the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229


Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India



Shri Krishna and Mahatma Gandhi



Mahatma Gandhi was very impressed with Gita and Lord Shri Krishna. He had done a lot of experiment on it. He wrote his thought on Gita. He selected forty shlokas from Gita for his son Ramdas. The virtues that bring about unity and harmony, secure peace and calm, and enable a man to fulfil his destiny, were thus stated by Shri Krishna: Fearlessness, Sattvik purity, steadfast pursuit of wisdom, charity, control of the senses, sacrifice, study, austerity, uprightness; Harmlessness, truthfulness, absence of anger, designation, peace of mind, avoidance of calumny, pity for all beings, absence of greed, gentleness, modesty, absence of restlessness; Energy, forgiveness, endurance, purity, freedom from hatred and from pride these are his who is born to the divine qualities, O Bharata. Bhagvat Gita, XVI, 1-3.  According to Hinduism, Ishvara himself is Truth. The Devdas adoring the Divine Lord, when he appeared as Shri Krishna, broke forth: O True of promise, True of purpose, triply True, the Fount of Truth, and dwelling in the True, the Truth of Truth, the eye of Right and Truth, Spirit of Truth, refuge we seek in Thee. Bhagvatpurana, XII, 26. 1 Shri Krishna said to Arjuna, there are many rivers, and they appear different from one another, but they all meet in the ocean. In the same manner, there may be many religions, but the true aim of all is the same, and that is to help one to see Khuda or Ishvar. Hence, if we look to the aim, there is no difference among religions. We said above that the New Year might bring prosperity to the Hindus. But just as it is obvious that the Id will bring prosperity only if a certain condition is fulfilled, so also can the New Year benefit a man only when a particular condition is satisfied. After saying all this, there is no need to point out what those conditions are. 2 

I look upon Shri Krishna as the Supreme God, the Shri Krishna, that is, who was the charioteer of Arjuna, the friend of Sudama and the Ranachhod of Narasinh Mehta. I did not even dream of criticizing Him. In so far as my letter gave you the impression that I did I have sinned. I shudder to think how I came to write even a single syllable on the subject. The reproaches to which Sudamaji’s wife treated him, I regard as poetic flourishes. However, even if his wife uttered those very words, the thing does not seem surprising or incongruous. A wife would speak in this manner. Sudamaji would want to suffer to the uttermost while his wife would have none of it. Since they had a friend like Krishna, why not seek his help? This at any rate is certain: Sudamaji was extremely poor and content to remain so. He was, likewise, an advanced bhakta. Narasinh Mehta rose to the presence of Shri Krishna but he never desired to be delivered from his poverty. 3

The only lesson I draw is that even a Dharmaraja may stumble, so that we too should be on our guard. If we believe that a Shri Krishna in the body advised a Yudhishthira in the body, there is no harm in conceding that Shri Krishna was not perfect. If we look upon Shri Krishna as the Supreme Being, the entire episode will have to be interpreted symbolically. One will then read in it a meaning which accords with one’s moral principles. The shastras need not be regarded as infallible. We will never go wrong if, having got hold of the inviolable principles of morality; we interpret the shastras in the light of these principles and then are guided by them. 4 The point is that mere bookish souls can never attain moksha. The Gita has a verse to the same effect, which you may ponder over. “The Vedas keep on the plane of the three gunas; be thou, Arjuna, beyond those gunas.” This is what Shri Krishna said to Arjuna. This does not mean that one need not do the duties prescribed in the Shastras. It means rather that doing them is not quite enough, that one must understand their hidden significance, their aim, and go beyond the actions themselves. The man who renounces the prescribed duties and professes himself a barren Brahmavadin will have no footing anywhere. He will have lost the support provided by the Shastras while the foundation of inward illumination has not yet been built, so that he is bound to fall. St. Paul therefore told the Galatians: “Do perform the acts enjoined by the scriptures; but you will remain under a curse, if you have no faith in the teachings of the Lord Jesus and do not follow his teachings.” The same meaning is to be read in “bond maid” and “free woman”. Bond means bandana.

