. The people of this country should learn lessons from his life. Even the saints and the monks should draw inspiration from Gandhiji's life, which was characterised by simplicity.

People always bow respectfully to Gandhiji and have faith in him. But it is a matter of serious concern that they are not taking any inspiration from his life. Today I find tears in the eyes of the people who made many sacrifices in life alongwith Gandhiji. I have met many persons who have imbibed Gandhiji's influence in their lives. I feel ideologically one with them.

Dhebarbhai lived with Gandhiji. I had a talk with him. I said to him "So long as persons like you are around, it seems that those who were with Gandhiji are still around. The people also feel assured and confident. But have you prepared the future generation?" Dhebarbhai replied, "You are right. We have not been able to do that. You should suggest some way to do it."

Whenever I met Rajendra Babu and others, I found Gandhiji's philosophy reflected in their lives. You find any number of persons wearing the white cap, dressing themselves in khadi, even keep a spinning wheel and follow the "eleven vows." But these are only the surface matters. One feels anguish at heart to see such things. However, the expression of anguish by itself is futile. Any person can say without any hesitation that there has been degeneration in India. But I wonder what purpose would be served by merely giving expression to such a feeling. We have to find a way out of it and seek the remedy. Who has the solution and the remedy? When it comes to the question of finding the solution people ask what could they do by themselves? But I ask them: "Was Gandhiji not alone when he started? The pot gets filled drop by drop. With minutes passing, it becomes an hour. In the same way, any work gets done when people work individually. Every individual should have the self-confidence that he is doing what is necessary, would continue doing according to his capacity.

When the sun sets, the lamps and the flames shine bright all through the night. Would there ever be light if everyone starts wondering what he can do? In one of the poems, the great poet, Rabindranath Tagore, has said, "The Sun, on reaching the western horizon asked: I am leaving. Who will take the responsibility of dispelling the darkness when I am gone?"

The moon, the stars and the constellation remained silent in the face of that question of the sun. But a tiny lamp came forward and said, "I shall certainly give as much light as I am capable of giving." The sun departed feeling reassured. If like a single lamp, thousands of lamps light up, would not the whole city glitter with brightness? In the same way, every individual, instead of expressing anguish, has to think of putting his efficiency to some use and not conceal it. Concealing has been called a sin, because it involves blunting of one's abilities.

A hungry man went up to Tolstoy and said, "I am hungry and helpless. Give me something." Tolstoy said, "You own wealth in terms of millions. Why then do you beg from me?" That man said, "But I do not have even the smallest coin. How do you say that I own millions?" Tolstoy said, "You have got two eyes. If you give them to a blind man, you could earn at least a couple of thousands. Similarly, you have got your hands, legs, heart and so on. All these things amount to millions. Are you not ashamed to beg while you have so much wealth? Go, do some work and earn your bread."

If the religious people of to-day had to face such a question, they would say that Tolstoy did not do the right thing. One earns merit by giving something to the beggars.

Some religious people from Ahmedabad came to me and asked, "Acharyaji, is it good or bad to give bread to a beggar?" I told them that it is sinful to encourage begging. They may or may not be satisfied by my answer. But those who are thinking about the nation would be certainly satisfied. It is not our principle to forbid anyone from giving. But I would like to make it clear that it is a sin to encourage begging under the temptation of earning merit. Some people misuse these words of mine and say that I am forbidding giving something in charity to anyone. Giving or not giving anything to anyone is a different matter. The main thing is concealing one's own abilities-which is not proper from any point of view. On this occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, everyone should resolve to use his abilities to the fullest extent. After Gandhiji, someone has cast an evil spell on our national leaders that all the powers they appeared to possess have dwindled.

An ascetic was performing penance in his grove. Indra's throne started swaying under the impact of his penance. He thought: "If this ascetic continues his penance, he would deprive me of my throne. I must play some trick."

He descended to the earth in the guise of a wayfarer, carrying a sword in his hand. Approaching the ascetic he said - "Oh, great one, I am going to the city on a visit. It is not proper to go there carrying this sword. You are very kind. Please keep it safely till I return."

The ascetic kept the sword with him. Two hours passed, then four hours and gradually days and months went by, but the traveller did not return. He did not even intended to return. The ascetic, on his part, forgot about his penance and concentrated on guarding that sword. In his anxiety to keep the sword safe, he developed an attachment for it. His meditation, chanting, penance-everything was left behind. Now the only thing left for him by way of penance was to guard the sword. The throne of Indra swayed no longer. But the lives of thousands of animals in the forest were now insecure. The sake, the frog and the lion and the goat that lived side by side in the presence of that ascetic, now trembled with fear at the sight of the sword.

Almost a similar situation arose after Gandhiji passed away-as though someone had placed a sword in the form of power, wealth and luxury, becausi of which all leaders, who were once engaged in a kind of penance, forgot all about it. The ascetic did not change his attire, he even continued to recite the mantras starting with Om, but his attention was concentrated on the sword. Similarly, Gandhiji's followers visit the ashram, offer prayers, but their mind remains concentrated on the seat of power. They are worried whether they would retain their power in the coming elections.

