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Studying, Teaching, Writing
Study and Teaching
The Upanishad1 has given us a command: ‘Follow truth, and study and teach. Practise peace of mind, control of thought, and study and teach. Master the senses, and study and teach. Honour and serve the guest, and study and teach.’ Along with the doing of all these duties goes the study and the teaching. The scriptures themselves use the image of a casket, in which all human duties are contained (like peas in a pod) between the encapsulating walls of the study and the teaching of the sacred books. Every duty should be carried out within this enclosing casket. For myself the command means: ‘Appeal for gifts of land, and gifts of villages—and study and teach. Build up a Shanti-sena and study and teach. Work for village-oriented khadi and study and teach.’ That is what I have been doing. The duty of study and of teaching has never been far from my mind, and I owe much to those great souls who commanded me to follow this principle.
I have been a student all my life; I have never ceased to be one. A man who has a taste for study can never give it up; he must seek knowledge of many kinds—spiritual knowledge, scientific knowledge, knowledge of the principles of health, of medicine and so on. That was my aim; I studied as wholeheartedly as any university student, and went on studying all through my bhoodan and gramdan pilgrimages.
Teaching is itself one form of study, and I have been teaching without a break since 1911. Educating the people is also a kind of teaching. For fourteen or fifteen years I gave public speeches; I must have spoken at least three times each day, which add up to around fourteen thousand speeches.

Three Stages
My education began, after a fashion, at Gagode in 1901, but most of it was acquired during the eleven years I spent at Baroda. During that period I read literally thousands of books. I became acquainted with six languages, Marathi, Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, English and French, and read some of the greatest literature in each of them. During that time I read the Ramayana of Tulsidas in the original (Hindi) and in the Marathi translation. I read the great writers of Gujarat, including Narasinh Mehta and Akha Bhagat. In French I read Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’; in English poets such as Milton, Wordsworth and Browning made a great impression on me. I did not know much Sanskrit but I read the Gita. At that time, however, it was the books of the Marathi saints which influenced me most. That was only natural, since Marathi was my mother tongue, and no great effort was needed. I got by heart thousands of the spiritual hymns of Jnanadev, Namadev, Tukaram, Ekanath and Ramadas—about ten thousand verses, all told, from the five of them.
My mother died two years after I had left home to seek spiritual knowledge; I was with her at the time. I remembered a verse in Jnaneshwari2: ‘No mother can equal the sacred Veda in its power to wean the heart from evil and prompt it towards the good.’ So, that very day, I began to study the Vedas. That was in 1918; I continued it till 1969. During those fifty years I studied the Vedas, the Upanishads and the other Sanskrit spiritual books—I do not think that I missed out a single one. I read the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata, the Yogavasishtha, the Yoga-sutra, Brahma-sutra and Sankhya-sutra. Then I read the commentaries, twenty in Sanskrit, thirteen others, thirty-three in all. In this way I read a great deal of spiritual and religious literature. Not that I made a complete study of every book. There were some that I studied thoroughly, some that I committed to memory, but others I read in a more cursory fashion. I regard the Vedas, however, as the quintessence of them all.
Now, in 1975, I am an old man, and in my old age, following the bidding of Shankaracharya, I take refuge in two books, the Gita and the Vishnusahasranama. Day and night, waking or sleeping, the Sahasranama, the Thousand Names of the Lord Vishnu, are always with me.
Thus, in the first stage of life, came the influence of the five (Marathi) saints; in the second stage the main influence was that of the Vedas; in the third stage the greatest influence is that of the Vishnusahasranama. What lies ahead must surely be freedom from all books whatsoever !

A Panoramic View
When I was a boy I read the monthly magazines, but I would skip the stories and poems, glance casually over the essays, and give all my attention to the historical material, the biographies, the scientific articles and such like.
I read every one of the biographies to be found in the library at Baroda. I began at the letter A, with the life of Abdul Rahman. It gave a good account of the efforts of the Afghan people to keep their independence. Then came B, and a life of Buddha, which dealt with the eighty years of his life in eighty chapters.
I used to read through big volumes in ten or fifteen minutes. In 1936 when I was in Faizpur, Pandit Nehru’s Autobiography came out, and I glanced through it for ten or fifteen minutes. In one place he writes: ‘I got married and we went to Kashmir. There was famine there, and poverty....’ and then he starts describing the poverty of India. Nothing about his marriage except those three words, ‘I got married’; all the rest about other things. ‘This man,’ I thought,’has the power of detachment !’
In Sanskrit I read no romances, poetry or plays, except only Uttara-Ramacharitam. I did not read Shakuntala, and only two chapters of Raghuvansha. I did not even read the whole of Valmiki’s Ramayana. I had begun teaching some- one and in that connection I read four or five chapters. The demons, Mareecha and Subahu are described as brave and well-educated, and that much stuck in my mind—well-educated demons ! The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita and the Brahma-sutra were what I studied thoroughly.
My friend Raghunath Dhotre used to read Marathi poetry and plays. He read them aloud to me, with dramatic gestures. He gave me a play called Keechakavadha to read, and I read it, but that was all. Sane Guruji gave me his book Patri, in which he had marked some ten or twelve poems. I read those poems, and later I looked through the whole book, but I did not read his other well-known book ‘Shyamchi Aai’ (Shyam’s Mother).
I read only one of Shakespear’s plays, and that was ‘Julius Caesar’, which happened to be a prescribed book at school. On the first page was a list of characters and their relationships. I kept my finger in that page as I read on, and when a new character appeared I checked him up—otherwise how was I to remember which was which? Another prescribed book was Scott’s Ivanhoe. Three or four pages would be taken up in describing just one man. ‘Why read all that?’ I asked, only to be told, ‘Because it is in the syllabus.’ So I left it alone.
Tolstoy was a great man, each of his novels runs to a thousand pages. I took up ‘War and Peace’, read the beginning and the end, and put it down. But I read the Twenty-three Tales in full. Tolstoy himself says: ‘These books of mine which people buy are of no real value. My short stories are my best work, and the first story, God sees the Truth, but Waits, is the best of all. I too liked that story very much.
I read Premchand’s play Karbala. It is in Nagari script but uses Urdu words, and I read it to familiarise myself with those words. I used to look through Punjabi readers also for the sake of the Urdu vocabulary.
I read the whole of the Concise Oxford Dictionary—who else would do such a thing? I also read the Sanskrit dictionary Girvana Laghu Kosha, and a Tamil dictionary too. I studied ten or twelve books on English grammar.

