Gandhi on Blavatsky and Theosophy

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), better known to the world as Mahatma Gandhi, was the most influential leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India. Employing non-violence (Ahimsa) and peaceful protest in his methods, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired many subsequent movements for non-violence, civil rights, and freedom all over the world.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), better known to the world as Mahatma Gandhi, was the most influential leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India. Employing non-violence (Ahimsa) and peaceful protest in his methods, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired many subsequent movements for non-violence, civil rights, and freedom all over the world.

“Theosophy is the teaching of Madame Blavatsky. It is Hinduism at its best. Theosophy is the Brotherhood of Man. . . . Jinnah and other Moslem leaders were once members of the Congress. They left it because they felt the pinch of Hinduism patronizing. . . . They did not find the Brotherhood of Man among the Hindus. They say Islam is the Brotherhood of Man. As a matter of fact, it is the Brotherhood of Moslems. Theosophy is the Brotherhood of Man.” (Gandhi, quoted in “The Life of Mahatma Gandhi” by Louis Fischer, p. 437)

“It was through theosophy that Gandhi was induced to study his own heritage. This effect was generated in many Indians.” (“Gandhi in London” by James D. Hunt, p. 31)

“Towards the end of my second year in England I came across two Theosophists, brothers, and both unmarried. They talked to me about the Gita [i.e. the Bhagavad Gita]. They were reading Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation – The Song Celestial – and they invited me to read the original with them. I felt ashamed, as I had read the divine poem neither in Sanskrit nor in Gujarati. I was constrained to tell them that I had not read the Gita, but that I would gladly read it with them, and that though my knowledge of Sanskrit was meagre, still I hoped to be able to understand the original to the extent of telling where the translation failed to bring out the meaning. I began reading the Gita with them. The verses in the second chapter . . . made a deep impression in my mind, and they still ring in my ears. The book struck me as one of priceless worth. The impression has ever since been growing on me with the result that I regard it as the book par excellence for the knowledge of truth.” (“Autobiography” by M. K. Gandhi, p. 90-91, also see “Young India” 12th November 1925; note that the “brothers” were actually an uncle and nephew of relatively similar age, namely Bertram and Archibald Keightley, close students of H. P. Blavatsky)

“I recall having read, at the brothers’ direction Madame Blavatsky’s Key to Theosophy. This book stimulated in me the desire to read books on Hinduism, and disabused me of the notion fostered by the missionaries that Hinduism was rife with superstition.” (“Gandhi’s Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth” by M. K. Gandhi, p. 60, 90-91, 321)

“He read Mme. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, and on March 26, 1891, was enrolled as an associate member of the Blavatsky Lodge.” (“Mahatma Gandhi Volume 1: The Early Phase” by Pyarelal Nayyar, p. 259)

“It was in November 1889 that Gandhi met HPB [i.e. H. P. Blavatsky]. At that time, he said, he did not join the TS [i.e. Theosophical Society] because “with my meagre knowledge of my own religion, I did not want to belong to any religious body.” However, a year and a half later, on March 26, 1891, he became an associate member of the Blavatsky Lodge. Three months later, on June twelfth, he returned to India.” (“HPB – The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky” by Sylvia Cranston, p.195, also see “The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 1: 1884-1896” by M. K. Gandhi, p. 355)

It is important to note that the only Theosophy recognised by Gandhi as actually being Theosophy was the original and genuine Theosophy taught and presented by H. P. Blavatsky. He very clearly expressed, when necessary, his distinctly negative view of the very different, later version of Theosophy (sometimes called “pseudo-Theosophy”) of Annie Besant and in particular C. W. Leadbeater. Since Alice Bailey’s teachings are largely based on those invented by Leadbeater, it is perhaps partly for this reason that Alice Bailey expressed a distinctly unfavourable view of Gandhi. Gandhi was a friend of B. P. Wadia and Sophia Wadia, influential figures in the United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT), an international association of Theosophical students whose expressed mission statement is “To spread broadcast the Teachings of Theosophy as recorded in the Writings of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge.”

“I do not think that Mrs. Besant is a hypocrite; she is credulous and she is duped by Leadbeater. When an Englishman suggested to me to read Leadbeater’s The Life After Death, I flatly refused to do so as I had grown suspicious of him after reading his other writings. As to his humbug [i.e. fraud and deception], I came to know of if later.” (Gandhi, “The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi” Volume 11)

“These essays of Sophia Wadia show at a glance how much similarity there is between the principal faiths of the earth in the fundamentals of life. All our mutual quarrels centre round non-essentials. Sophia Wadia’s labours will be amply rewarded if people belonging to different faiths will study faiths other than their own, with the same reverence that she has exhibited in her essays. An understanding knowledge of and respect for the great faiths of the world is the foundation of true Theosophy.” (“The Brotherhood of Religions” by Sophia Wadia, foreword (p. 3) by M. K. Gandhi)

Another influential figure in the United Lodge of Theosophists, Raghavan Iyer, wrote a book titled “The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi,” first published in 1973 by mainstream publishers and still considered one of the most important works on the development of Gandhi’s thought and philosophy. Iyer, who was initially part of the Mumbai ULT in India, then the London ULT in England, and finally Santa Barbara in California, USA, expressed gratitude in the preface of the book to “B. P. Wadia for sage advice in November 1956 when I was first shown the need for such a study.” B. P. Wadia, mentioned above and who passed away in 1958, wrote numerous articles on such themes, which are today published by the United Lodge of Theosophists in India as the book “The Gandhian Way.”

