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`I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew'

Gandhiji's unshakeable faith in universal brotherhood is reflected in his fascination for the hymns from the Bible, the Koran, and the Gita.


Gandhi Jayanthi, on October 2, is the time to remember the Mahatma's truly secular beliefs.

ON SEPTEMBER 18, 1924, Gandhiji started a 21-day fast to foster amity between the Hindus and the Muslims. It was dictated by duty to the highest cause - universal brotherhood. "The fast was an adventure in goodness. The stake was one man's life. The prize was a nation's freedom. If Indians were united as brothers, no outsider could long to be their master," said Gandhiji.

Louis Fischer tells us in his famous book, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (page 284), that at about 10 a.m. on October 6, Gandhiji called for C.F. Andrews, the Christian Missionary who served him as his nurse, and said: "Can you remember the words of my favourite Christian hymn?" C.F. Andrews replied: "Yes, shall I sing it to you now?" Answered the Mahatma: "Not now, but I have in mind that when I break my fast, we might have a little ceremony expressing religious unity. I should like the Imam Sahib to recite the opening verses of Koran. Then I would like you to sing the Christian hymn, you know the one I mean, and it begins, `When I survey the wondrous Cross' and ends with the words `Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all'. And then, last of all, I should like Vinoba to recite from the Upanishads and Balakrishna to sing the Vaishnav hymn... " Before the actual breaking of the fast at the mid-day hour, Gandhiji spoke to those who were present - the Ali brothers, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Motilal Nehru, and C.R. Das among others. He was so weak that his voice could hardly be heard. He asked them to lay down their lives, if need be, for the cause of brotherhood. The hymns were sung and the Mahatma broke his fast with some orange juice brought by Dr. Ansari.

The songs recited at Gandhiji's prayer meetings stressed the emptiness of material possessions and urged surrendering one's life completely to God.

The ancient hymns and prayers sung or read during such meetings included famous passages from the Gita, the Bible, and the Koran that proclaimed the power of truth. Then there were the songs of Tulasi Das, Sur Das, Kabir, Nanak, and Narasimha Mehta - they all glorified renunciation, self-purification, and the brotherhood of all mankind.

The following were among the favourite hymns of Gandhiji and they were usually sung at his prayer-gatherings:

The True Vaishnava: "He is a true Vaishnava, who feels the suffering of others as his own suffering. He is ever ready to serve, and is never guilt of overweening pride. He bows before everyone, despises none, preserves purity in thought, word, and deed. Blessed is the mother of such a son; in every woman he reveres his mother. He preserves equanimity and never stains his mouth with falsehood, nor touches the riches of another. The bonds of desire cannot hold him. Even in harmony with Ramanama, his body in itself possesses all the places of pilgrimage. He knows neither desire nor disappointment, neither passion nor wrath". (Narasimha Mehta)

My Heartfelt Prayer: "Lord, preserve me from looking on things which arouse evil thoughts. It were for me to be blind./ Lord, preserve me from soiling my lips with impure words. It were better for me to be dumb./ Lord preserve me from hearing any word of slander and insult. It were better for me to be deaf./ Lord, preserve me from looking with desire on any of those who should be my sisters. It were better for me to be dead." (Tukaram)

Some of the Christian songs moved Gandhiji deeply. His choice of these hymns, as Vincent Sheen writes, sheds much light upon his own religious personality. The hymn, "When I survey the wondrous Cross," touched his inner most feelings. He always sang this at the end of his long fasts.

Composed by Isaac Watts the hymn goes like this: "When I survey the wondrous Cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride, were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all."

To Gandhiji, God is truth and light. He is love, ethics, morality, fearlessness, and the source of light and life. And yet, He is above and beyond all these. Gandhiji's says: "I am in the world feeling my way to light amid encircling gloom. I often err and miscalculate. My trust is solely in God." And the song "Lead kindly Light," composed by Cardinal Newman, always gave him strength. It goes: "Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on; The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead Thou me on' O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till The night is gone; And with the morn those angel faces smile, Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile."

"Rock of Ages cleft for me," written by A.M. Toplady was Gandhiji's another favourite hymn: "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flow'd, Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power... While I draw this fleeting breath, When my eyelids close in death, When I soar through tracts unknown, See Thee on Thy Judgment Throne; Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee."

Gandhiji was truly universal. He said: "I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew." It was Gandhiji's conviction that the one whose mind is untroubled in the midst of sorrows and is free from eager desires amid pleasures, from whom passion, fear, and rage have passed away, is a sage of settled intelligence.

Gandhiji said: "Prayer has saved my life, without it I should have been a lunatic long ago. I feel that as food is indispensable for the body so was prayer indispensable for the soul. I find solace in life and in prayer. With the Grace of God everything can be achieved. When His Grace filled one's being nothing was impossible for one to achieve. Prayer is nothing else but an intense longing of the heart. You may express yourself through the lips; you may express yourself in the private closet or in the public; but to be genuine, the expression must come from the deepest recesses of the heart... It is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin's bullet, I may deliver my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips."

N.B.

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