Why was Gandhi called Mahatma

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]ENERATIONS to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” These are the words of Albert Einstein about Mahatma Gandhi.

The title of Mahatma was anathema to Gandhiji. He felt somewhat awkward if someone called him Mahatma. Gandhiji was an ordinary mortal like any other human being. He attained greatness by his deeds. No doubt the forces of time did play role in his journey. Yet, his inherent character too helped him achieve such a great height.

Gandhiji had committed several mistakes in his life as is common with any other human being. What made him different from others was that he never repeated the same mistakes. This was the key to his moral progress. He was in the habit of doing self-assessment at every stage of his life. He would introspect and find out about his flaws even though no one else noticed them. He would put to scrutiny not only his own words and deeds but even his inner most thoughts. He believed that even if he had committed a mistake or sin in his thoughts it would be seen by the God Almighty. So he would confess before the world his mistakes. He would then find a way to atone for his ‘sin’. In Phoenix Ashram in South Africa, he had once skipped one meal and given up salt. Such self-inflicted punishment later even took the form of indefinite fasts.

Later in life, he had extended the rules he had made for self to his colleagues, those who lived in his ashram and to the society at large. That is why he fasted when he saw impurity creeping into the Satyagraha movement or violence and communal hatred in the society. When on fast, his prayers would become intense and the fast would give him peace.

Contrary to the general tendency among people to find fault with others, Gandhiji found fault with his own self and described his mistakes as “Himalayan blunder”. In fact, the phrase ‘Himalayan blunder’ owes its origin to Gandhiji.  As soon as he realized his mistake, he would make it public, repent and atone for it and resolve not to repeat it. This way, he treaded the path of truth and reached the pinnacle of moral Himalaya.

This made him an ever evolving person. His thoughts too evolved along with his experiments with truth. Hence, he had said if people found discrepancy in his words they should believe in the latest words spoken by him.  Ever vigilant about his own actions and thoughts, he would rectify them and not hesitate in accepting his mistakes.

Another feature of Gandhiji’s character was that he struck a delicate balance between logic and faith. He would accept only logical ideas. And, he was highly religious as well. For instance he evinced keen interest in the thoughts of many a members of the theosophical society and liked their giving importance to Indian thoughts and philosophy. Yet, he did not believe in their concept of metaphysics and life after death. Gandhiji’s opposition to untouchability was based on rationality and logic. Yet, he relied on faith where cold logic failed. He had immense faith in God and believed that there is an element of God in every individual. He also believed that if the Creator represented the good he would lead the people to the good of all. He had unwavering trust in truth and he believed this truth can be achieved only by practicing non-violence.

Gandhiji respected religious scripts and sayings of saints as he believed these were the products of great thoughts and experience. Yet, he tested the sayings of the scripts applying logic and rejected those ideas which did not pass the test.  That is why he had said that if any Hindu scholar proved that the Vedas sanctioned untouchability he would denounce such a scripture.

Gandhiji had a holistic approach to life. He did not believe in compartmentalization of life. While some economists in the world believed that economics was a science which had nothing to do with ethics, Gandhiji believed that economics without ethics can only bring great harm to the world. Similarly, he did not find politics and spirituality as two unrelated subjects. His later part of life was spent on providing veneer of spirituality to religion. Because he had holistic approach to life, Gandhij did not keep aloof from public life and politics. Though he did not accept any public office, he took great interest in political issues and strived to promote politics based on humanitarian values.

It was because he had holistic view of life, Gandhiji never judged an individual by his or her education, economic status,  colour of the skin, caste or creed. He considered every human being as an individual entity. Because of this, he was able to touch the heart of individuals. He was a great listener who earnestly listened to whoever came to meet him. This was in sharp contrast to a politician who loves to hear his own voice and turns a deaf ear to others. A politician tends to impress others with his impressive speech. Gandhiji was exactly the opposite. He never prepared his speech, neither did he consulted notes while delivering a public speech. He always spoke extempore.

Just as he treated every individual as equal, he gave equal importance to all kinds of work. For him no work was small or lowly. Gandhiji was greatly influenced by John Ruskin’s book “Unto the last”. He decided to experiment in his own life some of the suggestions given in the book which he liked. The first thing that he did was to leave Durban to start living in a remote village of Phoenix, relinquishing his luxurious life of the city to lead the life of a farm labourer.

When he shifted his ashram from Sabarmati in Ahmedabad to Sewagram near Wardha, he advised the youth of his ashram to carry out sanitation work in the nearby village Segaon. But before giving this advice, Gandhiji himself started cleaning toilets. Before advising his ashram colleagues to wear simple clothes, he himself started wearing just a small dhoti. Before starting the Gramodyog Sangh,  he started using handmade paper and pen.

Gandhiji practiced what he preached. That’s why his life was the message.

The Leaflet