Fag: Engelsk

Oppgavetype: Semesteroppgave/muntlig presentasjon

Tidspunkt: VKI (1997)



Mahatma Gandhi - Behind the robe


Good morning, ladies, gentlemen and okay, you too Olav. Today I am going to talk about a man of great signifinance of the history of this century. Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi. I have chosen to write about Gandhi because he has had so much influence on world politics and philosophical and religious ideas in this century. My lecture consists of three parts: The general view on Gandhi, objective history about him, other, not-so-well-known views and facts, and a conclusion.


I assume that all of you have your own opinions on and understandings of Gandhi. However, I suppose that the most average understanding will find expression in this extract from Hele Norges Leksikon (volume 5 - pp 217-218). Gandhi’s actual name was not Mahatma, but Mohandas Karamchad. Mahatma means “big soul”. He was born in 1869, and he was educated in London from 1888 - 1891. After this he went to South Africa, working as a lawyer for 21 years. He worked to improve the conditions of the Indian population. This is also were he developed the teaching of non-violence, ahisma. Ahisma was the passive, spiritual resistance against violent leaders.

After achieving good results he turned back to India in 1914, and in 1920 he put himself to be the head of the national movement as leader of the Congress Party. Among the means used by the movement, was rejection of co-operation with British institutions, tax denying and boycott of English goods. Gandhi was imprisoned from 1922 - 1924, but was re-elected leader of the Congress Party in 1928. I 1929, the British refused to give India dominion status. The nationalists began a campaign against the stately salt monopoly, and Gandhi was imprisoned for a shorter period again.

During World War II, Gandhi was opponent of violent fight against the Japanese. When the Britich in 1942 offered India status as dominion or full self-governement after the war if the Congress Party supported the warfare, Gandhi rejected this and was arrested once more.

After the war, Gandhi co-operated with the British on the founding of two independent states in India: one hindu and one islami (Pakistan). The fact that he supported the dividing of the country caused harsh feelings in more extreme hindu circles, and Gandhi was murdered by a hindu journalist in Delhi. Gandhi worked to develop Indida on it’s own premises. He always wore Indian clothes, and he chose the spinning-wheel as his symbol.


But was Gandhi so innocent? Do we really have anything to learn from him? In this section I have chosen to use the books “The Gandhi nobody knows”, “Mahatma Gandhi Yogien og Kommissæren”, “Indias store sønn”, “New Age Satans strategi” and “Religiøse idéers historie”. Khadi was home made and home spun cotton material. The Khadi campaign was supposed to be both practical and symbolic. The practical aspect was a boycott of foreign goods, first and foremost English textiles, combined with a fantastic plan about solving Indias economic problems by letting the spinning-wheel resurface. Also, the spinning-wheel almost became a mysterious symbol of the return to “The simple life” and the rejection of the industrialisation. Gandhi talked the Congress Party into deciding on that all the members were to be bound to paying the member subscription in self spun yarn. Gandhi praised the spinning-wheel as “the sacrament of the millions” and “a gate to my salvation”, he organized public burning of imported fabrics, threw his wife’s favourite sari on a fire and he got arrested.

One of the few intellectuals brave enough to take a stand against the Khadi mysteriousness was the poet Rabindranath Tagore. He appears to have understood the fundamental weakness in Gandhi’s leading. Returning to India in 1921, he was shocked by what he saw: “What I saw in Calcutta when I got there, made me depressed. It was like the entire country was squeezed by a pressing atmosphere...Think about the burning of clothes...What is behind the request to do such a thing? Isn’t it a new form of magic?...But we, on the other hand, choose to stick to the magic formular claiming that foreign textiles are “unclean”.”

If it was advantageous for the economy of India to give up foreign import and produce all necessary textiles “at home”, it was still an open question wheter or not it would be possible to return to a production method from the time before the industrial revolution. But one solved this problem by calling the spinning-wheel “the sacrament of the millions” and “a gate to salvation”. It is not possible to brush aside the Khadi campaign as a harmless blunder. On the contrary, the spinning-wheel as an economic panacea and “the road to salvation” was a sentral symbol in Gandhi’s philosophy and sosial program.

Hind Swaraj, Gandhi’s first book, is to be concidered as an authorative expression for Gandhi’s views, philosophy and condemning of the western culture. An extract from the book: “I believe that the civilazation that has developed in India, cannot be equalized by any culture in the entire world. Nothing compares to the seed that has been sowed by our ancestors.” “As many writers has shown, India has nothing to learn from anybody, og that’s the way it’s supposed to be...The Indian civilazation is the best, og the European is only a puff of wind (døgnflue)...It is not the Englishmen that I bear a grudge, it is their civilazation.” His comdemning of the western culture was very emotional, and he supported it with absurd arguments. The three worst evils in the West were railways, hospitals and lawyers.