The Study of the Gita
During my boyhood, Saint Jnaneshwar gave me a sense of reverence for the Gita. I was then about eight years old, and there was a copy of Jnaneshwari in the house. I took it up and read the first chapter. There was a tremendous description of imminent war—the conches blew, the earth trembled, the stars rained down from heaven like flowers of the Parijat tree.3 It seemed that universal destruction was at hand, and fearful warfare. Now, I thought happily, there will be something really worth while. But when I read on I was bitterly disappo- inted—the wretched Arjuna had cooled off ! Then in the second chapter the Lord rebuked him, rebuked him so severely that my hopes began to revive; now, I thought, the battle will begin ! But what followed was an exposition of philosophy; it was too deep for me, I gave it up. This was my first introduction to the Gita, and I got the impression that there is no battle in it at all.
Then in High school I began to study Marathi litera- ture. At that time I got as far as Jnaneshwari and read the whole of it. I read it as literature, but it made such an indelible impression on my mind that I decided to come back to it later when I could understand it properly.
Saint Jnaneshwar had taught me to revere the Gita; Lokamanya Tilak’s4 Gita-rahasya (The Secret of the Gita) taught me to regard the study of it as essential. That was probably about 1912. I heard that Tilak had written the book in jail. I did not know Sanskrit then, but it was necessary to understand the Gita in order to understand Gita-rahasya, and so I began to study it. It took me thirty-two hours to read Lokamanya’s Gita-rahasya, doing twenty-five pages an hour. I borrowed it from the library one Saturday evening and returned it on Monday morning.
My study of Gita-rahasya aroused a desire to go further, and to do some thinking on my own account, for some of the ideas which Lokamanya had put forward appealed to me, while others did not. My explorations therefore were of two kinds. On the one hand I reflected on the nature and meaning of life; on the other hand I acquainted myself with the ideas which had preceded and followed the Gita, its context of thought. It was easy enough to discover what followed, I had only to read the commentaries. It was a much more difficult task to study the currents of thought that had preceded it. But I had such a strong urge to do it that the difficulties were overcome, I did it. In the end it took me back to the Vedas, with their obscure language and archaic words, the language of a time when words themselves were being formed, so that I was driven right back to their root meanings. All this took a long time, but was well worth the labour, and as a result of all this study my faith in the Gita was fully confirmed. Then, so far as the life of a karmayogi would allow, I reflected on the various religions, in order to understand them and compare them with the Gita. It was a marvellous panorama that opened before my eyes.

Ramayana and Bhagavata
From earliest childhood I have been listening to the recital of the Ramayana in my own home. There must have been very few days that passed without it. As I read and listened, it never occurred to me that this was something that had actually happened in history, or that there really had been a man named Ravana. I had never read of any ten-headed man in any of my history books, so that a book which speaks of such a man can never be regarded as history. Nor did I ever imagine that there was really a Dravidian named Kumbhakarna. Even as a child I understood, and was taught, that this was a war between the demons and the gods, a war that is being fought all the time within our own hearts. Ravana is the image of our demonic pride, Kumbhakarna the image of our sloth, Bibhishana the image of our better selves.
Can one imagine any devotee in the whole of India whose mind has never been captured, charmed, comforted and calmed by the Bhagavata? From Kerala to Kashmir, Kashmir to Kamarup, within this whole triangle there is no one who can escape the Bhagavata. And where no one can escape, how could I? I had to look at it, if only for my comparative study of the Gita. Saint Ekanatha made me read the eleventh chapter over and over again, and I must admit that while the Gita was my nourishing milk, the Bhagavata was the honey that sweetened it.

Regard for all Religions
In 1949, for the first time, I made a thorough study of the Koran Sharif. Before that I had read the English translation by Pickthall and Yusuf Ali’s commentary. Then when I entered Kashmir during my bhoodan pilgrimage I looked into the translation produced by the Ahmadiya community. After reading Pickthall’s English translation I began to study the Arabic. I would make out the words one by one, but it was difficult to remember, and it was also a strain on my eyes, so I wrote out the whole thing in Nagari script and then I remembered it. Arabic seems to me to be easier than Urdu. Every Friday the Koran was recited on the radio for twenty minutes. I was in jail, and was able to listen regularly, and so to catch the correct pronunciation. Since 1949 I have been reading the Koran regularly.
While I was a student in High School, the Bible, the New Testament, came into my hands and I read it through. Later in connection with my study of religions, I read all the translations of the New Testament I could get. In 1955 when I was on tour in West Bengal some Christian men and women came to meet me and gave me a copy of the Bible, and I resumed my study of it that very day. I kept it up, and later when I reached Kerala the Bishops of the various churches came to visit me. They were pleased to see my Bible, with my markings and notes in it. They prayed according to their own custom, and blessed the bhoodan work, with which they showed much sympathy. Then in 1959 when I crossed the Pir Panjal to the Kashmir valley, we passed by a Christian mission. An old lady of eighty-five was standing ready to welcome us. I asked her if she had Schofield’s Reference Bible, and she immediately went in and fetched her own copy to give me. In this way I was able to get various books quite easily, and I studied them in depth.
While I was still a boy, the Dhammapada came my way in a Marathi prose translation. Some years later I read some of it in the original Pali.5 I was engrossed in the Gita in those days, but nevertheless some sentences in the Dhammapada influenced me so much that in ‘Sthitaprajna Darshan’,6 I attempted to point out the relationship between the ultimate aims of Vedanta and Buddhist philosophy. It seemed to me that the Dhammapada was a kind of bridge between the teachings of saints like Namdeva and Kabir on the one hand, and those of the Upanishads and the Gita on the other, and I studied it very deeply from that point of view.
I first got a copy of the Granthsaheb,7 printed in Nagari script, by the kindness of the Shiromani Gurudwara Committee. I read it through from beginning to end. From then on, the recital of the Japuji formed part of our morning prayer, so that we might study and experience the devotional practice of the Sikhs. I wanted to make a collection of Namadev’s hymns. Nearly all of them are in Marathi, but there are a few in Hindustani also. I read through the Granthsaheb again, to look for them and make my choice, and in this way I got to know Guru Nanak and took him to my heart.

