Gandhi's Views On Religion
Prayer In Gandhi's Ashram
"Worshipping God is singing the
praise of God. Prayer is a confession of one's unworthiness and weakness. God
has a thousand names, or rather, He is Nameless. We may worship or pray to Him
by whichever name that pleases us. Some call Him Rama, some Krishna, others call
Him Rahim, and yet others call Him God. All worship the same spirit, but as all
foods do not agree with all, all names do not appeal to all. Each chooses the
name according to his associations, and He being the In-Dweller, All-Powerful
and Omniscient knows our innermost feelings and responds to us according to our
Worship or prayer, therefore, is not
to be performed with the lips, but with the heart. And the prayers of those
whose tongues are nectared but whose hearts are full of poison are never heard.
He, therefore, who would pray to God, must cleanse his heart. Rama was not only
on the lips of Hanuman, He was enthroned in his heart. He gave Hanuman
exhaustless strength. In His strength he lifted the mountain and crossed the
ocean. That faith is nothing but a living, wide awake consciousness of God
within. He who has achieved that faith wants nothing. Bodily diseased he is
spiritually healthy, physically poor, he rolls in spiritual riches.
The language of the lips is easily
taught; but who can teach the language of the heart? Only the bhakta - the true
devotee - knows it, can teach it. The Gita has defined the bhakta in three
places and talked of him generally everywhere. But a knowledge of the definition
of a bhakta is hardly a sufficient guide. They are rare on this earth. I have
therefore suggested the Religion of Service as the means. God Himself seeks for
His seat the heart of him who serves his fellowmen...
At the morning prayer we first
recite the shlokas (verses) printed in Ashram Bhajanavali (hymnal), and then
sing one bhajan (hymn) followed by Ramadhun (repetition of the Gita). There is
history attached to almost every shloka and every slected bhajan. The
Bhajanavali contains, among others, bhajans from Muslim Sufis and fakirs, from
Guru Nanak, and from the Christian hymnary. Every religion seems to have found a
natural setting in the prayer book. In the evening we have recitation of the
last 19 verses of the second chapter of the Gita, one bhajan and Ramadhun and
then read a portion of a sacred book.
The shlokas were selected by Shri
Kaka Kalelkar who has been in the Ashram since its foundation. Shri Maganlal
Gandhi met him in Shantiniketan, when he and the children of the Phoenix
Settlement went there from South Africa while I was still in England. Dinabandhu
Andrews and the late Mr. Pearson were then in Shantiniketan. I had advised
Maganlal to stay at some place selected by Andrews. And Andrews selected
Shantiniketan for the party.
Kaka was a teacher there and came
into close contact with Maganlal. Maganlal had been feeling the want of a
Sanskrit teacher which was supplied by Kaka. Chintamani Shastri assisted him in
the work. Kaka taught the children how to recite the verses repeated in prayer.
Some of these verses were omitted in the Ashram prayer in order to save time.
Such is the history of the verses recited at the morning prayer all these days.
A hymn was sung after the shlokas.
Indeed singing hymns was the only item of prayers in South Africa. The shlokas
were added in India. Maganlal Gandhi was our leader in song. But we felt that
the arrangement was unsatisfactory. We should have an expert singer for the
purpose, and that singer should be one who would observe the Ashram rules. One
such was found in Naryan Moreshvar Khare, a pupil of Pandit Vishnu Digambar,
whom the master kindly sent to the Ashram. Pandit Khare gave us full
satisfaction and is now a full member of the Ashram. He made hymn-singing
interesting, and the Ashram Bhajanavali (hymnal) which is now read by thousands
was in the main compiled by him. He introduced Ramadhun, the third item of our
The fourth item is recitation of
verses from the Gita. The Gita has for years been an authoritative guide to
belief and conduct for the Satyagraha Ashram. It has provided us with a test
with which to determine the correctness or otherwise of ideas and courses of
conduct in question. Therefore we wished that all Ashramites should understand
the meaning of the Gita and if possible commit it to memory. If this last was
not possible, we wished that they should at least read the original Sanskrit
with correct pronunciation. With this end in view we began to recite part of the
Gita every day. We would recite a few verses and continue the recitation until
we had learnt them by heart. From this we proceeded to the parayan. And the
recitation is now so arranged that the whole of the Gita is finished in fourteen
days, and everybody knows what verses will be recited on any particular day.
At the evening prayer we recited the
last 19 verses of the second chapter of the Gita as well as sing a hymn and
repeat Ramanama. These verses describe the characteristics of the sthitaprajna
(the man of stable understanding), which a Satyagrahi too must acquire, and are
recited in order that he may constantly bear them in mind.
Repeating the same thing at prayer
from day to day is objected to on the ground that it thus becomes mechanical.
(However) the point is not whether the contents of the prayer are always the
same or differ from day to day. Even if they are full of variety, it is possible
that they will become ineffective. The Gayatri verse among Hindus, the
confession of faith (kalma) among Musalmans, the typical Christian prayer in the
Sermon on the Mount have been recited by millions for centuries every day; and
yet their power has not diminished but is ever on the increase. It all depends
upon the spirit behind the recitation. If an unbeliever or a parrot utters these
potent words, they will fall quite flat. On the other hand when a believer
utters them always, their influence grows from day to day."
- By Mahatma Gandhi
[Source: The Gandhi Message, Summer
Solstice, Volume XXXVI, Number 2, 2002.
Published by - The Mahatma Gandhi
Memorial Foundation, Inc, Washington, D.C.20016]