Saturday, May 10, 2008

More on Gandhi's spiritual practices

I am offering no new topic today. Instead, I am adding to a post I put on the blog last month.

In late April I wrote about Gandhi’s spirituality in an article entitled ‘Bhagavan and the politics of his day’. A couple of days ago I found an article on this topic by Prof. Swaminathan, a former editor of both The Mountain Path and Gandhi’s Collected Works. I remember finding this article in a box of papers at Ramanasramam around 1980. It was anonymous, but Prof. Swaminathan confirmed that he was the author when I showed it to him. However, he could not recollect when he wrote it, why, or for whom. It was published anonymously in the 1981 edition of The Mountain Path, pp. 76-77.

It is an extraordinarily well written piece that puts Gandhi’s spirituality in proper context. I am adding it to the April article since it illustrates and expands on much of what I was saying there.

9 comments:

Stef said...

Many thanks for all these beautifull posts! Sri Lakshmana Swamy mentiones in No mind I am the Self p109 that it took Gandhi 40 years of ceaseless effort to attain the effortless thought free state. At page 73 it is stated that concentration on name and form of Rama might result in good progress but in the final stages of sadhana a human guru is essential. Did Gandhi had a living human guru or was he one of the very rare exceptions were the unmanifest Self brought Self realisation?

David Godman said...

Hi Stef, thanks for the feedback.

So far as I am aware Gandhi had no Guru. Whatever he attained, he attained through the power of Ramanama and his unwavering adherence to dharma. A rare case indeed!

stef said...

Thanks again!

arvind said...

“He made it clear, however, that this Rama whom he worshipped as God was not a historical or legendary figure, the son of Dasaratha and husband of Sita, but the eternal, the unborn Sat, the spiritual Being who belongs equally to all.”

In the context of the above statement in the article by the respected Prof. K. Swaminathan, I would like to mention that the matter is not so simple as it seems.

It is true that Mahatma Gandhi repeatedly said words to the effect as above but they were always said to audiences who otherwise would not have come into his fold – to Muslims, to Arya Samajists & other people to whom his “Ramadhun” and “Ramanama” japa were offensive, and else who would have kept away from the unity required from all for the freedom struggle. For instance, at his meetings, chanting of “Ramadhun” was a key element of the unifying influence he sought to wield. [Ramadhun has - “Raghupati Raghava Raja Rama, Patita pavana Sita-Rama; Iswar Allah tero Nama, sabko sanmatti de Bhagavan …”

Let us read Mahatma Gandhi’s own words:

(replying to the question posed from a non-Hindu context – “How non-Hindus could take part in Ramadhun ?”)

“I laugh within myself when someone objects that Rama or the chanting of Ramanama is for Hindus only, how can Mussalmans, therefore take part in it ? Is there one God for the Mussalmans and another for the Hindus, Parsis, or Christians ? No, there is only one omnipotent, and omnipresent God. He is named variously and we remember Him by the name which is most familiar to us. My Rama, the Rama of our prayers, is not the historical Rama, the son of Dasaratha – the King of Ayodhya. He is the eternal, the unborn, the one without a second. Him alone I worship. His aid alone I seek and so should you. He belongs to all. I, therefore, see no reason why a Mussalman or anybody should object to taking his name.” [from – “Harijan”, 28.4.1946]

(replying to the question posed from a Hindu context – “You have often said that when you talk of Rama you refer to the Ruler of the Universe & not to Rama, the son of Dasaratha. But we find that your Ramadhun calls on ‘Sita-Rama’, ‘Raja-Rama’ and ends with ‘Victory to Rama, the Lord of Sita.’ Who is this Rama if not the son of King Dasaratha?”)

“In Ramadhun ‘Raja-Rama’, ‘Sita-Rama’ are undoubtedly repeated. But more potent than Rama is the Name. Hindu dharma is like a boundless ocean teeming with priceless gems. The deeper you dive, the more treasures you find. In Hindu religion, God is known by various names. Thousands of people look doubtless upon Rama and Krishna as historical figures and literally believe that God came down in person on earth in the form of Rama, the son of Dasaratha, and by worshipping Him one can attain salvation. The same thing holds good about Krishna. History, imagination and truth have got so inextricably mixed up, it is next to impossible to disentangle them. I have accepted all the names and forms attributed to God as symbols connoting one formless, omnipotent Rama. To me, therefore, Rama described as the Lord of Sita, son of Dasaratha, is the all-powerful essence whose name inscribed in the heart removes all suffering – mental, moral and physical” [from – “Harijan”, 2.6.1946]

But his most important writing and amongst the last on this topic was -

“… the important question is as to how Rama, the son of Dasaratha, can be deemed immortal. This question was raised by Sant Tulsidas himself and answered by him. The answer cannot in reality be reasoned out. It does not lend itself to intellectual satisfaction. It is a matter of heart speaking to heart. I worshipped Rama as Sita’s husband in the first instance. But as my knowledge and experience of Him grew, my Rama became immortal and omnipresent. This does not mean that Rama ceased to be Sita’s husband; but the meaning of Sita’s husband expanded with the vision of Rama…” [from – “Harijan”, 22.9.1946]

Perhaps now we have clarity. So when the MP article above says “…Rama was NOT a historical or legendary figure, the son of Dasaratha and husband of Sita …” it misses the point. To Gandhiji, Rama WAS the Rama of Ramayana, son of Dasaratha and husband of Sita, and He WAS ALSO the immortal & omnipresent “one without a second”. It is a bit like – for us devotees of Sri Bhagavan, Arunachala is the Supreme Lord, and also identified with, and as, the Holy Hill. Can we say that Arunachala is just the Great Lord and not the Holy Hill also ?

Tragically, people make the same mistake when talking about Sant Kabir – the other great saint associated with Rama-japa. They say that Kabir used the Rama-Nama only in reference to the Supreme Lord, bearing no context whatsoever to the Rama of Ramayana, whereas actually the two were synonymous to him, in the sense as described by Gandhiji on 22.9.1946 above. But that is another story.

Let me add here, that in the context of anyone raised up in Northern India under the influence of and familiarity with the Tulsidas Ramayana, the question of Rama of the Ramayana being separate from the Supreme Lord is nothing short of laughable. The two always go together. And we may remember here that Gandhji himself has written (in “My Experiments with Truth”) that the deepest of impressions was left in him in childhood by the loud reading of the Tulsidas Ramayana for his father by Ladha Maharaj (a great exponent of those times), every evening. He writes therein, “Today, I regard the Ramayana of Tulsidas as the greatest book in all devotional literature.”

Sorry for the awfully long comment, but could not let this one pass.

David Godman said...

No need to apologise the for the length. We all benefit from factual contributions such as these.

I agree with your main points. Gandhi played down the importance of the historical Rama in such situations where it might have be offensive to his listeners, but in his heart he adored the Rama of the Ramayana. It was through that love that he found the formless Rama. Having found it, his love for the form and the historical remained just as intense.

sD said...

Dear David,
Have you heard anything Sri Ramanar said about Bharathiyar or vice-versa?

Thx.

David Godman said...

No need to apologise the for the length. We all benefit from factual contributions such as these.

I agree with your main points. Gandhi played down the importance of the historical Rama in such situations where it might have be offensive to his listeners, but in his heart he adored the Rama of the Ramayana. It was through that love that he found the formless Rama. Having found it, his love for the form and the historical remained just as intense.

stef said...

Thanks again!

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