In this article I will analyze, from my own perspective, the merits and demerits of the book ‘Gandhian Mysticism’ by Mohit Chakrabarti. I will consider the quality of the book in terms of its contribution to the understanding of mysticism, by means of its structure and content. Finally, I will conclude whether I feel the author has accomplished his task; –that being a scholarly study of Gandhian mysticism.
Chakrabarti defines mysticism as a “beyonding of consciousness” (Chakrabarti, 1). Further, Chakrabarti refers to Gandhian mysticism as “growth eternal from Truth to Truth” (Chakrabarti, 1). Chakrabarti’s main focus of his book ‘Gandhian Mysticism’ is to study Gandhi’s understanding of mysticism from various avenues of Gandhian thought. Gandhian Mysticism is further explained in relation to non-violence, in terms of the concept of joy, as well as in view of its practical application in face of social tension.
Firstly, the author attempts to explain Gandhi’s ideas on the various dimensions of mysticism. Gandhi thinks that “service is the symbol of self-sacrifice and self-purification leading to enlightenment in the mystic vision” (Chakrabarti, 2). Gandhi believes in living a life based on simplicity, non-violence, and Truth, as revealed by his mystical vision. Gandhi suggests that all persons have the potential and ability to live likewise. Gandhian mysticism may be termed “spirituality in action” (Chakrabarti, 2). Gandhi’s mysticism as spirituality in action is further described as:
“Spirituality in its essence is the direct experience in one’s own consciousness and one’s whole being, of Oneness of all Existence without the least doubt or wavering. Awareness of such oneness in one’s own consciousness without any feeling of separateness with any thing in the universe…such awareness is said to have two stages, not necessarily one after the other: the perception of Oneness…which is attended by a momentary sense of fulfillment and ecstatic joy.” (Chakrabarti, 3)
Gandhi’s personal aspiration and ambition, in terms of mysticism is described as wanting to “see God face to face” (Chakrabarti, 3). In order to achieve this mystical experience, Gandhi takes on the spiritual discipline of maintaining vows, for the purpose of self purification. By the process of self purification the ego is transcended. Thus Gandhi is able to experience the mystical state of being called Superconsciousness. Gandhi considers mysticism as “the essence of the human soul” (Chakrabarti, 6). Also Gandhi prescribes the practise of self purification as a means of hearing the voice of God within:
“Having made a ceaseless effort to attain self-purification, I have developed some little capacity to hear correctly and clearly the still small voice within” (Chakrabarti, 8)
To be a continual visualizer in the mystic vision, Gandhi gives prominence to the “still small voice within” (Chakrabarti, 8). The Gandhian concept of mysticism suggests a “return to the roots of consciousness, as mysticism makes inroads to higher feeling” (Chakrabarti, 9). Love, not hatred, is the single factor that has, as Gandhi points out “an abiding force to see inwardly and see in fullness” (Chakrabarti, 10). The mystic merges in Love, and Love merges in the mystic.
Gandhian mysticism in general then progresses to a study of Gandhian mysticism in relation to specifics such as non-violence, the concept of joy and practical applications in face of social tension.
In relation to non-violence, Gandhian mysticism has a practical application of approaching life in terms of “action based on the refusal to harm deliberately” (Chakrabarti, 36). Gandhi understands non-violence to be the “law of our being” (Charkrabarti, 36). Gandhi’s mystic vision is that materialism be transformed in the vision of spiritual harmony. According to Gandhian mysticism, the spirit is more important than matter. Through the practise of non-violence the spirit can transform matter, by means of the Truth-force or Soul-force generated. Thus the mysticism of Gandhi aims at a philosophy based on non-violent action.
As a seeker of non-violence, Gandhi always makes an inward journey into his own consciousness. This inner journey, according to Gandhian mysticism, enables one to become more self-aware and to discern right from wrong. What is remarkable in Gandhian mysticism, is the pursuit of the benevolence of humankind as the means toward achievement of mystic fulfillment. One begins the journey inwardly, by the process of inward vision. However, through the observance of outward activities based on non-violence, one continues the journey. Gandhi always affirms goodness and welfare to all living beings. He equates non-violence as the means to achieve his mystical vision of Truth, Peace, and Love.
In relation to the concept of joy, Gandhian mysticism highlights the conscious awareness “to feel within oneself the spirit of joy arising out of the sense of goodness and love derived by means of non-violence as the symbol of mystic contentment” (Chakrabarti, 99). Gandhi mystically visualizes the joy in humanity that must manifest itself in brilliant radiance. Gandhi’s testimony to the world reveals his mystic concept of joy:
“There is a spirit which, I feel, delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things…as it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other. If it be betrayed it bears it: for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God” (Chakrabarti, 100). Gandhi believes that as soon as one achieves control over oneself, the joy in oneself comes out (Chakrabarti, 101). Gandhi, the mystic visionary, embraces the world as the eternal fountain of joy. Gandhi insists that we ‘illumine or perish’ (Chakrabarti, 103). Gandhi says that the ‘gateway to the world of joy is always open for those who come to have an unhindered entry through the vision of joy’ (Chakrabarti, 103).
Finally the book on ‘Gandhian Mysticism’‘ relates Gandhi’s mysticism to practical applications in face of social tension. Gandhi thinks that the modern social pattern of utilitarianism necessitates a mystic breakthrough. Gandhi feels that much of the modern world is devoid of mutual co-operation, cohesion and of feeling for one and all (Chakrabarti, 105). Gandhi envisions mankind as becoming “conscious of the inner worth of humanity and so alleviate the sorrows and sufferings consequential to poverty (Chakrabarti, 106). Gandhi believes that social change can be achieved through a “silent inward revolution” (Chakrabarti, 107). This inward revolution teaches humanity how to live honestly and with devotion to Truth and goodness. As a mystic visionary, Gandhi delves deep into social miseries, suffering and poverty. Gandhi believes and actualises in his activities the fact that Love is the cure for all wrongs and sufferings of distressed humanity (Chakrabarti, 111).
The above dimensions of Gandhian mysicism, from the standpoint of his unique strategy of non-violence, brings forth a new awareness of the future potential of humanity. The potential of social progress, Love and Truth manifest in the world. Gandhian mysticism encompasses the two aspects of firstly an inwardness of vision and secondly an outward action in response to one’s vision. Gandhian mysticism thus becomes second to none as a technique of applying the inner essence of humanity toward the good of one and all.
I feel that the merits or strengths of the book ‘Gandhian Mysticism’ are found primarily in the depth of insight within the content of the text. The author has a refined understanding of Gandhi’s mystical understanding and visions. Furthermore, the author supports his views well with direct quotes from Gandhi, in order to strenghen the content of the text.
The structure of the text is good; beginning with an overview of Gandhian mysticism, then focusing on specifics in terms of modern day social tensions. I feel that the author has accomplished his aim of enhancing the reader’s understanding of Ganhian mysticism.
However, I think the text has the demerit of being somewhat too short in length. An in depth analysis of Gandhian mysticism in relation to Satyagraha (passive resistance) would have enhanced the quality of the text. Nevertheless, in view of the strengths found in the text, I would recommend ‘Gandhian Mysticism’ as excellent reading.
Chakrabarti, Mohit ‘Ganhian Mysticism’ 1989.
Atlantic Publishers and Distributors,
New Delhi, India.