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FAQ 9: Gandhi and Theosophy

Q

What about Gandhi and theosophy ?

 

 

A

My answer will apply to theosophy and theosophists as well as the Theosophical Society itself.

 


Gandhi had much interest in and much contact with theosophy. He studied books written by leading theosophists such as Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant. He met many leading and ordinary theosophists. Some of his lifelong friends were theosophists. As a young man in South Africa, contact with theosophy contributed to the growth of his religious sense. Gandhi read different books with different groups of theosophist friends. He was in strong sympathy with theosophy's message of "universal brotherhood and consequent toleration", as he put it in 1926. Around the turn of the 20th century, theosophist friends in South Africa were pressing him to join the Theosophical Society. However, Gandhi did not wish to follow this path. What did not appeal to him about theosophy was its "secret side", as he described it, or its occultism. Gandhi always belonged to the masses. He believed secrecy hindered the spirit of democracy. Throughout his adult life he avoided virtually everything which could not be experienced by the masses. He agreed there might be much to be said in favor of occultism in religion. He conceded Hinduism was not free from it. But he felt he was under no obligation to subscribe to it.
 

Theosophy is an interesting subject to study from Gandhi's point of view because he wrote about it at the very end of his life, and with Gandhi, the most recent view is always the one to be given most credence. To close I will quote from Gandhi's journal "Harijan", from the issue published on the day he was assassinated, January 30, 1948:

"I have come to the conclusion that the Theosophy is Hinduism in theory, and that Hinduism is Theosophy in practice."
"There are many admirable works in Theosophical literature, which one may read with the greatest profit; but it appears to me that too much stress has been laid upon mental and intellectual studies: upon argument, upon the development of occult powers, and that the central idea of theosophy, the brotherhood of mankind and the moral growth of man has been lost sight of in these."

"Hindu sages have told us that to live the life, no matter how hampered it might be, no matter with what limitations, is infinitely superior to having a mental grasp of things Divine. They have taught us that until, one by one and step by step, we have woven these things into our lives, we would not be able to have a grasp of the whole of the Divine teaching; and so, if you want to live the real life, it is not to be lived in Theosophical libraries, but it is to be lived in the world around you, in the real practice of the little teaching that you might have been able to grasp."

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