Gandhi – Shining The Light

Steve92@300Article Review: “Gandhi, Shining the Light”

The Author, in his late 80’s led a life of adventure, including bravery, as wartime, and Berlin Airlift pilot and afterwards with M.A.F., piloting in Africa.

The early formative life of both Gandhi and Stevens led also to internalized strong value-laden components, fashioned by disparate and common spiritual and cultural influences, if a few decades apart, in England and South Africa.

This overview of the exemplary visionary, vibrant character and life of Mahatma Gandhi seems motivated by admiration with a touch of awe.  It may prompt such questions within the reader concerning causes behind martyrdom/assassinations and what one is doing with one’s own life for the greater advantage of others in our troubled, awesome, turbulent, deceptive world …

It is far better, surely, to strive to be a light than to deplore darkness.


Let your LIGHT so SHINE before MEN that THEY might
Matthew 5.16

At 18, a small, timid youth left India for England to train as a barrister.   HYPERLINK “” Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi  left his wife, who he called Ba, behind.  They were both only 13 when they married.

He was to become a crusader as his spiritual principles of non-violence and vows of poverty and self denial grew.  He would emerge as a man who lived out these principles in political life and become a historical figure that changed the course of history.

After Gandhi’s assassination he continued to inspire millions as a model of courage and integrity.  One writer said:
“This trajectory of his humble rise to power, like that of Christ, was the result of Gandhi’s passion; his constant courting of suffering as a means of reaching divine truth… he fearlessly courted suffering amid imprisonment in pursuit of his moral vision.”

Gandhi created a legacy that encouraged Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and other global leaders to demand a better world through peaceful disobedience.

When Gandhi arrived in England he was only just beginning to emerge from atheism and knew little about Hinduism.  His well-read and influential father was irreligious, although exploring religion.  His mother on the other hand was very religious, but none of that seemed to have had an influence on Gandhi and he did not seem to have learnt much about Hinduism from her or anyone else.

During Gandhi’s three years in England as a young man, from 1888 to 1891, many befriended him.  One of them, who Gandhi got to know because he too was a vegetarian, was Dr. Josiah Oldfield, the editor of The Vegetarian.  Dr Oldfield was a committed Christian and it was he who encouraged this young man to read the Bible.  Gandhi did not find the Old Testament very appealing, put off I imagine, by all the bloodshed.  He liked the New Testament and was very attracted to the Sermon on the Mount, which he said: “Went straight to my heart”.  He thus received scriptural validation for non-violence from Christian sources even before reading much about it in Indian literature.

By the start of Mohandas Gandhi’s third year in London he had become so interested in Christianity’s good works that he went to meet Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, whose personal intervention had been instrumental in settling the crippling dock strike of 1889. Gandhi said to this 80 year old Cardinal:
“I have heard a lot about you and I felt I should come and thank you for the good work you have done for these strikers.”

Gandhi also met industrialist Arnold Hills and was impressed by a quotation from him:
“When he who is impure has learned to loathe the sensual sins which war against the soul, when he has learned to love that heavenly chastity which is a sign and seal of God’s abiding presence, then for him the process of salvation has begun — for in the body he has begun to know God.”

Gandhi’s years in London with hundreds of church buildings and church spires, challenged him into an eager spiritual search for deeper understanding – all causing him to question every axiom of his faith.  Each day in that capital of the world he was stimulated to learn more about faith and philosophy, about law, about himself, as well as Great Britain and the roots of British power.

At the end of those three years in London, he returned to India for two years.  Instead of being treated with some dignity by the British Political Agent Sir Edward Charles Ollivant – the Viceroy’s representative in the princely States of Rajkot and Porbandar – he was treated more like a rebellious serf.  That experience, after being so well treated in London, deeply affected him and was probably the seed that led him in later in life, to attempt to throw off the yoke of colonialism.

Now I come to that part of Gandhi’s life that is much more real to me, for I arrived in South Africa from England with my parents, when I was a boy of 10, in 1929 – a decade after Gandhi’s 20 years in South Africa.

