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Sri Aurobindo about Mahatma Gandhi

by on August 24, 2012

As for Gandhi, why should you suppose that I am so tender for the faith of the Mahatma? I do not call it faith at all, but a rigid mental belief, and what he terms soul-force is only a strong vital will which has taken a religious turn. That, of course, can be a tremendous force for action, but unfortunately Gandhi spoils it by his ambition to be a man of reason, while in fact he has no reason in him at all, never was reasonable at any moment in his life and, I suppose, never will be. What he has in its place is a remarkable type of unintentionally sophistic logic. Well, what this reason, this amazingly, precisely unreliable logic brings about is that nobody is ever sure and, I don’t think, he is himself really sure what he will do next. He has not only two minds, but three or four minds, and all depends on which will turn up topmost at a particular moment and how it will combine with the others. There would be no harm in that, on the contrary there might be an advantage if there were a central Light somewhere choosing for him and shaping the decision to the need of the action. He thinks there is and calls it God—but it has always seemed to me that it is his own mind that decides and most of the time decides wrongly. Anyhow I cannot imagine Lenin or Mustapha Kemal not knowing their own minds or acting in this way—even their strategic retreats were steps towards an end clearly conceived and executed. But whatever it be, it is all mind-action and vital force in Gandhi. So why should he be taken as an example of the defeat of the Divine or of a spiritual Power? I quite allow that there has been something behind Gandhi greater than himself and you can call it the Divine or a Cosmic Force which has used him, but then there is that behind everybody who is used as an instrument for world ends,—behind Kemal and Lenin also,—so that is not germane to the matter.
29 July 1932
This second fast of Mahatma Gandhi of three weeks has disquieted me a little. There seems to be no way out, for Gandhi asserts that he can break his irrevocable fast only if he is persuaded that the inner voice which enjoins the fast on him is the voice not of God but of the Devil. I wonder whose voice it is though? Can it be anything but disastrous augury?

I don’t think it was the voice of God that raged and thundered till Gandhi decided to starve himself on to the danger line—it looks as if it were the other fellow. One can only hope that he will scrape through somehow and that the doctors are wrong as they most often are when they opine in the plural; but the last experiment was not encouraging. And as this time there seems to be no reason whatever for this inspired procedure and no practical or practicable object set before it, there is no tangible means either of bringing it to a timely close. What an extraordinary ignorance of spiritual things to take any “inner” shout for the command of the Supreme!

5 May 1933
Yesterday I thought how nice it would be if Gandhiji came here for the truth which he is seeking. At times he hears some “voice” he says.

I don’t think he would accept the Truth that is here. His mind is too rigid for it.

22 July 1933
The letter to Govindbhai from Gandhiji has created a stir in the atmosphere and people are busy speculating. [1] Some think it would be an event useful to the world if he could see you. I wonder if even half an hour’s interview would help our inner work or its outward manifestation. Perhaps people are excited about the possibility that the Truth that is here and is accepted by us will be accepted by a person who is called the world’s greatest man.

Gandhi has his own work, his own ideal and dharma—how can he open himself to receive anything from here?

28 December 1933

[1] In December 1933, Mahatma Gandhi wrote to Govindbhai Patel, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo then living in the Ashram, asking whether it would be possible for him to meet Sri Aurobindo. Govindbhai communicated Gandhi’s request to Sri Aurobindo. On 2 January 1934, Gandhi wrote directly to Sri Aurobindo asking for a face-to-face meeting. Extracts from Govindbhai’s and Gandhi’s letters, and Sri Aurobindo’s complete replies, are published in Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, volume 36 of The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, pp. 442-44.— Ed.

I heard that Gandhi has written a letter expressing his desire to have an interview with Sri Aurobindo.

I don’t see how I can see him—the time has not come when I can depart from my rule. [2]

29 December 1933

[2] After November 1926, Sri Aurobindo made it a rule not to meet with anyone, not even his disciples.—Ed.
I was glad when X informed me that Gandhi is not coming here. I had an impression that his coming just before our occasion [the darshan of 21 February] would create a disturbance in the atmosphere.

