SRI AUROBINDO on GANDHI

  • By Sri Aurobindo
  • May 21 2019
  • 3635 views
  • Read Maharshi Aurobindo’s views on Gandhi. His thoughts are profound, I have understood India better by reading his work. Pranams.

This article was first published here. On reading Sri Aurobindo's Pandit Vamadev Shastri tweeted, "With due respects to Gandhi and efforts, Sri Aurobindo provided a more profound Yogic view of India and a more powerful practical view of strength and leadership for the country." 

I have recently added excerpts from Dhananjay's Keer book on Veer Savarkar ie chapter 'From Parity to Pakistan'.  

After thirteen years in England where he received a thoroughly Western education, Sri Aurobindo returned to India in February 1893, at the age of twenty.

Sri Aurbindo wrote in 1911, “I write, not for the orthodox, nor for those who have discovered a new orthodoxy, Samaj or Panth, nor for the unbeliever. I write for those who acknowledge reason but do not identify reason with Western Materialism; who are sceptics but not unbelieves; who, admitting the claims of modern thought, still believe in India, her mission, her gospel, her immortal life and her eternal rebirth.”

Please find below extracts from ‘India’s Rebirth’ by Sri Aurobindo. Introduction by editor.

July 23, 1923      Gandhi’s Ahimsa

I believe Gandhi does not know what actually happens to the man’s nature when he takes to Satyagraha or non-violence. He thinks that men get purified by it. But when men suffer, or subject themselves to voluntary suffering, what happens is that their vital being gets strengthened. These movements affect the vital being only and not any other part. Now when you cannot oppose the force that oppresses, you say that you will suffer. That suffering is vital and it gives strength. When the man who has thus suffered gets power he becomes a worse oppressor….

What one can do is to transform the spirit of violence. But in this practice of Satyagraha it is not transformed. When you insist on such a one-sided principle, what happens is that cant, hypocrisy and dishonesty get in and there is no purification at all. Purification can come by the transformation of the impulse of violence, as I said. In that respect the old system in India was much better: the man who had the fighting spirit became the Kshatriya and them fighting spirit was raised above the ordinary vital influence. The attempt was to spiritualize it. It succeeded in doing what passive resistance cannot and will not achieve. The Kshatriya was the man who would not allow any oppression, who would fight it out and he was the man who would not oppress anybody That was the ideal.

You can live amicably with a religion whose principle is toleration. But how is it possible to live peacefully with a religion whose principle is “I will not tolerate you”? How are you going to have unity with these people? Certainly Hindu-Muslim unity cannot be arrived at on the basis that the Muslims will go on converting Hindus while the Hindus shall not convert any Mahomedan. You can’t build unity on such a basis. Perhaps the only way of making the Mahomedans harmless is to make them lose their fanatic faith in their religion….

That was the result of the passive resistance which they practised. They went on suffering till they got strong enough and, when they got power, they began to persecute others with a vengeance….

That is one of the violences of the Satyagrahi that he does not care for the pressure which he brings on others. It is not non-violence-it is not “Ahimsa”. True Ahimsa is a state of mind and does not consist in physical or external action or in avoidance of action. Any pressure in the inner being is a breach of Ahimsa.

For instance, when Gandhi fasted in the Ahmedabad mill-hands’ strike to settle the question between mill- owners and workers, there was a kind of violence towards others. The mill-owners did not want to be responsible for his death and so they gave way, without of course, being convinced of his position. It is a kind of violence on them. But as soon as they found the situation normal they reverted to their old ideas The same thing happened in South Africa. He got some concessions there by passive resistance and when he came back to India it became worse than before.

June 2, 1924      Gandhi - Idolatory

Gandhi is wonderstruck that his interpretation of the Gita is seriously questioned by a Shastri. I am rather wonderstruck at his claim to an infallible interpretation of the Gita.

Yes, he has criticized Dayananda Saraswati who has, according to him, abolished image-worship and set up the idolatry of the Vedas. He forgets, I am afraid, that he is doing the same in economics by his Charkha and Khaddar, and if one may add, by his idolatry of non-violence in religion ad philosophy.

In that way every one has established idol-worship. He has criticized the Arya Samaj but why not criticize Mahomedanism? His statement is adulatory of the Koran and of Christianity which is idolatry of the Bible, Christ and the Cross. Man is hardly able to do without externals and only a few will go to the kernel.

August 17, 1924      Gandhi - Ahimsa

A few months earlier, Gandhi sent his son Devdas to Pondicherry to see Aurobindo.

He asked my views about non-violence. I told him, “Suppose there is an invasion of India by the Afghans, how are you going to meet it with non-violence?” That is all I remember. I do not think he put me any other question.

