Mahatma Gandhi, the courageous and saintly man who led the 400 million people of India to freedom by the spiritual authority of his soul’s total dedication to Truth; who aroused the conscience and inspired the love of people all over the world.
His message, neither foreign nor remote, is the very foundation of “American philosophy.”
In a unique and fresh appreciation of the “return waves” of Truth that link the mental continents of India and America, Srimati Kamala presents the essential teachings of the Mahatma and describes how the same beliefs which nourished Gandhi were shared by our Native Americans (Asiatics, by the way, who trekked across what is today the Bering Strait some 20,000 years ago) and, much later, by the “Boston Brahmins” Emerson and Thoreau.
Srimati Kamala is an America, born in 1945, whose life for the pas twenty years has been exclusively dedicated to the interpretation of the spiritual heritage of India, and the life message of Mahatma Gandhi in her country.
She studied at the University of Rouen, France, Saint Lawrence University, New York, (B.A.) and the University of Marlland, where she completed a Master’s Degree with Honors in Special Education.
She settled in Washington in 1968 to become identified with the ideals of the Self-Revelation Church of Absolute Monism and the Gandhi Memorial Foundation, both founded by Swami Premananda of India who came to American in 1928. The Church follows the spiritual tradition of Swami Shankarachariya’s Advaita Vedanta with a totally nonsectarian philosophy. She is the ordained Minister of the Church as well as Director of the Gandhi Memorial Center.
In recognition of her outstanding contributions in representing India’s spiritual heritage, she received an award as “Ambassador of Indian philosophy and the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi in the U.S.A.” from the Association of Indians in American (Washington 1980). At the Second Convention of Asian Indians in North American (Chicago 1982), Kamalaji was given a special “Friend of India” award and citation for “Fostering the cultural and spiritual heritage of India in North America.” Her visits to India in 1979, 1983, and 1986 were sponsored by the charitable Lotus Trust of Bombay and the India Government (Indian Council for Culture for Relations).
The United States of America, which is two hundred years old and has about three hundred million people is today the most powerful democracy in the world. The Americans had to fight with their own mother-country for their freedom. India, the oldest among living civilizations is the largest democracy in the world with her eight hundred million people. She had to fight for her freedom: a unique armless and bloodless battle with the British empire, the biggest ever.
The world is watching with great interest both these democracies, in which freedom of the individual is the basic and most cherished value.
Politics and economics, or political economy as it was earlier designated, is not the whole of human life, nor can it be said to be the most important aspect of it. It has to be recognized, however, as the footstool which is necessary for human life and society to stand on its own, and it has to play its legitimate and destined part.
It was a significant moment in the history of both India and USA, when in the Parliament of Religions assembled in Chicago in 1893 the Indian monk Swami Vivekananda was hailed as one who had shed new light on all religions by declaring in the very spirit of his Guru Ramakrishna Paramhansa that all religions were but doors to the same Temple in which the one shining God of Truth was enshrined. His ministry of Advaita Vedanta and Yoga which began then, has never stopped. If Rev. John Haynes Holmes acclaimed Gandhi early enough as the Prophet of the twentieth century, it was but a recognition of a Truth which proved itself when the United Nations Organization lowered its flag spontaneously on hearing of the martyrdom of Gandhi on January 30, 1948. It is a flag which recognizes only Heads of State!
More than forty long and eventful years have passed by after that event. Now comes to our hand a small book entitled Mahatma Gandhi: An American Profile. And who is the writer? Not a globe-trotter, or a journalist or a book-maker who writes for money.
Srimati Kamala, the writer, is a scholar, an accomplished academic, the ordained Minister of the Church of the Advaita Vedanta, and one who graces a great institution, the Gandhi Memorial Center in Washing- ton, D.C., as its director. She is thus not only a follower of Vedanta-a philosophy of non-attached action-but also a devout student of the Mahatma, who was an embodiment of spirituality in action. /I Action is my field,". Gandhi declared early in life. Nothing changes without-direct action, he said. Truth as perceived by his purified mind and selfless heart of compassion guided him at every step. It was not the recognition of Truth or even its declaration from house-tops that seemed to be his mission. It was the establishment of Truth in human life which was uppermost in his mind and action. He pledged himself to the supreme doctrine of Ahimsa, non-injury to all life and sentient beings. Nonviolence is too poor a word to convey the connotation of historic ahimsa. By now, however, nonviolence has caught the contagion of the full connotation of ahimsa. In positive terms, it is Love, Service, Suffering, and Sacrifice if need be, for the sake of Truth.
Thus pursuit of the Truth of life and humanliving through ahimsa or nonviolence alone became 'the sword and shield' of Gandhi, the heroic fighter throughout his life and even to the last moment of his life. It is on record that he refused to be protected by the police or the army, though reports were rife that there was imminent danger to his life. Thus his death as a martyr to Satya through Ahimsa immortalised him for mankind.
In 1935 when Gandhi was visited by a group of Negroes under the leadership of Dr. Thurman, he told them that ".it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world." This was in the nature of a prediction. It did happen. And now history of the fight against discrimination by Negroes in America is well-known. The Supreme Court of America declared in 1954 that segregation of Blacks in educational institutions was unconstitutional. A Gandhian hero and a devout Negro priest and minister of a church, Dr. Martin Luther King, [r., took up the fight against all kinds of segregation and discrimination in American life between the whites and blacks. Ultimately he succeeded all along the line and was given the Nobel Peace Prize! Acknowledging his debt to Gandhi, King said: "The faith I have in God I owe to Christ, but the faith to fight for justice to my people in a nonviolent manner I owe to Gandhi."
