Semi Sotto La Neve

Semi.sotto.laneve

RSS logo

Lanza del Vasto's introduction to the French edition of 'Hind Swaraj'.


It is the centenary of Gandhi's brief work 'Hind Swaraj'. This document is Lanza del Vasto's critical reading of the book, thanks to which we the great-granchildren (or in some cases great-, great- great- etc.) of the colonisers can learn much about what the actions of our forefathers actually produced. It may help us to reflect on how similar or different we are to them.
1 novembre 2009 - Gerry Blaylock

 

This small work is fundamental. It is surprising that in France many of Gandhi's writings have been published, and many, many more on Gandhi himself, yet this one, in which the germ of his whole doctrine lies, has been neglected.

The fact is that under cover of a gentle, uniform style it is extremely audacious. The fact is that the new Indian politicians have no desire to publish it and the Westerners no desire to receive it. Because it accuses the latter of maintaining a fiendish civilisation and it accuses the former of spoiling and enslaving their country under the guise of freeing it.

It is regrettable that this attack on Western civilisation wasn't carried out more dramatically and eloquently. In truth, arguments put forward by certain Western thinkers are much stronger: La Rançon du Machinisme by Gina Lombroso, La Technique ou l'Enjeu du Siècle by Jacques Ellul, L'Homme ou la Machine by Lucien Duplessis, the chapters which deal with this subject in both of my Pilgrimages1 and in the Dialogue de l'Amitié2, Gog et Magog by Paul Scortesco, all certainly go much farther in this sense and they come up against the same deafness of our contemporaries who do not want to listen, no matter what tone you use, and in any case they do not want to do anything.

In Gandhi it is not so much the strength of his arguments as the strength of the truth in his life, it is that which brings about conviction. As regards his rejections, they are the other side of his faith. Whoever has faith in non-violence has to know, recognise and accept the rejections and renunciations it implies. 

***

Gandhi is not a philosopher, sociologist or historian and his critique of our civilisation is not the result of a study or a system. It has its roots in personal experience and religious conviction. This is what explains the character of this critique and, if you want, its faults - and its force despite its faults.

The experience is that of a deception, the overturn of an intense curiosity, an irresistible attraction, an admiration which goes back to the source of first memories and becomes imbedded in infancy. For Mohandas the child, then the schoolboy, then the student, English, Modern Civilisation - that is Power and Freedom. Still more it is Liberality, Tolerance, freshness of Spirit, the daring of invention, discovering, enterprise. It is Reason, it is justice in actions and science in thoughts... It is an object of astonishment and envy. It is a Master you detest with admiration, a model you imitate disowning yourself. For if you come back to yourself you blush to see yourself humiliated, enslaved, stagnating in destitution, inertia and decrepitude in the midst of an enslaved, humiliated people, impeded in all actions of your life by routine observances and superstitious restrictions, confined to understanding incantations, halted in impulses of the heart by barriers of caste, rites, beliefs and fears of spiritual contamination. 

***

 

Three sins stained Gandhi's childhood. Egged on by a bad companion at school, he ate meat. He bought some tobacco and smoked it. Finally, he allowed himself to be dragged off to a house of ill-repute. These three sins called up three others: he lied to cover up his misdeeds. He stole in order to contribute to the debauchery. Then he despaired and was ready to commit suicide. But fear held him back and, with God's help, truth made him free: he confessed everything in writing to his father and, much later on, to us in his autobiography.

But as to the reason for these successive falls the story is not quite clear. It is certainly not to the weakness of the flesh that the sinner gives in. Rather it is to the shame of being weak and submissive. He does not find, and he is not looking for, pleasure, but he is pursuing, it seems, the search for Strength and Freedom. The child tells himself vaguely that to become strong and free he has to be able to infringe the Hindu interdicts and be like "the mighty Englishman who, because he eats rare steak, beats the puny Indian". Later on he recounts how, as a young man, he sailed for England. Yet he does not show us clearly enough the reason for the voyage, he only gave us the rational motive which had convinced his family members and their advisers to allow him to leave: to crown his studies with a degree in London and open up a brilliant career for himself as a barrister.

