Android app on Google Play iPhone app Download from Windows Store


14. Encounter with Mahatma Gandhi

Encounter with Mahatma Gandhi

The next dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity was the longest in duration and the richest in content. The spokesman for Hinduism was Mahatma Gandhi. Christianity was represented by many men and women from India and abroad. Some of them occupied high positions in the worldwide Christian mission.

The dialogue started in 1893 when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi reached South Africa as a barrister and discovered that the Christians who befriended him were looking forward to his conversion. It ended on December 24, 1947 when Mahatma Gandhi, the father figure in independent India, offered Christmas greetings to Christians in India and abroad, wishing them well and hoping that they �will pursue the path of sacrifice and martyrdom shown by Jesus Christ.� At the same time he asked his Christian countrymen to shed fears about their future in independent India.

Gandhiji was brought up in an atmosphere of religious tolerance. He had accompanied his mother and father to the Vaishnava Haveli and the temples of Shiva and Rama. Everywhere they worshipped with equal reverence. Jain monks �would pay frequent visits to my father� and talk with him �on subjects religious and mundane.� So did Muslim and Parsi friends of his father who �listened to them with respect, and often with interest�

Small wonder that when he saw the behaviour of Christian missionaries for the first time, he �developed a sort of dislike� for Christianity. He was a school student at Rajkot. �In those days,� he writes, �Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experience.� His dislike of Christianity deepened when he heard about the doings of a �well-known Hindu� convert. �It was the talk of the town,� he continues, �that, when he was baptised, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes and that thenceforward he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef and drink liquor and change one�s own clothes did not deserve the name. I also heard the news that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.�

By the time Gandhiji read the Bible for the first time, he had developed an eager and reflective interest in religion. Towards the end of his second year in England, he read Sir Edwin Arnold�s The Song Celestial and The Light of Asia. The first work is the famous English translation of the Gita. The second narrates the life of the Buddha. The Gita �struck me as one of priceless worth.� As regards the life of the Buddha, �once I had begun it I could not leave off.� Around the same time, he read Madame Blavatsky�s The Key to Theosophy which �disabused me of the notion fostered by missionaries that Hinduism was rife with superstition.� So he welcomed a copy of the Bible sold to him by a Christian friend who was a vegetarian and who did not drink. �I began reading it,� writes Gandhiji, �but I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty and without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.�

The New Testament, however, �produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart.� This first impression proved to be his last also. In years to come, he continued to identify �true Christianity� with the Sermon on the Mount and exclude everything else in Christian theology to the chagrin of Christian missionaries who could neither disown the Sermon nor stop at it. �My young mind,� continues Gandhiji, �tried to unify the teaching of the Gita, The Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount. That renunciation was the highest form of religion appealed to me greatly.�

Gandhiji came in contact with some believing Christians during his stay in South Africa and had an opportunity to reflect on Christian theology. Mr. A. W. Baker, the attorney of Gandhiji�s client in Pretoria �was a staunch lay preacher� and �one of the Directors of the South Africa General Mission.� He showed interest in the religion of Gandhiji who confessed that though he was a Hindu, he did not �know much of Hinduism� and �knew less of other religions.� Mr. Baker invited Gandhiji to the daily meetings of his missionary coworkers and promised to give him �some religious books to read.� Gandhiji was somewhat intrigued and asked himself, �What� can be the meaning of Mr. Baker�s interest in me? What shall I gain from his religious co-workers? How far should I undertake the study of Christianity? How was I to obtain literature about Hinduism? And how was I to understand Christianity in its proper perspective without thoroughly knowing my own religion?� He came to the conclusion that �I should make a dispassionate study of all that came to me, and deal with Baker�s group as God might guide me� and that �I should not think of embracing another religion before I had fully understood my own.�

He started attending the meetings where the �prayers did not last for more than five minutes.� He was introduced to Mr. Baker�s �co-workers� one of whom was Mr. Coates who �loaded me with books, as it were.� The books were a mix of the stale and the stimulating. At the end, �the arguments in proof of Jesus being the only incarnation of God and the Mediator between God and man left me unmoved.� But Mr. Coates �was not the man to accept defeat.� One day, �He saw, round my neck, the Vaishnava necklace of Tulasi-beads� and said, �come, let me break the necklace.� Gandhiji told him, �No, you will not. It is a sacred gift from my mother.� Mr. Coates �could not appreciate my argument, as he had no regard for my religion.� He was convinced that �salvation was impossible for me unless I accepted Christianity which represented the truth, and that my sins would not be washed away except by intercession of Jesus, and that all good works were useless.�

Another Christian group which Gandhiji met at this time was that of the Plymouth Brethren who proclaimed that �as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us.� One of the Brothers �proved as good as his word.� He �committed transgressions� and remained �undisturbed by the thought of them.� Gandhiji was relieved to know that �all Christians did not believe in such a theory of atonement� and assured Mr. Coates that �the distorted belief of a Plymouth Brother could not prejudice me against Christianity.� 

By now Mr. Baker �was getting anxious about my future.� He took Gandhiji to the Wellington Convention of Protestant Christians. Gandhiji�s colour created some problems for him in the hotel and the dining room but Mr. Baker �stood by the guests of a hotel.� The Convention lasted for three days and Gandhiji �appreciated the devoutness of those who attended it.� But he �saw no reason for changing my belief in my religion.� He found it impossible �to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian.� He made a frank confession of his doubts to his Christian friends who �were shocked.�

The Convention helped Gandhiji to make up his mind about Christianity. He adhered to these views for the rest of his life. �My difficulties,� he writes, �lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were his sons. If Jesus was like God or God Himself, their all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction, while I held a contrary view. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, as an embodiment of sacrifice and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue, in it my heart could not accept. The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among the Christians. Philosophically there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed that the Hindus greatly surpassed Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.�

At the same time, Gandhiji felt greatly dissatisfied with Hinduism as he saw it. He could not understand how �untouchability could be a part of Hinduism.� As not only his Christian but also Muslim friends were trying to convert him, he wanted to know more about Hinduism. He presented his problem to Raychandbhai, his mentor in India, and �corresponded with other religious authorities in India.� Raychandbhai assured him that �no other religion has the subtle and profound thought of Hinduism, its vision of the soul, or its charity.� Thus Gandhiji �took a path which my Christian friends had not intended for me.�

He continued to read books written by Christians and also to correspond with Christian friends in England. He found that some exponents of Christianity did not adhere to Christian theology and took a broader and deeper view of Jesus and his message. He started moving away from Christianity as preached by the missionaries. The missionaries, however, refused to give him up as a bad job and when he moved to Durban, �Mr. Spencer Walton, the head of the South Africa General Mission, found me out�

The approach this time was softer. Mr. Walton never asked Gandhiji to embrace Christianity. He became Gandhiji�s friend and introduced him to Mrs. Walton. Gandhiji liked them both for their �humility, perseverance and devotion to work.� At the suggestion of some other Christian friends, Gandhiji started attending the Wesleyan Church every Sunday. But he found the sermons �uninspiring� and the congregation �worldly-minded people who went to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.� On occasions, he fell into an �involuntary doze� and felt ashamed. He was relieved when he found that his neighbours in the Church �were in no better case.� Finally he gave up attending the Church.

Gandhiji had a standing invitation from a Christian family to join them for lunch every Sunday. �Once we began to compare,� he writes, �the life of Jesus with that of Buddha. �Look at Gautama�s compassion,� said I. �It was not confined to mankind, it was extended to all living beings. Does not one�s heart overflow with love to think of the lamb joyously perched on his shoulders? One fails to notice this love for all living beings in the life of Jesus.� The comparison pained the lady.� The contact came to an end soon after because Gandhiji tried to teach her son the superiority of vegetarian food over meat-eating. The lady felt dismayed and told Gandhiji that �my boy is none the better for your company.� He took the hint and stopped the Visits.

Gandhiji had become a famous man by the time he left South Africa for good in 1915 and started working in India. He had not yet emerged as the Mahatma, nor risen to the supreme command of the national movement for freedom from British rule. Christian missionaries regarded him as a friend because of his proclaimed admiration for Jesus. Early in 1916 he was invited to address a Missionary Conference at Madras on the subject of Swadeshi. After having defined Swadeshi as �that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote�, he said that �in order to satisfy the requirements of the definition, I must restrict myself to my ancestral religion.� He advised the missionaries to �serve the spirit of Christianity better, by dropping the goal of proselytising but continuing their philanthropic work.� He told them that Christ�s message, �Go Ye Unto All the World�, had been �narrowly interpreted� and that �in every case, a conversion leaves a sore behind it.� At the same time he held up Hinduism as the embodiment of the Swadeshi spirit. That was the secret, he said, of its being the most tolerant religion.

Christian missionaries had been propagating that the Reform Movement in Hinduism as well as Gandhiji�s doctrine of Satyagraha were influenced by the principles of Christianity. The proposition was presented to Gandhiji by Rev. Wells Branch in the latter�s letter dated May 9, 1919. He wrote back on May 12 that �I do not think either has anything to do with Christian teaching.� He held �modern civilisation and modern education� as responsible for the Reform Movement. As to satyagraha, he said that �it is an extended application of the ancient teaching.� In the same letter he rejected the �exclusive divinity of Jesus� while praising the Sermon on the Mount. Rev. Branch had come to believe that there were many �secret followers of Jesus� in India who were not coming out in the open because they feared persecution from Hindu society. Gandhiji replied, �I have moved among thousands upon thousands of Indians but I have not found any secret followers of Jesus.�

Thus by the time M. K. Gandhi emerged as Mahatma Gandhi and took command of the national movement for freedom in 1920, he had studied and reflected upon all aspects of Christianity and formed his views on them. He had watched the working of Christian missions from close quarters and understood their role vis-a-vis Hindu religion and culture. In years to come he would identify himself as a sanAtanI Hindu fully satisfied with his ancestral faith. He would explain and elaborate his views on Christianity and Christian missions and defend the principles and practices of Hinduism which the missionaries held in contempt. But because he admired Jesus as a great teacher, he would continue to arouse fond hopes in Christian hearts.
Meanwhile, he had changed from a loyal citizen of the British Empire to its uncompromising opponent. The weapon he forged for fighting the British Raj in India was non-violent non-cooperation. The struggle for freedom was combined with a programme for socioeconomic reconstruction in which the abolition of untouchability was a major plank. His campaigns involved him in conflict not only with the British Government of India but also with Hindu orthodoxy.