Scriptures are compared to the mother in flesh, who, it is pointed out, has the status of a slave so that her children are also born slaves.  “It is desire, anger, born of the quality of rajas, all-devouring and sinful; know it to be the enemy.” This is the reply that Shri Krishna gave to Arjuna when the latter asked him what it was that drove man to commit sin against his will. It means this: “The cause of sin is desire, anger, which has its origin in the quality of rajas; is all-devouring and drives men to sins without number. Know it, for certain, to be the enemy.” This is an established truth. Hence you should have remained quiet when Mr. K. lost his temper. When one’s elders get angry, one should be gentle and not answer back; if forced to reply, one should say: “I will correct myself; please forgive me this time.” There is no admission in this of one’s having acted wrongly on purpose. Later, when the person has calmed down, one may politely put one’s doubt to him, if one has any. You can ask Mr. K., when he is himself, how it was wrong to serve apples picked from a lot which was getting rotten. 5 

The counsel Shri Krishna addressed to Arjuna was, as it were, addressed by Lady India to Mahatma Gokhale and taken to heart by the latter; such was the manner of life of this great, departed soul. It is a fact known to everyone that all his activities, all his joys and the sacrifices he made, all the suffering he went through, were dedicated to Mother India. The state of Odhava’s mind with regard to Shri Krishna, as depicted by Muktanand, was that of the late Gokhale with regard to India. 6 If we think of Shri Krishna as the ground of all being and not as a human figure, all doubts will vanish. He is an imaginary figure, but He has so taken possession of the Hindu heart that He exists in body more truly than we do. Of a certainty, Shri Krishna will live as long as Hinduism lives. 7 All the songs were about Shri Krishna, how he provided Draupadi with an unending sari ate the dish of greens with Vidur, humbled Duryodhana pride and so on. All this is put in a language so sweet that it cannot but spread round the spirit of love and devotion. Why all this devotion to Krishna? As far as I can see, it must be because of his heroism and his unfailing solicitude for others. It is because he, with his infinite strength, helped the little Pandava kingdom to victory, destroyed the wicked Kauravas and freed the people from suffering, that he came to be sung of in songs and gained a place among the immortals. He cared nothing for the favour of one so mighty as Duryodhana. He was not tempted by his wealth, but relished Sudama’s rice with gusto, such was his simplicity. It is a miracle the poet has wrought in the story of Krishna. There is no doubt that a man of such wisdom did exist. I wish you could read the whole Mahabharata in Sanskrit. You will then get a joy that I have missed. My subject was the grandeur of village life but I strayed into the story of Krishna. It was last night’s music which made me think of it. I found that music even better than ours. It was natural and sweet. It was not very loud. The drum and the other instruments played low. The moon was full. We all sat under a tree. Everyone was in country clothes. The people spread out carpets and sat on them. They were all farmers. After having laboured all day, they were having innocent pleasure, drinking draughts of sweetness from the music of God’s name. I said to one of them:”Friend, you are enjoying yourselves thoroughly.” He replied:”Well, what else should we do? We prefer to pass our time in bhajans and kirtans rather than just gossip.” These people, being Baraiya by caste, would ordinarily be looked upon as uncivilized, but they were not so in the least. They may be called uneducated but, in truth, they were nothing of the sort. I felt that, if the educated classes drew these people closer to themselves and poured new zest into them, one could put them to any task one chose. Their wisdom is boundless. One should only know how to utilize it. We are like the bad carpenter who finds fault with his tools. 8 

I must tell you the cause of my ailment. I have often revolved in my mind, while lying in bed, a line from a bhajan we often sing in the Ashram. Shri Krishna says to Uddhav: Mysterious is the way karma works itself out. 9 I think I too have been a student of the Gita in my own way. I have seen in it the principle of non-co-operation. The Gita speaks of the war between the divine and the demoniac. It makes it quite clear that good and evil can never be reconciled. If we interpret its teaching literally, we see that when Arjuna refused to fight the wicked Kauravas, Shri Krishna urged him to do so. Thus, literally interpreted, the Gita teaches us not only to refuse co-operation with the tyrant but even to punish him. Though the spirit of the Gita certainly does not teach this latter course, every line of it speaks of the war between good and evil. 10

Non-co-operation is a golden weapon, a weapon of the gods. When you see injustice, see someone as evil incarnate, you should forsake him: Shri Krishna taught this to the Hindus, the Prophet Mahomed to the Muslims and the Zend-Avesta teaches it to the Parsis. Tulsidas has said, in his gentle way, that one should keep away from the wicked, that their company is a source of suffering. You should run away from evil men and from injustice as you would from a forest fire. This running away is non-co-operation. Non-cooperation does not proceed from ill will or hatred. It is a religious duty for the man of religion. Even between father and son, non-cooperation is proper; between man and wife and between relatives, it is a duty. Were I to allow my son who drank and ate meat to stay in my house even for a second, I, as a Vaishnava father, would be consigned to eternal hell. If I fail in explaining the meaning of this non-cooperation to you, swaraj will be impossible to achieve. If you want to achieve it, the only way is through non-co-operation. 11 The reason why Shri Krishna destroyed the Yadav clan was precisely this, that the Yadav women had taken to immoral ways and forsaken their dharma I urge you, therefore, to be pure and follow dharma, and pray that, having made yourselves pure, give me and Maulana Shaukat Ali, i.e., the Hindus and the Muslims, your blessing that we may win success in this fight for swaraj, in this fight for dharma. 12