Then all of a sudden the elders of his caste command him to renounce the voyage which they think could be risky for his purity and contrary to their traditions. Since he stood up to them and persisted, they excommunicated him. An extremely grave condemnation for a Hindu, enough to destroy a career, mess up one's life and compromise a family and their descendants. Yet the stubborn young man carried on without batting an eyelid. He left his elder brother to sort it out as well as he possibly could. We can only think that passion is stronger and more obscure than worries about finding a good job. We can only think that he needed that severance to get his freedom, and that he had to look for that freedom in England.

***

 

A superficial reader can smile to himself about the future Mahatma arranging his tie, raising his chimney-pot hat to greet himself in the mirror, treading on his toes dancing the polka and putting up with other trials and setbacks with a view to becoming a perfect gentleman. Yet there was no vanity or futility in those toilsome beau monde ways. There was only the same serious question: where is the key to British power and freedom hiding? Is it in the Commercial Trade Treaty? or inside the stiff collar and the cup of tea?

Before leaving he had sworn an oath to his mother that he would observe chastity and remain vegetarian. Here lay the seed of his strength: for this restraint alone made him a being apart, a loner in the turmoil of the great cities, a meditator in the midst of the bustle, a witness waiting for his vocation to be revealed: non-violence, formidable sweetness to which the Empire was going to have to give up half of its lands and peoples.

Yet nothing for the moment would lead one to suspect that the greatest revolutionary of the times to come lay in that shy, awkward, attentive, smiling foreigner who was so earnest about conforming to all those English traits. Conforming with all the seriousness he was capable of, not to imitate, not for ambition or to please, but to understand. Till the day he understood there was nothing to understand: that where he was looking for a mystery to unravel there was nothing but emptiness, an error, a lure to reject. 

***

 

The first discovery he made on arriving in London was that the Englishman is nothing more or less than a man. This Rakshasa (demon in Hindu mythology) with the red hair, this being "who presents himself with a steak in his right hand and a whisky in his left" - or, if we want, this powerful hero, free and sovereign is nothing but a man like us. He is also quite a small man, quite kind, full of delicacy and reticence, fancies, humour; capable of blushing, being moved, attachment, amusing himself with puerile jokes, full of faults, in short absolutely worthy of pity and love.

What relationship is there between this pinky-white very human being and the formidable Metropolis that rules the waves and the continents? Might one think that the greater the civilisation, the smaller the civilised?

The thoughtful, dismayed Indian watched the crowds dispersing in the streets like a perpetually panic-stricken herd. Brutish, dazed passers-by looking bewildered or with a dull gaze, scowling or anxious-looking, head bent forward as if about to fall - were these people the conquerors, free and sovereign?

Damp hovels in the East End, suffocating smoke and infernal din of the factories, blast furnaces in wells, mines without daylight and foggy docks - were these the dwelling-places and the surroundings of a people who were conquerors, free and sovereign? No desert depresses the sight as this dark capital in the rain and soot. And it is the whirlwind all the riches of the world are sucked into. What toils and trafficking, what voyages and discoveries, what wars, havoc, adventures and glory: the peoples of America and Australia wiped out, those of Africa led in millions to slavery, the India of fabulous treasures devastated from top to bottom and doomed to starvation - and from all that profit and triumph: that heap of black things in the fog! 

I can easily see the conquered, but where are the conquerors? The conquered are us. We the coloured people, the people of the islands, forests or mountains; of the cities of golden domes, savage people dancing around the fire; sumptuous, refined peoples; pious, sage, peaceful peoples - though we were so different to them, they fell upon us like a scourge! They broke us through war and corrupted us through peace. Those who stood up to them perished, but those, like us, who gave in to them have known perhaps a worse fate: they lost their souls. They did not only subjugate us, they bought us! They did not only exploit us, they seduced us! They made us work to profit them and fight for their flag. They made us lose our faith to cram us with their ideas. They destroyed our arts and crafts to clutter us up with their cheap junk. They made us become disgusted with our costumes, customs, feasts, songs. In the end they made us believe that nothing would be more desirable for us than to be them. And so we died to ourselves! 