We must think today on this occasion about what Gandhiji wanted and what he thought. Gandhiji was not supporter of communalism. His prayer meetings were attended by Hindus, Muslims, Christians, etc. But today there is probably not as much communal fanaticism in religious quarters as among the followers of Gandhiji. I had once remarked to a Sarvodaya leader; "We gave up communalism thinking it was not a good thing. But surprisingly, those who did not believe in communalism have accepted it. I am the acharya of a particular sect and follow its tenets in dress etc. but communalism still does not appeal to me. Communalism means accusing and deriding other communities to prove the superiority of one's own community. I regard levelling charges against someone as fanaticism and a mistake."

Some ladies said to Saguna Desai, the wife of the Gujarat Chief Minister Hitendrabhai, "You must meet Acharyaji." She said, "What shall I do by meeting him? I do not feel like going to any religious leader. Even if I go to him, I shall not be able to be with him for more than ten minutes."

Nevertheless she came to me and talked with me for 45 minutes. While leaving she said, "I did not know that your thinking is so emancipated. Looking st what you think and practise, no one can level a charge of communalism against you. We need your co-operation." Gandhiji's thinking too was far above communalism. It is time his followers give thought to that aspect today.

Gandhiji believed more in action than in words. I was reading a book yesterday in which Gandhiji was written: 'Let all my writings be consigned to flames when I die. That would leave behind what needs to be done." To-day the situation is different. Words have taken the place of action. But actions, not words, have a direct influence on the people.

Once a priest in London thought that Gandhi was a Hindu and a very influential person. If he got converted to Christianity, millions of Hindus would follow his example. With this idea in mind, he invited Gandhiji to lunch with him on every Sunday.

Gandhiji accepted the invitation saying, "Surely you know that I am a vegetarian. I can come to you if you can make that arrangement." The priest agreed and Gandhiji went there for lunch. That day, for the first time, vegetarian food was cooked at the priest's house. When the children were curious, they were told about Gandhiji's visit.

The children then asked, "Why this kind of food for him?"

The priest replied, "Gandhi is a vegetarian."

The children asked, "Why does he not eat meat?"

The priest said, "He is non-violent. Killing any living creature is a sin. Therefore, he does not eat meat."

The children thought to themselves that they too must practise that kind of non-violence. When Gandhi arrived, they observed how he ate and spoke and how restrained he was. The children came under his spell in a single day. Gandhiji came again on the following Sunday. The children said, "If Gandhi can do with vegetarian food, why can't we also have the same food?" The priest said, "Gandhi comes from a tropical country whereas the climate is cold in our country. We cannot be vegetarians here." The children said, "Right now, he too is in our country. If he can live on vegetarian food, why can't we?"

The priest did not have an appropriate answer to give to the children. He had a lurking fear that in view of the children's changing ideas, a time may come when they may give up their Christian religion and become Hindus. He requested Gandhiji to make an alternative arrangement for lunch the following Sunday. He said, "By inviting you at my place, I had intended to convert you to Christianity. But even without your saying anything, I am beginning to be attracted by Hinduism."

When doing and profession are the same in someone's life, would he fail to influence others? If nothing grows when the seeds are sown in the fertile soil, is it the fault of the seeds or the sower? When both are in perfect condition, why would there not be flowers and fruits? Gandhiji always did what he thought. Hence he naturally influenced people. Briefly speaking, Gandhiji was a religious person in the ideal sense. His life was like that of an ideal sravaka. Who is a religious person?

About him it has been said:

  • There is no particular difference between a saint and an evil person.
  • The one who is the same in his thought, word deed is a saint.
  • The person who is not the same in his thought, word and deed is an evil person.[1]

The definition of a saint clearly applies to Gandhiji.

The greatest thing in his life was that he laid stress on the purity of ends and means. He said, "If the objective we wish to achieve is pure, the means to achieve it should also be pure. The end achieved by impure means cannot be long lasting." This principle was fully ingrained in his being. That is why he did not opt for violence. He said, "Even if freedom comes with non-violence after a hundred years, I shall accept it." His concept of the purity of ends and means often brought him into conflict with a large number of religious leaders. But there was identity of views of Acharya Bhikshu and of Gandhiji in this regard.

In the course of his life, Gandhiji experimented with non-violence in various ways. His life was a laboratory. This fact becomes abundantly clear by looking at his early and latest writings. He considered it sinful to kill small creatures for the protection of big creatures. He considered sinful even the killing of monkeys, deer, and poisonous animals that destroyed agricultural crops. Even though he did permit the killing of some living creatures strictly out of necessity, he still did not think it was pure non-violence.