In my research for this article, I went to our main Worthing library and was surprised to find that in this one library they had a dozen books on Gandhi.  I then found that around 40 or more books had been written directly about Gandhi with many more relating to his amazing work of bringing independence to India.

As I went through these books, I found a great deal of repetition and that most of them gave much more space to Gandhi’s time in South Africa than in Britain – that was not just because he spent so much more of his life there, but because it was there that he became a mature and influential Indian leader, without which he would probably never have become the one to break British colonialism of India.

But what I was looking for was confirmation of something I had heard so many years ago – of Christian’s influence on Gandhi whilst in South Africa.  I then heard that an old friend of mine had written a book in which he featured Gandhi.  So the other day, I phoned the Rev. Syd Hudson-Read.  We have been friends for many years.  We played tennis together in Johannesburg and squash at an Air Force camp in Suez, Egypt during WWII.  He features in my book ‘BEAUFIGHTER OVER THE BALKANS’ a fully illustrated autobiographical account of my ten years as a pilot with the South African Air Force.

Syd told me that he had written a whole chapter about Gandhi and the influence the well known and influential Baptist family, the Doke’s had had on him.  It seemed to be just what I was lacking in all the other books. “Would you please Fax it to me?”  It arrived yesterday.  What follows are the highlights from the chapter from Rev. Syd Hudson-Read’s book, to which I have added a few comments and a little from the other books:

As soon as Gandhi arrived in South Africa, he began to suffer from Apartheid, (meaning separateness in Afrikaans).  He had a first class ticket to Johannesburg, but was prevented by the guard from travelling in a first class compartment.

At first Gandhi thought he would only stay in South Africa for a year or less, but it soon became obvious to South African Indians that this was the man they needed.  South Africa became the launching pad for Gandhi’s rise to premier leadership.  For the next two decades South Africa was his proving ground.  By the time he was to return to India, he would be a transformed man – a Mahatma.  He called his first year in South Africa, “a most valuable experience in my life”. He was beginning to put the Beatitudes into practice:
‘But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloak too.’

These words of Christ ‘delighted’ Gandhi. Other verses struck a sympathetic chord in the Mahatma-to-be:
‘Blessed are the meek . . . Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you and persecute you . . .  whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. . . Agree with thine adversary quickly . . .  whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart . . . Love your enemies, bless them that curse you . . . forgive men their sins . . . Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth . . . For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. . . . . ‘

Gandhi’s Christian friends in England had taught him the essence of Christianity.  They said if he believed in Jesus he would find redemption.  His response was: “I do not seek redemption from the consequences of sin; I seek to be redeemed from sin itself.”  He added: “From the point of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians.”

He said he liked the sweet hymns and many of the Christians he had met, but he could not regard Christianity as the perfect religion.

By 1896 Indians who had been brought over to work on Natal’s sugar plantations as indentured labour decided not to return to India, but to remain in South Africa.  By this time they had outnumbered the whites in Natal – 51,000 Indians to 50,000 whites, with 400,000 blacks.  It was the Indians that brought prosperity to Natal.  They had been there since 1860 – serving what some people think of as virtually ‘slave labour’.

Gandhi continued to read books on religion and he wrote two pamphlets “AN APPEAL TO EVERY BRITON IN SOUTH AFRICA” and “THE INDIAN FRANCHISE, AN APPEAL”.  He appealed to the common sense and morality of his adversary.  In his autobiography he wrote:
“It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow-beings”.  This was the essence of Gandhi’s appeal.

One of Gandhi’s best friends in the Cape Province was Olive Schreiner author of “THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM” and “DREAMS”.  He said “Love was written in her eyes”.  During the closing years of her life she lived in a house on the bank of the Great Fish River, within a mile or so of our farm and was buried with her dog on the top of the mountain behind us.  I have written about that in one of my books.  She lent her great influence to the cause of fairness to Indians in South Africa.  Colour prejudice was repugnant to her.

Many Indians were sent to prison for civil disobedience, including Gandhi.  For a while Gandhi became besieged by Indians seeking to be arrested.  They learned they only had to tell the police that they had no registration certificates.

