Dec 4th, 2007
“He who understands the troubles of others is the true human being. He brings happiness to others. He worships everyone in the world. He does not criticise anybody. He keeps his tongue under control. He is fair to one and all. He does not touch another’s gold. All the holy pilgrimages are in his being. He has conquered lust and anger. Just seeing him will rescue generations from the cycles of life and death.”
Both Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy read Unto the Last, a book by John Ruskin, and both were most impressed and influenced by it. Ruskin, in this book, challenged the orthodox views of his day. The basis of society was not individual wealth, he wrote. The wealth of society was human companionship – in other words, collectivity. He renounced wealth: everyone should share equally in prosperity. Gandhi summed up Ruskin’s book in these words: “The good of the individual is contained in the good of all.”
Tolstoy’s book, The Kingdom of God is Within You, showed how such a principle could be put into practice by living simply and finding truth in the spirit. Gandhi read The Kingdom of God is Within You and found in it ideas very close to his own.
So, here are two most influential figures at the beginning of the 20th century finding ideas in common. In the West, an elderly Count Leo Tolstoy, famed world-wide among readers and thinkers, the writer of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and many philosophical and religious books. In the East, a young lawyer intimately involved in the blacks’ battles against the racist government of South Africa – Mr MK Gandhi. Each of them chose to wear the simple clothes of a peasant, to seek the directness of a natural, country life, and each drew inspiration from great spiritual thinkers such as Krishna, Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, Mohammed, Zoroastra and Jesus, and both studied the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran and the Bible.
According to Ghandi: “I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world … they are, at bottom, all one, and are all helpful to one another.”
Tolstoy did not have much respect for religions, especially Christianity, but he had a deep belief and love for Jesus Christ:
“Religions differ in their external forms but they are all alike in their fundamental principles. And it is just these fundamental principles of all religions which constitute that true spirituality which alone today is natural to all men, and the acceptance of which can alone save men from their calamities.”
Both believed that well-being came through one’s relationship with the whole universe, and that an honest and balanced man established a real relationship between himself and the infinite. Gandhi wrote: “I am part and parcel of the whole and I cannot find God apart from the rest of humanity.”
For both Gandhi and Tolstoy the essence of a good life is love. Love, the channel through which humanness, mutual trust and non-violence pave the way for world brotherhood and unity, and where the spirit becomes the source of all power, wisdom, action and joy. Tolstoy wrote:
“He who lives in love, lives in God and God in him, for God is love. This is the eternal and all-embracing law. Love purifies the individual and is the essence of life. The fruit of love is happiness. Happiness comes not because man loves his fellowmen but because he loves the source of all, namely God. God dwells in all of us and therefore man recognises God in himself through love and extends this love to all men. Man needs to let love in and squeeze out hatred, guile and vengeance from his being.”
And Gandhi wrote:
“In its negative form love means not injuring any living being whether by body or mind. I may not, therefore, hurt the person of any wrongdoer or bear any ill-will to him and so cause him mental suffering. In its positive form, it means the largest love, the greatest charity. I must love my enemy, or a stranger to me, as I would my wrong-doing father or son. This active love necessarily includes truth and fearlessness.”
In 1908 an Indian scholar wrote: “Resistance to aggression is not simply justifiable but imperative; non-resistance hurts both Altruism and Egotism.” Tolstoy read this statement, and his total disagreement led him to write a long reply, which he called, A Letter to a Hindu. At one point in it he writes of the way the East India Company enslaved the Indian people:
“A commercial company enslaves a nation comprising two hundred million? Tell this to a man free from superstition and he will fail to grasp what these words mean. What does it mean that thirty thousand men, not athletes but rather weak and ordinary people, have subdued two hundred million vigorous, clever, capable and freedom-loving people? Do not the figures make it clear that it is not the English who have enslaved the Indians, but the Indians who have enslaved themselves? Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills, and in it you too have the only method of saving your people from enslavement. As soon as men live entirely in accord with the law of love natural to their hearts, and therefore hold aloof from all participation by violence – as soon as this happens, not only will hundreds be unable to enslave millions, but not even millions will be able to enslave a single individual. Do not resist the evil-doer and take no part in doing so, either in the violent deeds of the administration, in the law courts, the collection of taxes, or above all in soldiering, and no one in the world will be able to enslave you.”
Gandhi read this letter and saw in it a great many of the thoughts which had been developing in his own mind. He wrote to Tolstoy asking if he might publish the letter in South Africa, where he was resident at the time, and in various Indian languages. Tolstoy wrote back allowing the publication and offering suggestions. A warm and engaging correspondence grew up between the two great men.
Gandhi sent Tolstoy a copy of his book, Indian Home Rule, and information about the Tolstoy farm he had set up in the Transvaal where the attempt was being made to establish a self-supporting society living in simple collective harmony, a society which would gain security, independence and, he hoped, the finances, to hold out, peacefully, against the blatant and aggressive racist South African government.
In his last letter to Gandhi, written only a matter of days before he died in 1910, Tolstoy wrote:
“Love is the aspiration for communion with God and solidarity with other souls, and that aspiration always liberates the source of noble activities. That love is the supreme and unique law of human life which everyone feels in the depths of one’s soul. That law of love has been promulgated by all the philosophies – Indian, Chinese, Hebrew, Greek and Roman. I think it has been most clearly expressed by Christ who said that in that law is contained both the law and the Prophets. Danger consists, he said, in returning blows for blows, in taking back by force those things that have been taken from us, and so on. Christ knew, just as all reasonable human beings must know, that the employment of violence is incompatible with love.”
Gandhi continued to develop these principles until, forty years later, through dedication, love and non-violence, India gained her independence. Late in his life he wrote:
“In a loving, peaceful society everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbours. In the ideal state, therefore, there is no political power because there is no state.”
When Mr MK Gandhi moved from South Africa to India he set up an ashram in Gujarat based on the principles he had established on Tolstoy Farm in the Transvaal. One of the regular visitors to this ashram was the girl who later became Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, the founder of Sahaja Yoga. Gandhi became very fond of the young Nirmala, affectionately calling her “Nepali”, claiming she had Nepalese features. They had long conversations together, serious and deep. Gandhi believed there was great wisdom to be found in the simplicity and innocence of children, especially Nirmala.
As a teenager and university student, Shri Mataji became actively involved in the Indian movement to gain independence from British colonial rule. Like all the followers of Mahatma Gandhi, Shri Mataji used non-violence as her weapon. There are many stories, including how She lay down in the road, with other students, to prevent the passage of British army trucks. She was involved with underground newspapers and demonstrations. She was arrested a number of times, even tortured. A nation enslaved, She said, could not be spiritually free.
After marrying and raising a family, Shri Mataji took this spiritual freedom one step further, finding a way for people to experience Self-realisation in a very simple and loving manner. Since 1970 She has been touring the world sharing this experience, and Her time and wisdom, with the seekers of truth.
Much of this information comes from a beautiful little book, Mahatma Ghandi and Leo Tolstoy Letters, by B. Shrinivasa Murthy.