“It is human nature not moving any further than possible using only hands and feet.” Gandhi himself had to spend large parts of his life on trains, and that was far from the only paradox in his life. “The people would be less inhumane if they settled their arguments either by fighting or by asking relatives to change sun and wind between them...Only the parts themselves know who is right, and therefore they should settle things themselves.” Here it is appropriate to say that it was a case won by Gandhi when he was a lawyer in Pretoria that denoted his first steps towards the leader position he later got.   

“Hospitals are institutions used for wide distribution of sin. The people do not take care of their bodys any more, and the immorality increases.” “Hospitals are means used by the Devil to promote his own cause, and to hold the position in his empire.” He tried to live up to his conviction and experimented with “natural methods” through his whole life. But he was often pestered by abcesses, malaria, high blood pressure, he caught appendicitis and had two nervous break-downs. Every time he was seriously ill, he tried to cure himself using “natural methods”, but he always had to capitulate and he had to use medicins, get injections, take operations and anaesthesia.

He was also against schools and formal education. “What does education mean? It simply means knowing the letters. It is only a tool, and with tools one can do both use and disuse.”. Gandhi never sent his own sons to school. He was meant to teach them himself, but he never got the time. Therefore, they never got a chance to learn a profession. “I will not say that I was careless concerning my sons formal education, nor did I hesitate sacrificing it out of consideration for higher interests.”

Gandhi was in his mid-thirtys when he was affected by the two ideas that would come to characterize both his way of thinking and his behaviour. They were called satyagraha and brahmacharya. Satyagraha means non-violence and brahmacharya means sexual abstinence. To Gandhi these two words had a much wider spiritual content. In 1906, he started his first non-violence action and he also took the chastity oath.

Gandhi’s negative attitude towards the sexual life was partly inspired by Tolstoi, the Russian writer, but was more inexplainable and more stubborn. The explanation may at least partly be found in the famous episode from his auto biography, when his father died at the same time as Mahatma had sexual intercourse. He was only sixteen, and had spent the evening with his father, but after a few minutes together with his wife, he was interrupted by a servant telling them the bad news. He expected his own sons to take the chastity oath as well, but they wanted to get married and have kids. When they broke with his wishes, he rejected them for ever after.

Gandhi always talks about the love act as a result of the mans “bestial urges” and the woman’s role as the “victims” or the “objects”. He knew that women also had sexual instincts, but he had a very simple solution to that problem: “Let her transfer her love...to all of man kind, let her forget that she has ever been or can become object for men’s desire”. According to his teaching, intercourse was only permitted in the aim of procreation. (Which was also my philosophy in the 7th grade) He also rejected the thought of birth prevention. His solution to the enormous increase in the population was: “He agreed upon that every family should only have three or four kids, but he claimed that one therefore should have sexual intercourse only three or four times during one’s marriage”. Brahmacharya was “the behaviour that leads to God”. While Gandhi always was set on breaking with his political views, his view on brahmacharya just got more and more fanatic. He forced women into taking the chastity oath, and he felt that he had to tempt himself.

He slept naked in the same bed as his wife, claiming that “when she and I were not excited neither psychichal nor physically by the close contact, we both grew on it”. Later he started experimenting with younger women, for example Manu, Gandhi’s cousin’s son’s daughter. Gandhi wanted her to think of him as her mother, since she had lost her own mother at a very early age. “He did all the things a mother usually does for her daughter. He took care of her upbringing..., he even talked her into charing bed with him.” Manu was obviously not embarrassed by his experiments. In her diary she has noted the result of an enema she had put on him. To Gandhi, his experiments with Manu were the final experiments. If he had succeded, “it would have shown that his search for the truth had succeded.”. Many of Gandhi’s nearest co-workers protested openly against the Manu experiements. Some of them even broke with him. And leading circles in India tried to hush up the scandal.

In the western world Gandhi’s brahmacharya fanatism probably would have been brushed aside as a chic idea. In India it touched something in the minds of the people. According to the old hindu art of healing ayurveda, a man’s “life strentgh” is concentrated in the semen. Any loss of this “life juice” will lead to weaknings on both body and soul.

There are many paradoxes concerning sex in hinduism. On one hand one finds the lingam-culture, the highly erotic temple relieves, Kama Sutra and the “sex pharmacies”, on the contrary there is prudery, hypocricy and hypo-criticalism.

In India there is very widespread hypochondria connected with board and digestion. Gandhi’s countless attempts to find a “correct” board had first and foremost connection with his chastity demands. “Six years of experiements have taught me that the ideal board for a brahmachary is fruit and nuts.” He even avoided milk. It was an afrodisiacum, he taught.