***

 

But where are the conquerors? When you look the authors of so much evil in the face you see not so much malice as unhappiness. They find themselves more needy than those they have despoiled (their trouble being they need too much). They find themselves more enslaved than those whose masters they have made themselves (lack of direction being the lash that drives them at random), attached to their earnings and their rights, bound by timetables, pressed by everything that surpasses them, yoked to their machines and rushing around in their vehicles, restrained by checks and rules; on their foreheads they carry the mark of slavery: stupidity, rebellion and despair.

I see the slaves but where are the masters?

Yes, our masters' masters where are they?

Who is the keeper of power and freedom?

Is it you, great concocters of business, entrepreneurs, financiers, more opulent, they say, than the King of Golconda and more invincible than Tamerlaine?

By the way, where are they? You do not see them they are so grey and normal-looking. They dress like everyone else and scuttle about more hunched than the others under the invisible lash, persecuted by worries and exhausted by haste more than anyone else, possessed by what they possess and more by what they do not possess but will earn tomorrow.

Is it you Politicians, Ministers, Governors? I only see marionettes and I see the strings that move them: interests, opinions, transactions and intrigues. They represent the people like marionettes represent characters. How shall the ignorance of the many, the folly of the masses and the lottery of the vote produce the wisdom, dignity and independence of the leader? The leaders are led by what they are in charge of, there is no direction, right nor uprightness.

So, masters and free men are you the few rich who, in this beehive, have nothing else to do except enjoy the good things in life as though you were the supreme culmination and cream of this world? If free are they who do what they want, what can the freedom be of those who have nothing to do and whose least whims are so quickly fulfilled they can hardly find something to desire? They can only suffer the demands of their state, which are to enjoy without letting up. But desire satisfied beyond measure results in disgust, and continual pleasure in boredom. They are reduced to drinking without being thirsty, eating and wishing for an appetite which is lacking, playing at love without love, sweating while playing golf in order to take a rest from relaxing, travelling without any purpose and because their happiness is always to be found elsewhere, reading in order to amuse themselves and empty their minds of all thoughts, yawning at balls and the theatre. And doubtlessly one day they will kill themselves, not having found any other way out of the extreme misery of not having any reason to exist.

Voilà, at the centre of the whirlwind the emptiness called futility. 

***

 

Gandhi made a second discovery in England: he discovered India. He realised at the start that India aroused intense curiosity and irrepressible attraction among the English. It was an enigma, a subject for reflection and at times veneration. The more superficial socialites fell silent, as though fascinated, the more sceptical stopped laughing and thinking, overcome by the thrill of sacred horror.

If, when he disembarked, he had feared he would have to deal with British coolness and haughtiness and see himself treated as a pariah, happily he was quickly disabused. His origin aroused everyone's interest and the respect of many. For those who approached him it went without saying that an Oriental necessarily possesses powers of divination and magic, and the key to the deepest mysteries. They questioned him unremittingly about the transmigration of souls, astral travel, trances and ecstasy, about beds of nails and the Kamasutra.

He had a hard time refusing, excusing and defending himself, invoking his ignorance with the sincerest modesty. He saw people inclined to believe everything except his ignorance. Yet it was true that he knew little about his own religion - and he did not want to know anything about many things. He only wanted to believe in things that reason could prove, the heart approve and which could be put into practice. He was astonished at the credulity of that irreligious West, as though all the accuracy and lucidity it is capable of had been swallowed up in the outside world, as it were, in calculating measurements and planning, and nothing more was left to turn towards the world of the spirit and eternal life except vague aspirations, futile languor, confusion and inanities.