I must not appropriate the easy compliment Mr. Jethamal pays me of attributing to me the courage of saying that I differ from Shri Krishna in the matter of violence. I have the courage of saying that Krishna never taught violence in the Gita. My interpretation of the Gita is that it has based a religious teaching on a historical incident, and that it does not deal with an earthly war but it deals with the ceaseless spiritual war Going on in the human Kurukshetra. I can understand the Nirdwandwa teaching on no other hypothesis. A man who is free from the action of the pairs of opposites is incapable, like the perfect man of the Bible, of injuring any living thing on earth. He kills himself so truly that there is no rebirth for him. But a non-cooperator is not concerned with this part of my personal belief. He is bound to believe in non-violence as the only true policy for the removal of the three-fold fever of India. 13 The women will not suffer as they do if they lay as much store by God as by ornaments. How can we believe that the children of the land of Sudama and Shri Krishna are effeminate? The spinning wheel will feed people and will support widows, but it will not provide means for extravagance at the time of a daughter’s marriage. 14

We describe Shri Krishna as the Supreme Atman is its infinite perfection. We look upon him as the incarnation of God, as the perfect yogi of the Gita. We do not think of Lakshmi as a woman, like any other in this world. We describe her as the perfection of God’s maya, as the dhatri who sustains the world. To depict me in the likeness of Shri Krishna and my wife in that of Lakshmi is to shame us both. If, seeing these likenesses, we come to cherish notions about ourselves; we shall be guilty of sin. I am fully aware of my imperfections. I am but a humble creature aspiring after moksha and striving towards perfection. My wife is just an ordinary woman who strives to keep pace with her husband, suffering in innumerable ways as she does so. Our domestic life, I believe, is a happy one, but I have no other desire except to go to my final rest while doing my duty on the path of service. I am not at all enamored of the adoration of the world and my work has no such aim. Its only aim is my welfare. The self in me assures me that I do everything in the belief that it is my dharma to act as I do and, when any action is undertaken as being required by one’s dharma, there can be no expectation of the world’s adoration by way of reward.

I feel extreme aversion to giving a single moment for receiving adoration. It does not, therefore, please me even to see my pictures being sold. To see myself, then, being depicted in the likeness of any perfect man or my wife in that of a perfect woman cannot but be intolerable to me. Those who have been selling such pictures will put me under their obligation if they destroy them. People who wish to honour me can do so only by loyally acting upon the principles which I have placed before the public. Those who pay me lip service or who collect my pictures while ignoring my principles insult me and people who represent me by holy images are guilty of irreverence. A wise man of old has said that no man should be called good before he is dead. He alone can attain moksha who, even in the face of death, does not cease thinking of God; he alone can be called well who does not forsake his goodness till his death.  15

Remember what Shri Krishna told Arjuna about the Sthitaprajna in the second chapter of the Gita. Try to live like that. There is pleasure and happiness in living, if God gives us strength to die willingly and gladly while suffering innumerable, Hardships and tyrannies. God has given me strength to die for my country and for my religion. 16 It is thus that men and even nations are moulded. To Arjuna’s question, “Does not that soul perish which, though struggling, fails in its efforts?”1 Shri Krishna replied, with the utmost affection: “No one who keeps striving ever meets with an unhappy end.” “It is only the soul which doubts that perishes.” If we do not have faith in our non-co-operation, we lose the struggle the very hour we embark on it. 17 Shraddha means self-confidence and self-confidence means faith in God. When dark clouds gather all around, when the shore is not in sight, and when one feels one is sinking, one who says even then that he will not drown is a man of faith. Draupadi was being stripped of her garments. Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, none of them was able to protect her front disgrace. Even then, she did not lose faith. She uttered the name of Krishna. She had the faith that as long as Shri Krishna was there, nobody could strip her naked. Do you have this faith? If you have it, you can win swaraj with Poona’s strength alone. A man of faith does not bargain or stipulate with God. Harishchandra did not bargain with God. He was prepared to slay his wife. 18

