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Gandhi - A True Mahatma?

Gandhi - A True Mahatma?

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Published by xAgneya
Introduction of a 9 part series on Mohandas Gandhi.
Introduction of a 9 part series on Mohandas Gandhi.

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Published by: xAgneya on Mar 21, 2010
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11/17/2010

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Gandhi: A True Mahatma?
To measure the inherent character of a nation, one looks to see the predominant qualities used inassociation with its people and with its history. For most nations past and present, there is littleto distinguish its culture from the mass of humanity, except for superficial differences such as physical features, rituals, languages, and other factors. These are nations where the individual ismolded by the customs long-held by the society; indeed there is little room for the expression of true individuality, as the mass – with some justification – sees such individuality as a threat to itsstability. This stability, however, is not permanent, as either it must accept the outgrowth of theindividual or face internal turmoil; or it succumbs to outside pressures, often in the form of invasion. Conquered, they lose their identity and become but a footnote in the list of destroyednations.Few are the nations able to delicately balance the uniformity desired by the mass with theinterests and ambitions of the individual. The nations that do so become known for their creations, for their outward achievements, become remembered through their writers andmusicians, sculptors and painters, inventors and geniuses. Their allowance of the growth of theindividual in turn strengthens the mass, which cycles back to provide the foundation for theindividual. Governed by outward works and desire, these are nations likely to have a significantmilitary history, with numerous conquests. The defect in these nations is due to the very natureof desire itself - an error in relating external achievements and desires to the truest Self, which isof an internal character. While these societies will always have small minority of men willing torise beyond the desire principle, their influence is minimal on the bulk of their fellow citizens. If these nations can be described as having systems of higher ideals, mostly of an ethical or moral basis, they cannot truly be said to have had a pervasive spiritual or transcendental foundation,even if some of their creations hinted at deeper internal realities. Without this strong elementenabling regeneration, these nations are marked by the eventual exhaustion of their force.Conquering, they lose themselves in their excesses, wasting their vitality and creative strength,leaving their mark on the world but unable to sustain themselves.Fewer still are the nations with an enduring inclination towards transcending the divisions made by the individual ego. These nations have in their foundation principles that not only take up theneeds of the community and the creations of the individual, but also present extensively traveled paths to help the individual delve deeper into his own nature in order to then transcend hisnature. Essentially, these are nations with a foundation based upon knowledge not of objectivefacts and data, but illumination of the highest Self. It was not just the rare enlightened men who procured these truths (originating from subjective individual experience), because unlike in other  perished or perishing nations, these experiences were known to men in all eras, whatever thegeneral state of society. It was this foundation, laid down from times immemorial, which gave balance to these nations, allowing for the exploration of many paths and the ability to absorbshock after shock. This lofty heritage - based upon a secure internal strength - is what makesthese countries less likely to attack others, and more able to rebound from the trauma of invasionand division, since being ruled by an outsider or having its land parceled could not shake aninherent unity based on something much more subtle, something eternal. Conquered, theysurvive their conqueror; twice born are the immortal nations.
 
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
th
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.
1
 
In a letter written on January 3rd, 1948, Gandhi admitted that he was not even close, writing, “Iam nowhere near realizing Rama yet, but I am striving. When I have the realization, the glow of my ahimsa will spread all around.
2
” By this time in his life, Gandhi’s name was knownthroughout the world, and he was considered by many to be the latest in the long tradition of Indian holy men. However, as he was well aware, he had yet to experience the same states of consciousness that had made these past men so revered. Gandhi, perhaps feeling he had nottruly earned a title that implied Divine realization, admitted that the praise might not have beendeserved:The second of October 1947 was Gandhiji's birthday...Members of his party came inthe early morning to offer him their obeisances. "Bapuji," one of them remarked, "onour birthdays, it is we who touch the feet of other people and take their blessings butin you case it is the other way about. Is this fair?"Gandhiji laughed: "The ways of Mahatmas are different! It is not my fault. You mademe Mahatma, maybe a bogus one; so you must pay the penalty!"
3
 Another area of confusion regarding Gandhi is the basis for the philosophy that he propagated.While he would always claim his ideas to have sprung from Hinduism, in reality, the core of hisreligious philosophy - especially his version of 
ahimsa
- was based on Christian tenets,especially that of turning the other cheek. More than any meditative practice, it was this ahimsathat would be central to his spiritual discipline. It was also – extremely - vital to his political andexternal missions, for in Gandhi's version of ahimsa, nonviolence was to be used in all stages andevents of life, including the rape of ones own mother in front of ones eyes. It was this that heinstructed to the Khudai Khidmatgars on October 31, 1938:If in your heart of hearts there is the slightest inclination to regard your non-violenceas a mere cloak or a stepping-stone to greater violence as suggested by this friend,nay, unless your are prepared to carry your non-violence to its ultimate logicalconclusion and to pray for forgiveness even for a baby-killer and a child-murderer,you cannot sign your Khudai Khidmatgar's pledge of non-violence. To sign that pledge with metal reservations would only bring disgrace upon you, your organization and hurt him who you delight to call the Pride of Afghans.But what about the classical instance of the defenseless sister or mother who isthreatened with molestation by an evil-minded ruffian, you will ask. Is the ruffian inquestion to be allowed to work his will? Would not the use of violence be permissiblein such a case? My reply is 'no'. You will entreat the ruffian. The odds are that in hisintoxication he will not listen. But then you will interpose yourself between theintended victim and him. Very probably you will be killed but you will have doneyour duty. Ten to one, killing you unarmed and unresisting will assuage the assailant's passion and he will leave his victim unmolested. But it has been said to me thattyrants do not act as we want or expect them to. Finding you unresisting he may tieyou to a post and make you watch his rape of the victim. If you have the will you willso exert yourself that you will break yourself in the attempt to break the bonds. In

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