However, he met some English people who stood out from the rest for their admiration for the Indies, which could only be compared to a loving passion, but a passion which lasted a lifetime. Some of them, pupils of Max Muller, expressed it by a patient study of Sanskrit, by deciphering and criticism of texts; the others, who called themselves Theosophists, through a religious way which embraced all religions and of which Brahmanism was the root; a religion without services, commandments or obligations, but not without dogmas and wonder, not without fables, of course, or miracles. He listened to them willingly, both of them, trying to learn. Nevertheless, the former did not manage to teach him even the rudiments of their academic erudition, and the latter were not able to convert him to their fanciful religion. He owed a lot to both of them, for he received from them the Gita and the Upanishads in English translations, so he could read them. He did not need twenty years of grammar, like the former, to understand, nor to believe in unusual phenomena, like the latter. He read, he was moved, he believed.

He understood that the Hindu tradition far from presenting an obscure, confused jumble, was like a limpid, blazing obvious fact, once you had gone back to its origins. It can be summed up in three teachings:

There is only one truth: know yourself. Those who know themselves, know others, know the world, know God. Those who do not know themselves do not know anything.

There is only one power, freedom, justice: master yourself. Those who master themselves have conquered the world.

There is only one Good: love others as yourself, in other words as though they were you.

All the rest is form, illusion, futility. 

***

 

This enigma of Western Civilisation, which he had stumbled upon during his infancy, and of which studies and travels had only shown him the dark sides and contradictions, was all of a sudden penetrated by a shaft of light. The clearest replies to the questions of today came from the depths of time: he found it in the texts of Tradition. He only had to base himself on their measure to gauge the disturbing grandeur of the modern world and its unexpected wretchedness.

The Westerner fully deserves to be the dominator of the earth, for he possesses all the talents and gifts, he is capable of great feats that other peoples were only able to attribute to their gods. There is only one thing he is not capable of: that is to sit down for five minutes and look at himself with his internal eye. This trait alone explains the civilisation that came out of him, hollow-sounding and glossy fake, and all the wrongdoing and unhappiness that came out of it. He is without a doubt the most intelligent and, without a doubt the least wise man the earth has ever carried in her womb. Almost all the great men that were his models were genial madmen, indictable offenders worthy of the straitjacket and the padded cell. That is why his whole civilisation is a genial madness.

His passion for strong liquor and sexual excess show that in place of searching for himself, he is only trying to lose and forget himself. The majority of his great business affairs, heroic gestures, and also of his good works are only loss and oblivion. His capacity for work, his audacity in exploration and invention, his valour in war comes not so much from exceptional strength of spirit as an extraordinary need to flee from himself. The fast, noisy, explosive machines he makes and which he loves more than bread, goodness and rest do not fulfil any other need except that of seeing himself propelled outside himself and perpetually dazed. If he were able to sit himself down five minutes to reflect, he would know that accelerating all modes of transport you only get trouble, accidents and delays, you do not gain time - but the argument has no value for those who are seeking not the time to grow and blossom but the dizziness of loud bangs. His fear of solitude, his hatred of silence, his intense attachment to money show that he is incapable of drawing anything out of the depths of himself and are the driving forces of his incessant activity. His zeal for conquering the world is a direct consequence of his inability to master himself, so much so that he brings chaos and corruption everywhere.

The extent and precision of his physical knowledge is only the effect of a gaze perpetually fixed on space or emptiness-between-things: on his own being, on his path and on his goal. This knowledge has nothing to teach him, it can only give him power, which is perilous in the extreme, to manipulate things and keep him suspended outside himself in outer emptiness.

He has misused his intelligence and forgotten his Creator - there it is, denounced in a nutshell, the Sin of the West, unpardonable because it is a sin against the Holy Spirit. By dint of turning towards matter what was made to elevate itself to God, by dedicating to profit what was devoted to praise, he has even arrived at disintegrating the Atom, which is much the opposite of Adoring God and of eternal life.