It would have meant a very serious and quite unprofitable and unnecessary disturbance.

4 February 1934
It seems some people from the town went to see Gandhi and asked him why he had cancelled his visit to the Asram. Gandhi is supposed to have said that it was because Sri Aurobindo was not willing to see him, after which he showed a copy of the notice which was put on our notice board—the one prohibiting members of the Asram from attending Gandhi’s arrival procession, etc. [13] I don’t believe Gandhi actually had a copy of the notice but some people in town must have known of it.

That is all nonsense. Gandhi’s decision not to come here was made before the notice was put on the board. My decision to issue the notice and his decision not to come may have coincided—but how could he know it except by telepathy?

In one of his letters to Govindbhai, Gandhi said that he would be much disappointed if he did not see Sri Aurobindo. If that was the case, I wonder why he couldn’t wait till the 21st to have Darshan.
I suppose the disappointment was nothing more than a phrase—meaning, I would so much have liked to see what kind of a person you are. If I have read his last letter to Govindbhai aright, his request was dictated by curiosity rather than anything else.

If anybody expected him to come here seeking for Truth, it was absurd—he has his own fixed way of seeing things and is not likely to change it.
9 February 1934

[3] February 1934, in Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings of Historical Interest, p. 536.—Ed.
Yesterday Gandhi asked permission to see the Mother. I heard that Mother asked Govindbhai to meet him and explain her inability to see him.

Gandhi wrote to Govindbhai and from his letter it seemed as if he were still expecting to see the Mother and the Asram or at least expecting an answer. In view of this persistence we sent Govindbhai to explain to him that it was impossible for the Mother to receive his visit.

23 February 1934
It is curious that mosquitoes do not bite me. Perhaps they do not like my blood or they do not bite me because I don’t kill them. Here is an example of the efficacy of the truth of Ahimsa. But if this is true, why with all the Ahimsa Gandhi practises has the government not given up their enmity towards him? Of course, the meaning of Ahimsa can be extended to All-love, and, as it says in one Upanishad, everything that is not compatible with the Higher Self is Himsa.

Mosquitoes do have strong preferences (and dislikes) in the matter of blood. One person is sleeping in a room, no mosquitoes—another enters, immediately there is a cloud of mosquitoes. Also as between two persons in a room, they will swarm round one and leave the other.

I don’t think the Ahimsa principle works like that with Governments—after all Gandhi is trying to do to them or their interests immense harm and you can’t expect his mere non-violence to make them love him for that or leave him alone. On the other hand Ahimsa does work (though not invariably) with animals—if you don’t kill them, they don’t as a rule go out of their way to kill you—unless they are frightened or mad or otherwise abnormal or unless it is their rule to kill. I don’t know what effect it can have on mosquitoes.

All-love is a different matter—it has sometimes a powerful effect, very powerful, in conciliating automatically men, animals, Nature itself. The only beings who do not respond are the Asuras and Rakshasas.

11 March 1934
Someone was speaking to me about Gandhi’s seven-day fast. I said: “Is it to create an earthquake for the sake of the Harijans? At least his own earth (body) will quake.”

It seems to be very foolish, these fasts—as if they could alter anything at all. A fast can at most affect one’s own condition, but how can it “atone” for the doings of others or change their nature?

12 July 1934
In a recent statement, Gandhi criticises the attitude taken by Dr Ambedkar and his followers at the Bombay Presidency Depressed Classes Conference. They passed a resolution recommending the “complete severance of the Depressed Classes from the Hindu fold and their embracing any other religion which guaranteed them equal status and treatment”. About this Gandhi says: “But religion is not like a house or a cloak, which can be changed at will. It is more an integral part of one’s self than of one’s body. Religion is the tie that binds one to one’s Creator and whilst the body perishes, as it has to, religion persists even after death.” [4] Is there any truth in what Gandhi says? Why should a particular religion persist after death? Why should one be bound to one form of religion if one feels the necessity of a different approach to Truth?