June 22, 1926      Gandhi a European!

(A disciple :) Are Indians more spiritual than other people?

No, it is not so. No nation is entirely spiritual. Indians are not more spiritual than other people. But behind the Indian race lives the past spiritual influence.

Some prominent national workers in India seem to me to be incarnations of some European force here.

They may not be incarnations, but they may be strongly influenced by European thought. For instance Gandhi is a European-truly, a Russian Christian in an Indian body. And there are some Indians in European bodies! Gandhi a European!

Yes. When the Europeans say that he is more Christian than many Christians (some even say that he is “Christ of the modern times”) they are perfectly right. All his preaching is derived from Christianity, and thought the garb is Indian the essential spirit is Christian. He may not be Christ, but at any rate he comes in continuation of the same impulsion. He is largely influenced by Tolstoy, the Bible, and has a strong Jain tinge in his teachings; at any rate more than by the Indian scriptures-the Upanishads or the Gita, which he interprets in the light of his own ideas.

Many educated Indians consider him a spiritual man. Yes, because the Europeans call spiritual. But what he preaches is not Indian spirituality but something derived from Russian Christianity, non-violence, suffering, etc….

The Russians are a queer mixture of strength and weakness. They have got a passion in their intellect, say a passionate intellect. They have a distracted and restless emotional being, but there is something behind it, which is very fine and psychic, though their soul is not very healthy. And therefore I am not right in saying that Gandhi is a Russian Christian, because he is so very dry. He has got the intellectual passion and a great moral will-force, but he is more dry than the Russians. The gospel of suffering that he is preaching has its root in Russia as nowhere else in Europe-other Christian nations don’t believe in it. At the most they have it in the mind, but the Russians have got it in their very blood. They commit a mistake in preaching the gospel of suffering, but we also commit in India a mistake in preaching the idea of vairagya [disgust with the world].

June 23, 1926      Gandhi's movement

When Gandhi’s movement was started, I said that this movement would lead either to a fiasco or to great confusion. And I see no reason to change my opinion. Only I would like to add that it has led to both.

December 27, 1938 (A disciple:) What is your idea of an ideal government for India?

My idea is like what Tagore once wrote. There may be one Rashtrapati at the top with considerable powers so as to secure a continuity of policy, and an assembly representative of the nation. The provinces will combine into a federation united at the top, leaving ample scope to local bodies to make laws according to their local problems.

The Congress at the present stage-what is it but a fascist organization? Gandhi is the dictator like Stalin, I won’t say like Hitler: what Gandhi says they accept and even the Working Committee follows him; then it goes to the All-India Congress Committee which adopts it, and then the Congress. (I must mention that in 1920-21 Gandhi started the Khilafat agitation without consulting the Congress Working Committee, a decision that most of us will realize was a blunder and sowed the seeds for Pakistan. His dictatorial attitude was again proved in 1947 when he nominated Nehru although the Committee wanted Sardar Patel to be India’s first PM.) 

There is no opportunity for any difference of opinion, except for Socialists who are allowed to differ provided they don’t seriously differ. Whatever resolutions they pass are obligatory on all the provinces whether the resolutions suit the provinces or not; there is no room for any other independent opinion everything is fixed up before and the people are only allowed to talk over it-like Stalin’s Parliament. When we started the [Nationalist] movement we began with idea of throwing out the Congress oligarchy and open the whole organization to the general mass.

Srinivas Iyengar retired from Congress because of his differences with Gandhi…

He made Charkha a religious article of faith and excluded all people from congress membership who could not spin. How many even among his own followers believe in his gospel of Charkha? Such a tremendous waste of energy just for the sake of a few annas is most unreasonable.

Give [people] education, technical training and give them the fundamental organic principles of organization, not on political but on business lines. But Gandhi does not want such industrial organization, he is for going back to the old system of civilization, and so he comes in with his magical formula “Spin, spin spin.” C. R. Das and few others could act as a counterbalance. It is all a fetish. 

January 8, 1939      Gandhi’s non-violence in Germany success or!

(A disciple:) Gandhi writes that non-violence tried by some people in Germany has failed because it has not been so strong as to generate sufficient heat to melt Hitler’s heart.

I am afraid it would require quite a furnace! The trouble with Gandhi is that he had to deal only with Englishmen, and the English want to have their conscience at ease. Besides the Englishman wants to satisfy his self-esteem and wants world-esteem. But if Gandhi had to deal with the Russians or the German Nazis, they would have long ago put him out of their way.

January 16, 1939      Non-Violence

(A disciple:) Nama Saheb Sinde of Baroda has spoken to a youth conference emphasizing the need of military training for the defence of the country His speech was against the current vogue of non-violence.