If my wife Kay had been born just a decade earlier she might have seen him being marched, by police, up the hill past the hospital and past the street where she was born, on their way to the Old Fort prison.  Kay still has vivid childhood memories of watching prisoners being marched off to do road-work every morning and returning every night.

It was these prison sentences that did so much to help the Indian cause.

It was also Count Leo Tolstoy who guided Mohandas K. Gandhi and where Gandhi found solace in his struggle.  In Gandhi’s Johannesburg law office there were several books by Tolstoy on religious subjects.  But it was only during his periods in jail that he was able to absorb the great Russian’s teachings.  The Kingdom of God is Within You is the book which won over Gandhi to the idea of non-resistance to evil.

Tolstoy had been born to wealth and an ancient title in 1828.  He abandoned high society and at the age of 57 adopted a simple lifestyle, went barefooted, ploughed and harrowed and planted by the side of peasants.  The discrepancy between Christ’s message and man’s way of life troubled him.  He attempted a synthesis between creed and conduct, involving manual labour, minimum needs, no killing.

His book WAR AND PEACE, arguably the world’s greatest novel, RESURRECTION, ANNA KARENINA and other works brought Tolstoy great success and universal recognition, but his soul was always in torment.  In 1881, to escape ‘intolerable luxury’, he devoted himself to village education, famine relief, writing about vegetarianism, marriage and theology.  He refused the Nobel Prize because he did not accept money.  The Orthodox Church of Russia excommunicated him.

Tolstoy wrote many tracts on Christian and moral themes, such as “LOVE ONE ANOTHER” and “CAPITAL PUNISHNENT AND CHRISTIANITY”.  Now to the chapter in Syd Hudson-Read’s book.

He tells of the meeting that J.J. Doke had with Gandhi, which he wrote about in his biography of Gandhi, the first to be written.  Doke said that when he visited Gandhi in his office, he saw a beautiful picture of Christ and was surprised to find that Gandhi was such a small, lithe, spare figure.  A man who spoke faultless English and was evidently a man of great culture – with a smile that lighted up his face and a direct fearless glance, that simply took one’s heart by storm.  Doke said:
“There was a quiet assured strength about him, a greatness of heart – a transparent honesty that attracted me at once to this Indian leader. We parted friends.”

The friendship was consolidated when Gandhi realised that Doke was a true sympathiser and a genuine supporter of the resistance cause.  But the friendship was crystallised by the hospitality and loving care given to Gandhi by the Doke family when he was brutally attacked in the streets of Johannesburg by that group of Pathans who mistakenly believed that Gandhi was about to betray the Indian cause.  Gandhi insisted that no action should be taken to punish his would-be murderers.  This incident gave J J Doke an abiding admiration for this man who lived on a higher plane than most other men do. It also forged a bond of sincere gratitude between Gandhi and the Doke family by whom he was nursed back to health. The bond of mutual affection and admiration was there to stay.

When J.J. Doke died, Gandhi was asked to speak at his memorial service in the Johannesburg church, the same church where Kay years later used to sing in the choir and a church that I also knew so well.

In the course of his address he expressed the wish that J J Doke’s mantle, that of a true servant of God and fighter for the cause of justice, should fall upon his children.  His wish was fulfilled as each of J J Doke’s children followed in the footsteps of their father.  Both Clement and Olive maintained an active correspondence with Gandhi to the time of his assassination in 1948.

Gandhi is reported as saying with great emotion:
“Mr. Doke’s life was a life of perfect surrender.  He had dedicated his all to his Maker.  He will now rise with a glorious and better body for the service of his Maker.”

In order to show conclusively that the passive resistance was not dictated by mere obstructional tactics, he and others went down to the registration office to register their finger prints voluntarily.

With Mr Gandhi, his every action was dictated by questions of principle.  This attitude was not understood by some of the Indian Community, who thought that Mr Gandhi and the other leaders had surrendered to the Government.  Several men, Pathans from the Himalayas, waylaid Mr Gandhi and his companions, as they approached the registration office and attacked them with iron bars and sticks.

