Monthly Archives: August 2013

Mahatma Gandhi and Patanjali

Mahatma Gandi followed the example of saintly persons before him in founding asramas or hermitage.  People residing in these asramas were supposed to follow broadly the yamas and niyamas laid down in the Yogasutra attributed to Patanjali, which constitute the first two of the eight “limbs” of the system of yoga described therein.  And of course Mahatma Gandhi himself tried to manifest them in his life as far as possible.  He is indeed well-known the world over for his espousal of non-violence (ahimsa) and truth (satya) and also known, specially in India, for his espousal of celibacy (brahmacarya).  These are listed among the five yamas in the Yogasutra (II.30).

Towards the end of his life, when the political situation in Indiabegan to slip out of his control, he wondered if he had rally perfected these virtues.  He tried to test, for instance, his commitment to celibacy, upon his failure to control the communal conflagration which was engulfing the country.  However, according to the Yogasutra, the fruit of celibacy is indefatigability (II.38).  The ability to pacify is the fruit of observing ahimsa or non-violence (II.35): tat sannidhau vairatyaagah.  Was Mahatma Gandhi testing himself for the wrong virtue?– Prof. Arvind Sharma, McGillUniversity. Chips from an Indic Workshop. MLBD [Motilal Banarsidass] Newsletter, July 2011. p. 16

More questions

Whenever I receive MLBD Newsletter, the first matter that I will read is Prof. Sharma’s scholarly article: Chips from an Indic Workshop.  He is one of the present day (modern) scholar on Hinduism whose views always helps me to resolve several complicated issues related with Hinduism that too comparing and applying to various other fields of subject, like dialogue, political, social etc. causes.

So when I received July 2011 issue of MLBD Newsletter, as usual with much interest I read the above article by Sharmaji.  As usual, again he left his own scholarly mark on this subject also.  But this article also raised few question to my mind—particularly with Gandhiji and Patanjali.  Because it is interesting to note that, according to Prof. Sharma Gandjiji set such condition for his ashramites to observe ‘yama’ and ‘niyama’ laid down in the Yogasutra attributed to Patanjali.?  Because as a great admirer of Gandhiji I read with a real interest to learn through the life of Gandhiji.  But I am not sure whether Ganndhiji ever set those rules of ‘yama’ and ‘niyama’ strictly based on Patanjali’s terms and aim or just he took those virtues independently from Patanjali’s reference and frame work of eight limbs of yoga system described in his Yoga Sutra?  Because I read Gandhiji’s Autobiography and don’t remember he ever mentioned about this there. [I have to recheck the book again].  At present I have started the reading the Collected Work of Gandhiji (100 volumes) and now I am reading only 9th volume.  So immediately I cannot referrer to the volume in which this point is referred.

Now the questions that come to my minds are:

  1. Did Gandhiji ever read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and then based on its terms of reference set those rules of ‘yama’ and ‘niyama’.?  And if he ever read and used ‘yama and ‘niyama’ only based on them, yet are we sure he understood them in the entire context of Patanjali’s system of Yoga?
  2. Or did Gandhiji, like several other Indians, take certain ‘ideals and ideas’ from the long established tradition without referring, understanding and implementing the context of those ideals and ideas?  Because in India, ‘yoga’ is a common terms which is used and practiced with or without any reference to Patanjali YogaSutra.  For examples doing all kinds of  ‘asana’ are called as ‘doing yoga’. Various asanas used by all the yoga gurus are not prescribed by Patanjali.  But several asana centers are flourishing in the name of ‘Yoga centre’ that too with the name of Patanjali?!?
  3. The climax of Patanjali YogaSutra is to attain ‘samadhi’ the last and eight anga of his system.  All other limbs were only a means to attain it.  But Gandihi’s aim of brahmacarya and ahimsa are not with that aim.
  4. Patanjali’s fruits of brahmacarya and ahimsa is right in its immediate context of ‘yama’ and ‘niyama’ and overall context of eight limbs to reach samadhi.  But can we question Gandihi’s aim of following those ‘virtues’ by interpreting them based on Patanjali’s point of view?
  5. Gandhi could have used the common virtues like ‘brahmacarya’ and ‘ahimsa’, of course giving his own meaning to it.  Even if he referred Pantanjali, I am not sure whether he was aware of the meaning given by him in Sutra II: 35 & 38.  So interpreting Gandhiji’s life based on Patanjali won’t help us to assess him properly.  And Gandhiji never tested anything in his life for any wrong virtue, because virtue is virtue and when it becomes ‘wrong’ then it ceased to remain a virtue.@