It is good that someone raises his voice like that when efforts are being made to make non-violence the method of solving all problems … This non-violent resistance I have never been able to fathom… To change the opponent’s heart by passive resistance is something I don’t understand…. 

I am afraid Gandhi has been trying to apply to ordinary life what belongs to spirituality. Non-violence or ahimsa as a spiritual attitude and its practice is perfectly understandable and has a standing of its own. You may not accept it in toto but it has a basis in reality. You can live it in spiritual life, but to apply it to all life is absurd…. It is a principle, which can be applied with success if practiced on a mass scale, especially by unarmed people like the Indians, because you are left with no other choice. But even when it succeeds it is not that you have changed the heart of the enemy, but that you have made it impossible for him to rule…..

What a tremendous generalizer Gandhi is! Passive resistance, charkha and celibacy for all! One can’t be a member of the Congress without oneself spinning!

May 21, 1940      Choosing between Imperialism and Fascism

(A disciple:) Gandhi writes in the Harijan that there is not much to choose between Imperialism and Fascism. He finds very little difference.

There is a big difference. Under Fascism he would not be able to write such things or say anything against the State. He would be shot.

And he still believes that by non-violence we can defend our country.

Non-violence cannot defend. One can only die by it.

He believes that by such a death a change of heart can take place in the enemy.

If it does, it will be after two or three centuries.

May 28, 1940      Gandhi’s attitude to Muslims

Have you read what Gandhi has said in answer to a correspondent? He says that if eight crores of Muslims demand a separate State, what else are the twenty-five crores of Hindus to do but surrender? Otherwise there will be civil war.

(A disciple:) I hope that is not the type of conciliation he is thinking of.

Not thinking of it, you say? He has actually said that and almost yielded. If you yield to the opposite party beforehand, naturally they will stick strongly to their claims. It means that the minority will rule and the majority must submit. The minority is allowed its say, “We shall be the ruler and you our servants. Our hard [word] will be law; you will have to obey.” This shows a peculiar mind I think this kind of people are a little cracked.

July 4 1940      Gandhi’s Non-Violence

(A disciple:) Gandhi has offered his help through the Vice-roy to the British government and asked the British to lay down their arms and practice non-violence.

He must be a little cracked.

While asking them to lay down their arms, he wants them to keep up their spirit.

And be subjected in practice!

This refers to an open letter, which Gandhi addressed to the British a few days earlier: “I appeal for cessation of hostilities…. Because war is bad in essence. You want to kill Nazism. Your soldiers are doing the same work of destruction as the Germans. The only difference is that perhaps yours are not as thorough as the Germans…. I venture to present you with a nobler and a braver way, worthy of the bravest soldiers. I want you to fight Nazism without arms or…with non-violent arms. I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity… Invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these but not your souls nor your minds…” (Amrita Bazar Patrika, July 4, 1940, “Method of Non-violence Mahatma Gandhi’s appeal to every Briton.”)

June 21, 1940      Hindus in Kashmir

In Kashmir, the Hindus had all the monopoly. Now if the Muslim demands are acceded to, the Hindus would be wiped out.

From Parity to Pakistan, chapter 20 of Dhananjay Keer book on Savarkar

Gandhi fulfilled the prophecy of his Guru Gokhale, who foretold that Gandhi would exercise enormous influence on the common man, but when the history of political parleys would be written disinterestedly, he would go down in history as a total failure. 

Noted freedom fighter, follower of Gandhi and founder of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan K M Munshi said in the freedom special of his Social Welfare, “Last 25 years, we have been brought up on a slogan, naturalness and inevitableness of Hindu-Muslim unity. That this was wishful thinking has been proved in Noakali, Bihar and Rawalpindi – in a hundred villages, by tens of thousands of men, women and children fleeing for safety. The Muslim a hard realist knew and exploited the hollowness of the slogans, the Hindu cherishes it still. Hindus love words and ideals.” 

Babu P Tandon declared while speaking at a meeting in Bareilly that Gandhiji’s doctrine of absolute non-violence had proved to useless and was greatly responsible for the partition of India. 

The Yashoda in its weekly issue (Vol VI, No. 4, 78 Gandhian era) added in its list of articles: “But the role of Gandhiji throughout is as untenable as it is ridiculous. Till the communal flare up in Bihar, he was passive. Only to Bihar he issues his clarion call for repentance and good behaviour on penalty of his penance to slow death.”  

Also read

1 Excerpts from book India’s Rebirth by Sri Aurobindo

2 Sri Aurobindo home in Baroda

3 Matrimandir Auroville and his Samadhi

4 Gandhi, Ahimsa and Christianity

5 Impact of Ahimsa on Independent India

6 Did Gandhi's Ahimsa get India freedom 

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