When, in 1893, I came in close contact with Christian friends. I was a mere novice. They tried hard to bring home to me, and make me accept, the message of Jesus, and I was a humble and respectful listener with an open mind.
At that time I naturally studied Hinduism to the best of my ability and endeavoured to understand other religions. In 1903 the position was somewhat changed.
Theosophist friends certainly intended to draw me into their society, but that was to get something from me as a Hindu. Theosophical literature is replete with Hindu influence, and so these friends expected that I should be helpful to them.
I explained that my Samskrit study was not much to speak of, that I had not read the Hindu scriptures in the original, and that even my acquaintance with the translations was of the slightest. But being believers in #samskara# (tendencies caused by previous births) and #punarjanma# (rebirth), they assumed that I should be able to render at least some help.
And so I felt like a Triton among the minnows. I started reading Swami Vivekananda’s #Rajayoga# with some of these friends and M. N. Dvivedi’s #Rajayoga# with others.
I had to read Patanjali’s #Yoga Sutras# with one friend and the #Bhagavadgita# with quite a number. We formed a sort of Seekers’ Club where we had regular readings.
I already had faith in the Gita, which had a fascination for me. Now I realized the necessity of diving deeper into it. I had one or two translations, using which I tried to understand the original Samskrit.
I decided also to get by heart one or two verses every day. For this purpose, I employed the time of my morning ablutions.
The operation took me thirty-five minutes, fifteen minutes for the toothbrush and twenty for the bath. The first I used to do standing in western fashion.
So on the wall opposite I struck slips of paper on which were written the Gita verses and referred to them now and then to help my memory. This time was found sufficient for memorising the daily portion and recalling the verses already learnt.
I remember having thus committed to memory thirteen chapters.
But the memorising of the Gita had to give way to other work and the creation and nurture of Satyagraha, which absorbed all my thinking time, as the latter may be said to be doing even now.
What effect this reading of the Gita had on my friends only they can say, but to me, the Gita became an infallible guide of conduct. It became my dictionary of daily reference. Just as I turned to the English dictionary for the meanings of English words that I did not understand, I turned to this dictionary of conduct for a ready solution to all my troubles and trials.
Words like #aparigraha# (non-possession) and #samabhava# (equability) gripped me.
How to cultivate and preserve that equability was the question. How was one to treat alike insulting, insolent and corrupt officials, co-workers of yesterday raising meaningless opposition, and men who had always been good to one?
How was one to divest oneself of all possessions? Was not the body itself possession enough? Were not wife and children possessions? Was I to destroy all the cupboards of books I had?
Was I to give up all I had and follow Him? Straight came the answer: I could not follow Him unless I gave up all I had.
My study of English law came to my help. Snell’s discussion of the maxims of Equity came to my memory. I understood more clearly in the light of the Gita teaching the implication of the word ‘trustee’.
My regard for jurisprudence increased, I discovered in its religion. I understood the Gita teaching of non-possession to mean that those who desired salvation should act like the trustee who, though having control over great possessions, regards not an iota of them as his own. It became clear to me as daylight that non-possession and equability presupposed a change of heart, a change of attitude.
I then wrote to Revashankarbhai to allow the insurance policy to lapse and get whatever could be recovered, or else to regard the premiums already paid as lost, for I had become convinced that God, who created my wife and children as well as myself, would take care of them.
To my brother, who had been as a father to me, I wrote explaining that I had given him all that I had saved up to that moment, but that henceforth he should expect nothing from me, for future savings, if any, would be utilized for the benefit of the community.
I could not easily make my brother understand this. In stern language, he explained to me my duty towards him. I should not, he said, aspire to be wiser than our father. I must support the family as he did. I pointed out to him that I was doing exactly what our father had done.
The meaning of ‘family’ had but to be slightly widened and the wisdom of my step would become clear. My brother gave me up and practically stopped all communication.
I was deeply distressed, but it would have been greater distress to give up what I considered to be my duty, and I preferred the lesser. But that did not affect my devotion to him, which remained as pure and great as ever. His great love for me was at the root of his misery. He did not so much want my money as that I should be well- behaved towards the family. Near the end of his life, however, he appreciated my viewpoint.
When almost on his deathbed, he realized that my step had been right and wrote me a most pathetic letter. He apologized to me, if indeed a father may apologize to his son. He commended his sons to my care, to be brought up as I thought fit, and expressed his impatience to meet me. He cabled that he would like to come to South Africa and I cabled in reply that he could.
But that was not to be. Nor could his desire as regards his sons be fulfilled. He died before he could start for South Africa. His sons had been brought up in the old atmosphere and could not change their course of life.
I could not draw them to me. It was not their fault. ‘Who can say thus far, no further, to the tide of his nature?’ Who can erase the impressions with which he is born? It is idle to expect one’s children and wards necessarily to follow the same course of evolution as oneself.
This instance to some extent serves to show what a terrible responsibility it is to be a parent.