But we had not reached that point yet in those years (1889): the memory was still near of the small beribboned train where Queen Victoria was sat beside her dignified spouse, both of them smiling, greeting the crowd along the tracks with a wave of the glove or hat; and the crowd acclaiming the sovereigns and the sovereigns smiling at the crowd and all of them together greeting the smiling, sovereign Progress, while to their voices blended those of the great poets, great thinkers, great leading spirits of the age; whilst only the young Easterner dared to cast his gaze to the end of the track where the white flash of an explosion revealed the great charnel-houses of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

"There is nothing to do but wait for this civilisation to destroy itself." He thought. 

***

 

A short while later he made a third deeply-moving, decisive discovery: The Gospels. Going beyond courage in sweetness, beyond force in goodness, beyond the Law in grace, beyond oneself in infinite love - it was really the supreme accomplishment of the Dharma and the End of the Vedas. Poverty which is bliss of the spirit, detachment which demands freedom, purity of heart where truth is reflected, hunger and thirst for justice while waiting for the Kingdom of God on earth, the joys and glories of sacrifice and Witnessing - all this went straight to his heart and needed no other proof in the face its clear reason except being simply enounced.

"What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?" [Matthew 16: 26] Here in a nutshell the wretchedness of western greatness.

Gospel means: Good News. It is the good news for those this civilisation crushes: it is the news that it is condemned and its end is nigh. Take the Sermon on the Mount, but the other way round: for each of its truths and precepts make the positives negative and vice versa and you will get the exact portrait of this world's Modern civilisation which, as if to mock the heavens and take blasphemy to the limit, calls itself "Christian". The very same ones it had taught: "Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations" [Matthew 28:19], bring them the truth which frees, charity which saves, peace - the very same ones scurried all over looking for gold, slaves for their plantations, for their factories and mines and they taught licentiousness and irreligion by example. Whilst they had been taught: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" [Matthew 6:33], they established the cult of Mammon and invited religion to justify their abuses and bless their cannons as well.

Where they should have brought the word of God they sold alcohol and scattered bombs. While they had been taught to turn the left cheek if they had been struck on the right one, they practised the art of striking the enemy dead before even seeing them, which made them invincible. They brought the Gospels in their trucks in order to preach resignation to the survivors as well. But, it has been said: All who draw the sword shall die by the sword [Matthew 26:53]. It has been said: The Prince of this World has already been judged [John 16:11]. God's chastisement is the unhappiness man falls into because of his wickedness. It is the chain he forges for himself, the instrument of his death which he himself manufactured. 

***

 

The great Capitals of Modern Civilisation have already been struck: Enoch the great industrial town founded by Cain (Genesis 4:17). Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) and its tower to celebrate the union, still to come, of all peoples. Sodom (Genesis 19) who in an unprecedented sacrilege laid hands on the angelic powers of the Spirit and, abusing them, wanted to gain profit and pleasure from them. Babylon, the Great Prostitute (Apocalypse 17), here all goods, pleasure and honour were obtained with money... They have to fall so that the Reign may come. Then the meek shall inherit the earth.

***

 

Here are the strong points of Gandhi's attack where his critical lucidity borders on the prophetic. When he says: "It is necessary to realize that machinery is bad. We shall then be able gradually to do away with it", Gandhi is well ahead of his century of Progress, and also of ours. When he says: "Machinery is the chief symbol of modern civilization; it represents a great sin", he does not engage in a mean calculation of advantages and drawbacks - he goes to the core of the problem and looks at the wicked misusing their intelligence and forgetting their Creator "forging their servitude and fabricating their death". He does not wait to see machinery make that which will destroy everything it makes and all the manufacturers to boot, he does not wait for the Bomb to grasp the meaning of the whole business and to foresee its end. It is enough for him to understand that Machinery which does life's deeds without life is a counterfeit of life and a way of going against life. It is enough for him to understand that Machinery is the opposite of conscience and that the intelligence which becomes attached to production in place of seeking the truth, the way and salvation, turns away from God to sink into the external darkness...

It is enough for him to remark that the only reason for all that work done "to save work", for all that time wasted to "gain time", is the lust for lucre, enough for him to know that financial gain is quite the opposite of love to conclude that all of it leads to death. 