In the Company of Saints
In Hindi my studies have been chiefly of Tulsidas and Nanak, and while I made a thorough study of Tulsidas I paid less attention to Nanak, and of the rest I read only what happened to come my way. Beejak, Kabir’s famous book, I read in 1918. How much I understood of it then, at the age of twenty-three, I do not know. But I got the impression that Kabir’s thought was very much like the thought which Saint Jnaneshwar voiced in his Amrita- nubhava (‘The Experience of the nectar’), and that Kabir owed something of his thinking to the Nirgunia and Sahajiya sects.8
At Sabarmati Ashram I had my first opportunity to see Tulsidas’ Vinaya-Patrika. In those days, at the assembly for prayer, Pandit (Vishnu) Khare Shastri used to introduce the Ashram inmates to the writings of the saints, including some of the hymns of the Vinaya-Patrika. As a result I read the whole book three times over between 1918 and 1921, giving it my fullest attention. After that it lay in cold storage in my heart for the next seven or eight years. Then, a few years later, Balkoba9 started teaching music to the students of the Wardha Ashram, and taught them some new hymns from it. That made me pick up the Vinaya-Patrika and read it again, and for the next three years or so I was completely absorbed in it. I don’t remember how often I read it during that time, but I knew a good deal of it by heart. Then it went into cold storage for another sixteen years. Later, after Bapu’s death, I went to work for the re-settlement of the refugees,10 and the only book I took with me was the Vinaya-Patrika. I taught some of its most profound and meaningful hymns to Mahadevi, who was accompanying me, and during the next three years I pondered much over them. Thirteen years later, during my bhoodan pilgrimage, the little children of a village school in Madhya Pradesh presented a copy of the book to me, and once more I began to study it.
I must have been about fifteen years old when the Nirnayasagar Press brought out a beautiful edition of the Bhagavata of Ekanath. I got hold of a copy. When I saw the size of the book I felt rather daunted, but in the end I tackled it, and read through the whole Bhagavata, regardless of whether I understood it or not. I had made up my mind to read one chapter a day. I don’t remember which month it was, but only that it had thirty-one days, and that by the end of it the book had been finished. I had plucked up my courage to do it, thinking that when the writer has girded himself up to write, why should the reader accept defeat? I wonder how much I understood of that great book at that first reading, young as I was ! But Ekanath’s devotion and the repetitiousness of his style did make some impression on me.
I closed the book and laid it down, marvelling that I had actually crossed that great ocean of print, and with a feeling of satisfaction that I had completed the task which I had set myself. Years passed before I opened it again. Then I needed to look at the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavata in order to compare it with the Gita, and I read Ekanath’s book again. This time it gave me full satisfaction, boundless joy. Every page was rich in spiritual experience. I learned later that there is nothing in any Indian language which treats the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavata in so masterly a way. After that I would often dip into it here and there, as is my custom.
Meanwhile I had read Saint Ekanath’s life-history. He captivated me, especially because I so easily lost my temper, and he was just the opposite, an ocean of tranquillity. The story of his life gave me the medicine I needed, and was very good for me. As I studied the Bhagavata, the secret of Ekanath’s life was revealed to me. The more I reflected on it, the greater his stature became in my eyes. I feel that Mahatma Gandhi is his counterpart in the present age, in this and in many other ways.
I read the books of Saint Ramadas while I was still a boy. I was quite crazy about him, and took him as my model. His writings were so simple and straightforward that they introduced me to spiritual literature in an easy, natural way. From that starting point I followed on by easy gradual steps to my first acquaintance with saint Jnanadev, and then of the Sanskrit Vedas.
I read Ramadas’ books when I was a mere boy, when my young mind could grasp little of their meaning. But what I did understand left an impression so deep that it has lasted to this day. Devotion, detachment, discernment, many matters of this kind are to be found in his teaching, but the thing that impressed me most was his longing for friendly intercourse with his fellow-men.

Literature and Language
During my bhoodan pilgrimage it behoved me to study the literatures of the various provincial languages of India so that I might be able to touch the hearts of the people. It was a task which I undertook out of pure love.
I am a student of world literature, and have an extraordinary respect for men of letters and their writings. I studied Marathi intensively, and in order to satisfy my spiritual needs I studied Sanskrit along with it. Even then I was greatly interested in the etymology and relationships of words, and in the question of how words were formed and the course of their development. In tracing the development of ideas it is necessary also to trace the history of words, and that in its turn demands the study of a number of languages. My main purpose, however, in learning the languages of India, was to be able to touch the hearts of the people and win their confidence.
I therefore made a thorough study of the spiritual literature of each State I visited, from Assam to Kerala, and a good deal of it I got by heart. I think I probably remember something like fifty thousand verses. In addition, I have studied the ancient Arabic, Persian, Ardha-magadhi11 and Pali languages, and also some Chinese. At one time during my bhoodan pilgrimage a Japanese brother joined us for three months, and from him I had an hour’s lesson in Japanese every day. Then came a German girl, and with her help I learned some German. Another foreign brother taught me Esperanto. Learning these various languages helps one to become familiar with words, and I am fully conscious of the power of words. But for the word to reveal itself one must grasp its inner essence, and that cannot be done, in my view, unless the word is savoured, turned over and over, and thoroughly digested.