These questions I raise neither to challenge Prof. Sharma’s view or defend Gandhiji.  But as a student of Hinduism, Prof. Sharma’s views only raises more questions than Mahatma Gandhi testing himself for the wrong virtue.


Yama consists of five rules: ahimsaa (non-injury), satya (truth), asteya (p.154) (non-stealing), brahmacarya (celibacy), and aparigraha (non-possession), whereas niyama consists of the following five: sauca (purity), santosa (contentment), tapas (austerity), svaadhyaaya (study), and iisvara-pranidhaana (devotion to God).  It has been said that ‘the five yamas and the five niyamas together constitute all that is necessary for a perfect moral and religious life.  They are, so to say, the ten commandments of yoga.[T.M.P. Mahadevan, Outlines of Hinduism, Bombay: Chetana Limited, 1971, p. 111]— Arvind Sharma, Hindusim and Human Rights, A Conceptual Approach, New Deli,Oxford, 2004. pp.154-55

@. Regarding this that Gandjiji never tested anything in his life for wrong virtue, I may over state my claim, as I am a great admirer of him.  However one incident in his early life inSouth Africais enough to prove this.  When he was credited as the ‘Asst. Supt. Indian Ambulance Corps’ to help the British in their Boar war, Gandhiji wrote the following to the Colonial Secretary, which is enough for me to believe in my claim about Gandhiji:

‘…among the officers mentioned is included my name, described as “Mr. Gandhi, Asst. Supt. Indian Ambulance Corps.”  If the extract is complete, according to my correspondent, no more officers of that Corps are thus mentioned.  It that be so, and if the credit given is to the Assistant Superintendent as such, it belongs to Mr. Shire, who was the only Gentleman in the Corps recognized as such….if I am entitled to any credit for having done my duty, it is due in a greater measure to Dr. Booth, now Dean of St. John’s, and to Mr. Shire, who spared no pains in making the Corps the success it proved to be…..’—124. LETTER TO COLONIAL SECRETARY. Durban, March 30, 1901, in Collected works of Gandhiji. Publications Division.  Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Govt. ofIndia. (1958), Third ed. Reprint. 1994 (100 volumes), Vol. III, p.181

Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam,July 28, 2011


When I shared my views with Dr. Madhusudan Rao, he gave the following response:

My comments:

We do not know if Gandhi ever read Yogasutra but if he followed three out of five yamas, that he must at least have been ‘aware’ of yamas and niyamas of Patanjali is credible. Maybe you will find this out in your reading of his collected works.

On your second and third question:

That Gandhiji did not use ahimsa and satya to attain the final goal ‘samadhi’ we will never know; but given the way he has used say the ‘bible’ and read his philosophy into it so he could have done the same with Yogasutra. So I tend to agree with you that he takes a philosophy and gives a spin to it.

Your fourth question:

I agree that Sharmaji is pushing Yogasutra down Gandhiji’s throat. Also he says that when situation inIndiagot out of control, Gandhiji tested his commitment to celibacy. This claim needs to be proved.

Your fifth question:

“And Gandhiji never tested anything in his life for any wrong virtue, because virtue is virtue and when it becomes ‘wrong’ then it ceased to remain a virtue” Do we really known if this is the case with Gandhiji? In questioning Sharmaji’s unproven claim (mentioned above) about Gandhiji testing his commitment to celibacy are we making another unproven claim that Gandhiji never tested anything for any wrong virtue. You may want to question Sharmaji’s claim without making another unproven claim.

I would give the benefit of doubt to Gandhiji that he might have atleast been aware of Patanjali’s yamas as he practiced and spoke about three out of five yamas. But again, Gandhiji was influenced by multiple philosophies and probably never believed any one philosophy ‘in toto’.