***

 

What remains is to examine the weak points and explain them. It seems to us that they are: the attacks on the British Parliament, against Lawyers, Doctors and Schools. 

The British Parliament in the seven hundred years that it has been in existence has not, as far as we know, led the United Kingdom to ruin. There is no lack in the West of institutions more suited to the terms "sterile" and "prostitute" than it. Never have bloody tyrants lacked who have no shame of any vain chatter, nor has there been a lack of National Assemblies where discussions turn into boxing matches or circus clownery.

Lawyers and Judges, Doctors, Teachers often, not to say always, deserve their salary and our respect. So many intelligent, honest and even devoted men have honoured these professions founded on service and not on profit that you could find the Master of non-violence's statement of charges unjust.

He would have been better off attacking the idle who live off other people's work: army servicemen of whom the best humanity can expect is that they remain unnecessary; the overactive jobbers, those who corner the market in goods and commodities, speculators, Casino and Stock Exchange gamblers who build their fortunes on bankruptcies, crashes and crises; political agitators whose glory is made up of scandals, upheavals, assassinations and arson; traffickers in arms, strong liquor and smoke who fatten up the death, the degradation and madness of others; the peddlers of talk, promises, buffoonery, obscenity, leisure, trivial or fake objects; all those to whom society gives legal instruments to crush, lead astray and despoil their neighbour and receive, besides, public applause and maybe the appreciative mutterings of their victims. 

***

 

But we risk being unjust towards Gandhi's severity regarding Lawyers, Doctors and Teachers if we do not see the other side of his lofty idea of their dignity and if we believe it only strikes at human weakness. What he finds dishonest in the most honest of them is that they turn what should be seen as a vocation and priesthood into a profession. Finally, Gandhi speaks from experience and what he did in those three orders serves to reinforce or correct what he says about them.

He was an attorney for more than twenty years. What is more, he tried to be an attorney without cavils, lies and even secrets. It is in exercising this profession that his character and destiny begin to take shape. The attorney's task is to avoid trials. His service is to reconcile the parties through explanations, approaches and offers. At the bar he is the defender of the innocent, he who responds for the other. His tongue is at the service of the truth, not of the client3. As regards the judge, he is a sage whose sentence is a solution and teaching - not an automatic distributor of years in the dungeon and lashes. But here he clashes less with man's imperfections than with the spirit of Western Law (very different from that of both Manu and Moses), the Judicial Machinery and the problem of earnings, which is its driving force. This rigour did not destroy his career at all. On the contrary, it prospered. Setbacks were not among his grievances. If he closed his office down it was not out of disgust or despair, but because he had become his people's attorney. For this he had chosen the dock and prison bars. 

He had wanted to become a doctor out of love for life, respect for nature and pity for all suffering. Mainstream Western medicine was a horror to him because of its brutality and indiscretion. He tried hard to get away from it, sometimes at the risk of his life. He tells how he saved his son through an audacious cure of his own invention, how he took his dying wife away from a clinic and cured her. We have always known him looking after close friends and relatives or some peasant in the neighbourhood. But first of all he found the "Key of Health" for himself and, frail though he was at birth, he lived till he was murdered as he was approaching his eightieth year. He talks of hospitals in the pages as though they were sores just like illnesses - yet he himself founded a hospital at Sevagram. For Gandhi the doctor is he who cures the patient and not the illness, who cures him of the dreadful habit of being ill. The doctor looks for the root of the illness which - save in exceptional cases - is sin, error, ignorance. Is it an excess of food or a lack of breath? A relaxing of manners and cleanliness - or rather, of the imagination? Is it lust or anger that burn? Laziness or cowardice that spoil? Avarice that retracts or envy that poisons? The fake doctor, the mercenary and servant of the illness, makes use of medicines to remove the effects of the illness and rejects the warning signs, and in doing so allows the poor wretch to sink deeper and deeper in his unsound life. But the real doctor makes use of the illness to lead his brother towards purification and wisdom.