The Science of Ayurvedic Medicine
I have also studied books on Vaidyaka, the ayurvedic system of medicine. I read my first book in 1923, when I went to jail at the time of the Flag Satyagraha. A Vaidya, an Ayurvedic doctor from Karnataka, was in jail with me, and with his help I read the book by Vagbhata. The book is in Sanskrit, So I could understand it without difficulty. Next, I read the treatise of Charaka. The book is beautifully written in short sentences and it shows what meticulously careful observations were made even in those ancient times. The third book I read is named Sharangadhara. Although it is attributed to Patanjali, it is not possible to say whether it was actually written by him or by someone else.

The Science of Economics
I read Karl Marx’s great book Capital, the Communist ‘Bible’. While I was in prison during the Individual Satyagraha movement in 1940, a Communist friend said to me: ‘I understand that you have not yet read any Communist literature; it’s well worth reading.’ ‘Then,’ I res- ponded, ‘will you please read some of it to me while I am spinning?’ So he chose what he wished and read it to me. I had in fact already been able to read Marx’s Capital before I went to jail, so I had no difficulty in understanding what he read. I used to listen for an hour and a half every day, and we kept it up for some months. Even though he read only selections, the constant repetition of ideas made a strong impression on my mind. It is not surprising that the minds of our young people, far from being bored by this faulty repetitive style, are on the contrary charmed by it.
Besides Marx, I also read Tolstoy, Ruskin and other writers on the subject.

Sharing Knowledge
People like me, who live in the freedom of joy, are in bondage to nothing in this external world; but they do feel the bonds of love, and they are eager to pass on to others, before they die, whatever may be of public benefit in the knowledge they have gained. As old age comes on and the prospect of death lies ahead they desire the more strongly to make over this knowledge to society once for all; when they have done so they feel free to depart to that real home where they long to be.
When I think of this, I really look forward to the time when I shall cast off this physical body and nestle in the cradle of the Lord. Nevertheless, before I pass away, I also wish to make society a gift of whatever knowledge I have gathered—whether it proves to be true knowledge, or some kind of ignorance which I have mistaken for knowledge.

Abhidheyam parama-samyam samanvayena
‘The goal is the supreme samya (equanimity12 in spirit and equality in outward circumstances) attained by a linked chain of thought.’
I direct my thinking towards growth in mutual understanding, hoping that in the end I may thus attain this goal. We need to accept a progressive enlargement of understanding as the method of our thinking, and to aim at equanimity as the result. I have called the Gita the Samyayoga, the Yoga of equanimity, because the word samya, equanimity, lies at the very basis of its teaching. The thing to be attained is equanimity, the method is a progressive linking together of more and more strands of thought. My own philosophical discourses have been given from this perspective, and my philosophical writings take Samyayoga as the fruit to be sought, and samanvaya, a constantly enlarging linkage of ideas, as the method to be followed.
In 1923 I wrote four articles on the study of the Upanishads in the monthly Maharashtra-Dharma13; these were published in book form as ‘Upanishadancha Abhyasa’. In my view the philosophy of the Upanishads is most exalted. The Gita holds a mother’s place in my heart, and rightly so; but I also know that the Upanishads are my mother’s mother, and I revere them accordingly. I have studied and meditated on them for many years in that spirit, and this book is a kind of distillation of their essence. It is the first thing I wrote; it is difficult to understand, but it has depth, and even now I feel no need to make any great change in it. If it had been written today it would have been in a simpler style, but there would have been no change in the thought. This study of the Upanishads was not consciously linked with the Lord Buddha, but nevertheless I ended the book with a quotation from the Dhammapada.
In Sthitaprajna-Darshan (The Steadfast Wisdom) I did point out the relationship between Buddhist and Vedic thought. In the winter of 1944 I was in Seoni jail, and the book originated in some lectures which I gave to a group of people there on the Gita’s conception of ‘a man of steadfast wisdom’. These lectures were published, and the book contains the interpretation of the subject which I had reached after thirty years of reverent study and meditation.
Thus from 1923 to 1944 the Buddhists had never been far from my thought, and up to 1960 I continued to reflect on the need to bring together Buddhist philosophy and the Vedanta. When I use these terms, ‘Buddhist philosophy’ and ‘Vedanta’, I mean to denote two main streams of Indian thought. On the one hand, there are schools of philosophy and spiritual practice which take no account of God; on the other hand there are those who consider God’s help to be essential. Buddhist philosophy relies on the Atma, the Self; Vedanta calls for God’s grace. These two types of thought must be brought together; only then can there be a satisfying philosophy, and only then a satisfying way of life.
There are therefore no ‘isms’ in any of the books I have written. Look at my Gita-Pravachan (Talks on the Gita); you will find no ‘isms’ there. The book deals with matters of everyday conduct, but it neither ignores the basic spiritual thought nor gets involved in any argument about it.
In ‘Talks on the Gita’ I had presented the Samyayoga of the Gita in a popular style, and I had been thinking for a long time of doing what I could to link it up in a chain of Sanskrit aphorisms, I felt an urge to compose these sutras during the months which I spent among the dense forests of Koraput district in the course of my bhoodan pilgrimage in Orissa. Sutras can be found in Marathi in the original version of ‘Talks on the Gita’ , but the Sanskrit sutras convey a much wider meaning, and I find them useful for my own thinking. From time to time, they are churned around in my mind. Thought-provoking words from the Vedas, the Upanishads etc. can be found in them. In Samya-sutra (Collection of these aphorisms on equanimity) also, my aim has been to build up the interconnections of thought.