While he was in Sabarmati Jail he was interviewed by a representative of The Manchester Guardian some time before March 18, 1922. The Hindu of Madras published the interview on August 15, 1922. The interviewer tried to pin him down by saying that non-cooperation was �contrary to Christ�s teaching.� Gandhiji replied, �Not being a Christian I am not bound to justify my action by Christian principles.�

While he was still in jail, the Young India of February 8, 1923 published an interesting item which deserves to be reproduced in full:

Rev. Dr. Macarish, elected head of the Presbyterian Church Synod which recently met at Orillia in Canada referred to the incidental commercial advantages of religious missions in the following words:

�One cry in the country had long been markets, wider markets, and since the introduction of the Fordney Bill, that cry has been louder and more insistent than ever. If the farmers and manufacturers desire to create a market, they would do well to get in touch with foreign missions, and we are assured that it would not be long till they received their money back with liberal interest.

�Although the missionary went to the foreign fields to win souls for Jesus, the results of his labours also meant the extension of commerce. Trade would follow the banner of the Cross, as readily as it would the Union jack, the Stars and Stripes, or any of the other national emblems, and usually it cost a good deal less.

�It cost British Government £225,000,000 to make the Union jack float over Pretoria; yet it is doubtful if the South African war did as much to promote trade, as missions there had previously done. In the past, the missionaries had been the best advertisers of heathen countries. Dr. John G. Paton did more to advertise the South Sea Islands than the sandal-wood traders ever did, and who ever did more to advertise Africa than Livingston?

�Fifty years ago, it was said that when a missionary had been abroad for twenty years, he was worth £50,000 to British commerce; and it was probably not extravagant to say that one of our missionaries in India or China to-day was worth a similar sum to any great industrial centre in this country.�

Gandhiji had launched his programme for abolition of untouchability soon after he came out of jail. He had made it clear to all concerned that untouchability was a Hindu problem and that Hindus alone should participate in the movement for its abolition. But Christian missions tried to jump into the fray. He received a letter from Mr. George Joseph of Travancore asking whether he could join the satyagraha at Vykom which was going on for securing to the Harijans the right to travel on certain roads and enter Hindu temples for worship. Gandhiji advised him on April 6, 1924 to �let the Hindus do the work� and referred him to the Nagpur resolution of the Congress which �calls upon the Hindu members to remove the curse of untouchability.� At the same time he drew Mr. Joseph�s attention to the untouchability practised by the Syrian Christians. He also told the Hindus not to seek the support of non-Hindus in the Vykom satyagraha. �If you are fighting as an enlightened against the bigoted Hindu,� he wrote to K. Madhavan Nair on May 6, 1924, �it is your bounden duty not only not to seek but respectfully to reject all support from non-Hindus.� He was aware that Christian missionaries were not above exploiting the situation to the disadvantage of Hinduism.

A �retired Indian police officer� in England wrote in The Manchester Guardian that Christian missionaries had done commendable work for the uplift of Harijans. Gandhiji thought that the article deserved his comment. He wrote a Note under the heading �Ignorance� in the Young India of July 13, 1924. �The writer brings up for commendation,� he said, �the Christian work among untouchables; I must not enter into the merits of Christian work in India. The indirect influence of Christianity has been to quicken Hinduism into life. The cultured Hindu society has admitted its grievous sin against the untouchables. But the effect of Christianity upon India in general must be judged by the life lived in our midst by the average Christian and its effect upon us. I am sorry to have to record my opinion that it has been disastrous. It pains me to have to say that the Christian missionaries as a body, with honourable exceptions, have actively supported a system which has impoverished, enervated and demoralised a people considered to be among the gentlest and the most civilized on earth.�

Gandhiji had the leisure to read and look through a large number of books, mostly on religion, while he was in Sabarmati jail. Some of these books had been sent to him by Christians in India and abroad, who wanted to enlighten him about Christianity. Commenting on these books in the Young India of September 4, 1924, he wrote, �I must confess that whilst I recognized their kind motive, I could not appreciate the majority of books they sent. I wish I could say something of their gifts that would please them. But that would not be fair or truthful if I could not mean it. The orthodox books on Christianity do not give me any satisfaction. My regard for the life of Jesus is indeed very great... But I do not accept the orthodox teaching that Jesus was or is God incarnate in the accepted sense or that he was, or is the only son of God. I do not believe in the doctrine of appropriation of another�s merit� I do not take the words �Son� and �Father� and �the Holy Ghost� literally� Nor do I consider every word in the New Testament as God�s own word. Between the Old and the New there is a fundamental difference. Whilst the Old contains some very deep truths, I am unable to pay it the same honours I pay the New Testament. I regard the latter as an extension of the Old and in some matters rejection of the Old. Nor do I regard the New as the last word of God... I would therefore respectfully urge my Christian friends and well-wishers to take me as I am. I respect and appreciate their wish that I should think and be as they are even as I respect and appreciate a similar wish on the part of my Mussalman friends. I regard both the religions as equally true with my own. But my own gives me full satisfaction. It contains all that I need for my growth. It teaches me to pray not that others may believe as I believe but that they may grow to their full height in their own religion.� He added, �That which I would not have missed was the Mahabharata and the Upanishads, the Ramayana and the Bhagavata.�

Mahadev Desai has recorded in his Diary dated November 3, 1924 that a Swiss missionary met Gandhiji and apologised for his broken English. Gandhiji put him at ease by telling him that English was a foreign tongue for him also. The missionary told him, �Every one knows you all over Europe. In Germany and Switzerland, you are quite a name because you are an excellent Christian.� Gandhiji laughed and said, �But I am not a Christian.� The missionary persisted, �But you follow Christian principles in life faithfully.� Gandhiji pointed out, �Yes, that is true. But those principles are found in my religion as well.� The missionary �was a little put out� but insisted, �But in Christianity specially so.� Gandhiji observed, �That is doubtful. I think all religions enjoin certain general commandments � �speak the truth�, �harm nobody�, etc. But personally my own religion gives me peace; if I got it from any other I would certainly embrace that religion.� The missionary �did not seem to appreciate this remark�, and left.

The Navajivan dated December 7, 1924 recorded an interview which Gandhiji gave to two American professors. One of them asked, �Do you believe in Christ as the Saviour of humanity through His vicarious suffering?� Gandhiji replied, �I am not much impressed with the concept.� The professor enquired, �Are you shocked?� Gandhiji said, �No, not shocked either� I do not believe at all that one individual can wash off the sins of some other and grant him redemption. It is a psychological fact that one individual may feel pained at the sins and sorrows of another and the consciousness that the former is grieved may lead to the moral uplift of the latter. But I cannot accept the idea that one man die for the sake of the sins of millions and save them.�

The missionary machine, however, kept grinding in the same old grooves. Its campaign among the Harijans kept on maligning Hinduism. Gandhiji was pained. �Lots of people,� he said at the Antyaja Conference on January 16, 1925, �will come and tell you that your Hindu religion is all wrong, as you are not allowed to go to school or enter the temple. To such people you should say, �We shall settle accounts with our Hindu brothers ; you may not come between us as you may not intervene in quarrel between father and son or among relatives.� And you should remain steadfast to your religion... Many Christian friends ask me to turn Christian. I tell them there is nothing wrong with my religion. Why should I give it up? I have joined the Antyajas and if for that reason Hindus persecute me, do I cease to be a Hindu? Hinduism is meant for me and my soui.�

Mahadev Desai records in his Diary dated May 30, 1925 that when Gandhiji was in Darjeeling he was invited by Miss Roland, a Christian missionary, to address an audience at the �Bengali teaching school� for missionaries. About �a hundred or hundred and fifty European men and women were present.� He said, �Conversion to a religion is like passing one�s Entrance Examination, standing at the gateway to Heaven. Whether you accept one religion or another is of no consequence. All that God wants us to say is whether what we profess with our lips, we but believe in our hearts. There are thousands of men and women in India who do not know Jesus or his amazing sacrifice, but are far more God-fearing than many a Christian who knows the Bible and feels he follows the decalouge.� He had no use for nominal Christians. �In my humble opinion,� he continued, �a man is not �converted� the moment he renounces his own faith and embraces another. I can quote a number of examples of Indians and Zulus who have turned Christians, but have not the faintest idea of the law of love or the sacrifice of Jesus or his message.�

He acknowledged �the debt we owe to missionaries for service to vernacular languages and literatures- Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali.� He mentioned Pope and Taylor for what they did for Tamil and Gujarati. �But in this,� he said, �you have touched but a fringe. You will serve India best when you pick up the poorest of Indians and that only when you identify yourselves with them.� He regretted what Bishop Heber had said about these poor people - Where every prospect pleases, and man alone is vile. �He was wrong. Let God forgive him,� Gandhiji added.

During the same visit to Bengal, Gandhiji was invited to speak before a meeting of missionaries held at the Y.M.C.A. in Calcutta on June 28, 1925. He started by telling them of his association with Christians since his student days in London. �In South Africa,� he said, �where I found myself in the midst of inhospitable surroundings, I was able to make hundreds of Christian friends.� He made them laugh when he told them, �There was even a time in my life when a very sincere friend of mine, a great and good Quaker, had designs on me. He thought that I was too good not to become a Christian. I was sorry to have disappointed him. One missionary friend of mine in South Africa still writes to me and asks me, �How is it with you?� I have always told this friend that so far as know, it is well with me.�

Next, he told them about his meeting with Kali Charan Banerjee. �In answer to promises made,� he said, �to one of these Christian friends of mine, I thought it my duty to see one of the biggest of Indian Christians, as I was told he was, - the late Kali Charan Banerjee. I went over to him - I am telling you of the deep search that I have undergone in order that I might leave no stone unturned to find out the true path - I went to him with an absolutely open mind and in a receptive mood, and I met him also under circumstances which were most affecting. I found that there was much in common between Mr. Banerjee and myself. His simplicity, his humility, his courage, his truthfulness, all these things I have all along admired. He met me when his wife was on her death-bed. You cannot imagine a more impressive scene, a more ennobling circumstance. I told Mr. Banerjee, �I have come to you as a seeker�, - this was in 1901 ��I have come to you in fulfilment of a sacred promise I have made to some of my dearest Christian friends that I will leave no stone unturned to find out the true light.� I told him that I had given my friends the assurance that no worldly gain would keep me away from the light, if I could but see it. Well, I am not going to engage you in giving a description of the little discussion that we had between us. It was very good, very noble. I came away, not sorry, not dejected, not disappointed, but I felt sad that even Mr. Banerjee could not convince me.�

Passing on to his present position, he said, �Today my position is that though I admire much in Christianity, I am unable to identify myself with orthodox Christianity. I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism as I know it, entirely satisfies my. soul, fills my whole being and I find a solace in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. Not that I do not prize the ideal presented therein, not that some of the precious teachings in the Sermon on the Mount have not left a deep impression upon me, but I must confess to you that when doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when I see not one ray of light on the horizon I turn to the Bhagavad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of external tragedies and if they have not left any visible and indelible effect on me, I owe it to the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.�

His love of Hinduism did not mean disrespect for other religions. �I must add,� he said, �that I did not stop at studying the Bible and the commentaries and other books on Christianity that my friends placed in my hands; but I said to myself, if I was to find my satisfaction through reasoning, I must study the scriptures of other religions also and make my choice. And I turned to the Koran. I tried to understand what I could of Judaism as distinguished from Christianity. I studied Zoroastrianism and I came to the conclusion that all religions were right, but every one of them imperfect - imperfect naturally and necessarily, - because they were interpreted with our poor intellects, sometimes with our poor hearts, and more often misinterpreted. In all religions, I found to my grief, that there were various and even contradictory interpretations of some texts��

He chided the missionaries for misrepresenting Hinduism. �You, the missionaries,� he said, �come to India thinking that you come to a land of heathens, of idolaters, of men who do not know God. One of the greatest of Christian divines, Bishop Heber, wrote the two lines which have always left a sting with me: �Where every prospect pleases, And man alone is vile.� I wish he had not written them. My own experience in my travels throughout India has been to the contrary. I have gone from one end of the country to the other, without any prejudice, in a relentless search after truth, and I am not able to say that here in this fair land, watered by the great Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Jumna, man is vile. He is not vile. He is as much a seeker after truth as you and I are, possibly more so� I tell you there are many such huts belonging to the untouchables where you will certainly find God. They do not reason but they persist in their belief that God is. They depend upon God for His assistance and find it too. There are many stories told through the length and breadth of India about these noble untouchables. Vile as some of them may be, there are noblest specimens of humanity in their midst.�

And this nobility was not confined to the �untouchables� of India. �No. I am here to tell you,� he continued, �that there are non-Brahmins, there are Brahmins who are as fine specimens of humanity as you will find in any place on the earth. There are Brahmins today in India who are embodiments of self-sacrifice, godliness, and humility. There are Brahmins who are devoting themselves body and soul to the service of untouchables, but with execration from orthodoxy. They do not mind it, because in serving pariahs they are serving God. I can quote chapter and verse from my experience. I place these facts before you in all humility for the simple reason that you may know this land better, the land to which you have come to serve. You are here to find out the distress of the people of India and remove it. But I hope you are here also in a receptive mood and, if there is anything that India has to give, you will not stop your ears, you will not close your eyes and steel your hearts, but open up your ears, eyes and, most of all, your hearts to receive all that may be good in the land. I give you my assurance that there is a great deal of good in India. Do not flatter yourselves with the belief that a mere recital of that celebrated verse in St. John makes a man a Christian. If I have read the Bible correctly, I know many men who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ or have even rejected the official interpretation of Christianity will, probably, if Jesus came in our midst today in the flesh, be owned by him more than many of us. I therefore ask you to approach the problem before you with open-heartedness, and humility.�

Gandhiji told the missionaries that they stood isolated from the people of India because they �come to India under the shadow, or, if you like, under the protection of a temporal power, and it creates an impassable bar.� He said that he was not impressed by the �statistics that so many orphans have been reclaimed and brought to the Christian faith.� He asked them to identify themselves with the masses and find out what the masses need most. �You cannot,� he said, �present the hungry and famished masses with God. Their God is their food.�

A missionary asked him, �Do you definitely feel the presence of the living Christ within you?� Gandhiji replied, �If it is the historical Jesus, surnamed Christ, that the inquirer refers to, I must say I do not.: If it is an adjective signifying one of the names of God, then I must say I do feel the presence of God - call him Christ, call him Krishna, call him Rama. We have one thousand names of God, and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac and my destination would be the Hooghly.�

An Englishmen �defended Bishop Heber�s song on the ground that the song did not refer to Indians but to Christians� and that �they described themselves in their songs very often as the worst of sinners.� Gandhiji �put his defence out of court.� He quoted �those parts of the song which said that India, Africa and such other countries were inviting the Christians to spread their light in these lands, and that it was there that nature�s prospect pleased but only man was vile, because the heathen was worshipping wood and stone in his blindness.� At the end he asked, �Is it not strange, that a song written ages ago is still sung in Christian circles?�

On August 12, 1925 Gandhiji delivered another speech before the Y.M.C.A. at Calcutta. He started by giving an account of his association with Christianity and Christians. He mentioned Principal S. K. Rudra and C. F. Andrews as among his best friends. Coming to the duty of Indian Christians, he said, �In my humble opinion a Christian Young Indian owes a double duty - to those whose religion he has given up and to those whose religion he has adopted� The Indian Christian�s duty to the religion he has given up is to retain all the good that belongs to it and impart it to the new he has taken. Contrarily, he takes the best of the new religion and transmits it to those whom he has left or who have banished him. But that never happens in a majority of cases. With deep grief that has to be noted. And in Madras you go to different quarters altogether, but by no means a congenial surroundings. You will find there vice double-distilled and no gain on either side.�

Instead, the Indian Christians had invited a double tragedy. They did not mix with Indians, and Europeans would not mix with them. �I tried to talk,� he said, �as I kept walking on the Ellisbridge [in Ahmedabad] to young girls walking to their seminary. They did not even return my salaams. I attended a service also. You will be surprised to see that I was sitting in a corner hoping to exchange a word - without avail, not even a glance. Excuses there may be, but that should not be the case. You cut yourself away from your kith and kin��

Another great mistake the converts to Christianity were making was to neglect their native languages and try to learn the English language alone. �They are passing through schools and colleges,� he said, �like so many pieces of a machine - but they don�t think, don�t originate, forget their mother tongue. They try to learn the English language, succeed in making a hash of it, and trying to think in a foreign tongue, become paralysed� There is something radically wrong in a system which has brought about such helplessness.� He commanded to them the example set by Madhusudan Datta who had �enriched his mother tongue� and Kali Charan Banerjee and S. K. Rudra who had retained their Indianness after becoming Christians. �If the Indian Christians,� he concluded, �want to serve their country, are to serve the religion they profess, it will be necessary to revise a great deal of what they are doing today.�

He was happy when the speakers who preceded him at a congregation of the Baptist Church on August 20, spoke in their mother tongue. �The man who discards his mother tongue,� he said, �gives up thereby his parents, his friends, his neighbours and his country as well. The man who is capable of snapping such ties of love becomes unfit for doing any good to humanity or to anybody whatever. And the man unfit to serve the world is unfit to know or serve God.�

He upheld the same spirit of Swadeshi in other spheres of life. �During my travels,� he continued, �I find a general belief that to turn a Christian is to turn European; to become self-willed, and give up self-restraint, use only foreign cloth, dress oneself in European style and start taking meat and brandy. But I think the fact is, if a person discards his country, his customs and his old connections and manners when he changes his religion, he becomes all the more unfit to gain a knowledge of God. For, a change of religion means really a conversion of the heart. When there is a real conversion, a man�s heart grows. But in this country one finds that conversion brings about deep disdain for one�s old religion and its followers, i.e., one�s old friends and relatives. The next change that takes place is that of dress and manners and behaviour. All that does great harm to the country. In my view your object in changing your religion should be to bring about the prosperity of your country.�

He told them that conversion should not mean license in conduct. He drew their attention to what the Bible teaches about one�s conduct towards one�s neighbours. �Christian friends tell me,� he said, �that when the change their faith, there remains no need for them to observe any restraint. They say, �You can do anything you like when you become a Christian.� I respectfully say that this is a wrong notion. I shall give you an instance to prove my contention. There is a common belief that while some food is forbidden and some allowed in Hinduism, once you become a Christian, you get a license to eat anything you like and drink even liquor. Hence there are a lot of Christians who disregard their neighbour�s feelings and do what they like at the cost of hurting them. But I was told the other day that the Bible condemns such conduct.�

A student doing post-graduate studies in the U. S.A. wrote to Gandhiji asking for his �frank evaluation of the work of Christian missionaries in India.� He wanted to know if �Christianity has some contribution to make to the life of India� and if India could �do without Christian missionaries.� Gandhiji said, �In my opinion Christian missionaries have done good to us indirectly. Their direct contribution is probably more harmful than otherwise. I am against the modem methods of proselytising. Years� experience of proselytising both in South Africa and India has convinced me that it has not raised the general moral tone of converts who have imbibed the superficialities of European civilization, and have missed the teaching of Jesus. I must be understood to refer to the general tendency and not to brilliant exceptions. The indirect contribution, on the other hand, of Christian missionary effort is great. It has stimulated Hindu and Mussalman religious research. It has forced us to put our house in order. The great educational and curative institutions of Christian missions I also count among indirect results, because they have been established, not for their own sakes, but as an aid to proselytizing.�

A Christian Indian domiciled in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) but studying in the U.S.A. sent to Gandhiji a number of questions on behalf of students associated with the Y.M.C.A. One of the question was, �What is your attitude towards the teachings of Jesus Christ?� Gandhiji published his reply in the Young India of February 25, 1926: �They have an immense moral value for me, but I do not regard everything said in the Bible as the final word of God or exhaustive or even acceptable from the moral standpoint. I regard Jesus Christ as one of the greatest teachers of mankind, but I do not consider him to be the �only son of God�.�

An English translation of Gandhiji�s autobiography was being serialised in the Young India from December 3, 1925 onwards. When the account of his first encounter with Christianity appeared in the weekly, he received a letter from Rev. H. R. Scott, �at present stationed at Surat.� Gandhiji published the letter in the Young India of March 4, 1926. �I was the only missionary in Rajkot during those years (from 1883 to 1897),� wrote Rev. Scott, �and what you say about Christian missionaries in Rajkot standing at a corner near the High school and pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods fills me with painful wonder. I certainly never preached �at a corner near the High school�; my regular preaching station was under a banyan tree in the Pan Bazar; and I certainly never �poured abuse on Hindus and their gods.� That would be strange way to win a hearing from Hindus. Then you say that a well-known Hindu was baptised at that time, and that �he had to eat beef and drink liquor, and to change his clothes, and go about in European clothes, including a hat.� No wonder that such a story got on your nerves, if you believed it. Well, I have been over 42 years in India, and I have never heared of such a thing happening; and indeed I know it to be quite contrary to what all missionaries with whom I am acquainted teach and believe and practise. During my time in Rajkot I baptised a number of Brahmins and Jain sadhus. They certainly had not to �eat beef and drink liquor�, either at the time of baptism or at any other time... I know of course that this kind of story is told about converts to Christianity in Kathiawad and elsewhere in India. It is obviously the wilful invention of people who wish to prevent the spread of Christianity in India and hope thereby to frighten young Hindus who show an inclination to learn the truth about Christianity, and no doubt it has had its results in deterring many such honest inquirers as yourself. But surely you must have had many opportunities since then of discovering that that particular libel is without foundation, and as a sincere lover of truth you cannot lend the great weight of your authority to perpetuate such a wilfully malicious misrepresentation of Christian missionaries.�

Gandhiji commented, �Though the preaching took place over forty years ago the painful memory of it is still vivid before me. What I have heard and read since has but confirmed that impression. I have read several missionary publications and they are able to see only the dark side and paint it darker still. The famous hymn of Bishop Heber�s �Greenland�s icy mountains� - is a clear libel on Indian humanity. I was favoured with some literature even at the Yervada prison by well-meaning missionaries, which seemed to be written as if merely to belittle Hinduism. About beef-eating and wine-drinking I have merely stated what I have heard and I have said as much in my writing. And whilst I accept Mr. Scott�s repudiation, I must say that though I have mixed freely among thousands of Christian Indians, I know very few who have scruples about eating beef or other flesh meats and drinking intoxicating liquors. When I have gently reasoned with them, they have quoted to me the celebrated verse �Call thou nothing unclean� as if it referred to eating and gave a licence for indulgence. I know many Hindus eat meat, some eat even beef and drink wines. They are not converts. Converts are those who are �born again� or should be. A higher standard is expected of those who change their faith, if the change is a matter of heart and not of convenience.�

Gandhiji started giving a series of lectures on the New Testament to the students of the Gujarat National College at Ahmedabad from July 24, 1926 onwards. Some Hindus did not like it. He was accused of being a �secret Christian�. They feared that reading the Bible to young boys was likely to influence them in favour of Christianity. �We need not dread, upon our grown-up children,� wrote Gandhiji in the Young India of September 2, 1926, �the influence of scriptures other than our own. We libralize their outlook upon life by encouraging them to study freely all that is clean. Fear there would be when someone reads his own scriptures to young people with the intention secretly or openly of converting them. He must be biased in favour of his own scriptures. For myself, I regard my study of and reverence for the Bible, the Koran and other scriptures to be wholly consistent with my claim to be a staunch sanatani Hindu. He is no sanatani Hindu who is narrow, bigoted and considers evil to be good if it has the sanction of antiquity and is to be found supported in any Sanskrit book. I claim to be a staunch sanatani Hindu because though I reject all that offends my moral sense, I find the Hindu scriptures to satisfy the need of the soul. My respectful study of other religions has not abated my reverence for or my faith in Hindu scriptures. They have indeed left their deep mark upon my understanding of Hindu scriptures. They have broadened my view of life. They have enabled me to understand more clearly many obscure passages in the Hindu scriptures.�

�The charge of being a Christian in secret,� he continued, �was not new. It is both a libel and a compliment - a libel because there are men who can believe me to be capable of being secretly anything, i.e. for fear of being that openly. There is nothing in the world that would keep me from professing Christianity or any other faith the moment I felt the truth of and the need for it. Where there is fear there is no religion. The charge is a compliment in that it is a reluctant acknowledgement of my capacity for appreciating the beauties of Christianity.�

Gandhiji�s great regard for Jesus was misunderstood by some Christians. W. B. Stover wrote to him, �You have taken the Lord Christ for your leader and guide. There is none better.� Gandhiji replied, �You do not mind my correcting you. I regard Jesus as a human being like the rest of the teachers of the world. As such he was undoubtedly great. But I do not by any means regard him to have been the very best. The acknowledgement of the debt which I have so often repeated that I owe to the Sermon on the Mount should not be mistaken to mean an acknowledgement of the Orthodox interpretation of the Bible or the life of Jesus. I must not sail under false colours.�

Gandhiji had a discussion with some missionaries on July 29, 1927. The questions asked by the missionaries and the replies given by him were reproduced in the Young India of August 11, 1927. He opened the discussion with an introduction on how he looked at the history of religion. �Christianity,� he said, �is 1900 years old, Islam is 1300 years old. Who knows the possibility of either? I have not read the Vedas in the original but have tried to assimilate their spirit and have not hesitated to say that though the Vedas may be 13,000 years old - or even a million years old, as they well may be, for the word of God is as old as God Himself - even the Vedas must be interpreted in the light of our experience. The powers of God should not be limited by the limitations of our understandings.�

Next, he commented on the role of the missionaries as teachers of religion and said, �To you who have come to teach India, I therefore say, you cannot give without taking. If you have come to give rich treasures of experiences, open your hearts out to receive the treasures of this land, and you will not be disappointed, neither will you have misread the message of the Bible.� The missionaries asked, �What then are we doing? Are we doing the right thing?� Gandhiji replied, �You are doing the right thing the wrong way. I want you to compliment the faith of the people instead of undermining it... Whilst a boy I heard it being said, that to become a Christian was to have a brandy bottle in one hand and beef in the other. Things are better now, but it is not unusual to find Christianity synonymous with denationalisation and Europeanisation. Must we give up our simplicity, to become better people? Do not lay the axe at our simplicity.�

The missionaries posed their problem, �There are not only two issues before us, viz., to serve and to teach, there is a third issue, viz., evangelizing, declaring the glad tidings of the coming of Jesus and his death in redemption of our sins. What is the right way of giving the right news? We need not undermine the faith but we may make people lose their faith in lesser things.� Gandhiji�s reply was sharp. �It would be poor comfort to the world,� he said, �if it had to depend upon a historical God who died 2,000 years ago. Do not then preach the God of history, but show Him as He lives today through you... It is better to allow our lives to speak for us than our words�

The missionaries then asked, �But what about animistic beliefs? Should they not be corrected?� Gandhiji told them not to concern themselves �with their beliefs but with asking them to do the right thing.� Finally, the missionaries came out with their dogma, �How can we help condemning if we feel that our Christian truth is the only reality?� Gandhiji saw the implied intolerance and said, �If you cannot feel that the other faith is as true as yours, you should feel at least that the men are as true as you. The intolerance of Christian missionaries does not, I am glad to say, take the ugly shape it used to take some years ago. Think of the caricature of Hinduism, which one finds in so many publications of the Christian Literature Society. A lady wrote to me the other day saying that unless I embraced Christianity all my work would be nothing worth. And of course that Christianity must mean what she understands as such. Well, all I can say is that it is a wrong attitude.�

Gandhiji had received a letter from an American lady who described herself as �a lifelong friend of India.� He reproduced it in the Young India of October 20, 1927. �Believing that Christ was a revelation of God,� she wrote, �Christians of America have sent to India thousands of their sons and daughters to tell the people of India about Christ. Will you in return kindly give us your interpretation of Hinduism and make a comparison of Hinduism with the teachings of Christ?� Gandhiji commented, �I have ventured at several missionary meetings to tell English and American missionaries that if they could have refrained from �telling� India about Christ and had merely lived the life enjoined upon them by the Sermon on the Mount, India instead of suspecting them would have appreciated their living in the midst of her children and directly profited by their presence. Holding this view, I can �tell� American friends nothing about Hinduism by way of �return�. I do not believe in people telling others of their faith, especially with a view of conversion. Faith does not admit of telling. It has to be lived and then it becomes self-propagating.�

Coming to Hinduism, he wrote, �Believing as I do in the influence of heredity, being born in a Hindu family, I have remained a Hindu. I should reject it, if I found it inconsistent with my moral sense or my spiritual growth. On examination, I have found it to be the most tolerant of all religions known to me. Its freedom from dogma makes a forcible appeal to me in as much as it gives the votary the largest scope for self-expression. Not being an exclusive religion, it enables the followers of the faith not merely to respect all the other religions, but it also enables them to admire and assimilate whatever may be good in the other faiths. Non-violence is common to all religions, but it has found the highest expression and application in Hinduism. (I do not regard Jainism or Buddhism as separate from Hinduism.) Hinduism believes in the oneness not of merely all human life but in the oneness of all that lives. Its worship of the cow is, in my opinion, its unique contribution to the evolution of humanitarianism. It is a practical application of the belief in the oneness and, therefore, sacredness of all life. The great belief in transmigration is a direct consequence of that belief. Finally, the discovery of the law of varnashrama is a magnificent result of the ceaseless search for truth.�

Gandhiji was on a visit to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in November 1927. The Young India dated December 8, 1927 reported his speech at the Y.M.C.A., Colombo. �Gandhiji then took,� said the report, �the case of modem China as a case in point. His heart, he said, went out to young China in the throes of a great national upheaval, and he referred to the anti-Christian movement in China, about which he had occasion to read in a pamphlet received by him from the students department of the Young Women�s Christian Association and the Young Men�s Christian Association of China. The writers had put their own interpretation upon the anti-Christian movement, but there was no doubt that young China regarded Christian movements as being opposed to Chinese self-expression.� To Gandhiji the moral of this anti-Christian manifestation was clear. He proceeded to advise the Ceylonese Christians. �The deduction,� he said, �I would like you all to draw from this manifestation is that you Ceylonese should not be torn from your moorings, and those from the West should not consciously lay violent hands upon the manners, customs and habits of the Ceylonese in so far as they are not repugnant to fundamental ethics and morality. Confuse not Jesus� teachings with what passes as modern civilization, and pray do not do unconscious violence to the people among whom you cast your lot. It is no part of that call, I assure you, to tear the lives of the people of the East by its roots. Tolerate whatever is good in them and do not hastily with your preconceived notions, judge them. Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves.�

He ended with a message for the Buddhists who were me

© No content on this website may be reproduced without prior permission from us or the respective authors/ rights owners. In year 2017 we sent 12 legal notices to violators to protect our intellectual property.

Privacy and Terms | Sadhana108 | Contact Us | Marathi Community