Mr. J.J. Doke’s son wrote:
“Gandhi was picked up unconscious, and taken into those offices; and it was then, as he lay on the floor of the office, that my father came onto the scene.  He quickly took in the situation, and, bending over the prostrate form, he said: ‘Would you like me to take you to the hospital, or to my house for Mrs Doke to nurse you?’  Without any hesitation, and with a look of relief, he whispered: ‘Take me to Mrs Doke.’ And so in a few minutes he was conveyed by cab to our home, and there the doctor attended him.
“The gashes on his face were so severe that more than twenty stitches had to be put in.  This was done without chloroform, while Mr Gandhi held on to the bed-post, and endured without a wince, his face swathed in bandages.  He was unable to speak, but his eyes shone out a message of thankfulness and of greeting.  The whole Indian community throughout South Africa was deeply stirred by the news of the assault, and the ceaseless stream of enquiries showed how high was the esteem with which their beloved leader was regarded.

“Our dining room was far too small for the crowds of visitors who came hourly to hear the latest news, and to bestow on us their thanks for our having taken Mr Gandhi into our home.  We shall never forget the sheaves of telegrams we received from every part of South Africa – telegrams of heartfelt gratitude.  Gifts of fruit were showered in upon us, till it seemed as though we were holding a harvest festival.
Weak in body from pain and loss of blood and keenly appreciating the greatness of the struggle in which he was engaged, he could maintain a bold front against his enemies; but now his friends seemed to have turned against him, and he felt very lonely and dispirited.  He called for father and asked if we would come to sing some hymns for him.  He expressed the desire that we sing ‘Lead Kindly Light’.  And so, on the landing outside the sickroom, five of us stood and sang:
Lead Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me!

More of those lovely old hymns, one of which I remember was ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me’; were sung also.

Dr C M Doke wrote this tribute for the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial number of Indian Opinion: “The tragic death of Mahatma Gandhi at the hands of a fanatical assassin immediately brought vividly back to my mind that earlier attempt on his life in the streets of Johannesburg just forty years ago….

“To me, from that time on Mr Gandhi became a hero. I got to know him well, both on his visits to our home, and in his legal office in town which I often visited with letters or articles from my father.  And I remember very vividly walking up the hill at the side of the hospital parallel to Mr Gandhi, as he was accompanied by a police officer on his way to the “The Fort” (where Mahatma Gandhi was taken to prison).  My sister and I tried to attract his attention all the way up that bill – but his thoughts were elsewhere; and it was not till the gates of the Fort swung open, and he turned on entering, that he saw us – a brief wave of the hand and he was gone within to serve one of his terms of imprisonment.

“Mr Gandhi, as an example, meant a lot to me.  I looked upon him as one who had, to a great extent, conquered ‘the evils of the flesh,’ and was enabled to live according to the high standards of the spirit.  We knew that he did not profess to be a Christian, that Hinduism played a large part in his spiritual experience; but his attitude was so reverent, so kindly towards others, and his admiration for our Master, Jesus Christ so great, that we felt “he was not far from the Kingdom”.  It was always a real regret to my father that Mr Gandhi was never able to accept Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son, the Saviour of the world.  This, however, did not diminish our love for him and our high estimation of his heroic life of self-sacrifice.

“I have several letters from him; some written back in 1913, when my father died.  The last was written in 1944, after the death of his dear wife, ‘Ba.’ as be called her.  In this he revealed how comforting to him the worldwide sympathy was.  In these letters he always enquired after our family, and seemed to want to keep hold of the threads binding the past.

“Of course we differed in outlook and convictions on certain points.  Our religious convictions differed; our politics sometimes differed in detail; we could not always share enthusiasm over the means employed for achieving his aims.  But there is one thing on which we never differed – acknowledgement of God’s omnipotence and love, and His claim on man’s reverence and obedience.

“Mahatma Gandhi was a great man, a great soul, one of the greatest renouncers of self; one who has achieved more than any other in this 19th Century by pure unselfish sacrifice.