The Essence of our Common Prayer
I have written some books also to help people to appreciate the essence of the prayers we use. Throughout India, during the independence movement, thousands of satyagrahis recited daily in their evening prayer the verses of the Gita which describe the ‘man of steadfast wisdom’. Even now these verses form part of the prayer at a number of places, and we too recite them in our daily evening prayer. I have written my own commentary on these verses in Sthitaprajna-Darshan.
In the morning prayer we recite the Ishavasya Upanishad. I have written about that in my Ishavasya Vritti, which I wrote at Bapu’s behest. It was when I went to see Gandhiji in the Sassoon Hospital in Pune.14 He then told me of his wish that I should write something on the Ishavasya, and I agreed to do so; but it was not possible just then to find the time, so intensive were the activities in which I was then involved. Later, after the Harijan tour in Travancore Gandhiji gave me orders again. ‘You may wait, if you wish, for a chance to write something that will satisfy your own mind, but you must give me something now, for my own use, even if it is only a little note.’ So I wrote and gave him a short note accordingly. This was not intended for publication, but while I was in jail, some friends outside got it published, and a copy somehow reached the jail. That alerted me, and I spent two months reflecting on it and writing the short commentary which I named Ishavasya Vritti. There are many places where it differs from earlier commentaries, but nowhere does it contradict them. The text can easily bear various interpretations. Moreover, if thought progresses and grows, it is a fulfilment of the labours of the earlier commentators. Where is the need to write, if one has nothing new to say? The Ishavasya Upanishad contains in brief the whole discipline required of a spiritual aspirant, and is therefore very valuable for recollection at the beginning of each day.

Vedas: A Mass of Letters
On our pilgrimage we would start out singing the hymn from the Samaveda which celebrates the seasons of the year, welcoming spring and summer, rains and cold alike. That hymn was a favourite, but when the heavens opened and the rain poured down we chose another, ‘May He shower on us from Heaven’, about the showers of Heavenly blessing. In this way the Vedas gave us much joy.
Of all Indian literature, it is the Vedas, the Vedanta (Upanishads) and the Gita which have had the greatest influence on me. If I were compelled to name only a single book I would undoubtedly choose the Gita, but I have studied the Vedas also for years. My mother died in 1918, and I started to study them on the very day on which she passed away.
For practical knowledge we need to study many books, but for spiritual benefit one book alone is sufficient. That one book should be read again and again to extract all the nourishment it can provide. I read and re-read the Vedas from 1918 to 1969. It is not enough just to glance through them. They are very ancient, and one needs years to penetrate into the meaning of each word used. I studied them for fifty years, and got by heart between four and five thousand verses. Out of these I selected 1319 verses which make up the book Rigveda-Sar, The Essence of the Rigveda. The book is the fruit of fifty years of study.
It has been said of the Vedas that they consist not of words, but of separate letters of the alphabet. To group these letters into words is in effect to write a commentary. A commentary is only a secondary thing, the text—the letters—is primary. Translations are of no use at all. How are you going to translate the word agni into English? The English word ‘fire’ is also used to translate vahni, but agni and vahni cannot be equated. The first words of the first hymn of the Rigveda are: Agnimile purohitam; vahni will not do in that context. Neither translation nor commentary constitute the Vedas. The Veda means its samhita, the mass of letters. If I comment on it, it becomes ‘my’ Veda; if I break it up into words, it is also ‘my’ Veda. So all I did was to publish a selection of some of the hymns I had committed to memory. The Rigveda contains 10,558 hymns, of which I chose about one-eighth (1319) for publication, so as to make recitation easier.

In the Service of the Acharyas
I was attracted by Shankaracharya’s thought because I found no narrow-mindedness in his attitude to the concept of spiritual discipline. He does not let any form of spiritual discipline become a burden; it is meant to liberate, not to constrain.
I owe a great debt to Shankaracharya, and the only way to pay it is to free myself from the feeling that I ‘am’ this physical body. I struggle on towards this goal, and I believe that by the grace of God I shall succeed. Meanwhile I might also repay my debt by sharing with others what I have received from him, and I therefore made a selection of his poems, hymns of praise etc., under the title Guru-bodh. This was published during my bhoodan tour in Kerala, while I was at Kaladi, Shankaracharya’s birth place. There I laid it as my offering at his feet.
I also made a selection of passages from Manusmriti. I had named my ‘essence’ of Shankaracharya’s teaching Guru-bodh, but I did not call the new book Manu-bodh, I called it Manushasanam, The Edicts of Manu. The two books differ. Shankaracharya’s purpose was to teach, not to make laws, and teaching leaves both the teacher and the taught their freedom—you may follow the teaching or not, as you please. Manu’s words are edicts, they are commands. The Manusmriti lays down the duty of a father, a son, a brother, a ruler, everyone. In Valmiki’s Ramayana, when Rama is in doubt about what to do, he says: ‘If I were to act in this way, what would Manu say?’ That means that he held that one should act in accordance with the edicts of Manu. Similarly in the Gita Lord Krishna says to Arjuna: ‘O Arjuna, I am imparting to you what in the beginning I imparted to the Sun; the Sun imparted it to Manu, and thus it became known’. According to the Gita, Manu was the first in human society to follow the yoga of action, and we are all his progeny. The very word manava, a human being, means ‘the people of Manu’. I am saying all this to explain why I called my book The Edicts of Manu.
What Manu says is like medicine—it is a good thing even when it tastes bitter. His book deals with sociology, but the times in which he wrote were different from the present ones, and therefore what he says cannot all be taken literally today. Some of it in fact is completely off the mark, so that one must exercise much discrimination in choosing what is appropriate. To give you an example: as a boy I was much influenced by Manu’s commands, and I stopped wearing shoes because he decreed that students should go without them. Going barefoot in the fierce heat of Baroda had a bad effect on my eyes. In Manu’s time students probably lived in Ashrams where there was no need for shoes. So I omitted that verse from my selections; that is what I mean by exercising discrimination.
My reverence for Manu is a matter of faith, and I regard that as very important. It is true that one should think for oneself and use one’s own discretion, but this discretion also needs a foundation. I do not regret that my eyes suffered because I obeyed Manu Maharaj’s commands. On the contrary it did me good, because it strengthened my convictions.
Many people now-a-days find Manu very irritating, and with good reason, for Manusmriti is full of mutually contradictory ideas. I do not think that Manu himself was the author of all of them; there must have been many later interpolations of various kinds. The statements which make people angry are those which endorse social inequalities and if these are removed Manu is not discredited, for what he stood for was not inequality but good order. When Manu deals with mukti, liberation, he points out that one who draws near to God, and gains that highest knowledge, knowledge of the Supreme, attains to equality with all. That shows that Manu’s social order was designed to lead towards equality; the ideas of inequality which have found their way into Manusmriti should never have been admitted, and have done harm to the country15. I have therefore left them out, and chosen only those parts which are essential to an understanding of Manu’s basic teaching.

