Who then, were these men that established this higher basis for their nations? They were not the philosopher or intellectual playing with abstraction, the scientists analyzing material phenomena,the general or ruler toying with men and nations, the businessman expanding his wealth: rather,they were men of profound spiritual realization, with concrete experience of the Divine. In Indiathey were and are known variously as Rishis, Yogis, Gurus, and other terms of reverence,dependent upon the form of practice, type of attainment, or the type of works produced by theindividual, to name but a few factors. Whether these individuals have realized their hidden Soul(Purusha) or true Self (Atman), the Universal Self or Supreme Self, the personal or impersonalGodhead, or even the experience of Nirvana, they have indeed gone beyond the normal boundaries of mortals. Then there are those who had not yet attained any sort of definitivespiritual realization, those who remain seekers of the Godhead. Most commonly seen asascetics, these Sadhus (practitioners of spiritual discipline) and Sannyasis are known to abandonnot only earthly desires but also their very homes and families in search of the eternal Truth.These were ones often with a thorough understanding of the wisdom passed down by the Seerswhether orally or in the scripture, persons pure in the heart, yet without possession of theultimate knowledge gained only by experience.One title not seen often in Indian narratives and spiritual disciplines, is that of Mahatma,commonly translated as “Great Soul”. In fact, it was popularized by the Theosophical Society inthe late 19
century; their founder, Helena Blatvatsky, claimed contact and guidance from'Mahatmas' in Tibet. Theosophical literature was widely known to Indian elite home and abroadat the time, and thus Mohandas Gandhi, given the religious nature of his political strategy andspeeches, was to receive this title upon his return from South Africa from those exposed to that particular salutation. This honorific, the one he is now famously associated with, renders aconfusing or at the very least ambiguous translation when we consider it from the Hindutradition. This is because Mahatma literally means “Great Self,” as the Purusha is the individualSoul supporting the play of Nature in Men, and Atman transcends beyond the play and is notusually considered in personal terms, which is what Mahatma implies. For with Atman comesthe experience of complete Oneness, with no division and thus no need for the separation between greatness and littleness: personality is associated with the Purusha, impersonalitygenerally is associated with Atman. Of course, if we view it generically as describing a great person or even a great soul, we can understand the intent behind the name. Nevertheless, since Mohandas Gandhi is considered to be an important Hindu spiritual figure, wemust analyze whether or not such an honor should be bestowed upon him, from a Hindu point of view. This of course demands that we answer the crucial question: Did he have direct knowledgeof his Soul or the Self (Atman)? In the following letter written in 1938 - less than a decade before his death - Gandhi admitted that he had not:I certainly gave you permission to live with me but take it that this desire is born of attachment. It would not do simply to assert that Ramana Maharshi and Aurobindoare one-sided while I am all-sided. One who is one-sided but understands his missionand pursues it has merit. One who claims to be all-sided but is only experimenting haseven less worth than broken almond shells. Only God knows where I stand. I am anaspirant while they are known to be, and perhaps are, realized souls. Anyway their followers attribute to them full self-realization.