How spirituality shaped Mahatma Gandhi

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By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Title: Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography; Author: Arvind Sharma; Publisher: Hachette India; Pages: 252; Price: Rs.550

More than 400 published biographies exist on Mahatma Gandhi, undoubtedly one of the greatest figures in modern history. But this work is different; it captures the spiritual side of a man who played probably the most important role in helping India to become a free nation. The weapons he used were unique: truth and non-violence. This, author Arvind Sharma says, was part of his innate spirituality.

For Gandhi, morality and religion were synonymous. He made it amply clear that what he wanted to achieve was self-realization, “to see God face to face, to attain Moksha”. His earliest influences came from Hindu lore. His parents were devout worshippers of the god Vishnu. It was part of this influence that Gandhi learnt to repeat the name of Rama – a Vishnu ‘avatar’ — to get rid of his fear of ghosts and spirits!

But Gandhi was no Hindu fanatic. He respected all religions equally. The New Testament made a definite impression on him. Theosophy made a deeper impact. He battled for Muslims. He was a true religious pluralist. But “if he did not find Christianity perfect, neither did he find Hinduism to be so”. It was his faith in spirituality that clearly gave him the courage to act the way he did on so many occasions, even when it looked as if he was treading a lonely path.

Gandhi would say that the thread of life was in the hands of God. But unlike most Hindus he did not believe in idols. At the same time he worshipped the Bhagavad Gita – calling it his “mother” in later life. Even Nathuram Godse saw Gandhi as a saint – but a saint gone wrong and deserving to die.
The book has one gaping hole. There is surprisingly no reference to Paramhansa Yogananda, an iconic Indian saint whose “Autobiography of a Yogi” (published in 1946) is still considered a spiritual classic. Yogananda moved to the US in 1920 and for three decades preached Kriya Yoga and meditation to tens of thousands. On a short trip to India, he spent time with Gandhi at Wardha and taught the Mahatma and his aides Kriya Yoga. It was probably the only yoga Gandhi learnt. A self-realized guru, Yogananda called Gandhi a saint. I am surprised how Sharma overlooked this important spiritual chapter in Gandhi’s life in an otherwise informed book.

(29.01.2014 – M.R. Narayan Swamy is the Executive Editor of IANS. He can be reached on

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