In the Service of Mutual Goodwill
Science has made the world smaller, and it tends to bring all human beings closer to one another. That being so, how can things work smoothly if human society remains divided, and each group regards itself as the highest and looks down on all the rest? We need to understand one another, to know one another as we really are.
My book of selections from the Holy Koran, Kuran-Sar (The Essence of the Koran), is a little effort to promote this understanding. With the same purpose I made a new arrangement of Dhammapada, and put my thoughts on the Gita before the public in Gita-Pravachan (Talks on the Gita). The same purpose also inspired the publication of Christa-Dharma-Sar (The Essence of the Christian Teachings) consisting of selections from the New Testament. The aim of my bhoodan pilgrimage, year after year, was this—to bring people together in heart-unity; indeed, my whole life’s work has been inspired by this same purpose.
I had known the Dhammapada from boyhood, and had studied it in detail: its verses had arranged themselves in my mind in a systematic order, different from the arrangement usually adopted today, by which it is presented as a series of well-worded but disconnected maxims, whereby its all-embracing vision is somewhat obscured. I had felt for a long time that I should place the Dhammapada before the public in the order in which it had fixed itself in my own mind. It was a bold thing to do, but bold as it was I did it in great humility. It was published as Dhammapada Navasamhita, ‘a new arrangement of the Dhammapada’.
I have had many satisfactions in the course of my life. The latest, and probably the most satisfying of them all, is the Samanasuttam.
I had said a number of times to my Jain friends that they should have a book about their religion comparable to the Gita which gives the essence of the Vedic religion in seven hundred verses, or to the Dhammapada of the Buddhists, thanks to which the Buddhist religion is known twenty-five hundred years after its birth. For the Jains this was difficult, they have many sects and many books, but no one book which holds among them a position like that of the Bible or the Koran. I suggested again and again that their learned munis should come together for consultation and discussion, in order to bring out the best possible book on the essence of Jainism. At last Varniji, a scholar in Jain philosophy, was attracted by what I was saying. He prepared a book on the essence of Jainism, a thousand copies of which were printed and sent to scholars, both Jains and others. In accordance with suggestions made by these scholars some of the verses originally chosen were deleted, and others added. This revised book was published as Jinnadhammam. I then urged that a general assembly should be held to discuss it. The same was held wherein some three hundred munis, acharyas and other scholars took part. There ensued a series of discussions as a result of which both the name and the form of the book were changed. In the end, with unanimous approval, it was published as Shramanasuktam, which in Ardhamagadhi becomes Samanasuttam. This was a big thing, something which had not been achieved during the past fifteen hundred years or so. Though I was instrumental in getting it done, I am sure that it was possible only by the grace of Lord Mahavir.
During my bhoodan journeys in Orissa I got an opportunity to study the Bhagavata of Jagannatha Das, one of the great devotees. I chose the eleventh chapter for study, and, in the course of our walk we would all stop for half an hour or more, and sit down in some field or quiet place to study it together. I would compare it with the original in Sanskrit, and with Ekanath’s Marathi Bhagavata, along with the commentary of Shridhar. Bhagavata-Dharma-Sar was the result of this study.
At the beginning of our journey into Kashmir we studied Japuji together for a few days. Four years later the talks which I gave then were collected and published as Japuji. This book is intended not only for the Sikhs but for all humanity, and my commentary is written from that universal standpoint. Guru Nanak ought not to be identified with any one religious sect. He travelled the whole of northern India from the banks of the Ganga and the Yamuna to Bhuvaneshwar and Jagannath Puri. ‘The main problem,’ he said, ‘is how we may tear down the veil of falsehood and reach Truth. Meditation and reflection benefit only the truthful. And the way to become truthful is to follow the path prescribed by the Lord, to obey His orders, to follow His instructions.’
That is Guru Nanak’s teaching. His whole spiritual discipline can be summed up in two words: nirbhau, without fear, and nirvairu, without enmity. In these two words lies the solution of the problems facing humanity today. For the purpose of our work I add another word, nishpaksha, without partisanship. The Japuji itself points to this quality when it says that ‘if a man gives thought to it, he would not tread the sectarian path’.
I agreed to the publication of Japuji, hoping that it would provide good material for the Shanti-sena to study.

