Mahatma’s quest


Tridip Suhrud


Posted online: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 2319 hrs

For Gandhi, prayer was a plea, a preparation, a cleansing that enabled him to hear his inner voice, writes Tridip Suhrud








He walked in silence, preparing his heart for the prayer that he was about to offer. Three bullets stopped him. He gave himself up to the Rama nama..


His intense longing and desire was to attain self-realisation, to see God face to face, to attain moksha. He lived and moved and had his entire being in pursuit of this desire. Prayer was the very core of his life. Medieval devotional poetry sung by Pandit Narayan Moreshwar Khare moved him. He drew sustenance from Mira and Charlie Andrews’ rendition of ‘When I survey the wondrous cross,’ while young Olive Doke healed him with ‘Lead Kindly Light.’ He recited the Gita everyday. What was this intense need for prayer? What allowed him to claim that he was not a man of learning but a man of prayer? He knew that mere repetition of the Rama nama was futile if it did not stir his soul. A prayer for him had to be a clear response to the hunger of the soul. What was this hunger that moved his being?


His was a passionate cry of the soul hungering for union with the divine.. He saw his communion with God as that of a master and a slave in perpetual bondage, prayer was the expression of the intense yearning to merge in the Master. Prayer was the expression of the definitive and conscious longing of the soul; it was his act of waiting upon Him for guidance. His want was to feel the utterly pure presence of the divine within.


Only a heart purified and cleansed by prayer could be filled with the presence of God, where life became one long continuous prayer, an act of worship. Prayer was for him the final reliance upon God to the exclusion of all else. He knew that only when a person lives constantly in the sight of God, when he or she regards each thought with God as witness and its Master, could one feel Rama dwelling in the heart every moment. Such a prayer could only be offered in the spirit of non-attachment, anasakti. Moreover, when the God that he sought to realise is Truth, prayer, though externalised, was in essence directed inwards. Because Truth is not merely that we are expected to speak. It is that which alone is, it is that of which all things are made, it is that which subsists by its own power, which alone is eternal. Gandhi’s intense yearning was that such Truth should illuminate his heart.


Both satyagraha and swaraj proceed from this. Satyagraha is not only insistence upon Truth but it is an act performed with God as witness. It is swaraj, he said, when we learn to rule ourselves. To rule oneself is to attain mastery over our mind and passions, so doing we know ourselves. Swaraj is a mode of self-recognition, satyagraha is a means to that knowledge. Prayer was a constant preparation for this awareness as also a reminder of that goal, an expression of this desire. Satyagraha and swaraj gave Gandhi’s longing universality, it not only made prayer congregational, but accorded his yearning a societal and political dimension. His quest did not make him a lonely seeker or even a seer but a man who lived in the world, experienced its pain, suffering and joys with intensity, albeit with a desire to remain unaffected by it. He knew that no one can be called a mukta, free from all attachments and longings, so long as one is alive. It allowed him to place daridranarayan on the same spiritual plane as satyanarayana. It allowed him to construe search for Truth as an act of service, as a sacrificial act, as a yajna.


He added two other practices to this search. One was fasting, the other brahmacharya. Fasting in its original sense is not mortification of flesh, but it is upvas, to dwell closer to Him. In this sense there could be no fast without a prayer and indeed no prayer without a fast. Such a fast was both penance and self-purification, its silent spiritual force evident to all those who came under its sway. Brahmacharya was not merely celibacy, it was not suppression of one sense, it was an attempt to bring all senses in harmony with each other. Thus understood and practised, Gandhi sought to restore to the term its original meaning, charya, that is conduct which leads to Brahman, that is Truth. Only a man who is a brahmachari, whose fast leads him closer to Him, who prays for purification, who feels the presence of Truth dwelling in him could lay claim to hear and be guided by the small, still voice residing within him, a voice that he called his ‘inner voice,’ or the voice of his conscience. Prayer was a plea, a preparation, a cleansing that enabled him to hear this inner voice.


Christ on cross symbolised for him the perfect yogi, an ideal where life was lived and death embraced in the spirit of sacrifice. His often repeated desire was that the inner voice would enable him to lead his life and meet his Maker in the true spirit of yajna, a sacrifice. His desire was fulfilled in a way that allowed his grandson Ramchandra Gandhi to claim years later that ‘Gandhi stopped three bullets on their deathly trajectory of hate.’


The writer, an Ahmedabad-based social scientist, has translated Chandulal Bhagubhai Dalal’s biography of Harilal Gandhi which became the basis of the film ‘Gandhi My Father’