If it is meant by the statement that the form of religion is something permanent and unchangeable, then that cannot be accepted. But if religion here means one’s way of communion with the Divine, then it is true that that is something belonging to the inner being and cannot be changed like a house or a cloak for the sake of some personal, social or worldly convenience. If a change is to be made, it can only be for an inner spiritual reason, because of some development from within. No one can be bound to any form of religion or any particular creed or system, but if he changes the one he has accepted for another, for external reasons, that means he has inwardly no religion at all and both his old and his new religion are only an empty formula. At bottom that is, I suppose, what the statement drives at.

Preference for a different approach to the Truth or the desire of inner spiritual self-expression are not the motives of the recommendation of change to which objection is made by the Mahatma here; the object proposed is an enhancement of social status and consideration which is no more a spiritual motive than conversion for the sake of money or marriage. If a man has no religion in himself, he can change his credal profession for any motive; if he has, he cannot; he can only change it in response to an inner spiritual need. If a man has a bhakti for the Divine in the form of Krishna, he can’t very well say “I will swap Krishna for Christ so that I may become socially respectable.”
19 October 1935

[4] M. K. Gandhi, “Statement to the Press” (15 October 1935), in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 62 (New Delhi: The Publications Division, 1975), p. 37. —Ed.
Gandhi says the following in a recent article: “I hold that complete realization is impossible in this embodied life. Nor is it necessary. A living immovable faith is all that is required for reaching the full spiritual height attainable by human beings.” [5] Your opinion on the matter?

I do not know what Mahatma Gandhi means by complete realisation. If he means a realisation with nothing more to realise, no farther development possible, then I agree—I have myself spoken of farther divine progression, an infinite development. But the question is not that; the question is whether the Ignorance can be transcended, whether a complete essential realisation turning the consciousness from darkness to light, from an instrument of the Ignorance seeking for Knowledge into an instrument or rather a manifestation of Knowledge proceeding to greater Knowledge, Light enlarging, heightening into greater Light, is or is not possible. My view is that this conversion is not only possible, but inevitable in the spiritual evolution of the being here. The embodiment of life has nothing to do with it. This embodiment is not of life, but of consciousness and its energy, of which life is only one phase or force. As life has developed mind, and the embodiment has modified itself to suit this development (mind is precisely the main instrument of ignorance seeking for knowledge), so mind can develop supermind which is in its nature knowledge not seeking for itself, but manifesting itself by its own automatic power, and the embodiment can again modify itself or be modified from above so as to suit this development. Faith is a necessary means for arriving at realisation because we are ignorant and do not yet know that which we are seeking to realise; faith is indeed knowledge giving the ignorance an intimation of itself previous to its own manifestation, it is the gleam sent before by the yet unrisen Sun. When the Sun shall rise there will be no longer any need of the gleam. The supramental knowledge supports itself, it does not need to be supported by faith; it lives by its own certitude. You may say that farther progression, farther development will need faith. No, for the farther development will proceed on a basis of knowledge, not of Ignorance. We shall walk in the light of knowledge towards its own wider vistas of self-fulfilment.

7 July 1936

[5] M. K. Gandhi, “Where Is the Living God?” (13 June 1936), in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 63 (New Delhi: The Publications Division, 1976), p. 58.—Ed.
I would prefer to avoid all public controversy especially if it touches in the least on politics. Gandhi’s theories are like other mental theories built on a basis of one-sided reasoning and claiming for a limited truth (that of non-violence and of passive resistance) a universality which it cannot have. Such theories will always exist so long as the mind is the main instrument of human truth seeking. To spend energy trying to destroy such theories is of little use; if destroyed they are replaced by others equally limited and partial.