The Gifts of the Saints
The chief fruit of my pilgrimage was bhoodan-gramdan, but there were many lesser fruits also. Whatever studies I undertook during that time were intended not for my own benefit but for sharing with others. One of these lesser fruits was the book of selections from the Namaghosha of Shri Madhavadeva, the great saint of Assam. From the point of view of my pilgrimage it may be called a ‘lesser’ fruit, but it is no small thing in its usefulness to the public, for it can contribute to heart-unity among the peoples of India.
I have made very little study of Assamese spiritual writings, but Namaghosha attracted me very much. In Assamese literature it is probably second to none, and deserves a place of honour among writings in all Indian languages. Madhavadeva has made the remembrance of the name of God the central focus, and around that he has woven many suggestive references to the real values of life. I read the book over and over again, and many of its verses became fixed in my memory. It gave me the same kind of pleasure as the company of a friend. I made selections for my own use, and later it was decided to publish this Namaghosha-Sar for the use of aspirants to the spiritual life.
After twelve years of bhoodan pilgrimage I arrived in Raipur for the Sarvodaya Conference, which I had not been able to attend for the past two or three years. When the Raipur meeting resolved to serve the trinity of sulabha gramdan, village-oriented khadi, and Shanti-sena, there came into my mind a line in Vinayapatrika about another trinity:
‘To Rama, Lakshmana and Sita I bow,
Who to Tulsi their heavenly friendliness show.’
I became totally absorbed in that verse, and repeated it inwardly as I travelled towards Sevagram, where I was to make public the new direction which khadi was to take. On my way there I passed through the little village of Darchura. The children of the primary school gave me a copy of Vinayapatrika, in which they had written, ‘With love to Vinobaji’. The gift brought me unbounded pleasure, for school children now-a-days tend to be somewhat lacking in discipline and reverence, so that to be given a copy of Vinayapatrika by school children seemed to me a unique and holy thing, and I began to study the book for the third time. For the next ten months I was lost in that ocean of the nectar of love, and was moved to publish an abridged edition of the book for my fellow-workers. This shortened version is called Vinayanjali.
Tukaram has helped me a great deal in self-exam- ination and self-purification. I used to listen to my mother singing his songs in her sweet voice, and even today the memory brings tears to my eyes. I planned to choose about a hundred of those abhangas16 (devotional songs) which most appealed to me, and put them before the readers of Maharashtra-Dharma,17 along with a brief commentary. Each issue of this weekly paper carried one abhanga, but the project could not be completed. Whatever did appear was collected in book form as ‘Santancha Prasad’. Later on I also selected some of Tukaram’s devotional hymns and published them as ‘Tukaramanchi Bhajane’.
I had read the Bhagavata of Saint Ekanath early in life. Later on I turned to his abhangas in order to discover his individual experience, and read the Gatha, the volume of his songs. All my reading in religion and philosophy has been done for my own satisfaction, to help me in my own thinking. For this purpose, as the years passed, I gradually built up my own personal collection of gems of experience from Ekanath’s Gatha, and this was published for the first time while I was in jail in 1940. When the time came for a second edition I revised it very thoroughly, discarding some abhangas and adding others, and changing the arrangement a little. Now I feel satisfied both with the material selected and with the presentation.
Such volumes of selections are sometimes made in order to awaken the readers’ interest and induce them to read the original works in full. My object is exactly the opposite of this. My purpose is to enable a spiritual seeker to find all that he needs by assimilating the selected passages, so that he has no need to wade through the original great tomes, and is saved all the hard labour which I had to undergo. My book of Ekanath’s abhangas, selection though it is, is a complete whole, and I feel sure that Saint Ekanath himself would be satisfied with it !
Saint Namadev was the great ‘publicist’ of Maharashtra ! He made the name ‘Vitthal’ famous all over India. He even wrote poems in the Punjabi language, some of which have been included in the Granthasaheb of the Sikhs. He was an extremely prolific and versatile poet, and no definitive Gatha or collection of his work is therefore available. The work of selection was consequently very laborious. Then while I was in jail I heard that the Gatha from which I had made my selection had been lost, and I had to do all the work again from another copy. Then the lost book turned up again, which was fortunate, for I could then compare my two versions. The fruit of all this labour is a choice collection of Saint Namadev’s devotional songs, sweet as nectar as they are. The words are filled to the brim with a selfless love of God, and will surely help spiritual seekers on the path to inward purity.
Saint Ramadas has written a lot, but his two greatest books are Dasabodha and ‘Manache Shloka’. I know the ‘Manache Shloka’ by heart. I have read the Dasabodha times without number, and have chosen for my own use what appeared to me to be the essence of it; I call it Bodhabindu. ‘Manache Shloka’ is a work of divine inspiration. The volume of Ramadas’ collected abhangas has been continually before me, and it is natural that a number of them should have become fixed in my memory. They have all been published in book form as ‘Ramdasanchi Bhajane’, Hymns of Ramadas.
More of my own thought has been poured into my books ‘Jnanadevanchi Bhajane’ (Hymns of Jnanadev) and the Chintanika (Reflections) on it, than into any other of my books except Gitai and Gitai-Kosh. I cannot make a better selection of Jnanadev’s devotional songs, and as for the Chintanika, it has a sweetness which can never grow stale.18
The Chintanika does not treat every hymn in the same way. Sometimes there is an extensive commentary, sometimes a brief note on the essence, sometimes a simple translation, sometimes a piece of free-ranging discursive thought. I, whose reflections these are, have put down whatever I felt at the time, and I would like every reader to interpret the book for himself in the way that will best purify his own life. The Chintanika only suggests what direction to take. It is a work based on my own view of the successive steps of sadhana, the spiritual quest or discipline. Whether or not it would please Saint Jnanadev himself depends on how far I have succeeded in becoming one in spirit with him. But I do not trouble myself about that. I do know this much that I have identified with Jnanadev more closely than with any other man.

Discharging a Debt to the Word
The pattern of my life has been one of experiment born of reflection and of reflection born of experiment. I call this nididhyasa, a state of concentrated contemplation in which ideas flash into the mind like living sparks. I do not usually feel disposed to write them down, but at one time when I was in a particular state of mind I did feel the urge to record them—not all of them, only some of the ideas that occurred to me. They are to be found in Vichar-pothi, (Random Reflections). Fortunately this urge did not last long; a few days later it faded away.
I had no thought of publishing Vichar-pothi, but some inquisitive persons began to make copies of it, and about one hundred and fifty such copies came into existence during the next twelve years. But now-a-days bad handwriting and careless mistakes have become all too common, and in addition not all the copies were made direct from the original. As a result, many errors crept in, and some sentences were rendered completely meaningless. It therefore became necessary to publish an authentic version.
These thoughts are not like apophthegms. An apoph- thegm has a form, but these are rather formless. Nor can they be called aphorisms, since an aphorism is bound by logic, while these are free. What are they then? I call them ‘mutterings’. They certainly owe much to the old scriptures, but they are nevertheless my own independent ideas. If I may be forgiven for using a phrase of Jnanadev they are an attempt to discharge my debt to language, to the Word.