As regards the pages on education people will read later on, nothing is easier than to misinterpret them. One could believe Gandhi wishes to leave the people slumbering in ignorance. Actually, he preferred them to be left to their traditions rather than disturb, daze and damage them by the ill-considered introduction of foreign "education". It is the hold of Civilisation over childhood he refuses, not Education. But in order to understand well what he wishes to say, we should be aware that he was one of the most attentive, informed, advanced educationalists of the century. The Sevagram school bears testimony to this. But education goes infinitely further than school and school years: it lasts a lifetime - and maybe longer. 

***

 

Let us come back to his attack on Parliament. Gandhi affirms with conviction that a mediocre parliament is worth more than Power without parliament. I do not think he disagreed that the British parliament was the best or one of the best among others. But it is precisely because that ancient, well-known Assembly envied and copied by everyone is as good as we can get - that is why the accusations he levels at it take on their weight. If I am not mistaken it is the "Immortal Principles of Liberal Democracy" as the modern West conceives them which are in question.

First of all it is the illusion and error of Popular Representation: an illusion if one believes that the elected of the People represent the people's wishes; an error if, seeing that they do not do so, you believe they should. Gandhi always, in reality and sometimes explicitly in his editorials, demanded the Leader's independence in a virile manner. The Leader is there to guide his people and not to let himself be pushed, pulled or stopped by the Great Mass. He himself always submitted his plans to the approval of his conscience, not to that of a majority, and he was not at all afraid of being the only one to hold a particular opinion.

He meditated on and took the great decisions of his life alone without even sharing the secret beforehand with those closest to him, and then one fine day at the head of the march he threw his followers and all the people into the enterprise in the manner of a war chieftain, a dictator or an absolute monarch. His conception of Authority is therefore fully royal and - to avoid unwelcome associations and confusion - let us say patriarchal. In fact the only title he willingly bore - and his heir after him - was the title Father4. For him to do good for the people was not "to do what the people want" nor "defend the people's interests" - it was to make them do Good.

He remained a Liberal (more than those Liberals in power) in the sense that as a non-violent man, he forbade himself to impose his orders by force. If nobody followed him, maybe he would go ahead alone, maybe he would withdraw and wait. If some went astray, maybe he would punish himself for those who betrayed him, maybe he would call off the action right when it was on the brink of success, punishing all his followers as well as himself. But more often than not he was in command of his people as he was in command of his body.

He remained democratic in that he deeply believed in that "voice of the people", which is "the voice of God" (vox populi, Vox Dei), but he knew that, living in poverty in the midst of the poor, he was going to hear that voice rise from the centre of himself without the mediation of any institution. He was democratic more than the most advanced socialist due to his refusal for all privileges for himself the Leader. While an abyss separates the life of the labour leader, like that of the Comrade Commissioner, from that of the Comrade Worker, he, Bapu, lives in the village and has nothing that the least of the villagers does not have, so that the words of the Scriptures may be fulfilled: "If anyone wants to be the first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9: 35).

For the man whose heart is burning with charity it is almost intolerable to see Parliamentary debates ride over war and peace, the life of peoples and the hunger of the poor, to see the resolutions of the ballot, sham mechanics of the conscience, fall away.

Electoral machine, legislative machine, executive machine, the Apparatus of the State repelled the Mahatma, which he found as forbidding as a train. Gandhi rose to the occasion and without too many scruples boarded the train, not that the existence of the train was not detrimental, but you have to reckon with what is and endure what you disapprove till you are strong and free enough to do without it. He intervened in politics in the same way: he passed through it on the way to his goal.

Vinoba, his successor, a step ahead, never boarded a train and he resolutely turned his back on the "Machinery of Formal Democracy"5. Both of them, however, adopted the linguistic devices of liberal democracy and made great use of them in their speeches, for it is indeed necessary to speak the language of the time to make oneself understood by everyone. But to avoid constant misunderstandings it seems to me of great importance to point out the unusual meanings they gave it, which is not often done - that is, if it has ever been done. The hollow rhetoric of great orators, systems, utopias offered no attractions for them. "I don't believe in organisations, I don't concern myself with them: they have secretaries, offices, funds, but they don't have a heart. I'm seeking the man, he who has compassion in his heart" (Vinoba 1957).