Even though Gandhi again and again said that not all people are fitted to practice non-violence, he didn’t hesitate on recommending it as a panacea. In decemeber 1938, after the first national pogrome, he wrote: “I dare to say that if the Jews can mobilize the strength of mind that only non-violence can give, mister Hitler will have to give in for a courage, that he must admit is infinitely bigger than even his best troops can exhibit.” In 1946, he said: “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the ocean from tall cliffs...That would have awakened the world and the German people.”.

Gandhi’s view on non-violence was supposedly absolute, many statements he had given gave us an impression of that. But he broke with his principles many times. In 1918 he enlisted soldiers to the British army, in 1921 he claimed: “If we were independent, I would not hesitate on advicing those who wished to carry wepon, to do it and fight for their country.” and on his pilgrimage in 1946 and 1947 through the terrified villages in Eastern Bengal, he confessed “that he had temporary given up finding a form a non-violence that would fit the masses”. A couple of days later he wrote: “Violence is horrible and destroying, but can be used in self-defence.”

One of the many Gandhi biography writers, Stanley Jones, said that “Gandhi’s death was the biggest tragedy in world history since God’s own son died on the the cross.” And many other writers make statements such as “Gandhi was another Jesus”. When intelligent, up and about people (and many of them were Christians) make such statements, I become afraid. Have we forgotten the Christian theology? Gandhi belonged to Hinduism - an ancient religion, basing itself on the four spiritual lies of pantheism, reincarnation, relativism and esotherism. The three main gods in Hinduism are Braman (the creator), Vishnu (the maintainer) and Shiva (the destroyer). Hinduism divides people into castes, 4 main castes and the untouchables. Later, the 4 main castes were divided into more than 3 000 castes. The hindus also believe in karma, the teaching claiming that everything that goes around, comes around. People will be born over and over again, until they reach the point called nirvana. In order to reach nirvana, one must acknowledge that brahman, the everything, the divine core in everything, is in perfect harmony with the self in every living creature. The external world is only an illusion. Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu, calling on the man to do his duty, not to retire from the world. But the action must be filled with a lack of interest. Yoga, meditation, intense concentration and spiritual practices are seen upon as important means to achieve salvation.

In the film Gandhi and much of the mythology surrounding him today, Gandhi has been, in effect, elevated to something approaching western man’s idea of sainthood. It appears the informed people have also fallen prey to the pro-Gandhi-what-can-the-decadent-West-learn-from-the-idealist-East propa-ganda surrounding the release of the Gandhi film. For instance, Christianity Today magazine ran a cover story titled, “Learning from Gandhi”, and sub-titles “Does Western Christianity Have Anything to Learn from the Hindu Who Learned So Much from Christ?”. No doubt the writer of the article and the magazine had a pleasant experience to appear so fashionably “with it”, but such accolades to Gandhi, particularly in the Christian community is misplaced. The elevation of Gandhi to near sainthood is an unhappy occurrence for several reasons. First, it devaluates the currency of true worship and true divinity. Second, it has the unhappy by-product of leading people astray into taking much more seriously than they should an historical figure who had more than his share of human failings.

Christians and others must realize that there are vast distinctions between Hinduism and Christianity. There are even larger differences in the results that the two religious systems bring. Judaism and Christianity have produced cultures in which the concepts of individual dignity and worth, including the sanctity of life, have been produced and preserved in a way that Hindu culture has never known. In the world of fantasy, India is a peace-loving country full of gentle, loving, vegetarian pacifists who go about their daily business in a way that should make those of us who are westerners humble and willing to learn from them. In the world of reality, India is a country in which violent bloodshed is commonplace, wars with Pakistan and China are routine, and rival Hindu and Muslim tribes hack at each other with farming implements, paying special attention to killing women and kids.

Gandhi was certain that the non-violence was a panacea. The first disappointment came in 1919, when the first national campaign turned into violent riots all over the country. The year after, another campaign ended the same way. The satyagraha actions from 1932-34, 1940-41 and 1942-43 didn’t lead anywhere. Measured in concrete results, this wasn’t especially impressing. However, it made a huge impression on politicians, intellectuals, and almost on people of all categories all over the world. After India became independent, Gandhi understood that the masses were not yet ready for non-violence. He was told that he didn’t belong in the new society order. The prayer gathering attendance dropped. The principles he had so much confidence in, had suffered a complete defeat. India became a nation filled with machines, planes, ships and weapons.


To concluce this lecture, I will say that Gandhi’s teaching was an unattainable goal based on wrong religious ideas and attempted achieved through non-rational methods. Actually, as many intellectuals have pointed out, for example John Grigg, India would have gotten it’s independence much earlier without Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi was probably the 20th century’s biggest living anacronism, he was certainly no saint, he was a false teacher seen from a Christian point of view. Even if it may sound blasphemic to some people, one cannot help but wonder if India would have been a happier and more harmonic country today without Gandhi’s heritage.