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Foreword
Hallam Tennyson (9-6-1993)
In April 1951 Vinoba Bhave sprang into sudden prominence. He started his Bhoodan Yagna. This movement—which we translated into English as ‘Land Gift Mission’—was a brilliantly simple conception. Vinoba went on foot from village to village appealing to landlords to hand over at least one-sixth of their land to the landless cultivators of their village. ‘Air and water belong to all,’ Vinoba said. ‘Land should be shared in common as well.’
The tone of voice in which this was said was all-important. It was never condemnatory, never harsh. Gentleness—true Ahimsa—was Vinoba’s trademark. A gentleness backed up by a life of such dedication and simplicity that few could listen to his pleading unmoved.
In the first six years of his mission Vinoba walked over five thousand miles and received land for distribution which amounted to an area equal to the size of Scotland. No doubt some of this land was as uncultivable as the Scottish highlands too. And here lay the main problem of Bhoodan Yagna from the practical point of view. After Vinoba had walked on to the next village—and he very rarely stayed more than one night in any single place—many villages developed factions and disagreements leading to disillusion and the rapid flickering out of the Bhoodan spirit which Vinoba had inspired.
When I walked with Vinoba I found this aspect distressing, even heart-breaking. But today, reading the extracts translated by Marjorie Sykes, I see the situation in a different light. Vinoba was a true embodiment of the spirit of the Gita: ‘In every age I come back, to deliver the holy, to destroy the sin of the sinner, to establish righteousness,’ Krishna said. He did not promise permanent solutions; he redirected our gaze to the universal good and rekindled faith in human capacities.
This is what Vinoba did. He did not worry about the fruits of his actions. If his actions were sound enough then their influence would work on the soggy dough of human consciousness and help it to rise up to achieve something nearer to its full potential. He was astonishingly—at least to the eye of a Westerner—detached from the results.
This attitude of detachment coloured every aspect of Vinoba’s life and thought, as is shown in Marjorie Sykes’ deft translation of extracts from his recorded speeches. Vinoba did not care what the world thought; he followed his own glimpse of the truth to its stark and logical conclusion. He had little of Mahatma Gandhi’s wonderful sense of drama and little of his playfulness and sense of fun. But this apparent lack of ‘personality’ was not a defect. It was the inevitable price he had to pay for the great gift he brought us. ‘Let only that little be left of me by which I may name Thee my all.’ Vinoba, with his usual mathe- matical precision, had calculated this sum exactly.
There could be no one better qualified to translate Vinoba’s thoughts for Western readers than Marjorie Sykes, who has been interpreting India to the West for well over fifty years ! She brings to the task great skill, precision and understanding. Thus a dozen years after his death Vinoba once again confronts the western reader with his simplicity and subtlety, his courage and his supreme gentleness.
The radiance goes on.