This is all I am able to come up with for now.


Gandhiji the Prophet

When I read the following view of Mahatma Gandhiji in Collected Works of Gandhiji, (vol. 10 “HIND SWARAJ”1), I was taken back the way he could prophesied about our Present Parliament.  The things which he warned not only became a reality, yet still continues and become even worst.  The following need no further comments: (Gurukulam, 09-02-2013)


READER: Then from your statement I deduce that the Government of England is not desirable and not worth copying by us. (p.256)

EDITOR: Your deduction is justified. The condition of England at present is pitiable. I pray to God that India may never be in that plight. That which you consider to be the Mother of Parliaments is like a sterile woman and a prostitute. Both these are harsh terms, but exactly fit the case…. It is like a prostitute because it is under the control of ministers who change from time to time….

READER:… The Parliament, being elected by the people, must work under public pressure. This is its quality.

EDITOR:… The best men are supposed to be elected by the people….The electors are considered to be educated and therefore we should assume that they would not generally make mistakes in their choice. Such a Parliament should not need the spur of petitions or any other pressure. Its work should be so smooth that its effects would be more apparent day by day. But, as a matter of fact, it is generally acknowledged that the members are hypocritical and selfish. Each thinks of his own little interest. It is fear that is the guiding motive…. When the greatest questions are debated, its members have been seen to stretch themselves and to doze. Sometimes the members talk away until the listeners are disgusted. Carlyle has called it the “talking shop of the World”. Members vote for their party without a thought. Their so-called discipline binds them to it. If any member, by way of exception, gives an independent vote, he is considered a renegade. If the money and the time wasted by (p.257) Parliament were entrusted to a few good men, the English nation would be occupying today a much higher platform….

READER:  Will you now explain the epithet “prostitute” ?

EDITOR: … Parliament is without a real master. Under the Prime Minister, its movement is not steady but it is buffeted about like a prostitute. The Prime Minister is more concerned about his power than about the welfare of Parliament. His energy is concentrated upon securing the success of his party. His care is not always that Parliament shall do right. Prime Ministers are known to have made Parliament do things merely for party advantage. All this is worth thinking over.

READER: Then you are really attacking the very men whom we have hitherto considered to be patriotic and honest ?

EDITOR: Yes, that is true; I can have nothing against Prime Ministers, but what I have seen leads me to think that they cannot be considered really patriotic. If they are to be considered honest because they do not take what are generally known as bribes, let them be so considered, but they are open to subtler influences. In order to (p.258) gain their ends, they certainly bribe people with honours. I do not hesitate to say that they have neither real honesty nor a living conscience.

READER: As you express these views about Parliament, I would like to hear you on the English people, so that I may have your view of their Government.

EDITOR: To the English voters their newspaper is their Bible. They take their cue from their newspapers which are often dishonest.  The same fact is differently interpreted by different newspapers, according to the party in whose interests they are edited.….

READER: You shall describe it.

EDITOR:… The people would follow a powerful orator or a man who gives them parties, receptions, etc. As are the people, so is their Parliament. They have certainly one quality very strongly developed. They will never allow their country to be lost. If any person were to cast an evil eye on it, they would pluck out his eyes. But that does not mean that the nation possesses every other virtue or that it should be imitated. If India copies England, it is my firm conviction that she will be ruined.

READER: To what do you ascribe this state of England?

EDITOR: It is not due to any peculiar fault of the English people, but the condition is due to modern civilization. It is a civilization only in name. Under it the nations of Europe are becoming degraded and ruined day by day.


1 This was originally written in Gujarati during Gandhiji’s return journey from England on the Kildonan Castle and published in Indian Opinion, the first twelve chapters on 11-12-1909 and the rest on 18-12-1909. Issued as a booklet in January 1910, it was proscribed in India by the Government of Bombay on March 24, 1910; vide “Our Publications”, (7-5-1910). This hastened Gandhiji’s decision to publish the English translation; vide “Preface to Hind Swaraj”, (20-3-1910). This was issued by the International Printing Press, Phoenix, with a foreword by Gandhiji dated March 20, 1910 and also the English translation of the Gujarati foreword dated November 22, 1909, reproduced here.