Whoever wishes to know more about Gandhi's doctrine will benefit from taking up this book whose original title is Indian Home Rule or Hind Swaraj , another book which has a similar title is Vinoba's Swaraj Shastra; some extracts can be found in the appendix to Gandhi to Vinoba: The New Pilgrimage.6

Swaraj does not have the negative etymological meaning of Independence, it is not just a simple fact of no dependence on, it is Raj or Sovereignty over Swa or oneself. Mastery of oneself is, therefore, the principle of freedom, what makes the problem pass from the social to the spiritual plane. Political freedom and national independence are negative and fictional, real alone is the sovereignty of each person in their inner tribunal.

The Kingdom of heaven, there it is - not a utopia, abstraction or system. And first of all it is said: The Kingdom of Heaven, not complete Socialisation and mechanised paradise. It is neither utopia, nor abstraction, nor system. It is life. The Kingdom of heaven is like the father of a family, The Kingdom of heaven is like a wild mustard seed... It is like the measure of yeast put into three measures of flour so that the dough rises... It is present as well as future, it is on the earth as in heaven, it is life. The Kingdom of heaven is in your heart. 

***

 

There explained, I think, are the blunders, gaps and weak points of this book. There the great, noble, strong things hidden within the weak points.

Shall I speak of the beauty found therein: immortal pages on means and ends which are like the seed and the tree ?; of history, its wars and crimes like "a record of an interruption of the course of nature" ?; of civil disobedience and "the superstition that men should obey unjust laws"?; finally, on non-violence and courage in chapter 17: "It does not require the training of an army; it needs no jiu-jitsu. Control over the mind is alone necessary, and when that is attained, man is free like the king of the forest and his very glance withers the enemy. " ?

No, I leave you on the edge, I have already spoken too much. I apologise.

  Lanza del Vasto (right)

 

Translated by Gerry Blaylock. Additional notes by Antonino Drago

 

1 Lanza del Vasto: Pélerinage au sources, Denoel, Paris, 1943, Le Rocher, 1993 (Engl. tr.: Return to the Sources, Schocken, London and New York, 1972); Vinoba, ou le nouveau Pélerinage, Denoel, Paris, 1954 (English title: Gandhi to Vinoba: The New Pilgrimage). Actually, after this preface, Lanza del Vasto wrote a book on social theory and criticism of Western civilization: Les Quatre Fléaux, Denoel, Paris, 1959. A synthesis of it in English is in the site www.wikilivres.info/wiki/Pilgrimage_to_Non-violence. An anthology of his writings in English is: Make Straight the Way of the Lord: An Anthology of the Philosophical Writings of Lanza del Vasto, Knopf, New York, 1974.

Other books by Lanza del Vasto in English are Pilgrimage to Source, Ahmedabad, Peace Reserch Center, Gujarat, Vydiapith; Definitions of Non-Violence, Weare NH, Greenleaf Book, 1972; Warriors of Peace: Writings on the Technique of Nonviolence, New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1974. There is also a study of his communities by Mark Shepard: The Community of the Ark, A Visit to the Utopian Communities of Lanza del Vasto by Simple Productions 1990,/ Ocean Tree book,

2Luc Dietrich and Lanza del Vasto: Dialogue de l'Amitié,Laffont, 1942, 19933.

3 One day, having found out that a client had lied to him, not only did he plead guilty, but confessed serious frauds which were not part of the trial. He obtained a surprising success.

4 Gandhi: "Bapu"; Vinoba: "Baabaa".

5 Dharmaputi declaration 1957.

6 By Joseph Jean Lanza del Vasto. Another work by Lanza del Vasto on Gandhi's conception of power and India's political life is "Indira Gandhi contre les gandhiens", Nouvelles de l'Arche, 1975.

Tutti i diritti riservati