To the Western mind, uninitiated in the Hindu religion or Indian politics, the title Mahatma has, until quite recently, carried with it a spiritualistic significance. Mahatmas appear at stances — or they did in Madame Blavatsky's time; and it was rightly concluded that their occult powers were acquired by the practice of an asceticism understood only in the East. One met mahatmas at Benares and Buddh Gaya, but one did not associate them with politics. Exactly when Mr. Gandhi became Mahatma Gandhi, it is difficult to say, for mahatmahood is not conferred on one after passing an examination; the word implies saintliness, and is the spontaneous tribute of a nation. Officially, I understand, this inconvenient saint, or politician, is still Mr. Gandhi.Probably there is no figure in contemporary history who means so many different things to so many different people. To the incurious Westerner, the name of Gandhi calls up the picture of a saint, or a charlatan, an ascetic, fanatic, or freak. If he reads many newspapers, the Mahatma will appear in turn as patriot, martyr, high-souled idealist, and arch-traitor; evangelist, pacific quietist and truculent tub-thumper and revolutionist; subverter of empires and founder of creeds, a man of tortuous wiles and stratagems, or, to use his own phrase, *a single-minded seeker after truth'; generally, in the eyes of the tolerant who are without prejudice, a well-meaning but misguided politician. Certainly a complex figure, probably very few, even of the Anglo-Indian community on whom his personality impinges directly, a very substantial incubus, have made up theirhttp://digital.library.cornell.edu/a/atla/index.html minds which of these things he is. It calls for more than a little sympathetic imagination in an official of the dominant race to recognize the good points in a rebel.... Gandhi's spirituality has been discounted, on the ground that he is a politician. Yet every seer or founder of a creed, or system, has been a politician. Gandhi has his own answer to these imputations on his good faith. 'Jesus,' he said, 'in my humble opinion, was a prince among politicians. He did render unto Caesar the things that were Caesar's. The politics of his time consisted in securing the welfare of the people by teaching them not to be seduced by the trinkets of the priests and Pharisees'. Gandhi argues that the system of government is so devised as to affect every department of the national life. 'If, therefore, we want to conserve the welfare of the nation, we must religiously interest ourselves in the doings of the governors and exert a moral influence on them by insisting on their obeying the laws of morality'. Gandhi regards himself, not only as a national leader, but as a missionary of civilization to the West. Not that he tilts at Western culture; he draws his gospel from Tolstoy, and is only less indebted to Ruskin and Thoreau than to the Bhagavadgita and the Sermon on the Mount. It is modem civilization that he abhors — the curse of industrialism, the hurry and drive of mercantile competition, the multiplication of luxuries, our gross material activities destroying simplicity, killing the ideal. Mills, factories, telegraphs, motor cars, railways, though he uses them and admits his inconsistency, are his abomination. He believes that economic progress is antagonistic to real progress, and that India may again become the religious teacher and spiritual guide of the West.
Friday, October 02, 2009
On Gandhi... (excerpted from the Jul - Dec 1922 copy of the Atlantic Monthly)