“His utter fearlessness, too, was one of the things that impressed me.  So long as he was convinced that what he was doing was right, he did not care what man might do to him.  Physical violence, jeers, imprisonment, misunderstanding – all were nothing to him when the goal of his convictions stood before him.  And he did suffer, physically and mentally, for the sake of his loved India.

“He had a magnetic influence over men.  He drew not only the poor and ignorant, the despised, but also the wealthy and learned. His very simplicity drew men to him.  His simple garb, his simple life, the very simplicity of his words, were all so attractive: Much of his influence, too, must be attributed the spirit of prayer in which he lived and worked.  It was on his way to a prayer meeting that he met his death – what better way?  Perhaps he could not have chosen a better himself.

What I heard about Gandhi has been a challenge to me Ever since Kay, from Johannesburg and I were married in Durban in Natal.  It has taken me more than 60 years to explore in some depth what I heard all those years ago about Gandhi and Christianity.

The substance of what I heard then is this;
“Gandhi met many Christians who encouraged him to read the Bible.  He was very impressed with the Beatitudes.  However he was disappointed with the way Christians lived.  What seemed to prevent Gandhi from becoming fully identified as a Christian was the fact that he did not see Christ’s disciples following Him as they should.”

Whenever, during these long years the name of Gandhi has cropped up, I am reminded of what I heard years ago.  That scant knowledge of Gandhi has challenged me all through my life, ever since I heard that statement.

Let me close with extracts from what Gandhi said or wrote.  They will, I am sure, speak for themselves.  We need to remember Gandhi did have some problems with Christian doctrine, but I think they would have been resolved if Gandhi had seen more of Christ in our way of living.

Gandhi said:
“I cannot forget what the Master Himself said:
‘Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in Heaven’”.
“Do not flatter yourself that a mere recital of that celebrated verse in St. John makes a man a Christian.”

When speaking at the Missionary Language School in Darjeeling, he recounted what Lord Salisbury had said to a deputation of missionaries in connection with China. He said:

“Gentlemen, if you want to go to China to preach the message of Christianity, then do not ask for assistance from the temporal power.  Go with your lives in your hands, and if the people of China want to kill you, imagine that you have been killed in the service of God.”

Gandhi was not enamoured with what he saw of Christianity as he wandered throughout the length and breadth of India. He wrote:
“Conversion does not mean denationalization.  Conversion should mean a definite giving up of the evil, of the old, adoption of all the good, of the new, and a scrupulous avoidance of everything evil in the new.  Conversion, therefore, should mean a life of greater dedication to one’s own country, greater surrender to God, greater self-purification.”

Speaking to students at a college in Colombo, he said:
“I can say that Jesus occupies in my heart the place of one of the greatest teachers who have made a considerable influence on my life.

“I say to the 75 per cent of Hindus receiving instruction in this college that your lives also will be incomplete unless you reverently study the teaching of Jesus.

“The message of Jesus is contained in the Sermon on the Mount, unadulterated and taken as a whole.

“If, then I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, ‘Oh yes, I am a Christian’.  But I know that at the present moment if I said such a thing I would lay myself open to the gravest misinterpretation.

“When I began as a prayerful student to study Christian literature in South Africa in 1893, I asked myself again and again, ‘Is this Christianity?’ And I could only say: ‘No, no.  Certainly this that I see is not Christianity.  And the deepest in me tells me that I was right; for it was unworthy of Jesus and untrue of the Sermon on the Mount.”

“I claim to be a man of faith and prayer, and even if I were to be cut to pieces I trust God would give me the strength not to deny Him, but to assert that He is.

“Drink deep of the fountains that are given to you in the Sermon on the Mount; but then you will have to take up sackcloth and ashes also with regard to failure to perform that which is taught in Christ’s Sermon.  For the teaching of the sermon was meant for each and every one of us. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”


Of the dozen books on Gandhi that I’ve dipped into for the writing of this article, the ones to which I am particularly indebted for information and direct quotes are:

GANDHI’S PASSION by Stanley Wolpert
by S Hudson-Read (from which I have quoted extensively)