I am also asked some questions like these:

If the cat kills the rat is it or is it not non-violence to save the rat? My reply is: It is up to you to either save the rat or drive away the cat. I do not interfere, but it cannot be considered pure non-violence. Only that non-violence is pure which brings about the change of heart in a violent person. You may be able to protect the rat against the cat, but you would not be able to make the cat non-violent thereby. You can save the animals by paying money to a slaughter-house, but thereby, you would not be able to make the butcher non­violent. I do not come in the way in the act of saving anyone. But I am certain that non-violence and religion cannot be purchased with money. Non-violence can never become a reality by using the rod. It can come about only by changing somebody's heart.

Today the religious people are in a pitiable state. It pains my heart to see them in that condition. They somehow earn money through exploitation. Then with that same money, they pave floor tiles in temple or open a dharmashala or a free feeding centre and satisfy themselves that they have performed a religious act. What a mockery! Religion never ordains earning money in a sinful manner. Such religious people do not possess swords, but with the force of the pen, they cut throats of countless people.

A farmer was seated talking to a wealthy money-lender. In the course of conversation, the pen the money-lender had tucked behind his ear, fell down. The farmer said, "Sethji, your knife has fallen down. Please pick it up!" The money lender was furious, "What do you mean? We are religious people. We do not take even water without straining. How can we ever possess a knife?"

The farmer picked up the pen and asked, "What is this?"

The money-lender said, "It is a pen with which we write."

The farmer said, "How do we know it is a pen? Our throats are being cut only with this."

The money-lender dared not contradict.

The religious people find such observations on my part irksome. They resent that their guru should refer to such matters in public. I am not saying this individually. I am raising a collective voice that this is cheating, whether the person concerned is a Therapanthi, a Jain, a Vaishnava or anyone else.

I have read about Gandhiji's eleven vows in which are included non-violence, truth, non-stealing, non-possession, etc. He said that keeping more wealth than one needs is accumulation of wealth. If you can manage with a cotton carpet, keeping a chair is accumulation. While reading this, it seems as though some Jain saint is defining non-possession.

Gandhiji also dealt severe blow to the idea of touchability and untouchability. But it is a sad reflection on the situation that even today the problem of untouchability is nowhere near solution. Only the other day, some people belonging to the Achhut Mukti Sena came to me in a group. I told them, "I am happy that you people have come forward on your own to eradicate untouchability. You can take co-operation from others, but it should not convey any kind of meek submission. Being dependent on anyone is servility or meek submission. If you want to rise and make progress, you would have to make efforts yourselves. A paralysed person, even if he stands up with the help of someone, cannot keep himself steady. The one who is healthy, can stand up with the slightest support. Hence, the process of rising should begin with yourselves. If a person is enterprising, he finds support and co-operation automatically, otherwise they get no co­operation at all." I said to some other people, "Do the Harijans say that you would have to give your daughters to them in marriage, share meals with them? They do not and should not insist on these things. All they ask for is that you should eliminate from your minds the feeling of hatred you have for a certain section of the population. You should not humiliate them as your brethren. If religious sense is to be awakened in your minds, this feeling of untouchability would have to be wiped out."

Bhagwan Mahavira considered hatred a sin. Any person resorting to hatred cannot be religious. Removal of untouchability is not meant to show pity for the untouchables, but to refine your own mental attitudes. It is not correct to regard anyone as "a poor helpless creature. If at all, you should show pity, let it be for your own inferiority. If you reform yourselves, you would be showing pity naturally."

I told the Harijans also one thing-"You must search your own hearts if you are seeking sympathy from others. Feelings of touchability and untouchability persist even in your midst. You consider other communities of your own as untouchable. You do not touch them, do not take water from their hands. You consider others of your community inferior. If you wish that high-caste people should come out of the feeling of untouchability, you would first have to wipe out that feeling among yourselves."

Gandhiji worked for the eradication of untouchability. Anuvrat is also making attempts in that direction. As a result the mental tendencies of people have started to be purged on the idea of untouchability.

Gandhiji's ideas belonged to his own age. But now the question is, to what extent do his followers support those ideas? I do not intend being sarcastic about anyone, but I do wish that the ideas of that great man should not just flow by like the current of a river. The way to progress would open by holding those ideas together.

Finally, let me tell you only one thing, that everyone, while attempting to reform others, should also attempt to reform oneself. For that purpose, you have anuvrat to follow. Only by doing that, you can express your genuine faith in Gandhi.

Footnotes
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Sources

Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Authors:
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Bhikshu
  3. Ahmedabad
  4. Anuvrat
  5. Bhagwan Mahavira
  6. Bhikshu
  7. Christianity
  8. Fear
  9. Gandhi
  10. Gandhiji
  11. Gujarat
  12. Guru
  13. Hinduism
  14. Indra
  15. Jayanti
  16. London
  17. Mahavira
  18. Meditation
  19. Mukti
  20. Non-violence
  21. OM
  22. Rabindranath Tagore
  23. Sarvodaya
  24. Tagore
  25. Violence
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