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Understanding Gandhi's Spiritual Quest

Rohini Mokashi Punekar

By Thomas Weber
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 279, Rs. 295.00

By Margaret Chatterjee
Promilla & Co. in association with Bibliophile South Asia, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 233, Rs. 495.00


Books on Gandhi in the English speaking academic world focus on the political side of his personality eclipsing to a large extent the spiritual, social and philosophic aspects of his thought and praxis. For Gandhi of course political freedom was only a part of the larger spiritual goal of moksha, which also encompassed social and economic freedom. While studies in English do recognize the influences of Ruskin, Tolstoy and Thoreau, and refer to his European associates Henry Polak and Kallenbach in South Africa, seldom do close associates such as Maganlal Gandhi or Jamnalal Bajaj find any presence in Gandhi’s world as evoked in these books. Thomas Weber suggests that ‘although the spiritual Gandhi does not fit too comfortably in primarily political biographies except to set up the Mahatma as the conscience of humanity, without understanding Gandhi’s spiritual quest, we do not understand Gandhi. If the spiritual Gandhi is relegated to a very secondary position, important relationships and influences … disappear from the record.’   The essays included in the present volume trace the influence of a number of close associates on Gandhi and his influence on them. A second group of essays examine Gandhi’s continuing relevance and influence on a number of well-known political figures, Indian and foreign, and the legacy of his ideas seen in contemporary discourses and fields of study such as deep ecology, peace research, Buddhist economics and nonviolent activism.   Using the analogy of a funnel and an hourglass, Weber engages in what he terms a ‘psycho-biographical’ study of the Mahatma: Countless influences, like sands in an hourglass, flowed into the making of the Mahatma. Some of them are identifiable as those of friends and notable thinkers who went before him. But influences also flowed from him (and many through him) to the bottom chamber, the broad spectrum of others who, either personally or by way of a system of thought or style of activism, in a recognizable way became who they did become at least partly as a result of his influence.   The first section sets out the thesis of the book: an examination of the phenomenon of influence, its inextricable connection with human relationships and the two-way flow of its dynamics. Gandhi exerted considerable influence on his close friends, but he was also influenced by them. His disciples too had power to modify the direction of his thinking. Some decisions which Gandhi took, such ...

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