Spiritual Questions – Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi answering spiritual questions, put to him in 1934.
Do you believe your guidance comes from subconscious reasoning or from God?
From God but subconscious reasoning may be the voice of God. Often, after seeing the way I consciously reason out why that is the best way. Mahomet was like this, very sure his voices were of God and he was no impostor.
Then does following conscience lead to mystical experiences?
It may or it may not. But one thing is sure that the humility which feels itself nothing before God is necessary for mystical experiences, such as those of Saint Francis and Saint Augustine. On the other hand, a Brad law or a Marcus Aurelius, though following conscience, felt themselves to be self-made men and not dependent on God, and so they could get no mystical experiences or joy. To me, following conscience is following a living force, not an ethical code.
How do you understand what is God’s guidance for you when it is a question of choosing between two good things?
I use my intellect on the subject and if I don’t get any strong feeling as to which of the two I should choose, I just leave the matter, and before long I wake up one morning with the perfect assurance that it should be A rather than B. Always, of course, it is necessary to be utterly humble and go wherever the decision should take you, even though it should be to difficulties and suffering.
Is it not necessary to lead a disciplined life in order to receive these assurances as to what to do and not to do?
Yes, of course, one’s mind must be attuned to the five necessary rules of love, truth, purity, non-possession and fearlessness.
Do you include bodily discipline such as fasting?
It you follow the five rules already mentioned. You will find that bodily discipline follows automatically. You should read Raja yoga by Swami Vivekananda on this point.
Just then word was brought to Gandhi that a certain rich man had donated a
large sum of money to the All-India Village Industries Association fund, and joy was expressed by the little group, Gandhi remarking quietly . . . that loving service was receiving its reward. He had been saying previously that we who believed in non-violence should win the rich to serve the poor by our own devoted service and by showing our contentment and happiness in a position of less wealth and prestige than we might demand. He spoke about this again now.
If rich people could see us poorer ones really content instead of hankering after wealth, it would become the fashion to dispense with wealth. The fashion for brown bread grew because a few enthusiasts showed that they really believed in it and liked it. Unfortunately the higher castes have failed to identify themselves with their humbler fellows. This is the darkest hour of Hinduism. I have no excuse to offer for it.
What is your remedy?
Everything I am doing, village industries, khaddar, Harijan work, etc.
From what sources do you get your conception of God?
From my childhood, remembering my mother’s constant visits to the temple. Sometimes these were as many as four or five a day, and never less than two. Also my nurse used to tell me I must repeat the name of God if I felt afraid.
Are not your own experiences sources of your conception too?
Yes, but they did not begin until later, in South Africa. Before that I had a period of doubt and it was during that time that I began to study Islam and Christianity.
How far have these two religions coloured your conception of God?
I began with a prejudice against Christianity because in my youth it had meant to me drink, eating meat and Western clothes. I had no such prejudice to overcome against Islam. Later when I met some fine Christian people my prejudice went, and for a year I studied Christian books voraciously, attended the Keswick Convention, met famous divines and generally absorbed Christianity, honestly seeking to know if I should do as some of my friends were always begging me to do become a Christian. But in the end I honestly felt I could not do so. I believe in the historic Jesus, for the four gospels bear the stamp of the real experience of devotees.
Is the conception of God as Father only to be found in Christianity?
No, it is also to be found in Hinduism. Read the second chapter of the Gita in which the conception of God, not only as Father, but also as Mother is to be found. This is not the case with Islam, for among all its ninety-nine names for God, .’Father” is not one. Mahomet, like Christ, had the authoritative note of God-consciousness. If you judge a religion by the changed lives of its adherents, Islam seems to me to have as much to show as Christianity. Anyway, two thousand years is a very brief time in which to judge the merits of a religion.
I know some people who are praying that you may become a Christian.
(Laughing) many is..
But wait until you hear the reason it is because they feel that you can give a truer interpretation of Christianity than any yet given to the world.
There are others who feel that too. But if they wish me to say that
Christianity is the only true religion, I cannot do so. I can truly say, however, that Christianity is a true religion.
What do you think is the special contribution of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism to the world?
I think Christianity’s particular contribution is that of active love. No
other religion says so firmly that God is love, and the New Testament is full of the word. Christians, however, as a whole have denied this principle with their wars. The ahimsa of Hinduism is a more passive thing than the active Christian love. The great contribution of Hinduism is its recognition of the unity of all life. Like Christianity, Hinduism has not lived up to its teaching. If either had done so, there would have been no need for Islam, for whatever is fundamentally good in a religion for the part of the world in which it has arisen is certainly good for the whole world. Islam’s contribution has been the brotherhood of all men. Later this idea was limited to the Islamic brotherhood, so Muslims too have failed to live up to the teaching of their religion. Khan Saheb, with his teaching of the service of all humanity, is bringing them back to the original idea.
You once said that the idea of Jesus as the Son of God was a mystical conception. Would you enlarge upon that, please?
I believe that Jesus was a man born in the natural way, and that people, seeing the wonderful things he did, ascribed divinity to him, and then described it mystically by saying that he was the Son of God.
Do you think such writers were impostors?
No. They were just expressing their conception mystically. The whole Book of Revelation is a description of mystical experiences. For example, it does not mean literally that streets were to be paved with gold. Many mystical expressions would be gross if they meant literally what they said.
Have you had any mystical experiences?
If, by mystical experiences, you mean visions, no. I should be a fraud if I claimed to have had such. But I am very sure of the voice which guides me. Of course, some unbalanced people have claimed to hear voices too—but I do not think anyone has suggested that I am unbalanced.
You have spoken of your sense of uneasiness which preceded your twenty-one days’ fast last year, and also said that generally when obeying your inner voice, you find a reason for your action afterwards. Did you find a reason for the twenty-one days’ fast?
It is true that a sense of uneasiness drove me to that fast. Usually, even under the greatest strain I can remain quite buoyant but when I lost that buoyancy and could not even sleep, I decided to fast and immediately found peace. Yes, I did discover a reason for it, one which the fast itself brought to light; for several people, both at the time and afterwards, wrote to tell me of sins which they had committed and which they had now put right to the best of their ability. They said that the fast had brought them to knowledge of the truth about themselves and that they would not allow such faults to occur again.
You have said sometimes that consciousness of sin brings a feeling of separation from God. Did you feel any such separation before your fast?
No. I felt only great uneasiness and restlessness. I could not joke even in my usual way. During the discussion on the organization of Village Industries’ Association Gandhi made it clear that ‘rural-mindedness’ was to him not a mere detail, but the prime necessity. When the name of a certain woman was suggested as a member of the Board, he remembered that she had, in all seriousness, thought it impossible to use tooth-sticks in a town, because there was nowhere to throw them. We could not have anyone of such mentality on the Board. To begin with, we do not want in our Village Industries to try to compete with the West in making tooth-powders, etc.