As for imperialism, that is no new thing—it is as old as the human vital; there was never a time in known human history when it was not in existence. To get rid of it means to change human nature or at least to curb it by a superior power. Our work is not to fight these things but to bring down a higher nature and a Truth-creation which will make spiritual Light and Power the chief force in terrestrial existence.

10 October 1936
Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said: “To be born as a `Bhangi’ was the result of great punya in previous birth. He [Gandhi] did not know what qualifications determined the birth of one man as Bhangi and another as Brahmin, but from the point of view of benefit to society the one was no whit lower than the other.” [6] This seems like nonsense to me. How can he say that through punya (righteous acts) in previous births people go to a life in the lowest order of human society?

The view taken by the Mahatma in these matters is Christian rather than Hindu—for the Christian self-abasement, humility, the acceptance of a low status to serve humanity or the Divine are things which are highly spiritual and the noblest privilege of the soul. This view does not admit any hierarchy of castes; the Mahatma accepts castes but on the basis that all are equal before the Divine, a bhangi doing his dharma is as good as the Brahmin doing his, there is division of function but no hierarchy of functions. That is one view of things and the hierarchic view is another, both having a standpoint and logic of their own which the mind takes as wholly valid but which only corresponds to a part of the reality. All kinds of work are equal before the Divine and all men have the same Brahman within them, is one truth, but that development is not equal in all is another. The idea that it needs special punya to be born as a bhangi is of course one of those forceful exaggerations of an idea which are common with the Mahatma and impress greatly the mind of his hearers. The idea behind is that his function is an indispensable service to the society, quite as much as the Brahmin’s, but that being disagreeable it would need a special moral heroism to choose it voluntarily and he thinks as if the soul freely chose it as such a heroic service and as a reward of righteous acts—that is hardly likely. The service of the scavenger is indispensable under certain conditions of society, it is one of those primary necessities without which society can hardly exist and the cultural development of which the Brahmin life is part could not have taken place. But obviously the cultural development is more valuable than the service of the physical needs for the progress of humanity as opposed to its first static condition and that development can even lead to the minimising and perhaps the eventual disappearance by scientific inventions of the need for the functions of the scavenger. But that I suppose the Mahatma would not approve of as it is machinery and a departure from the simple life. In any case it is not true that the bhangi life is superior to the Brahmin life and the reward of especial righteousness. On the other hand the traditional conception that a man is superior to others because he is born a Brahmin is not rational or justifiable. A spiritual or cultured man of Pariah birth is superior in the divine values to an unspiritual and worldly-minded or a crude and uncultured Brahmin. Birth counts, but the basic value is in the man himself, the soul behind and the degree to which it manifests itself in his nature.

23 December 1936

[6] M. K. Gandhi, “Address to Congress Volunteers” (21 December 1936). Reported in the Hindu and other newspapers, and reproduced in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 64 (New Delhi: The Publications Division, 1976), pp. 162 ¬ 63.—Ed

[Sri Aurobindo on Himself, Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 35, Remarks on Public Figures in India]

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  1. RY Deshpande permalink

    I do not know if it is prudent of CWSA to have included in it all these letters of Sri Aurobindo. These were certainly addressed to an individual, probably to Dilip Roy, in the 1930s’, and might not have been for publication in this “authoritative” works of his, certainly not perhaps at this point of time when immediate passions can reign supreme. It is also not known if the originals of these letters are actually in possession of the Ashram Archives. If based on copies made available, a guarded approach should certainly have been exercised. Ample precaution was taken when the Birth Centenary volumes (SABCL) in 1972 came out. Maybe the Archives would like to clarify the position, a thing which is desirable.

    • Bhaerav Dutt permalink

      @ RY Deshpande: What is there to fear besides fear itself.
      If we could connect to Sri Aurobindo and ask him ‘May we realise your private letters in the public domain, so we could get a clearer idea of the heavy weights of history, who were painted with a very rosy tint by certain sections of the press and academia,’ what would he say?
      This tiny section clarifies so many things about Gandhi. Can only trust a man like Sri Aurobindo to clarify things even after he’s gone.

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