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Meet Gandhi, the man.
am 8. Juli 2000
Unlike a couple readers below, I was pleasantly surprised to find this a very readable and well-written story. I felt like I was meeting the great reformer in person, with no interpreters or spin doctors between us.
Gandhi surprised me with his transparency. He honestly expresses doubts about (or limited awareness of) God, his own weaknesses, and the mistreatment of women in Hinduism. He frankly relates quarrels with his wife ("numerous bickerings" that end in peace, with the wife the victor -- I wonder about that part, though) and that his son disagreed with his ascetic lifestyle. I gave this book five stars not because I agree with all of Gandhi's ideas, but because he explains them well, the stories he tells are so interesting, because the search for truth is what life is all about, and because Gandhi is one of the great figures of the 20th Century.
A couple years ago I did a research paper on the young Mao Zedong. One thing that surprised me here was to find that, despite their very different attitudes about violence, the fathers of the world's two biggest modern states shared much in common. Both agreed that "the life of labor is the only life worth living," and founded communes with friends as young men. Both strengthened themselves through ascetic self-disciplines. Both were men of contemplation and action. Both shared an ambivalent relation to the party that was the vehicle of their success, yet were also masters at the use of power. Both freed their countries from foreign domination over many decades, by use of dialectic strategy and an appeal to the peasants.
Gandhi was a man of ideas and of action, and also I think of passion, despite his philosophical commitment to "desirelessness." I found the book engaging on all three levels, though I also was disappointed that it ended without relating later actions in the history of India's movement towards independence.
Gandhi seemed to live with a great deal of guilt, which he relates to the death of his father, revealed in his attitude towards sex and eating. "Renunciation without aversion is not lasting," he quotes a pundit. He seemed to feel life itself was occasion for guilt. "Man cannot for a moment live without commiting outward himsa, destruction of life." In this regard, of course, Gandhi and Mao were opposites, the latter embracing an ideology that encouraged him to locate guilt in the other, the former one by which he took on the guilt of others.
As a Christian, one of the most interesting parts of the book was his visit to the temple to Kali. He was horrified by the animal sacrifices he saw. "To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being," he noted. "I must go through more self-purification and sacrifice, before I can hope to save these lambs . . . ." He said he prayed constantly that "some great spirit" of a person would bring an end to these "immoral" sacrifices. Yet the people doing the sacrifices were themselves looking for a solution to the same problem of guilt that haunted Gandhi, as well as Tolstoy, his hero.
This shows that the wisdom of Gandhi was not all the wisdom of India, still less of humanity. The Rig Veda says that sacrifice is "the mainstay of the world" and the only way to find forgiveness of sins. It spoke of a God who would sacrifice himself for the sins of the people, in prophetic imagery remarkably similar to the events recorded in the Gospels. And, when Jesus died, animals were no longer sacrificed. I wonder if it ever occurred to Gandhi that his prayer for lambs (not to mention guilt-ridden people) had already been answered at the cross?
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man