When Shri Krishna went to Dronacharya and Bhishmacharya and asked them if they were going to fight the Pandavas, the two elders expressed their helplessness since, they said, they had to think of their livelihood. We have many such Dronacharyas and Bhishmacharyas among us who, poor people have to think of their stomachs first. They are in no position to do anything. The fault lies with Providence or their circumstances. Even so, they bless me in their heart of hearts and know that whatever Gandhi says is true. But here I must also add one more thing. I am a satyagrahi; my creed ordains me not to kill anyone but to lay down my own life. I shall have to go my own way. I have, therefore, a request to make to you. If you sincerely believe that untouchability is the very core of Hinduism, then stick to it; but give me also my right to my belief that it is a disgrace to Hinduism. You may, if you can, rouse the Hindu world in your favour; but give me also an equal opportunity to do likewise. For a Satyagrahi there is only one path to follow: he does not seek alliances or compromises with others. I shall therefore assure you that in my dealings with you, I shall always be guided by love. If I am left alone, I shall segregate myself and ask people to keep away from me.  I fail, however, to understand this opposition in Kathiawar. Kathiawar is the land of Sudama, of Shri Krishna and Aniruddha. Where should I go if untouchability finds a place in the land where warriors have shed their blood? However, the Bhangis tell me that the conditions here are worse than in any other part of Gujarat. I am pained to hear this. 19

It contained a number of bhajans or poems in praise of Shri Krishna and Hindu-Muslim unity. But it also contained the one in question. It was a highly offensive poem, undoubtedly calculated to wound Muslim susceptibility. Mr. Jiwandas was not the author. He did not import the pamphlet in order to irritate the Mussalmans. As soon as the matter was brought to the notice of the Sanatana Dharma Sabha, it sent a written apology to the Mussalmans for the offending poem and removed it from the unsold copies. This might have satisfied the Mussalmans, but it did not. The unsold copies, over 500 according to Mussalman testimony and over 900 according to Hindu testimony, were brought to the Town Hall and publicly burnt in the presence of the Assistant Commissioner and a large concourse of Mussalmans. The cover of the pamphlet contained a portrait of Shri Krishna. Mr. Jiwandas was arrested. This took place on the 3rd September, 1924. He was to be brought before the Court on the 11th. The Hindus tried to avoid the Court proceedings and to settle the matter amicably. A Khilafat deputation, too, came from Peshawar for the purpose. The Mussalmans wanted to try Mr. Jiwandas according to Shariat. The Hindus declined but offered to submit to the award of the Khilafatists. The negotiations fell through. The Hindus, therefore, applied for discharge of Mr. Jiwandas. He was released on the 8th September under security and under instructions to leave Kohat. He did leave Kohat immediately. This anticipation of the date of trial enraged the Mussalmans. During the night of the 8th September they held an excited meeting at which fiery speeches were made. It was resolved to approach the Deputy Commissioner in a body and to demand the re-arrest of Mr. Jiwandas and the arrest of certain other members of the Sanatana Dharma Sabha. Reprisals against the Hindus were threatened if the Deputy Commissioner did not listen to the demand. Messages were sent out to the neighbouring villages to join the assembly in the morning. About two thousand angry Mussalmans, according to Pir Kamal, marched to the Town Hall. The request of the Deputy Commissioner that a small party from among the assembly should see him in the Town Hall was rejected and he was compelled to face the vast crowd outside. He yielded to the demand and the elated crowd dispersed. 20 

The importation of the pamphlet containing the highly offensive poem was undoubtedly bad, especially in a place like Kohat. But the Sabha made enough reparation by its apology. It was, however, held insufficient by the Mussalmans, and the Sanatana Sabha was compelled to make further reparation by the burning of the copies of the whole pamphlet including the portrait of Shri Krishna. Everything done thereafter to the Hindus was far in excess of the requirements. As I have said before, I am not sure who fired the first shot; but assuming that the Hindus did it, it was done in panic and in self-protection and therefore excusable even if not justifiable, and that the reprisals taken were wholly unwarranted. Therefore it is the Mussalmans who owe them such reparation as is possible in the circumstances. They, the Mussalmans, need no Government protection or aid against the Hindus. The latter can do them no harm even if they wished. But here again I am on unsafe ground. I do not possess even the honour of an acquaintance with the present advisers of the Mussalmans of Kohat. They must therefore be the best judges of what is good for the Mussalmans and good for India. 21