My Greatest Service
‘Vinya,’ my mother had said, ‘why don’t you translate the Gita yourself, into simple Marathi verse? You can surely do it !’ It was my mother’s faith in me which led to my writing the Gitai. As the Gita is written in Sanskrit, the language barrier prevents most of our Marathi people from studying it in depth and pondering over its teaching. I had wanted for a long time to make a Marathi rendering, but it was not until 1930 that conditions were favourable, and the necessary mental concentration was possible.
When I was studying the meaning of the Gita, it had taken me several years to absorb the fifth chapter. I consider that chapter to be the key to the whole book, and the key to that chapter is in the eighteenth verse of the fourth chapter: ‘inaction in action, and action in inaction’. The meaning of those words, as it revealed itself to me, casts its shadow over the whole of my Talks on the Gita.
I began writing the Gitai at five o’ clock in the morning on October 7, 1930, after morning prayer. I started on that fifth chapter, for:

In music, the fifth note of the scale,
In colour, the fifth tint of the rainbow,
So, in the Gita, is the fifth of the chapters
worthy of reverence from seekers of the Path.

The task of writing was completed on February 6, 1931.
From my point of view, however, the task did not end with the writing; the writing must satisfy a practical test. The test I chose was to teach my Gitai to a class of little girls in the Ashram. Wherever they found the language difficult, I changed it. Then I asked some friends for their suggestions, and considered what they said. The final version for publication was prepared in 1932 in Dhulia jail, and I was still in the jail when the first edition was published.
My book Gita-Pravachan (Talks on the Gita) was born during that same period in jail. As I talked, my words were taken down by Sane Guruji’s auspicious hand. As God willed, these talks have now been translated into nearly all the languages of India, and are of service to the people throughout the country. The Bhagvad-Gita was told on the battlefield; and that is why it has a different lustre, no other treatise can match her. The Lord Himself told the Gita again, which is known as Anugita. But it is not even a pale shadow of the original. My writings and talks on the Gita elsewhere would not have the magic touch that these ‘Talks’ have. These were delivered in jail, which for us was a battlefield, before the soldiers in the freedom struggle. The atmosphere in the jail at that time was charged with a rare sacredness.
The Talks put the essence of the Gita into simple language and so bring it within the reach of the common man. However, there was still a need of additional aid for those who wished to make a verse-by-verse study, and there was also a demand for a dictionary to explain words occurring in the Gitai. I took no notice of these demands, however, as I knew that I should have no time for the work. Moreover, a dictionary of the Gitai would need to be based on a finalised version of the text. My thoughts were already moving in this direction, and every new edition of the Gitai contained some revision of the text. Later, the Individual Satyagraha and Quit India movement gave me a whole five years of free time (in jail), during which I even observed silence for a few months. At that time I was able to complete the revision of the Gitai text.
After I was released, my younger brother Shivaji and I gave seven months, in 1945-46, to working together at the dictionary, and in this way the whole Gitai-Kosh came to be completed. When it was finished, I simply laid it aside, as it is my natural instinct to do. People were pressing me to publish it immediately, but I felt that a few years ought to pass before I did so. The understanding becomes deeper with the time. So we waited, and then we both went through the whole Kosh again; the revision took us five months.
There is one respect in which the Kosh is just the opposite of the Gitai. In the Gitai I had put aside my own individuality, whereas the Kosh is full of it; in other words, it reflects my own way of thinking about the Gita. I would never say, however, that everyone should think as I do. I myself am not bound to my own point of view—I might think differently tomorrow ! I feel no need now to change a word in the text of the Gitai, but the Kosh is concerned with meaning and thoughts about meaning can change for the better. When we revised the Kosh which we had written four years earlier it became a new book. But a line has to be drawn somewhere in this process, and at that time we did draw a line and allow the book to be published.
I have noticed that scholars find the Kosh helpful, but ordinary readers have neither the time nor the skill to use it for critical study of meanings. For them, therefore, I thought it would be good to print a commentary on each verse immediately below the verse itself. This plan has been carried out in the Gitai-Chintanika, which contains most of the important notes found in the Kosh, and a few new ones in addition. I also had a notebook in which I had from time to time jotted down comments on certain verses as they occurred to me, and some of this material too has been included. One may say, therefore, that the Gitai-Chintanika reflects my thought as it has developed up to the present.
‘Talks on the Gita’, ‘The Steadfast Wisdom’ and the Gitai-Chintanika together present the Gita from the standpoint of Samyayoga, so far as I have understood it. It may be that in course of time my other services to the world will be forgotten, but I believe that the Gitai and the Gita-Pravachan (Talks on the Gita) will not be forgotten, they will continue to give service. I say this because when I wrote the Gitai, and when I gave the Talks on the Gita, I did so in a state of samadhi, in that state of consciousness which transcends the world.

‘There is Nothing of Vinya in it’19
None of the books I have written, are really mine. I am merely a servant of my Lord.
I have received something from the Masters, and that I distribute. The poet says: ‘Even though I should swim like a fish in Thy vast and boundless ocean of knowledge, my thirsting mind could never be satisfied.’ I am simply sharing with others some part of the wealth of thought I have received. I am just a retail trader, selling the goods I get from the big wholesale dealers.
‘The message is that of the Saints. There is nothing of Vinya in it.’