Many are the Americans since Rev. Holmes who have written about Gandhi and several aspects of his life and especially about his Gospel of Satyagraha- that is nonviolent resistance unto death to uphold Truth and Justice. Srimati Kamala's book, however, is unique in more ways than one: It speaks of the 'mental continents' of the two peoples across millennia, the Americans and the Indians. In this context Americans include American Indians who have been inhabiting that continent since about 20,000 years when they came there via the Bering Straits! It requires us to stretch our imagination to the era when America might not have been a separate continent!
However, the point is that the author has drawn, upon her study of the philosophy of the life of the unsophisticated American Indians, their simple beliefs and life close to Nature and raised to higher levels on account of contact with sublimities that Nature pro- vides. It is very interesting to note the comparisons the author has drawn between the utter simplicity of Gandhi's life and yet his appreciation of Nature in all its aspects-simple, artistic as well as sublime. The simple, direct faith in the presence of the Divine everywhere and in everything seems to be the common factor between the American Indians and Gandhi. It is striking—call it spirituality if you like.
Of course, Gandhi knew about Emerson and his intimate acquaintance with Indian thought. From Thoreau he learnt about his civil protest, and in fact, the expression 'civil disobedience' is a gift of Thoreau to Gandhi. But what he made of it, and later how another brother American, Martin Luther King, Jr., transformed it into a civilized weapon for the emancipation of his black brethren of that young nation today forms part of the history of great fights against socio-political injustice through loveful self-suffering. Perhaps in search of the D.N:A. of this great principle, we may delve deep into history and find a definite trace in Socrates. Gandhi had no end of respect for that ancient Greek saint- philosopher. Lifelong, he preached Truth heroically. He did so by facing the penalty of death for it cheerfully, since what he taught was not welcome to the 'powers of the day.'
In the words of Henrick Zimmer, the great German philosopher, British Raj in India wasan 'untruth. 'Swaraj, the birthright of India, was a 'Truth' by any standard. Gandhi fought for it not by shedding any blood but by voluntary suffering without even so much as ill-will for Britishers. He and all Indians had to civilly disobey bad laws heaped upon the nation by jurisprudence. Gandhi matched his matchless jurisconscience armed with soul- force against jurisprudence armed with weapons of law and order! The ding-dong battle went on from 1921 to 1944. But it wasa sight for God to see the whole nation up in arms against the iniquitous Salt Law in 1930-31; even women and children defying the law and picking up untaxed salt from the sea and selling it in the face of police repression!
The 'Quit India' movement of 1942, which was Gandhi's last fight, made way for peace with friendship with Britain. It has stood the test of time for four decades!
Across millennia, Indian thought and culture have travelled far and wide and Buddhism has penetrated deep across continents. It is vedanta and yoga which have followed, and today yoga is a term to conjure with. Srimata Kamala, the disciple of Swami Premananda of India, (founder of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Foundation in 1959) has given us a glimpse of her abilities to build a firm and abiding bridge between the cultures of the United States of America and India. She has already come out with another book on the Frontiers of the Spirit. We are encouraged in expecting more from her pen as well as from her cultural visits to us in India.
Humanity is at the cross-roads. It can be saved from the holocaust of a nuclear war and/or nuclear winter only through working for a humane world Government. We can avoid such a tragedy and lay the foundation of living together for each other and help towards the destined evolution of mankind to perfection or to divinity. But all that can come by small steps taken for building bridges across continents and the minds and hearts of human beings.
Mahatma Gandhi had been dead to this earth for a decade when I first saw him. Even so, he has always seemed alive-never remote or foreign-to me.
As a young girl of twelve, sitting in my family's den in Oklahoma-so distant and different from the India of Gandhi's life-I beheld the now familiar dhoti-clad figure on a television screen. Gandhiji and the surrounding Indian people and countryside were equally unusual to me then, to be sure, but the image of the Mahatma himself fascinated me, awakening and absorbing my consciousness with an affinity I did not understand but was certainly unforgettably aware of. I carried that first impression from childhood for many years before I responded to its meaning.
In college I searched my university library for available biographies of Gandhiji and did whatever I could to explore India's spiritual heritage through philosophy and the arts. Upon graduation I established my residence and my life with the Self- Revelation Church in Washington, D.C., headed by Swami Premananda of India, to learn and to serve the ageless wisdom which nourished Mahatma Gandhi.
Swamiji had founded a Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Foundation, incorporated in 1959, which had gathered over the years a substantial library of books on Gandhi and India's priceless cultural traditions, housed in one of the church buildings. In 1975 he handed me the blueprints for a Gandhi Memorial Center, along with the total responsibility to build and direct its life.
"The highest and noblest and best of India is its spiritual heritage," he said. "Mahatma Gandhi represents that heritage before all humanity. Let America and the world know that life through the Gandhi Memorial Center."
With his guiding words and blessing my real life with the Mahatma began-from the ground up and the heart out.
When I say that I feel I have known the Mahatma, it is not from any privileged encounters, nor dreams or visions, nor merely from books or passing interests, but from a deepening appreciation and identification through my life and work in the attempt to bring his message to American life.
I studied the life of Mahatma Gandhi not primarily for insight into the man, but for the broader under- standing of life that his life example reveals. I sought not to follow Gandhi, but to follow the ideals he sought.
In adding to the enormous and ever-burgeoning body of Gandhian literature, I submit neither another biography nor a textbook. These writings represent two decades of exploring and sharing insights and inspirations from Gandhi's life with my church, my working associates, schools and universities, theological and civic groups, and thousands of visitors to the Gandhi Center. They are the product of my search rather than research, as I would venture the distinction. Thus I would humbly invite you, dear reader, to find from these pages and mine from your own heart the rich and profound treasures from the life of Mahatma Gandhi.
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