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Mentor Blog

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Vinoba Bhave on Gandhi

Here is Vinoba Bhave sharing his thoughts on Gandhi:

When, still a child, I was drawn by Bengal and the Himalayas. I cherished dreams of going to these places. In Bengal it was the upsurge symbolized by Vande Mataram that called me, in the Himalayas it was the Jnana-Yoga. When in 1916 I left home I wanted at the same time to go both to the Himalayas and to Bengal. The city of Kashi was on the way to both and chance took me there.

Gandhiji was present at the inaugural function of the Banaras Hindu University. I saw the newspaper report of the spirited speech he had made on the occasion, to an audience consisting of renowned scholars, Rajas and Maharajas, and above all the viceroy. I was deeply affected. Here was a man, I felt, who wanted at once to achieve for the country political freedom as well as spiritual progress. That was after my own heart. I wrote to him, asking some questions. When he answered I asked more questions. This time Gandhiji enclosed the rule of his ashram and said, "Nothing much will be gained by correspondence. It would be better for you to come over."

And my feet turned towards Gandhi. Seemingly I had gone neither to the Himalayas nor to Bengal. But in my heart I had arrived at both the places simultaneously. With Gandhiji I found the peace of the Himalayas and the resurgence of Bengal.

I saw Gandhiji for the first time on June 7, 1916, at his Kochrab Ashram. God in His infinite mercy placed me at his feet. When I examine my heart and my life today I find that both are firmly established at Gandhiji’s feet. I cannot say how far I have been able to put into practice his teachings, his training. He himself would not know and neither would anyone else. Only God knows. This much, however I can say without hesitation: what little of his teaching I could make my own, whatever specially appealed to me, I have been incessantly striving with great care to practice - indeed with much greater care than when Gandhiji was alive. I always have the feeling of Gandhiji’s presence before me, behind me and above me.

I often recollect Shankaracharya’s saying that the greatest boons a man may have are three: being born in human form, a craving for mukti and patronage of a great man.

Thinking of this utterance of Shankara my heart leaps with joy. I am indeed blessed that I was born a man, was bitten by the bug of mukti and was privileged to enjoy the company of so great a man as Gandhi. It is one thing to read in books the word of saints and mahatmas and quite another to live in companionship with them, to work under their guidance, to watch their life. It was my great fortune that this was granted to me.

I do not know whether Gandhiji ever put me to test. But I did, without his knowing it, test him thoroughly; had he been found wanting I would not have stayed with him. But if he tested me, whatever shortcomings he might have noticed in me, he kept me with him.

Bapu was never tired of saying that he was imperfect, incomplete. It was true. He did not know how to say an untrue thing. He was a votary of truth. I have come across many great men who imagine that they are muktas, perfect men. I was never drawn to any of them. But the pull that Bapu, who considered himself imperfect, exercised on me, was unique. I have never been influenced by anyone the way I was by Bapu.

I met Bapu and at once fell in love with him. That was because of the unity of his inner and outer state. Then again, it was Bapu who initiated me into the philosophy of Karma-Yoga. True, it is explained in the Gita. But I saw it’s applications only in Bapu’s life. It was here that the karma-yoga of the Gita was most clearly illustrated. The Gita enumerates the signs of a man of steadfast intellect. How many are there whom the description would fit? Bapu had all the characteristics of such a man.

It was my privilege to work with him and live with such a man. It is said that those who live under the shelter of the great become stunted in their growth, even as plants under the shadow of a large tree become crippled for want of nourishment of which the trees deprives them. But the analogy of a tree does not fit great men. Those living under their wings are like calves in a cowshed. While a tree sucks up the nourishment that would otherwise sustain the vegetation under it, a cow, herself subsisting on grass, provides milk to her calf, which grows and prospers under her loving care. This was the experience of those who placed themselves under the wing of Bapu. If one was bad, one became good on coming to him; if one was timid, one became fearless. Through him thousands earned glory, yet he considered himself the humblest of all.

When in 1916 I went to him I was stripling of twenty-one. I went as a boy eager to learn. All those close to me know that at the time I was sadly lacking in what is called manners or polite behaviour. I have been by nature a sort of wild animal. It was Bapu who put down the flames of anger and lust that raged in me. His benedictions continuously rained on me. Whatever I am today I owe to Bapu. He turned an uncouth person like me into a servant of the people.

What I saw of the mode of life at the Ashram taught me a great many things. I realized that life is one and indivisible. Bapu never conceived himself in the role of a guru nor did he consider anyone as his disciple. Similarly, I am neither anyone’s guru nor anyone’s disciple, although I attach great importance to the institution of guru. One can conceive gurus who can transform their disciple by a mere look, a word or a touch. But still it is only a possibility. In reality, I know of no such guru. Without dwelling at greater length on the guru disciple theme I shall only say that what I learnt at the feet of Bapu is all that is still serving me. My bhoodan and Gramdan wanderings have behind them the sadhana I carried on long ago at the Ashram. The Sadhana I did before joining the Ashram was purely emotional. Then came the Sadhana at the Ashram and I acquired new eyes. This was a blessing from Bapu.

After going to Bapu I spent thirty-two years in Sadhana. My thinking and reading continued to be spiritual but the sadhana was not divorced from activity. I observe political events. I kept myself informed of the developments in the social field. Whatever Bapu wrote served to guide me. I studied his ideas with minute care and endeavored as best I could to act according to them. Thus I found the subtle way of ahimsa.

There is a beautiful sloka about Bhagavata Dharma, which applies equally to the way of ahimsa discovered by Bapu. The sloka says: The Bhagavata Dharma is such that a man pursuing it with faith, will never fall into error. It is a way on which a man may walk or run with eyes closed and will not fall.

This is the beauty, the simplicity of the way Bapu has showed us. If we are to establish a Sarvodaya social order, this is the way we have to take.

[Excerpt from the book, 'Vinoba on Gandhi']