Faith

Voices of Faith: Why did Gandhi say, ‘If it weren’t for Christians, I’d be a Christian?’

Lama Chuck Stanford, Rime Buddhist Center: To fully understand this quote, it is important to know the backstory from where it came.

While Gandhi was a practicing Hindu, Christianity intrigued him. In his reading of the Gospels, Gandhi was impressed by Jesus whom Christians worshipped and followed. He wanted to know more about this Jesus that Christians referred to as “the Christ, the Messiah.”

The Rev. Pattison tells the following story: One Sunday morning Gandhi decided that he would visit one of the Christian churches in Calcutta. Upon seeking entrance to the church sanctuary, he was stopped at the door by the ushers.

He was told he was not welcome, nor would he be permitted to attend this particular church as it was for high-caste Indians and whites only. He was neither high caste, nor was he white. Because of the rejection, the Mahatma turned his back on Christianity.

With this act, Gandhi rejected the Christian faith, never again to consider the claims of Christ. He was turned off by the sin of segregation that was practiced by the church. It was due to this experience that Gandhi later declared, “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.’”

In Buddhism there is a saying, “Don’t confuse the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.” This means the finger pointing at the moon teaches us that although someone points to the moon to show us the truth of its luminosity, the finger pointing is not the moon itself.

Likewise, the practitioner of a religion doesn’t always practice the religion the way it was originally taught.

Arvind Khetia, Hindu and an engineer: Mahatma Gandhi was one of the great spiritual and political leaders, who made an enormous contribution to the moral resources of humankind.

The movie, “Gandhi,” by Richard Attenborough, is an excellent introduction to the life of Gandhi and his persistent effort to live by truth and nonviolence. To understand his spiritual transformation, “Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth,” and “Gandhi the Man: The Story of His Transformation” by Eknath Easwaran, are excellent resources.

In his autobiography, Gandhi writes that, “…morality is the basis of things and that truth is the substance of all morality.” He believed that, “A virtue achieves its potential only in its application and it ceases to have any use if it serves no purpose in daily life.” So, for Gandhi, it was imperative that spiritual truths are lived in one’s daily life.

That is exactly what Gandhi did. He made the Bhagavad Gita his spiritual guide and implemented its teachings, emphasizing the passionate search for truth (Satyagraha), a profound reverence for all life (nonviolence), and the ideal of nonattachment (his material possessions were minimal).

Gandhi also studied the Bible and the Qur’an. He was moved by Jesus Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount.” During Gandhi’s prayer meetings he read from scripture of different faiths as he had reverence for all religions.

Thus, Gandhi exemplified his own words, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, the answer lies in our asking a sincere question: Are we really living the spiritual truths in our daily lives to bring about positive change in the world rife with violence, economic disparity, animosity between faiths and environmental degradation?

The Voices of Faith columnists can be reached at faith@kcstar.com.

  Comments