Even a person like Shri Krishna had to work for the mass of people even though it was unnecessary so far as he himself was concerned. Moreover, it is not sufficient to be engaged in work that is directed to one’s self-interest. Those who can be called public leaders or public servants will pursue for the good of others an activity which crores of persons pursue in mere self interest. If they do not do this, even those who work of the sake of self-interest will give it up under a false glamour or illusion. In this case, we have to fashion workers out of idlers. We have also to teach them an activity which will bring about the good of the individual and society. The spinning wheel alone can offer such an activity. It is for this very reason that I call the spinning-wheel a Kamadhenus. Once the people realize the value of time, they will be able to understand everything else. 22 Personally, I believe that Duryodhana and his supporters stand for the satanic impulses in us, and Arjuna and others stand for Godward impulses. The battle-field is our body. The poet-seer, who knows from experience the problems of life, has given a faithful account of the conflict which is eternally going on within us. Shri Krishna is the Lord dwelling in everyone’s heart who is ever murmuring His promptings in a pure chitta like a clock ticking in a room. If the clock of the chitta is not wound up with the key of self-purification, the in-dwelling Lord no doubt remains where he is, but the ticking is heard no more. I do not wish to suggest that violence has no place at all in the teaching of the Gita. The dharma which it teaches does not mean that a person who has not yet awakened to the truth of non-violence may act like a coward.

Anyone who fears others, accumulates possessions and indulges in sense-pleasures will certainly fight with violent means, but violence does not, for that reason, become justified as his dharma. There is only one dharma. Non-violence means moksha, and moksha means realizing Satyanarayana. But this dharma does not under any circumstances countenance running away in fear. In this world which baffles our reason, violence there will then always be. The Gita shows the way which will lead us out of it, but it also says that we cannot escape it simply by running away from it like cowards. Anyone who prepares to run away would do better, instead, to kill and be killed. If the verses cited by the correspondent cannot be understood even after this explanation, I cannot explain them. I am sure no one doubts that God, who is omnipotent, is, and must be, the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer of the Universe. He who creates has certainly the right to destroy. Even so, He does not kill, for He does nothing. God is so merciful He does not violate the law that every creature that is born will die one day. If He were to follow His fancies and whims, where should we be?  23

When, thousands of years ago, the battle of Kurukshetra was fought, the doubts which occurred to Arjuna were answered by Shri Krishna in the Gita; but that battle of Kurukshetra is going on, will go on, forever within us, the Prince of Yogis, Lord Krishna, the universal atman dwelling in the hearts of us all, will always be there to guide Arjuna, the human soul, and our Godward impulses represented by the Pandavas will always triumph over the demoniac impulses represented by the Kauravas. Still, however, that victory is won, we should have faith and let the battle go on, and be patient meanwhile. This does not mean that we should suppress our inner urge for fear of anyone; it means that if such an urge takes the form of the question” Who created God?”, we should curb it, tell ourselves that it is impious to ask such a question and have faith that the question will answer itself by and by. This physical frame which God has given us is a prison, but it is also the door leading to deliverance and, if we wish that it should serve only that purpose, we should understand its limitations. We may well desire to clutch the stars in the heavens, but we should note that it is beyond our power to do so; for our soul is imprisoned in a cage, its wings, therefore, have been clipped and it cannot fly as high as it would. It can secure a great many occult powers, but it will fail in its aim of winning deliverance if it goes after such powers.

Hence, the kind of abstract questions which were put to me the other day should be avoided in the conviction that in the course of time the soul will become strong enough and know the answers to them. Instead of discussing such abstract questions, we should follow the advice of the poet:”Let us spend today to some purpose, for who knows what tomorrow will bring?” This line may seem to come from the pen of Charvak, who also says:”Live in ease while you live, drink ghee even if you have to borrow money for it, for the body will never return to life after it is cremated.” But the line is not by Charvak. Its author was a devotee and, when he advised us to spend today profitably, he meant that we should discharge the duty which lies before us today. We do not know if we shall be alive tomorrow, though a little later he says that we shall be born again. This duty is what was explained by Vinoba the other day,” ending the misery of all creatures that suffer”, destroying the chain of ever-recurring birth and death. The only means for this is bhakti. An Englishman named Newman, a great devotee, wrote in a poem of his” One step enough for me.” This half line is the quintessence of all philosophy. That one step means patient, unswerving bhakti. If a sick person gets up and tries to walk down a staircase, he would feel giddy and fall. If we do not understand our limitations and try to get knowledge which is beyond us, we would not only be able to digest it but would be sick with surfeit. We should, therefore, cure ourselves of the disease of asking abstract questions, should attend to the immediate duty before us today and leave these questions for some other day. The couplet from a bhajan which was sung here today teaches us the very same thing, that instead of talking about mukti all the time we should spend our time in bhakti. Without bhakti there can be no deliverance. Only he, therefore, wins deliverance that is devoted to duty and fills his heart with love of God he alone wins deliverance who never thinks about it. Bhakti, moreover, does not imply ineptitude in practical affairs. That which produces such ineptitude cannot be called bhakti. It may, of course, be that, looking at the way we conduct our affairs, people will think of us as simpletons.

A true dev

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