Here are a few excerpts from “The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi”:

“Gandhi himself disclaimed the appellations of “saint,” “ascetic,” sannyasi and Mahatma, and described himself simply as one “who claims only to be a humble searcher after Truth, knows his limitations, makes mistakes, never hesitates to admit them when he makes them and frankly confesses that he, like a scientist, is making experiments about some of ‘the eternal verities’ of life, but cannot even claim to be a scientist . . .” (p. 5-6, Oxford University Press edition)

“When Gandhi spoke of religion, he was more concerned with religious values than with religious beliefs, with the fundamental ethics that he believed to be common to all religions, rather than the formal allegiance to received dogmas that becomes a barrier to religious experience. Religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in “the ordered moral government of the universe.” He referred to “the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one’s very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which ever purifies. It is the permanent element in human nature which counts no cost too great in order to find full expression and which leaves the soul utterly restless until it has found itself.” It sustains a person as nothing else does. It is “rock-bottom fundamental morality.” When morality incarnates itself in a living man it becomes religion, because it binds, it holds, it sustains him in the hour of trial.” (p. 42-43)

“By religion I do not mean formal religion or customary religion but that religion which underlies all religions . . .” Religion, for Gandhi, means a spiritual commitment which is total but intensely personal. He firmly believed in the fundamental unity of life, and rejected the distinction between public and private, secular and sacred.” (p. 45)

“Man’s ultimate aim is the realization of God, and all his activities, social, political, religious, have to be guided by the ultimate aim of the vision of God. The immediate service of all human beings becomes a necessary part of the endeavor, simply because the only way to find God is to see God in creation and be one with it. This can be done only by service of all. “I am a part and parcel of the whole, and I cannot find Him apart from the rest of humanity.” Again, “. . . true individuality consists in reducing oneself to zero. The secret of life is selfless service. The highest ideal for us is to become vitaraga (free from attachment). Ethical rules were framed by rishis (seers) on the basis of personal experience. A rishi is one who has realized for himself. Sannyasa in the Gita is renunciation of actions inspired by desire (kama). He is a man who is the ruler over his body.” Clearly, then, the divinity of man manifests itself according to the extent to which he realizes his humanity, i.e., his oneness with his fellow men.” (p. 93)

“Although he regarded God as an impersonal, all-pervading Reality, he was also apt – in the tradition of Vaishnava theism, reinforced by his contact with Christian theologians – to anthropomorphize God. In 1931, however, Gandhi distinctly shifted his emphasis from God to Truth as the ultimate object of human worship and reliance. Truth alone exists; satya is derived from Sat. If there is God, Truth must be God. Even if we do not wish to assume the existence of God, we must assume the existence of Truth if we are to evolve as human beings. God is difficult to define, but the definition of Truth is deposited in every human heart. . . . Gandhi answered by pointing out that he used the word “truth” in a wide rather than a narrow sense, that the notion of an eternal Ruler (Ishvara) is inferior to satya defined as the eternal Truth. “Indeed it is all the same whether we say that the universe is a function of Truth or that it is a function of Law.” Gandhi held that the Moral Law is logically prior to the existence of God . . . As no one could live without truth, there is an eternal Truth that permeates the world and unites all men in their essentials with the essence of Reality and of Nature.” (p. 155-156)

“In seeing beyond the confinements of past creeds and present isms, Gandhi drew from the reservoirs of the untapped moral energies of mankind, and pointed to the spiritual foundations of the civilization of the future.” (the last sentence in the book, p. 385)

It’s important to clarify that the fact of being bestowed by the Indian people with the ancient honorific title of “Mahatma” (literally “great soul”) does not mean that he was one of the Mahatmas or Masters of Wisdom spoken of in Theosophy. B. P. Wadia wrote with great certainty, however, that Gandhi’s work on the whole reflected the wishes and principles of the Masters.

It’s also useful to be aware that Gandhi has declined in popularity over the past few decades, both in India and internationally. It would be misguided to imagine that he never made any mistakes or errors of judgment. One of the main criticisms now levelled against him is that there are clearly racially prejudiced remarks about Africans in his early writings from his time in South Africa. But interestingly, such African and African American luminaries as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. both expressed their admiration and respect for Gandhi and pointed out that his views about black people clearly changed over time and that therefore he cannot justifiably be considered racist.

Mahatma Gandhi unmistakably echoed the words and message of H. P. Blavatsky and her mysterious Eastern Teachers who stood behind her and the modern Theosophical Movement when he said:

“The soul of religions is one, but it is encased in a multitude of forms. The latter will endure to the end of time. Wise men will ignore the outward crust and see the same soul living under a variety of crusts. . . . Truth is the exclusive property of no single scripture. We may call ourselves Christians, Hindus or Mohammedans. Whatever we may be, beneath that diversity there is a oneness which is unmistakable and underneath many religions there is also one religion.”

The famous motto of the Theosophical Movement is “There is no religion higher than Truth.” With Theosophy and his destined 1889 meeting with Madame Blavatsky in his mind, Gandhi famously expressed it thus: “There is no God higher than Truth.”

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One thought on “Gandhi on Blavatsky and Theosophy

  1. Warm greetings to all Theosophist. I am from the Philippines and ive been a subscriber of The Theosophisycal Digest since I grabbed one copy of it.

    Since i dont have any of this booklet anymore I try to find your profound teaching on the net. So thanks I seek you and I found you.

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